I. John Farnam on “Deanimation”: A dicey challenge where anything can happen
Officers have long been advised to “expect the unexpected” in armed confrontations. That admonition certainly holds true when it comes to “deanimation,” a threatening subject’s cessation of movement after he or she has been shot.
The venerable firearms trainer John Farnam addressed the issue of “rapid and permanent deanimation” in a recent issue of his popular newsletter Dtiquips.
Even with shots to the heart, Farnam wrote, “most cardiologists agree with the ‘five-second rule.’ When blood pressure drops [suddenly] to near zero, most people will still remain animated for at least five more seconds before becoming comatose. And ‘five seconds’ is the minimum. Some cardiologists insist the real figure is closer to 10 seconds or more”—an eternity in a gunfight.
Individual physiological and psychological factors enter the equation, Farnam noted. Some people fall down when shot (even in non-vital places) for no reason other than that they want to. They literally ‘act out’ what they think they’re supposed to do, absent any external physical compulsion.”
Then, too, there’s “the nebulous issue of ‘neural-shock paralysis.’ Sometimes it’s there,” Farnam said, “and sometimes it’s not, all for reasons no one really understands. [It] cannot be predicted nor produced on demand.”
Readers responded with dramatic anecdotes attesting to the erratic nature of “shootee reactions.”
A private investigator and firearms consultant recalled a case he’d handled that involved a 6-ft. 4-in., 220-pounder who, thanks to his constant workouts in state prison, “was built like an action-figure doll.” He was shot in the upper shoulder with one .25-cal. semi-auto round. “Witnesses reported that upon the single shot being fired this giant fell as if he had been pole-axed!”
In contrast came this, from an attorney and frequent expert witness in shooting cases:
In one of his cases, police fired over 60 rounds at a PCP suspect, “and the autopsy detailed 45 separate wound paths through [his] body. The suspect, with pistol in hand, took 11 steps toward police, while being simultaneously struck by a hail of police handgun bullets, until a shotgun slug that struck his spine between T6/T7 dropped him to the pavement.
“Even then, his upper body remained functional, as he tried to point his handgun at police with his right hand, while he held a cigarette [in his left]. It took a 40 S&W round to the brain stem to finally stop this threat.
“In another recent case, the [suspect], shot through his heart with a 9mm and also hit in the thigh and arm, subsequently walked down a hall, down a flight of stairs, across the stair landing, and halfway down another flight of stairs before he collapsed, and thereafter died.
“The medical examiner and I, without speaking with one another, both noted in our reports that a man shot through the heart can subsequently remain upright, mobile, and aggressive for 30 seconds or more!
“While stopping effects [of ammunition] seem to be better now than a few decades ago, there is still no certainty, and two suspects of the same size and physical condition, hit in the same part of the body with the same rounds, may well behave dramatically differently.
“We must train to keep firing accurately, creating distance, using cover and obstacles, reloading, and getting out of the kill zone when possible, until the threat is stopped.”
Farnam added: “We must be mentally prepared to confront nearly any eventuality, from the felon turning and running away, to the felon falling down immediately (albeit sometimes reanimating seconds later), to the felon continuing his attack while displaying scant discomfort.”
And “we need to be cautious about believing glowing reports about ‘wonder bullets.’ ”