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Chapter: Forensic Medicine: Firearm injuries

Injury by rubber and plastic bullets

A rubber bullet or, more accurately a rubber baton round is a slightly fexible, hard rubber missile introduced as a riot-control weapon in Northern Ireland in 1970.

Injury by rubber and plastic bullets

A rubber bullet or, more accurately a rubber baton round is a slightly fexible, hard rubber missile introduced as a riot-control weapon in Northern Ireland in 1970. It evolved from the wooden baton round used by security forces during the Hong Kong riots of the 1950s and 1960s, and in turn gave rise to the plastic baton round which was introduced in Northern Ireland in 1976.

The rubber baton round has a tapered blunt tip, weighs 135 to 140 g and is cm long and 3,5 cm in diameter. It slides into a metal cartridge case which has a powder propellant charge of 55 grains at its base and is fired from a riot gun, the Webley-Schermully gun, at a muzzle velocity of about 73 m/s. However, because its discharge from the barrel is inefficient, the muzzle velocity varies considerably and the poor aerodynamic characteristics of the missile render it unstable in flight, so that it soon tumbles. The disadvantage of the missile is its inaccuracy, and it has been replaced in Northern Ireland by a shorter plastic bullet (about 10 cm long and 3,7 cm in diameter). This missile is blunt-ended and sealed into a canister with a charge of 45 grains in the base. It is more accurate in flight than the rubber bullet and has a longer range, so that it is regarded as a superior riot-control weapon. (It is not expected of students to know these statistical details for examination purposes.)

The severity of the injury produced by these missiles depends on the part of the body struck. Cranial impact is the most serious and can result in fractures of the skull and facial bones as well as injuries to the eyes. Of the 90 cases reported by Millar et al, 35 involved the face and skull, while 24 patients sustained injuries to the eye and adnexa (adjacent parts). Blindness or severe loss of vision occurred in 14 of these cases. Further reports have confirmed orbital and eye injuries due to plastic bullets. Furthermore, in a study which compared the injuries caused by plastic bullets with those caused by rubber bullets, it was found that while plastic bullets struck the head and chest less often than rubber bullets, resulting in fewer facial fractures, the craniocerebral injuries produced appeared to be more severe.

 

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