The safety of air rifles should not be judged by their power rating alone, according to a recent study at the University of Abertay Dundee.
Research findings, published in ‘Forensic Science International’, relate to a study led by Dr Graham Wightman in Abertay’s School of Contemporary Sciences which aimed to improve the understanding of how air gun pellets behave when fired into ballistic gelatine containing bone. Although a lot of research has been carried out on handguns, much less work has been done on air weapons.
The research involved air rifle pellets being fired into ballistic gelatine under a variety of conditions. Ballistic gel is routinely used by firearms experts when testing weapons due to its similarity to muscle tissue.
Results suggested that the pellets may penetrate further than initially expected, and that the weapon’s power on its own is not a reliable indicator of potential penetration. Further studies using a CT (computed tomography) scanner have looked at the impact of air rifle pellets on bone and the fragmentation and ricochet of the pellet.
Although air weapons are considerably lower in power than other firearms, there is increasing concern about the potential fatalities from their misuse. Under current UK legislation anyone over the age of 18 can purchase an air rifle provided it delivers less than 16.2 Joules of energy.
However, after a number of high profile cases where both children and adults have been injured or killed, there have been campaigns for greater control on the sale of air weapons. The Scottish Government is also seeking the right to control air weapons in Scotland, although this power is currently reserved to Westminster.
Dr Wightman explained: “Current legislation is based on the weapon’s power. However, there are other factors which need to be considered.
“For example, the type of pellet affects penetration, and if the pellet strikes bone at an angle, the pellet fragments may ricochet and cause further damage. In general terms, the safety of air weapons should not be judged on their power alone, as is currently the case.”
The Abertay University research team was supported by the Dundee Laboratory of the Scottish Police Services Authority (SPSA) and now plan to extend their studies to look at other aspects of damage caused by air rifle pellets
Print-quality images of the CT scans are available on request.
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