A Little Seminar On Gun Lethality: Let’s Start With Handguns.

What follows is a work in progress so please feel free to respond with ideas, reactions, etc.  Last week I published a New York Times op-ed in which I called for the regulation of guns based on their lethality as a more efficient and logical way to keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’ Because otherwise we run into a dead end when someone like the Orlando shooter acquires gunslegally and then uses them for a bad end.

What I am proposing is that that persons who want to own highly-lethal weapons do more than simply pass a background check.  This is not the Canadian or the European approach, which imposes stiff regulations on just about every kind of gun.  Instead, it borrows a page from the ATF which currently approves applications for importing guns based on whether the particular model is judged to be a safe, ‘sporting’ gun or not.

So what I have done is create four different categories of lethality: concealability, caliber, ammunition capacity and flexibility (e.g., how quickly a gun can be reloaded or made ready to fire), with the guns that score highest total being the most lethal and therefore requiring a greater degree of regulation in order to be bought or owned.  Next week I am going to publish a detailed study covering lethality measurements for every kind of gun, but today I thought I would give you a little preview of how a lethality scorecard might actually work.

For this exercise I chose nine different gun models currently manufactured by Smith & Wesson, including two standard revolvers (586, 67,) one very concealable revolver (351PD,) two target pistols (SW22, 41,) two full-size pistols (M&P 40, 1911SC,) and two very small pistols (Shield, BGA360.)

Here are the pictures and lethality scores for each gun.  Remember, the higher the score, the more lethal the gun:

Model 586, 357 magnum revolver, 6″ barrel, LETHALITY – 17



Model 67, 38 special revolver, 4” barrel, LETHALITY – 16



Model 351 PD, 357 magnum revolver, 2” barrel,  LETHALITY – 21



Model 22, 22LR caliber, 5” barrel, LETHALITY – 15



Model 41, 22LR caliber, 7” barrel,  LETHALITY – 12



Model M&P 40, 40 S&W caliber, 4” barrel, LETHALITY – 23



Model 1911SC, 45acp caliber, 4” barrel, LETHALITY – 22



Model SHIELD, 40 S&W caliber, 3” barrel, LETHALITY –  21


Model BGA380, 380acp caliber, 2” barrel, LETHALITY – 19

And the winner is – the M&P 40 pistol, which happens to be Smith & Wesson’s standard gun carried by police.  The reason it gets the most lethal score is because it holds more than 15 rounds of a very powerful cartridge; in fact, the only cartridge more powerful in the above list is the 357 magnum, and while the 351PD revolver only holds 5 rounds of this extremely lethal ammunition, the gun scores high on the scale because the ammo is very powerful and the gun is very small. Let’s not forget that lethality is not just a function of the amount of ammo loaded into the gun; it’s also based on how easy it is to carry the gun around.

Notice that the BGA380 gets a score that is not in the range of the bigger guns because while it is very concealable it also loads with only a moderately powerful round.  But Smith & Wesson also markets a version of this gun with an integral laser, which means that you don’t have to aim the gun at all.  Just pull the trigger halfway and the laser lights up; now you’re playing a video game with a real, live gun.  And I have decided to award 3 points to gun with integral lasers, which means the laser model of the tiny BGA380 would almost match the lethality of the full-size M&P.

The lowest lethality score was awarded to the Model 41, which is a beautiful, hand-crafted target gun designed specifically for sport and competitive shooting at the range.  But the barrel length makes it very difficult to conceal, and hence I don’t consider it to be an extremely lethal gun.

Over the next few days I am going to publish similar lethality lists for other handgun manufacturers plus rifles and shotguns as well.  Feel free to offer suggestions or comments so that I can tighten and improve my work.


3 thoughts on “A Little Seminar On Gun Lethality: Let’s Start With Handguns.

  1. Interesting project here. One question I have is how the 4 criteria — concealability, caliber, ammunition capacity and flexibility — are scored and weighted? Are they scores objective in the sense that anyone (whether they agree with the description or not) would give the same gun the same score? Also, is each criterion weighted equally? Whether they are or not, what assumptions go into the weighting? Basic methodological questions here. Maybe they will be answered in future posts. Thanks.

  2. With the devastating power available now in new types of fragmentation bullets available to police forces and the general public (but not to the military), even the lowly 380 ACP can inflict more tissue damage than a solid lead 357 Magnum. Ask any ER or trauma surgeon which type of wound they might prefer to deal with. Maybe it is time, in another column perhaps, to consider the payloads as well as the delivery systems.

  3. I think your concealability metric needs to be very lightly weighted. Concealability is highly variable and totally dependent on the persons body type and the season. 5 foot 100lb woman in june wearing a sundress vs a 6 foot guy with a parka in December are very different model systems; what is concealable for one isn’t for another. It is the only metric that varies wildly simply due to the current weather. If I am wearing a winter parka I could conceal a SP01 as easily as my 3.3″ Mod2.

    Additionally the second a shot is fired that metric goes out the window (in most cases), unlike the other metrics which still apply with the same value.

    Overall that metric seems more person specific than skill level specific unlike the other metrics. The higher the skill level the faster one can change magazines, or are more accurate. The only metric that is body type or seasonally variable rather than skill variable is concealability. Additionally it is the only metric that loses all value once the gun is actually used.

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