A gun that fires variable speed bullets and which can be set to kill, wound or just inflict a bruise is being built by a US toy manufacturer. The weapon is based on technology used to propel toy rockets.
Lund and Company Invention, a toy design studio based near Chicago, makes toy rockets that are powered by burning hydrogen obtained by electrolysing water. Now the company is being funded by the US army to adapt the technology to fire bullets instead.
The US Army are interested in arming soldiers with weapons that can be switched between lethal and non-lethal modes. They asked Company Invention to make a rifle that can fire bullets at various speeds.
Lund says that the new weapon system will use different types of bullet for lethal and non-lethal use. Police forces already use separate shotguns for non-lethal loads – typically marking them with bright orange tape to prevent any confusion – so this shouldn't be an issue.
The existing VWS design is a .50 calibre (12.7 mm) rifle weapon, but Lund says the technology can be scaled to any size, "handgun to Howitzer".
As a note, the New Scientist article used the term "non-lethal". A more correct term is "less lethal", since there have been documented cases of people dieing after things like tasers, pepper spray and rubber bullets / bean-bag round were used on them.
Of course, the actual circumstances of each case are unique; there may have been other factors in play. What is clear is that all weapons are just that: weapons. Not to be used indiscriminately.
Back to this rifle. While the article mentions an interest in riot control, there are other uses.
Long range shooters would appreciate a higher velocity, as this would prevent muzzle drop.
Also, anyone using a silencer would appreciate reducing the muzzle velocity to subsonic levels in order to further quiet the weapon. Even with a silencer to capture the gases from the fired round, if the slug itself is traveling at supersonic speeds there will be an audible "crack" as the slug passes the supersonic barrier.
An interesting concept, and one I hope merits further review.