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Handloads: Not a Good Idea for Concealed Carry

Learn from the suffering of others. Massad Ayoob goes over a fine point of law with a man accused of murder after a self-defense shooting. The ordeal ended with acquittal.

As an expert witness in shooting cases over the past few decades, Massad Ayoob has drawn a few conclusions about what works and what doesn’t. In this excerpt from his recent book, Combat Shooting with Massad Ayoob, he explains why he avoids the use of handloads for defensive purposes.

Anti-gun types have attacked our ammo as well as our firearms since long before I came on the scene. It happens in the press, it happens in State Houses, and yes, it also happens in the courts. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, he established malice when he loaded his gun with hollow-nose dum-dum bullets, designed to rend and tear brutal wounds and cause horrible pain and suffering and ensure the agonizing death of his victim!” It happens more routinely than you’d think in armed citizen shooting trials, though rarely in police shooting cases since hollow points became the law enforcement standard.

This argument is, no pun intended, easy to shoot down…if your lawyer knows how. We simply establish that you chose the same type of ammo as the police, for the same reasons. With hollow points, the bullets are less likely to over-penetrate the body of the dangerous felon and strike down unseen innocent bystanders, and also less likely to ricochet and create unintended additional victims. Moreover, since collective experience shows us the improved stopping effect of the HP (hollow point) ammo means the bad guy will have to be shot fewer times to neutralize his violent activity, he is relatively less likely to die of his wounds. However, the argument in favor of hollow point ammo is useless if not effectively presented by the defense. Famed appellate lawyer Lisa Steele has seen defendants convicted with this argument when their trial lawyers failed to neutralize the poison. So have I. This apparently happened in the Arizona case mentioned above, contributing to what I for one believe was a wrongful conviction.

Author with Dean Grennell. Few people knew more about handgun ammunition than Dean.

While it’s a slam-dunk to defend your use of hollow point ammo, the use of handloads in a shooting presents much more serious problems to your defense team. Defensive shootings are often very close-range affairs in which gunshot residue (GSR) from your muzzle is deposited on your attacker’s body or clothing. This can become a critical evidentiary factor if the other side insists he was too far away from you to endanger you at the moment he was shot. The distance testing is done with exemplar ammunition, that is, ammo identical to what was in your gun, but not the same exact cartridges. Don’t count on the crime lab testing the remaining rounds from your weapon as taken into evidence at the shooting scene. If the fight was sufficiently intense, there may not be any rounds left in the gun that saved your life. Even if there are remaining cartridges in evidence, they may not be tested. The prosecutor can argue, “Your honor, firing those cartridges consumes them! It’s destructive testing! The defense is asking the Court’s permission to destroy the evidence! You cannot allow it!” Do you think that’s a BS argument? So did I…until I saw a judge accept it, in a case where handloads were used in the death weapon, but the state crime lab tested with a much more powerful factory load, based on the headstamp on the reloaded casings. That gave a false indication of distance involved, and the defendant – whom I have strong reason to believe was innocent – was convicted of manslaughter.

You’d think the court would take the reloader’s records into account and allow testing based on that. It doesn’t happen. No one has yet been able to offer a case where the Court took the reloader’s data or word for what was in the load. It’s seen as self-serving “evidence” that can’t be independently verified. Sort of like a rape suspect saying, “I couldn’t have done it, because it says right here in my own diary that I was somewhere else that day.”

After seeing these things in court, I learned to avoid the use of handloads for defensive purposes.

For more help making critical decisions about carrying a handgun for self defense, pick up a copy of Combat Shooting with Massad Ayoob today. Remember to use promo code INSIDEGDB to get free standard U.S. shipping on your order. (Promo code fine print: Items which ship directly from the manufacturer do not qualify for free shipping.)

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10 thoughts on “Handloads: Not a Good Idea for Concealed Carry

  1. allendavis58

    Let me add that I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for Ayoob. The most valuable lessons I learned from his LFI courses was when NOT to shoot. I learned so much about how to avoid situations where deadly force would not be necessary if possible. He taught me to seek out training for encountering threats with non-lethal methods and tactics.

    Taking the life of another human being is the most profound decision anyone will ever have to make, and it it not one to be taken lightly. Sending another soul to meet our Creator has to be weighed carefully, but all too quickly.

    Expect to lose a lot of sleep for a long time until your mind can reconcile what you’ve done and perhaps done a lot of praying. Just remember one little thing: the Ten Commandments are not correctly interpreted in most of our Bibles. It says “Thou shalt do no MURDER,” not “thou shalt not kill.”

