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Richard Botteri: 'Should our focus be on controlling the guns, or limiting access to the ammunition?'

An emergency room physician who tended to the children massacred in the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting said the student's bodies were shredded and two were decapitated by the bullets the gunman shot into them with his AR-15 rifle.

The bullets fired in AR-15 semi-automatic rifles are known as .223, slightly larger than that the common .22 slug. The bullets were invented in response to complaints of American soldiers in World War II and the Korean War that their standard cartridges were uncomfortably heavy to carry around.

The project to make lighter bullets was faced with the problem of maintaining the "killing power" of the new rounds. It would make no sense to arm soldiers with rounds that were less lethal than those used successfully in prior wars.

Two factors were employed in maintaining lethality.

One was velocity. The .223 cartridges are loaded with sufficient propellant to maximize velocity. A high velocity round causes major internal damage to the body.

The second factor was the integrity of the bullet itself. The bullets are deliberately made "frangible." When entering the body, they explode into fragments, making massive wounds. The fragments are intentionally hard to find and remove, to limit enemy doctors' ability to treat their soldiers and return them to combat.

These bullets were conceived solely to wound severely, and kill quickly, soldiers. At the time, there was no demand to make a better bullet for hunting or for target shooting. There was not even any demand to make better bullets for home defense.

The .223 round has no useful purpose or intention than shooting enemy soldiers. Yet hundreds of innocent adults and children are murdered every year by these bullets.

How do the maniacs obtain them?

.223 rounds are openly sold at retail. There is no restriction on the number of rounds one can buy. While you must be 21 to buy cigarettes, you only need to be 18 to buy .223 rounds.

The gun store that sold the 18-year-old Uvalde shooter two AR-15s (two!) on credit also sold him 1,000 rounds of .223 ammunition. With a limited background check like the Uvalde shooter's, you can also buy 1,000 rounds of .223 ammunition online to be delivered to your door: $464.99, plus shipping.

The individual who shot into the Las Vegas concert crowd also had 1,000 .223 rounds.

There are thousands of lawfully purchased AR-15 rifles in private possession in the United States. Trying to control sale of such weapons and the age for purchase present tough political problems.

So, should our focus be on controlling the guns, or limiting access to the ammunition?

Does the Second Amendment allow private ammunition manufacturers to make and sell unlimited amounts of .223 military ammunition?

Does the Second Amendment allow an age restriction on the purchase of AR-15 ammunition?

Does the Second Amendment prohibit the imposition of an excise fee on .223 bullets, say $10 each after purchase of five rounds for "protection"?

With such a tax, who is going to buy massive amounts of .223 ammunition? The Uvalde shooter would have needed to pay $3,500 for the 350 rounds he fired in the school.

Richard Botteri is a Raleigh Hills resident and retired attorney.

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