Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Biting The Silver Bullet 7: Is Stopping power the Same As lethality?

By Sanjay Soni

Sanjay Soni, MD-Hughes Precision Manufacturing

Continuing from where I left off in the last article where we looked at the lethality of certain ammunition calibres, let us examine the lethality of some of the popular weapons.

Samuel Walker and fifteen other Texas Rangers rode into the countryside to confront Comanches in June of 1844. About a week into Walker’s expedition, dozens of Comanche horsemen appeared behind the Rangers, armed and shouting taunts in Spanish. More were almost certainly hidden nearby.

That day, the Rangers carried rifles – their usual weapons. Buteach man also wore a pair of Colt Paterson revolvers, new and mostly untested. Still, the guns were small and inaccurate, and so the Texans reached for their rifles first. The Comanches rode back and forth, goading them into taking shots. As the Rangers used up their ammunition, more Comanches emerged—sixty or seventy all told.

Eventually,  the  Rangers  ran  out  of  bullets,  and  the Comanches closed in. As the riders rushed across the prairie, the Rangers drew their pistols. The men fired a volley—and then, without pause, another and another. Comanches tumbled from their saddles. The Rangers “had a shot for every finger on the hand,” a surviving Comanche recalled. The Native Americans fled, and the Rangers followed; by the end of the day, sixteen Rangers had killed twenty Comanches and wounded thirty more, dealing most of the damage with their Colts.

In this confrontation, the pistol turned out to be more lethal than a rifle!

Let me reiterate – Lethality is defined as how capable something is of causing death. Every gun is lethal, the access to any gun creates risk, but some guns cause greater risk than others, based on how they are designed and how they can be used.

It is not only the capability of the gun to cause death that is the issue; it’s also the capability of the bullet fired by the gun. And since different guns fire different types of bullets, and every different bullet creates a different amount of damage, we can measure gun risk by combining the type of bullet delivered by a particular gun, plus how the gun is designed to deliver that particular bullet.

We will look into the lethality of various weapons using several different parameters.

1. Handguns

Handgun lethality can be defined with five criteria.

A. Calibre. The calibre of ammunition determines the size of the bullet and the speed at which the bullet moves from the gun to its target. The larger the projectile and faster its speed, the more damage it will inflict.

For purposes of comparison, we do not include the following variables:

a. Bullet Design. This varies based on the materials used in the bullet (soft versus hard metals) and the external shape of the bullet (round nose, flat tip, hollow point, etc.).

b. Distance From Gun to Target. As a bullet travels from the barrel, it loses speed. For purposes of comparison we compare bullet speed at point of exit from the barrel.

c. Environment. Bullets  may  travel  faster  or  slower depending on climate, wind and other external factors.

Scoring Criteria: The faster and larger the bullet, the higher the score.

B. Capacity. Here we measure the number of cartridges that can be fired from a weapon without reloading, based on the manufacturer’s specifications. However, we do not measure capacity modifications based on the owner’s ability to modify the weapon either through mechanical means or the use of non-standard loading devices.

Scoring Criteria: The greater the capacity, the higher the score.

C. Size. We are assuming that as the shooter gets close to the target, the chances of a lethal hit will increase due to the proximity between the weapon and the target. A shorter weapon can be concealed easily, increasing the chances of moving it closer to the target before shooting.

Scoring Criteria: The shorter the overall length, the higher the score.

D. Flexibility. Certain design features make it easier or faster to deploy and discharge a weapon. These features include trigger mode (single action or double action), magazine release location (pistols, semi-auto rifles), and cylinder release location (revolvers).

Scoring Criteria: Better flexibility of design features increases the chances of a score.

E. Target Acquisition. Increasingly, manufacturers are making it easier for gun owners to quickly acquire their intended target by equipping weapons with either integral laser devices or mounts that hold such devices. A laser device enhances both the quality and speed of performance because the gun operator can immediately see where the gun is pointing without having to use the sights.

Scoring Criteria: Integral or mounted lasers improve the chances of score.

How to measure the lethality of handguns

These two revolvers are exactly the same size, approximately 6 inches in length. They are designed to be highly concealable guns. They both hold 5 rounds of ammunition and they both shoot in double-action mode, which means that the trigger does not have to be cocked prior to firing the gun

However, the Model 351PD is chambered in 357 magnum caliber, and the Model 637 is chambered in 38 caliber. The lethality scores of these two guns reflect the one difference in lethality measurement, namely, that the ammunition used by the 351PD is 30% more powerful than the ammunition loaded in the Model 637.

We arrive at the lethality scores as follows:

Criteria351PD637
Caliber95
Capacity22
Length77
Flexibility44
Lethality Score2218

The manufacturer of these guns, Smith & Wesson, also offers them with an integral laser built into a gun grip. The 351PD with the laser grip would register a total lethality score of 25 and the 637 would register a score of 21.

We will now apply similar criteria to measure the lethality of two small pistols:

Both pistols are highly-concealable, but the SHIELD is slightly longer than the BGA380. Both guns fire DA-SA, meaning the first trigger pull is longer (thus harder) than subsequent pulls.

