I sadly learned of the death today of Otis McDonald. He passed at 79 after a valiant battle against cancer. It was the first long battle he didn’t win.
As a black man in America, he fought his way up from economic disadvantage to earning a good living for his family. He fought against violent crime in his adopted city of Chicago, and in so doing came to his most famous battle as the lead named plaintiff in McDonald, et. al. v. City of Chicago. In the plaintiffs’ landmark victory in that case in 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that neither the Windy City nor any other city could ban law-abiding citizens from owning handguns for defense of self and family. The McDonald decision helped pave the way for the concealed carry permits now being issued throughout Illinois.
Ever since some ACLU types tried to ban hollow points in the early ‘70s, the clueless have been shouting about “malicious intent” to cause “additional pain and suffering” with “more lethal” ammo. We’ve explained several reasons why it’s used. There’s one more, and it surprises folks until they look at what the courts call “the totality of the circumstances.”
One sharp-eyed, sharp-thinking reader, Alonzo Gomez, has already found it. In the last segment, he commented, “…just wanted to add this: stopping who needs to be stopped as fast as possible is not only in the interest of the shooter and any possible bystanders or victims, but also in the shootee’s. While the antis are so busy finding terminal ballistics discussions distasteful and irrelevant to their approach (‘don’t have a gun’), they seem to miss that one effective bullet, as abhorrent as the term ‘effective’ may be to them, is preferable to 12 ineffective ones in the target’s body. Hollow points are actually more humane. Unless they prefer that we load with icepick projectiles so they can better nail us in the courtroom for overkill?”
Alonzo nailed it. If you look at the big picture, the guy shot fewer times is probably easier for emergency medical personnel to save, making the expanding bullet literally less lethal. Now, the points of less over-penetration, reduced ricochet, and faster stops are pretty much incontrovertible. This last point is more debatable, because there are so many variables as to where even one bullet can land. But it’s a strong argument for our side, certainly strong enough to serve as an antidote to the poison of the BS “dum-dum bullets are indicia of malice” argument.
Thanks for taking the time to read this short series. Life has taught me that if you can’t explain why you’re doing what you’re doing, it’s nature’s way of telling you that you probably shouldn’t be doing it. The above explanations have served me well for forty years, and for the best of all reasons: they’re absolutely true.
The reason police unions and police firearms training units fought so hard for hollow point bullets back in the day was that they wanted their cops to survive gunfights with violent criminals. Simply put, expanding bullets stop the bad guys faster.
The history of law enforcement shows it, incontrovertibly. I was a young puppy when I learned of the case in which an NYPD officer emptied his six-shot .38 into a man charging him with a knife. The 158 grain round-nose lead .38 Special bullets just punched ice-pick wounds in one side of the criminal and out the other, and he was still able to stab the officer in the center of the chest. They died together on the street. Then I remember a friend of mine, a mid-Western policeman, who had to use a similar .38 Special revolver against a man trying to murder him: a single hollow point bullet in the center of the chest dropped the attacker in his tracks. My friend, all these years later, is still alive.
That was the history of the old “ball ammo” versus today’s hollow points. It runs true across the range of calibers in handguns, and even up into rifles. Why do hunters use expanding bullets on soft-skinned big game? Same reason: it drops them faster. Mammals are mammals, two-legged or four. Yes, some of both kinds of critters soak up a lot of bullets before they go down. As a rule, it takes fewer hollow points than it does “ball” rounds. This is why, from the Los Angeles Police Protective League to the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association in NYC, police representative organizations shouted long and loud for more effective ammo for their members. Once the hollow points were on the streets and the results were in, those cries died down.
Why is a citizen, security guard, or cop ever allowed to shoot a human being at all? Because that human being is doing something so terrible that the laws of Society and Man and God together have approved shooting him as justifiable homicide, to save the innocent from the man who has to be shot. The sooner he falls, the sooner he stops shooting or stabbing innocent people; the sooner his savagery ends, the better it is for all the innocent people concerned.
Wasn’t it Napoleon who supposedly said that God fought on the side that had the best artillery? If you’re on the righteous side, you want the best artillery…and, history shows, with small arms from pistols to rifles, the best artillery is a bullet that does more than punch a narrow, puckered ice-pick wound.
They don’t call cities “concrete canyons” for nothing. Many shootings have taken place at banks and courthouses. Did you ever notice that the architects who build such edifices seem to be obsessed with polished marble? It would be hard to design a substance more likely to cause ricochets. And, we all know, “bouncing bullets” follow unpredictable paths. Heavy bone can also deviate a bullet off its intended path. An adult lifetime of studying shootings has shown me multiple cases of bullets glancing off sloping foreheads, U-shaped human mandibles, etc.
If the Good Guy’s bullet ricochets away from its intended trajectory it can continue onward with enough residual velocity to kill the next innocent person it meets. This, obviously, is unacceptable.
