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Sterile lab testing in ballistic gelatin is great, but the ultimate laboratory is the street, the author maintains. Here are the loads that seem to be doing best there, input written in blood from gunfights police departments have experienced with defensive ammunition.
The Dangers of Overpenetrating Bullets
One critical rule of firearms safety is that the bullet must stay in its intended backstop. No responsible shooter would go to one of the older indoor shooting ranges that have a warning poster saying “Lead Bullets Only, Jacketed Bullets Can Pierce Backstop” and then proceed to pump hard-jacketed bullets into that frail backing.
On the street, the only safe backstop for the defensive handgun’s bullets is the body of the offender. Therefore, it is not exactly responsible to be firing bullets that are likely to shoot through the assailant. This is one of the main reasons law enforcement in its virtual entirety has gone to expanding bullet handgun ammunition in this country. It was a lesson written in blood.
Seven Cases Highlight the Reality
In 1999, New York City became almost the last major police department to adopt hollow-point ammunition. They did so in the face of huge, long-term opposition based on political correctness and the erroneous perception of hollow points as wicked “dum-dum bullets.”
One reason they were able to pass it was that the city fathers had been made to realize how much danger the supposedly “humane, Geneva Convention-approved” ammunition previously used presented to innocent bystanders and police officers when the duty weapons were fired in self-defense or defense of others.
From the early ’90s adoption of 16-shot 9mm pistols (Glock 19, SIG Sauer P226 DAO and Smith & Wesson Model 5946) through 1999, NYPD issued a full metal jacket “hardball” round, comprising a round-nose 115-grain bullet in the mid-1,100 fps velocity range. The New York Times exposed the following facts in its startling report on the matter:
“According to statistics released by the department, 15 innocent bystanders were struck by police officers using full metal jacket bullets during 1995 and 1996, the police said. Eight were hit directly, five were hit by bullets that had passed through other people and two were hit by bullets that had passed through objects,” stated the Times.
In other words, in rough numbers, 53 percent of these tragic occurrences were apparently missed shots, while 33 percent were “shoot-throughs” of violent felony suspects. Counting bullets that went through objects to hit presumably unseen innocent victims (13 percent), that tells us that roughly 46 percent of these innocent bystanders were shot by over-penetrating bullets that “pierced their backstops.” Let’s call those victims Cases One Through Seven.
17 Officers Shot Due to Over Penetration
The Times continued, “In that same period, 44 police officers were struck by gunfire using the old ammunition: 21 were hit directly, 2 were struck by bullets that ricocheted and 17 were struck by bullets that passed through other people.”
In round numbers, 52 percent of those “friendly fire” casualties were hit by bullets that apparently missed their intended targets. 42 percent passed through the bodies of the intended targets after the bullets struck the people they were aimed at. Let’s tally those victims of over-penetration as Cases Eight through Twenty-Four.
Why would officers hit more of their own brethren than “civilian” bystanders in this fashion? For the simple reason that while victims and potential innocent bystanders tend to flee danger scenes, the cops are conditioned to “ride to the sound of the guns.”
In a close-quarters situation where a violent criminal is attempting to harm or even murder another officer, cops try to grab him or stop him or even maneuver into a position from which to shoot him. All these actions can put them in the line of fire of brother officers.
Tunnel vision occurs in a majority of life-threatening encounters. This is the perceptual phenomenon of being able to see only the threat and being unable to cognitively recognize other people or objects that might be in the line of fire.