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Betts used .223-caliber high capacity rifle with 100-round drum magazines and wore a mask, bulletproof vest and hearing protection. He was killed by police within 30 seconds of opening fire, authorities said.
The weapon used in the shooting was ordered online from Texas and transferred to the suspect at a local firearms dealer near Dayton, authorities said.

From CNN reporting on the mass killing in Dayton Ohio, in which 9 were killed, which came on the heels of another mass killing in El Paso, Texas, which so far has claimed 22 lives.

Behold the fruits of our genius. Pictured above is an AR-15 derivative with a 50 round drum magazine. The shooter in Dayton was using something quite like it, but with an even bigger, double-drum model that held 100 rounds. 100 rounds.

This is an AK-47, used by the El Paso shooter:

It has a pretty big clip too, as you can see, and while it doesn’t hold a hundred rounds, the El Paso killer planned ahead and packed several extras.

I’ve often thought that Americans might have a more visceral aversion to the military-grade weapons that civilians are allowed to buy if they really understood them, and what they can do. Unfortunately, unless they’ve been through one of these mass shootings themselves – which, mind you, seems increasingly likely – their perceptions are shaped to a large extent by what they see on TV and at the movies, and I’ve been arguing for years that this has led to some highly damaging misperceptions. These things are far, far more deadly and accurate than they seem in action movies, in which people blast away at each other at close range and miss, or are safe hiding behind car doors and such.

So what sort of weapons are we talking about here? Well, let’s take a closer look at the AR-15, since it’s the preferred choice of most of the recent mass killers – it’s, you know, sexy. Also great for home defence, so long as you don’t mind picking off bystanders half a mile away, should you miss the target.

The original AR-15 was designed by the ArmaLite company (hence “AR”, for ArmaLite Rifles) way back in 1956, and was in many ways revolutionary. It was extraordinarily light for an assault rifle, a mere seven pounds, maybe a bit more with all that ammo. The weapon it replaced in US service, the M-14, fired rounds with a muzzle velocity of about 2,800 feet per second, which is of course very fast, but the AR-15, adopted with some modifications as the M-16 by the US Army, boasted an extraordinary muzzle velocity of 3,300 feet per second. That’s over 2,200 miles per hour, or, if you prefer, a kilometre per second, which is Mach 3 at sea level. This gives the gun’s relatively small 5.56 mm round the kinetic energy to do terrible damage, the extent of which is greatly exacerbated by its tendency to tumble once it enters the body, resulting in massive exit wounds.

That’s all well and good, but the main reason the M-16 is preferred by professional armies over something like the still harder-hitting and much more robust AK-47, the type favoured not just by buddy in El Paso but also insurgents and terrorists worldwide, is its extraordinary accuracy. With the latest improved ammunition it’s good to hit point targets out to an amazing 600 metres, or about 2,000 feet. That’s almost seven football fields, to use the standard comparator. It’s not clear what sort of ammunition the Dayton shooter was firing, but the rounds now in use by the military have such a flat, straight trajectory that according to some sources 95 percent of the rounds fired under test conditions will hit within an 8 × 8-inch target at that range.

Not that the AK-47 won’t get the job done, especially in the close quarters typical of mass shootings. It fires a much larger 7.62 round, at a much lower muzzle velocity than the AR-15, and with much less accuracy, but those big rounds hit hard.

What you’ve seen on TV and in the movies, in which shooters spray rounds all over the place to no particular effect, while those unlucky enough to get hit shrug off the resulting “flesh wounds”, is utterly, egregiously misleading. Nobody’s going to be running around dodging bullets while the shooter keeps missing. Anyone reasonably proficient using an AR-15 will hit everything he aims at, out to over two Manhattan city blocks away. Closer in, the AK will also hit everything its user targets, and perhaps make an even bigger mess, though I’ve read that the damage done by the AR-15 is so appalling that at first the military debated whether its M-16 equivalent was too inhumane for battlefield use. You can forget about the usual avoidance techniques, too. Despite what you’ve seen at the multiplex, a wall, fridge door, upturned table, or car door won’t stop the rounds fired from these guns, and neither for that matter will any Kevlar vest of the sort worn by police officers – when Jack Bauer and his ilk are saved by their bulletproof vests, it’s usually Hollywood bullshit. Those things will stop the subsonic rounds issued by pistols. Put them up against military grade assault rifles and you are, to use the technical term, shit out of luck (soldiers wear thick ceramic plates on top of their vests to give them some measure of protection). As for shrugging off flesh wounds, this is what trauma surgeons have to say about what AR-15s do to frail human bodies:

The tissue destruction is almost unimaginable. Bones are exploded, soft tissue is absolutely destroyed. The injuries to the chest or abdomen — it’s like a bomb went off. If a bullet hits an arm or a leg, the limb often hangs at an unnatural angle. Such victims can need a dozen surgeries over months. Some eventually decide to undergo an amputation if there is severe pain in the limb and it is dysfunctional.

