What can an AR-15 do to the human body? A trauma surgeon explains

A wave of mass shootings has shaken the country in recent weeks, increasing calls for stricter gun control measures across the country. In particular, the shooting at the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which left 19 children and two teachers dead, became one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. As in many other high-profile mass shootings in recent U.S. history, the Uvalde gunman used an AR-15-style rifle to carry out his crime. Dr. Bindi Naik-Mathuria, a pediatric trauma surgeon at Baylor College of Medicine, explains what an AR-15-style weapon can do to the human body.

Video transcript

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JOE BIDEN: The damage was so devastating in you Uvalde, parents had to do DNA swabs to identify the remains of their children, 9 and 10-year-old children.

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BINDI NAIK-MATHURIA: When you see handguns, you often just see a little hole on the outside or on both sides. Shotguns, which are a little bit higher velocity, a little bit bigger, but assault weapons, it's much bigger. And so you can imagine that what you see on the outside, that big soft tissue defect, is also on the inside as well, and all the damage that, that causes. And then sadly, and often there's more than one. So if it's multiple bullets, then there could be multiple injuries like that.

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BINDI NAIK-MATHURIA: If you have a handgun, it usually just makes kind of a straight track where it's able to deliver. And that sometimes actually stops bleeding on its own, may not even need surgery, even in children. Sometimes we just watch those if they're not actively bleeding. Whereas these high velocity ones, you can imagine instead of a hole or track going straight through the liver, the whole liver maybe in three or four pieces, depending on the extent of the damage.

There's pictures for example, of bullets being shot through ballistic gels. And if you compare a handgun, the blast effect or the cavitation effect, it's still wide, but it's not as wide as those from these high velocity weapons. And what happens is basically the bullet goes in and it forms a large cavity that then causes a lot of bleeding from vessels. And the organs, for example, like the liver or the spleen that aren't very elastic, they can't handle that.

They would basically rupture. I think the lungs, because the tissue is more elastic, they can just cause a cavity and kind of push things out of the way. But in solid organs, they basically shatter them.

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BINDI NAIK MATHURIA: We all are pretty used to taking care of children injured by guns, a lot of them are handguns. And if you live in a major city and work at a major trauma center, like I do, then they can get to you pretty quickly. And children with handgun injuries that can get to you pretty quickly, even if they're to the chest or the abdomen, can often be saved with surgery, with timely surgery.

You have to be in the right place, so you have to be in a trauma center that has the right resources, that has everything that you need for that. Whereas assault weapons cause such large injuries and cause so much more internal damage than the other ones do, children have half the blood volume than adults do, and so you can imagine that the amount of blood that they lose, for that to stop their hearts is a lot faster than it would be for an adult. In order for those to be saved by a surgeon, they would have to be in one of these really high resource trauma centers almost immediately, which is basically impossible. It can't just be any person who sees them.

They have to be in a level one trauma center, where there's massive amounts of blood available, in all the equipment that you need, and many surgeons and different techniques that you might need. And those are very few. There's less than 50 pediatric trauma centers like that in the country, especially in these rural places. They're not going to get to those places on time. For this, minutes really, really matter and it's almost unsurvivable, essentially.

JOE BIDEN: According to new data just released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, guns are the number one killer of children in the United States of America, the number one killer. More than car accidents, more than cancer.

BINDI NAIK-MATHURIA: We spent our entire careers, our entire lives training to save kids from things like cancer or illnesses that they can't help but have. To hear this, that, that's the number one cause, something that's preventable. Usually in a lot of cases, it's not that the children were involved in criminal activities.

Certainly there are cases of those as well, but a lot of cases, they're innocent, they're innocent bystanders of this. And it's really, really sad that, that's now the number one cause of death. It's shocking, actually.

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