How an Eighteen Year-old Bought an AR-15 in Florida

The following article is not about gun control, per se, as a means of stopping school shootings.  When nothing changed after the shooting of first graders at Sandy Hook most of us despaired of anything meaningful ever happening because of the hold that the arms industry has on Congress.

This is about Florida laws that restrict the sale of pistols to those over 21 while allowing an 18 year old to buy an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle.  Note that the ammunition fired by the M-16 uses a 5.56 caliber round, that caliber is nearly identical to the .223 Remington round used by the AR-15; one is in millimeters and the other is hundredths of an inch.  The .45 round used in pistols is nearly half an inch in diameter.


Today, it came out that the school shooter in Parkland, Florida bought the AR-15 style rifle used in the shooting when he was eighteen years old.  In Florida a pistol (“handgun”) cannot be purchased by anyone under twenty-one.  The thought behind this law or laws is not clear. 

The damage that can be done by either weapon is considerably different.  The reason lies in the physics behind what is termed ‘force’ in physics: F=1/2 MV^2.  Note that the force on impact of a bullet varies directly to “M” the mass, while it increases with the square of the velocity, "V".  If we compare a .45 caliber round coming from a semi-automatic pistol to the .223 caliber projectile coming from an AR-15 the mass of the .45 is about 250 grams and the .223 is typically 55 grams.  It might seem that the .223 would be much less harmful, but the velocity of the .45 is about 800 fps whereas the velocity of the .223 is about 3,750 fps.  The force of the .223 traveling through tissues spreads to the side creating what has been termed hydrostatic shock.  A pistol round basically creates damage to the structures it passes through relative to the size of the bullet, whereas a high velocity round creates a crush effect to tissues surrounding the path of the bullet.  In addition, the 5.56 caliber or .223 rounds yaw, break apart, and create a large terminal cavity.

What these facts don’t immediately tell is that the tissues adjacent to the track of a high velocity round, even though they come back to fill in the temporary cavity are dead for some distance around the track.

In Vietnam we debrided wounds around the track to the point that the tissue bled indicating intact blood supply.  That distance could be several centimeters to the side of the track.

The following video asks whether three rounds to the chest by an AR-15 could be survivable.

The following slow motion video demonstrates the damage to a gelatin block.

The point of this discussion is that, any other considerations aside, the laws surrounding age limits on buying firearms in Florida are poorly thought out.  If the ability to conceal a weapon is the only consideration it is faulty.  The Parkland shooter concealed a rifle on entering the high school, and the shooter in Las Vegas, Nevada concealed an arsenal being taken to his room.

If the argument is that a pistol is only meant for shooting people while the AR-15 could be a hunting rifle, that is a poor argument.  The AR-15 would make a lousy hunting rifle because the round creates a lot of tissue damage, and because no one needs a semi-automatic rifle for hunting.  The .223 Remington is sometimes used for shooting prairie dog sized “varmints” and is usually fired from a single shot or bolt action rifle. 

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Comment by Rodney Roe on February 16, 2018 at 5:46am

Some may find the subject and the videos offensive.  I don't think the average person thinks about the horrendous damage that a military style weapon causes. 

In a demonstration at Fort Sam Houston before I went to Vietnam a plastic jug containing a layer of blue jello with another layer of yellow jello was placed on a table ans shot with an M-16.  The round went through the plastic jug into a backstop.  The jello was still in the jug but it was all green due to "hydrostatic shock".  A round going through the chest can do the same thing with a lung left looking nothing like lung.

Looking for the videos required looking at some by ultra-right wing gun nuts.  It made me want to go take a shower.

Comment by Ron Powell on February 16, 2018 at 5:59am

 "...the laws surrounding age limits on buying firearms in Florida are poorly thought out..."

There isn't a gun law any where in the country that is thought out well enough to protect anyone or anything other than gun manufacturers and their profits....

This is an excellent post on the subject. Most federal and state legislators don't know half as much as you've given us here....

Well done...


Comment by koshersalaami on February 16, 2018 at 6:09am

Essentially, the issue is the higher speed bullet’s wake. 

Amy would argue that she needs a semi-automatic for hunting, not because it’s semi-automatic but because semi-automatics have less recoil and she’s physically small. I don’t know if all semi-automatic rifles are high velocity because I know very little about guns. I also don’t know if the difference in recoil is worth the benefit making them unavailable would give us. 

