The firearm and ammunition markets are fiercely competitive with manufacturers constantly seeking an innovation to lure buyers toward their product. Some innovations produce an improvement in effectiveness and safety while others are merely marketing ploys. These ploys either contribute no added benefits or are actually a detriment to the effective and safe employment of a firearm. In this article, I will discuss the attributes of personal defense ammunition, briefly review some recent trends and products and conclude with legal considerations and a common sense approach to selecting personal defense ammunition.
Personal Defense Ammunition 101
I will provide an in-depth discussion on terminal ballistics in a later article. See my ongoing series on Firearm Ballistics: Intro to Ballistics; Internal Ballistics Part 1. For this article, I will begin with the generally accepted principles of personal defense ammunition:
- Shot placement is the key determinant to ending an unavoidable violent confrontation. Tactics and marksmanship combined with proper ammunition selection provide the greatest chance for coming out on top.
- In the absence of a well-placed head shot, impacts to the torso require a combination of penetration and maximum permanent cavity damage (as opposed to simple penetration, temporary wound cavity or fragmentation) to accelerate the onset of incapacitation through rapid blood loss.
- Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) ammunition has a tendency to simply penetrate or over-penetrate (shoot through) without causing the most beneficial permanent wound cavity.
- Frangible ammunition fired from a handgun rapidly disintegrates by design and tends to not penetrate deep enough to cause a sufficient permanent wound cavity.
- Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP) ammunition is generally accepted as the preferred personal defense ammunition due to its combination of penetration, projectile expansion, and superior retention of mass which creates a relatively large permanent wound cavity and accelerates the onset of incapacitation.
- Personal defense ammunition must reliably feed, fire, extract, eject and group consistently from the shooter’s firearm of choice. In order gain confidence in a particular personal defense round, experts recommend firing at least 100 rounds of that ammunition through the intended defensive weapon.
Marketing Gimmicks In personal Defense Ammunition
I will admit one of my biases up front – I’ve never understood the entertainment industry’s fascination with Zombies. From this standpoint, you may understand why I was dismayed when the shooting industry jumped on the popular bandwagon and began producing not only zombie targets, but zombie-specific ammunition as well. This is only a more expensive re-packaged “green-ballistic tip” version of a very popular “red-tip” ammunition. While this is clearly a matter of marketing hype, the Z-Max ammunition has the same performance characteristics as the popular A-Max and SST ammunition. However, while Hornady’s Z-Max zombie ammunition was clearly a marketing ploy, the performance characteristics are adequate for personal defense ammunition. I was a little more concerned about Extreme Shock USA’s “Extreme Shock” ammunition with its exaggerated claims and over-the-top marketing for what is clearly inferior personal defense ammunition. It would appear the market agrees, Extreme Shock USA’s web site has not been functional for a while and the company is most likely out of business.
New Products in Personal Defense Ammunition
In the last few months, two new products have entered the market that make substantial “promise” to change the personal defense ammunition industry. While both boast dubious claims, the only information available is provided by the manufacturers themselves. Until more extensive and objective testing is conducted, we can only take the manufacturers at their word. What they do convey, however, concerns me enough to discuss them in this article.
At first glance, the RIP is probably the most tenacious looking projectile I’ve ever seen. G2 Research has aptly named this round the “Radically Invasive Projectile,” which is a convenient marketing double entendre. I quickly lost confidence in the true utility and effectiveness of this round with the company’s extravagant claims such as: “This is the last round you will ever need” due to its “maximizing lethal potential” through the “hole saw effect” produced as it penetrates “all known barriers.” These barriers include “sheet metal, cinder block, windshields and heavy winter clothing.” I truly believe that this may be one of the least desirable rounds for personal defense.
The company’s promotion video further reinforced my initial opinion due to fallacies and inconsistencies such as:
– “Separation of the Trocar points allow potential energy to be conserved” This is not possible, it is all kinetic energy once it is fired.
– “The acoustic wave that is imparted into the intended target…” They lost me on this one and I’ve done a lot of research.
By the numbers, G2 Research claims the 96 grain 9mm projectile traveling at 1,265 feet per second with 490 joules of muzzle energy will penetrate 16 inches and the Trocar points spread up to six inches in diameter causing 9 separate wound cavities. However, G2 does not specify if they are permanent or temporary wound cavities. Based on Personal Defense Ammunition 101, stated above, I do not believe this ammunition will “take the law enforcement and personal defense industry by storm” in the way the manufacturer claims. In fact, I do not believe any law enforcement agency would approve the use of this ammunition.
