Rubber bullets can be entirely rubber or made of rubber coating over substances such as metal or wood. Some ammunition called rubber is not rubber at all. In Ireland most police now use a type of plastic bullet for certain crowd control situations due to the bullet's superior accuracy. A hard form of wax is also sometimes used to produce non-lethal bullets.
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Rubber bullets are often used in riot control situations as a non-lethal alternative to traditional ammunition. They were originally used by British police in Northern Ireland in 1970. They were designed to be shot at the ground and hit demonstrators' legs on a bounce. Rubber bullets can cause serious abrasions and broken bones, but rarely kill anyone. Police who use them in riot situations are directed to aim below the waste because rubber bullets can cause serious, even lethal, damage to internal organs and the face.
Some countries allow private citizens to carry specially made guns that will only fire rubber bullets for self-defence. In Russia, for example, guns that have weakened construction and internal lugs in the barrel can be used by civilians for protection. The guns will not fire normal metal rounds, but the rubber bullets simply squeeze through the lugs without destroying the gun. In this case, a civilian population can engage in self-defence without risking routine lethality.
Rubber bullets are not accurate. Sometimes they fly so wildly from where they are aimed that some police forces that used them for riot control have switched to more accurate plastic bullets.
At short ranges, rubber bullets are often used in target practice and for training purposes. In training, they help minimise damage from accidental discharge. They have a distinct advantage for short-range target shooting as they do not break up like normal bullets and can be repeatedly recycled. Because high winds can diminish their accuracy even at short ranges, the bullets are normally used with handguns on indoor target ranges.
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