Monday, April 1, 2013

Death On Wheels

File Under:  Don't Confuse Me With Facts

In a vain attempt to convince self-professed reasonable people that they need not give up their Second Amendment protection of the right to bear arms many well-meaning firearms proponents will say something to the effect of: “More people die in automobile accidents each year in America that are ever killed by firearms, why don't you ban cars or limit the speed of cars to XXX mph?” To which clever and equally earnest firearm opponents quickly retort with: “Oh yeah, well automobiles are not designed to kill, guns were.” Certainly a snappy reply, but what is the reality of the situation? Let's find out using the dreaded .223 Winchester (5.56x45mm NATO) fired from a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle with a 20” barrel and a 30-round magazine AND my benign 1996 Ford Crown Victoria as test subjects.

An AR-15 style rifle versus...

A full-size sedan.  Which is the natural born killer?

How do bullets kill or damage the target? By pushing (exerting blunt force) upon a small area which in turn moves the mass being pushed; when the tensile strength of the surrounding area is breached (it cannot stretch anymore) it tears and the mass being pushed moves ahead of the path of the projectile (bullet) creating a breach (bullet hole). A living target will die if you either: A ) rupture an important organ (heart, lungs, brain stem, major artery/vein) or B ) create significant bleeding from enough bullet holes of sufficient diameter.

How do cars kill or cause damage? By exerting blunt force, crushing, expulsion, mechanical failure, or by combustion/explosion. For the sake of comparing apples to apples, we will simply focus on exerting blunt force.

How much force does a bullet exert upon a target on impact? Force is a calculation of Mass (grains of water) x Velocity (feet per second) and is measure in Foot-Pounds. Nominal performance of our test 62-gr bullet is an optimistic 3,000 ft/s at point blank range. That means someone struck with this bullet will receive 1,239 ft-lb of energy to their body, a little over half a ton of energy.

What about the car? It weighs in at nearly 2 tons and can reach a top speed of well over 100 mph. For the sake of this discussion we will say it is moving at the residential speed limit of 25 mph, thus giving it a whopping 83,573 ft-lbs of energy. That’s roughly 42 tons of energy colliding into the human body.

Killing Power: Point – Automobile

What about the idea that the existence of firearms leads to deaths? Here the two are actually equal. If you sit a box of rifle ammunition, next to an unloaded 30-round magazine and an unloaded AR-15, the rifle will not load the magazine, insert it into itself, and then commence to killing people indiscriminately. Oddly enough, if you sit a can of gasoline and a key next to my Crown Victoria it will not fill its tank, put its key in the ignition, turn itself on, put itself in gear, and start mowing down pedestrians. However, if I take that rifle, load it, point it at someone and squeeze the trigger that person has a good chance of being hit and dying. Likewise, if I get behind the wheel of my car, point my wheels at a person, and depress the accelerator I could plow into that person and kill them. It seems both require human interaction to do any damage.

Autonomy: No points – Neither are autonomous.

What about killing capacity, surely the AR-15 can kill more people than the car in the same amount of time? Each time the operator squeezes the trigger of the AR-15, one projectile is realeased from the barrel of the firearm. After 30 rounds are expended the operator must reload. This process can continue until the rifle malfunctions, the operator is defeated, or he/she expends all rounds he/she has. What about the car? When the driver depresses the accelerator the car will move forward until it fails, the driver is stopped, or the vehicle runs out of fuel. With a 20 gallon fuel tank and a estimated fuel economy of 20 mpg the maximum distance the vehicle could travel without releasing the accelerator would be 400 miles or about 16 hours of vehicular homicide, give or take a few hours.

Killing Capacity: Point – Automobile

But guns are NOT safe, they kill people, you could even accidentally shoot yourself. In actuality, not likely. The mean time between failures (MTBF) or the likelihood a firearm will misfire or otherwise fail to operate as intended in rated in the tens of thousands of rounds (each time the trigger activates the cycling of the action and the firearm discharges a bullet). In practical terms this works out to virtually zero chance in your life you will have an accidental discharge that you did not create. In fact a firearm could be passed down for generations without harming something due to mechanical malfunction. The most popular firearms in distribution today have few or no external safety mechanisms to interact with and yet accidental firearm-related deaths remain low. Cars on the other hand have had safety issues from their inception. We have improved the design of vehicles to include things like: safety glass, restraints, air bags, anti-lock brakes, crumple zones, and so forth. We have even enacted stricter automobile safety legislation including: establishing licensing procedures, minimum driving age, vehicle registration, speed limits, increased drinking age, and tougher penalties for unsafe driving. We have even improved the design and engineering of roadways to make them safer to navigate. Yet, despite all these measures automobile accidents are now the number one killer by injury in the United States.

Inherent Danger: Point – Automobile

But, but ...when someone gets hit with one of those bullets ...why, they explode! Bullets are effective at what they do, and the .223 Winchester it no exception, but they are no death-ray – and they definitely do not explode. In fact, civilians cannot get their hands on armor piercing or explosive ammunition. Cars on the other hand can be quite devastating from the sheer force of impact alone. Moreover, they are fueled by a highly combustible liquid and can be rigged with explosives made from common household materials to be mobile bombs, like the car used in the United States most deadly school massacre, the Bath School Disaster, which killed 42 people. There really is not comparison.

Devastation: Point – Automobile

And here is the major rub. Car ownership is not a natural right, nor is it a privilege expressly protected by a Constitutional amendment. Yet, acquiring a vehicle and operating it is vastly easier and less restricted than owning a firearm, which is a natural right enshrined in the Constitution. No background check, no waiting period, no feature restrictions, no special tax stamps, no permit – you simply find someone with a vehicle for sale and you purchase it. It is not even a criminal offense to purchase a vehicle with the intent to transfer it to someone else. The federal government even tried to make cars safer by mandating they be built with arbitrary fail-safes to prevent them from being unsafely operated, this however failed and went the way of Prohibition.

Ease of Acquisition: Point – Automobile

It seems when you look at the death tolls of the two contestants and you add up the points, maybe the automobile was designed to kill. Or maybe it does a far better job of it than does a firearm in the hands of a conscientious citizen.  Either way, it makes you wonder why the automobile is a status symbol, while the AR-15 is a stigma?

"I Can't Drive 55" by Sammy Hagar from VOA released 1984 on Geffen

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