GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Injuries from an AR-15-style rifle are typically much more severe than from a handgun, as Dr. Alistair Chapman, a surgeon with Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, explains.

He spent two years in Las Vegas at UNLV, one of the highest centers in the country for treating gunshot wounds. Chapman says in Vegas, about 20 percent of the patients had gunshot wounds, compared to about 5 percent in Grand Rapids and most other trauma centers across the country.

“What you see with an ‘assault weapon’ is very striking at first, the amount of damage these weapons can do to the internal organs is vast and quite challenging from a surgical perspective,” Chapman said.

The biggest difference, he says, comes from the difference in velocity that you see with most handguns compared to an AR-15. The high-velocity rifle will shoot a bullet three times as fast as a 9mm handgun, which Chapman says means three times the kinetic energy hitting whatever the target is.

“With the (AR-15) you usually have a huge cavitation wound through the organ, whereas with a handgun, it’s typically a small, linear tract,” he said, “The chances of survival when you’re struck by an (AR-15) are much less than a 9mm handgun.”

For example, Chapman says they can typically treat a patient with a 9mm gunshot wound with one or two operations, whereas a patient with injuries from an AR-15 will typically need between three to 10 operations.

Chapman says he doesn’t want to understate the dangers of handguns, but that the degree of damage with a high-velocity rifle is much more extensive.

“If you were to take a Jell-O mold and drop it from a height and it would basically obliterate the Jell-O mold, that’s basically the effect of an [AR-15] on a solid organ,” Chapman said.

He also says that a handgun bullet will often be stopped by a large bone of the thigh, like the femur or pelvis, whereas an AR-15 will pulverize that bone or turn it to dust.

Firearms instructor Mark Jacobson with Today’s Weapons in Kent County discussed the ease of use of a rifle like the AR-15 compared to a pistol, and Dr. Chapman says that is evident in the operating room.

“From Sandy Hook to San Bernadino to Las Vegas, when you talk to trauma surgeons who have taken care of patients, typically the patients will have more than one wound,” he said.