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"Four killed, 60 wounded as jubilant Iraqis fire in air "

I saw this headline - bit of a downer to survive Saddam only to die from some random round fired by an idiot:

And here is The Straight Dope: Can a bullet fired into the air kill someone when it comes down?

Hatcher's Notebook (1962) by Major General Julian S. Hatcher, a U.S. Army ordnance expert. Hatcher described military tests with, among other things, a .30 caliber bullet weighing .021 pounds. Using a special rig, the testers shot the bullet straight into the air. It came down bottom (not point) first at what was later computed to be about 300 feet per second. "With the [.021 pound] bullet, this corresponds to an energy of 30 foot pounds," Hatcher wrote. "Previously, the army had decided that on the average an energy of 60 foot pounds is required to produce a disabling wound. Thus, service bullets returning from extreme heights cannot be considered lethal by this standard."

If 30 foot pounds doesn't mean much to you, the bullet made a mark about one-sixteenth of an inch deep in a soft pine board. About what you'd get giving it a good whack with a hammer.


It appears that the fatalities so commonly reported in places such as LA are from more "horizontally" fired shots, including the not so random shots.


Major General Hatcher and his subordinates also conducted numerous tests on what happens to small arms ammunition in fires, how dangerous it becomes, etc.

Their conclusion was that it is not dangerous at all, that it would barely put a dent in cardboard. What you hear when ammunition goes off in a fire is merely the primer detonating. Because the cartridge is not in a strong steel chamber practically no pressure from the burning powder is behind the projectile forcing it out at high velocity.

Large amounts of small arms ammo detonating can sound dangerous as Hell, but the danger is non-existent.

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