Rubber bullets

Rubber bullets are used as “non-lethal” (or “less lethal”) means to break up riots and other disturbances. But I often hear newsies call them “rubber coated bullets”.

Are “rubber bullets” actually solid rubber slugs? Or are they metal (lead) bullets encased in rubber? (The former seems more likely, but I don’t know.)

According to the Wikipedia, they are rubber coated metal slugs.

Having designed some of the more recent varieties, the majority of what is being used are solid rubber. A thin coating of rubber on a metal projectile made some of the older ones “less than lethal”, but the “top of the line” ones today are all rubber.

How are they less than lethal? Wouldn’t any solid projectile travelling at bullet-speed be lethal, no matter what?

It also has to do with energy-absorption. The rubber absorbs a lot of the kinetic energy (by deforming, and converting it to heat), considerably reducing its penetrating power. Imagine getting hit in the head by a pillow at full swing, and then by a baseball bat. The two objects have roughly equal mass, but the bat will do far more damage.

The key is that the projectile isn’t travelling at the velocity of a normal copper-coated lead projectile. By the sounds of it, Turbo Dog can give you some tech details.

Ones that I’ve come across most often in the US are fired from 12-ga shotguns (rubber buckshot or slugs). According to descriptions of ammo used by the military Military Non-lethal Weapons Data, the muzzle velocity of a slug-style round is 530ft/s, the the muzzle velocity of the 12-ga stingball pellet cartridge is 400fts. Since the rounds are light, they shed velocity fast (the effective range of the stingballs round is 10 yards). Police departments are also using paintball guns to fire hard rubber balls or gel capsules filled with tear gas material rather than paint.

You can still kill with these projectiles if you’re close, or if you hit a vital area (such as the neck or head). Most fatals occur in this manner.


Police departments are also using paintball guns to fire hard rubber balls or gel capsules filled with tear gas material rather than paint.

Are these things typical civilian .68 cal ~300fps paintball guns or “police only” equipment?

#1. You are assuming that everything fired out of a gun is travelling a “Bullet-speed”. It isn’t. Charge loads are quite variable.

#2. Legalities. I can punch you in the head in the right spot and kill you. To say “Non-lethal” is a misnomer. If a “nonlethal” bullet hits you in just the right spot, it will be lethal". The point of “Less than lethal” means that the projectile isn’t designed to kill, in the majority of circumstances. If I shoot you in the chest with a modern rubber bullet, the odds are that you will survive. If I shoot you in the head with one at at 5 meters, you will most likely be pushing up daisies.

If I shoot you in the arm at 50 meters with a standard slug, you are going to have no arm. With a rubber bullet, you are going to have a useless arm and a lot of pain for many days, but a least you will have an arm that will recover. If I shoot you in the chest, you are going down. If you have a weak heart, you may kick the bucket because of shock, but you are not going to die automatically because the bullet did not actually destroy your heart as it would have if it had been a shotgun slug.

Even blank rounds from a gun can kill, under the right circumstances. The term comes down to simple legalities.

In short, less than lethal rounds are designed to incapacitate, not to kill, regardless of impact. But since you can’t cover all situations, you simply cannot call a projectile “non-lethal”.

I live near OSU campus, and we’ve sure had our fair share of riots here. The 5-0 around here seem to favor “knee-knockers” which are described as a wooden slug shot at the ground and deflected into the lower portion of the rioter’s body. Obviously much of the force is absorbed at the point of impact, and the worst damage done seemed to have been to a few windows nearby. My point is that many of the rioters that got hit thought they were being shot directly with rubber bullets, this was not the case. The police had to clarify the situation in order to convice people that their children were not being shot with rubber bullets.

Many departments are using what are essentially “off the shelf” Tippmann Pro-Carbines (or it’s earlier incarnation, the Pro-Lite; the only difference is the pistol grip shape.)

Fabrique Nationale (FN) has recently developed a “paintball” gun specifically for firing non-lethal projectiles.

Projectiles for ‘conventional’ PB guns can be either Perfect Circle plastic-shelled balls, filled with just about anything you want, or OC-filled Pepperballs.

Note the photo- that officer is holding a Tippmann Pro-Lite with a 200-round Allen Products hopper, very likely full of Pepperball. The gun- we call them “markers” in deference to the PC crowd- is standard commercially available fare. The balls are very restricted sale, as you might imagine.

So, (staying on-topic-ish) do rubber bullets ever actually penetrate the skin? Does it depend on the area they hit? Or would it feel more like being hit by an incredibly painful paintball?

If the rubber bullets do not penetrate the skin in most cases, what happens to them? Do they bounce off? Perhaps disintegrate?

New war reality show “Painball!” Complete with screaming and writhing on the ground in agony. Paintball, now with casualties!

These things would be sooo cool for dealing with cheating idioits on a paintball feild. Just a handful for special occasions.

Someone shot in the face with a rubber bullet.

Ideally, they won’t penetrate. It’ll simply hurt like hell.

I did not keep it, but I did come across an article in a medical journal about a fatal shooting in a bar involving rubber 00 buckshot fired from a 12-gauge. It was a close-range shot, and the projectiles penetrated the chest cavity. I also have a reference (but not handy) of a police-involved fatal shooting with a beanbag round that penetrated the chest cavity. Again, it was a close range shot. Rubber bullets and other non-fatal rounds have a minimum range for this reason, usually around 20-30 feet.

You are suppossed to aim for the chest when using such rounds, as it’s the safest location to hit. Shots fired at the head can more easily kill of inflict serious injury, as now you can strike the neck, eyes, temple, etc.


Rubber bullets, along with wood batons, foam batons, and beanbag rounds, should just bounce off after impact.


I was not aware of new all-rubber antipersonnel rounds. The ones I’m familiar with are rubber-coated metal slugs, similar to .22 slugs, blunt-tipped and coated with a thick layer of rubber similar to the rubber in your car tires.

…and yes, they can very much fuck you up if one of these slugs should happen to hit you, and assuming certain circumstances, they can certainly kill you. Hell, YOU could probably kill a fair number of people with your BARE FIST, if you knew precisely where to hit them. And you certainly wouldn’t do them any good.

Intent matters a lot here. Opening up on a crowd of people with rubber bullets comes across a lot better in the media than opening up on a crowd of people with M-16s on full auto loaded with 7.62 mm full metal jacket slugs…