Surviving the head-shot

CNN reports that a brazilian woman was shot six times in the head, and none of the bullets penetrated her skull.

This quote got my attention:

Doctors could not explain why the .32-caliber bullets did not penetrate Pereira’s skull and didn’t even need to be extractedimmediately.

“I can’t explain how something like this happened,”surgeon Adriano Teixeira said, adding that the bullets were lodged under the woman’s scalp.

That’s odd. I’m pretty sure I can explain it — cheap ammunition. If you get a partial burn of fouled powder, or if only the primer fires, the bullet will exit the barrel at a fairly sub-lethal velocity. I don’t know a whole lot about .32 caliber ammo, but since she was shot six times I suspect her ex-husband (the shooter) was using a revolver. Revolvers rarely “jam,” and a primer-only firing would only cause a problem if the bullet stopped between the cylinder and the barrel.

I seem to recall a similar incident in which a US soldier took a round in the face at point-blank range, and proceeded to tackle and secure the man who shot him.

So… can a firearms enthusiast with a bit more working knowledge of .32 rounds shed more light on this?


p.s. And before you make the obvious “the woman wouldn’t take her husband back so she must just be thick-skulled” joke, bear in mind that she probably divorced this murderous jerkwad for good reasons. She’s not thick-skulled. She’s SMART.

42 thoughts on “Surviving the head-shot”

  1. .32 calibur

    I would hazard its going to be .32 acp, which falls under “mouse gun” territory. You know, the little vest pocket guns that really are a “weapon of last resort”

    That said, She prolly did have a thick skull. Doesn’t mean she can’t have both. 😛

  2. .32 rounds tend to be of low quality whether in standard, rimmed or ACP versions. Mostly they’re a military round and produced very cheaply or are purchased being old surplus. There are some .32 caliber guns that warrant higher quality ammo (and yes it does exist) but from my experience, and my opinion, the .32 is just a crap round.

  3. Why?

    Odds are it’s cheap-ass ammo, which you get some really low-velocity rounds. Second, probably the shot angle, an angle means the bullet can “skid” or “plow” along the skull and do a lot of bloody damage, but not penetrate the skull. Third, it’s a .32 round-which is to say that it gives “anemic” a good name…there was a story of a guy that got shot by six .32 shots, and he only died because one of the bullets migrated into a major blood vessel and got caught somewhere deadly.

    So, he failed in three ways. First, using cheap ammo. Good ammo is always a good thing. Second, shot placement. With a small-caliber round, you shoot somebody in the eyes or side of the temple. Not the front of the skull. Third is violating the most cardinal rules of a gunfight-never carry a pistol who’s caliber doesn’t start with .4.

    1. Re: Why?

      A .25ACP actually has less muzzle energy from the same length barrel than a .22LR round, and .32ACP isn’t much better.

      I know of a case in which a man was shot in the head with a 9mm, and it was a sufficiently glancing shot that the bullet simply tunnelled along the skull under his scalp and exited behind his ear. I also know of a case in which a man in England was shot in the face with a .38 Special, and the bullet was deflected by his teeth and exited at the back of his cheek.

      The plain truth is, shoot someone with a .22, .25, .32 and unless your shot placement is perfect or you just happen to get lucky, there’s even odds whether you’ll do serious harm or just make him mad.

      In the same vein, the liberals pat themselves on the back for their success in banning “Saturday night specials” (we won’t go into the racist background of that term right now), but I’ve known quite a few cops who have cursed them for it. Time was when a cop busted some street punk, odds were the punk would have a piece-of-junk cast-zinc .22 or .25 that wouldn’t even go off reliably (I talked to one cop who had street punks get the drop on him in housing projects three times with junk .25 pistols, and three times the gun didn’t go off). But when the supply of cheap junk guns dried up, the punks, the drug dealers, the muggers were forced to upgrade their armament. Now, they carry Glocks.

      Needless to say, most cops do NOT consider this an improvement.

    2. Re: Why?

      “Third is violating the most cardinal rules of a gunfight-never carry a pistol who’s caliber doesn’t start with .4.”

      I didn’t know this rule! Are the other rules I should be informed of? When do you get taught the rules?

