Freedomnomics

Article published Monday, February 15, 2016, at National Review.

What Obama Doesn’t Know about Firearms in the U.S. Military

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Does President Obama know anything about guns?

Some really nonsensical rhetoric has come out of the president’s mouth. He’s said that political opponents of his support allowing “machine guns in bars.” He’s said that “there are neighborhoods where it’s easier for you to buy a handgun and clips than it is for you to buy a fresh vegetable.” He’s said that U.S. homicide rates are ahead of other industralized countries by “like a mile.”

Perhaps some of this is hyperbole. But there’s still more evidence of Obama’s cluelessness.

What has been missed by many is Obama’s January 4 executive order demanding that the Pentagon make firearms less lethal. What Obama doesn’t seem to understand is that the U.S. military has been trying to make firearms less lethal for some time now. The idea is that enemy troops who are merely wounded, not killed, slow down their comrades and greatly limit their maneuverability.

The point of the full-metal-jacket bullet, which is surrounded by a shell of hard metal, is to keep it from expanding on impact, making it less likely to do major damage to internal organs. The bullets used by the military are also designed not to tumble as they go through the body. And that greatly reduces the damage done by the bullet.

There is also the issue of the shock wave that a bullet produces when it hits a body. A bullet’s caliber tells you the its diameter — .223 means that it is 0.223 inches wide, .30 caliber means that it is 0.3 inches wide. The larger shockwaves from larger-caliber bullets can damage internal organs well beyond the point of impact, meaning instant death. When the smaller-caliber .223 bullet used by the U.S. military in a M16 or M4 carbine hits a body, it produces much less of a shockwave than do the larger, .30-caliber bullets fired by AK-47s.

These .223-caliber bullets are so small that many states ban them from being used to hunt deer. The fear is that these relatively small bullets will not kill the animals but merely wound them, causing them to suffer. But .223-caliber bullets are best for hunting small-game animals.

Of course, the military enjoys other, completely different benefits from using these bullets. Smaller-caliber bullets are lighter, allowing soldiers to carry many more of them. The smaller bullets produce less recoil and make it easier to accurately shoot the gun. Full-metal jackets also allow for higher-velocity bullets. In addition, these bullets also spin faster, like a spiraling football, and so have more-stable, more-accurate trajectories. (This is also what keeps them from tumbling end over end as they go through a body.) But this doesn’t take away from our desire to have guns that wound, rather than kill, enemy soldiers.

The bottom line is that the military has already taken a wide range of factors into account in deciding what firearms work best for them. Obama’s orders, in an area that he doesn’t understand, represents the worst type of political judgment substituting for the judgment of military experts.

Of course, the military enjoys other, completely different benefits from using these bullets. Smaller-caliber bullets are lighter, allowing soldiers to carry many more of them. The smaller bullets produce less recoil and make it easier to accurately shoot the gun. Full-metal jackets also allow for higher-velocity bullets. In addition, these bullets also spin faster, like a spiraling football, and so have more-stable, more-accurate trajectories. (This is also what keeps them from tumbling end over end as they go through a body.) But this doesn’t take away from our desire to have guns that wound, rather than kill, enemy soldiers.

The bottom line is that the military has already taken a wide range of factors into account in deciding what firearms work best for them. Obama’s orders, in an area that he doesn’t understand, represents the worst type of political judgment substituting for the judgment of military experts.

In light of all the discussion about military-style assault weapons, the ultimate irony in the failure of the president and others to understand different types of weapons is that, if the guns and ammunition used in mass public shootings really had been military weapons, fewer people would likely have been killed.

One would hope that, after more than seven years as president, Obama would have learned some basic lessons about how the U.S. military designs its weapons, certainly before issuing it an order about the firearms it uses. Possibly Obama just can’t pass up the opportunity for liberal talking points. Clearly he doesn’t listen to the advice that the military gives him.

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Cold Comfort, Economist John Lott discusses the benefits of guns--and the hazards of pointing them out.

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Updated Media Analysis of Appalachian Law School Attack

Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

Journal of Legal Studies paper on spoiled ballots during the 2000 Presidential Election

Data set from USA Today, STATA 7.0 data set

"Do" File for some of the basic regressions from the paper