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Defend Thyself Personal Defense

Man Drops Dumbbell on .22 Cartridge, Shoots Self

by Richard Nance   |  April 17th, 2012 60

502px-TwoDumbbellsThe Modesto Bee reported that a 56-year-old Modesto man was shot Wednesday night while weightlifting inside his residence. But the shooting didn’t stem from a domestic violence incident, a home invasion or even an errant bullet from a drive-by shooting. According to the man’s statement to police, he was shot when he accidentally dropped a dumbbell onto a .22 caliber cartridge.

Modesto Police were dispatched to the 600 block of Ninth Street at about 9:15 p.m. When police arrived, they found a man with a gunshot wound to his shoulder.

The man claimed, “The weight of the dumbbell activated the propellant powder in the bullet,” which shot him in his shoulder.

Modesto Police Officer Chris Adams was skeptical of the man’s account but acknowledged it was possible that impact to the rim of this type of cartridge could have caused the bullet to fire in the direction it was pointing.

Investigation at the scene of the shooting revealed no firearm, only an expended .22 caliber casing. The man’s neighbors told police they did not see anyone running from the man’s residence.

The case was closed as a “suspicious circumstance.”

As a police officer, I would be highly suspicious of this man’s story. It would be interesting to inspect the casing that investigators found at the scene and to see if the man’s wound was consistent with having been caused by a bullet fired from a nearly vertical upward trajectory, as would have had to occur if the man’s story were true.

Of course, we all know that if an object impacts the rim of a rimfire cartridge, the priming compound could ignite the powder in the cartridge. In fact, this is how a rimfire cartridge is designed to be fired – with the firing pin striking the rim. However, without the round being chambered in a firearm, the gasses that would typically propel the bullet from the barrel would be dissipated such a degree that it would seem insufficient to fire the bullet.

Even though the man’s story is conceivable, it seems highly unlikely. What are the chances of the cartridge being oriented in such a way as to shoot him in the shoulder or for the dumbbell to fall precisely as it would have had to in order to initiate the far-fetched chain of events that lead to the man being shot?

I’ve heard stories of “intellectually challenged” folks striking the rim of a rimfire cartridge with a hammer and having a piece of the casing fly through the air. But for the bullet to actually travel any considerable distance or with enough force to injure seems unlikely — I’m no scientist though, so don’t try this at home.

Just to be safe, I’d recommend keeping ammunition in another room when working on your “guns.”

Do you believe the man’s story?

  • alan truism


  • David Orton

    there is no way the bullet would have enough momentum to penetrate his skin

  • ray

    Easy to check, just look at the bullet and see if it has rifling from a gun barrell.

  • Dennis Novak

    Based on testing done by the NRA and previous tests by Julian S Hatcher, I'm dubious. There's always some goofy thing that can happen, but experimentation shows it is highly unlikely the bullet would acquire enough velocity to be dangerous.

  • Max Wedge

    they should just look at the shell case , looking for a firing pin strike ..

    • Dwight Hill

      Why ? All they can see where the dumbell hit . The casing will be bent .

      • Al Brady

        When a cartridge is fired without the support of a chamber, the case will balloon and probably tear apart. If that case was still looking like a case, it was fired chambered in a weapon. Also, the bullet would not have received the progressive propelling of a bullet in a chamber with a drag strip (bore) and would have had about the velocity of a hand thrown bullet. The case, being lighter, would have traveled further than the bullet. Was there evidence of rifling left on the bullet? If it could be proven that the bullet was fired in a firearm, the individual should have been arrensted for the bogus story and much effort put into finding who had put the round in his shoulder and why!

  • David Scott

    Weight of the METAL dumbbell would have dented the rim, if it had been hit there, how would there be enough velocity to cause the injury. I think that the dumbbell is getting the buck passed for the other dumbbell.

