Doctors are Wrong about Firearm Effectiveness in Mass Shootings
Banning AR-15s would funnel mass shooters into using more effective weapons
This article was originally posted on Medium April 30, 2019, but it remains evergreen and useful every time a shooter uses a semiautomatic rifle in a crime.
I’ve struggled with whether to write this piece for a very long time, over a year in fact. I held back for reasons which will become readily apparent as the piece progresses, but in the end, truth is better than lies, and some of the lies being bandied about in the gun control camp are far more dangerous than the information I’m about to present here. So let’s just have some real talk about whether AR-15s are the most effective weapon for a mass shooting, and why they’re being used.
The Doctor’s Position
Here I present two very highly trafficked tweets which marry up with a lot of others, very often from doctors:
These things are getting a lot of traffic, and they’re tremendously flawed, but the doctors don’t see why they’re flawed because a doctor’s view into a mass shooting is one patient at a time. Doctors aren’t thinking about the framework of the engagement or the total amount of damage someone can cause with different firearms. Let’s first examine the doctor’s perspective, which is a valuable one, if too narrow to fully understand the problem.
In the gun space, there is a lot of talk about kill ballistics, ballistic gel tests, penetration tests, how many layers of drywall a bullet will pass through, and such. But the best and most complete explanation I’ve ever seen about what sort of actual damage to the human body bullets do, came from a trauma surgeon, in an old, jacked up, poorly recorded youtube video. This thing is very educational, and totally worth watching for anyone embroiled in the gun debate, regardless of your position.
It’s an intriguing video, and it backs up part of what the MDs are on about in twitter above. Handgun injuries are not as serious as rifle injuries. That’s a fact. Supersonic rounds have a shockwave associated with them, that’s much more pronounced in modern rifle rounds than even supersonic pistol rounds, and while that shockwave does not literally turn your liver into a hand grenade (yeesh) they absolutely do more tissue damage than a subsonic pistol round. Sometimes pistol rounds won’t even have an exit wound — they’ll lose enough velocity by the time they’ve passed through the body that they’ll travel along the inside of the skin and land someplace weird, like the back of your leg. The medical science for that is fascinating.
If you’re treating one patient at a time, and you see two patients, one with a handgun wound and another with a rifle wound, you’re obviously going to think that rifles are worse, and they’re the obvious choice to commit a mass shooting, and such. But those doctors aren’t thinking about the engagement itself.
The Sandy Hook shooter fired 154 shots in five minutes. The Parkland shooter fired 150 shots in seven minutes. Neither shooter engaged another armed opponent, where reload times would have mattered. Either shooting could have transpired just as easily with a 10 round magazine as a 30 round magazine. The limitation on both instances was not fire rate, nor reload time, nor in fact range. The limitation was how many rounds the shooter could fit in their school backpack.
Let’s go back and look at some graphs from here:
Parkland and Sandy Hook both fired basically the same number of bullets.
If either shooter had chosen a standard police sidearm as their implement instead of the dreaded AR-15, they would have been able to fire over 100 extra rounds before the shooting ended, wounding and potentially killing many more people in the process.
Not only that, a handgun is concealable. Nobody would see the shooter coming. Nobody would know who the shooter even was, if he decided to stash his weapons back in his backpack. He could walk right past the police, goof off for a while at the periphery of the chaos, and go shoot someplace else up later.
Which is similar to what happened at Virginia Tech.
At 7:15 AM the shooter kills his RA and his RA’s girlfriend. Walks out.
At 8 AM, he relaxes, reloads, gets read for the next shooting.
At 9 AM the shooter goes to the post office, mails out Ye Olde Manifesto of Crazy Garbage.
At 9:45 AM the shooter chains the doors shut to Norris Hall, rampages for 9 minutes, shooting 47 people, killing 30, gets confronted by police, shoots himself.
The VT shooter carried 17 mags. He used a Walther P22 and a Glock 19. Splitting the mags up and back-figuring the number of rounds he carried, it’s quite likely he was up in the 250 round range, like my graph speculates above. And because his guns were concealable, he could have concealed them again, left the scene of that crime, and then done it a third time somewhere else. Maybe another building on campus. Maybe a different campus. Or the nearest Walmart.
