Guns are, letís face it, designed to kill. While there are many sporting
aspects to them, and they can be a great deal of fun to use, their purpose
is ultimately a rather grim one. Keeping this in mind then, it would be
well for the gun owner and user, particularly if the use is to be self-defense,
to be aware of the mechanism of death by firearm. Lack of this knowledge
results in two very serious shortcomings. The first is that the user may
not take firearms as seriously as should be the case. This could result
in careless, and excessive use of firearms, shooting when it is not justified,
or shooting to frighten or warn. The second is the possibility that a gun
may be chosen which is not up to the job. Both situations are, alas, all
I am very happy to say that I do not write from
any direct experience. I have never been shot, which is fortunate, and
which happily puts me squarely in the majority. I have also never shot
anyone else. I have read accounts, and talked to people (including my brother)
who have been shot, and they all mention two factors in common. The first
is that there was little pain (initially), but that a great weakness overcame
them. The second is that, no matter where they were hit, they have never
quite been the same since. In some cases it is a matter of reduced mobility,
or of weakness and pain, in others it is numbness, or an ache whenever
the weather changes, a constitutional weakness and susceptability to sickness.
Then there is the scarring, and disfigurement, along with assorted limps,
twinges, losses of coordination, and disabilities. Impairment of abilities
is almost certain. The only matter in doubt is the degree, and the location
of the disability.
Used properly, and at the proper time, a firearm
can be your best friend in a life threatening situation, and the wisest
purchase you ever made. Used improperly, a firearm can get you thrown in
prison, leave you with a lifelong guilty conscience, and end or seriously
impair the life of another human being. It's all a matter of knowledge,
responsability, and proper judgement. Before you do such a thing to a fellow
human being, it is best to consider the justification. In the end, you
will both have to live with the consequnces of this action. Consider that
when you point a gun at another human being, and pull the trigger, you
are subjecting him to all that is described below, and on the following
Why do Bullets kill? What's the best caliber, and
the best round? Is bullet energy the lethal factor, and if so what is the
minimum amount required to make a round effective, and what is the maximum
practical amount which a shooter may reasonably be expected to handle?
What are the other factors besides raw energy which can make a bullet lethal?
Ever since people started shooting at each other, there has been an effort
to answer these questions. You will note that the questions revolve around
the ability of a bullet to kill, not to wound. This does not (hopefully)
reflect a certain blood thirstiness, but rather, it reflects a certain
harsh reality, and the mindset required in considering these matters. The
reality is, despite the silliness seen on T.V. and in the movies, bullets
are not supernatural things. It must be borne in mind that these things
are made up by writers who almost with out exception, are very ignorant
of firearms. I base this assumption on what they produce. To them, a gun
is nothing more than a prop used in plot development. It is very unfortunate
that this seems to be where the bulk of people aqcuire their firearms knowledge.
A few myths should be debunked. First, a bullet
can not knock a man down, "knockdown power" does not exist in anything
less than a cannon. This is not to be confused with "stopping power" which
certainly does exist, although what produces it is a hotly debated point.
There are a number of factors which can be looked at and several different
formulas which have been developed according to the school of thought of
the developer. The factors involved are the bullet weight, the bullet diameter
(caliber), the shape and type of bullet, and in some cases the rifling
of the bore. Other important factors are the shot placement, range, and
state of health of the target. It should be noted that the vast majority
of studies done concern themselves with the lethality of handgun cartridges.
The reason for this is that even a powerful handgun is a marginal stopper
for an animal the size of a human.
So, how do bullets kill? The simple answer is, they
kill by producing lethal wounds, wounds so traumatic, or to such vital
areas, that the body can no longer function. So how do bullets wound, then?
They wound by disrupting, or disorganizing tissue. They tear, bloat, crush,
and punch holes in tissues and organs. In order to do this, a bullet requires
a certain amount of energy. This energy is then transferred to the tissues,
disrupting and in some cases destroying them. This is an important concept
to keep in mind. The amount of tissue directly destroyed is generally on
the order of about two ounces. This may not seem like much, but if it is
two ounces of brain, spine, heart or major artery tissue, the results can
be devastating. There are also some indirect effects, though they are often
questionable, and are only factors under the right conditions.
I have broken the information in this section up
into several categories for ease of use. There is much overlap of categories.
Velocity and energy are related factors, and certain types of bullets depend
greatly on velocity to work properly. Still, it is easier to separate these
factors and consider them individually before trying to make sense out
of the sometimes contradictory "facts" out there about bullet lethality.
This is, despite the constant muddying of the waters, not rocket science.
The factors involved are quite simple, but like nearly anything involving
firearms, are clouded by opinion, politics, self appointed experts, and
rumor. Like everyone with an interest in this gristly subject, I have a
bias. I hope to provide firm, logical reasoning for this bias in the following
sections. The effects under consideration are those of pistol rounds, unless
specific mention is made of a rifle round. The effects of rifle rounds
are very different, and a small section will be devoted to them.