  • Daniel Sims

    Why would anyone work out if there is any type of ammo laying around on the floor to start with, lol???? How can anyone put the blame on the .22 or try to question why or how it happened. Its like saying guns kill people! It takes some one to pull the trigger and in this case the Dumbbell was the hammer, dropped from the hands of the (trigger man) & it landed just right & good bye toe! lol….. This guy should get the Bill Engvall's "Here's your sign Award! I only have one question for that guy, did it hurt??? LOL

  • Burton Gotshall

    I have never experienced a .22 being fired in open air, but I did see a .45 that was ignited, The bullet stayed in place and the case flew/

    • John

      I'm with you — I would have thought the casing would explode rather than the bullet fly. At least that's what happened to me some years back when I was much younger and a lot dumber.



  • John

    All that enery isn't being focused anywhere; so I call BS on this "story".

  • Larry

    Ya'll need to watch Mythbusters I believe they proved this to be plausible

    • copsdad

      Larry – Mythbusters is not a good source of judgement. The few times I have been able to watch these fools every "experiment" had so many holes in procedure, approach and assumptions it was ludicrous…

      Canyou say "not a scientific protocol" or "don't try this at home, work or anyplace else" …

      I read "somewhere" at one time that the old saw of throw the ammo in the fire and duck was also bogus… No pressure of a firearm causes the powder to ignite and burn but no launch of a projectile … anyone have any input on that?

      • guest

        Yes a few years ago I was burning trash. Aparently there were two boxes of ammo in the trash (no I don't know how it got there). I know there were two different calibars because of the sound when they exploded would have been 9's or 38's and 22's. In anycase there were numerous projectiles comeing out of that fire no damage and no way for me to tell if it was the "projectile" or the casing that was flying.

  • Karl

    The Darwin Awards are full of impossible stories. Never underestimate human stupidity.

  • SemperFlyBoy

    I think the author was being overly generous in calling the explanation of this incident conceivable. So many variables would have to converge to perfection. An unsupported case should rupture, dissipating the pressure required to project the bullet. If the case were sitting upright on its rim so that the bullet could point toward the shoulder, how could the weight strike the primer? Any sort of serious forensic work would note whether the bullet had rifle marks or the case had a striker mark. Perhaps the decision to file this as "closed but suspicious" reflected a lack of interest in determining just how this dummy actually hurt himself.

  • Jimbo96

    Highly unlikely, but possible. Examination of the bullet should revel rifling or not. The velocity would have likely been low in any case and the wound should have been shallow. I would examine the projectile that was removed and then make a determination as to if the stated cause was in fact the actual cause.

  • DarryH

    OK, in my bored youth, I did a lot of experimenting. PLEASE DO NOT TRY TO IMITAITE!!!!!!!
    Anyway…..if the dumbell had dropped just as wrong as possible, and the base of the shell containing the priming compund did get crushed at the exact wrong spot, the casing could have been bent and facing SOMEWHAT upward when the bullet was expelled.
    Now I have NEVER seen a 22 shell hit this way by accident, and never seen one whose bullet had the energy to enter flesh, unless it was just inches away. The case should be pretty well crushed on the base end, and seeing that case, I might, maybe believe this story.
    Without seeing that case…….there is no way to make a real judgement.
    It does sound fishy, but within the relm of possibility.

  • Garry Hoffmann

    In the early fifties when I was about five years old I found some shinny things on the side of the road and set about putting one on a rock then smashed it with another rock which made a great pop so I smashed them all just like I used to do with the rolls of caps for my cap gun. I did not get hurt by any of that. I did not know what they were until years later.

  • Dick Snell

    It is possible. I discharged a 22 round when I was io the 4 th. grade I wanted to retrive the bullet itself, however it was hard for me to catch the bullet as i used a hammer to get the bullet out of the casing.. I was very successful at diladging the bullet . I was unable to hear anything out of my right ear for a day or . Thanks

  • Alan_T

    This story rates up there with that old phony about , " it went off while I was cleaning my gun ! " That didn't happen and this didn't either . Absolutely ludicrous , I don't believe the dumbbell's , dumbbell story for a nano second , I was born in the morning , but it wasn't yesterday morning !