      1. Yes, there *are* rules for gunfighting…

        Ganked directly from

        The Rules of Gunfighting

        1. Have a gun.
          1. Preferably, have at least two guns.
          2. Bring all of your friends who have guns.
        2. Anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice. Ammo is cheap. Life is expensive.
          1. “Why did you shoot only once? There’s no additional paperwork for shooting someone twice!” — Firearms Instructor P.O.J.D., MOS debriefing after a shooting.
          2. Bring ammo.
            1. The right ammo.
            2. Lots of it.
        3. Only hits count. The only thing worse than a miss is a slow miss.
        4. If your shooting stance is good, you’re probably not moving fast enough or using cover correctly.
        5. Proximity negates skill. Distance is your friend. (Lateral and diagonal movement are preferred.)
        6. If you can choose what to bring to a gunfight, bring a long gun… and a friend with a long gun.
        7. In ten years nobody will remember the details of caliber, stance or tactics. They will only remember who lived.
        8. If you are not shooting, you should be communicating, reloading and running.
        9. Accuracy is relative: most combat shooting standards will be more dependent on “pucker factor” than the inherent accuracy of the gun. Use a gun that works every time. “All skill is in vain when an Angel pisses in the flintlock of your musket.”
        10. Someday someone may kill you with your own gun, but they should have to beat you to death with it because it is empty.
        11. Always cheat, always win. The only unfair fight is the one you lose.
          1. “If you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn’t plan your mission properly.”
        12. Have a plan.
          1. Have a back-up plan, because the first one won’t work.
        13. Use cover or concealment as much as possible. (Consequences of not enough of the above.)
        14. Flank your adversary when possible. Protect your own flank.
        15. Don’t drop your guard.
        16. Always perform a tactical reload and then threat scan 360 degrees.
        17. Watch their hands. Hands kill. (In God we trust. Everyone else, keep your hands where I can see them.)
        18. Decide to be aggressive enough, quickly enough.
        19. The faster you finish the fight, the less shot you will get.
        20. Be polite. Be professional. But… have a plan to kill everyone you meet.
        21. Be courteous to everyone. Friendly to no one.
        22. Your number one option for Personal Security is a lifelong commitment to avoidance, deterrence, and de-escalation.
        23. Do not attend a gun fight with a handgun whose caliber does not start with a “4.”
          1. Nothing handheld is a reliable stopper.
        24. Carry the same gun in the same place all the time.
        1. Re: Yes, there *are* rules for gunfighting…

          As a quick reply to this, I see most .40+ calibers as being too big of a bullet. I _like_ the .357 magnum. I’ll take a Ruger Blackhawk or Redhawk against a Glock 27 any day.

          One big reason is that you end up with a stun factor. Revolvers are NOISY. To someone used to hearing the *crack* of a semi-auto, the *BLAM* of a revolver is enough to give you a second of shock – to aim better.


          1. Re: Yes, there *are* rules for gunfighting…

            I dunno, I have heard some hot rounds go through my wife’s S&W .357, but the +P .45 rounds that I carry in my H&K get more reactions from onlookers.

          2. Re: Yes, there *are* rules for gunfighting…

            So, no love for the S&W 500? 😉

            Kidding of course. The only thing I own at the moment are rifles, but a wheelgun *and* a semi-auto are on the list.

          3. Re: Yes, there *are* rules for gunfighting…

            I won’t own a new Smith and Wesson product. Not since they went through and signed the illegal/unconstitutional deal with the government a few years back for preferential treatment in government contracts in exchange for knuckling under to the ‘trigger locks’ and ‘child safe gun’ nuts.

            There’s NO such thing as a ‘child safe gun’. For that matter, there’s no such thing as a ‘drunk safe car’, but you don’t see them trying to ban automobiles because they cause drunk driving.


          4. Re: Yes, there *are* rules for gunfighting…

            That’s cool, I was using it for “illustrative purposes”.

            Ruger went through the same thing when they announced that they supported the now-defunct AWB. Some people are still cranky about that.

            I’m not certain what I want for a handgun at the moment. I’ve got important things to do, like try and get out of debt first.

          5. Re: Yes, there *are* rules for gunfighting…

            If you want something cheap but fun to play with, set aside $300, and buy 1200 rounds of 7.62×59 ammunition, and a CZ-52.

            OR, for concealed, a P-64 or PA-63. The downside is that those have a habit of being uncomfortable for some people to shoot (I love the guns, but they hurt when I shoot them much. The guys I sold a couple of my old ones to have zero problems)


  4. Without knowing more about the weapon the husband used or the specific ammunition (there are four different standardised chamberings for .32 caliber ammunition; the .32 S&W, .32 Auto, .32 H&R Magnum and .32 S&W Long; with the .32 Auto and .32 S&W being the most commonly encountered) I would say you are pretty close to the mark.

