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StarvingButStrong
10-26-2005, 05:49 PM
Question about how much damage a bullet can do (for a story I'm writing, not contemplating taking up crime):

A woman gets shot in the face at a very short distance. Not contact, but she's only maybe 6-8 feet away. The shooter is using (let me illustrate the vast depth of my knowledge of guns) an 'ordinary' handgun.

I want the bullet to go all the way through her head and blow a sizeable hole open in the back of her skull. Basically, the plot requires that it be possible to see brain matter when her body is lying face down on the floor.

My question: Is this an extraordinary amount of damage that I will need to justify somehow so the reader will accept it? If so, how? Some special really big gun? Some sort of special ammo? (The BadGuy is a lowlevel drug dealer, if that affects the choice of gun/ammo.)

Or is that within commonly accepted range of possible gunshot damage? So I can just say 'BadGuy drew his gun and shot her in the face' and when I reveal the amount of damage a few paragraphs people won't scoff at the improbability of it?

Thanks!

Bricker
10-26-2005, 06:05 PM
So I can just say 'BadGuy drew his gun and shot her in the face' and when I reveal the amount of damage a few paragraphs people won't scoff at the improbability of it?


At the risk of damaging the pro-gun lobby... what you describe is reasonable for an "ordinary" gun... anything bigger than a .32, with the right load, could credibly produce the kind of damage you're describing.

silenus
10-26-2005, 06:09 PM
Have the bad guy use a 9mm firing hollowpoints. That will give the requisite "big hole" you are looking for.

cerberus
10-26-2005, 06:09 PM
A .45ACP will cheerfully do the job, as will any relatively substantial round...as in any Magnum-class round.

pravnik
10-26-2005, 06:11 PM
Forensic medical journals on wound ballistics show all types of different gunshot wounds from different power and caliber handguns at different ranges. If you can find some in a local library and can stand to look at them, they can give you an accurate description of what a close range gunshot wound to the head looks like. My fuzzy, admittedly non-expert memory is that it's not completely uncommon for a close range gunshot to the head from a midrange-powered handgun to leave a fist-size exit wound.

Shagnasty
10-26-2005, 06:13 PM
I would go for a .357 magnum or a .44 magnum (if you want overkill). They are powerful revolvers but fairly common and well known at the same time. They make good story criminal guns. You only get 6 shots before a reload though.

cerberus
10-26-2005, 06:18 PM
There are several models of Auto-mags, self-loading semi-automatic pistols in .357, .41, .44, .50 magnum-class rounds.

Google Magnum Research/Desert Eagle and Wildey for examples.

In addition, the .44magnum is no longer the biggest thing on the block: there are bigger rounds, including the .445 and .50AE, as well as a new Smith and Wesson .500 round.

StarvingButStrong
10-26-2005, 11:23 PM
Thank you all! Especially for being in agreement with each other.

That .357 magnum -- isn't that the one Dirty Harry talked up in one of the movies? Which would make a decent hook for having BadGuy mention/think about his choice of gun, meaning I can get that out of narration. And since I don't do a whole lot of referring to items by manufacture or make, it would be clumsy to make a exception just for the gun.

Mnnn. Which suggests something else.... yes, I like that. Let him be a Dirty Harry fan. :)

Suburban Plankton
10-27-2005, 12:22 AM
Actually, Dirty Harry had "a .44 magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world. It'll blow your head clean off."

But a .357 should do the trick just as well, and I think they're a bit more common.

Padeye
10-27-2005, 06:01 AM
There are several models of Auto-mags, self-loading semi-automatic pistols in .357, .41, .44, .50 magnum-class rounds.

Google Magnum Research/Desert Eagle and Wildey for examples.Automag is a specific brand and model handgun, not a generic term. If anything its gas operated, rotating bolt design was the predecessor of the Wildey and later the Desert Eagle. The Automag trademark was later used by AMT for a variety of recoil operated pistols but the link below describes the definitive automag.

http://www.nfa.ca/cfj-archive/firearms/.44-automag.html.

Of the guns mentioned only the Desert Eagle remains in production and is a popular movie prop due to its enormous size. The other two are somewhat valuable collector's items.