    • Alan_T

      In addendum :
      If the dumbbell had enough weight to detonate the primer in the rim , it also had enough weight to FLATTEN THE WHOLE CARTRIDGE !
      As others have stated , without pressure , the LIGHT WEIGHT bullet is going no where .
      Further more , the . 22 cartridge would have had to have been lying on it's side which means that even if by some act of God ( which stretches credibility beyond the maximum ) , it was able to fire and the soft lead bullet wasn't flattened ….. it would have embedded in the floor .
      The whole premise is just insulting to intelligence .

  • Tim

    I've had semi-autos fire .22's with bolts slightly out of battery. Even with most of the case chambered, the exposed part still blew out and only imparted enough energy to send the bullet maybe a few inches down the barrel. Clearly SOMETHING has to hold the entire case together or the bullet just won't move. Even if it did propel to bullet, I doubt very seriously it would have enough energy to break skin.

    Sure, it's possible, but HIGHLY improbable.

  • Dave Martin

    We threw various calibers into fires as teenagers. Casing shrapnel is the danger. Not the bullet.

  • Peter Lake

    When I wanted to clear people out of the kitchen and they didn't move I would put a bullet in the microwave and turn it on.

    They left before anything interesting happened.

    A modern version of throwing bullets in the campfire.

  • PVB

    Maybe it's just me, but I seem to notice that a lot of these weird incidents are reported by The Modesto Bee.

  • Metalchemist

    Sounds like a falsification of facts to me. He was probably shot by his PO'd spouse, lover or got caught in the act. Either way I call BS.

  • John K

    All you need to look for is if the bullet has rifling marks, case closed!

  • Bullistik

    The unbelievable part is that the cops couldn't figure out what happened.

  • Bill K

    No way. It would have just popped and case and bullet just fell withing each other, maybe two inches or so. There is something this guy is not telling, like the truth as to how he was shot in the shoulder..

  • Todd

    When I was a kid I left a 22lr on the back of our buck stove behind the pipe, There wasn't a fire built at the time. Later that night I had forgot about the bullet and built a fire. When it exploded it was louder than your normal 22 sounds! But the bullet was still setting on the stove, the case however was shredded into tiny peaces and stuck into the wood panel behind the buck stove. This guy is without a doubt in my mind making up a story to cover up whatever really happen.

  • JC

    As a kid, years ago, I've fired a many a 22 through the wall of an old outbuilding by placing it on a piece of cement and hitting it with an ax. It will go through a wood wall, skin would be no problem.

  • Jim

    Damn near anything is possible, but not this. The whole story sounds made up to cover up what really happened.

  • jlrtd

    How heavy was the barbell? If it was heavy enough to ignite a .22 primer, wouldn't the mass of the barbell smother at least some of any flying brass? I like the suggestion of various posters to look for rifling marks. Were there powder burns on the floor under the barbell? How about on the barbell itself?

  • jim

    I hate to burst your bubble, but as a pre-teen I built a hide out to hang out, out of sight of adults. I used a 22lr bullet on the edge of the floor and shot the back with a Daisy air rifle. Yhe bullet traveled approx. 100 feet and embedded backwards in the yard wood fense about 1/2 inch.
    Don't know about this guys story, but I did it (stupid kid) so don't be so be so damn sure it can't happen!

  • Sheepdog 1968

    It's very rare but this kind of thing has happened before. There was LEO range in Tenesse (if I recall correctly) that changed the way they unloaded. Officers now had to drop to one knee before they unload the magazine and then rack the chamber. They had a situation prior to that where on the gravel range one of the officers while standing (like we all normally do) unloaded and the round hit the gravel in such a way that it sent off the primer. The brass was position just so in the gravel so the bullet (rather than the brass) popped out and hit the officer in the arm. A very freakish accident (I hope he bought a lottery ticket that day as well). So though this is highly unlikely it can happen. Heck, there is even one person in the world who has actually been struck by a metorite so statistically unliklely things do happen every now and then.