The BG380 pistol holds 6 rounds in the magazine plus 1 in the chamber, the capacity of the SHIELD is 7 + 1; the SHIELD holds 9mm or 40 S & W ammunition, the BGA380 is chambered 380acp, a less-powerful round.

Both guns have side magazine release buttons, which reduces the time required to drop empty magazines and reload.

We arrive at a lethality score as follows:

CriteriaBG380SHIELD
Caliber46
Capacity46
Length76
Flexibility22
Lethality Score1720

Both guns are also offered with integral lasers. Even though the BG380 is chambered in a less-powerful caliber, it would achieve a lethality score of 20 if we were measuring the laser model. This would make the BG380 with a laser as lethal as the SHIELD without a laser; the aiming device in the BG380 compensating for the less-powerful ammunition.

Now let’s compare two full-size handguns.

The Smith & Wesson M&P 40, which is a standard duty weapon carried by law enforcement and the Smith & Wesson Model 41, which is a highly-accurate target pistol used in competitive shooting matches and exhibitions.

Neither of these were designed to be concealed. The M&P 40 is a standard police weapon and police on patrol carry their weapons in open view. The Model 41 could only be concealed with great difficulty because of its barrel length, which is designed to make the gun more accurate. The length between front and rear sights makes it easier for the operator to focus the sights while also retaining a clear picture of the downrange target.

The S&W M&P has a side magazine release lever. The magazine release lever on the Model 41 is at the bottom of the grip, requiring more time to release and load a new magazine.

The police gun is double-action whereas the target gun is single-action which gives it a crisper and therefore more accurate shooting result.

We arrive at the lethality scores as follows:

CriteriaM&P41
Caliber72
Capacity97
Length50
Flexibility42
Lethality Score2511

Note that the lethality score for the M&P 40 is the highest of any gun measured so far. Even though it is larger than either the 351PD or the SHIELD, hence less concealable, it also carries a much greater amount of ammunition. The SHIELD is also sold in the 40 S&W caliber, and had we rated that gun instead of the gun chambered in 9mm, the lethality score would have increased to 21.

On the other hand, since the 40 S&W caliber is more powerful than the 9mm, the 40 S&W gun would also have greater recoil, given the gun’s small size and weight, which would reduce effectiveness in terms of target acquisition for multiple shots. Had we evaluated the M&P in its 9mm loading, the lethality score would have been reduced to 24, but since the M&P is a heavier, full-size gun, the issue of felt recoil is less evident; hence, police officers mostly carry the gun with the more powerful 40 S&W caliber.

Note that the Model 41 registered a low lethality score by far. In fact, its score is the lowest of any gun manufactured by Smith & Wesson. This is because of all the guns evaluated, the Model 41 is the only gun that was not designed for lethal (i.e., self-defense) use at all. It was designed as a true ‘sporting’ gun, to be operated in environments that test only the accuracy and skill of the shooter, not his intent to utilize the firearm in a non-sporting manner.

2. Rifles

Rifle lethality can be defined on five criteria.

A. Caliber. The calibre of ammunition determines the size of the bullet and the speed at which the bullet moves from the gun to its target. The size of the projectile and its speed will determine the amount of damage to human tissue.

For purposes of comparison, we do not include the following variables:

a. Bullet Design. This varies based on the materials used in the bullet (soft versus hard metals) and the external shape of the bullet (round nose, flat tip, hollow point, etc.)

b. Distance From Gun to Target. As a bullet travels from the barrel, it loses speed. For purposes of comparison, we compare bullet speed at the point of exit from the barrel.

c. Environment. Bullets may travel faster or slower depending on climate, wind and other external factors

Scoring Criteria: The faster and larger the bullet, the higher the score.

B. Capacity. The number of cartridges that can be fired from a weapon without reloading, is based on the manufacturer’s specifications.

We do not measure capacity modifications based on the owner’s ability to modify the weapon either through mechanical means or the use of non-standard loading devices.

Scoring Criteria: Greater capacity produces a higher score.

C. Loading Mechanism. This measurement captures the speed at which a rifle can be reloaded.

For purposes of comparison, we do not measure devices that can be used to increase reloading speed, unless the device is integral to the design of the rifle. Many magazine-fed rifles can be fitted with devices that hold additional magazines, but we do not measure such devices.

Scoring Criteria: Faster reloading time leads to a higher score.

D. Action. The time required to fire a single cartridge and bring the next cartridge into the breech. There is a significant lethality difference between handguns and rifles since handguns (pistols and revolvers) do not require the manipulation of any mechanical part of the gun beyond pulling the trigger, in order to load the next round.

Scoring Criteria: Lesser time to work the action leads to a higher score.

E. Design Flexibility. Since rifles have much longer stocks and barrels than handguns, they can be outfitted with a wider range of accessory items, some of which increase lethality, e.g., lasers, lights, electronic aiming devices, hand grips, fore grips, etc.

Scoring Criteria: More rails and mounts lead to a higher score.

