The anatomy of plastic bullet damage and crowd control

Int J Health Serv. 1987;17(2):333-42. doi: 10.2190/08GN-WR79-X908-8YE0.


The plastic bullet was introduced into Northern Ireland as a riot control weapon in 1973. It became fully operational in 1975, replacing its predecessor the rubber bullet. The missile, which has been portrayed as a "minimum force," nonlethal weapon, has resulted in 13 deaths, including those of seven children, and scores of serious, permanent injuries and disabilities. Evidence regarding injury inflicted by the plastic bullet indicates that it is more dangerous than the rubber bullet that it replaced. It tends to cause more serious injuries to the skull and brain and therefore more deaths. An examination of the three rubber bullet and 13 plastic bullet deaths reveals that most victims were shot from distances much less than that determined to be "safe" and in a manner that contrasted with the rules of engagement. The data from numerous case studies seem to support allegations of abuse of the weapon by security forces.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Female
  • Forensic Medicine*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Northern Ireland
  • Plastics / adverse effects*
  • Riots / prevention & control*
  • Social Control, Formal
  • Wounds, Gunshot / mortality*


  • Plastics