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Old May 3, 2012, 08:38 AM   #1
Ruark
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Your shot vs. the BG's trigger finger

We've all seen the scenario on TV where the BG is holding a gun to a hostage's head and everybody puts down their guns. Or he's standing in a bank or convenience store pointing a gun across the counter at an employee.

I've heard numerous times that if such a BG is shot through the head, that he will NOT pull the trigger, that his fingers will reflexively extend, not contract. But I've heard just the opposite, too. This is one of those questions where "everybody is an expert."

One variable might be the type of gun. It may be that if he's holding a DA revolver or a semiauto with a long DA trigger pull, and you put a round through his head, he probably won't make the shot. But what if he's got the hammer back and his finger is resting on a light SA trigger pull?

Does anybody have any reliable information on this topic? I think it would be interesting to discuss, since some self defense situations will include a BG who already has a gun out and is pointing it at somebody.
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Old May 3, 2012, 08:55 AM   #2
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I aim for center mass.

In truth it would depend on what section(s) of the brain was(were) destroyed by the projectile. Assuming the bullet went through the spinal cord at the base of the brain then it would sever it entirely and disrupt any possible motor function.

If the round only went through the auditory or visual cortex's of the brain then it is possible that a signal to the trigger finger could go off uninterrupted.

I would imagine that any blow to the brain would render the person unconscious so the trigger pull would just be an involuntary muscle movement or the BG's brain sent the signal to pull the trigger right as you fired.
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Old May 3, 2012, 09:14 AM   #3
Dave P
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"where the BG is holding a gun to a hostage's head "


Uh, I hope I am not that hostage, if you going to try and stop him with a pistol.

I would hope the good Samaritan in that case has a 308 rifle aimed at BG's head - I would trust that for a one-shot stopper.
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Old May 3, 2012, 09:18 AM   #4
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I'm with Dave. If a BG is holding me hostage, please don't shoot. Protect yourself. Let me worry about protecting myself. Most likely, I will use one of several physical techniques I've learned to try to get away - lots of movement and I don't want to be dodging friendly fire too.
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Old May 3, 2012, 09:51 AM   #5
Brian Pfleuger
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It's not enough to get a head shot.

You have to destroy the hypothalamus (IF, BIG IF, I remember my anatomy correctly). Which is a region of the brain almost dead center, directly behind the bridge of the nose. This is why getting shot "between the eyes" is instantly incapacitating. It completely cuts off all nerve signals to the entire body.

Could be the hippocampus too... Can't remember. Is there a biologist around here?
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Old May 3, 2012, 09:53 AM   #6
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The way I understand it, the only shot that will render instant incapacitation is a shot that severs the brain stem, completely (called internal decapitation)
. The body will crumble straight down, with no other movements. Any shot that does not completely sever the brain stem, and there could be movement, voluntarily or involuntarily, and that movement could be the bad guy pulling the trigger.

I’m not willing to take that chance, with a pistol or with a rifle.
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Old May 3, 2012, 10:26 AM   #7
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Pretty sure it was the well known trainer, John Farnam, who said that if you shoot someone in the head, they might not get your jokes, but they might still be able to shoot back.
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Old May 3, 2012, 11:47 AM   #8
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A shot to the brainstem, or the top of the spinal cord, will instantly incapacitate someone, but if I were the hostage, I'd really rather you didn't take the shot. That's a very small target (an inch or so), and even if you hit it, that's still a finger on the trigger. Even without reflexive movement, who's to say what the gun might catch on as the hostage-taker is falling?

And, Brian, if you shoot him in the hippocampus, that won't prevent reflexive movements -- he just won't remember what happened.

I just read a crime novel in which one of the cops at a hostage-taking scene got the BG to take his finger off the trigger by telling him there was a bee in his hair... then she shot him. (Fiction is a wonderful thing...)
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Old May 3, 2012, 12:47 PM   #9
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I find it difficult to believe that the location of the shot (i.e. brain stem shot) would make that much difference, unless you're tapping him with a .22 short. But the hydrostatic shock, of, say, a .45 ACP hollow point blasting through the brain cavity isn't going to allow any BG time to send a signal saying "pull the trigger."

I'd appreciate if we could stay on topic. The topic is whether or not a head shot will prevent a trigger pull, not "hostage rescue strategies."
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Old May 3, 2012, 01:41 PM   #10
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Ever put a bullet through a deers head for a kill shot, then see it kick its legs a couple of times, maybe we didnt shoot the right part of the brain or something, but I wouldnt want to be the guy at the end of the bad guys barrell in this situation.
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Old May 3, 2012, 02:12 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ruark
I find it difficult to believe that the location of the shot (i.e. brain stem shot) would make that much difference, unless you're tapping him with a .22 short. But the hydrostatic shock, of, say, a .45 ACP hollow point blasting through the brain cavity isn't going to allow any BG time to send a signal saying "pull the trigger."
It's not a matter of whether the BG has time to "send a signal." We're talking about a reflexive, involuntary response to being shot.