In Dayton the Police, evidently already nearby when the violence began, were able to react and put a stop to it in well under a minute – Vox is reporting 30 seconds. In that short time, a regular guy with an AR-15 was able to kill 9 and hit 5 more. That’s 14 casualties in 30 seconds. That’s what these weapons can do.

Have a look at this, and imagine some poor, hopeless victim trying to hide under a table or behind a washroom door as rounds from an assault rifle are ripping through some public venue. You probably thought concrete cinder blocks would stop bullets…

Let all of that sink in. Possessing that sort of killing power is what Republican politicians, goaded on by an extremist NRA and supported to an extent by a profoundly misguided Supreme Court, insist is the constitutional right of every US citizen, according to an amendment ratified in 1791 to facilitate the raising of State militias.

1791. This is what a standard-issue infantry weapon looked like in 1791:

Now, I’m not saying this thing wouldn’t kill you, but the nastiest gun the authors of the Second Amendment had in mind fired an irregularly shaped, roundish ball of dubious ballistic properties down an un-rifled barrel, and if you were good with it you might hit something you were aiming at 100 yards away – maybe. Maybe 50. More to the point, you had to load these things by ramming various items in sequence down the barrel with a long rod, so if you were nice and calm, you could perhaps fire it three times in a minute – two, more likely. It’s thus been quipped that an 18th Century musket was a pretty good handle for a bayonet. Wade into a crowd by yourself with a musket, sans bayonet, and they’d beat you to death with their bare hands after you fired your first, possibly ineffective shot.

Let’s suppose that the Second Amendment wasn’t about raising a militia (despite what it says, and what we know from the historical record about what its authors intended), and instead was indeed supposed to grant everybody the personal right to keep any desired number of the available man-portable firearms all close and handy, leaning in corners and lying beneath the bed and such. Do you suppose they’d have thought twice if they could have envisioned a time when any odd schmuck could be toting not some sorry-assed, smooth-bore, muzzle-loading blunderbuss, but a thing with enough firepower to lay waste to a whole company of the Continental Army without even reloading, firing just as often and as fast as he could squeeze the trigger, all while sitting comfortably about 300 yards beyond the range of contemporary weapons? And that, oh yeah, the industrial revolution would have taken productivity to the point that the country would be up to its neck in over 300 million firearms? And, oh yeah again, that you wouldn’t even have to go anywhere to shop for one, but could browse a wide selection from your armchair and order it for delivery by mail?

Do you suppose they’re all spinning like tops in their miserable graves?

While it’s arguable that a ban on assault weapons would pass Constitutional muster – they were banned before, for about ten years – it’s also quite possible that the 2nd Amendment would now be interpreted to forbid any such prohibition, with this Supreme Court, and in the wake of Scalia’s ridiculous decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. Before his untimely death – it came far, far too late – Scalia even mused publicly whether the right to “bear arms” meant the right to own anything a person could carry. The military has “man portable” weapons that can bring down jets and pierce the armour of main battle tanks, and the good Justice was inclined, on balance, all things considered, to feel that such things weren’t contemplated by the Constitution. Phew! That’s how gonzo the debate has become. Is it OK to ban Stingers and Javelins?

I know I’m being tiresome here, repeating myself. I’ve written on this before, at length, in response to prior mass shootings:

The Second Amendment

I don’t want to he boring and repetitive, but it’s hard to know how best to respond to the metronomic repetition of these slaughters. You feel like you should say something, but what’s left to say? Over at The Onion, the satirists have more or less given up, and run this deliberately unfunny headline in response to every mass killing:

They must have run it 50 times over the past few years. Maybe I should do likewise and just re-post the same thing after every incident, for all the good it does.

Or just be still about it.

It’s hard to keep it all in, though, especially when you see the predictably dim-witted and disingenuous conservative reaction play out as it always does. Over the weekend, true to form, various Republicans have sent their heartfelt thoughts and prayers, and asserted that this moment of grief is no time to “play politics”, i.e., do something about the carnage. Some, including Trump himself, laid the blame on mental health problems and violent “first person shooter” video games, avoiding any talk of gun control or white supremacy while glossing over the inconvenient fact that the same video games and mental health issues are found in all other developed nations, whose citizens don’t seem to shoot each other anywhere near so often. Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell, as if determined to cement a legislative record that guarantees him a spot in one of the darker, less hospitably roasting recesses of Hell, sits happily on modest gun legislation that passed through the House many months ago. As is his wont, he’s refusing to allow any discussion, much less a vote. Maybe this time the pressure will get to him? He was mad as a wet hen when the “Moscow Mitch” nickname went viral, and I hear that “Massacre Mitch” is now being bandied about – say, “Massacre Moscow Mitch” is kind of catchy, it has a nice sort of UFC/WWE ring to it, doesn’t it? – and the old obstructionist bastard may finally sense a threat to his seat.

Or not.

Anyway, I’ll stop. The next time this happens, which maybe it already has, being as I haven’t checked the news in a couple of hours, I’ll keep my peace. Ranting in this space does no good.

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