Oklahoma City police Lt. Stuart May has come across high-powered, military-style rifles occasionally over the course of his career, most often when investigating gang shootings.
“And when you do, you remember it,” May said.
High rate of fire and large magazines aside, the ammunition used with the guns travels much faster than bullets of a similar caliber used with other rifles and pistols.
May recalled an incident from the 1990s when he investigated a gang shooting involving a military-style rifle. About 40 shell casings from a 7.62 mm rifle were recovered at the scene of an above-garage apartment targeted in a shooting.
“One of those rounds, I can remember, went through the outer wall, went through an inner wall, through a bathtub — there's actually four sides of the bathtub, the outer and inner wall on both sides,” May said. “So it went through the first two (sides) and hit the opposite side of the bathtub, and then went into the air and through the roof of the apartment.”
The high energy of the faster bullets makes wounds produced by high-powered rifles worse on the body, said Jason Lees, a trauma surgeon at OU Medical Center. Lees is also an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma medical school, and the residency director for trauma and surgical critical care.
High-powered bullets, hollow-point ammunition and close-range shotgun blasts are among gunshot wounds that can be particularly destructive in different ways, Lees said. It's the speed of the bullets fired from military-style rifles that makes the wounds worse than those from lower-powered weapons.
“It's like the difference between being hit ... and being hit with a baseball bat,” Lees said.
Eddie Johnson, a former Oklahoma City police officer who is now a liaison to families for the state medical examiner, was careful to point out that guns don't fire themselves. But the high rate of fire compares with velocities similar to powerful deer hunting rifles, made to kill animals that can be significantly larger than humans.
“I've shot deer at over 150 yards and ... (the bullet) removed the shoulder with a high-powered rifle,” Johnson said. “So there's going to be a lot more shock value with that because of the speed they travel.”