The anti-gun movement has, over the years, provided substantial amusement—and aggravation–to those familiar with firearms and related terminology. However, that amusement has virtually always been tempered by the fact that their ignorance usually results from an attempt to deceive, and through deception, take our most fundamental liberties.
The George Zimmerman trial, currently underway in Sanford, Florida, provides yet another example of the misuse of fact and accurate language. As I noted in Update 32.5 of the Zimmerman series of articles, prosecutor Rich Mantei and his fellows have tried to grossly mislead the public into believing that carrying semiautomatic handguns as they are designed to be carried—magazine fully loaded and a round in the chamber—is somehow negligent, dangerous and criminal. Mantei has also suggested that hollow point ammunition is also somehow evil. Mantei is obviously trying to manipulate fact and perception to obtain an unlawful conviction, but such a conviction would set precedents and contribute to the purposeful misrepresentation of honest, law-abiding gun owners.
So for those who would like an informed look at the realities of hollow point and other types of ammunition, I present an updated article I wrote some time ago for Gun Values Board. Unfortunately, I have recently ended my association with that blog as their leadership decided that they could not take a position on the Second Amendment, which I found rather odd for a gun blog, but it’s their blog and their editorial decision, and I enjoyed my time publishing there.
With the Heller and McDonald decisions, it is tempting to think the Second Amendment is, once and for all, sacrosanct, but that’s far from the truth. The opponents of freedom never rest, and a future Supreme Court determined to enact leftist social policies unobtainable through even a Congress controlled by Democrats would surely render the Second Amendment a fundamental right with no application in the lives of individuals. For a look at that mindset—such as it is—a visit to my PJ Media article on Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer might be illuminating.
My former Confederate Yankee (now closed to all but archival access) co-blogger, Bob Owns has written about an article (by all means, read the whole thing) by Robert Wright, a “senior editor” at The Atlantic. In that article, Wright addresses the Trayvon Martin case, but rather than dealing with issues of substance, takes to task George Zimmerman’s choice of ammunition:
And then there’s the part of the story the Reuters piece doesn’t address: According to other reports, Zimmerman’s gun was loaded with hollow-point bullets–bullets that expand upon impact, maximizing internal damage and the chances of death. You don’t need hollow-point bullets to stop a pit bull. And you don’t need hollow-point bullets to stop a robber.
Sure, some gun enthusiasts may warn that if you face an armed bad guy, hollow points minimize the chances of his returning fire after being shot. But how likely is it–in real life, not the movies–that this would actually come into play? And, anyway, there was no evidence that the robbers who had afflicted the neighborhood were armed; they were burglars, not muggers, and when in danger of being caught they’d fled. (And as for the reason police sometimes use hollow points–to cut the chances that the bullet will harm bystanders after passing through the victim’s body or after ricocheting: that makes a lot of sense in a crowded urban environment, but not much in Zimmerman’s neighborhood.)
Wright, apparently a much-lauded journalist among those that comprise the Lamestream Media, reveals himself to be very much the conventional journalist: utterly unaware of the realities of firearms, ballistics, and common sense. But perhaps I’m being a bit too harsh. Those in the firearm “community” generally know that hollow point ammunition is appropriate for self defense use in handguns—and in some applications, for rifles—but may not know precisely why this is so. They generally don’t make pronouncements of absolute knowledge and certainty in the manner of Wright either.
Before I explain the rationale for hollow point ammunition, let’s point out the problems in Wright’s (and Mantei’s) view of things:
(1) One shoots only to stop, never to wound or kill. Hollow point ammunition, if it works properly, maximizes the probability that a killer—or a vicious, attacking pit bull–will be quickly stopped, a matter of some importance when one is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
(2) Eighty percent and more of people shot with handgun ammunition, hollow points included, do not die.
(3) If someone is trying to cause serious bodily injury or death, it matters not whether they’re trying to do it in the course of a robbery, an arson, shoplifting, or any other crime. The issue is their putting another in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death, and in that case, one is justified in using the most effective means possible to stop them as quickly as possible. The same principles apply in case of an animal attack.
(4) If someone demonstrates their intention to shoot you, or is actually shooting, it is very likely indeed—in real life–they will continue to shoot if they are not immediately stopped.
