Have you ever been watching a program on TV when something happens that makes you wonder if they’ve got it just right? It happens to me all the time, partly because I have a skeptical side and partly because I am curious about everything. Once I start wondering about something the question keeps rattling around my head until I have the answer.
Pow – Seriously?
The incident that triggered my curiosity this time was a scene from a police drama. During a chase scene the bad guy drives off a pier into a lake, with a hostage duct taped in the car. The hostage is naturally fighting for her life but the bad guy focuses all his energy on subduing her rather than escaping from the sinking car. The police officer heroically jumps in after them, shoots the bad guy through the window, and rescues the hostage.
A scene guaranteed to show bravery and determination on the part of law enforcement, right? What ran through my mind, however, was, “That kind of shot underwater? Seriously?”
Under Water Firing?
I had do some research online. Now, I know guns have come a long way from the days when a spark ignited gunpowder to launch a lead ball out of the muzzle. Gunpowder is still involved, though, and I wasn’t quite sure how that would work under water.
The first thing I learned is that gunpowder does not need oxygen to explode. It needs a small burst of energy or force, which is supplied by the firing pin in a gun. The lack of air underwater won’t stop the gunpowder in the bullet from firing.
Secondly, modern manufacturing makes bullets completely waterproof. Even if a bullet is submerged for long periods of time the gunpowder and primer stay completely dry. When the firing pin provides the force the powder explodes and the bullet shoots forward, the same way under water as on dry land. So shooting a gun is possible underwater. So far the show had it right.
Through the Window Glass?
I still didn’t believe that anyone could fire through a car window underwater accurately. Even at close range, both the car and the person were moving for one thing. The underwater currents had to be affecting aim as well.
According to my research aim wouldn’t be an issue. Both the gun and bullet in a standard police issued gun are designed to be fired above water. The minimal resistance from the air lets the bullet travel long distances at a high speed.
Water is much denser than air. A normal gun and bullet are not designed for this more resistant environment. While a bullet might travel through the air for yards before losing speed, underwater the added resistance would let it travel a couple of feet at most. It certainly wouldn’t have the force to slam through a car window let alone hit a person on the other side.
Do NOT Try This Yourself!
Here’s the other flaw. Even in the open air the force of the bullet leaving the gun forces the weapon backward. The resistance underwater is so strong that this force works differently. Instead of simply pushing the gun backward, it can actually push hard enough to crack the barrel of some weapons or slam into the person holding the gun hard enough to cause injuries.
In other words, it was a good thing I restricted my research to the Internet. Firing any weapon underwater is extremely dangerous and should not be attempted. Not by a police officer and not out of curiosity.
Two Out of Three Failure
So my heroic police officer could have jumped into the water and fired his gun. He could not have hit the bad guy, though. He also would most likely have ended up in the hospital or with a cracked gun. Even if he didn’t get hurt it would take forever completely dry out the weapon before locking it in his gun safe.
By Heidi Grover
Heidi Grover has an insatiable need to know how things work. She is also passionate about getting details right even in fiction. She writes fiction as well as informative articles.