Rubber bullets miss more than they hit

December 12, 2000

NON-LETHAL guns have to be accurate, otherwise they risk killing people rather than merely incapacitating them. The first study of its kind has found that more than half of all non-lethal guns are so wildly inaccurate that they usually miss people-sized targets.

In a study due to be published in January, researchers from the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and Pennsylvania State University tested 79 different types of munitions fired to injure a target. These included rubber and plastic bullets, cloth "bean bags" full of lead shot, and capsules of pepper and tear gas, which are increasingly popular.

The researchers told the non-lethal weapons conference in Edinburgh last week that 56 per cent of the rounds could not reliably hit a circular target with a diameter of half a metre from 23 metres away. And more than a fifth missed the surrounding impact plate, which was twice as wide. Firing munitions with multiple pellets at the ground in front of targets was sometimes more accurate than aiming straight at them.

The accuracy of these weapons, which had not been scientifically tested before, is vital to ensure that they do not kill. Major Steve Ijames from the Springfield police department in Missouri, points out that injuries to the head and chest can be fatal. But hitting the buttocks and legs just disables people for a few seconds, so the police can intervene, for example to prevent suicides. The results of the study were revealed by Sid Heal from the LA Sheriff's Department. One surprising finding, he says, is that "ricochets from hard objects posed substantial hazards to friendlies [bystanders] at near range." During one test, a rubber bullet bounced off the target and smacked an unfortunate male researcher in the groin, temporarily incapacitating him.
Author: Rob Edwards

New Scientist issue: 16 December 2000


New Scientist

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