Using pistols, the VT shooter killed almost twice as many people as at Parkland. He killed half again as many people as Sandy Hook, and the Sandy Hook victims were literally children. Little kids. This idea doctors have that AR-15s make mass shooting incidents magically more deadly than pistols is fundamentally, scientifically, and self-evidently wrong. It is a lie.
I understand why they think it. They think it because they see one patient on a gurney, and not a building full of wounded and dying people laying there for tens of minutes waiting for emergency response to arrive. They think it because the 30 dead ones at Virginia Tech didn’t even make it in to ER. They think it because they’ve never loaded up a backpack full of mags.
But what about Vegas? Yes, Vegas could not have been executed with a pistol in the way he executed it with a rifle. But that guy owned a Cesna, had a pilot’s license, and could have 9-11ed that whole place with some cans of jet fuel in his plane and killed even more. The entire problem with this argument from the gun control crowd is the failure to understand the concept of a counterfactual.
But You Can’t Write That
I’ve been holding back on this topic for a while, because I have some fear that a mass shooter will read this article and get ideas about how to better kill people. That’s a real ethical conundrum as a writer. But in the end, not writing it is worse. Here’s why.
Presuming you could somehow magically evaporate all semiautomatic rifles in the country, which you can’t, you wouldn’t make mass shootings less deadly anyway. You’d literally be funneling mass shooters into more effective weapons for the horrible thing they’ve decided to do. Casualty rates for mass shootings would go up instead of down, if the gun control people got their way.
No mass shooter is sitting at home saying, “Boy, you know, I’d love to go shoot up a school today if I only had an AR-15 rifle, but unfortunately all I have access to is this crumby Glock 19 so I guess I’ll play X-Box instead.” The entire idea is asinine. Mass shooters aren’t choosing the AR-15 rifle because it’s better at mass shootings. They’re choosing it because they’re idiots. If they weren’t idiots, they wouldn’t be mass shooters.
The few mass shooters who choose AR-15s for intellectual reasons, are doing so purely because of the way the media will cover the shooting. This was the case in New Zealand. As an American, I’m allowed the freedom to read that nitwit’s manifesto, and he stated that explicitly.
Hopefully I don’t get Kiwi Special Forces banging on my door for posting that screenshot, but the NZ guy basically nailed how the US media was going to react, and how they continue to react, and where that is likely to lead. But we’ve spoken of that before.
Game Theory on the “Second Civil War”
Which brings us to the end. We already know:
1) Mass shooter rate is fabulously small, and not correlated meaningfully with gun laws
2) Deaths from school shootings (for instance) are 17 times rarer than getting hit by lightning
3) Rifles make up less than 1% of gun deaths
4) Buybacks don’t work, mathematically speaking
But if the blue tribe crystallizes around rifle seizure as a key fixture of their culture war program, in spite of all the facts, it is going to lead to much worse things than an occasional mass shooting with a suboptimal firearm. That sort of thing is the spark that could turn the culture war hot.
And in a hot culture war, one recommendation I definitely have to everyone regardless of their tribal affiliation: Buy a rifle.
One factor that I don’t think will change the conclusion but that should be part of the calculation: the greater probability of a rifle round striking multiple people.
I can’t find any sources that try to quantify the odds, but I only spent a couple of minutes looking.
Even if it’s 1 in 10, which is almost certainly much higher than the real number, the math in this article still favors handguns.
What is the article using for weights of the rounds? I know I could calculate it back from the chart, 4.2 lbs over ~255 or over ~160, but I'd like to ask for more accurate numbers. From my internet searches, it looks like 9mm parabellum is around 175 grains, while M855A1 is between 180-190 grains.
In case I have the terminology wrong, I mean the weight of the case, propellant, primer, and bullet combined.
I took an ordinary kitchen scale and measured 13 grams for the 9mm and 12 for the .223. Sure, my rounds may be different, but that is why I'm interested in what the author used.