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.22 bullet blows up Hawaiian Islands

Okay, my headline overstated that one a bit, but what the New York Times published April 3, 1981, quoted below, was about as realistic.

For those of you not particularly firearms fluent, I will describe the .22 long rifle or .22LR ammunition so you can have perspective on this wild tale they spun to a susceptible audience.

The .22LR is the diet for the most popular training and youth round on planet Earth. Every significant firearms manufacturer builds entry-level .22LR guns sized for 5-year-old children on up to large male adults. Firing 22s involves almost no recoil, relatively little noise and has one of the lowest terminal power transfers of all the choices available to firearm shooters.

While they are mostly tin-can plinkers, there are also serious high-level competitions using these pipsqueak rounds as the little projectiles (the actual bullets) weigh almost nothing and travel rather leisurely making it very challenging for experts to accurately hit targets beyond 50 yards.

A typical .22LR bullet weighs 36 grains (less than what a dime weighs), leaving the muzzle of a rifle at 1100 feet per second (FPS). Out of a short-barreled handgun such as the supposed assassin used, the speed and power is a fraction of that. By comparison a .223 from a rifle or carbine barrel weighs 62 grains and zips along at 2900 FPS. That, non-physics majors, is a heckuva lot more energy (speed times mass).

Today I went looking for information on the caliber used to shoot President Ronald Reagan. The theory I was operating on was that attack was a warning rather than an attempt on his life. What I found confirmed my theory, but uncovered a major inflation of the threat posed by the hinky Hinkley event reporting.


I am an ammunition reloader. I insert bullets into 9mm, .40cal, .223, .308 and other ammunition cases with powder and primers as part of the process. A tiny 36-grain bullet would at best have the explosive power of a match-head. You have to read the story to get the drama-queen part “the paper of record” chose to share with the world.

Don’t miss the source they used … back then we thought of the FBI as honest experts. What dupes we were.

The theory I entered with survived the research. Reagan was warned. Play ball or the next one will be real.

– Ted –




Credit…The New York Times Archives
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April 3, 1981, Section A, Page 1Buy Reprints
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The Federal Bureau of Investigation has determined that special explosive bullets, called Devastators, were fired at President Reagan on Monday. Doctors who removed the bullet from the President’s lung did not know at the time that it could explode at any second, officials said.

When the F.B.I. laboratory confirmed the ballistics analysis late this afternoon, officials immediately informed doctors that the bullet still lodged in the neck of a District of Columbia policeman, Thomas K. Delahanty, could detonate at any time.

After consultation with Mr. Delahanty, who was shot as he escorted the President from the Washington Hilton Hotel, and the officer’s family, doctors decided to operate immediately.

At a news conference tonight in Washington, Richard M. Loughery, chief executive officer at the Washington Hospital Center, said Offecer Delahanty underwent surgery at 9 P.M.

The operation was completed at 11:30 P.M. Dr. Howard Champion, director of the shock-trauma unit at Washington Hospital Center, said that Mr. Delahanty was in stable, but serious condition. Dr. Champion described the operation as ”intricate, complicated and difficult.”

Doctors had not planned to remove the bullet from Mr. Delahanty until they were informed that it could be explosive. The bullet has been turned over to the F.B.I. for analysis.

The surgery was performed by Dr. Michael Dennis, Dr. Norman Horowitz and Dr. Paul Corso of the hospital. Mr. Loughery said the bullet could have exploded during the surgery, which might have been fatal to Officer Delahanty. He said it also represented a danger to the operating team. Ther operating staff volunteered for the operation. Believe Bullet in Brady Exploded

F.B.I. officials said they believed that the bullet that struck James S. Brady, the White House press secretary, had exploded inside his skull. Doctors who operated on Mr. Brady recovered four bullet fragments from his brain.

”These bullets could explode at any time,” said Roger Young, an F.B.I. spokesman. ”Anything can make them go off, like heat or pressure or impact.