The Anatomy and damage of an AR-15

The Anatomy and damage of an AR-15
An AR-15 such as this was the weapon used at the shooting in Parkland, Florida.   COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

An AR-15 such as this was the weapon used at the shooting in Parkland, Florida.  COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Jackie Au

I come from a family of gun owners. My father, born and raised in Wisconsin, is a longtime gun owner, my uncles and cousins are avid hunters. I, too, have shot a gun; a few, actually. But I cannot and will not support the ever growing access to military grade weapons for civilians in the United States. 

The United States experiences mass shootings on a scale unseen in any other country in the world, with the majority of these killings using semi-automatic assault rifles such as the AR-15. 

Interestingly enough, the semi-automatic rifle was not always allowed to circulate freely through the civilian market. In fact, it was just reintroduced following the end of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1994. In the span since the re-emergence in 2004, the nation has seen an astronomical increase in mass shootings, averaging approximately 3.5 a year, compared to the ban era average of just 1.13 per a year, according to the Century Foundation. The math is there, in plain sight, and yet we still cannot seem to shake away our love for the semi automatic killing machine, despite the increasing number of lives lost. 

I do not know if the majority of the population truly understands the destructive power of an AR-15, but there is no other gun like it. 

 The AR-15 is a lightweight, 5.56 by 45mm, magazine-fed, gas-operated semi-automatic rifle capable of firing approximately 800 rounds-per-minute (rpm). The “AR” in the name stands for ArmaLite Rifle (not automatic rifle),  the name of the company that developed the gun for use by the U.S. military in the 1950s. The military version of the weapon became known as the M-16, and saw extensive use on the battlefields of Vietnam and is actually still in use today.

 In a study conducted by the United States Military in the early 1960’s, the deadliness and effectiveness of the weapon were tested in combat situations in Vietnam. The report stated, “The lethality of the AR-I5 and its reliability record were particularly impressive.” By ‘particularly impressive,’ the report goes on to describes in brutal detail how rounds of the AR-15 had killed and maimed its targets. In one example, a man was hit in the head and in a graphic recount it was described as if his head had “exploded.” Another described a man hit in the torso as having a wound that was “one big hole” (when looking at an average exit wound, the presence of ‘one big hole’ is quite extraordinary). The weapon had done exactly what it was designed to do; to kill effectively, with incredible ease. 

And yes, the AR-15 is not the only gun capable of killing, but it is one of the only guns with the capability to create such catastrophic damage in a mind bogglingly short amount of time. 

To truly understand how a gunshot wound works, you have to understand what is going on inside the body when the bullet meets flesh. A bullet causes damage in three ways: Laceration and crushing, cavitation, and shock waves. Laceration is defined as tissue damage along the “path” that a projectile follows through the body. Cavitation is the phenomenon in which an empty space is created in the path of the projectile. And shock waves are the damage caused to surrounding tissue by the power of the projectile through the body. All three of these combine to make an extremely deadly wound. 

The power of the AR-15 lies in its light weight, limited recoil, and the high velocity in which the bullet leaves the chamber. A bullet leaves the chamber at over 3,200 ft/second. That is almost double the speed in which the standard 9mm handgun bullet travels. The velocity of the bullet, paired with the ease of shooting the weapon, makes for an obscenely deadly combination. Once a bullet leaves that barrell, it is statistically destined to kill almost instantaneously due to the velocity and power of the round. If not instantaneously the kill is within a short time frame, then it does not allow for surgical salvation. 

When compared to other gunshot wounds, the AR-15 stands alone in the damage created. If hit with a 9mm round, as long as the individual was not injured in a major artery, organ, or other commonly deadly area, their chances for survival are quite high; it is treatable and recovery is in the picture. With an AR-15, the reality is much more grave. 

The bullet enters the body and immediately begins to shred all tissue in its path, leaving behind destroyed and maimed tissue. The high velocity in which the bullet travels allows it to cause damage to organs inches away from the initial entry wound. It is like running your hand through calm water and witnessing the waves caused; the skin in the surrounding area ripples and cavitates, creating irreparable damage. 

Another unique aspect of a wound inflicted by an AR-15 compared to the force of a handgun is that once the bullet enters the body, it essentially breaks up and damages a greater area of the body. There is no singular exit wound, but rather an orange–sized bloody hole. 

Therefore, a shooter has no need to be accurate to kill with an AR-15. The damage caused by one bullet may harm an artery or organ close to its original impact, leaving the victim to die from blood loss right then and there. 

In the case of the shooting in Parkland, in the span of five minutes, Nikolas Cruz had murdered 17 individuals, firing over 100 rounds and leaving many more injured. All he had to do was point and shoot, and in the span of a few minutes, over a dozen individuals were slaughtered. One of the most shocking pieces of information is that this is not an isolated event. It is seen again and again in cases such as the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, leaving 26 dead, or the shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada leaving behind a body count of 58, or the shooting in San Bernardino, California which claimed the lives of 14 individuals, also with the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, which reached a death toll of 27 … The list unfortunately could continue, and the facts remain in clear sight. So, given the sheer lethal capabilities of the AR-15, why is it still allowed to be sold to almost all Americans 18 years and older? And why do we, as a nation, continue to defend a weapon of war while our own children are being slaughtered and maimed in the classroom?