Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Terminal Ballistics 2: Dispelling the Myths

For my first blog post I gave an overview on bullets and their effect on soft tissue, known as terminal ballistics. Now that we have a brief understanding of how bullets affect the human body, I am going to apply some of that knowledge to dispelling some myths and downright lies being spread by politicians in effort to garner support for a ban on the firearms that millions of Americans use every day to protect themselves.

The AR15 platform rifle has landed itself at the center of the controversy over the fundamental right of self defense and that right's recognition in the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. These modern rifles have been labeled as "high-powered" by every anti-gun politician and their mother. Armed with our knowledge on terminal ballistics, we can easily dispel this as a myth. First, let's compare one of the most common hunting cartridges, 30-06 Springfield, with the much smaller cartridge, .223 Remington, which the AR15 fires.


So which of these cartridges is truly high powered? The 30-06 Springfield, probably the most common hunting cartridge there is? How about the .223 Remington, incredibly common for hunting small game, but considered unreliable for use on larger game by unskilled hunters? Numbers are numbers, so if we take the amount of actual energy from each one of these bullets, we are left with 2,820 foot pounds and 1,282 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle respectively (with 150gr and 55gr loadings).

The numbers are nice and all, but what does this mean for the bullet's effect on soft tissue though? We already covered that rifles tend to do much more damage, and create a much larger permanent wound cavity than handguns. Let's look at the 30-06 and .223 and how they affect soft tissue.

30-06 150gr soft-point

.223 50gr soft-point
For purposes of comparison this was between a 150gr soft-point (exposed lead nose) bullet being fired from a 30-06 rifle, and a 50gr soft-point bullet being fired from a .223 rifle. It is clear that the 30-06 not only penetrates into soft tissue deeper, but creates a much greater permanent and temporary wound cavity. If you were to ask Diane Feinstein, I'm sure she would have a great explanation for you as to why this was the case, since .223 is supposedly the cartridge fired from a high powered rifle. Let's go even further though, let's take a look at the military loadings for .223, known as 5.56mm in the 55gr M193 cartridge, and the 62gr M855 cartridge. These use a 55gr full metal jacket bullet, and a 62gr lead and steel bullet known as the ss109 penetrator, respectively. In congressional hearings today, these were referred to as "assault bullets that explode in victims' bodies," clearly by someone educated.

5.56mm M193 55gr fmj

5.56mm M855 62gr SS109 Penetrator

Miraculously, the soft-point hunting ammunition experienced greater fragmentation, who would have thought it! Also, it should be pretty clear that while the bullets did indeed fragment inside tissue, they did not "explode" anymore than the two various hunting rounds did, in fact they fragmented less. This occurred because soft-point hunting ammunition is designed such that the exposed soft lead expands uniformly as it enters soft tissue, while full metal jacket rifle bullets rely on yawing and end over end movement to cause damage and induce fragmentation. Hunting bullets which politicians would never dare call for a ban of, are designed to cause more damage to soft tissue than military bullets which are touted as extra dangerous. Yet these military bullets actually cause less damage to soft tissue in order to comply with the Geneva conventions. Because of this, law enforcement often does not use the military ammunition but rather uses a variation of hunting bullets. The military ammunition is common among shooters as overrun is generally significantly cheaper. More imaginary facts from our friends on the Hill and in Washington!

They don't stop there, however. During hearings in January the Philadelphia police commissioner was quoted as asking how you would hunt anything with an "assault rifle," as there would "be no meat left to eat." We already know that is false based of the explanation and medical diagrams above, but let's drive the point home a little further. Clearly there is nothing left from any of what these hunters have taken down:


There are entire websites devoted to hunting with the AR15. If you need more "proof" that it is perfectly acceptable as a hunting rifle, because all it is in fact is a different shaped and colored hunting rifle, do an image search for AR15 hunting.

Why is it important that we call out politicians for their lack of knowledge with regard to science and biology when pushing an issue? Certainly many here would agree that using creationism and the bible alone as grounds to not teach evolution to students is unfair and downright irresponsible. How is using made up terminology and lies about guns people use for self defense every day any better? We hear it all the time, AR15s are never used for self defense. Tell that to this family, or this tax business in a bad neighborhood, or maybe these students. Hey, tell it to me or many of my friends and students who have opted to use AR15s to protect their homes. As responsible Americans, we can't allow our elected officials to use ignorance and fake science to pass laws that will not only land good people in prison, and make those of us who want to protect ourselves less able to do so.

Michael Ball (1)


  1. Michael this blog highlights myths that people are learning from the media. I myself hunt, have a permit to conceal, and am apalled at our governments conquest to disarm America. Great blog and thank you for bringing this to others attention!

  2. I think politicians and gun-control activists are focusing on the wrong thing when bringing up types of ammunition. Shouldn't the real concern be high-capacity magazine-fed rifles? Better yet, it should be on mental-health disorders including their detection and treatment.

    Joseph Starrett(3)
    In my opinion, gun-reform won't stop those in psychological distress from committing a mass-shooting. Getting these people help would be a lot more effective than trying to force the gun out of their hands (they might find another tool for violence anyways).

    1. They are not so much focusing on ammunition (though they are) as much as they are making baseless attacks on individual firearms in attempt to get some sort of ban. My intention here was to dispel just one part of the myth about "AR15s" being "high powered assault rifles." Fortunately enough data about the mechanical-biological interface of the business end of this and many other guns exists to demonstrate that the AR15 is not in fact as "high powered" as they would like you to believe.

      I would be happy to address the attacks on "magazine capacity" though that is not really biology related. There is plenty of data out there from the FBI, law enforcement, and other sources to suggest that there would be no real benefit to limiting magazine capacity, and it would in fact hinder good people from protecting themselves.


  3. That's a nice photo of the rounds. Can I get some credit?