The Automag and Wildey might be unlikely choices also because they don't use commonly available ammunition. AFAIK all of the calibers would have to be handloaded with the possible exception of .45 Winchester Magnum which isn't going to be found at the local Big 5. The Desert Eagle is available in common .357 and .44 manum calibers, using ordinary rimmed ammunition. .50 AE caliber is available as factory ammunition but again the local Coast to Coast store probably doesn't stock it.

AFAIK none of these pistols was ever available in rimmed .41 magnum caliber. This may be some confusion with the .41 action express caliber which was designed as a simple big bore conversion for 9mm Parabllum pistols. .41 AE was not a magnum caliber, having about the same power as .40 S&W which is commonly used by US police.

Scumpup
10-27-2005, 07:51 AM
From 6 to 8 feet away, a cartridge in the sub-9mm class will not make the exit wound you wish. Much of the horrific damage people associate with getting shot in the head comes from suicides. In such cases, the gun is at contact range and the spectacular damage is the result of high pressure gas blasting directly into the wound. Further, lower powered rounds have a history of not reliably penetrating the skull at all, much less through-and-through wounds.
What do you mean by "shot in the face?" Examine the structure of a skull. The brain case is above the facial region. A shot in the forehead with a sufficiently powerful round would give the wound you desire. A shot in the facial region would cause painfu land disfiguring wounds, but might not even be fatal if it didn't happen to sever the spinal cord.

StarvingButStrong
10-27-2005, 09:27 AM
From 6 to 8 feet away, a cartridge in the sub-9mm class will not make the exit wound you wish.


Uh. Dang mixed measurement systems. Are you disagreeing that the .357 Magnum will be adequate for my task?


What do you mean by "shot in the face?" Examine the structure of a skull. The brain case is above the facial region. A shot in the forehead with a sufficiently powerful round would give the wound you desire. A shot in the facial region would cause painfu land disfiguring wounds, but might not even be fatal if it didn't happen to sever the spinal cord.

Guns I don't know much about, but I did have anatomy classes in college. :) The bullet is to go in the cheek, just below the eye and barely to the right of her nose. The two are facing each other when he shoots. The trajectory (oooh! I feel so scientific) should be straight back and reasonably level, and so it will definitely pass through the skull. (I just double checked using my own head, a yardstick and a mirror.)

For the sake of my victim, I'm going to assume part of what it damages is the medulla oblongata -- you mess that up and pretty much instant death, no nasty (plot inconvenient) lingering.

Scumpup
10-27-2005, 09:54 AM
Uh. Dang mixed measurement systems. Are you disagreeing that the .357 Magnum will be adequate for my task?

Yes, a .357 would be adequate to the task. Unsolicited hint: Have the murderer use a softpoint, rather than hollowpoint, bullet. At the range you are describing a hollowpoint bullet might break up on that much bone and not leave the exit wound you desire. A softpoint will deform and give the dramatic wound with less chance of projectile failure.



Guns I don't know much about, but I did have anatomy classes in college. :) The bullet is to go in the cheek, just below the eye and barely to the right of her nose. The two are facing each other when he shoots. The trajectory (oooh! I feel so scientific) should be straight back and reasonably level, and so it will definitely pass through the skull. (I just double checked using my own head, a yardstick and a mirror.)

For the sake of my victim, I'm going to assume part of what it damages is the medulla oblongata -- you mess that up and pretty much instant death, no nasty (plot inconvenient) lingering.

I'm sitting here with a human skull in my hands, one of the benefits of working in science, and tracing the bullet path you describe. It doesn't intersect the brain case. It barely creases it adjacent to the foramen magnum. If the shot angles slightly, it might well sever the spinal cord where it enters the cranium through that opening.

Stranger On A Train
10-27-2005, 01:35 PM
Methinks many of you have seen too many Hollywood movies. First of all, no handgun round will make "fist-sized" exit wounds. A frangible bullet like the Glaser Safety Slug or the SinterFire will make huge but shallow internal wounds but will not exit through any significant mass of flesh or bone. A premium 185 grain .45 ACP hollowpoint like the Remington Golden Sabre or Federal Hydra-Shok will expand to about .75in (http://www.firearmstactical.com/ammo_data/45acp.htm) in bare gellatin, and considerably less when plugged by cloth, skin, and hair. This might leave an exit wound the size of a golf ball (if it exits at all), but definitely not a fist.

