Baton Rounds

In the United Kingdom, baton rounds, previously known as plastic bullets, are solid PVC cylinders measuring 10 x 3.7 cm fired from a shoulder held gun-like device (Cooper G, personal communication, 2003). They were first introduced in Northern Ireland in 1970; 125,000 rounds have been fired, and 17 fatalities have resulted, the last one occurring in 1989. Deaths have usually been associated with direct hits to the head. With time, the delivery systems have improved, and this is reflected in the mortality figures. In June 2001, the L21A1 baton round was introduced to replace the "plastic bullet" in combination with a new baton gun and optical sight (L104 baton gun). This gives much better accuracy, both decreasing the chances of dangerous inaccurate direct impacts and avoiding hitting unintended persons.

When used in situations of public order, they are fired at ranges between 20 and 40 m, with the target being the belt buckle area. The aim is to hit the individual directly and not bounce the baton around before this, because this will both cause the projectile to tumble around its axes, making injury more likely, and decrease the accuracy of the shot. Injuries are mainly bruises and abrasions, with fewer lacerations, depending on how and where the body is hit. More serious injuries are possible, with occasional fractures and contusions to internal organs. Although intra-abdominal injury is unusual, impacts to the chest can give rib fractures and pulmonary contusions. As an alternative to using armed response against those who may use firearms or where there is major risk to life, the baton round can be used within a 1-m range.

A similar system is used in the United States and is based on the Anti-Riot Weapon Enfield system, the Sage SL-6, and this is the preferred less lethal option of restraint. This system has a projectile with a tail and is smaller and faster than the baton round. The injury pattern will be similar, but if the projectile becomes unstable in flight so that the surface area striking the target is smaller (because of altered orientation), then the potential for injury is increased.

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