November 25, 2003


That ol' gravity sure is a tricky customer:

A bullet fired in the air during a Ku Klux Klan initiation ceremony came down and struck a participant in the head, critically injuring him, authorities said.

The Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue Department offers further insights into this fascinating gravity phenomenon. Klanners may take note:

Please remember that what goes up, must come down. Therefore, firearms should not be fired in the air. In past years, innocent victims celebrating festive holidays such as July Fourth have been killed, or injured when hit by falling bullets caused by the insensitivity of people using guns as a party favor. It is the utmost of importance that all people refrain from using firearms as a celebration device.

(Via Silent Running.)

Posted by Tim Blair at November 25, 2003 12:27 PM

No! No! Don't discourage the Klan from using firearms! Not as long as they keep hitting each other!

Posted by: R.W. at November 25, 2003 at 12:49 PM

I admire the problem-solution efficiency of this story.

Except you KNOW it was the Jews that really shot him.

Posted by: Mike G at November 25, 2003 at 12:54 PM


Too bad the most he'll qualify for is a Darwin Awards "Honorable Mention".

Posted by: Tom at November 25, 2003 at 12:55 PM

This story's incorrect, and simple ballistics tell us the victim was shot at close range.

Many years ago, the US Army wanted to evaluate the lethality of small arms fire at long ranges, and that of projectiles fired vertically which then returned to earth. They selected one of the calmest spots in the US, a lake in Florida, and built a long jetty out over the water. At dawn, when the winds were still, they fired a machine gun mounted on a bracket in a vertical position. Spotters protected by a roof looked for splashes in the water. From memory none of the rounds returned on the same plane, and the retained energy of those which struck the jetty was barely enough to dent the wood. There's no way a tumbling and unstable projectile (especially a pistol projectile, with its poor ballistic coefficient) would have the energy to produce a through-and-through wound in a human skull.

Posted by: Byron the Aussie at November 25, 2003 at 01:33 PM

Yes - I smell urban myth.

Posted by: Mork at November 25, 2003 at 01:44 PM

I did wonder sbout one thing. The guy was supposedly seriously injured by the head wound. But if he's joining the Klan he obviously has no vital organs there, so what was so serious about it?

Posted by: Michael Lonie at November 25, 2003 at 02:17 PM

I have to agree with Byron, no matter how fast it went up, it will not fall at the same speed. Terminal velocity and stuff. Shame though, there'd be a lot fewer islamofascists if it were true, they just wet themselves at the first opportunity to shoot off the AK-47 and go oola oola oola oola oola or whatever that warbling thing is that the women do.

Posted by: Jake D at November 25, 2003 at 03:13 PM

ohh...not gravity...serindipity!

Posted by: Timothy Lang at November 25, 2003 at 03:24 PM

Actually, Byron you are incorrect. Just ask any journalist who has attended a Hamas funeral in the Gaza Strip. I had a friend reporting from Israel who turned up at his first funeral and wonder, aloud, why he was the only journo not wearing an old military style steel helmet. An AFP correspondent helpfully pointed out that dozens of people are killed and maimed each year in the ME as a result of falling bullets. Terminal velocity is 7.8 metres per second squared. That is seriously fast.

Posted by: Margo's First XVIII at November 25, 2003 at 04:07 PM

considering that firing in the air is standard in the middle east and only a few people are killed each year, falling bullets can't be that dangerous even if thay can be seriously painful (also, a large bullet will fall faster and hit harder). I suspect the real danger is that someone will get accidently shot directly

Posted by: maor at November 25, 2003 at 04:34 PM

What happens if you shoot at say, 10 degrees elevation, i.e. at a fairly low trajectory from earth. When does the bullet reach terminal velocity, how far up does it go, when does gravity cut it and how far away does it hit the earth (for a given calibre).

I want answers.