It does happen. See the book, Tactical Anatomy, by James S. Williams, MD, for a discussion of why the location of the head shot matters. Here's a summary from a review of that book by Massad Ayoob:
The commonly described “head shot” is not guaranteed to work: the face, the jaw, and the notoriously bullet-ricocheting internal helmet of skull bone that physicians call the cranial vault, are not the optimum targets. Deep brain, the area that controls autonomic response, is the target of choice when a sniper must neutralize a hostage taker without a reflexive pull of his trigger, or when a street cop must shut down a gunman who has been shot to pieces but is still firing at police. Dr. Williams teaches this as the “brainstem zone of incapacitation.”
[My emphasis]
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Last edited by Vanya; May 3, 2012 at 03:55 PM. Reason: too many words.
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Old May 3, 2012, 02:22 PM   #12
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I'm sure kraigwy can speak to the sniping aspect of it but I recall one situation that illustrates the point.

There was a hostage situation, I THINK, maybe in Alaska but I don't remember. A man had grabbed a little girl and was blocking traffic on a bridge and holding her over the edge threatening to drop her.
A police sniper ran something like a mile and a half through backed up traffic to get where he could make a shot.
He waited until the guy brought the girl back over the railing (which the guy was doing repeatedly) and shot him right at the bridge of his nose, specifically because he knew it would instantly cease all motor function.
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Old May 3, 2012, 02:30 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vanya
A shot to the brainstem, or the top of the spinal cord, will instantly incapacitate someone, but if I were the hostage, I'd really rather you didn't take the shot. That's a very small target (an inch or so),...
Exactly. To borrow an old movie quote, "Do you feel lucky?", because unless you're a skilled sniper with a big bore rifle, that's exactly what you're going to need.

Not only is the brainstem a small target, it's also a 3 dimensional target. If the bad guy is looking directly at you, the preferred shot is through the center of the nose. However, if said BG turns his head to the right, the shot has to be placed to the left of the nose.

Think of a ball spinning on its axis. If the (perceived) front of the ball is spinning to your right, the back of the ball is moving left. How much so is nothing more than a guesstimate, even for an expert.

If you can successfully make that shot, I'd say it's time to play the Lotto.
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Old May 3, 2012, 02:35 PM   #14
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If I may be so bold as to rephrase the question, we are really asking, "Is there a place in the brain that I can shoot that can guarantee no further movement?" And the answer is no in my estimation. As was aptly brought up before, we see twitches in animals that are shot in the head. Many people are surprised to know that reflexes in the hind legs, like the familiar knee reflex, are actually exaggerated rather than absent after the spinal cord is severed. The reason is that there are circuits for reflexive motor activity that do not involve the brain. The brain actually modulates that activity, and severing the communication from the brain allows them to run unchecked.

Also, injury to nerve tissue can produce nerve impulses because the injury causes a loss of the sequestration of certain ions and chemicals that are important to the conduction of nerve impulses. Rigor mortis occurs because the body ceases to separate the ions across cell membranes (the separation being an active and ongoing process) and the loss of that sequestration mimics the process that occurs during nerve impulses and muscle contraction.

None of this is going to be predictable in the randomness of a brain and its attached nerve fibers suffering from a gunshot wound. It is unlikely but far from impossible for a few muscle fibers in the forearm to contract enough to fire a round without a conscious decision being made. Finger extension was mentioned - possible, too, but not guaranteed. Flaccid paralysis? Could happen, not guaranteed. It is just too complicated of a situation to predict with any certainty.

I'm not sure how that affects our decision on attempting a head shot. A "good" head shot will cease conscious coordinated activity, but not all movement. Obviously snipers in military and police forces reach points where they feel the survival probability for a hostage is greater if they take the shot. But we should never think that if we or they make even a perfect shot that the outcome is guaranteed to be positive.

I am a veterinarian, so I know a bit about anatomy and physiology. If a human neurologist or neurosurgeon is on here, I would welcome any corrections or additions to my thoughts on the matter.
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Old May 3, 2012, 02:42 PM   #15
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Obviously snipers in military and police forces reach points where they feel the survival probability for a hostage is greater if they take the shot. But we should never think that if we or they make even a perfect shot that the outcome is guaranteed to be positive.
TailGator nailed it. In a hostage situation, taking the shot is absolutely, positively, the final option.
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Old May 3, 2012, 03:51 PM   #16
Vanya
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Capt Charlie
In a hostage situation, taking the shot is absolutely, positively, the final option.
Just so.

