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Levin: Students in Florida given a physics pop quiz—they all failed

When you are stabbed by a knife or shot, say, by a 9 mm Luger handgun, of this you can be sure: it will hurt like hell. And if either the blade or the bullet hits your heart, there is a substantially higher likelihood you will die, especially if the bullet is an expanding hollow point or the knife looks like something Crocodile Dundee would wield. Put it this way: If you get hit by a 9 mm, no matter where it strikes, you have just been handed the intended message via Express Delivery.   

But otherwise, despite the debilitating pain or death, the bullet may end up damaging only the tissue and organs it comes in direct contact with. In some cases, a 9 mm Parabellum has even been stopped by a large bone in the upper leg.

But when you are shot with an AR-15—“America’s Rifle,” as the NRA calls it—it’s not quite the same. The round exits the muzzle at 3,200 feet-per-second, roughly twice as fast as a 9 mm and about three times faster than the .22 LRs I shot in my teens. Bone is not going to stop an AR-15 projectile that is traveling 2,182 mph — it will be pulverized. An AR-15 round penetrates a 14-year-girl’s body as a small portal and exits it with such explosive force that it can excavate a jagged hole in her back the size of an orange. Donald Jenkins, a Level 1 trauma surgeon in San Antonio, described what happens when a AR-15 round hits a liver. “The liver looks like a Jell-O mold that’s been dropped on the floor.”

Many fans will tell you one reason they acquired their AR-15 was for protection, but that begs the question of why you’re living in a neighborhood where you require that kind of protection. Perhaps it’s time to check in with your nearby real estate agent.

It was America’s Rifle, of course, that blew out orange-size holes in the American teens and teachers in Parkland, Florida last week. It was America’s Rifle that pulverized 8-year-old Americans at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We can go on ... Las Vegas, Orlando, Aurora and so forth.  

There are several reasons why America’s Rifle is popular as your go-to, every day, garden-variety weapon of choice for close-range massacres of American children. In many states, including Florida and Georgia, you can buy one before you’re old enough to buy a Budweiser. An AR-15 cost less than the new iPhone X—a summer of mowing yards and you’re good to go. Also, the AR-15 is more dependable and has less muzzle climb than its older Russian cousin, the AK-47, and it’s more accurate. However, I’m not sure how accurate you need to be from 5 feet away with a gun that fires 30 rounds as fast as you can pull the trigger. This is the scientific ballistics theory called “shooting fish in a barrel.”  

If your intent is close-in wet work, you do not have to worry yourself with those irksome afternoons at the practice range, which are such a time suck, anyway. When high-velocity kinetic energy is at play, shooting in almost any general direction will do. But there’s an added bonus, one that the AR-15’s designers, Eugene Stoner and two other engineers, probably never envisioned in the late 1950s.

The bonus is a function of physics and ballistics phenomena. In Florida and elsewhere, in the cases where the 1.7-inch-long bullet missed a direct fatal hit on the heart or perhaps the head, it’s likely the children died instead from the resulting blast zones created by the stunningly powerful pressure wave of the speeding bullet. In essence, the children were given a pop quiz in the lethal physics stew of kinetic energy, mass and velocity—and they failed.

The projectile’s pressure wave means the bullet only has to ramble around in the anatomical neighborhood, not necessarily make a direct hit on an organ—pure physics borne out of out the labs at ArmaLite, where the AR-15 was born. Even grading the quiz on a curve, the students all fared poorly on the test that was administered by the business end of America’s Rifle, and their scores were written in red splatter across the classroom whiteboards.

Immediately after this most recent carnage, Paul Ryan, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, noted that what was needed now was prayers for the families, not a physics discussion, and certainly not a conversation about America’s Rifle and gun control. His comments were echoed by politicians across the land. Prayer can be a powerful force, but by and large, I don’t think it can reverse a 2,182 mph projectile heading toward your 9-year-old son’s head. You know, the son for whom his parents prayed that morning that he be kept safe from harm. With apologies to members of my family who are deeply devout, and to good and equally religious friends and neighbors, I’m not entirely certain all these victims’ families are currently in search of prayer. But if theology is what is being urged at this time, then I offer this question posed by Hillel the Elder in the Talmud: “If not now, when?”

Rob Levin is president and editor of a book publishing company in Covington and is a former national feature writer for the Atlanta Constitution.