Second, headshots--even with large caliber bullets--tend to result in one of two outcomes; either the bullet deflects off the skull (if it hits at an oblique angle) and exits or zips around under the scalp, or it penetrates through, losing much momentum in the process, and bounces off the other side of the skull, remaining in the head. A round with a high sectional density like a 124 grain 9mmP FMJ or a 158 grain .357 Magnum SJWC would probably penetrate through-and-through a skull, but wouldn't leave a very impressive exit wound; basically just a slightly over-caliber sized hole. A shot from straight forward, through the sinuses or under the chin might exit as the skull is open in the back where the brainstem sits and lateral thru-shots can penetrate the almost paper-thin bone of the temple, but most of the skull is a fairly thick and quite resilient structure of bone. As Scumpup points out, the dramatic exploding-head-type wounds that come from suicides are more the result of muzzle blast in direct contact with flesh than the bullet.

Unless your protagonist is a Travis Bickle wanna-be, he probably isn't going to be carrying a .44 Magnum. Even the compact "Trail Guide" version of the S&W Model 29 is a huge gun; unless you're Arnold Swartzenegger wearing a mumu, you just can't carry one of these things discretely. One of the problems with the .44 Mag, actually, is that the hollowpoint or softpoint rounds it typically fires are intended for hunting, and may penetrate through a human body without fully expanding. The .357 Mag or 10mm Auto is probaby going to give you the bloodiest exit wounds of any standard caliber (smaller or lighter rounds will probably not overpen), but again, we're talking golf-ball, not fist-sized wounds.

If you've a local college with a forensic science program they probably have some reference materials about gunshot wounds, although they may not be in general circulculation. Try checking that out if you want some graphical evidence of what gunshot wounds look like. Gunshot wounds are nasty--far worse than the "Oh it's just a flesh wound" nonchalance of action-movie heros would suggest--but they aren't as impressive as the squibs and blood-packs that every Sam Peckinpah imitator uses would have you believe, either.

Stranger

Stranger On A Train
10-27-2005, 01:38 PM
Here (http://www.hipowersandhandguns.com/Expansion%20and%20Penetration.htm)'s a page that shows some images of expanded bullets and (scroll down to the bottom) the wound channel through a deer's heart left by a 127 grain 9mm JHP. They'll do enough damage to kill, certainly, but not enough for a "money shot". For that, you have to turn to your F/X guy.

Stranger

mks57
10-27-2005, 02:09 PM
How about a handgun that used a cartridge with energy comparable to a battle rifle? From what I remember about the assassination of President Kennedy, the shot that hit him in the head produced a massive wound.

BlakeTyner
10-27-2005, 04:25 PM
How about a handgun that used a cartridge with energy comparable to a battle rifle? From what I remember about the assassination of President Kennedy, the shot that hit him in the head produced a massive wound.

Ain't no such beast, at least not that I'm aware of.

Although generally feared like the plague, handguns are puny by their very nature. I'd pick up a .22 long rifle long before I'd go for any of my pistols.

For the story, avoid hollow points. Once again, I think there's a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to them. The primary reason I buy hollow points isn't to make a bigger hole, but to avoid overpenetration. In a defense situation, I don't want my round popping out and hitting anything else. 9mm JHP stands even less chance of overpenetrating (yes, that's a broad generalization.)

I'm not an expert, just an enthusiast. YMMV, of course.

UncleBeer
10-27-2005, 04:59 PM
I would go for a .357 magnum or a .44 magnum (if you want overkill). They are powerful revolvers but fairly common and well known at the same time. They make good story criminal guns. You only get 6 shots before a reload though.
There are several high-quality .357 Mag revolvers on the market today with a 7-round capacity. Here's one (http://www.smith-wesson.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?catalogId=11101&storeId=10001&productId=14801&langId=-1&parent_category_rn=15705&isFirearm=Y) from S&W. Here's another (http://www.taurususa.com/products/product-details.cfm?model=66SS4&category=Revolver) from Taurus.