    There is one other possibility, like many .22s the .32 sometimes suffers from a problem called ‘riding’. When the bullet strikes certain areas of the skull it is sometimes deflected and, instead of penetrating through the bone, travels along the surface of the skull, under the scalp. This most often occurs when low powered ammunition is used or in cases where the bullet strikes thick areas of bone at oblique angles.

    Low quality (cheap factory or poorly performed home-made loadings) or aged/improperly stored ammunition (this is particularly likely given Brazil’s climate) would exacerbate the .32 caliber’s low penetration problem as the powder often burns more slowly or only partially, providing the bullet with enough energy to exit the barrel and penetrate the skin but not enough energy to penetrate bone.

    As for the weapon used, I would agree with you. A semi-automatic pistol would probably not have been able to function properly with the compromised ammunition.

    To summarise, the husband likely used a short barreled revolver loaded with ammunition which, for some reason, failed to provide the bullets with sufficient energy to penetrate the wife’s skull, causing the bullets to lodge under her skin.

  5. Well, I know that the .25 auto round was *notorious* for this sort of thing. A heavy coat would stop them.

    .32 isn’t that much bigger.

    1. Same use to happen with the first cartridge used for the M16… couple of layers of VC clothes would stop it, and the guy would get back up… horrid round.

      Personally, I have nothing against .22, .25 or .32 ammo, aside from I’d rather not be shot with it… But if given the choice of any of those three, or pretty much any other type of round, I’d pick the other round…

      It’s also why my dad passed on the .32 auto pistol in favor of the 9mm S&W he currently owns… You shoot a guy with a 9mm, you can kill him (especially if the person doing the shooting is a ‘Nam vet with no issues about killing a guy trying to hurt him). Shoot a guy with pretty much anything smaller, and the odds are you just piss him off…

      This is why I plan on getting one of those home defense “sawed off” shotguns.. short barrel, short/no stock… Big stopping power, easy use… Come to papa!!

      1. Well, .22, especially .22LR or .22 Magnum *is* going to penetrate. It just may not do much damage.

        Whatever you pick for home defense, be sure that the ammo won’t “over-pentrate”. You don’t want stray rounds going into the next room.

        That’s why *if* I had my SKS here in the apartment, I wouldn’t load it with the regular ammo (most of that is surplus Eastern Bloc with steel rod penetrators). That’ll not only shoot thru walls, it’ll go thru steel target supports (as we found out by accident one day).

      2. Think about two things. 1) a sawed off is illegal in most states. If you’re going to do that, get a pistol with a .45LC shell – or a .410 Derringer.
        2) splatter. People _always_ neglect this part.

        No matter the reason you buy or use a home defense weapon, there are some things to think about.

        1) How fast can you get it out and move it around?
        2) How hard to reload?
        3) How difficult to take it to a range and practice with it.
        4) How likely to kill/overpenetrate/whatever (you can get the black talon type ammo to stop penetration)
        5) How difficult is it to clean up afterwards. Not just the gun, but anything you’ve shot.

        Shotguns are terrible at 1, 2, 3, and 5, and not very good at 4. (drop 3 if you have a trap range around, but that’s long distance shooting)

        The fastest shotgun to reload is one with a magazine – drop it, load another, then rack the slide. The next fastest is a top break. Drop it open, the old rounds shoot out, drop in two new shells, close it up – you’re ready.

        Moving it around – c’mon. A legal shotgun is two to three feet long. Try grabbing a baseball bat, hold it in front of you like a gun, and try to walk quietly through a dark room – without ramming into a wall. If you ended up bumping into someone, you then have to STEP BACK.

        Cleanup – shotguns make very VERY messy scenes. My brother had to babysit the corpse of a man that had used a shotgun in his garage to blow his brains out. They probably had to tear out three walls and the ceiling to clean up – plus scrub the concrete. (I haven’t asked him the exact extent of the mess) Those neat and tidy splintered holes in boards are just that – holes in boards. Hit something ‘fleshy’, and the thing explodes.

        (oh – before I forget. Here’s a cheap-ass .32 – )

        Here’s a pistol in .45LC/.410GA –

        Always think through your use of anything as a weapon. If you don’t want much mess, use a bludgeon. If you want LOTS of mess, use a knife or shotgun. Middle of the road, use a handgun (but CHECK YOUR AMMO TYPE)


        1. The model 1300 Defender 8-shot from Winchester is a legal barell length, pistol-gripped pump shotty, an dthere are legal short barrel shotguns that are legal for home defense (if it’s out of the home, it better be DAMNED secured, and pretty much the only place it can go is to a gunsmith. There’s also the PSG-10 (3+1, but with a 10″ barrel)

          And I’m sorry, but every crook in the WORLD knows the sound of a round being chambered into a shotgun almost by instinct.

