Wednesday, January 05, 2022

How Dangerous is Shooting Into the Air?

Some cultures tend to celebrate military victories, weddings, holidays, sports victories, and/or random events by firing guns into the air. This includes the United States. These events can be extremely dangerous when the participants are already inebriated, but when someone is just firing towards the sky, what's the harm? Well, those bullets will have to come down somewhere, and it's almost impossible to determine where ahead of time. Debunked explains the physics of shooting into the air and the consequences of falling bullets. The ad in the middle is about 1:15 long, and can be fast-forwarded. (via Digg)


karl in belgium said...

The 2001 film The Mexican, with Brad Pitt, uses this as a plot device.

And My two eldest children and myself do Popinjay, which is vertical archery, so we're well aware of falling projectiles.

xoxoxoBruce said...

I'd never heard of Popinjay, Karl. Took me a while to find it because Google was fixated on British slang, but adding vertical archery did it. Scots get blamed for coming up with a strange sport again. Also called papingo, and staande wip. We have a horizontal version as well in North America.
Thanks for that rabbit hole, Karl, it was fun.

Anonymous said...

So, if I drop a penny off the ESB it's no problem, but if I drop a bullet, it may kill someone?

Are their terminal velocities that different?

Wikipedia says, yes.

karl in belgium said...

My pleasure, xoxoxoBruce! The origins of vertical archery are not that clear, but the Aeneis already mentions such a competition. It's still quite popular in Flanders, the North of France (where it's called 'tir à la perche') and the South of the Netherlands, and the two North American regions where lots of FLemish migrants went: Southern Ontario, Michigan and Illinois. Liggende wip, the horizontal version of the vertical staande wip, seems to be a much more recent development, dating back to the late 19th century.

Bicycle Bill said...

MythBusters Episode 50: Bullets Fired Up  (air date April 19, 2006)

Bullets fired into the air maintain their lethal capability when they eventually fall back down.

Busted / Plausible / Confirmed

In the case of a bullet fired at a precisely vertical angle (something extremely difficult for a human being to duplicate), the bullet would tumble, lose its spin, and fall at a much slower speed due to terminal velocity and is therefore rendered less than lethal on impact.  Under these specific, highly-unlikely circumstances, their verdict: Busted.

However, if a bullet is fired upward at a non-vertical angle, it will maintain its spin and will reach a high enough speed to be lethal on impact.  Because of this potentiality, firing a gun into the air is illegal in most states – and even in the states where it is legal, it is not recommended by the police.  Under these more-likely circumstances, the verdict had to be:  Plausible.

Finally, the MythBusters were able to identify two people who had been injured by falling bullets, one of them fatally injured.  Because of this, they also had to render a verdict of confirmed.

Incidentally, this is the only myth to ever receive all three labels.