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.”

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if i had enough bullets

Howard Unruh. Odds are you’ve never heard of him. He was born in 1921 and raised in Camden, New Jersey, not far from where the poet Walt Whitman lived in his declining years. He was a shy, unassuming, working class kid who took a blue-collar job out of high school, and when World War II broke out, he signed up with the Army.

He was assigned to the 342nd Armored Field Artillery of the 89th Infantry Division. His unit fought in several major combat operations in Europe, including the relief of Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge. By all accounts, he was a good soldier. Followed orders, fought well, killed several enemy soldiers, earned some commendations, and at the end of the war, after three years of military service, he was honorably discharged.

Private First Class Howard Unruh

Like a lot of veterans, he had trouble adapting back to civilian life. He suffered from a lot of free-floating anxiety, argued with his neighbors, was mocked and harassed for being gay, kept track of slights and insults in a notebook. Then on September 6, 1949, after breakfast with his mother, Howard Unruh dressed himself in a brown tropical-worsted suit, put on a striped bow tie, and laced up his old Army boots. He loaded the Luger he’d taken from the body of a dead Nazi during the war, left his house, and began to walk down the street shooting people.

He shot people he thought had treated him poorly. And he shot people who were somehow associated with somebody he thought had treated him poorly. And he shot people who just happened to be passing by. He killed thirteen people in all; the oldest was 68, the youngest was two weeks shy of his third birthday. It all happened in a span of around twenty minutes.

Howard Unruh can be considered the progenitor of the modern mass murderer. He never stood trial for his crimes because he was adjudicated legally insane (though by modern standards, he’d almost certainly be considered fit to stand trial). When he died just over eight years ago in the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, hardly anybody noticed. He’s probably only remembered by criminologists.

Howard Unruh being arrested.

Here’s why Howard Unruh is important today. He committed his murders with a Luger P08, a semi-automatic pistol which Guns and Ammo magazine called “the most important automatic pistol ever.” It held eight rounds. Eight rounds, which means Unruh had to reload at least twice and probably three or four times (several of his shots missed). It took him around a third of an hour to kill 13 victims.

A week ago Nikolas Cruz killed 17 and wounded 14 in less than six minutes. In 2012, Adam Lanza killed 27 in less than five minutes in the Sandy Hook massacre. In 2007, Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 and wounded 25 others in less than nine minutes during the Virginia Tech shooting. Last year, Stephen Paddock killed 58 and wounded over 400 people in about ten minutes. And just to repeat myself, it took at least twenty minutes for Howard Unruh to kill 13 people.

Do the math. Then consider whether banning magazines capable of holding 30 rounds would reduce the butcher’s bill.

It’s worth noting the very last public statement Howard Unruh made. He was being interviewed by a psychologist. He said:

“I’d have killed a thousand if I had enough bullets.”

Today, he could have had enough bullets.

don’t take your guns to town, son

In today’s Washington Post there’s an opinion piece by Emily Miller entitled I should be able to carry my concealed gun across all state lines. Miller, who is the senior political reporter for One America New Network (a conservative cable news channel), is the author of Emily Gets Her Gun; But Obama Wants to Take Yours. Her op-ed is in support of a proposed law call the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which basically says a person who has been issued a permit to carry a concealed firearm in one state should be able to carry a concealed firearm all the states.

Miller writes:

The concept of reciprocity among states is popular with gun owners because the current patchwork of state laws is convoluted and disorganized.

That’s true. The concept IS popular with gun owners. And state laws ARE convoluted and disorganized. But I’m not convinced that’s a good enough reason to pass this legislation. Miller is distressed by the fact that she can carry her concealed handgun in Virginia but can’t carry it in the adjoining state of Maryland. She complains that if she wants to go to dinner in Bethesda, she could be arrested for carrying her concealed weapon.

