Falling Bullets

In some parts of the country, individuals celebrate New Years' Eve and July 4th by shooting guns in the air. Rarely, deaths are reported due to this practice. In most of these instances, the gun was probably not pointed straight up but at an angle to the horizon. In such a case, it is not unexpected for serious injuries to occur even if the bullet has traveled a great distance as a .30 caliber military rifle round has a maximum effective range of 4000 yards.

Figure 9.5 Patterned abrasion from rifle butt. Underlying fracture of mandible.

Haag, using a ballistic computer program, calculated the terminal velocity of bullets of various calibers if a weapon was fired straight up into the air.28 When a gun is so fired, the bullet should return base forward. For some calibers, he also calculated the terminal velocity if the bullet was tumbling (Table 9.3). The terminal velocities of the bullets in Table 9.3, with the exception of the .22 Short and the buckshot pellets, are in the area of the minimum velocity necessary to perforate skin.

The author has had two cases in which individuals were struck by bullets fired into the air. In the first case, a 17-year-old male was struck in the upper left chest, by a full metal-jacketed .303 rifle bullet. The bullet perforated the chest wall through the second intercostal space, penetrating the upper lobe of the left lung and the pulmonary vein at the hilum. The bullet was then swept by the blood through the left atrium and ventricle into the thoracic aorta coming to rest just above the level of the diaphragm (Figure 9.6).

The second case involved a 5-year-old male child struck on the top of his head, in the left fronto-parietal region, by a full meatal-jacketed pistol bullet of probable 9-mm caliber. The bullet penetrated into the left cerebral hemisphere. The child survived and the bullet was not recovered. In both cases, the shooters were never apprehended. Whether the weapons were fired straight up or at an angle could not be determined.

Table 9.4 Terminal Velocity of Falling Bullets3

Terminal Velocity Base Forward Tumbling

Table 9.4 Terminal Velocity of Falling Bullets3

Terminal Velocity Base Forward Tumbling

Caliber

(ft/s)

(ft/s)

.22 Short

168

134

.22 LR

198

142

.25 ACP

191

146

.32 ACP

187

158

.380 ACP

187

9 mm

219

.38 Special

237

.44 Magnum

249

.45 ACP

228

.223

244

141

7.62 x 39

264

158

.30-30

282

.30-06

294

171

#4 Buck

134

00 Buck

157

a Based on data from Haag28

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