And S&W even makes a very high end .357 Mag with an [url="http://www.smith-wesson.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?storeId=10001&catalogId=10001&langId=-1&productId=14806&tabselected=tech&isFirearm=Y&parent_category_rn="]eight round capacity.

Bang-o.

LiveOnAPlane
10-27-2005, 05:10 PM
Ain't no such beast, at least not that I'm aware of.
....
Actually, there are.

There are some single-shot bolt-action handguns used in specialized shooting contests and also in hunting that are chambered for full-power rifle cartridges.

However, in the spirit of the OP, one is very unlikely to see a criminal carrying one of these!

John F
10-27-2005, 05:20 PM
Just have him use a Desert Eagle (http://www.magnumresearch.com/Browse.asp?Category=Desert+Eagle:Mark+XIX) Desert Eagle and call it close enough.

It isn't really an ordinary gun but it is a big mofo and if you have him using some hot ammo it will read better than a .25 cal. blasting someoneís head off. Itís more believable IMO.

LiveOnAPlane
10-27-2005, 05:37 PM
Just have him use a Desert Eagle (http://www.magnumresearch.com/Browse.asp?Category=Desert+Eagle:Mark+XIX) Desert Eagle and call it close enough.

It isn't really an ordinary gun but it is a big mofo and if you have him using some hot ammo it will read better than a .25 cal. blasting someoneís head off. Itís more believable IMO.
Gotta agree with this. It is big, it is impressive, and it fires a "mofo" round. I don't know about the .50, but the .44 Mag will definitely get the job done. And, important to StarvingButStrong's story, this is something that his killer might reasonably carry, and find ammo for pretty easily as well.

BTW, kudo to you, StarvingButStrong for trying to get the scene right and not insulting the reader's intelligence! So little of that nowadays. :)

pravnik
10-27-2005, 06:37 PM
Methinks many of you have seen too many Hollywood movies. First of all, no handgun round will make "fist-sized" exit wounds. A frangible bullet like the Glaser Safety Slug or the SinterFire will make huge but shallow internal wounds but will not exit through any significant mass of flesh or bone. A premium 185 grain .45 ACP hollowpoint like the Remington Golden Sabre or Federal Hydra-Shok will expand to about .75in (http://www.firearmstactical.com/ammo_data/45acp.htm) in bare gellatin, and considerably less when plugged by cloth, skin, and hair. This might leave an exit wound the size of a golf ball (if it exits at all), but definitely not a fist.You're taking into account expansion and fragmentation, but not velocity and cavitation. A low velocity round will mostly cause damage surrounding the permanent cavity, the track of the bullet, and leave an exit wound comparable to the bullet's expansion, if it can penetrate. However, at higher velocities, the bullet can damage tissue a good deal away from the path of the bullet, and send a shockwave through the entire organ.

For most areas of the body, the temporary cavitation (the stretched tissue surrounding the permanent cavity of the bullet's track) of a high velocity pistol round won't make a huge difference difference due to the elasticity of the tissue, but the tissue of the brain is extremely delicate and inelastic. A high velocity gunshot wound to the head can cause a bursting fracture of the skull due to temporary cavity formation. This is obviously much more likely from, say, a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, but a .357 Magnum with hollowpoint centerfire high velocity ammunition (1500 fps) is theoretically capable of bursting a skull.

http://karws.gso.uri.edu/JFK/scientific_topics/wound_ballistics/How_a_high-speed.html

Stranger On A Train
10-27-2005, 11:36 PM
You're taking into account expansion and fragmentation, but not velocity and cavitation. A low velocity round will mostly cause damage surrounding the permanent cavity, the track of the bullet, and leave an exit wound comparable to the bullet's expansion, if it can penetrate. However, at higher velocities, the bullet can damage tissue a good deal away from the path of the bullet, and send a shockwave through the entire organ. Dr. Martin Fackler (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dr._Martin_Fackler), formerly of the Wound Ballistics Laboratory, Letterman Army Institute of Research, has done the most extensive body of experiementation and research with regard to wound ballistics in the US. It was his conclusion that hydrostatic shock was of minimal effect with regard to damage; while a temporary wound channel is created by the shock wave of a bullet moving through tissue, the tissue is flexible and compressible enough that it isn't significantly traumatized, and that the biggest factor in wound ballistics is tissue that is lacerated or torn by the bullet or fragments thereof. He came to this conclusion even with regard to military rifle (large bore) calibers which move at 2000+ fps. Certainly with the much slower pistol rounds--even the vaunted .357 Magnum or a hot loaded 10mm Auto doesn't get much past 1500fps--hydrostatic trauma is minimal, espeically in brain matter which is less dense and more compressible than muscle tissue or organs like the liver or kidneys.

