Fireworks and Firearms

Dear Fellow Survivalist;

One of the customs I encountered upon moving into the area I live in several years ago is that people shoot off fireworks for New Years. I’m not really sure why they do it here, but didn’t do it in the state I lived in before. Nevertheless, it’s part of the local culture and so we adapt to it. Who doesn’t enjoy fireworks, assuming that they don’t start a fire?

Unfortunately it doesn’t just stop at fireworks. There are those who see the festivities to shoot off their guns, usually shooting them up into the air. As we all know, what goes up must come down, so those bullets are going to come down somewhere. While there are people making claims that a bullet falling back down to the ground can’t kill you, there are also clear cases where it has happened.

I don’t want to spend the time to get into all the details about exactly why a bullet fired into the air can kill, but allow me to mention a few things. If we were to fire a bullet perfectly straight up, it would continue climbing, losing velocity as it went. Depending on the bullet geometry and initial muzzle velocity, that bullet can go up over 10,000 feet before it runs out of velocity. It then starts falling. That fall is governed by different laws of physics than the rise, specifically the gravitational attraction of the Earth and the resistance of the air it has to pass through. It will reach a terminal velocity (the maximum, consistent speed that a freely falling object achieves, when the air resistance on the object prevents further acceleration. For bullets, that terminal velocity is roughly 150 MPH, although it can vary considerably depending on the weight and geometry of the bullet. By comparison, that speed is only one-tenth of the muzzle velocity.

But, and this is a very big but; the bullet may come down at more than terminal velocity if it was not shot straight up. Then, instead of being a freely falling object, it is an object that retains at least some of its initial velocity. Based upon the same physical laws that allows artillery shells to fire over hills and trees, the bullet will come down somewhere, at some velocity; perhaps even enough to pierce the skin.

Ok, so how much velocity does the bullet need to have, in order to pierce the skin? The commonly accepted minimum speed to accomplish this is 136 MPH. But that is not a hard and fast number, as the shape of the bullet has a lot to do with it as well. A pointier bullet, such as a rifle round, will penetrate at a slower speed than a .45ACP slug will. The bullet from a 9mm handgun can penetrate at as low a speed as 102 MPH.

But bullet speed and geometry aren’t the only factors. The thickness of the skin affects it as well. Take a look at your hand. The skin on the palm is considerably thicker than the skin on the back of your hand. So, while the palm may stop that falling bullet, the back of the hand may not. The farther the bullet penetrates, the more damage it can cause. Should that damage be in certain parts of the body, that falling bullet can be lethal.

Is there much of a chance of being hit by a falling bullet on New Year’s Eve or is there much of a chance of your falling bullet hitting someone? Statistically, the answer is no; there isn’t much of a chance. But that’s not the same as saying that there is no chance. As far as I’m concerned, any chance is too much and I imaging you feel the same way about it.

But not all gun owners are responsible like you and I. There will always be those who think that owning a gun gives them a right to make a fool of themselves with it. So what do you do, if you’re at a New Year’s event and one of those fools is there?

First of all, keep your cool. It’s actually not your responsibility to play the hero and protect everyone. Nevertheless, there may very well be times when you’re the best person to talk them down, not by pulling your own gun, but by using your friendship with them to talk them out of doing something foolish, shooting their gun in the air.

There are two keys here: how close a relationship you have with the person and how drunk they are. The more drunk they are, the less likely they are to listen to reason. At the same time, if you are close friends, you may very well be able to walk up to them, put your arm around their shoulders and take the gun right out of their hand.

Whatever you do, don’t let it become a confrontation. Any confrontation could turn an ugly situation into a truly dangerous one. People are unpredictable when they are drunk, resulting in the many cases of someone shooting a friend or family member at a party, because they have lost their senses. So don’t face them down, don’t tackle them and don’t try to wrestle the gun out of their hands. If you can’t deal with them in a peaceful manner, get out of there. That way, at least you and your family will be safe.

By the way, don’t bother calling the police for a situation like this. I have heard from a number of police officers that what they do when midnight is approaching on New Year’s Eve, is to park their patrol cars under the nearest overpass and wait for the shooting to be over. They don’t want to become a victim any more than anyone else does. So they’re not going to show up on time to stop that fool.

Stay safe; avoid confrontation. Sometimes, that’s even better than keeping your powder dry and your survival gear close at hand.

Dr. Rich

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