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Q: Shooting a bullet straight up ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: Shooting a bullet straight up
Category: Science > Physics
Asked by: segwonk-ga
List Price: $8.50
Posted: 07 Feb 2004 03:10 PST
Expires: 08 Mar 2004 03:10 PST
Question ID: 304392
Every year on New Year's eve, we always hear warnings from police
departments not to fire guns in the air because of the danger (and the
legality in urban areas too, I suppose).  Now, I understand that if
you fire straight up in a vacuum, the bullet will slow to a stop at
its peak, then return to its original speed at its point of departure
-- very dangerous indeed.  But in the real world of wind resistance,
wouldn't a bullet on its downward journey hit a terminal velocity
similar to, say, someone throwing it?  Painful sure, but hardly
deadly.  Am I totally wrong about this?
Subject: Re: Shooting a bullet straight up
Answered By: robertskelton-ga on 07 Feb 2004 04:32 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi there,

Someone has done the math on your question and concludes:

"So, instead of the bullet returning to the shooter at 900 m/s, the 
velocity is significantly less, but still pretty damaging for such a 
speed. Of course, it would be fatal if it struck in a vital area of the 
body like the head or chest.  I have assumed that since the bullet was 
fired upwards, the impact coming back down would most likely be to the 
    To summarize, the unfortunate result of this story is that the bullet 
leaves the muzzle at 900 m/s  travels upwards, stops, and comes back 
towards the shooter and impacts at 40.79 m/s.  Definitely a bad thing if 
you ask me."

Read all of his/her post at MadSci:

Based on that answer, I looked for evidence...

"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.

...A bullet struck Murr on the top of the head and exited at the
bottom of his skull, authorities said."

"At least 10 people were killed as the Philippines rang in the New
Year, with a grenade attack and celebratory gunfire blamed. More than
400 were injured by fireworks... Seventeen people were injured by
stray bullets."

"At six past midnight we were dispatched to a gunshot wound to a
woman's leg. The bullet had come through the roof of her home and hit
her in the leg while she was watching television. The wound appeared
to have been in the .22 to .25 caliber range. "

The question was also asked and answered at the following sites:

Ask a Scientist

The Guardian,5753,-24635,00.html

San Diego Union-Tribune

ABC Australia


Search terms used:
science bullet "in the air" "back down"
died bullet "fired in the air" "back down"

Best wishes,
segwonk-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Thanks Robert --  nice work.
-- segwonk

Subject: Re: Shooting a bullet straight up
From: omnivorous-ga on 07 Feb 2004 03:29 PST
The terminal velocity on a bullet's going to be very high.  It won't
come down in the same place either, as Coriolis effect (even for 2
seconds) is pretty dramatic when New York is moving at about 1200
Subject: Re: Shooting a bullet straight up
From: crabcakes-ga on 07 Feb 2004 09:20 PST
I can't speak to the velocity or force of a bullet, but I can speak to
the deadliness of them. There have been dozens of people killed in my
area from what are called "Stray" bullets. These stray bullets can and
do kill!

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