(5) Because past burglars have fled when confronted does not mean the burglars you confront tomorrow will be the same burglars, or even if they are, that they will flee rather than attack. Criminals burglarizing homes are always uniquely dangerous for they have to know they might encounter armed residents, and obviously don’t care and/or are willing, indeed, even eager to kill anyone they encounter.
(6) The police don’t “sometimes use hollow points,” even though many police executives and officers are not “some gun enthusiasts,” they universally use hollow point ammunition.
(7) Zimmerman’s neighborhood was a densely packed condominium development with dwellings and people in every direction. The danger to life and limb of ricochets was little, if any, reduced compared with a New York City sidewalk. In any case, whenever homes or people are present, citizens and the police must always be very careful. We are always strictly responsible for every bullet we fire. Wright’s comments suggest a city-dweller that thinks the rest of the nation a vast, empty desert where errant bullets may fly for miles without danger.
(8) Wright’s implication is clearly that Zimmerman, through his choice of ammunition, was somehow reckless. Quite the opposite is true, for Zimmerman and for any American carrying hollow point ammunition. In fact, the single round he fired did not over-penetrate, stopping instead in the body, which is precisely what they are designed to do.
(9) Criminals using deadly force against innocents in suburban areas need to be stopped no less quickly or effectively than those in a “crowded urban environment.”
(10) Citizens lawfully using deadly force in self-defense have no less reason to be armed with the most effective and safe ammunition than the police.
The story of hollow point ammunition arguably begins in the late 1890’s in India, under the British Empire. The Dum-Dum Arsenal produced .303 rifle ammunition with a slightly exposed lead tip. The bullets were jacketed apart from this small innovation, which was obviously done in the hope of improving the performance of the ammunition. Some contemporary rifle ammunition also features such bullets, but virtually all are designed for hunting, to take game more rapidly and humanely.
There was, at the time, considerable interest in improving ammunition and firearm performance. Some experimented by cutting X-shaped grooves on the noses of exposed lead bullets in the hopes that this would increase fragmentation, making the ammunition more effective. It’s likely that such crude innovations had a greater—and negative—effect on accuracy than a positive stopping effect. Unbalancing any projectile will dramatically degrade accuracy. Coincidentally, tumbling or keyholing bullets might have produced more debilitating wounds—if they actually hit anyone. I say “might,” because such projectiles lose velocity much more rapidly than properly stabilized projectiles, thus rapidly shedding impact energy.
What is certain is that the term “dum-dum” has been indiscriminately applied to virtually any sort of ammunition with which one might disagree, find vaguely threatening or which one might demonize to obtain greater restrictions on Second Amendment rights. The modern equivalent of the “dum-dum” bullet, for the purposes of frightening the uninitiated and ginning up support for various gun control schemes, is the “hollow point” bullet, which is commonly represented as being the handgun equivalent of a nuclear weapon (“cop killer” bullets—which have never existed–long ago lost their cachet). In their attempts to ban hollow point ammunition, anti-gun forces have actually sought to make commonly available ammunition more rather than less dangerous to innocents. Whether they realize this is a matter for another debate, but it is true nonetheless.
These photos illustrate three common types of contemporary handgun ammunition. On the left is a 9mm cartridge with a fully jacketed bullet. In the center, a 9mm cartridge in a common hollow point configuration, and on the right, a .380 ACP hollow point cartridge with a recent innovation: a polymer insert to present the hollow point cavity from filling with clothing fibers which might prevent proper expansion of the bullet.
It has long been understood that round nosed, entirely lead (non-jacketed) bullets are not effective in rapidly stopping human beings. Their all-lead composition limits their velocity—too much velocity leaves excessive lead deposits in barrels–and they can be deformed, deflected, even stopped by thick clothing and a variety of types of cover. They simply don’t penetrate well, and when they do, tend not to cause immediately debilitating wounds.
Fully metal jacketed round-nosed ammunition—commonly called “ball” or “hard ball”–does indeed penetrate much better, but in human beings, tends only to more or less drill holes no larger than the diameter of the bullet. Because human tissues are elastic, unless the bullet strikes an artery, the heart, or other vital structure, they tend to do little long-term damage and tend not to immediately stop an attacker. The greatest danger is that they tend to over-penetrate, particularly with higher-velocity bullets such as the 9mm. This is the primary reason the police uniformly avoid such ammunition. The last thing they want is to legitimately shoot a bad guy only to have the bullet zing through that miscreant into an innocent while having little immediate effect on the bad guy.