There are two rational responses to that. 1) Don’t go to dinner in Maryland. 2) Go to dinner in Maryland, but leave your firearm behind. A less rational response is 3) Force Maryland to obey the firearm laws of Virginia. No, wait, that’s not accurate. A less rational response is 3) Force every state in the Union to abide by the firearm laws of the state with the least restrictive gun laws. A lot of conservatives are passionate about states rights except when it comes to gun laws — less so when it comes to, say, public accommodation laws (fuck your gun laws, Maryland, but let’s protect the Colorado baker who suffers severe emotional distress at the thought of baking a wedding cake for a same-sex couple).

Why does Miller believe she needs a concealed firearm with her? Self protection, of course. Conservatives are always fretting that they’ll be unable to return fire in the event somebody decides to pull a gun in an Applebee’s in Bethesda. In a video she did with the National Rifle Association, Miller describes why she decided to get a firearm:

“I was dog-sitting for a friend at their house. And I took the dog for a walk, and in the time that I was gone, a man — the police believed to be a drug addict — got into the house and started robbing it. So when I came back into the house, he was in there robbing. He took my wallet, but I was able to talk him out of the house without hurting me, thank God.”

That’s pretty dramatic stuff. The story she told Lou Dobbs in an interview on FOXNews is even more dramatic.

“I walked in and found basically a thug, drug addict in my house stealing my wallet. It’s all he got away with. And thank God, you know, he did not hurt me. I unfortunately chased him down the street to get a picture, which I’ve learned from police is not a smart idea, I do not recommend — fifteen of his buddies standing around two pickup trucks. That’s when I called the police and I got away.”

And she described the event this way to Politico:

“I came home, and I was dog-sitting for a friend, and I walked in the house, and there was this thug, thief in the house, and like 15 of his buddies were outside on the driveway.”

This, however, is quite a bit different from her account which she originally published in an article in the Washington Times describing her struggle to get a concealed carry permit in Washington, DC. There she describes the critical event somewhat differently.

She’d been house and dog-sitting for friends who’d gone on vacation. She’d taken the dog for a short ten-minute walk, leaving the house unlocked. When she returned she saw a man leaving the house. He told her he was there to clean the pool.

“After the man left, I was still suspicious so I went inside, grabbed my Blackberry and clicked on the icon for the camera. I walked down the street, and as I turned the corner, I saw about 15 scruffy young men standing around two pickup trucks. We were at the end of a woody, dead-end road.”

Hours later, while at a party, Miller got a phone call.

“t was my credit card company asking if my card was in my possession because there were odd charges on it. I looked at my wallet and saw that all my cash was gone and the cards. It suddenly dawned on me that the “pool guy” had been inside the house.”

Not quite so dramatic, is it. But still a wee bit more dramatic than narrative described by the DC police who took Miller’s statement:

[Miller] stated that she left out to walk the dog at 1515hrs and when she returned at 1525hrs she observed [the suspect] exiting from behind the fence which leads to the side of the house. [Miller] asked [suspect] ‘What are you doing here’ and [suspect] stated ‘I am delivering firewood.’

[Miller] stated that she went into the house and felt that something was not right, so she exited the house to take a photo of [suspect’s] vehicle. [Suspect] approached [Miller] and gave her a business card that stated [a tree service] and [suspect] left the scene. [Miller] stated that [suspect] was operating a silver pick up truck with landscaping on the side of it.

[Miller] stated that she was contacted by her credit card company at 1945hrs about some fraudulent charges on her credit card. [Miller] stated that she checked her purse and noticed that her Visa credit card and $50.00 in US Currency was missing.

No face-to-face confrontation with a drug addict thug. No near escape from getting hurt. No talking him out of the house. No foot chase to get his photo. No theft of her wallet. No fifteen guys in two pickups in the driveway. Basically, somebody walked into the house she’d left unlocked and took a credit card and some cash from the purse she’d left on the kitchen counter.

Not to minimize what happened, of course. It’s not the ‘home invasion’ she claims, but it’s still a crime. Having been burgled a couple of times my ownself, I can attest that it’s an uncomfortable feeling to know somebody has been noodling about in your house. But hey, good solid police work enabled the DC police to identify the culprit. The fraudulent credit card charges at Wal-Mart and a tattoo parlor allowed them to 1) view security camera footage and 2) identify the suspect by the tattoo he paid for with Miller’s credit card (“a tattoo of a Skull with a blunt in it’s mouth and the word Stoned under it”).

