naval soldiers prepare to fire a pistol salute throughout a burial at sea. This would be catastrophically... <+> unsafe in any region where the bullets might come down and also land on a human. Image credit: U.S. Navy picture by Mass interaction Specialist 3rd Class Kevin J. Steinberg.

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Would you fire a gun into the wait in solemn event if you knew that, when the bullet comes down, it might kill somebody? It"s no surprised that bullets fired towards a target have the right to easily ruin whatever they operation into: a bullet from one AK-47 pipeline the rifle travel at over 1,500 miles every hour (670 meters every second): about double the speed of sound. In spite of only having a fixed of about five grams -- under a 5th of an oz -- it"s got the power of a brick dropped native a 30 story building. Focused into a tiny surface area in ~ the bullet tip, the can easily break with your skin. And also once it does, the energy and momentum tears v your body, ripping a hole through blood vessels, muscle, and potentially crucial organs. No wonder it deserve to kill you.

A 0.50 caliber cartridge wound the the face. The patient was injured while heater a 0.50 caliber... <+> incendiary device gun bullet v a blowtorch in a world War II-era accident. Photo credit: the national Museum that Health and Medicine.

But what if the cartridge is fired up, quite than straight at a target? If girlfriend performed that experiment on the Moon, if the cartridge went up at 1,500 miles per hour, then no issue what angle you fired the at and also how lengthy it required to come ago to the lunar surface, it would come down at 1,500 miles every hour. A cartridge fired away from the Moon"s surface ar would be simply as lethal as one fired across it. Yet on Earth, we have our atmosphere, which way we likewise have waiting resistance. A cartridge fired straight up, through no wind, might reach a height of 10,000 feet (about 3 kilometers), yet will come ago down at only about 150 miles per hour: simply 10% that the speed and also with just 1% of the energy as the originally fired bullet.

Ultra-high speed photo of bullet fired out of a Smith and Wesson revolver. Photo credit: Wikimedia... <+> Commons user Niels Noordhoek.

But in reality, there room extra components at play:

us do have actually wind, which deserve to make bullets fired even straight up come down up to 2 miles away. No every bullet is fired directly up; numerous are fired in ~ an angle. If the bullet never stops or tumbles, it have the right to maintain much greater speeds: many hundreds the miles per hour.
all a bullet requirements to carry out to be possibly lethal is break the skin, which occurs at various speeds for various bullets and different people.

So in stimulate to recognize whether a bullet will certainly break her skin or not, we have to look at two things: the bullet kind and her skin type.

miscellaneous weights, sizes and calibers the bullets. Also at the exact same muzzle velocity, as soon as fired up,... <+> this bullets will certainly all come under at various speeds. Picture credit: Bobbfwed in ~ the English language Wikipedia.

The generally accepted threshold for breaking the skin barrier is 136 miles every hour, although part bullet/skin combine will cause the cartridge to bounce off you at approximately 225 miles per hour. The pointier a bullet is, the slow it can be moving and still break your skin. (Hollow point bullets are more dangerous not because it"s much easier for them to puncture her skin, but due to the fact that they create much more damage when they do.) Bullets of various sizes and calibers have the right to puncture skin an ext easily: buckshot will certainly perforate skin in ~ 145 miles every hour and also bullets from a .38 caliber revolver will execute so at just 130 miles every hour. Bullets native a 9mm handgun may max the end at speeds as low as 102 miles every hour. And a .30 caliber bullet, follow to Mattoo"s equation, could do therefore at only 85 miles per hour.

miscellaneous thicknesses the skin are uncovered on varying places on the person body, and also often correlate... <+> v hairy regions. Your armpits have particularly thin skin. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons customers Madhero88 and also M.Komorniczak.

In addition, skin thickness varies from person-to-person and at different places on your body. The skin top top your upper lip is 50% thicker 보다 the skin on her cheek, and also the skin just listed below your cheekbones through your sleep is also thinner, particularly in the elderly. Babies and also young kids have an extremely thin skin family member to adults, and also while the elderly have thicker skin in general, it has actually less elasticity and also is easier to tear and also puncture.

The only method to guarantee a bullet will bounce off of her skin? it is in Superman. Picture credit: Leo... <+> Leung the flickr, via

According to Hatcher"s Notebook, wherein U.S. Army significant General Julian Hatcher report on a substantial suite of army ballistics tests, a .30 caliber bullet has actually a terminal rate of 200 miles every hour, not 150. Once you fire a bullet into the air, it generally takes in between 20 and 90 seconds for it come come down, relying on the angle it to be fired at, that is muzzle velocity and also its caliber. New years and July 4th, in the USA, are an especially dangerous in urban locations for this, as injuries native falling bullets and also even occasionally deaths result. When reports indigenous hospitals room often questioned by police, there are well-documented situations that prove just how lethal this can be. In 2010, Marquel Peters, 4 years old, was killed by a stray falling bullet in Decatur, GA.

As lengthy as a bullet deserve to puncture your skin, the damage it have the right to do to you internally has actually the potential... <+> to be lethal. Windy domain image.

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If you should fire a gun into the air, the means to minimize your potential danger to yourself and also others is to:

fire the bullet together close to vertical as feasible (where that will shed the most speed), native a short altitude ar (where waiting resistance is higher), in a rural, low-population-density area (where it"s less likely come hit a person), and to fire a lighter, larger bullet (with a reduced terminal velocity).

And finally, together a bystander, know that girlfriend aren"t totally safe native a hail of fallout’s bullets until two minutes have actually passed due to the fact that the last gunshot. Shooting a gun right into the air could be incredibly unlikely to kill the human being firing it, however there"s a factor that most significant cities have actually outlawed it: your flexibility to memory ends as soon as your celebration beginning to death innocent bystanders.


I to be a Ph.D. Astrophysicist, author, and science communicator, that professes physics and also astronomy at assorted colleges. I have actually won many awards for scientific research writing

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I to be a Ph.D. Astrophysicist, author, and science communicator, who professes physics and also astronomy at assorted colleges. I have won plenty of awards for scientific research writing since 2008 because that my blog, Starts v A Bang, including the award for finest science blog by the institute of Physics. My 2 books, Treknology: The science of Star Trek from Tricorders come Warp Drive, past the Galaxy: just how humanity looked beyond our Milky method and uncovered the entire Universe, are accessible for purchase at Amazon. Monitor me ~ above Twitter