If you had to defend your home by firing a gun, what happens if you miss? What effect would a stray shot have if it missed the bad guy and instead penetrated through a wall? Would the shot pose a threat to a loved one in an adjoining room, or a neighbor in the next apartment or condominium? While the answer is normally an overwhelming “yes” with conventional hollowpoints or FMJ bullets, it seems like people are always looking for ways to minimize the risk. A viewer wrote to me to say . . .
that at the gun store where he works, some of the salesmen have been selling DRT’s frangible ammunition by telling the customers that “this is frangible ammunition, and it absolutely won’t go through a condominium wall.” The viewer was concerned that this wasn’t true, especially because on DRT’s own website they say that their ammo is designed to pass through semi-hard objects such as drywall or plywood, so certainly it’d go through a wall…right?
I know these tests have been conducted before on various types of ammo. TTAG even published a wallboard penetration test a couple of years ago, but most of the tests I’ve seen haven’t gone the extra step of including ballistic gel after the wallboard in order to capture the bullet and be able to assess its potential lethality after getting through walls. Also, most of the tests I’ve seen have used conventional pistol or rifle ammo, but the question my viewer posed was specifically about one of the newer “exotic” ammo types (since DRT is a jacketed frangible round). Accordingly, I thought maybe it was time to test a few different types of ammo that seemed like they might possibly offer some chance of being less lethal after passing through walls. Or not?
In this test I put some different types of ammo to the test. Federal Premium’s Guard Dog is an expanding full-metal-jacket bullet that claims to minimize overpenetration through walls. DRT classifies their ammo as a “penetrating frangible.” Even though DRT says on their website that their ammo will penetrate through sheetrock, it still raises the question of whether a compressed-powder frangible bullet might be a safer choice for minimizing the potential danger through walls. And Liberty Civil Defense ammo is another unusual one. It’s a lightweight fragmenting bullet that normally disperses into many little fragments upon contact with a body — so perhaps it might prove to be less dangerous after going through a wall?
Finally, I also throw in a load of birdshot from a Taurus Judge. Birdshot (especially birdshot from a handgun) makes for a weak personal defense round, but perhaps the tiny pellets will prove to be incapable of penetrating walls.
I constructed a rig to hold four sheets of 1/2″ drywall, basically simulating two interior walls. To assess the potential lethality of the bullets after passing through the drywall, I set up a block of calibrated 10% ordnance gelatin to catch the bullets and measure their residual penetration depth. A bullet that penetrates only a couple of inches of gel may be capable of inflicting a superficial wound, but would be unlikely to cause a serious injury in most cases. However if the bullet retains enough energy to penetrate a good 8″ or more, it should still be considered lethal.
To really push the limits, I chose to use the most underpowered size of handgun I could — a 3″-barrel pocket pistol chambered in 9mm. I figured that if the bullets go through walls from the smallest of common pistols, then they obviously would go through them from a larger gun.
RESULTS: To the surprise of exactly no one, these tests revealed that yes, bullets go through walls. They just do. Whether the round is a conventional hollowpoint, a garden variety full-metal jacket or a more exotic design, they all easily passed through four sheets of 1/2″ drywall and slammed into the gel block with enough residual energy to cause a potentially fatal hit on anyone unlucky enough to be hit by them.
The birdshot from the handgun was much less dangerous. It was stopped completely by the fourth sheet of drywall. Then again, birdshot from a handgun isn’t really considered an effective manstopping round, so it appears that the lesson here is that if you want to avoid the risk of damage to innocents on the other side of a wall, you either have to compromise the power of your firearm, or you really, really have to be careful to make sure to hit the bad guy. If you miss, that missed shot can and will be dangerous. Any bullet that has the power to do enough damage to a bad guy’s body enough to incapacitate him isn’t going to have any trouble zipping right through wallboard.
I think there are no easy answers here. Defending oneself with a firearm means that you’re legally responsible for every projectile that firearm fires whether that’s out in public in a concealed-carry scenario, or in your own home. It makes no difference. The surest way to minimize any potential of harming an innocent is to not fire at all. But if you’re going to fire, the best thing to do is hit your target. If you miss, those missed shots can and will pose a potentially lethal threat to innocents — whether or not there’s an interior wall between you and the other person.
There has been some discussion that perhaps an AR15 would be a more suitable home defense weapon because the small rifle rounds are supposed to break up more easily than a pistol round when passing through wallboard. I can’t say for sure, as I haven’t tested that yet. But what I can say is that if you’re using a handgun to defend your home, you should be absolutely clear on one aspect — if you miss the bad guy, your handgun bullet is going to go straight through whatever wall it hits, and it will be potentially dangerous or even fatal if it were to hit a person on the other side of that wall (or walls). In short, don’t shoot unless you must, and if you must — don’t miss.