Sharon Stone and The Quick and the Dead by W. Hock Hochheim
Gunfighter Gene Hackman is shot. Right in the head. The beautiful Sharon Stone beat him to the draw in the grand finale scene of The Quick and the Dead western. To accentuate the drama, Hackman flips completely over in the slow motion macabre of a spaghetti western. How many viewers thought that such a flip could actually happen? Or just think bullets can move people around? Do bullets move people? If so, how much? What do we tell our officers, practitioners, and students about this in training?
In 2007, a police officer published a disgusted tirade in police journals trashing Hollywood and these acrobatic misrepresentations of gunfire. He stated that cinema action misrepresents the truth, confuses the public, the media, lawyers, juries, and, well … even some police administrators about shootings and what does and doesn't happen in a gunfight.
But this irate officer is not alone in voicing his opinion on the subject. There is always a healthy argument running somewhere about it. On one extreme, experts say that bullets hit and move people. On the other end, some argue that bullets do not and cannot move people. Semantics and science are involved here - as well as, some people just like to argue. So we have two groups: the Movers and Non-Movers.
Many of my complainants and my friends who have been shot and research I have looked up have repeatedly used interesting phrases and symbols to describe their wounding. Baseball came up a lot.
“It was like getting hit by a baseball.”
Or you hear, “… like getting hit with a baseball bat.”
Two SAS officers on a CNN special described being shot as “being hit with a sledgehammer.” And the responses do run the whole gamut from being “knocked back" or "knocked down” to “a slapping feeling.” Knocked back or down? What say the Non-Movers about all this?
The Non-Movers quote Newton's Laws of Motions and what I nickname the "Newton Impact" on this. Ol' Sir Isaac Newton has some lasting impact on the world with his three laws. His second law states, in summary, that for every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, if object A exerts a force on object B, then object B also exerts an equal and opposite force on object A. When this comes to shooting people, many will tell you that the force – the recoil of a weapon in your hand or on your shoulder is equal to the force striking your target.
In short, if you don't flip over when you shoot the bad guy? The bad guy will not flip over when he is hit. This would mean that if you fired a perfect kill shot, such as one by a successful sniper, 100 times, 100 bodies would drop straight down dead. The bullet would just zip through a person. ZIP! It would not cause the slightest tumble or a turn to one side from the impact. President Kennedy's head did not move when shot? Nothing. Cold. Ballistics block science. Algebra. The Newton Impact: equal in the hand/equal on the body.
The Movers: Conversely, the Movers cite other variables than cold science, like the situation, flesh, blood, and psychology – that cause people to move in the split seconds before, during, and after actually being shot. Kennedy's head DID move! Here are some before, during, and after discussions.
Before: People may well be already moving in a gunfight. Also, people about to be shot at often see the gun up and aiming at them. They physically react to this presented gun by ducking, dodging, diving, spinning, and running, etc.
During: The human body contains bone mass, mobile joints, and a central nervous system. We yank our hand back from the hot stove. We move our arms from bee stings. We flinch from an insect on or near our eyes. Our nervous systems react from simple touches, bug stings, or higher levels of pain and impact. When bullets strike this anatomy, live body parts react differently than ballistic clay. Take for example a surprise touch on someone's forearm. Just a light touch. The surprised person may well yank his arm back and spin around. The surprise may cause his whole body to jump an inch off the ground! Are these energized reactions the exact same force as the light finger touch? Of course not. The human body is involved.
Explosive sound alone may make the body move. Since the 1930s, there are piles of research on the startle reflex and audible responses from just shocking explosions. Dr. Robert Simmons has documented as many as 25 different body responses from audible shock in what he calls his Startle Museum (24 of them are not fighting stances, by the way). In these cases, the bullet's sound at least may cause movement.
After: After being hit one or more times, shooting victims often do not die right away and, therefore, act like wounded humans continuing to move. (Once downed, there may be something like "after-death" throes.)
There is quite a bit of motion involved with the before, during, and after of being shot. The threat of the bullet, the impact from the bullet, even the sound of the bullet causes it.
