from the missing-the-point department: General McChrystal on guns

Posted on: Thu, 01/10/2013 - 01:56 By: Tom Swiss

Making the rounds: General Stanley McChrystal's curious statement about guns has been getting a lot of likes from gun control advocates:

" M-4 Carbine fires a .223 caliber round, which is 5.56 millimeter at about 3,000 feet per second. When it hits the human body, the effects are devastating. It’s designed to do that and that’s what our soldiers ought to carry. I, personally, don’t think there’s any need for that kind of weaponry on the streets, and, particularly, around the schools in America. I believe that we’ve got to take a serious look."

General McChrystal seems somehow to have missed the point rather widely. If someone is attacking you, presenting an immediate threat to your life (or that of another innocent person), you need a weapon that will stop them quickly and reliably.

That means, unfortunately, devastating their bodies. There is no reliable way of quickly rendering an attacker harmless that does not involve a potentially lethal level of damage to their body. I wish we could give everyone a phaser set to stun, but it's not the case. It's unpleasant to contemplate, but the whole point of defensive firearm use is to devastate someone's body.

General McChrystal was speaking about 5.56mm rifle rounds. Rifles -- of all sorts -- are used in only about 3% of homicides in the U.S. If we pretend that we could make all rifles disappear, and that people who would use them to commit crimes wouldn't just substitute handguns, and that no one ever uses them defensively, the impact on violent crime would be still be statistically imperceptible. So the general may be knowledgeable about warfare, but his statement here suggests he doesn't know much about violent crime.

It's worth noting that at close range, that small but fast bullet is not much more lethal (in some case, less lethal) than a larger but slower bullet from a large-caliber handgun.

And compared to other rifle rounds, like the sort used in the M1 rifles soldiers carried in WWII or by "big game" hunters, the 5.56 is actually less powerful; it's an intermediate-power round, not a high-power one.