  • Bernardo

    MythBusters dealed with a simmilar issue, they heated bullets in an oven in an attempt to solve an urban myth about a man keeping his ammo in an oven… they found out that when a cartridge is activated outside a gun chamber, the casing blows back and the bullet stays pretty much in the same spot, because it weights more than the casing… and the only caliber that did made a dent on the oven was a .50" cal… not from the bullet but from the casing itself…. lol

  • Charles

    Nope. The shell case ruptures and the gas escapes that way.

  • charlie

    sure it could happen. the weight falls on the case and sets the primer off. the force of the dropped dumbell excerting enough force in the split second to contain the case and give it compression as the bullet is fired.
    drop a ten pound weight from waste high and measure the force as it hits the floor. alot more than just ten pounds. drop a 40 dumbell and let it hit the case just right and you have plenty of compression to fire the bullet and penetrate the shoulder.

  • Clarence

    When I was in highschool I lived in rooming house. We had an old Perfection kerosene heater to keep the room warm and we used to set a .22 rifle bullet on its tail on top. They all went of in a little while but the lead never rose more than about 2-1/2 to 3 inches and the shell opened up into a lot of different shapes but none of us ever got hit with flying brass nor lead.

    I used to put a .22 round on a rock, kneal down behind it and smack it with a hammer. The greagtest distance I ever got from the lead was less that 4 inches. I held the hammer down as I smack the shell to hold the shell in place to keep from getting it in the knee. The shell blasted into various bits but always sideways because the hammer was holding it down.

    We used to put a shotgun shell in the fork of a tree and shoot the center of the centerfire button with a .22 rifle and amputated a small branch once – - less than an inch in diameter – - but most of the time we just got rid of some bark. I seriously doubt the dumbell story.

  • MTC

    It's just natures way of thinning out the herd of mankind's weak and lame

  • ron

    the problem i have with this story is that any case that could fire outside a chamber would exolode as the case would not be supported by the chamber walls also physics dictates that since the case is lighter than the bullet it would be propelled by the expanding gasses not the bullet itself as i have witnessed in several home fires where ammo was cooked off from the fire but as we see all the time strange things seem to happen with stupid poeple i guess when dum dums are involved the laws of nature get stupid also

  • Ned

    When guns or ammunition are involved, the rules of physics are tossed out the window. Just ask many shooters, or watch a movie.

    The fact is, if a 22 Short was to detonate, outside the chamber, the case would fly but the "projectile" likely would not.

    People can test this if they're willing. Set various cartridges on something that will heat them to the point that the primer goes off. Then cover the test with a cardboard box. Nothing will penetrate the box. And it will be the cases that fly (if they do) not the top.

    This guy's story, IMO, is very likely total B.S.

  • Jeepers Creepers

    No one said how deep the wound was. Has a teen ager many years ago. I used 22 L.R. ammo has cheap
    fire crackers. Hit the ammo on flat steel with a sludge hammer. nothing left of the casing and the projectile had to go some where. I had one go about 2 inches into my leg just below the knee. lucky it did not hit anything and I dug it out. But I would never call the police about something like that. They do not need to know what I blow up and when. If I get hurt doing it so what. It will heal. 40 years later I'm still blowing things up. So yes I believe his story 100%. And it sounds like the police need better training.

  • Joseph

    there needs to be a barrel present to act as a conduit for the energy of the gasses. I have had a 45 acp go off in a room indoors, while the projectile dislodged itself from the cartridge, it did not even penetrate the drywall.