Unfortunately, it appears Miller failed to follow through on her report to the police. They attempted to contact her three times about the case, leaving voice messages for her to call them. She didn’t. But she did get her gun and a concealed carry permit. So there’s that.

The thief? Presumably he’s still out there breaking into houses, frightening more people into wanting a concealed carry permit, drumming up business for the NRA.

As for Ms. Miller’s opinion piece, I’m inclined to think if you can’t be bothered to help the police prosecute the person who prompted your interest in obtaining a firearm, your opinion on where you should be allowed to carry your gun doesn’t carry much weight. I’d much prefer the Johnny Cash approach: don’t take your guns to town.

i got your parable right here

A number of folks, after the recent mass murder at a Baptist church in Texas (which took place during the service), questioned the efficacy of thoughts and prayers as a defense against multiple rounds of .223 caliber bullets. This, naturally, upset some Christian conservatives.

[S]ome prominent left-wing voices have taken the opportunity to politicize the incident. Some on the left have used the shooting to mock the concept of prayer and Christianity.

In an effort to be transparent, I should probably repeat the fact that I’m not a Christian and I don’t believe in a supreme being. I don’t object to the notion of prayer, and I’d never mock folks who resort to it. But I have to say I don’t think it’s a good substitute for action. I do, however, enjoy a good parable.

Here’s one you’ve almost certainly heard before. Devout Christian hears a weather forecast warning of heavy rains and flooding. He stays in his house by the river. The river rises, the man’s house begins to flood, he prays. Sheriff comes by, suggests he evacuate the area. Guy says God will protect him. Flooding continues, the guy climbs on his roof. Rescuer in a boat comes by, offers to take him to safety. Guy says God will protect him. Waters rise, guy is stranded. Helicopter arrives, offers to airlift the guy to safety. Guy says God will protect him. Guy drowns. Shows up at the gate to heaven, asks God why he didn’t answer his prayers. God says he did — sent a warning, sent a messenger, sent a boat, sent a helo — but the guy just didn’t listen.

What? Naw, this is fine.

The parable stops at that point, and most folks seems content with that. Me, I find myself wondering what else God told the guy. I mean, does God say “Dude, you are too stupid and stubborn to enter heaven”? Or “Dude, you ignored every sign I sent you, but hey I’m feeling generous, come on in anyway”? Or what?

Still, as parables go, that one is pretty sweet. Maybe religious folk should take it to heart. If there’s a God, maybe he/she/it is saying “Dude, seriously? I let them shoot up a McDonalds. I let them shoot up a college campus. I even let them shoot up a bunch of six-year-old kids. Then I let them shoot up a church. Why aren’t you paying attention?”

Maybe? Possibly? What do I know? I don’t understand this ‘moves in a mysterious way’ business. But IF there’s some supernatural agent at work here leaving a coded message to his followers, the code really doesn’t seem that difficult to break.

NOTE: That ‘mysterious way’ business? It ain’t from the Bible. It’s from a hymn written by William Cowper in the late 18th century. Not long after he wrote that hymn, Cowper attempted suicide. By drowning. Just saying.

what it’s come to

The deadliest mass shooting in a house of worship. That’s how the massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas was described last night on the evening news. We’ve reached the point at which we find it necessary to categorize our mass shootings.

The deadliest mass shooting at a college campus, the deadliest mass shooting at a shopping mall, the deadliest mass shooting at a festival, the deadliest mass shooting at a public school, the deadliest mass shooting at a place of employment.

