The majority of bullets wound deaths occur through bleeding. A bullet destroying the brain may kill the personality, but the body basically dies due to loss of blood.
There are some exceptions: 1: a bullet passing through the medulla oblongata kills without blood loss. The medulla controls bodily functions, like breathing. So when a bullet destroys it, the body shuts down and quickly dies. 2: a bullet destroying the heart stops blood flow and, therefore kills the body. 3: shock suffered due to being shot kills as many soldiers on the battlefield as blood loss. 4: infection from a poorly treated bullet wound can kill the body.
In ballistics, weight and speed make all the difference. A .50 caliber bullet is big, heavy, and fast. A .50 caliber bullet, weighing as much as 800 grains and traveling at about 2900 feet-per-second, strikes the target with 14,895 foot-pounds of force at the muzzle. A human body struck with a .50 caliber suffers terrible damage. A .50 caliber bullet has enough energy to penetrate an engine block (Youtube Video .50 Caliber Rifle Shoots Engine Block).
A .25 caliber bullet, weighing 50 grains, travels at under 800 feet-per-second and strikes the target with 65 foot-pounds of force at the muzzle. A human body struck with a .25 caliber bullet does not suffer much damage. A .25 caliber bullet does not have the energy necessary to pass all the way through a car door (Youtube Will A .25 Caliber Go Through A Car Door? The answer is no).
Bullets do not have much mass, so drag robs them quickly of energy (impact is the greatest drag a bullet experiences). Mass is not size but weight. The smaller the mass (weight), the faster drag robs its energy. Bullets are made of lead for the increased mass to size ratio.
Pistols usually shoot bullets at subsonic speeds, below 1,116.44 feet per second at sea level.
Rifles usually shoot bullets at supersonic speeds, above 1,116.44 feet-per-second at sea level.
Bullets range from about 35 grains to 800 grains. A U.S. penny weights about 38 grains. Twenty-one U.S. pennies weigh about 800 grains.
Solid nose bullets usually do not break apart but become deformed upon impact (round nose bullets and pointy nosed bullets). Full metal jacket bullets (FMJ) deform less than non-FMJ lead bullets. There are not that many non-FMJ bullets on the market anymore. Hollow point bullets mushroom and fragment, causing more damage than solid nose bullets. There are various other designs, such as bullets designed to disintegrate upon impact, used by Air Marshals on commercial aircraft. Disintegration prevents the bullet from passing through the bad guy and then through the side of the aircraft at altitude.
Movies and television give a false impression of the ability and power of firearms (pistols and rifles). In the movie The Day of the Jackal, the original, the detective shoots the assassin with an assault rifle, and the bullets’ impact throws the killer across the room. It was a great scene, but this simply cannot happen in real life.
The damage a bullet produces is due to the speed, weight, and design of the projectile.
Jodi Arias shot Travis Alexander in his head with a .25 caliber automatic (pistol). To understand the damage done due to that shot, it’s important to understand the characteristics of the .25 caliber pistol and its bullet.
This is not trick photography. This tiny, toy-sized pistol is a real .25 caliber automatic.
Writing to Innocence
writer / fine art photographer / editor
28 May 2015
Travis Alexander’s Skull
Travis Alexander had been shot in the head with a .25 caliber Winchester bullet fired from a .25 caliber pistol of an unknown make.
During autopsy, Dr. Kevin Horn noted two holes in Travis Alexander’s skull, a smaller hole in the forehead, and a larger hole in the base of the skull at the cribriform plate. The bullet had created these two holes. The bullet had been fired at a dramatically downward angle. It struck his forehead above the right eye and came to rest in the fleshy part of the left cheek.
The track between the two holes transverses the brainpan, which of course dissects the brain. This placement of the two holes caused Dr. Horn to believe the bullet had passed through the front lobe of Alexander’s brain. Note: this pathway zigzags, from the forehead through the brainpan to the cribriform plate, and then from the cribriform plate to the cheek. The direct path between the wound in the forehead and final resting place of the bullet is through the facial skeleton.
Mass and Drag
Ball up some newspaper, softball size, and throw it against the wind. It will not go far. Pick up a softball and throw it against the wind. The wind will not have much affect on the softball’s distance.
Now throw the paper ball a glass window. It bounces off the glass no matter how hard you throw it. Now throw a softball at the same glass window. The ball shatters the window easily. The softball and paper ball are the same size, but the mass (weight) of the softball is greater than the mass of the paper ball.
The mass of a .50 caliber / 800-grain bullet carries a great deal of energy, due to its mass and speed. It blasts through just about anything it hits, including steel. The .25 caliber, 50-grain bullet carries very little energy, the least of any pistol on the market except for some derringers. A thick leather jacket can stop this bullet.
Glue two pennies together. This will weigh seventy-seven grains, more than a 50-grain bullet. Throw this at a window from, say, ten feet. The pennies might crack the window, but they will not smash it. Now glue twenty pennies together and throw it against the same window from the same distance. This will penetrate the glass easily.
In the following video, a .25 caliber bullet shot from a pistol into ballistics gel from about two feet. It travels about ten and a half inches into the gel (Youtube .25 Caliber Pistol, 50-Grain FMJ Ballistics Gel Test). Shooting bullets into ballistics gel is misleading for the unschooled. Ballistics gel is meant to compare bullet energy and behavior against each other and not to judge the distance the bullet travels into a human body. Ten inches is thicker than most men’s chests. However, the lightweight, underpowered .25 caliber bullet striking a man’s chest will never pass through his body.