          A pistol-gripped shotgun moves very easy, and frankly, if I have to kill a gun in my house, I only care about him actually dying. Clean-up is so not even a concern…

          AOW’s (which include short-barrels) are legal, and in fact are only $205 to register ($5 trabfer fee, $200 transfer tax)…

          And somewhere my old man has a ‘Nam era savage… I really should make dad find that… Or make my grandfather part with the sawed off double-barrel… THAT one would be 100% legal, as we’ve got papers saying it was shortened before the law was changed…

          1. Defender – overall length, with pistol grip and the shortest legal barrel length of 18″ – 26.5″.

            Sound of slide: almost the same as that of a large semi-automatic. More sinister sound? The sound of a hammer being pulled back. “”

            Believe me, in a dark room, any of those three noises is usually enough to make someone a bit… upset?

            As for me? I’d rather keep cleanup in mind, because it’s part of the whole process. This gun is for home defense. If I have to pull it out, I will kill the person. This will involve these several steps…

            Including having the gun taken away by the police (photocopy the gun on both sides, as well as take detailed photographs of all of your collection, and file them. It makes it harder for the cops to claim that it ‘was destroyed because we didn’t know it had to be returned’), the cleanup afterwards, the carpet replacement, the cost of replastering, painting, and other repairs. Also, wear and tear on dragging them back through the door.

            If you’re going to prepare for that – do it right. It’s like camping. Don’t just buy a big tent and a sleeping bag and say “I’m ready for camping now!”


  6. I bet the pistol was a .32ACP semi-automatic with a short barrel.
    It was probably loaded with “ball” or full metal jacket bullets. These do not expand significantly on impact.
    The fact that she was struck six times tells me the gun was in good working order. If the ammunition had been substandard, the gun likely would have failed to discharge more than once.
    The scalp is incredibly tough, and thicker than most people think. The skull is also very tough.
    The .32ACP is not a terribly powerful round. I can easily believe that rounds would penetrate the skin, but not have enough energy to break and enter the skull.
    But do not conclude that this woman was not seriously injured because the bullets didn’t penetrate into the skull.
    Remember, her body stopped those bullets, thereby absorbing all their kinetic energy. And she stopped six bullets. With her head.
    I wouldn’t want to be shot with any kind of bullet, not even one of those “you’d only make him mad” bullets people dismiss as being aenemic.
    I upgraded from the Kel-Tec P32 to the P3AT in .380ACP, because it has more power in the same form-factor.
    The .32 is not an adequate man-stopper, but a .32 in the pocket is better than a .45 in the gun safe, if you need a pistol RIGHT NOW.

    1. I wouldn’t want to be shot with any kind of bullet, not even one of those “you’d only make him mad” bullets people dismiss as being aenemic

      Thus my statement “I have nothing against them, aside from not wanting to be shot with one…”

      Because mad or not, it would still hurt more than I would like (which is to say it would hurt at all)/

      The .32 is not an adequate man-stopper, but a .32 in the pocket is better than a .45 in the gun safe, if you need a pistol RIGHT NOW

      Truer words have rarely been spoken.

  7. I dunno from bullets.

    But – possibly Padget’s disease? I’ve seen skulls of people who had that – whoa. There’s a historical example of a Viking-type who was famed for having taken an axe in the skull and survived just fine, and when archaeologists found his grave, turned out he had Padget’s disease.

  8. There is one .32 auto that’s got a sterling reputation, the Seecamp LWS 32. It’s the last-ditch backup gun of choice for a lot of folks, so much so that there’s a years-long waiting list for new ones. Even then, though, it’s only any good with specifically selected ammunition (and Seecamp lists specific reccomendations on its site).

    With proper defensive ammunition, a .32 ACP can be as deadly as a .45 with ball ammunition, at least according to one study (cited on the Seecamp ammunition page).

    I’ll concur with the folks here who said the husband was probably shooting old military ball ammunition from a revolver. Without any sort of expansion, the bullet could easily have skipped along he surface of the skull.

  9. My father (a former Green Beret) theorized that it was old ammunition that had degraded over the years and/or really cheap. He does state that in the case of a primer-only fire the bullet is likely to not even clear the barrel.

  10. I learn so much here. If I ever decide to buy a gun, I’m taking advice from you guys.

    That poor, lucky woman. I guess she survived, but what happened to her? She didn’t just get up and walk away from that. And what happened to the evil bastard who shot her? I hope they caught him and put him under the jail, but chances are, he got away with a light prison sentence. Grr. She was smart to leave him; the only thing smarter would have been to poison the fiend in his sleep.

