Is Loaded Ammo Deadly if it Catches on Fire?

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posted on April 4, 2012
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The Question: If live, small arms ammunition is stored in the home, and the home catches on fire, will it send bullets whizzing dangerously about, as if they were fired from a gun?

Because loaded ammo is filled with gun powder, most people intuitively think that if it is burned, it will explode and send its bullet screaming unpredictably through anything in its path. But, if this were the case, wouldn’t there be more people and things getting hurt in fires? Here are the facts:

The Boldface Disclaimer: Because fire and ammo (like nearly anything else) is potentially dangerous, there is no point to attempt this test on your own. In fact, BullShooters staff did not test this, because plenty of tests have been performed before, so why waste good ammo and a perfectly good, enjoyable fire on which to roast marshmallows?

The Expert Deferral:
NRA technical expert Julian Hatcher and his team conducted numerous tests. Page 145 of "The NRA Fact Book" states:

“When small arms ammunition is burned, cartridge cases may burst open and bits of brass may fly about, but not with any great velocity, and usually not with force enough to be dangerous to life. The bullets generally have even less velocity than the brass cartridge cases, and it is necessary for the powder to be rather strongly confined to develop any velocity in a bullet. The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufactures’ Institute (SAMMI) reported a demonstration made by taking a large quantity of metallic cartridges and shotgun shells and burning them in a fire of oil soaked wood. The cartridges and shells exploded from time to time, but there was no general explosion of throwing off of bullets or shot to any distance. … The test showed that small arms ammunition when subjected to fire will not explode simultaneously but piece by piece, and then the material of which the cartridge and shells are composed will usually not fly more than a few feet.”

Subsequently, NRA staff conducted similar tests and surroundedthe fire with cardboard. They found that neither the cases nor the bullets that flew any distance had enough energy to penetrate the cardboard.

The Conclusion: “Tests and years of experience indicate that there is no appreciable hazard in storing any amount of loaded small arms ammunition in a dwelling.”

The Caveat: If a loaded GUN is dropped in a fire or left in a burning house, however, it can be A DANGEROUS SITUATION, because the cartridge case is confined in the chamber and will give the bullet its full velocity.

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