Compare the .25 caliber bullet against the .357 magnum bullet (pistol), a much more powerful sidearm (Youtube .357 Mag, Ballistics Gel). The bullet passes completely through the block of gel, causing a massive cavity.
Skin and muscle rob the bullet of much energy. Bone robs a bullet of more energy than muscle and skin, depending upon which bone is stuck. In the human head, the skull bone at the temple is fairly thin and robs a bullet of less energy than that of the forehead. The bone of the forehead, on the other hand, is very dense. God designed the forehead with dense bone so we don’t instantly die the first time we strike or heads on the first low-lying branch.
Bullet Wounds of the Head
According to the scholarly work, Missile Wounds of the Head and Neck, Volume 1, “Self-inflicted gunshot wounds are almost always through and through, but when all intracranial gunshot injuries are taken into account, the bullet stays in the skull >70% of the time.” (page 45)
In other words, when someone presses a firearm, usually a pistol, against his head at point blank range (and often against the temple), the bullet can pass through the brain and exit the far side of the head. This is true for larger caliber weapons, 9mm, .38 caliber, .357, etc. Although this can happen, it does not always happen. All things considered, bullets fired by any caliber stay in the brainpan about seven out of ten times.
However, .25 and .22 caliber bullets are so lightweight and underpowered, the skull bone on the far side of the brain will always stop the bullet. Even a .25 caliber bullet fired point blank into the temple of an adult male always remains in the cranium, even if it should strike the thinner bone of the temple on the far side. After passing through even the thin temple bone and the brain, the .25 caliber bullet simply does not have the energy produced by mass and speed to break through the skull on the far side. It will spend all its energy inside the cranium.
(A common myth is the .25 caliber bullet bounces around inside the skull. This is foolishness. If the bullet enters the cranium, which is not a given, the bullet will often not pass all the way through the brain. If it does reach the far side of the cranium, the skull bone will simply stop the bullet. It will not bounce around in side the brainpan.
Impact of the .25 Caliber
Also according to Missile Wounds of the Head and Neck, “if a bullet is fired straight-on into the head [striking the head at a 90-degree angle], bullet deflection is unlikely; however, if the bullet is fired at an angle or hits a curved portion of the skull, deflection will usually result. In some cases, the bullet will form a wound track as if follows the curved bone, and may even exit without perforating the skull. It is also possible that a bullet piercing the skull will ricochet along the inner skull and remain lodged in it. In such instances, bullet-brain interaction is minimized, resulting in minimal brain damage.” (page 45, supplemental comment and emphasis mine)
In other words: bullets of all calibers have a difficult time entering the cranium when they strike the skull at an angle and or when they strike the curve of the skull—this includes 9mm, .38 caliber, .357 magnum, and other large caliber bullets.
If a bullet strikes the thinner bone of the temple at an angle, it stands a better chance of entering the cranium. If it strikes the forehead, the densest portion of the skull, it has the least chance of entering the cranium.
Moreover, and somewhat surprisingly, a bullet often deflects without penetrating the skull and follows the curve of the skull between the skull and scalp, remaining between the skull and scalp without exiting. Many people have walked into emergency rooms having been shot in the head with the bullet trapped under the scalp, the bullet having traveled around the curve of the head between skull and scalp.
In addition, and more surprisingly, a bullet entering the brainpan often deflects and, having penetrated the brainpan, follows the inside curve of the skull around the brain. The lighter and less powerful the bullet, the more likely this occurs.
A bullet’s deflection became an issue in the recent trial of the police officer, who stood on the hood of a car and fired multiple rounds into a car. The entire standing-on-the-hood thing infuriated the populous, seeming a more aggressive action than necessary. However, bullets fired into the angled safety glass of windshields tend to deflect upward. Standing on the hood of the car allowed the police officer to shoot through the glass at a ninety-degree angle, so the bullets could penetrate without deflection.
The Problem of the .25 Caliber Entering The Cranium and or Damaging Alexander's Brain
According to research, a bullet entering the cranium tends to stay in the cranium. According to research, a bullet striking the head at a dramatic angle tends to deflect. According to research, a bullet striking the curve of the head tends to deflect.
According to ballistics, a .25 caliber bullet has great difficulty penetrating the dense bone of an adult male’s forehead (even when it should strike the bone straight on, 90-degree angle). A bullet entering the cranium by striking the curved portion of the forehead at a dramatic angle is highly improbable, especially a .25 caliber bullet fired from a .25 automatic pistol.
According to ballistics, if a .25 caliber bullet should manage to punch its way through the forehead of an adult male into the cranium, it will spend nearly the entirety of its energy doing so. Therefore, having spent almost all its energy entering the cranium, the bullet will not have enough energy left over to punch its way back out of the cranium.
Therefore, it is impossible for the .25 caliber bullet striking Alexander’s forehead at a dramatic downward angle to have entered the cranium, passed through the brain, and then retained enough energy to punch its way out the base of the skull to rest in the cheek. This is not unlikely or improbably—This is impossible.
This is so important, it must be repeated—a .25 caliber bullet managing to penetrate the forehead of an adult male will spend the majority if not all its energy doing so; and it is impossible for that bullet to then punch its way back out of the brainpan. This is impossible.
The bullet that struck Travis Alexander on 4 June 2008 took a different pathway, the straight-line pathway through the facial skeleton. As it passed through the nasal passages, it struck the perpendicular plate of ethmoid bone, which is attached to the cribriform plate in the base of the skull. This shocked the cribriform plate ripped it out of place, creating the larger hole Dr. Horn discovered in the base of the skull.
The sinus cavity / facial skeleton pathway is the most likely in the Alexander case. A brainpan pathway for the .25 caliber bullet is simply impossible.