sorry, but we need to talk about wound ballistics

Okay, let’s talk wound ballistics.

Wait. First, let’s acknowledge that any culture in which it’s necessary to talk about wound ballistics as they apply to school kids is a fucked up culture. Sadly, that fairly accurately describes the culture in the U.S. right now.

Anyway, a friend who is a gun enthusiast claimed the AR-15 is no more deadly than any other rifle. Which leads me to wound ballistics.

You often hear the term ‘ballistics’ tossed about in police movies and television shows, but what the hell are they really talking about? Ballistics is the study of the mechanics and behavior of projectiles. Terminal ballistics is the study of the behavior of projectiles after they’ve hit a target. Wound ballistics is the marriage of general ballistics and terminal ballistics as applied to a body of flesh — the behavior of a projectile after it impacts a person.

When I was being trained as a medic (a million years ago) my unit was given an object lesson in wound ballistics. The instructors hung a pair of pig carcasses from hooks, one in front of the other, and shot them. First with a standard issue 9mm pistol, then with an old M1 Garand — the .30 caliber rifle that was the standard service weapon in WWII. Finally, they shot the carcasses with an M-16 (as you know, the AR-15 is the civilian version of the M-16). We examined the carcasses after each weapon was fired.

The 9mm pistol rounds easily penetrated the first carcass, making a tidy little entry wound. The M1’s heavier .30 caliber rounds made a similar entry wound, but several of the rounds completely penetrated through the front carcass and entered the second. Most of the M-16’s smaller and lighter .223 rounds failed to penetrated through the first carcass into the second, but they created really big, savage, gaping wounds in that first one. Those few rounds that did completely penetrate the carcass left massive, ragged exit wounds.

This is where ballistics comes into play. Remember, a bullet displaces air as it travels through it. Similarly, a bullet displaces flesh as it travels through it. When you fire a gun, you want a bullet that remains stable as it flies through the air towards the target — a bullet that will go where you aim it. The big difference between all these weapons is their terminal ballistics — what happens after the bullet hits its target.

Both the 9mm and .30 caliber rounds remained stable as they hit — and sometimes passed through — the carcass. They had tremendous penetrative power, displacing a relatively small amount of flesh. In other words, they poked holes in the carcass. The .223 rounds, on the other hand, were stable until they hit the carcass, at which point they became wildly unstable. That instability causes extensive cavitation — displacing a lot more flesh. That cavitation meant organs and blood vessels near the bullet’s path were also damaged. The energy of the bullet was expended IN the body instead of passing THROUGH the body. The result was a much nastier wound.

What does that mean? For a medic, it means a wound from an AR-15 variant rifle is less amenable to treatment than wounds by a .30 caliber rifle or a 9mm pistol. The AR is more likely to pulp tissue and organs instead of simply passing through them. For a shooter, it means he (yeah, these shooters are almost exclusively male) doesn’t need to be particularly accurate in order to produce a high body count.

In practical terms, this generally means the butcher’s bill is lower for mass shootings involving firearms other than AR-15 variants. (I say ‘generally’ because the butcher’s bill depends on more than just the weapon used; it also depends on where the victims are shot. Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 using a pair of relatively small-caliber pistols — but 28 of those victims were shot in the head, and all of them had been shot at least three times.)

So if somebody tries to tell you the AR-15 is no more deadly than any other rifle, this is what you say: “It’s the wound ballistics, asshole. The wound ballistics.”


12 thoughts on “sorry, but we need to talk about wound ballistics

  1. This is why I want the photos from Sandy Hook released. And the photos from Parkland. These kids were not simply killed with bullets, they were decimated. And as you used the term “butcher’s bill,” perhaps a butchering would probably be a better description of what happened, particularly the smaller Sandy Hook kids.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d be okay with that IF the parents are okay with it. I’ve had the misfortune to see a lot of gunshot wounds — both fatal and near-fatal — as a medic and a criminal defense investigator. I wouldn’t want to force that on anybody.

