Dr. Leana Wen, physician and Health Commissioner of Baltimore City, recently wrote an article for the New York Times. What Bullets Do to Bodies explained her experience with the unimaginable horrors of bullet wounds from super scary assault rifles. First things first . . .
Whatever hospital Dr. Wen is referring to is in Baltimore. Note that location and make sure that you never end up there. The emergency room in question took a full two minutes to discover a “grapefruit” sized exit wound on a patient with a known gunshot wound. Right there in the opening of this article I’d already lost any respect for the author’s judgment.
The first bit of true Ph.D. level wisdom we get from Dr. Wen is this little gem: “Early in my medical training, I learned that it is not the bullet that kills you, but the path the bullet takes.”
Thank Jesus. And here the rest of us were assuming that bullets sitting on store shelves around the world were silently murdering us. Apparently Dr. Wen needed six years of medical school to teach her that a bullet needs to actually travel into the body to cause damage. Folks, our education system failed this one.
We then learn from Dr. Wen that expanding rounds fired from scary “assault rifles” explode inside of the body. That’s why they “liquefy organs” or shatter bones in a hundred pieces. Because the bullets literally explode. Here’s the picture that supposedly illustrates the point:
News flash: bullets don’t explode inside a body. By the same token, I’ve seen hundreds of gunshot wounds on humans and other animals. I’ve never seen a single liquefied organ.
I’ve seen organs absolutely shredded, partially from bullet fragments, but mostly from shards of bone. Bones splinter (and even turn to powder). But that’s not the effect of an exploding bullet; that’s the result of one solid object interacting with another solid object at high speed.
I don’t know if Dr. Wen is intentionally misleading an ill-informed public, or is simply ignorant of the kinematics of injury. In any case, I wasn’t surprised to find that the article posted on the New York Times site is now a hastily corrected version of Dr. Wen’s first mistaken attempt. As originally published, it said:
A handgun bullet enters the body in a straight line. Like a knife, it damages the organs and tissues directly in its path, and then it either exits the body or is stopped by bone, tissue or skin.
This is in contrast to bullets from an assault rifle. They are three times the speed of handgun bullets. Once they enter the body, they fragment and explode, pulverizing bones, tearing blood vessels and liquefying organs.
This shows that Dr. Wen — who presents herself as an expert — doesn’t understand that rifles and handguns can fire either solid or expanding rounds. Apparently, in Dr. Wen’s world, handgun bullets don’t fragment and can’t tear blood vessels.
The reality: whether the bullet is expanding or solid, whether it’s fired from a rifle or pistol, bullets can do incredible damage to a human body. But sometimes they don’t.
I’ve seen plenty of tiny icepick wounds from M855 rounds fired from an M4 (see: photo at the top of the post). And I’ve seen an FMJ from an AK-74 turn a femur into what looked like Jell-o.
I’ve seen a patient shoot himself point blank in the hip with a .45ACP fired from a pistol, creating an injury so minor that he was able to hide it from his wife. For weeks. And I’ve seen a bullet from a .357 Magnum revolver make a heart look like half a heart.
Dr. Wen’s hyperbolic diatribe is accurate is some respects. Bullets fired from rifles typically move faster than bullets fired from handguns. They generally do more damage than pistol rounds. That’s why we use them.
The point of any cartridge, however, is to deliver as much energy as possible to the target given the physical limitations of the cartridge and the firearm. The idea is to do as much damage as possible with each round. And that’s what, in any self defense situation, everyone wants.
Put another way, shooting someone to little effect is the last thing you ever want in a military or defensive gun use.
While in combat in Afghanistan, using a rifle, I shot someone center mass. He leaned over and continued to shoot at my friends with renewed vigor. That was far more terrifying than the shots that missed. Right then, I desperately wished my round had done more damage, not less.
I imagine it’s the same for just about anyone in a self defense gun use situation. After all, if your life is threatened, would you like to stop the people trying to kill you and your family, or just injure/anger them?
As an aside, I’ve treated hundreds of penetrating traumas from gunshot wounds (primarily from rifles) and explosive devices. They can be absolutely devastating. But I’ve never had a gunshot wound do the kind of damage that I’ve seen created in some motor vehicle accidents.
After I arrived at a high speed head-on collision with a tree, I found one adult male patient under the driver’s seat of his Blazer. Yes, he was crushed to the extent that his entire body was shoved underneath his seat. I’ve never seen a bullet do that. And I can’t imagine the article Dr. Wen might write if she’d ever seen something like that, too.