And those who haven't seriously trained to take it perhaps shouldn't consider it an option at all. For those who are interested, here is a pretty good discussion of all the reasons why it's difficult to make such shots, and the kind of training that's required to have even a reasonable chance of success.
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Old May 4, 2012, 05:22 PM   #17
CountryUgly
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I guess if I had to take that shot I'd want a 12ga with a slug. His melon can't move anything if it isn't attached....just sayin
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Old May 4, 2012, 05:37 PM   #18
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One variable might be the type of gun. It may be that if he's holding a DA revolver or a semiauto with a long DA trigger pull, and you put a round through his head, he probably won't make the shot. But what if he's got the hammer back and his finger is resting on a light SA trigger pull?
To make your point you've included a lot of "what if's.

Speculation isn't necessary, since many characteristics of the brain are well known and established as fact.

Destruction of part of the lower portion of the brain causes immediate, light switch type incapacitation--no reflex.

Destruction of the rest of the brain does not, and though it may be instantly fatal, reflexive action in places like the trigger finger are possible, if not likely.
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Old May 4, 2012, 11:29 PM   #19
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I think we're all guessing here...So I'll throw in mine also.
I think that most people shot through the brain will not fire the shot, even if the brain stem is missed.

Have you ever been hit in the head really really hard? I stuns you. You don't do or think anything for a moment. I would imagine that a bullet passing through you brain would have at least that much effect.

BTW - If I'm the hostage... shoot!
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Old May 4, 2012, 11:39 PM   #20
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There's really not much guesswork involved here, there are some facts.

1. Significant damage to the brainstem (as in putting a bullet through it) will result in a "no-reflex kill". The problem is that the brainstem is a small part of the brain and the brain fills only about half of what we think of as the head.

2. Injuries to other parts of the brain that don't involve the brainstem may actually CAUSE reflexive movement. It's been my experience (small game hunting) that you can often tell that you've made a brain shot by looking for the characteristic reflexive thrashing. I recall reading that Hathcock made a similar observation at one of his kills. Something to the effect that he knew he had hit the man in the brain by the thrashing after the hit.

3. Injuries to the head that don't involve the brain can leave the target essentially unimpaired.
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Old May 5, 2012, 02:36 AM   #21
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Injuries to the head that don't involve the brain can leave the target essentially unimpaired.
Remember we are talking about head shots here so there is no way the brain will not be damaged.
And your were doing so well.
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Old May 5, 2012, 02:43 AM   #22
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Remember we are talking about head shots here so there is no way the brain will not be damaged.

Pretty much everything in the head below the ears is not brain.
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Old May 5, 2012, 02:58 AM   #23
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If I was the hostage I'd prefer you don't take the shot as well.
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Old May 5, 2012, 06:32 AM   #24
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You could aim well below the ears and do a "Robocop" on him...


In that particularly case, I would really prefer you not to take the shot...
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Old May 5, 2012, 08:40 AM   #25
KC Rob
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I don't know the definitive answer, not sure that anybody does, but I think a head shot, in the right place, would prevent the BG from shooting the hostage.

First, a lot of people have been citing the reflexive movement of animals after being shot, something I have seen a lot of too, but one thing that they are failing to mention is the fact that the animal falls down before starting to reflexively kick its limbs. They don't remain upright and still which is the assumption being made, ie the BG will stay upright, not move his gun away from the hostages head, and reflexively pull the trigger. Getting shot in the face is a pretty traumatic event and will almost certainly cause the recipient to thrash backward and fall.

Secondly, I was taught, if shooting at the head of a BG, to aim for the "ocular cavity" which is basically from the top of the eyes to the bottom of the nose with the outside edges of the eyes being the outside border. This forms a fairly large rectangle that is mostly cartilage and mostly devoid of major bone structures that could deflect the bullet. It also leads straight back into the brain and brain stem. With the destructive path of a defensive bullet the chances are major damage is going to be done to the brain.

Lastly, speaking to the OP's hypothetical scenario, I firmly believe in never giving up your gun. The minute you surrender your gun you cede 100% control of the situation to the BG. So, if there is a hostage situation and the BG says "put down your gun or I will shoot" that would leave me no option than to try and take out the BG.

If I am the one with the gun to my head, feel free to take the shot.
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