    There is a major difference.

  2. SantaFe

    I believe Massad is correct. When you have to go to court to defend yourself, you don’t want a variable brought up that the whole case could hang on. Cops use factory ammo that is very thoroughly tested and that’s at least part of the reason their cases don’t hinge on the type of ammo used. I’ll pick what they use to carry and practise with my handloads with similar to identical characteristics.

  3. jh45gun

    I am well aware of his credentials and reputation as a so called expert does not mean I have to agree with every thing he says. I would bet the ammo companies just love that he stresses use only factory ammo. Like I said I asked a pro gun attorney where I live who is a very good attorney. So good that if I ever needed one in a gun related case he would be who I would hire. Again he told me that it is a non issue the type of ammo has never been an issue as far as factory or hand loads in any of the cases he has had or has researched. I know this topic is divided like lots of gun topics, but a lot of gun writers write things that a lot of us gun owners know is bunk. Ayoob is entitled to his opinions does not mean he is automatically right.

    1. Ceapea

      Just because YOUR lawyer source has never seen a case like that doesn’t mean that they never happen. Why would believe one source that says “no” but not believe another source that says “yes”?
      You just don’t want to believe that it can happen…that can end up costing you…everything.

      1. allendavis58

        I happen to have an EXCELLENT attorney. He prosecuted and secured the rape conviction of Mike Tyson and is now in private practice and loves to work on righteous shooting cases. He advises me that introducing evidence like unspent rounds and handloading logs has never been successfully argued because it’s never been done correctly.

        I’ve taken the LFI course Ayoob offers as well as two courses at the Chapman Academy with my .45 Gov’t. Model and Browning Hi-Power, and I’ve had two heated phone conversations with Ayoob about this issue 20 years ago. I stand by my decision to carry handloaded ammo for self defense. In my .45, I carry a 225 gr. LRN loaded to 830 fps, which is virtually identical to original military specs, but they do expand/distort more than hardball. In my 9 mm, I carry a Sierra 115 gr. JHP loaded a bit lighter than most police ammo. It still expands, but reduces risks to bystanders while still remaining effective without having to shoot a bad guy repeatedly.

        I’m supremely confident in my law guy. His creds are impeccable and he’s never lost a self-defense case.

        I love Mas, but I think he’s wrong on this one. If I’m ever involved in another righteous shooting, we’ll find out.

        1. nmgene

          Many gun experts state things that are not true, but you are still safer and better off with factory loaded ammo. It eliminates what some progressive Prosecutor in a progressive city or county might try to do to you. Many of them are crookeder then the people they put in jail. I have been shooting since 1962 and I reload. I have never had a misfire with factory ammo, but have had reloads refuse to fire? Bad primer, bad powder? who knows!!! A perp can reach you from 7 yards before you can shoot, if he is high on pcp you may have to put the whole magazine in him to stop him. It actually makes no difference how close the perp is, what is the telling factor is that you were in fear for your life or the life of another. The perp was armed or acting completely crazy. There are many crooked cops crooked Prosecutors and even crooked Judges who do not follow the law as written, but twist it to there own personel beliefs. Do not talk to the police unless you can record everything that is said and still just state you were in fear for your life or the life of an innocent person who was being attacked. Say nothing more untill your Attorney is present. I can show you a police report written by an Michigan Detective with 10 outright lies in it. I can show written statements by a Social Worker that were outright lies and if I had not recorded the conversations I would have lost my 3 children. They did nothing to the social worker or the Detective when I proved they had lied in there statements to the court!!!!!!!

  4. chemiker

    You would be amazed at the idiocy that is allowed into the Court system. Several years ago, I tested a revolver that the state lab indicated was fully functional. It would not fire unless I jambed the cylinder hard against the recoil plate. That is, it would not work in any normal manner.

    The mindless anti-gun prejudice of some jurors and judges is very difficult to overcome.

    That said, I simply trust Remington or Hornady loads more than my own. I am a very proficient handloader, but Hornady is better, IMHO. Ergo, I carry Hornady or Golden Sabre. I do not carry the cheaper brands for the same reason.

  5. jh45gun

    BUNK I asked a pro gun Lawyer about this and he said he never had a case where the ammo was questioned. Just because this self proclaimed expert says not to use handloads does not mean it is gospel. I would trust some of my carefully assembled hand loads over a factory load.

    1. peterdiver1

      Everybody has the right to decide what advice they wish to follow – It’s their own destiny that will be influenced. As to Mr Ayoobs credentials as an expert, I believe “jh45gun” isn’t familiar with his background, training, and expertise.

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