I think I should mention the Zapruder film of the Kennedy Assassination. Kennedy's head moved when it was shot. That alone is "mass-consumption" proof that bullets move bodies. One could close this case right there.
The Hackman Flip
But since we started out with the Gene Hackman western movie example, has anyone ever really done a “Hackman flip”? In the 1990s, I discovered another Hackman-style flip. I did a considerable amount of research for my book called Military Knife Combatives and hunted through recent history and biography books for actual knife fights in this modern age of repeating firearms. While doing so, I incidentally came upon hundreds of personal recollections of people being shot.
I was reading a Vietnam War memoir, and a soldier talked about a fellow troop of his being shot in the helmet. The troop told him, "It knocked the life out of me," and that he "saw his toes flip up in front of his face" and then blacked out. The author saw his friend flip almost upside down, and the helmet was destroyed, virtually split in half. The guy immediately recovered and appeared unhurt. (But the writer mentions the man died back in the States years later from a brain aneurysm.)
I read this from the nonfiction book, Code Name: Copperhead. My True-Life Exploits As a Special Forces Soldier, by Sergeant Major Joe R. Garner, U.S. Army (RET.). "In Ban Me Thuot, a friend who had been wounded told me, 'Joe, you just cannot believe the impact that the AK-47 has. I got shot in the leg, and it knocked me head over heels. My rifle went ten feet from me. The NVA came up; and if it hadn't been for one of the other men killing him, I was unarmed, and the NVA would have killed me.'”
Not a Flip, but a Pick-up?
In the biography, Unrepentant Sinner, by Colonel Charles Askins, he tells us of the adventures of a lifetime. Once in the late 1950's in Vietnam, Askins wanted to try out the brand new Smith and Wesson .44 Magnum revolver. On patrol, they observed some communist infiltrators and set up an ambush. In the ambush, Askins fired his new pistol first as the enemy passed them by. Askins shot the last man in the line (in the back?). Askins was "delighted by the huge revolver's performance, lifting the body off his feet." (In Newton equal/equal law, both Askins and the soldier would have to be knocked down.)
These are just three Newtonian, equal-force, flipping and lifting head-scratchers! Did both these shooters flip, too, when they shot these flippers? More interesting is that these three shots were complete surprise shots without warning and without other body responses involved - the bodies were not in an alerted dodge or dive mode. What say ye, Mr. Newton? Mister Newton, aside from the dramatic and unusual Hackman flips, is there more science and math than this in the simplistic equal-equal force, Newton Impact equation that explains these bodily reactions to bullets?
Dr. Sean Ross of New Mexico is a government scientist who works on various weapons projects for the U.S. Military. He reports:
“Newton's laws of motion do apply here, but Newton's 2nd law applies to forces - force isn't what knocks a person down unless the force is crushing. Momentum transfer is what knocks something down. The correct way to analyze this is using the time integral of Newton's 3rd law F=mA, namely I=delta P, the "impulse-momentum" theorem. The Impulse is the integral of the force over time, F=-delta T. That impulse is equal to the change in momentum imparted to the body.”
Okay! Got that? The 3rd law explains and allows more than the 2nd law. Even if you don't get this now, before you use the “Newton Impact” line again to defend your non-moving, equal/equal argument, you should school yourself on the 3rd law, else the experts will cluck-cluck and chastise you as uneducated and ill-informed. Don't just regurgitate what some old gun magazine article or some range instructor ... had regurgitated to him ... and so on.
There are no questions for me. As an investigator in the U.S. Army and a detective and patrolman in Texas stomping through hundreds of shooting crime scenes and investigations for three decades, I have been in some and around a lot of shootings. I have seen a few people actually get shot. For me, it is painfully simple, a no-brainer. Bullets can move people. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes they do.
Which leads me to Sir Hochheim's Law of Violent Impact, the 7th Rule:
“No one can guarantee what a punch, a kick, a stab,
or a gunshot will do to you. No one.”
And another truth I hold to be self-evident? My 1st Rule!