Comment by Steel Breeze on February 16, 2018 at 7:26am

Rodney,ballistics have been going thru a change.....see the Ruger ARX ammo and Aguila 'self-defence' ammo....

Comment by Rodney Roe on February 16, 2018 at 7:47am

kosh, Amy's right.  Since "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction" the recoil of any firearm is equal to the force of the projectile.  Fortunately, mass in the case of a rifle or shotgun is a hundred or so times that of the projectile, and the heavier the firearm the less it moves.  What we feel, "felt recoil" varies with the size of the individual and how tolerant they are to discomfort, but more importantly to weight of the firearm and the means of ejection of the spent shell.

Gas recoil diverts part of the gases back through a port to activate a release of the bolt and ejection of the shell. Other types of mechanical ejection move the barrel back during the ejection.  All of this spreads the "kick" out over a longer period making the recoil seem less.

Browning used to make a semi-automatic gas operated rifle, the BAR, which if I remember correctly did not allow a large magazine so the rifle was limited to 3 rounds.  Some "hunters" didn't think that was enough.  The BAR was also a heavy rifle which didn't make it a joy to carry long distances.

The felt recoil of rifles seems to be a lot more than on shotguns, even fixed breech shotguns.  The recoil seems "sharper".  I once had a .300 Winchester bolt action that I couldn't stand to shoot.  A guy not much bigger than I, had a .300 Weatherby bolt action which he did not seem to feel, and that round has a higher velocity.

Comment by koshersalaami on February 16, 2018 at 8:13am

I assumed Amy was right about the recoil. You said “no one needs a semiautomatic rifle for hunting.” What does her point mean in terms of your opinion about what accessibility of semiautomatic rifles should be? Is recoil an insufficient benefit or is there a classification of semiautomatic rifles that make sense to you in light of that? 

I have an unrelated law enforcement firearms question. If this ordinance is designed to maximize damage, why does law enforcement frequently fire multiple shots into individuals at close range? Let’s use the example of Philando Castile. At that range the cop can’t miss. Is thinking really that a single round won’t slow a suspect down enough to reduce retaliation risk to acceptable levels? Like Castile would have been able to draw a weapon quickly and fire it after being shot once - with a gun still trained on him?

Comment by alsoknownas on February 16, 2018 at 8:16am

I have seen the argument before, put forth by persons who want us to believe that their dadgum right to hunt should not be abridged in any fashion. The small mindedness of the argument that the hunter's size and inability to hold oneself still from the recoil and so therefore they "need" an AR-15 is selfish and stupid.

I've seen others make the same claim and reply in concert and camaraderie. The NRA knows these types and uses their mindless plaintive claims to buy our Congress. Those persons have blood on their hands as sure as the politicians who listen to their mouthpiece NRA lobbyists and prevent the laws from changing.

Comment by Rodney Roe on February 16, 2018 at 8:28am

ABG 2.0, the second amendment does say that and then talks about a well regulated militia.  The Supreme Court in recent times has sided with the gun industry, which, by the way, is the NRA.  It's pointless to talk about.  Siding with the gun industry was anti-American.

Comment by Rodney Roe on February 16, 2018 at 8:39am

kosh, my thoughts about semi-automatic rifles is that the ability to reload rapidly needs to be eliminated.  A mechanism that allows for a maximum of three rounds to be loaded one at a time would allow a hunter an automatic that could not be used as a mass killing machine.  

For what purpose does anyone need a rifle that can take magazines of huge capacity that are easily replaced.  Home defense would not require that.

Defense against some foreign occupying force should be the concern of the national guard.

A good many of the advocates of military type rifles with large capacity magazines imagine that they will be necessary to hold off the federal government.  They are suborder of "crazy".  No enclave of white supremacists, or religious sects or anarchist libertarians are going to have the firepower to hold off military forces.

Comment by koshersalaami on February 16, 2018 at 8:53am

Actually, magazine regulation is Amy’s approach to this problem. No competent hunter needs to fire more than a few times in rapid succession. And it would address the issue: If a shooter has to pause to reload often, fewer people will probably be killed. I don’t know if there’s any difference in the ease of enforcing regulations on semiautomatic weapons and on magazines. 

By the way, there’s a possibility my old assistant rabbi knew some of the kids killed in Florida. Four of them I think went to Reform Jewish summer camp down there, Camp Coleman, and I think he put in some summers there, but I don’t know how recently. We considered sending my daughter there but instead opted for a camp not restricted to one movement out near Asheville, which we could drive to a whole lot more easily. 


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