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.”