    1. There is a moral decision that some of us will be required to make, and the nature of the decision is such that it is best to make it in advance.

      The dilemma is this: Would you rather take a human life in self-defense and forever be held responsible for that action (including possibly being incarcerated or executed), or would you prefer to die at the hands of someone who may or may not be held responsible for their actions?

      I made my decision long ago, which hopefully will prevent me from inadvertently deciding to be killed by spending too much time thinking about it. The brazilian woman with the six gunshot wounds in her head may have decided differently — I’m pleased that things appear to have worked out for her. She’s alive, he’s on the run, and she is innocent of any wrongdoing. Guiltless, even.

      1. Amen. Before you purchase a gun for self-defense use, think long and hard: Are you willing to kill someone else in defense of yourself or your family? As Howard points, out, that decision includes the consequences of killing, both legal and psychological. If you decide that you are not fully willing to kill, and accept the consequences of doing so, don’t get the gun in the first place.

        Well, at least not for self-defense. Shooting is fun, anyway, even if you never intend to use the firearm for protection. Just don’t kid yourself about it. If you’re not willing to kill, don’t even draw the weapon.

        1. Even Ghandi said that while non-violence is best, if your family were being attacked, you would defend them…

          My family background being what it is, woe to he (or she, i suppose) who would come at me and mine intending harm…

          Jail/psuchological scaring vs harm befalling a loved one? No contest…

  11. I’ll add in personal experience.

    There’s another .32 caliber weapon that people haven’t mentioned, and that’s the 1895 Nagant. Seven shot revolver with a gas sealing cartridge. (when the hammer is pulled back, the cylinder moves forward, seating the mouth of the cartridge into the back of the barrel. The slug is approximately 1/2 of an inch down inside the cartridge)

    I’ve shot .32 ACP, Nagant, .25 auto, and .22 – short, long, magnum, and rat-shot.

    .32 caliber, in any form, is an anemic caliber unless you get hand loads or expensive Fiocchi ammo. (Here’s a list of some factory ammo types – )

    .32 ammo comes in 71-73 grains of propellant. (900fps) As a comparison, 9mm Makarov comes at 95 grains for the low end Blazer ammunition. (1100fps) Nominal is 109 grains, with up to 124 grains depending on your spring. 9mm Luger is not much different – 85 grains for the absolute lowest, and nominal being up to 124 grains.

    You could probably stop a .32 with a piece of plywood, let alone a skull. Hit the right point of the skull, and it’ll deflect the bullets – especially if fired from a cheap revolver, or a snub nosed semi-automatic.

    Cheap revolvers will have a large barrel cylinder gap, so that if the powder isn’t fully burned before the bullet leaves the cylinder chamber, the rest of the propellant is burned outwards to the side of the cylinder and framek. (This provides the HUGE explosion of noise when firing a .357 magnum revolver vs a .45 ACP)

    Cheap semi-automatics have the same issue – the barrel is too short to finish burning the propellant.

    Don’t be confused about cheap guns not firing. That’s often not a function of the gun, but of the idiot that loads it, or the ammunition he’s buying. If he doesn’t flip the safety, he won’t manage to shoot an old junk Raven .25, unless he drops it. Then he’ll shoot himself in the nuts. (pot metal safeties) Some older ammunition also tends to have misfires, especially if he got a cheap lot from WW-II – a lot of those had primers that died. (I have a box of the ammunition. At this point, 90% of the ammo from that box is probably in an unfireable state)

    My guess is that it was either a cheap revolver, with a REALLY short barrel, or a short barreled semi-auto.

    (example – good quality – )
    bad picture of another ‘pocket pistol’ –

    In either case, even at short range, unless the person was aiming at soft flesh, I would expect the bullet to bounce. I’m more surprised that it penetrated and stopped. Another guess is that the woman had a lot of hair.

    Howard – let me know if you ever come down again, I’ll take you out and you can play with a variety of different ones.


  12. Six times in the head is pretty brutal. I hope the rotten degenerate gets what’s truly coming to him.

    On a related “lots of small bullets” note, a friend related a story about an altercation between a pair of drug dealers. The deal went bad, and one dealer drew down with a Skorpion SMG, a .22 or .25 (I don’t recall which) automatic weapon. Hosed down his erstwhile business partner with thirty rounds and started to walk away. The shooting victim got up, grabbed a crowbar, and [i]beat the shooter to death with it[/i] before eventually succumbing to blood loss.

    They both got what they richly deserved, and I refer back to “caliber not starting with a 4.”

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