Posted by: pooh at November 25, 2003 at 04:47 PM

Bullets in the Sky

"Out of the more than 500 shots fired from the test platform only 4 falling bullets struck the platform and one fell in the boat near the platform. One of the bullets striking the platform left a 1/16 inch deep mark in the soft pine board. The bullet struck base first."

Posted by: Clarke Kent at November 25, 2003 at 05:50 PM

Thanks, Clarke.

To that we should add that the .30/06 rounds they would have been using would (most likely) be heavier and (most definitely) more stable in flight, including falling, than the pistol projectile in this case. There'll be a follow up to this story and someone will be charged with attempted murder, rather than an accidental shooting. Cheers, By

Posted by: Byron the Aussie at November 25, 2003 at 08:32 PM

Terminal velocity is 7.8 metres per second squared.
Teriminal velocity isn't anything squared.
Metres per second squared is an acceleration.
Velocity is metres per second.

And terminal velocity depends on the mass and surface area of the object.

Posted by: bai at November 25, 2003 at 09:41 PM

A few more details of the experiment Byron refers to here

Posted by: Maurice at November 25, 2003 at 10:33 PM

Looks like the link didn't show - guess anyone interested will have to cut 'n paste.

Posted by: Maurice at November 25, 2003 at 10:36 PM

"A large bullet will fall faster and hit harder." I always that that Galileo chap was a bit dodgy.

Posted by: Notarocketscientist at November 26, 2003 at 01:02 AM

That's why you are not a rocket scientist, Notarocketscientist! Galileo' experiment is more of a thought experiment, with air drag not taken into account. Do you really think a ping-pong ball will fall with the same speed and acceleration as a bowling ball?

Bai is partially right, but (along with weight/vs surface area and shape) the spin or tumble of a bullet on it's way down has a big effect on it's terminal velocity.

I can see a large caliber piece of lead hurting pretty bad no matter how it falls, but not a .22.

And velocity is not in m/s or ft/s without including a direction. I've seen total misuse of the word in these posts. Speed is the scalar. Velocity is a vector.

Clear as mud??

Posted by: Jimmy Antley at November 26, 2003 at 04:34 AM


Ok, to sum up.

The energy of the bullet will be exactly equal to a lead/steel/copper pellet dropped from a height (H= where the kinetic energy runs out, after a lot of air resistance.). It's fast enough to hurt you (especially rifle bullets), but most people have thick skulls, so it won't kill you, just give you nasty scalp cut.

The *rotation* of the bullet will be unimpaired which will gyro stabilize the things so they land pretty well base down, and THEN go whipping off and generally make people nervous.

The problem in the middle east is all the numb-nuts firing rifles off at angles substantially lower than 90deg +/-. At that point a lot of the kinetic energy IS NOT converted into height and air resistance, and you have a conventional bullet problem.


Posted by: Fred at November 26, 2003 at 04:34 AM

No, Fred that is wrong. The energy at the bottom will be less than that of the bullet at zero speed (top of the parabola) due to air drag on the way down. This drag will depend a lot on whether the bullet is still rotating normally (low drag, high terminal speed), or whether it is tumbling end-over-end (high drag, low terminal speed).

If you are not an engineer, please do not write BS about the physics, mmmKay?

Posted by: Jimmy Antley at November 26, 2003 at 05:01 AM

Hey Jimmy! You are quite correct of course - except in your advice to seek good physics from engineers! As one who had the pleasure of tutoring engineering students many years ago, I am not impressed by the grip of engineers collectively on the fundamentals of physics, and even less of mathematics. "Hey, whatever works" kind of sums up the average engineer's approach to theory, in my experience! They build great shit, though.

Posted by: Bob Bunnett at November 26, 2003 at 07:42 AM

If I'm walking across a bridge I want the engineers to have known about physics, OK?

Posted by: pooh at November 26, 2003 at 01:29 PM

Where's the sport in that, Pooh?

Posted by: Ken Summers at November 26, 2003 at 02:25 PM