Can air rifles be deadly?

What KNOWLEDGE creates : Blind investigators

On Sunday everything looked like a great success. In a hastily called press conference, the police showed off that they had prevented a bloodbath at the last minute: two students had planned a "rampage" at the Georg Büchner grammar school in Cologne. The meticulously prepared mass murder of presumably 17 teachers and classmates should have taken place on Tuesday, the anniversary of the Emsdetten drama. A year ago, a heavily armed former student injured 37 people there and then shot himself. The Cologne investigators also recalled the 14 deaths in the American Colombine massacre in 1999 and the rampage with nine deaths in Tuusula, Finland on November 7, 2007. In Cologne, however, everything went well again, thanks to the careful work of the police. One of the alleged assassins, 17-year-old Rolf B., took his own life after the preparations for the crime were exposed - the dry message seems like proof of guilt, after all, the other people who ran amok also killed themselves.

On the presentation table are the murderous tools that were supposed to be used to commit the bestial act: At first glance, the firearms look like those used in the Colombine, Emsdetten and Tuusula massacres. It only becomes contradictory when the officers speak of seized "Airsoft weapons" and two "crossbows" - air pistols and arrows? For a rampage?

Airsoft guns are unsuitable for bodily harm, they were even specially developed as toys: In the terrain game called "Airsoft", childish contemporaries in camouflage suits fight each other. In contrast to the lead bullets of the good old air rifles, the harmless, biodegradable plastic balls of the softaires cannot even kill a pigeon. Whoever is hit in the game has to shout “Ouch!” Or “Hit!”, Otherwise it doesn't count. Even if hits in the eye are far safer than with air rifles, safety goggles are worn to be on the safe side.

In contrast, the arrow of a crossbow can be deadly - the weapon of war invented in China 400 BC was feared until the late Middle Ages. However, it has two serious disadvantages. First, the range of a crossbow is short. A strong crossbow used for hunting generates kinetic energy of around 100 joules - as much as a sports bow and five times less than a nine-millimeter pistol. However, since crossbow projectiles are heavier than the arrows used in archery, they lose their kinetic energy more quickly: after 80 meters they generally no longer have a penetrating effect. Since, moreover, only well-aimed shots are fatal, experienced crossbow hunters can count on an effective range of around 50 meters - with expensive professional weapons and a steady hand. However, the Eagle-5 from the US manufacturer Master Cutlery presented in Cologne is a cheap device (85 euros) with poor accuracy.

The second problem is reloading the crossbow. The Eagle-5 is cocked with 55 kilograms. In order to generate this enormous tensile force, the crossbow must be placed vertically on the ground and held in place with the foot in a steel bracket provided for this purpose, while the string is pulled upwards and hung. Then the shooter holds the crossbow horizontally again and inserts the arrow. Even with a lot of practice - the string has to be hooked in exactly in the middle, otherwise the arrows won't fly straight ahead - the show of strength takes at least 30 seconds: a “killer” would be overwhelmed after the first shot at the latest.

As it turned out in the meantime, the young people had long since given up on their absurd plan. The really frightening thing about the incident is that the police, fixated on possible gunmen, did not recognize where there was actually danger: After a conversation between the school management and the parents and a stress interrogation at the guard, the blind officers saw no reason to call the minor Rolf B. . have psychological care or at least have them picked up. This comes pretty close to the meaning of “amok”: In Malayalam, South India, “amuk” means something like “maddened”.

The author is the director of the institute and professor for medical microbiology in Halle. Photo: J. Peyer

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