NOTE: This article is intended to be a basic rationale for the use of hollow point ammunition. It is not an exhaustive, ballistics-tested study on ammunition/bullet effectiveness.
My recent article on the plight of Shaneen Allen, a 27 year-old medical professional and mother of two arrested for possession of a handgun and hollow point ammunition in New Jersey raised quite a bit of commentary on hollow point ammunition restrictions. Allen was merely visiting New Jersey when stopped for a minor traffic violation. She politely informed the officer she had a handgun in her glove compartment, and her concealed carry license in Pennsylvania availed her nothing. She is facing up to ten years in prison . . .
New Jersey law doesn’t absolutely ban hollow points, but makes it virtually impossible to use them for self-defense outside the home. One may own hollow points in their home or property, but only “sportsmen” are allowed to transport them, but their guns must be unloaded and the ammunition removed and kept separate, and even in some circumstances, locked up. In addition, one must go straight to and from their range or hunting area and have a valid hunting license. The New Jersey State Police have a helpful article on the issue available here.
In other words, in the name of public safety, New Jersey makes the use of the most effective and safe handgun ammunition all but impossible outside the home, particularly for self-defense, and actually endangers the public. The laws are so convoluted and nonsensical that most people would be wise to avoid hollow points–even gun ownership–entirely. No doubt, that’s what New Jersey politicians intend.
Why are such draconian restrictions on hollow point ammunition dangerous? It has long been understood–and exhaustively proved through real world experience and ballistic testing–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 them 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. This is important for several significant reasons:
Carrying hollow point ammunition is responsible. If one is legally authorized to use deadly force, they may use as big a gun as they can carry and shoot as many times as necessary to stop the threat with the most effective ammunition lawfully available. To use less effective means endangers not only the innocent victims of criminal assault, but every innocent citizen.
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, and minimizes the danger of misses or ricochets to innocents. That is why one shoots: because they are facing imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death. There are no warning shots, no shooting to wound, no trying to shoot a gun out of someone’s hand. Not only will those movie conventions fail to stop a determined killer, they are highly likely to injure innocents.
Handgun ammunition is notoriously ineffective at immediately stopping human beings.Most people shot with handgun ammunition, hollow points included, do not immediately die, in fact, most recover.
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.
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.
The police use hollow points. Even though many police executives and officers are not gun enthusiasts, they universally use hollow point ammunition. Are the lives of citizens worth less than those of police officers?
The danger to life and limb of ricochets or over penetrating bullets is present everywhere. Wherever homes or people are present, citizens and the police must always be very careful. We are always strictly responsible for every bullet we fire, and bullets can travel for a mile or more
Consider “Claudia.” Claudia is a 28 year-old nurse who works at a hospital in a 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, 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 usually less effective than rifle bullets. Many 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 more likely. If they expand, it also becomes far less likely they will over-penetrate, failing to stop her attacker and possibly striking others.
New Jersey politicians probably think 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 “thinking” 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: modern 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 state like New Jersey claiming to care for and represent women very much like Shaneen Allen. Denying women the most effective means of preserving their lives might be reasonably thought to be the ultimate “war” on women.
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.
New Jersey politicians, police and prosecutors seem to care very much about policy, but much, much less about actual people.
Mike’s Home blog is Stately McDaniel Manor.