While any bullet can ricochet on an extremely acute angle, the supposedly “more humane” round nose non-expanding bullet is MUCH more likely to do so. It’s as if the damn thing was DESIGNED to ricochet.
The hollow point bullet, by contrast, has a nose that is literally shaped like a cookie-cutter. It is MUCH more likely to bite into the hard surface it strikes, and either bury itself there, or shatter into small, less harmful fragments, or tumble and quickly decelerate, decreasing its power to cause injury.
The NYPD was one of the last police departments to drop “ball ammo” for hollow points. A couple of years ago, a controversial shooting took place outside the Empire State Building, in which two street cops engaged a man who pointed a .45 at them after just murdering a man. The officers quickly dropped him, but the department took a lot of heat because some nine bystanders were injured by their gunfire.
NONE of the injuries were life-threatening. Then-NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly initially reported that all the bystanders were hit by fragments. Later reports (and lawsuits) indicated that two or three of the bystanders might have been hit by whole bullets. At least two of those projectiles were recovered from a limb or a buttock at the treating hospital. Exact details on this have not yet been made public.
The officers were issued Speer Gold Dot 124 grain +P 9mm hollow points, which will penetrate a foot or more into solid muscle tissue simulating ballistic gelatin. If they stopped in a glute or a leg, they were obviously slowed down by something before they hit: something like the concrete planters outside the Empire State Building, which were behind the killer from the officers’ angle of fire. Had those been the full metal jacket round nose bullets that NYPD issued prior to 1999, more deeply penetrating wounds and more serious or even fatal injuries would likely have resulted from ricochets.
Reduced ricochet potential is another reason why virtually all of America’s police issue hollow points. It’s a public safety thing. But there are still more street-proven reasons to use hollow points, and we’ll detail them as this series continues.
Let’s return to the things which justify our choice of hollow-point bullets. A major factor – the one that convinced police chiefs in even the most “politically-correct” cities to insist on this ammo when some were calling for a ban on “dum-dum bullets” – was reduced penetration. Cops called them “controlled expansion rounds” because as the nose of the hollow-point bullet widened as it passed through flesh, it met more resistance and came to a stop sooner. Therefore, it was more likely to stay inside the only backstop the Good Guy or Gal pulling the trigger had: the body of the violent criminal attacker. Self-defense shootings, after all, aren’t likely to take place on gun ranges with the Bad Guy standing in front of a backstop.
Your typical military “ball” ammunition will tend to shoot through and through a human body with more than enough power to kill another human standing behind the intended recipient of the projectile. A full metal jacket (FMJ) round nose 9mm bullet will pierce two feet or more of ballistic gelatin, which is designed to replicate the resistance of human muscle tissue. A .45 “hardball” round in this configuration will penetrate 26” to 30” depending on the load. A human thorax is simply not that deep, nor that solid. Stand three average adult men in line: such a bullet will completely perforate the upper torso of the first, enter the chest and exit the back of the second, and lodge deep in the body of the third. It can kill three people in a row, two of them theoretically innocent bystanders.
“Just be sure of your target and background” is altogether too simplistic an approach to reducing that danger. Tunnel vision is known to occur in a majority of gunfight participants. Darkness may hide the innocent from the sight of the Good Guy who is firing. The Bad Guy’s body may even physically block the Good Guy’s view. This is why it’s important to have a bullet which is highly likely to remain in the intended target and not pass through.
You’ll hear the argument, “There’s more danger to bystanders from misses than from over-penetration, and you’re likely to miss some anyway, so don’t worry about it.” That is “apples and oranges,” and terribly short-sighted. It’s like saying “Don’t be afraid of herpes, AIDS is worse.” In each example, the smart person wants to avoid both bad outcomes.
Let’s say you come under fire from an armed robber this very night, and have no choice but to shoot back. One of your shots misses and strikes a bystander. It is tragic, but you have a very strong defense: in the Doctrine of Competing Harms, your disciplined defensive gunfire presented less danger to innocents behind the Bad Guy than his wanton, criminal gunfire presented to the innocents behind you. You were forced into difficult circumstances (a moving target in the dark, as you ducked desperately to avoid being shot as you returned fire), and the proximate cause of your less than perfect marksmanship was his action, not yours. It will very likely be seen as excusable: that is, it shouldn’t have happened, but it would have happened to any cautious, competent person in the same situation you had been forced into.
But let’s say your full metal jacket .45 ball round hit the bad guy in the chest, exited his back, and then struck the unseen bystander. You had ample time beforehand to select appropriate ammunition, and you knew or should have known this could happen…yet you used the wrong ammo anyway. Now, opposing counsel has the ingredients to cook up a recipe of “willful, wanton disregard for innocent human life” on your part.
So, reduced likelihood of dangerous over-penetration is one strong reason to use hollow points…but not the ONLY reason. There are more, and we’ll discuss them as this series continues.
Federal HST 230gr +P .45 caliber bullet shown here expanded, retrieved from hog.