The new weapon, called the Variable Velocity Weapon System or VWS, lets the soldier use the same rifle for crowd control and combat, by altering the muzzle velocity. It could be loaded with ‘rubber bullets’ designed only to deliver blunt impacts on a person, full-speed lethal rounds, or projectiles somewhere between the two.
Yeah, you know, that sounds really cool, but in fact, it’s a terrible idea, as I point out in my comment at Slashdot:
I’m going to assume that the military is looking into this simply because they look into everything, not because they actually plan to deploy it. It’s a terrible idea, because it deliberately trains users to break two of the most important rules of gun safety:
- All guns are always loaded.
- Never point the muzzle at anything you aren’t willing to destroy.
The whole point of training with a firearm, or any weapon, is to program a robot into your nervous system that will react automatically, even in situations of severe stress. You decide beforehand, after long hard thought, under what circumstances you are willing to shoot at someone. When one of those situations arises, your internal gunbot takes over. I know it sounds odd, but experience shows that whenever you have to interrupt the gunbot to make a decision, you increase the chance of an accident. (You train a similar sort of ‘bot to drive for you. This is why it is crucial to do things like come to a full stop at every stop sign, without fail. Cars go much faster than your nervous system was evolved to handle; things must happen automatically and predictably. If you start trying to make ad hoc decisions, sooner or later you will fail, and BAM!)
This gun teaches you that you can sometimes point it at people you do not want to kill, only to stun:
1. See the incident [google.com] a few weeks ago where a French soldier was firing machine gun blanks into a crowd during a demonstration. He swapped mags–but unfortunately, the fresh mag was not filled with blanks.
2. A tactical shooting instructor I once had, a cop, told us about the bean-bag shotgun he kept in his patrol car. The barrel was wrapped with blue tape, and there was a strict policy, as in “administrative leave without pay and a reprimand in your file”, against ever loading it with anything other than beanbag rounds. In a crisis, if you grabbed the blue barrel, you had to be certain you would be firing beanbags, not lead.
3. When you point your gun at a person and pull the trigger, you must be very certain about what the gun will do. This adds a whole ‘nother level of mechanical complexity to what should be a simple, reliable design. Not only will soldiers and cops inadvertently fire this thing on “kill” not “stun”, but there’s also a question of whether or not it will fire at all–just as bad if the cop needs to make a bad guy stop now.
4. When a bad guy sees a gun pointed at him, he needs to be certain that if he doesn’t do as he is told, he will die. I don’t want bad guys to see this gun, and decide to take a gamble that it’s only set to stun.
5. Americans have, and as free citizens damn well should have, a deep suspicion towards inappropriate force being exercised under color of law. The way to deal with this is through the Second Amendment, which properly exercised results in soldiers, cops, and civilians regarding each other with mutual respect and caution. If you can’t trust your military or police, the answer isn’t to give them weak weapons–the answer is to disband them, by force if necessary, and organize trustworthy forces.
[I've made a couple of minor tweaks to this comment.]
The movement to give the police and the military “non-lethal” or “less-lethal” weapons is very dangerous. Not only does it add mechanical complexity where it is not needed, not only does it break the gun-safety robot, it also encourages the casual use of force against us, not just foreign enemies and domestic criminals.
 NB: Technically, the police are civilians (see for example Robert Peel #7), but I hope this gets my point across. I wish I knew a word for “out of uniform, unbadged civilians”, but nothing comes to mind.