During the fourteen months I spent in the war in Vietnam, I saw the hideous wounds assault weapons make.
So today I’ll be fervently praying for the very difficult recoveries of 53 hospitalized people in Orlando, Florida, who all have those kinds of wounds. I’ll pray, too, for the doctors who have to treat those massive injuries.
Unfortunately, most of the media coverage of the controversy over assault weapons focuses on the weapons themselves, not on the wounds their projectiles ultimately produce. The recent deadly attack in Orlando will undoubtedly reignite the recurring debate in the United States about banning assault weapons—but before you make up your mind on the issue, you might want to learn some additional information you may not already know.
This information, even though it’s completely factual, is hard to take. It will make some people quite queasy—so please don’t keep reading if you’re squeamish.
When a military-style assault weapon fires its full-metal-jacketed round, that bullet travels faster and farther than most other weapons. The bullets from a Chinese AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle or an American M16A1 or A2 assault rifle, the most common types, were actually designed to produce high muzzle velocities—but they were also designed to disrupt human tissue in a unique way. Rather than producing a “through-and-through” wound—basically a round, relatively small-diameter tube-like hole in muscle, bone or organs—the bullets from assault weapons have what ballistics and medical experts call a “yaw” effect. That means the bullet itself is designed to “tumble” or break apart in the body it strikes, producing a small entrance wound but creating a very large tissue cavity as an exit wound.
Here’s how it actually works: an assault weapon’s bullet enters human tissue pointed-end forward for 12 centimeters (about 5 inches) before it yaws to 90 degrees, flattens out and breaks apart. The rear section of the bullet then fragments in the body, like a grenade. Those fragments penetrate even further, traveling about 7 cm in a radial pattern. Then the bullet and its many fragments exit the body, making a much bigger and more ragged hole than they made going in. This yaw, flattening and fragmentation effect—which doesn’t occur in standard handguns or most long rifles used for hunting—creates huge, disruptive exit wounds, which of course kills the victim much more often than a standard non-military weapon does.
You can visualize it this way: the path of destruction an assault weapon’s round creates, when viewed from the side, resembles a cone rather than a pipe. You can imagine what that does to a fragile human body.
We might not like to admit it, but the main purpose of military assault weapons and their bullets is to produce as much carnage and death as possible. In my view, an assault weapon has no real alternative use—it is made to kill human beings, not for use as a hunting rifle. A regular bullet cores through human or animal tissue, producing an exit wound not much larger than the entry wound. But an assault weapon’s bullet destroys the greatest amount of tissue possible, making death from wounds much more likely. When medics and physicians attempt to treat those wounds, they’re fearsomely harder to repair and recover from, because they do so much damage. Ask me how I know.
In the United States, even though polls report that approximately three-quarters of the populace would support a complete ban on military-style assault weapons, they’re available for sale and legal to possess in almost every state. Today, after the Orlando massacre, the President of the United States said, “We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be.”
The Baha’i teachings call these weapons of war—made solely to annihilate other human beings—“the malignant fruits of material civilization:”
Consider! These battleships that reduce a city to ruins within the space of an hour are the result of material civilization; likewise the Krupp guns, the Mauser rifles, dynamite, submarines, torpedo boats, armed aircraft and bombers — all these weapons of war are the malignant fruits of material civilization. Had material civilization been combined with Divine civilization, these fiery weapons would never have been invented. Nay, rather, human energy would have been wholly devoted to useful inventions and would have been concentrated on praiseworthy discoveries. Material civilization is like a lamp-glass. Divine civilization is the lamp itself and the glass without the light is dark. Material civilization is like the body. No matter how infinitely graceful, elegant and beautiful it may be, it is dead. Divine civilization is like the spirit, and the body gets its life from the spirit, otherwise it becomes a corpse. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 303.
Do Baha’is support a ban on the civilian ownership of military-style assault weapons? Baha’is look at the issue from a different, more macroscopic perspective, actually—rather than simply banning the weapons themselves, the Baha’i teachings want to transform the larger society that condones their use. Rather than symptomatic medicine, Baha’is want to cure the entire disease. We want to make our global culture a peaceful, harmonious and united one. Baha’is want to combine material civilization with a divine civilization, and inculcate the spiritual values Baha’u’llah taught in all people.
If we fail to do that, the Baha’i teachings say, we face nothing but more of the same:
O God, my God! The gloom of night hath shrouded every region, and all the earth is shut away behind thick clouds. The peoples of the world are sunk in the black depths of vain illusions, while their tyrants wallow in cruelty and hate. I see nothing but the glare of searing fires that blaze upward from the nethermost abyss, I hear nothing save the thunderous roar that belloweth out from thousands upon thousands of fiery weapons of assault, while every land is crying aloud in its secret tongue: ‘My riches avail me nothing, and my sovereignty hath perished! – Ibid., p. 272.