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The Ballistic Pressure Wave Theory of Handgun Bullet Incapacitation

The Ballistic Pressure Wave Theory of Handgun Bullet Incapacitation

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Published by Mago Invisivel
The Ballistic Pressure Wave Theory of Handgun Bullet In Capacitation by
Michael Courtney, PhD
Ballistics Testing Group, P.O. Box 24, West Point, NY 10996
Amy Courtney, PhD
Department of Physics, United States Military Academy, West Point, NY 10996
The Ballistic Pressure Wave Theory of Handgun Bullet In Capacitation by
Michael Courtney, PhD
Ballistics Testing Group, P.O. Box 24, West Point, NY 10996
Amy Courtney, PhD
Department of Physics, United States Military Academy, West Point, NY 10996

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Published by: Mago Invisivel on Sep 07, 2009
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The Ballistic Pressure Wave Theory of Handgun Bullet Incapacitation
Michael Courtney, PhDBallistics Testing Group, P.O. Box 24, West Point, NY 10996Michael_Courtney@alum.mit.eduAmy Courtney, PhDDepartment of Physics, United States Military Academy, West Point, NY 10996Amy_Courtney@post.harvard.edu
This paper presents a summary of seven distinct chains of evidence, which, taken together, provide compellingsupport for the theory that a ballistic pressure wave radiating outward from the penetrating projectile can contribute towounding and incapacitating effects of handgun bullets. These chains of evidence include the fluid percussion modelof traumatic brain injury, observations of remote ballistic pressure wave injury in animal models, observations of rapidincapacitation highly correlated with pressure magnitude in animal models, epidemiological data from human shootingsshowing that the probability of incapacitation increases with peak pressure magnitude, case studies in humansshowing remote pressure wave damage in the brain and spinal cord, and observations of blast waves causing remotebrain injury.
Debates in terminal ballistics such as light-and-fast vs. slow-and-heavy debates are dramaticoversimplifications of the more scientificquestion of whether the wound channel (directlycrushed tissue) is the only contributor tohandgun bullet effectiveness or whether a moreenergy dependent parameter such ashydrostatic shock, the temporary stretch cavity,or ballistic pressure wave can also contribute.These debates have been dominated by long-winded rhetoric and authoritative appeals ratherthan scientific data and analysis. Here, wesummarize findings that support and quantifythe pressure wave hypothesis:
Other factors being equal, bullets producing larger pressurewaves incapacitate more rapidly than bullets producingsmaller pressure waves.
The pressure wave hypothesis is supported by:1) Pressure pulses inducing incapacitation andbrain injury in laboratory animals [THG97,TLM05].2) Ballistic pressure waves originating remotelyfrom the brain causing measurable brain injuryin pigs and dogs [SHS87, SHS88, SHS90a,SHS90b, WWZ04].3) Experiments in animals showing theprobability of rapid incapacitation increaseswith peak pressure wave magnitude [STR93,COC06c, COC06d, COC07a].4) Epidemiological data showing that theprobability of incapacitation increases with thepeak pressure wave magnitude [MAS92,MAS96, COC06b].5) Brain damage occurring without apenetrating brain injury in a human case study[THG96, COC07b].6) Ballistic pressure waves causing spinal cordinjuries in human case studies [STU98,SSW82, TAG57].7) Blast waves causing brain injury withoutpenetrating injury or blunt force trauma[MAY97, TAH98, CWJ01].
II.What is the ballistic pressure wave?
The ballistic pressure wave is the force per unitarea created by a ballistic impact that could bemeasured with a high-speed pressuretransducer [COC06c]. The bullet slows downin tissue due to the retarding force the tissueapplies to the bullet. In accordance withNewton’s third law, the bullet exerts an equaland opposite force on the tissue.
The average pressure on the front of a bullet isthe retarding force divided by the frontal area ofthe bullet. The pressure exerted by the mediumon the bullet is equal to the pressure exerted bythe bullet on the medium. Because the frontalarea of a bullet is small, the pressure at thefront of the bullet is large.Once created, this pressure front travelsoutward in all directions in a viscous or visco-elastic medium such as soft tissue or ballisticgelatin. Propagating outward, the wave’sdecreasing magnitude results from theincreasing total area the pressure wave covers.To compare pressure waves produced bydifferent loads, it is necessary to specify thedistance from the center of the bullet path. Fornon-fragmenting JHP handgun bullets thatexpand reliably, the peak pressure wavemagnitude (in PSI) on the edge of a 1” diametercylinder concentric with the bullet path can beestimated as [COC06c]
 E  p