While Fackler's work isn't the last word in wound ballistics it is the best available and is generally considered definitive. Here (http://www.btammolabs.com/articles.htm) is a collection of articles, some by Fackler, provided by B&T Ammo Labs, a forensic ballistics laboratory (see "Wounding Mechanism of Projectiles Striking at More than 1.5km/sec" and "Effects of Small Arms on the Human Body"), and here (http://www.firearmstactical.com/wound.htm)'s another collection including the famed FBI study by Urey on effectiveness of handgun stopping power ("Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness") and several articles by Fackler from Wound Ballisics Review. Coates and Beyer's Wound Ballistics (out of print I think, but long a standard reference for forensic pathologists) put the lower end for permanent trauma from hydrostatic shock at about 4800fps; well above even a hot-loaded 22-250.

A rifle bullet can cause considerable damage by keyholing--tumbling after entry--and can make larger wound channels and exit wounds, but handgun bullets are stubby, typically no more than half again in length that diameter. No handgun round is going to create a fist-sized exit wound or cause someone's head to explode. That's pure Hollywood.

Stranger

pravnik
10-28-2005, 05:20 PM
The FBI study specifically deals with law enforcement uses of handguns, i.e. targeting center mass in the torso, and states that headshots are not the focus of the article since they are impractical for training. The article does cite Fackler extensively for the proposition that fragmentation causes much more extensive damage than temporary cavitation even in a high velocity rifle, but is careful to point out that that is due to the elasticity of the body tissues that will be most commonly targeted. If you'll read page 7, there's a discussion of why temporary cavitation from a high velocity round does not cause extensive damage to most of the human body in comparison with fragmentation:

"The reason is that most tissue in the human target is elastic in nature. Muscle, blood vessels, lung, bowels, all are capable of substantial stretching with minimal damage. Studies have shown that the outward velocity of the tissues in which the temporary cavity forms is no more than one tenth of the velocity of the projectile. This is well within the elasticity limits of tissue such as muscle, blood vessels, and lungs. Only inelastic tissue like liver, or the extremely fragile tissue of the brain, would show significant damage due to temporary cavitation."
This means that the relative inelasticity and density of the brain compred to other tissues renders it more vulnerable to the kinetic energy of the pressue of the temporary cavity:

In high velocity rifle wounds, e.g. centrefire hunting rifles, there is an additional effect of temporary cavity formation. Produced by the large amount of kinetic energy transferred to the tissue, this cavity may be up to 30 times the diameter of the projectile, has a lifetime of 5 to 10 milli-seconds, produces pressures of 100 to 200 atmospheres and collapses in a pulsatile fashion. The diameter of the resultant permanent cavity is variable but usually larger than the diameter of the bullet. At autopsy, the evidence of temporary cavity formation may be a wide zone of haemorrhage around a small permanent cavity; this is deceptive as the tissue damage is greater than it appears to be. If the pressure of temporary cavity formation exceeds the elastic limit of the tissue, then the organ may be disrupted ("bursts") and a large permanent cavity seen at autopsy reflects the size of the temporary cavity. Organs which are dense (and thus cause greater loss of projectile KE) and relatively inelastic are most susceptible to this bursting effect e.g. liver. Organs with low density and high elasticity are relatively protected e.g. lung. Organs such as muscle and skin which have similar density to liver are relatively protected because of their elasticity. High velocity gunshot wounds of the head produce bursting injuries of the skull due to temporary cavity formation.
http://www.dundee.ac.uk/forensicmedicine/llb/gunshot.htm

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