We’ve had two of these deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history within the last 35 days. In the 309 days of 2017 we’ve had 307 mass shootings (remember, not all mass shootings are mass murders). We’ve made mass shooting ridiculously easy to commit. Semi-auto weapons are readily available, high-capacity magazines can be found without any fuss, bump-stocks that permit even more rapid firing have become somewhat scarce because people bought them up after the Las Vegas massacre, bulletproof tactical gear — vests, helmets, masks, gloves, trousers — can be purchased online or very likely at some local shop. If you have an active credit card, you too equip yourself in the latest mass murderer style.

Ruger AR-556

And we don’t much care who can buy all that gear. Devin Patrick Kelley had no trouble buying a complete mass murder outfit, even though he’d been court-martialed for assaulting his wife and child, did a year in military detention, and got his ass kicked out of the Air Force. He also apparently had a misdemeanor conviction for cruelty to animals. Didn’t slow him down at all when it came to buying a semi-auto rifle. We make it easy because, you know, a man has to be able to protect his family in case some nut decides to start shooting up a church.

And hey, it’s just as easy to mourn the dead. A few thoughts, a few prayers, that’s all it takes. Oh, and the promise to remember the dead. Comrade Trump his ownself said this about the victims:

“All of America is praying to God to help the wounded and the families — we will never ever leave their side.”

Except that, yeah, we’ll absolutely leave their side. Of course, we will — just as soon as the next ‘deadliest mass shooting at a location to be determined’ takes place. Trump is always saying pointless shit like that. We “will never ever forget the beautiful lives that have been taken from us.” That was the eight people killed a few days ago as they rode bicycles down a bike path in Manhattan. And this: “We will NEVER FORGET the victims who lost their lives one year ago today in the horrific #PulseNightClub shooting.” The hashtag, of course, because this was TwitterTrump. And again: “We mourn them, we honor them and we pledge to never, ever forget their names.” The victims and first responders who died on 9/11. And this: “So wonderful to be in Las Vegas yesterday and meet with people, from police to doctors to the victims themselves, who I will never forget.” Yeah, so fucking wonderful, I’m sure that’s what the victims of the Mandalay Bay shooting thought. And also this: “We will never forget the 241 American service members killed by Hizballah.” Sure, Donald.

First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas

Does anybody really believe Donald J. Trump remembers the names of any of the Pulse nightclub murders, or the names of the cyclists in Manhattan, or the names of any of the Marines who were killed in Beirut? Does anybody really think Trump was even aware of the Marines killed in Beirut in 1983 until a speechwriter coughed up that fact for a speech on terrorism?

We will always forget their names. Always. We will always leave their sides. Always. As a nation we will never remember for very long, because there’s always a brand new horror ready to crowd out the old one. The nine men and women slaughtered in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in 2015? Now they’re just victims of the second deadliest mass shooting in a house of worship. Nobody remembers who came in second.

I am sincerely sorry for the victims of the Sutherland Springs massacre. I’m gutted with hopelessness over their tragic, pointless deaths — just as I’ve been for so many other victims of so many other mass murders. I’m genuinely sorry, but I’m also disgusted. I suspect many (or most) of that Texas congregation voted for politicians who believe that this sort of routine shedding of innocent blood is the price we have to pay for our national firearm fetish. And you know what it says in the Bible. ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.’

That’s a pretty grim, tough approach. The apostle Paul wasn’t a very forgiving guy. You broke it, you bought it. Me, I’m more inclined to take the Socratic tack; I prefer the gospel according to e e cummings.

and what i want to know is
how do you like your blue-eyed boy
Mister Death

fuckwits and cowards

We are a nation ruled by fuckwits and cowards. There are people in this nation who truly believe a continuing cascade of mass shootings is a reasonable price to pay for the freedom to…to what? To own a lot of guns? And there are politicians who know there are practical ways to reduce that body count, but are too afraid of losing their job to actually do anything about it. Fuckwits and cowards.

We can talk about honoring the first responders, but it’s all bullshit if we’re not going to even attempt to reduce the horrors they’re responding to. We can talk about honoring the dead, but fuck them — they’re dead and they can’t vote, and even if the families of the dead make a fuss they can’t outspend the National Rifle Association. We can talk about honoring the Constitution, but it’s just a head fake — we routinely shit on chunks of the other amendments. We can talk, but don’t for a minute believe talk will result in anything. It won’t. Not as long as we’re a nation ruled by fuckwits and cowards.