Advanced Ballistics Concepts recently introduced their Multiple Impact Bullet (MIB), which immediately expands upon exit from the barrel into four components. The projectile core and three projectile case fragments tethered to the core spread over a 14 inch diameter. The manufacturer clearly states this ammunition was designed to compensate for shooter error due to “panic fire” and produces a “high hit probability for a first shot kill.” Additionally, the MIB is being produced in three variants. Using descriptions from their web site, they are:
- The fully-lethal MI Stopper: “Mi-Stopper™ round is designed to “stop” all aggression, simply put kill/terminate the live target. Mi-Stopper™ rounds will enjoy all of the normal advantages of a Mi-bullet™ while delivering the stopping power and one-shot lethality. Typical medical response – D.O.A.“
- The semi-lethal MI Stunner: “People hit with a single Stunner round would be substantially debilitated and would require imitate medical attention from a trained professional. Any delays in professional medical attention would increase the likelihood of death. Typical medical response – requires immediate medical attention.“
- The less lethal MI Stinger: “It is designed to inflict pain/bruises/minor lacerations, but not penetrate deeper tissues. Typical medical response – requires first aid“
In my opinion, this is marketed toward shooters who are both unaware of the basic principles of firearm wound ballistics and unwilling to invest the time required to achieve an effective level of proficiency, but are looking for that one-shot magic bullet. Aside from an impact to the Medulla Oblongata, there is no possibility for one-shot incapacitation. Furthermore, I believe this round violates nearly every principle of effective personal defense ammunition listed above.
After spending a few hours researching the results of criminal and civil trials, I could not find any instances where the choice of factory produced personal defense ammunition either helped or hurt the defendant. However, there were cases where the jury was influenced by the state of mind of the defendant, the choice of firearm used in the shooting and the defendant’s use of hand-loaded ammunition versus factory produced ammunition. Regardless… why tempt fate? If you’ve survived a violent encounter, now you need to survive a series of legal encounters! Through extensive research into cases involving the defensive use of a firearm, the writings of Massad Ayoob, information provided by lawyers associated with the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Newtork, Inc. and my personal discussions with lawyers, I offer the following information for your consideration when choosing a personal defense weapon and ammunition.
- Knowing the law is essential for personal defense, but understand that the jury is the “trier of fact” in both criminal and civil trials.
- Cases are won or lost in jury selection. Out of 50 candidates, both the prosecution and defense aggressively maneuver to ensure the majority of the final 12 jurors are in their favor.
- In theory, jurors are selected for having no prejudicial knowledge of the incident. Additionally, one must also assume that the body of the jury does not possess even a modicum of firearms proficiency or knowledge of ammunition, ballistics or terminal effect. Consider how many “average citizens” gather their information on firearms from Hollywood and their social attitudes from daytime TV and the liberal media. Now consider they may populate the jury.
- Both prosecution and defense attorneys can call on expert witnesses at trial, but the personal biases and skills of the attorneys and witnesses will significantly affect the outcome of the trial.
- Regarding the use of firearms, the attitudes in the local community (from which the jury will be drawn), the local police, local government, state government, special interest groups and the media can (and often will) affect the conduct and outcome of the trial.
- If you are involved in a defensive shooting, you will most likely be arrested and both your weapon and ammunition will be seized as evidence. Forensics will be conducted on both your weapon and ammunition to determine if any modifications were made and to verify that they adhere to factory specifications. Any abnormalities or modifications can and probably will be used by the prosecution.
- Every aspect of your life will become circumspect by the prosecution in order to “paint” you as a certain type of person. This is particularly true of your level of firearms training, the types and amount of weapons you own, the type of ammunition you used, your mental health and your social media profile.
- Even winning a criminal and/or civil trial can bankrupt you.
Common Sense Can be an Uncommon Virtue
From the collective wisdom of the information sources listed above, I offer the following advice for your consideration.
- If you own a firearm and contemplate ever using it for personal defense, get to know a lawyer, preferably one experienced in armed personal defense, who may have to represent you in the aftermath of a shooting. The NRA, U.S. Concealed Carry Association and the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network have resources to inform you and guide you in the right direction.
- Participate in formal firearms training, maintain records of your training and practice regularly.
- Prepare your family to: (1) Make yourselves hard targets and avoid dangerous situations. (2) Develop and rehearse a series of immediate action plans if a violent encounter is absolutely unavoidable. (3) Prepare for media attention, public scrutiny and financial upheaval. Read Planning to Fail for more information.
- Don’t give a prosecutor or jury any reason to believe you are anything except a law abiding citizen who was left with no alternative but to end the violent encounter to save your own life or those of your loved ones.
- Ensure your defensive weapon is unmodified, factory standard and within manufacturer specifications.
- Choose a jacketed hollow point for your personal defense ammunition. There are many options available, but the best advice is to choose the same brand and type as the local or state law enforcement officers carry. These rounds have been extensively researched, have a proven record and provide the best defense at trial. Do you really want the prosecution holding a box of “Black Ninja Death Ammo” and present it to the Jury?
In summary, shot placement combined with proper ammunition are the key determinants to surviving a violent encounter. Only thorough training can provide the awareness and physiological reaction to ensure proper shot placement. Jacketed hollow points perform the best in penetration, expansion and mass retention to accelerate incapacitation. It is preferable to carry the same ammunition as law enforcement. Educate yourself on the local laws and be familiar with the local attitudes toward defensive firearm use. Control the circumstances you can, and take actions to mitigate the ones you can’t. Specifically, take action to avoid prejudicing a potential jury before you leave the house by having the right ammunition, firearm and training!
Until next time, stay safe and keep shooting straight!
~ Howard Hall