    • Jeepers Creepers

      GUY's the story is about a rimfire that had something dropped on it. Not a center fire that was heated. Very big difference. All I keep reading about is how a center fire that is heated explodes. Which it does. But A rim fire is alot more deadly if dropped. Rimfire ammo uses flash powder or very fast pistol powder. A 45 acp uses slow pistol powder unless you have a 45acp +P+ casing.
      If you read on. I like blowing things up for fun. So I have done it all. But there is still more things out there that need to be blown up and more fun.

  • Clarence

    Jeepers Creepers,

    You don't have 2 inches of flesh just below the knee ! If you do you must weigh close to 1,000 pounds.

    • Jeepers Creepers

      I never said just flesh. MY body mass is around 300 pounds and I'm 5'8".

  • mactex

    Everyone keeps assuming that the 'victum' was standing, yet no wherre does it say he dropped it from a standing position and that the shell was on the floor. He could have been on a bench, kneeling – any position -dealing with the weights, even moving them and not even working out, the direction the shell was pointed could have been just about any way. Also, if the weight had struck the shell in a manner that had ignited AND PUSHED, then there would have been a solid 'back' (the mass of the dumbell) from which the force could have propelled the bullet with enough force to penetrate the skin. After all he called the cops, not the EMT, so it wasn't too deep. Have you not heard of Murphy's Law?

  • Alan_T

    In addendum :
    If the dumbbell had enough weight to detonate the primer in the rim , it also had enough weight to FLATTEN THE WHOLE CARTRIDGE !
    As others have stated , without pressure , the LIGHT WEIGHT bullet is going no where .
    Further more , the . 22 cartridge would have had to have been lying on it's side which means that even if by some act of God ( which stretches credibility beyond the maximum ) , it was able to fire and the soft lead bullet wasn't flattened ….. it would have embedded in the floor .
    The whole premise is just insulting to intelligence

  • LT Drogo

    Yes, a rimfire cartridge ignited in such an event is likely to propel its projectile with enough force to penetrate skin at that range. Its force is much attenuated relative to that attained by ignition in a firearm, but it still poses a significant danger, or at least annoyance. I knew a kid when I was younger who sat on the floor and smacked a .22 round with a hammer. Lacking a sufficient grasp of Newtonian physics, he thought himself safe with the bullet end pointed away from him. His physical injury was such as to cause him to walk funny for a day or two, but his pain was considerable. The greater injury was to his dignity, having to make the embarrassing trip to the local doctor (no ER in those days) to have the casing removed from his scrotum. The doctor was a crusty old WWI veteran not blessed with a gentle–or politically correct–bedside manner. That was followed by days of grief from his peers, most of whom had at least an intuitive grasp of Newton.

  • Lil Easy

    I think the investigation should identify the REAL dumbell in this story! LOL!!!!

  • duffer

    Not possible. Case would rupture without support of cylinder walls.

  • JoAnn Nickerson

    Every time you watch any of these gun shows they make it very clear they say DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. I don't care about the trajectory or whatever, this guy is an idiot for thinking of trying this stunt. And yes,I do believe there is more to this story than meets the eye.

  • Mark White

    Regardless of whether or not EVERYTHING else is arguable, it will be interesting to see if there is any followup on this, and what the removed bullet looks like.

    If it has rifling marks on it, well then we can stop arguing, eh?

    If it penetrated in any other direction than head on there will be some sort of distortion/keyholing apparent, either on the bullet itself or the skin injury, or possibly both.

    Now, if the bullet has penetrated straight in and has no rifling marks then the experts can start arguing again but lets get some sort of additional information first.

  • JiminGA

    Maybe Mythbusters can solve the dilema.

  • DoctorWho0077

    "A friend of mine used to toss a handful of rifle & pistol rounds in a wood stove to demonstrate, pops and piffs as the ammo cooked off with no ill effects, without the chamber and barrel to allow pressure to build up, as the bullet travels down the barrel, it is disappointing to say the least.

  • DoctorWho

    The final word on this case, will be if is if there is a striker / firing pin mark found on the .22 LR case,

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