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Battle Specter Opines: Lethality

Updated: Jul 27, 2021

What is “lethality?” I think the idea/term gets thrown around without too much thought (or il-directed thought) as to what it really means when we say that something is lethal. Lethality is described as, “the capacity to cause death or serious harm or damage” according to Google. But again- what does that MEAN? To me, in order to make something lethal, you have to design into it, or provide sufficient energy for it to do the work to cause enough damage to end something’s life. Should you want to kill an ant, a flyswatter is sufficiently lethal for the task. But that same flyswatter would be insufficient to kill (or even injure) an elephant. It just doesn’t have the requisite capacity to perform the physical work necessary to kill such a large creature. But even if we had something that could do the work (like say, an elephant rifle), if that work is done in the wrong portion of the elephant’s body (say the foot) you won’t do much more than injure it. But to be lethal, there has to be a will behind the act being employed. Rope, with intent, can be lethal.

Lethality, then has three components. The capacity to do the work necessary to cause sufficient injury to incapacitate the intended target, the users skill in applying that force to a location on the target to cause enough damage to end that things life, and the will to carry out such an act in the first place. Give an unskilled person with a tepid desire to kill an elephant gun, and they can fail to kill a squirrel. Give a well trained and motivated person a .22- and they can bring down a human being.

But let’s take the second and third items- the user’s skill and resolve- and shelve them for a moment. Let’s instead concentrate on the tools capacity for providing the work to do the damage to be lethal to a target. Picture if you will two knives. One is an issued bayonet with a 1 inch wide blade that is six inches long. The other is a large meat clever. Which is more lethal? Which is more dangerous? Is the military styled bayonet or the large meat cleaver more lethal? One argument would go that the bayonet is designed to kill people, and therefore it’s more lethal. On the other hand, the wound channel that would be caused by the meat clever, along with its ability to be swung rather than merely stabbed into the target would make it the more lethal choice. But which is it? And no math here- just picture them, and decide for yourself.

Now look at these two rifles. Which is more lethal? The AR styled rifle, or the M-1 Garand? Some would say that the AR-15 was designed to kill people, and has a bigger magazine and so it’s more deadly. But what if both are dry? Would you rather get smacked in the side of the head by; the AR styled rifle, or the M-1 Garand?

Pictured below are the rounds that these two weapons fire. The itty bitty one comes out of the laser rifle on the right, and the big man stopper comes out of the peaceful pea shooter to the left.

If you're a gun nut- you already knew this and these points aren't lost on you (but you're not my target audience anyway). The rifle on the left is a legit "assault weapon" from the 1940's. It comes complete with an eight shot clip, bayonet lug, and is capable of "full-semi-automatic fire." It was literally designed to kill people. In fact, it revolutionized killing people and was regarded by General George S. Patton as "the greatest battle implement ever devised."

The rifle on the right is a plinker based on the AR series of rifles, which were designed not for killing people... But was eventually adopted by the government for killing people... And lambasted by people who killed people professionally for being too small and toy like... And is now the most popular rifle in the nation by far.

NOTE: The AR series of rifles fires a bullet bigger than the plinker, but still noticeably smaller than the round fired by the Garand. What makes the AR better than the Garand isn't overall lethality, but the ability of the average soldier to carry more rounds. This wasn't an issue with the Marines (as we're real men) but we adopted it anyway so that the logistics people wouldn't have a fit and whine all the time about the Marines being special and stuff. Plus, they do give us our crayons, so we can't make them mad...

My point is rather simple. What you put on a rifle- the stock, sight, handguard, grip, etc., doesn’t change the lethality of the system. It only improves the user’s ability to interface with the system. Lethality is separate from furniture, though skill is a integral component of lethality, it’s not measurable like the work that the system does. A knife with a really fancy handle and sharp 3” long by .75” wide blade isn’t as lethal as a Gladius with a standard handle and its 22” long 3” wide blade. Just like the .22lr AR (or the 5.56 of a legit M-16) isn’t as lethal as the 30-06 in the M-1 Garand. But put the .22lr AR in the hands of a rifle virtuoso and the M-1 in the hands of a novice, and the tables turn (because what makes a weapon truly lethal is the skill and intent of the user- not the mathematical properties associated with the dynamics of the system as a whole, but tell that to someone who just hates those evil black guns). Lethality can’t be magnified by fore grips and thumb hole stocks. It can only be magnified by training and a will to use it. Lack either, and the lethality drops off spectacularly.

An interesting thing I learned in the Marines came after the Corps wide adoption of the RCO- that scope the Marines really like. It turned out that good shooters scores on the range went up, and bad shooters scores on the range went DOWN. Turns out, if you suck with a rifle, a scope actually magnifies your suckiness. Scopes don't make Marines more lethal- good fundamentals make Marines more lethal.

Lack of preparation on the part of the victims doesn’t increase lethality- it only makes them more vulnerable. Putting your life in the hands of other people doesn’t magnify an attackers lethality- it just makes you vulnerable. Society has always placed the safety of the many in the hands of the few, and there have been times in history where those few have turned on the many with disastrous results. What made the body count so high wasn’t the lethality of the arms employed- it was the will to use those arms and a lack of will to resist their use. Yes- every slaughter of innocent people ever in history can be boiled down to that simple formula. The police, even on their best days, react to tragedy more than they prevent tragedy. True, they may stop super big events from happening- probably more than we know- but they can’t stop all tragedies from occurring. The simple mugging, the multiple murderer, the serial rapist. All of these will continue to exist because we can’t predict the who, what, when, where, and how of a crime before it occurs. There will be those who will- but they’re lying at your expense.

Evil can’t be predicted- it can only be reacted to and squashed.

Better to retain the means to do so, than to centralize those means in the hands of those who may arrive too late to help, or with evil intentions on their minds. With that in mind, I vote to let the moral men and women of this nation retain their arms- every last one of them- until there is no enemy, but peace.

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