High-Velocity Horror

The Baseball, the Bullet and What It All Means

As any trauma surgeon will tell you, bullets kill primarily by transferring kinetic energy to tissue and bone.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

For a baseball or a bullet, the formula for the kinetic energy is the same.

K.E. = 1/2MV² 

Meaning that kinetic energy equals one half the mass of an object times the square of the velocity.

Meaning that kinetic energy—which is measured in joules—increases exponentially with velocity.

The baseball lobbed in by wounded Capitol Police Officer David Bailey as the first pitch of Thursday night’s Congressional baseball game carried hardly any kinetic energy at all, maybe 20 joules.

Then Rep. Cedric Richmond took the mound as the best player on either team, with the ability to pitch as fast as 80 mph, which carries 91 joules.

That is proportionately the approximate difference between the capabilities of the two weapons the maniac was carrying when he appeared at a pre-game practice for the Republican team on Wednesday.

If the maniac had opened fire with his 9 mm pistol, the bullet would have left the muzzle at around 800 miles per hour with 467 joules.

He instead used his SKS 7.62 assault-style rifle. The bullets left the muzzle at some 1,600 miles per hour with 2,045 joules.

That means the bullet that struck Majority Whip Steve Scalise had roughly four times the kinetic energy than if he had been shot with the handgun.

And, as any trauma surgeon will tell you, bullets kill primarily by transferring kinetic energy to tissue and bone.

A bullet from the 9mm would have been damaging enough, tearing through whatever it encountered. The quadrupled force of the rifle bullet would have translated to a shock wave that can spread the destruction outside the bullet’s actual path, shredding tissue and tearing organs and severing blood vessels. A high-velocity bullet also creates a vacuum behind it that can suck in clothing and debris and other possible sources of infection.

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As a result, Scalise remained in critical condition at Medstar Washington Hospital Center while his fellow members of Congress prayed and then played at Nationals Park.

“Earlier today, Congressman Steve Scalise underwent a second surgery related to his internal injuries and a broken bone in his leg,” the hospital said in a statement on Thursday evening. “He remains in critical condition, but has improved in the last 24 hours. The Congressman will require additional operations, and will be in the hospital for some time.”

At the stadium, Rep. Mark Walker was pitching for the Republicans and chanced to hit Sen. Chris Murphy of the Democrats when he was at bat, thankfully with fewer joules than would have been imparted by the great Richmond.

Murphy evidenced no apparent injury as he proceeded to first base. He represents Connecticut, where a weapon firing bullets at a velocity many, many times higher than the fastest fastball killed 20 school kids and six adults at the Sandy Hook elementary school. The killing of 49 people with another high-velocity weapon prompted Murphy to mount a filibuster of nearly 15 hours in a quixotic effort of rouse his colleagues to institute meaningful gun control. Scalise was among those who have ardently opposed such measures.

In the baseball game anyway, Murphy’s team won. The trophy went to the Democrats, who gave it to the Republicans, who will present it to Scalise as a sign of solidarity and support from the entire Congress. He continues to recover from the frightful damage inflicted by a high-velocity weapon such as even a maniac has little trouble obtaining while that same Congress does nothing at all.