What Types Of Guns Are The Most Lethal? Depends On How They’re Used.

One of the major gaps in public health gun research has just been filled with an article that details the kinds of guns that are used in gun violence of all kinds, in particular the slightly less than 80,000 who ended up in a hospital emergency room with some type of gun wound. The study was conducted by researchers and surgeons connected to Johns Hopkins University Hospital, and covered a representative national sample of all ER gun-injury admissions from 2006 to 2014.

ER             The importance of knowing what type of gun was used to inflict that violence shouldn’t be underestimated for the simple reason that regulating gun ownership with more than 300 million guns floating around can be a fairly costly dead end.  Right now the guy who walks into my gun shop and buys a bolt-action hunting rifle which holds 4-5 cartridges has to jump through the same legal hoops as the guy who walks in and buys a Glock 17 which holds 16 or 17 high-powered rounds.  And the idea that any gun which changes hands without a background check could be a greater threat to public safety flies in the face of how we usually think about the lethality of guns.  But thanks to the researchers at Hopkins, for the first time we can make the connection between what kinds of guns are involved in different types of gun violence and perhaps craft policies that better reflect what types of guns need to be controlled.

Along with figuring out what types of guns are used for different types of gun violence events, the researchers also put together some interesting data on the demographics of individuals who are injured with a gun. Interestingly, the age cohorts for persons sustaining gun injuries showed a similar pattern for accidents, suicides and assaults; i.e., in all three categories, victims ages 18-29 appeared most frequently, whereas I would have thought that gun suicide attempts were higher as the patient age went up.  We have always known that young men are most vulnerable when it comes to guns and assaults, but their vulnerability to gun violence evidently extends to suicide as well.

The most important takeaway from this research effort, however, is the finding that different types of guns figure prominently in different types of injuries.  When someone ends up in the ER as the result of a handgun wound, there’s better than a 50-50 chance that the shooting was an intentional assault. If the wound was from a shotgun, the chances were 4 out of 10 that it was an assault but intentional injuries from AR-style rifles were 3 out of 10. What was the weapon responsible for most unintentional injuries? A standard hunting rifle, figuring in more than 7 out of 10 accidents, followed by AR rifles at more than 60% of all AR wounds.

But here’s the real issue which needs to be understood.  Of all the patients who came into the ER with a gun wound from which they were suffering but were still alive, only suicide claimed more than 10% of those victims; for everyone else getting to the ER alive with a gun wound meant at least a 9 out of 10 chance of being saved.  What is the type of weapon which suicide victims are more than likely to choose?  Turns out that more suicides are attempted with hunting rifles than with anything else!

This is a very serious finding and one that needs more serious discussion in order to be better understood. Because in thinking about gun violence, we usually consider hunting accidents to be nothing more than the fact that in order to hunt you usually have to use a gun. No different than using a parachute to do skydiving and maybe the chute fails to open up. But if gun suicides are 2/3 of all gun fatalities and the weapon of choice is a bolt-action rifle which only holds 4-5 rounds, is any kind of gun less lethal than any other kind?

Kudos to Ladd Everitt for alerting us to this study.


3 thoughts on “What Types Of Guns Are The Most Lethal? Depends On How They’re Used.

  1. As far as what gun is most lethal, its the bullet. A 30 cal FMJ running circa 2000 fps doesn’t care if it is shot out of an AK or a Model 1894 Winchester. But I would have to have long arms to use my Mod 70 in 300 H&H Magnum for do-it-yourself brain or open-heart surgery. Its got a beast of a barrel on it.

    So it sort of depends on how one defines lethality and I suspect it is political. Killing one’s self requires one round and like traffic deaths, suicides come one at a time and no one seems to pay much attention unless you are a next of kin or like me, a witness to a double fatal road crash, where the scene is complete with blood and gore. Vegas or Pulse events are rare catastrophes that take quite a few rounds and those black rifles are quite efficient in expelling those FMJ babies. After all, if they were not, the USMC would probably still be humping the trails with M1903’s.

    So all guns are lethal. As Mike has said in the past, they have one principle purpose and sooner or later, they all go bang.

    • Khal spencer…like your comments. However, in reference to the USMC humping with an M1903 they just might be. You know the marines are tuff. But as a Vietnam veteran the Army would not use the M1903 because of numerous reasons. One is that the M-16 is lighter than the M1903, the rounds are much lighter so when going on patrol we could carry many more rounds for the same weight as the .30-06. And many of my buddies would say that it was better to wound the enemy than to kill them. If you wound one it would take 2 others out of the fight to move the wounded. I don’t know about that.
      As for “sooner of later, they all go bang.” When I got back from Vietnam in 1970 I bought a Colt Python and it has always been stored in a safe place. Not once has the Python ever gone bang. In my opinion it is the finest revolver ever made. However, maybe it is defective.

      • The most accurate handgun I ever had in my life was a 4-inch nickel Python. Once they fixed the ammo problem with the M-16 it worked very well and Alan is correct; you could carry 40% more ammo with the same weight and the Army did not want the gun and ammo to weigh more than 50% of the total equipment that a soldier carried into the field.

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