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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Left Behind: Bonus Post!

Welcome back, everyone, to a very special bonus episode of our series on Left Behind, the book that can't even get its facts straight about things conservatives like! Last week we got to witness some rather amazing trick shooting on the part of Nicolae Carpathia. Specifically, he shot through one man's head, killing a second man with the same bullet. Wow!

But the question remains: would that have worked? I speculated that it probably would not have, but that Stonagal's head would have been destroyed by the shock waves from a point-blank discharge. Ken, in contrast, argued that Stonagal would have been killed, but would retain an intact head, and Todd-Cothran would be unharmed. And the authors, obviously, argued that you could shoot through one guy's head with a .38 hollow-point round and kill a second dude with the same bullet. So who was right? The authors,* Ken,** or me?***

To provide an answer, I decided to consult with my friendly neighborhood gun expert. In addition to being a good friend, he's an ex-marine as well as a federally licensed gun dealer. His remarks, on being given the scenario depicted in last week's episode, are as follows:

"Assuming we're talking about a reasonably modern pistol and cartridge (there are many interpretations of what "38" and "long barrelled" can mean depending on time period mostly) loaded with a pretty recent (post 1985 or so) police duty and/or self defense bullet design and powder charge:

Assuming a line-of-sight trajectory entering one ear and through the other ear, the bullet would most likely not exit the skull. These kinds of loads are designed to transfer most (ideally all) their energy to the target. If the projectile reaches the far side of the target with any velocity greater that 0, then that energy is wasted. Indeed, 38 special self defense loads with over standard pressure design propellant and modern hollow point designs have relatively low penetration because 38spl is such a low energy cartridge to begin with. The skull area in question is pretty tough stuff, and would most likely mangle the bullet in unpredictable ways.

If it did exit, it would likely be through a much softer part of the head. The most likely directions I can think of are through the mouth cavity in a variety of directions. This is very sharp turn for a bullet to make. The attempt would likely disintegrate the projectile, dissipating the energy and, again, reducing the probability that it would exit.

Assuming a bullet stayed together and reached its full design expansion without fragmenting (which is bad if the goal is penetration) it would not be crazy amounts larger. Given the mass necessary for adequate energy retention and continued penetration, the ideal expansion is no more than double. For a 38spl that's around 2/3 of an inch, so you would expect an exit wound of that size, since we're talking about the skull, however, consideration must be given to skull fragmentation. It's possible that the bullet only makes a hole smaller than an inch, but the skull shatters and pieces scatter about. I would expect this to be in the golf ball size more than the baseball size.

Hollow points expand under hydrostatic force; the "mostly water" parts of the human body fill the cavity and force the sides outward as the bullet travels forward. If "water" does not fill the cavity, no expansion occurs. In fact, some hollow point designs are completely defeated by thick denim jackets, because the material fills the void and keeps the "water" out. Similarly, if the hollow point is deformed by striking a hard surface (like the skull) without being filled first, then it is unlikely to expand properly, if at all.

The victim would definitley still have a head, in the sense that it would be mostly attached to the body. The kind of dramatic "explosion" you see when fruit (watermellon are popular for this) are shot does not happen with animals the size of humans. Even if a shot were to sever the spinal column, the energy dispersal would have to cross-section the entire neck. That kind of action requires more than what any reasonable person would term as a handgun.

If would be highly unlikely that the bullet would continue on its original trajectory. Any force that changes medium at any angle other than 90 will deflect some amount dependent on the relative travel velocity though both mediums. Light refracting as it enters water is an easy example. The skull is not a relatively flat surface, especially the bits around the ear canal.

In the highly unlikely event that an appreciable mass leaves the first target, it would be very difficult to consider it lethal. Yes, almost anything could kill you; a pellet gun to the juggular with no access to a trauma center could kill you. Any severed artery would lead to exsanguination without medical care. However, firearm lethality is measured in the ability to cause massive trauma to the target that extends beyond the penetration column of the bullet. If the bullet is going fast enough to enter the body but not to cause the shock necessary for that kind of trauma, it's more like being impaled on a steel rod. Sure, that can kill you also, but again it's the blood loss that does it, not the destruction of your internal organs."

And so, in short: Stonagal would still have a head, Todd-Cothran would still have a pulse, and the anti-christ would be a bit embarrassed. And, in terms of score: the authors were the most wrong, followed by me, and then followed by Ken, who was entirely right. Go Ken!

And I'll see the rest of you tomorrow for the next, exciting marginally tolerable episode of Left Behind!

* Yeah, right, like that's going to happen.

** Probably. I mean, Ken tends to be right.

*** Shit, when have I ever been right about anything?



Blogger scripto said...

If God can vaporize the Russian Air Force, street corner preachers can strike people dead with the power of their minds and Buck can find a girlfriend, then the Anti-Christ can have a magic pistol. C'mon, get real.

Also it is former marine, not ex marine. I made that mistake - once.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010 12:14:00 PM  

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