Here’s a sad thing: I can no longer sustain any outrage about the butcher’s bill. 20 second-graders dead, 32 college students dead, 50 gay folks dead, maybe more than 60 country music fans dead. They’re becoming meaningless numbers. Meaningless deaths. Because we all know we’re not going to do anything about it beyond muttering something about thoughts and prayers. They’re good at that, the fuckwits and cowards; they have a never-ending font of thoughts and prayers.

It’s not just the mass shootings, of course. Every day about a hundred people die by the gun. They’re not all murders; some of them are suicides, some of them are accidental, some of them are a result of negligence. The fuckwits believe those deaths are inevitable, which means the world is a dangerous place, which means they’re afraid all the time, and because they’re fuckwits they believe the only way to protect themselves from people with guns is to have guns themselves. The cowards know better, but they encourage that circular thinking because it helps them stay in power.

Fuckwits and cowards. And the rest of us? The rest of us are worn out. You can’t win an argument with a fuckwit because they’re fuckwitted. You can’t win an argument with a coward because cowards lie. Making arguments you know you can’t win is just fucking exhausting. And discouraging. And disheartening.

But damn it, we still have to do it. Call your members of Congress today. It won’t matter, but do it anyway. Why? Because there are a bunch of dead country music fans to go along with our dead gay folks and our dead college students and our dead second-graders and all the dead spouses and girlfriends and co-workers and children and neighbors and siblings and no matter how fucking tired we are, we can’t just stay quiet.

If we stay quiet, then we’re also fuckwits and cowards.

clenched, so very clenched

You guys! Do you have enough guns yet? Let me answer that for you. No, you do not have enough guns yet. Go buy more guns because without guns they are going to attack us with “movie stars, and singers, and comedy shows, and award shows”!

No, seriously, they really are! Also? They are going to use their schools to “teach children that the president is another Hitler”! Another Hitler, you guys. Also too? They are going to use their media (they have their very own media!) to assassinate real news! Real news, totally dead on the deck, you guys. Unless you buy all the guns you really need (which, hint, is ALL the guns).

Wait, that’s not all! They are going to use their ex-president (you know, that Negro one? The one from Kenya, with the funny ears?) to “endorse the resistance”! That guy, he doesn’t even have a birth certificate thing, and they are going to use him for endorsing! Probably on an award show! Where he’ll be given an award for assassinating the real news to death! And an actor — or maybe even a singer — will give him the award!

Is that what you want? Do you want your children to grow up in a country where singers give awards to ex-presidents for assassinating real news? Then you’d better go out RIGHT NOW and buy as many guns as Jesus wants you to buy. If you think I’m kidding (I’m totally NOT kidding…would I kid about this?), just listen to what this extremely angry woman has to say.

 

See? I don’t know who this woman is, but she’s really intense and totally fucking furious about what they are doing. Or going to do. Or are thinking about maybe doing. Go buy some guns, you guys, or this already livid woman will become completely incensed. Seriously, she’s this close to having a damned seizure, she’s so pissed off at them. Buy some guns and send them to her. Maybe that’ll calm her down. I’m really worried about her right now.

Also plus? It’s not just about the welfare of this seething, choleric woman. You guys, it’s also about saving our country! Plus our freedom!. And according to this frightfully rancorous woman, the ONLY WAY to do that (and by ‘that’ I mean saving the country and our freedom), is to “fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth”!

That’s right! The violence of lies, you guys. It has to be fought with a clenched fist. Well, a clenched fist and more guns. We’re talking the National Rifle Association after all, not the National Clenched Fist Association. If you don’t have more guns, then you might could possibly become — NO, you WOULD become — a victim of their violence. You know, the violence of their lies. Only a clenched fist and more guns will protect you from them.

Oh, and if you’re wondering who they are, then you’re them. That’s how you can tell.