How To Measure The Lethality Of Rifles

Let’s measure the lethality of two rifles, an AR-15 and a Browning BAR. The AR-15 shoots a military round known as the .223 or 5×56. The latter weapon is a true hunting rifle, and is chambered in various calibers used for medium and large game.

The AR was designed as a military weapon and is currently carried by troops both in semi-automatic and full-automatic modes.

In this comparison, the BAR is chambered for 7mm Remington Magnum, a standard load for medium and large game. Here are the lethality scores for both guns.

CriteriaAR-15BAR
Caliber48
Capacity51
Length32
Flexibility44
Design30
Lethality Score2218

Note that the AR-15’s lethality is scored higher than the BAR, even though the caliber of the BAR is twice as lethal as the caliber of the AR-15. The reason for this disparity, of course, is due not only to the greater capacity of the AR-15 feeding device, but the greater speed with which additional feeding devices can be inserted into the AR-15, along with the design flexibility which creates opportunities for increasing lethality through the use of lasers, aiming devices, etc.

3. Shotguns

Shotgun lethality can be defined on five criteria.

A. Caliber. The calibre (gauge) of ammunition determines the number and size of pellets and the speed at which the pellets move from the gun to its target. The number of pellets, their size and their speed will determine the potential to cause damage.

For purposes of comparison, we do not include Barrel Choke. This will determine the spread of the pellets as they move away from the barrel.

Scoring Criteria: The lower the gauge number, the higher the score.

B. Capacity. The number of cartridges that can be fired from a weapon without reloading, based on the manufacturer’s specifications.

We do not measure capacity modifications based on the owner’s ability to modify the weapon either through mechanical means or the use of non-standard loading devices.

Scoring Criteria: More capacity means higher score.

C. Shell Load. The size of the shotshell; i.e., standard, magnum or super-magnum determines both the number of pellets and the strength of the charge.

Scoring Criteria: Larger shell means higher score.

D. Action. How the gun feeds ammunition into the breech. Shotguns use either a pump, semi-automatic or manual feeding procedure.

Scoring Criteria: Faster loading procedure means higher score

E. Design Flexibility. The capability to add accessories such as lasers or other aiming devices, as well as provision for pistol grips or thumb holes for greater stability.

Scoring Criteria: Greater flexibility means a higher score.

How To Measure The Lethality Of Shotguns

Let’s measure the lethality of two shotguns, in this case, the Beretta 690 Field shotgun and the Mark I Tactical Shotgun from FN. The Beretta Field gun is one of the most popular over-and-under shotguns ever manufactured, found both in the field as well as on trap and skeet ranges.  The FN gun was designed to support tactical missions of law enforcement and military units.

Criteria690MK I
Caliber66
Capacity13
Length47
Flexibility13
Design04
Lethality Score1223

Although both guns are chambered for the same caliber –12 gauge – the capabilities of the two guns to deliver lethal force ends at that point.

The Beretta is a field and competition gun, with a premium on the shooter’s ability to deliver a minimum number of shots in a very accurate pattern, primarily for use in overhead birds, or trap and skeet, the latter basically replicating much of the same requirements as taking birds but without live targets.

The FN gun, with its much shorter barrel and higher capacity, is designed for flexible use in situations where mobility and quick response is much more important than downrange aim.

What these scores cannot convey is the degree to which the lethality of any gun is dependent not only on the design and mechanics of the weapon itself, but the decisions that shooters make as to when and how they are going to use any particular gun.

A small revolver like the Smith & Wesson 351PD receives a lethality score of 22, whereas an AR-15 rifle receives a lethality score of just 19. Yet one could argue that an AR-15 is much more lethal than a 5-shot revolver because the rifle’s capacity plus the ease of reloading means that it can be used to injure scores of people in the same time that the 351PD revolver might only injure a handful of folks.

But the fact that the 351PD and many of the other handguns scored higher than the Civilian version AR-15 on the lethality scale still validates the relative measurements of both guns because in the totality of gun violence, many more people are injured and killed with ammunition shot from small handguns than with the bullets that are shot from AR-15s.

Civilian AR-15s differ from military versions because, in 1986, the Firearm Owners Protection Act banned the transfer or possession of machine guns.

As a result, a mechanical block on civilian ARs requires the shooter to pull the trigger to release another bullet. But clever gun enthusiasts have figured out an easy way to bypass this mechanism: a device known as a bump stock uses the energy of the rifle’s recoil to assist in bumping the trigger against the shooter’s finger.

The original military version of the AR-15 can fire eight hundred rounds per minute; an unmodified civilian AR-15 might fire forty-five to sixty. A version with a bump stock can fire somewhere between four hundred and eight hundred.

In the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, a sixty-four-year-old man without advanced marksmanship skills or military training used a bump stock to achieve something like fully automated rifle fire, sending more than eleven hundred rounds into a crowd in the course of ten minutes, killing fifty-eight people and wounding more than five hundred. The modified AR-15 with the bump stock is far more lethal than any handgun.

Sanjay Soni is the Managing Director of Hughes Precision Manufacturing Pvt. Ltd., India’s first small calibre manufacturer in the private sector. An MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, he has been involved with the ammunition industry in India and abroad since the last 8 years.


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