Since we seem to be experiencing another “riot situation” in this country, I’m getting some requests on whether this factor should change ammunition selection.  The answer is, it depends.

If you fear you may have to fire in a crowd situation, you don’t want to miss with bystanders in the background, and you don’t want your bullet to go through and through the assailant you had to shoot and go on to strike down an innocent party.  In some of the gun forums you’ll hear people say “That’s a myth, it’s never happened.”  To which I politely answer, “Bullshit.”  (Yeah, that’s about as politely as I can answer that.)

In one city alone, a major newspaper’s FOIA study discovered that in well under a decade, five innocent citizens had been shot with police pistol bullets that perforated the bodies of violent offenders and went on their not-so-merry way with tragic results. During the same period, no fewer than seventeen fellow officers were hit by pass-through police bullets that perforated the felon’s body before striking the cops.

The department in question was issuing 115 grain full metal jacket 9mm because the expanding bullets used by virtually all the rest of domestic law enforcement were deemed politically incorrect by the city. The city finally saw the light and solved the problem by issuing hollow points after that study was published.

Remember, when you fire in self-defense the only backstop is the body of the violent attacker who forced you to shoot him.  Full metal jacket 9mm, .357 SIG, .40 and .45 are all highly likely to over-penetrate a standing man’s torso with enough power to kill or cripple any person behind him, likely unseen by the shooter because of tunnel vision, darkness, or the attacker’s body simply blocking their view. More details here:


  1. Mas, have there been any real world events with Honey Badger or Inceptor ARX type ammo? Curious if the hype of “fluid transfer mechanics” matches reality. I actually carry ARX in a Remington R51; the recoil is very manageable and it seems easier to stay on target with this ammo.

    • They’ve worked OK in the hunting field, but I don’t know of any anti-personnel shootings with them. In the slaughterhouse, they worked about the same as good hollow points.

  2. FBI standard for minimum penetration is 12 inches. That seems to be widely adopted by police as well.

    “Shoot through and bleed out” goes in and out of fashion for large game hunters, but at the time the FBI made their announcement, the accepted wisdom for police/defensive bullets was something that would stop within the body cavity, giving 100% energy transfer. That also gave officers more flexibility if they needed to make a shot in a crowded area.

  3. Being a stodgy old fogy, I prefer to let others do the Beta testing on new innovations. Especially after my personal experience (on 4 legged predators) with Glasers.

    Besides over penetration, there can be the issue of stray pellets from shotguns. A presentation at one of Mas’s Lethal Threat Management for Police classes by an eminent coroner included a case that’s stuck in mind for decades.

  4. IMHO the Diallo shooting also illustrates an unintended consequence of the NYC insistence on FMJ “humane” bullets. Officers quickly learned the only way to reliably stop people charging them was to dump their magazine into them.

  5. After seeing the FBI tests on Speer Gold Dot at an IALFI meeting My family has carried them since. Fortunately none of us have had to use them.

  6. Add to this the fact that bullets do not always travel in a straight line after penetrating the target. The human body is not one density, like a potato. It consists of organs of different densities, so it is common for a bullet to change direction after penetration and exit the body in a different direction than that at which it entered. This makes it impossible for the shooter to control or predict how the bullet will exit the target. The danger to innocent bystanders is obvious, and significant. Good quality, modern hollowpoint bullets are designed to minimize this problem while stopping the target with fewer shots fired. I would think of myself as being grossly irresponsible if I carried anything but hollowpoint ammunition in a defensive firearm.

  7. Will you address the concerns of overpenetrating JHP loads that fail to expand/deform when fired from 1 7/8 inch revolvers or short barrel defensive autoloaders?

    Also, what about the use of “light for caliber” JHP defense ammunition that expand but often under-penetrate from both defensive revolvers and autoloaders?

  8. I believe the concern about over penetration is completely over blown. We’re all far more likely to miss our intended target completely. I suspect anyone hit by one of those misdirected rounds would welcome any interference another body would have done first. I’ll continue worrying missed shots and let others worry about over penetration.

    • Nearly two dozen people shot with over-penetrating bullets in just one city in less than a decade is not, I submit, an overblown concern.
      Saying you don’t worry about over-penetrating bullets because misses can cause worse wounds is like saying you don’t have to avoid herpes because AIDS is worse. You want to avoid BOTH.
      Over-penetration and missed shots are two entirely different things, and you can expect them to be treated as such in court. Why did your shot miss, and strike an unseen bystander? Any competent expert will testify that hit potential sucks when you are under fire, heart racing, and perhaps forced to shoot from an awkward position; you would have a solid argument that all those things were caused by the lawless acts of the violent criminal who forced you to shoot at him and it’s his fault, not yours.

