Letters: The Toll of High-Velocity Bullets

Readers respond to a Florida radiologist’s account of treating the victims from Parkland.

Alessandra Mondolfi takes a stand against the AR-15 at a Fort Lauderdale protest on February 17 (Brynn Anderson / AP)

What I Saw Treating the Victims From Parkland Should Change the Debate on Guns

Heather Sher, a Florida radiologist, wrote last week about her experience in the emergency room after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. “As a doctor,” she said, “I feel I have a duty to inform the public of what I have learned ... It’s clear to me that AR-15 or other high-velocity weapons, especially when outfitted with a high-capacity magazine, have no place in a civilian’s gun cabinet.”

I am a new elementary-school science and “making” teacher at a small church school in Northern California. I am a Navy veteran, and this is my fourth career or so. Because I’m handy, I do fixing around the church and the school. Two weeks ago I was asked whether I could install blackout curtains and lockdown door locks around our little school. Of course, I will when they arrive. But it has been a sad thought for these old hands to reflect on just why they are needed.

Then tragedy fell on your community, and the grief we feel from all of you is almost unbearable to me. I am pretty old and experienced, but I realize that I can’t imagine how it weighs on all of you. What teacher now can escape the introspective sadness of asking “What will I do if … ?”

I have just read your Atlantic article. As a dad of three middle and high schoolers, an engineer, a marksman, and a teacher of little kids, I wept while reading it—I still am weeping. I thank you for telling us that, and I am sorry that you had to witness and write it. I know that sorrow and misfortune are part of the fabric of the ER—and you and your colleagues are called on to be courageous too often.

The horrific difference between the trauma of high-velocity bullets and that of handgun wounds is something we laypeople in the public don’t know in any sense. We don’t hear about that, and have never really heard about that as part of the anguished public-policy standoffs to which we are subjected.

You have bravely written it once. That is more than most of us have done. But this topic is a profoundly important thing, and it should be a profoundly important part of the public discussion. Would it be too great a burden to ask you to continue to add your voice to those of the MSD students and community? I honestly believe that your experience would be powerful in the same way as the courage of those kids.

Rick Murphy
Los Altos, Calif.

I have some concerns about your article “What I Saw Treating the Victims From Parkland Should Change the Debate on Guns.” I think the author of this article overgeneralizes about the destructive capability of the AR-15. The AR-15 can be chambered for dozens of different ammunition types, and the destructive force is far more dependent on the ammunition than the rifle. A non-AR-15 rifle designed for elk hunting, for example, will have a devastating impact on a human body if turned on it. In fact, a rifle for hunting deer, elk, or wild pigs has to have destructive power to be effective at hunting those animals. I think your publication should be more careful in the way topics such as this are presented.

Josh Meurer
North Las Vegas, Nev.

Dr. Sher is correct that rifle wounds are different, but in more ways than she thinks. By her count she’s seen “thousands” of handgun wounds, and only a “handful” of rifle wounds.

While the increased lethality of rifle bullets certainly plays a role in what injuries she treats, rifles are also pretty rare as a murder weapon. According to the FBI, handguns were used in about 6,200 murders in 2011, compared with 323 murders with rifles, almost 1,700 with knives, and 728 with “personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.).” [Editor’s note: Here are more-recent murder-weapons statistics from the FBI.]

Dr. Sher is correct that the bullets fired by most rifles are far more powerful than the sorts of bullets fired by handguns. In spite of this, rifles account for a relatively small number of murders.

Mitch Thomas
Tacoma, Wash.

I was so impressed with your writing, your courage to express what so many of us feel and present it in a way that helps us spread the message that gun control is imminently needed. Your thoughts and words were clear, rational, and provided a unique insight into what most of us will not (thankfully) ever see in our lifetime, but will spend days and weeks fearing. Thank you.

Cindy Pond
Harrodsburg, Ky.

I am a veteran who knows well that Ms. Sher’s comments regarding the lethality of an AR-15 versus a handgun are undeniably true. Her article was well written and fact-based with one major exception: She states that banning ARs would prevent mass shootings. This is a severe overreach. While it certainly would reduce the lethality of these shootings, no factual basis or data exist to support her assumption that this change would prevent shootings. Making false statements such as this not only demeans her argument, but also helps fuel confusion that banning ARs somehow magically fixes this tragic issue. FYI: As a gun owner I have no issue with banning ARs for civilian use.

Randy Coulter
Louisville, Tenn.

Thank you for your very important description of the wounds to students killed last week. Macabre though this may be, it seems to me that publishing (anonymous) images of the wounds might serve to shake the national psyche on the brutal reality of the AR-15. Until these weapons are banned, we will only see more and more incidents like this. Thank you so much for caring for the injured and for your commitment to our shared humans.

John Tole
Woodville, Va.