,where E is the kinetic energy (ft-lbs) of thebullet at impact, and d is the penetration depth(feet). The pressure wave is larger forfragmenting bullets [COC06b].Wave magnitude falls off with increasingdistance from the point of origin unless reflectedby a boundary or confined to an internalstructure. An internal pressure wave created inthe thoracic cavity will be reflected multipletimes by the sides of the cavity. Superpositionof waves creates localized regions of highpressure by focusing the wave, just as concavemirrors focus light waves and concave surfacesfocus sound waves.Since pressure wave magnitude is inverselyproportional to penetration depth, cuttingpenetration in half doubles the pressure, ifkinetic energy is the same. However, thepotential for increased incapacitation is limited,because the wave must be created inside softtissue and close to major blood vessels or vitalorgans to have its effect. A bullet that barelypenetrates the thoracic cavity has little effect.Incapacitation effects are reduced forpenetration depths below 9.5 inches[COC06b].
III.Fluid Percussion Model of TBI
The lateral fluid percussion model (LFP) oftraumatic brain injury (TBI) is used to studymechanisms of traumatic brain injury [TLM05].A brief pressure pulse is applied directly to thebrain of a laboratory animal.Both instantaneous incapacitation and neuraldamage can result [THG97]. Investigatorshave shown mild and moderate injury levelsoccur with pressure levels in the 15-30 PSIrange. Pressure waves near 30 PSI causedimmediate incapacitation in laboratory animals.It is widely believed that this model has directapplication to cellular and mechanistic effectsof TBI in humans [TLM05].
IV.Animal models of remote brain injury
et al.
[SHS87, SHS88, SHS90a,SHS90b] implanted high-frequency pressuretransducers into the brains of pigs to measurepressures generated by missile impacts in thethigh. Transient pressure levels in the 18-45PSI range were transmitted to the brain[SHS90a, fig 1].Early tests [SHS87] observed apneic (non-breathing) periods after injury. Tissue analysisshowed damage to brain-blood and blood-nerve barriers. Subsequent experiments[SHS90a, SHS90b] reported damage at thecellular level in the hippocampus andhypothalamus regions of the brain. Thisdamage was apparently caused by pressurewaves transmitted to the brain from the distant(0.5 m) point of origin.
Martin Fackler, former editor of the out of print
Wound Ballistics Review,
published negativereviews of these findings [FAC91a, FAC96a].However, his critical reviews have been shownto contain exaggerations, logical fallacies, andscientific errors [COC06a].For example, Fackler asserts that Suneson'sfindings are invalid because lithotripsy(ultrasonic kidney stone treatment) applies alarge pressure wave without damaging tissue.However, pressure waves associated withlithotripsy have been shown to cause significanttissue injury [EWL98, LOS01, LKK03].In addition, remote brain injury attributed to aballistic pressure wave has also been found in asimilar experiment in dogs. Independentscientists concluded [WWZ04]:
These findings correspond well to the results of Suneson et al.,and confirmed that distant effect exists in the central nervoussystem after a high-energy missile impact to an extremity. Ahigh-frequency oscillating pressure wave with large amplitudeand short duration was found in the brain after the extremityimpact of a high-energy missile . . .
These animal models provide compellingsupport for the pressure wave hypothesis.
V.Animal models of incapacitation
The largest available data set quantifyinghandgun bullet incapacitation in animal testsubjects (goats) [STR93] shows that averageincapacitation time correlates strongly withballistic pressure wave magnitude [COC06c].A model for average incapacitation time interms of peak pressure wave magnitude, p, is:
 p ps p AIT 
,where p
is an adjustable parameter that givesan average incapacitation time of 10 seconds.A least-squares fit gives p
= 482 PSI with astandard error of 1.64 s and a correlationcoefficient of R = 0.91. A plot of AIT(p) isshown in Figure 1 along with the data.
051015202530354045500 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800 2000
   T   i  m  e   (  s  e  c  o  n   d  s   )
Pressure (PSI)Average Incapacitation Time vs. Peak Pressure Wave Magnitude
Figure 1: A plot of average incapacitation time vs. pressure for the Strasbourg tests, along with the best-fit model.
Fackler has also criticized this data set[FAC94a, FAC97a]. Without any eyewitness,documentary, or physical evidence showingfraud, he uses the opinion of a group of expertsto assert that the report is fraudulent [FAC94a]:
The FBI committee, which includes a half dozen of the world’smost highly regarded gunshot-expert forensic pathologists, felt that the organization and wording of the document betrayed it as a hoax. Why else would experimental results be circulated anonymously?
In a self-contradiction, these six "experts" arenot named. The FBI committee remainsanonymous while stating anonymity as thecriterion used to determine that the Strasbourgreport is a hoax!
 Fackler’s review also contains numerousfallacies leading a review to conclude[COC06a]:
 In the absence of support or direct contradiction from other experiments, the veracity of the Strasbourg tests should fairly
In the history of science, there are a number of examples ofanonymous publication. Anonymity is not generally considereda conclusive indication of fraud [COC06a].

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