      Knowingly using a bullet you knew was likely to over-penetrate is going to sound to a jury like “reckless, wanton disregard of human life,” as will a statement made in public such as “(I’ll) let others worry about over-penetration.” Therefore, I would strongly suggest you reconsider your position on the matter.

      • …And on top of that, expanding bullets are more effective. People convince themselves otherwise through a lot of “what ifs” or cling to their Mel Tappan and Jeff Cooper writings from the 1970s, but modern hollow points are more likely to stop with one shot. In any decent gun that is competently handled they will feed reliably. I can’t imagine why someone would carry FMJs unless forced.

    • STW,

      Mas just gave you excellent legal advice, and you didn’t have to pay for it. Be thankful.

      I don’t like all the constraints which are put on us modern Americans, but we have to deal with the situation the way that it is, not the way we wish it was. The fact remains, as long as we are living under the rule of law, with a functioning justice system, we need to remember we will have to answer for every bullet we fire. So, we should try to avoid trouble. If trouble comes to us we can try to de-escalate the situation by showing the gun but not firing it. If we have to shoot to defend ourselves then we will have to go to court to defend ourselves, and Mas wants us to prevail in both encounters.

  9. Mas – when is NJ going to come to their senses? The LEO community can use JHP’s, but the rest of the folks are limited to ball ammo, or at least non-JHP. Do the authorities there consider the ARX/Honey Badger rounds to be Hollow Points? If so, what ammo would you think to be the best for carry in NJ by non-LEO? And tangentially, can out of state LEO’s carrying under LEOSA also use JHP’s, or are they considered like everyone else?

    • Since they are non-expanding, I would think the fluted bullets would be OK under the NJ law. Remember, the hollow points there are banned for carry, not for home defense or practice/training. The NJ state AG’s office has reportedly ruled Federal Expanding Full Metal Jacket and Guard Dog, and Hornady Critical Defense and Critical Duty, to not be prohibited-for-carry hollow points. Of those, I would go with the Critical Duty.

      It’s my understanding that out of state officers can carry JHP only when there on police business, ditto higher than 10 round capacity magazines. Off duty and retired, I’m told, can now carry hollow points but must still abide by the 10 round magazine limit.

      • Mas,

        I live in NJ and I believe you are correct. The hollow points where the cavity is filled with plastic are considered to be legal. I guess that is because they are technically not “hollow.”

        It’s great when technology solves technical and legal problems like that. Was it CA that banned lead shot? And then the industry developed substitutes, some of which performed better than lead.

  10. We live 5 miles south of Minneapolis proper and have to visit the Oncologist and Hospital in Minneapolis for my wife’s treatment. We have “Community Leaders” patrolling the streets with AR and AK platforms with no doubt FMJ ammo in them. A complete recipe for disaster. No doubt theses projectiles can penetrate cars, walls and multiple persons.

    • I have to go into Vegas for medical. If you recall, there was a riot there with a LEO shot and paralyzed (hopefully the therapy will help). I do try to confine my visits to places on the periphery which is safer. Don’t know whether you have the flexibility but here the tendency is for docs to have multiple offices and multiple hospital privileges. I also don’t know MN law but here no gun signs have to be enforced via the trespassing law so I ignore them unless I am made, which has never happened, and if so I leave so am not in violation.

  11. Limiting penetration but still having adequate stopping power is the reason I continue to carry pistols in .45 ACP using hollow point ammunition. The more popular 9X19mm depends on high velocity and bullet expansion for stopping power. If the hollow point bullet of a 9mm becomes plugged by clothing or other material, it behaves like a full metal jacketed projectile and combined with it’s higher velocity, will most likely penetrate a human body, unless one is shooting at a sumo wrestler or a regular customer of an all you can eat buffet restaurant. The FBI prefers 12″-16″ of penetration, but the average human upper torso is only 10″ or less and I think 6″ to 8″ including the ribs and sternum should be adequate. But who am I to disagree with such a world renowned agency’s proclamation?

    I personally use the Winchester Ranger SXT +P .45 ACP load with a 230 grain JHP projectile, which in my limited testing using damp newspapers, would penetrate 9″ to 10″ and expands evenly to 1″ in diameter with 6 very sharp points. This bullet is an improved Black Talon design without the dark coating. The Black Talon in my tests penetrates the same amount as the Ranger SXT, but only expands to 3/4″ in diameter, also with 6 sharp points. I don’t carry a 9mm but if I did, would use the Hornady Critical Duty +P 135 grain Flexlock bullet which has a red plastic wedge in it’s bullet’s cavity to aid expansion and prevent anything from plugging the hollow point.

