Key messages

• The science of ballistics involves internal ballistics (what happens to the bullet inside the weapon), external ballistics (flight characteristics), and terminal ballistics. When the target is living tissue, terminal ballistics is also referred to as wound ballistics.

• The number attached to any given bullet is its diameter in inches (e.g. .45 caliber = 0.45 inches) or in millimeters (e.g. 9 mm).

• The tissue damage caused by a bullet is that which is crushed in its path (permanent cavitation) and, in the case of non-elastic tissue, includes that stretched beyond its limits by temporary cavitation.

• The effective diameter of a bullet, and therefore the amount of tissue encountered by the bullet, is expanded beyond the original diameter for hollow-point and soft-point bullets.

• Muzzle velocities are markedly different between the typical handgun bullets and those fired from rifles. This difference is due in large part to the size of the cartridge, and therefore the amount of gunpowder exploded during discharge of the weapon.

• Yaw refers to the end-over-end motion of the projectile through its target.

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