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OPINION | RICHARD MASON: Lower bullet velocity to save lives

by Richard Mason | May 29, 2022 at 1:49 a.m.

A couple of years back, I wrote a column about sensible gun control, which generated a record number of emails and comments. They were around 80 percent in favor of and 20 percent against my key proposition.

The column centered on banning the sale of AR-15 semi-automatic rifles in order to reduce deaths in school shootings. I have changed my mind. I don't want to ban the AR-15 or any gun, but I do want to reduce school shooting deaths, and believe I have a way to do that.

My quest started with an email that made it very clear that the caliber (size) of an AR-15 cartridge is not much different from a .22. As I was pondering that little fact, I read a New York Times article. The newspaper sent a reporter to five trauma emergency rooms that had treated gunshot wounds made by an AR-15 as well as other guns and pistols.

The doctors all commented on the severity of the AR-15 wounds; one even said, "If someone shot you with a .22 and the bullet passed through your heart and you could make it to the emergency room in less than 30 minutes, we might could save your life, but if you were hit with a bullet from an AR-15 anywhere in your torso, you would be dead in seconds. And if you were hit in the arm or leg you would almost surely lose it and die in a few minutes from a loss of blood."

Why? When the AR-15 enters a body, the velocity impact explodes the organs much like a shock wave, and when the bullet exits the body it leaves a hole you could stick your fist in. That's why there are so many deaths when an AR-15 is used.

Forget gun control. It ain't gonna happen. The gun owners in this country, including me, are not going to give up their guns. That is just a hard fact, OK?

However, we can do some things that will reduce deaths without taking away anyone's gun. That doesn't include the mentally ill. I think everyone agrees the mentally ill lose their Second Amendment rights when they become incapable of sensibly using a gun. So let's give our police and courts the right to take their guns before someone slaughters another bunch of innocent school children.

That's the first and easiest way to reduce deaths. But we can do more. This requires monitoring of some social networks, and loss of privacy. However, the circumstances require it.

This is how to dramatically reduce the number of deaths. The gunman in Las Vegas used an AR-15 and killed 58 people, and the man who shot the school kids in Uvalde also used an AR-15 type weapon.

However, the gun wasn't the problem. Let's compare a popular 9mm handgun with an AR-15. The calibers are very similar, and the entry hole into a person's body is not much different. However, upon entering a person's body, things begin to change.

Routine handgun injuries leave entry and exit wounds and linear tracks through the victim's body that are roughly the size of the bullet. If the bullet does not directly hit something crucial like the heart or the aorta, and the victim does not bleed to death before being transported to a trauma center, chances are that he or she can be saved.

The bullets fired by an AR-15 are different: They travel at a higher velocity and are far more lethal than bullets fired from a handgun. The damage they cause is a function of the energy they impart as they pass through the body.

A typical AR-15 bullet leaves the barrel traveling almost three times faster than--and imparting more than three times the energy of--a typical 9mm bullet from a handgun. The high-velocity bullet causes a huge swath of tissue damage that extends several inches from its path. It does not have to actually hit an artery to damage it and cause catastrophic bleeding.

The most obvious way to reduce deaths in school shootings would be to ban AR-15s, but that's not going to happen. Here's an idea: Since high-velocity ammunition is the cause of high numbers of deaths versus just wounds, we need a national limit of the availability of high-velocity ammunition.

The manufacturers could easily switch the propulsion load of AR-15 ammunition to a lower charge and reduce the bullet's velocity down to where it is equivalent to a 9mm handgun. The result would be to switch the casualties from fatalities to wounded. This is not a solution to the school shootings, but it is a step in the right direction. Our goal should be zero school shooting casualties, but we must not settle for another futile attempt at gun control.

Why not focus on something that can actually reduce deaths caused by high-velocity ammunition without removing any guns from public use? It is an unbelievably easy approach just to pass legislation that would mandate the velocity of any round of ammunition available to the public be no greater than the velocity generated by a 9mm handgun.

Before you say that would make all the current AR-15s unusable, give it a little thought. I don't know if an AR-15 would handle a lower propulsion round, but I do know that if we can send a man to the moon, the weapons manufacturers could come up with a modification that would allow you to convert your AR-15 into a gun that would handle lower propulsion rounds.

Consider this: what was the velocity of Davy Crockett's flintlock Old Betsy? You can make a guess, but unless you know exactly how much powder Davy put in a load, you wouldn't have a clue about the velocity.

That is exactly what the ammunition manufacturers would be required to do: Lower the propulsion charge in each round until it matches the velocity of a 9mm handgun.

Surely we can take this tiny step to drastically lower deaths in these mass shootings. It's not a final solution, but it would lower the number of people killed. A half of a loaf is better than no loaf at all.

Email Richard Mason at [email protected]

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