This is where hollow-point ammunition is invaluable. Early attempts consisted of little more than hollowing out a cavity in the nose of standard ammunition. These efforts met with relatively little success. In human tissues, they may or may not have expanded to various diameters, and in any case, expansion was not at all uniform or consistent and could not be relied upon.
With the advent of computers and ballistic modeling software, bullets could be optimized in every way. Contemporary hollow point handgun ammunition will generally reliably expand to at least some degree in human tissues under normal circumstances.
NOTE: For a more complete explanation of the mechanics of stopping human beings, visit article four of my seven-part series on the rationale for gun ownership.
Let’s explore why this is a good, rather than a bad thing, as Mr. Wright suggests. Let’s use as our model “Claudia.” Claudia is a 28 year-old nurse who works at a hospital in a very bad, crime-ridden part of her community. Her daily commute also takes her through very high-crime neighborhoods. She carries her 9mm handgun when and wherever it is legal.
If the day ever comes when Claudia must use her handgun, it will be when she needs to protect herself from the imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death. There is no other justification for employing deadly force. In that event, she will want to deliver a volume of accurate fire sufficient to immediately stop her attacker from doing whatever he was doing—in this case, let’s say he’s holding a large knife and threatening to rape and kill her—that gave her the justification to shoot. With this in mind, what characteristics will she want her ammunition to have?
We carry handguns because long guns, while far more effective, are simply too big. However, handgun bullets are far less effective than rifle bullets. They tend to weigh less and travel far more slowly, imparting far less energy to the target. To deal with this deficiency, Claudia will want her bullets to reliably and uniformly expand when they hit her knife-wielding, leering attacker. If they expand to greater than their normal diameter they will more effectively transfer their energy, making a rapid stop much more likely. If they expand, it also becomes far less likely they will over-penetrate, failing to stop her attacker, and possibly striking others.
Mr. Wright suggests that Claudia doesn’t need this effect. If she has no need to stop her attacker as soon as possible, and if she has no concern for innocents or her own life, he’s right. But unless Claudia is anxious to feel her attacker’s blade lacerating her flesh and piercing her internal organs, he could not be more wrong, technically and practically.
Mr. Wright would be likely to join anti-freedom lobbyists in suggesting that because innocents are sometimes accidently shot, only the ammunition least likely to do serious damage should be used. In other words, we should never shoot deadly predators in the first place, but if we do, we should only shoot them a little bit and with ammunition that won’t really hurt them. This ignores the reasons why human beings need firearms, not only for sustenance, but to preserve their lives and the lives of others from four legged and two legged predators.
Life is a matter of risk. Nothing is guaranteed. If we have an inalienable right to self-defense—and the Heller and McDonald decisions have made that plain (for now)—we have the right to use the most effective means commonly available in that pursuit: handguns and hollow point ammunition. To allow less returns us to a pre-civilization state of anarchy where the strong and vicious do whatever they please, particularly to women.
This would seem to be something of a contradiction for a progressive moment claiming to care for and represent women, or trying to prevent conservatives from waging a faux “war on women.” Denying women the most effective means of preserving their very lives might be reasonably thought to be the ultimate “war” on women.
Citizens attacked by predators are unlikely to misinterpret what is happening and shoot innocents instead. Claudia would certainly understand the clear intentions of her attacker and realize with crystal clarity the necessary response. Tragic accidents involving the shooting of innocents are, fortunately, quite rare.
More and more women are taking advantage of their fundamental, inalienable right to protect themselves and those they love. Unlike plastic guns undetectable by X-ray, “cop killer bullets,” “assault weapons,” and every other invention of those who would deny Americans their fundamental rights, hollow point bullets actually exist. Like contemporary, easily concealable handguns, they serve a vital, useful purpose in protecting innocent lives against those cruel and violent enough to take them. This is true in the George Zimmerman case and many others.
Mr. Wright doesn’t seem to understand this. The Zimmerman prosecutors have repeatedly proved themselves to be untrustworthy. Can journalists like Mr. Wright be trusted in anything they write?