The recent mass shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas has sparked another round of gun control debate.
The shooter allegedly used an AR-15-type rifle, bought just after he turned 18. The AR-15 has been controversial in the United States and Canada for decades, and by 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has banned the weapon.
Read more: A brief history of the AR-15 in Canada
Attack-style rifle features
Several features of the AR-15 make it dangerous in the wrong hands. It is a semi-automatic firearm, which means it can be fired repeatedly – once for each pull of the trigger. And it can be reloaded in seconds by removing its cartridge magazine and replacing it with a loaded one.
A less frequent remark about feature of the AR-15 is that it usually fires a version of the ammunition used by many NATO soldiers to kill enemy troops. As shown in Texas, and many other mass shootings, that ammunition is also extremely effective in harming civilians. The Texas killer bought 1,600 rounds of ammunition.
Journalists debated whether the bodily injuries to be experienced by mass shooting victims should be outlined. Some believe that the failure to describe the physical consequences of gun bullets disinfects mass shooting events, and suggests that greater public knowledge about victims’ injuries could affect the gun control debate.
Dangerous high-speed ammunition
Ammunition is often defined by its caliber – that is, by the diameter of the projectile fired. Firearm calibers are indicated in millimeters or inches. The .223-inch caliber ammunition (or 5.56 mm) used in most AR-15s is smaller than the rounds used in many rifles traditionally used for game hunting, such as the .308.
However, the small size of the .223 ammunition does not mean that it is safe. It was developed in response to the US military’s desire in the post-World War II period to create a small-caliber, high-speed weapon. The .223 round was light, meaning soldiers could easily carry many rounds for their rifles.
The firearms industry has semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15 mass market, and such weapons became more and more popular by the late 20th century. Unfortunately, rifles that fire .223 ammunition have also regularly become a favorite weapon of mass shooters.
Defenders of the AR-15 sometimes reduce the dangers of such guns. For example, in 2020, the vice president of a Canadian rifle lobby group, the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights, tweeted a photo of her AR-15 calling it a “low-powered sport rifle.”
However, doctors who treated the victims of mass casualties described the serious injuries inflicted by ammunition fired from assault style rifles.
Graphic detail of injuries and damage
While gun advocates generally avoid discussing the damage that assault style guns can cause, there are exceptions.
Before becoming chief executive of the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights, Rod Giltaca explained in graphic detail the dangers of the .223 round on his YouTube channel.
Giltaca released his 2013 video, which focuses on wound characteristics, saying that “there was some misconception about the .223 cartridge” and that he wanted to show “how dangerous that cartridge is still, though,” yes, it’s a little bullet ”. He pointed out that unlike rounds fired from handguns, the “.223 moves very, very fast, and it creates problems if you are hit with it.”
Giltaca outlined the various “problems” a human body would experience when shot with a .223 rifle bullet.
He said, for example, that the bullet produces a “small shock wave”, which results in a “temporary stretching cavity.” For example, if the bullet hits a thigh, “it’s going to suck in a lot of air there.” This leads to “massive tissue disruption and tissue death” because “your skin is pulled apart and it tears, and it collapses again.”
Giltaca concluded by offering its “bottom line”. Ammunition that fires ammunition like .223 rounds “is really, really dangerous,” because if “you are hit with a gun round, you will not come back.”
Americans have been reminded of this over and over again in mass shootings committed with assault-style rifles. And unfortunately, Canadians also learned about the dangers of such guns.
The rifle used in the 1989 Montreal massacre, the now-banned Mini-14, fired .223 ammunition. Fourteen young women died as a result.