      On the other hand, there are a lot of folks whose only knowledge of wounds is from television and the movies. They’re used to seeing people get shot, wear a sling, and go back to work the next day. They’re used to seeing a tidy wound and a pool of visually dramatic blood. And that shapes how they think about GSWs. So maybe it would benefit people to see the reality. Maybe.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Decimated does not mean what you Think it means.
      Those kids were Mutilated by the rounds that struck them.

      Decimation was a type of Punishment used by the Roman Legions. A Legion which was judged to have not fought Hard Enough (ie. They Lost) could be ordered to be Decimated as punishment for Cowardice. What that consisted of was to line up the entire legion in nice neat rows and, while they stood there, a team from the Legion assigned to carry out the discipline would walk through those ranks killing 1 solder out of each 10.
      Hence “Decimate”: Kill One in every Ten.


      • Not surprisingly, this is a discussion I’ve had dozens of times because I’ve always been fascinated by etymology. And here’s the thing: a word means what the majority of people think it means, and that often changes over time.

        ‘Furniture’ used to refer to equipment, supplies or provisions, ‘naughty’ used to refer to people who were poor and had naught, ‘cloud’ used to refer to a large mass of rock.

        So yes, that’s the correct etymology of ‘decimate’. However, at this point in time, through common usage, the term is generally accepted to mean ‘to reduce greatly in number; to destroy a large part or number of something’. I confess, I rather dislike that usage, but there it is.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. If you love your children, PROTECT THEM. We used armed guards for every other person, item, location we want to protect, except for of course our kids.

    The reason is simple, the left needs dead kids to push their agenda, the more dead children the more gun control they get.

    If you place armed guards at schools and the school shootings drop or go away completely, the “ammo” the left had for banning guns is gone.


    • Aw, Billy, c’mon. You’re not stupid; you have to know that isn’t true. Seriously, tell me exactly how much more gun control we’ve had after a couple of decades of school shootings and mass killings. What we’ve actually seen is a couple of decades of relaxing firearm regulations.

      Nor will armed guards at schools stop school shootings. The vast majority of school shooters are students at the school they shoot up. When there’s an armed school officer, those shooters KNOW the guard’s routine. These aren’t spontaneous events; these school shooters plan their attacks. Consider what Cruz did: he pulled the fire alarm to get kids out in the hallways where they were vulnerable and where he could create the most chaos.

      Cruz was different than a lot of school shooters in that he also planned his escape. A LOT of school shooters/mass murderers have no intention of escaping. They expect to die…either by the police or by their own hand. If part of the plan is to end up dead, an armed guard isn’t going to deter that. Granted, the shooter might end up dead a wee bit sooner, but most of these events only last a few minutes — plenty long enough to kill a lot of people before a guard or the police can respond.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with Patrick. In my opinion, I think a big part of what turned around the Vietnam War was the horrific images that filled our TV screens and Life Magazines, and the unfettered distribution of the wages of the war. The Pro-Lifers with their big posters of mangled fetuses – while they might not be actual images from abortions, they still seem to have the impact they seek. The scrubbing of photos of wartime in the Middle East is probably partially responsible for why we are still involved…no photos of blown-up soldiers to rile the masses.

    Perhaps, with the permission of the families, of course, the aftermath of these murders of children were actually shown, the outrage might be what it takes to bring about change.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m with Starfish. The photos we saw from Vietnam had a huge impact on myself and others who protested the war. I cry at the thought of releasing photos of massacred children, and would not want to cause further pain to parents, friends and relatives. However, perhaps their should be a private showing for those who oppose updating gun laws in our country. Particularly if they have children.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if some lawmakers have seen them, particularly those which might have oversight (Hahahaha! Oversight…). But then, the NRA snaps them back in line with fists full of money.


    • I can’t imagine anybody wanting to see the crime scene photos. I suspect the people who’d benefit from seeing them (although that’s a pretty dubious concept of ‘benefit’) would refuse to look at them.

      The photographs you saw from Vietnam weren’t really all that graphic. There were some shots that were shocking, no mistake…but they weren’t graphic in the way that crime scene photos are.

      Liked by 1 person

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