God help me, I resisted mightily. If my fellow SB friend Greg wants to spin the Ft. Hoot shooting as a cause for gun control then frankly there’s pretty much nothing further to say. You’d think a @#$% major in the @#$% army on a @#$% army base just might not have been terribly inconvenienced in procuring weaponry even if every civilian gun in the hemisphere vanished in a puff of sunshine and wishful thinking. But I was going to leave it alone, assuming that that particular point makes itself. To each his own.
But he wrote a follow-up post asserting a few points of fact, pretty much all of which rather wildly miss the mark. As a physicist, semi-pro educator (this blog!), and enthusiastic firearms owner and advocate, I simply can’t help setting the record straight as to the points of fact. The political gun-control points I will grit my teeth and let slide. Let’s begin:
He apparently carried two pistols, and both are designed to be effective killing weapons. The more newly designed Five-sevN that he had purchased under the noses of the FBI who was busy investigating him is specifically designed to be very effective at killing large numbers of people in close quarters, to have more controlled “follow-up shots” and to pierce body armor.
The Five-Seven (weird trademark capitalization is goofy even when Apple does it) is not designed to kill large numbers of people in close quarters, except insofar as any pistol is most effective relatively close. It’s a pistol like any other, and does the same thing. With the exception of the last three words, you could replace Five-Seven with pretty much any centerfire pistol except the niche wilderness big-bore revolvers and have a statement that works just as well.
But the Five-Seven was designed to fire a rather unusual 5.7x28mm round which is itself designed to pierce body armor. That much is entirely true. But what’s not true is that the armor-piercing handgun ammunition is available in the US. You cannot buy it, it is a violation of federal law. To be clear: if Hasan bought ammo for this pistol in the civilian market he bought ordinary, standard 5.7x28mm ammo. And the 5.7x28mm round sucks at pistol velocities for the purposes of incapacitating or killing. Though Greg sarcastically speculates it might be good for hunting moose, in fact in many states it would be banned for hunting even small critters on the grounds that such a small round would be cruel to the animal by virtue of the injury being too small to reliably kill quickly. For that matter the armor-piercing ammo wouldn’t have been much better – the ability to penetrate armor is more or less precisely the inverse of what’s needed to damage tissue. This is why police and self-defense ammo is almost exclusively hollow-point, which is good for quick incapacitation but terrible at armor penetration.
In short, the very fact that the pistol was designed for military use against armor-wearing opponents makes the pistol poor for anything else. Even if he had the armor-piercing bullets, which he didn’t.
The other gun was a magnum, a.k.a., miniature cannon.
Magnum doesn’t mean that. I suppose you might think so if you didn’t know anything about guns, but that wouldn’t make you correct. Magnum means all kinds of things depending on context. The .357 magnum Hasan possessed but apparently didn’t use is a solid but not particularly unusual round. The .22 magnum is a very small bullet. The .44 magnum is ginormous, but no one uses it for actual combat because it’s unwieldy. Magnum shotgun shells have more pellets but they’re slower-moving. Some of the largest pistol bullets (.50 AE, .454 Casull, etc) aren’t labeled magnum at all.
None of this is to say the weapons Hasan chose weren’t dangerous and lethal. Certainly they were, and for his actions he deserves nothing but a short drop and a sudden stop. It is to say that a matter of empirical fact the weapons he carried were relatively ordinary, and that the weapon he actually used was in fact among the least effective weapons he could possibly have picked – certainly orders of magnitude less dangerous than a standard combat rifle. (The M-16, by the way, actually shoots a slightly narrower 5.56mm projectile, but the bullet is about twice as heavy and moving around 50% faster. This makes it much more effective, and yet it’s still the target of continual controversy among military circles for its not-always-impressive terminal performance. In my state it’s illegal for hunting deer for that very reason – too high risk of an escaped, injured deer rather than a quick kill. UPDATE: The previous sentence is not quite right – the Texas requirement is just that the round be centerfire, so effectively the 5.56 mm is the smallest legal hunting round. Other states vary, some do enforce a larger cutoff.)
You can make up your own mind about the politics of gun control (on an army base!) – as I said I’m not going to argue it here now – but at least now we can be clear as to what actually happened.