I'm annoyed by the silliness of a recent JAMA article titled "The Association of Firearm Caliber With Likelihood of Death From Gunshot Injury in Criminal Assaults". Its statement of "meaning" reads:
The findings are foundational to the debate over whether deadly weapons should be better regulated and provide evidence against the common view that whether the victim lives or dies is determined largely by the assailant’s intent and not the type of weapon.
Words in italics are my emphasis.
Frankly, I'd never heard of the "common view" that the article reports. As far as I'm concerned, the "assailant's intent" is demonstrated pretty conclusively by the fact that he/she shot someone! I somehow don't see gunfire as an invitation to join the attacker in a non-violent, socially neutral game of tiddlywinks! Of course, I could be wrong about that . . . I mustn't make assumptions about the customs of other social groups, after all. That would verge on cultural appropriation, and we can't have that, can we?
Be that as it may, caliber of weapon is obviously a factor in the injuries caused. The Washington Post summarizes the JAMA article's findings as follows:
Analyzing data on hundreds of shootings in Boston from 2010 to 2014, Anthony Braga of Northeastern University and Philip J. Cook of Duke University found that on a bullet-per-bullet basis, shootings committed with a large-caliber firearm are much more likely to result in a fatality than those with a smaller-caliber gun. Caliber is a measure of the diameter of the bullets fired by a particular gun.
. . .
“Most gunshot victims and survivors were young minority men with prior court arraignments,” Braga and Cook found. “Most attacks occurred in circumstances where gangs or drugs played an important role.” Most occurred outdoors in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
But they found stark differences in shooting outcomes depending on the caliber of gun used.
. . .
They ... found that all else being equal, a person shot with a medium-caliber weapon, such as a common 9mm handgun, were roughly 2.3 times as likely to die of their wounds than someone shot with a small-caliber gun. Large-caliber gunshots were even deadlier, resulting in odds of death 4.5 times that of small-caliber gunshots.
“The implication,” they write, “is that if the medium- and large-caliber guns had been replaced with small caliber (assuming everything else unchanged) the result would have been a 39.5% reduction in gun homicides” in Boston during the study period.
The results undercut the idea that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”
. . .
... the JAMA study challenges that notion. Some guns are simply manufactured to be more lethal than others. It suggests that identical shooters with identical intent would kill fewer people if they had access only to less powerful firearms.
“The probability of death is connected to the intrinsic power and lethality of the weapon,” Braga and Cook write. “That suggests that effective regulation of firearms could reduce the homicide rate.”
There's more at the link.
The probability of death has little or nothing to do with the caliber of the weapon, and everything to do with where the bullet strikes the victim. If I'm shot in the foot with a .44 Magnum, I'm going to be hurt and annoyed, but in almost zero danger of death (except, perhaps, from post-injury infection and poor medical care). On the other hand, if I'm shot in the brain stem with a lowly .22LR, I'm very likely to die on the spot or soon thereafter. Hits to the major components of the circulatory system (heart and/or major blood vessels) and/or the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) almost always produce the most serious, if not fatal, injuries. Hits to other organs and/or body parts may or may not be fatal, but are much less likely to be so, given prompt medical attention.
Nevertheless, if it's fired with reasonable accuracy at a damaging point of aim, a larger-caliber round is more likely to cause damage to vital organs, because it disrupts more flesh and causes a greater wound cavity. That's why, for literally generations, shooters have known that a larger-caliber handgun round such as a .45 is more likely to cause disabling or lethal injury to a victim than a smaller-diameter round. (See, for example, the famous Thompson-LaGarde tests of 1904, which followed painful US experience during the Moro Rebellion, where smaller-caliber handguns proved ineffective against fanatical attackers, leading to the reintroduction of older .45 revolvers to deal with the problem.) It's also why modern smaller-diameter rounds are most commonly used for defensive purposes in expanding bullet form, so that, for example, a 9mm. hollow-point bullet of 0.355" unfired diameter will expand in human flesh to between 0.45" and 0.60" - a greater diameter than an unfired .45 caliber bullet. Hence, the smaller bullet's capacity to injure is increased, as well as the likelihood that it will remain within the body of its target, rather than over-penetrate to threaten innocent bystanders beyond him/her.
There's also the factor that a larger, heavier bullet will have greater momentum than a smaller, lighter bullet, which will allow it to penetrate deeper and injure tissues and organs further inside the body. We discussed bullet momentum in an earlier study.
However, the report's conclusion ignores an obvious reality. Sure, the use of minor-caliber (i.e. small-diameter) bullets is likely to prove less lethal than their bigger cousins. However, they are also less likely to succeed in stopping a determined attacker, making self-defense more problematic. If I have to defend myself against a criminal assault, I want the best possible chance to shut down the attacker before he kills or injures me or my loved ones. Why should I be handicapped by being forced to use less effective firearms and ammunition? I didn't set out to kill or injure the attacker - he set out to kill or injure me or my family. If my larger-caliber bullets give me a better chance for survival by causing more harm to him, up to and including killing him, surely that's his fault and his problem, not mine?
That's what happens when you concentrate on only one aspect of a problem, or approach it with a blinkered ideological perspective. If you start from the premise that guns are bad/evil, you'll come up with findings to render them less bad or evil, even if that means putting innocent persons and/or law enforcement officers at greater risk.
Sorry. Not buying it . . . and I'm going to keep on carrying a .45 whenever possible, thank you very much! When I can't, you can bet my lesser-caliber handguns will be loaded with hollow-point ammunition, to emulate the performance of larger-caliber rounds as far as possible. I feel safer that way - even if anyone who attacks me might not share that feeling.