# can a bullet fired into the air kill someone when it comes down

I think it should clearer in this article that the calculations are for bullets fired straight up. People who fire guns on New Years Day, probably aren’t that careful. The NRA Firearms Fact Book has an article on the maximum range of bullets. Many pistol bullets have a range of over a mile. A 30-06 boattail bullet has a range of 17,000 feet and a terminal energy of 100 ft-lbs. The range can increase substantially if fired at a high altitude or with a tail wind.

http://mythbustersresults.com/episode50

The mythbusters reached the same conclusions as Cecil. They even went out in the desert and fired bullets up. Then found where they landed and measured how deeply they went into the ground.

Since most people don’t fire straight up, it’s amazing more people aren’t killed.

In my old community, there was one guy who always fired his gun at midnight on New Year’s Eve. At least, I think it was the same person every time, and I think it was a guy. The PSAs warning against that didn’t stop him. Nor did the hefty fine. I guess someone would have had to call it in for him to be arrested, and no one was going to call it in because, dude’s got a gun.

Coincidentally, I noted this article in today’s paper: Falling bullet kills four year old boy

The mythbusters episode made a point of firing straight up. It would be nearly impossible to do that just shooting up, so bullets shot into the air are more dangerous than the episode showed.

Odd, Cecil mentions bullets and buckshot can penetrate the skin at 200fps. Yet BB guns can be sold as toys with muzzle velocity up to 500fps; and I heard somewhere that was because you need 600fps to penetrate skin. OK, I’ve never tested this theory.

A bullet has more momentum/weight/mass behind it, but what’s the difference between a BB and a buckshot pellet?

Buckshot can be as big as bullets. 00 buck is .33 inches and 000 buck is .36 inches. BBs are .175 in pellet guns and .180 inches in a shot. This means that a buckshot can weigh as much as 8 times more than a BB. Even if you are talking 00 buck it is over 6 times.

This is pretty common practice in some communities. I spent one New Year’s Eve in South Bend, IN. It sounded like a war zone at midnight. No one was hurt (that I heard of), but…let’s just say I don’t go there anymore.

On last night’s Mythbusters they were trying to determine if a given speed was lethal. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but their threshhold value was somewhere between 200fps and 500fps. (It was confusing because they measured in fps and converted to mph which is only about a 1.4x difference, so the numbers are all jumbled in my memory.)
Powers &8^]

88fps = 60mph. A handy number to remember. (5280/60=88)

This, 200fps = 136mph. Get hit by a car doing 136mph and it could penetrate your skin.

I have no idea why this one is ever debated seriously. It happens as a fact even in the United States. It has happened a few times in the U.S. There are very real people people dead from it. Celebratory fire is a New Orleans tradition during holidays and it has killed people even when I was living there in New Orleans. The physics calculations are irrelevant in cases like these. It is like the moon landing hoax supporters. All of the intricate physics analysis in the world doesn’t have any relevance to something that has really happened several times.

It happened so if someone disputes it, there must be something wrong with the math. The only defense for someone that claims this could never happen is that the bullet was not fired directly upwards but the culture dictates that it was and there is at least one case in which a person was killed by a hit in the top of the skull by a falling bullet.

Here is one article on it but there are others as well:

Shagnasty said:

The physics calculations look at a very specific condition - fired straight up. Reality doesn’t have to conform to that condition - in fact, reality very rarely conforms to that fact. Thus the physics calculations are irrelevant to the majority of cases where bullets are fired into the air. They are not invalid, just not applicable.

The problem with moon hoax landing supporters is not their attempt to analyze intricate physics in order to demonstrate something could not have happened as described. The problem is they misunderstand the physics, so their analyses are wrong. That, and their assumptions are wrong, their ability to reason is flawed, and their motivations usually have nothing to do with getting to the truth and everything to do with justifying some other agenda.

Intricate physics analysis does actually have something to do with the moon landings. And sometimes in proving said missions did occur. Just not the way the moon hoax believers think.

It’s pretty obvious that you can be hit on the top of the skull by a bullet that is **not **fired straight up; the top of its trajectory simply needs to be higher than the top of your skull. I would assume the tops of the trajectories of most celebratory gunfire is higher than the typical person’s head.

They mentioned this on the show. In fact, this myth was found to be busted, plausible, and confirmed all at the same time. It was busted for bullets fired straight up, plausible for bullets that weren’t fired straight up, and confirmed because the researchers did find a couple of cases where it had happened in real life.

One important point seems to be missing here - all guns/bullets are not the same. I have been peppered on top of the head many times while hunting doves and ducks. Bird shot won’t hurt you when you fire straight up. The exception is being hit in the eye of course! Even duck loads (number 4) won’t hurt you when you shoot straight up. The shot is too small to carry any measureable energy at the terminal velocity.

I really don’t understand why people want to fight the hypothetical all the time. It’s sloppy reasoning to conflate the two distinct claims.

I don’t think anyone who claims it is safe to shoot bullets into the air willy-nilly is to be taken seriously.

At the same time, the posed hypothetical is about firing a bullet straight up, with zero horizontal component to the velocity. However difficult that may be to do in real life is irrelevant! That case always boils down to the projectile returning at terminal velocity or less. Anything else is a physical impossibility.

Therefore, the remaining questions are a) what is the terminal velocity of the projectile, and b) at that velocity, how likely is the projectile to cause serious bodily harm?

For most bullets, the terminal velocity is low enough compared to the mass and sectional density of the bullet that it will not result in serious injury. For an artillery shell, it will probably kill you coming down because it’s very heavy. An arrow can as well, because arrows have very high sectional density and are stabilized.

But a standard .30 caliber round hits at a slow enough speed, and has a low enough mass, that it will not seriously injure a normal person absent some extraordinary circumstance like hitting the eye or an infant’s skull.

That’s the whole discussion. It’s been shown mathematically and experimentally on national TV, by the army, and by many other people.

Waving one’s arms about and saying “No, people get killed by that!” are at best wrong and misguided. Such objections, anecdotes, and news clippings are not germane to the question asked and answered, but stem from either a poor understanding of the physics or of the question or both.

What you say makes sense, ivn. But those are results you get in a controlled environment.

To me it comes down to this. When people in my neck of the woods fire their guns into the air, it is almost always New Year’s Eve, July 4th, or Cinco de Mayo. On New Year’s Eve, July 4th and Cinco de Mayo, people tend to do a lot of drinking. They’ll say they’re going to fire straight up, they may intend to fire straight up, they may think they’re firing straight up, but I have no faith that they actually will fire perfectly straight up.

True enough. But my point is that the activities of drunken revelers are not really germane to the discussion, nor are anecdotes about how people have been killed.

If someone is convinced that they are being safe because they watched mythbusters or read the column, that’s their own fault. There are a lot of people on this thread and others like it that have a certain difficulty separating the theoretical from the real. However, we shouldn’t dumb down our discussion for those people, nor should we worry about the results of someone misunderstanding the thread.

Every one of those demos talking about shooting straight up being safe go on to caveat that it must be straight up, and the likelihood is that most people won’t get precise enough, so won’t be safe.