  12. Many if not all of you have by now seen “Shooter Rughi” in Seattle disarming rioters who stole Seattle PD patrol rifles. As he closed with one rioter to arms-length distance, he pulled his Glock into a high retention hold and pointed his muzzle downward by 20 degrees or so. I assumed that was to minimize the risk to other rioters behind the armed one in case he had to shoot and the bullet over-penetrated.

  13. Mas,
    If I remember, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this dynamic. Back when I was working for the Dept. of Energy (waaaay back in the early 90’s), there was a massive upsurge in interest in the Winchester ‘Black Talon’ 147 grain 9mm at the Federal and State levels, due to the FBI claiming that load was the result of exhaustive research and was, ultimately, the best gunfighting round you could get. IIRC, it turns out it was the opposite and was going thru folks like a fat ice pick because of a tiny hollow point mouth, expansion resistant composition and low velocity.

    In fact, I think you wrote an article back in the mid-90’s about those type of rounds and even mentioned then that (I think) an Arizona officer (named Love, maybe?) had been killed with either that round or one very much like it. Being on SRT at the D.O.E., we were very interested in ammo performance and there was a lot of talk at the Fed level about that round when it came out. In fact, there was a rumor that the SEALS had commissioned Winchester to develop that round to be fired suppressed from an MP5 so as to eliminate dogs and sentries and it was never, ever intended for combat handgun use. It was the FBI that had the bright idea to stuff it into handguns in reaction to what they saw was the failure of the 115 gr. Silvertip round in Miami in ’86. BTW, I promise I’m not trying to open that can of worms, just trying to point out that we’d heard back then that was the origin of how the Black Talon 9mm ended being issued by the FBI.

    Are the heavy/slow ‘FBI preferred’ rounds of today really THAT much superior to those Black Talon loads of yesteryear? Seriously, I’m not being a wise guy or sarcastic, it just seems like we’re going through what we seem to do with Hollywood films these days, sitting through just another remake…..

    • Shane, if I recall correctly the 147 grain Winchester load adopted by FBI way back when was the OSM, or Olin Super Match. It did have a spotty record of expanding when it should have. More than 30 years later,bullet technology has advanced and we have 147 grain subsonic rounds such as the Federal HST that do expand with reasonable reliability.

      • IIRC, the scuttlebutt on OSM at the time was that it’d been developed/optimized to remain subsonic out of the 8 inch barrel of an MP5SD. Suppressor use can introduce issues not seen in unsuppressed firearms. Performance out of pistol barrels half that length could be less than stellar.

        Besides bullet development, we have a much larger selection of available propellant powders today.

  14. Innocent? If I am firing into a crowds in today’s situations I suspect they are all guilty of riot, and that makes them just as guilty as the one I have singled out as the wisest one to shoot at the moment, that said, it is exactly why I use buckshot around my home – not because of crowds but because of the danger bullets pose to neighbors.

    And the other thought is, if no one else has a way to shoot the dangerous person, how many more will they get after me? It may be wise to take them out despite collateral damage. No one said this stuff was going to be easy.

    • Members of the CROWD (which may be a group of people sincerely, peacefully PROTESTING), are not all members of a MOB, which we presume to have collective malice and intent to do harm. A wise big city cop I know pointed out that the PROTESTERS are the sea in which the RIOTERS are swimming,using them as shields and camouflage. It’s more complicated than it looks.

  15. There was a sad case last year of a Chicago Police officer firing on an assailant, and having the bullet pass through the assailant and kill a bystander.

  16. Seems there is a good lesson to be learned from some of these incidents. First, do not be in the vicinity of violent, armed thugs confronting the police or threatening people who may be carrying concealed weapons. Second, don’t go to questionable neighborhoods, especially at night and always be in condition yellow. Third, wear body armor and be aware of any hard cover and concealment within easy reach if there’s any shooting.

  17. Hey Mas I load DRT in my .380. Dynamic Research Technologies is a jhp frangible ammo designed to eliminate the overpenetration problem. Have you an opinion on this ammo. Thanks, Larry

    • Don’t know of any human shootings with it, and however cleverly the defense lawyer spins the acronym, plaintiff’s counsel will have a field day with ammo called Dead Right There.

  18. In the military I was trained on ours and theirs…growing up in Western New York the 12 gauge was our preferred weapon (still is for me! Sleep with a mossberg 590 running birdshot by my bed)… I found it interesting that my navy friends preferred the 410…they said it wouldn’t go through bulkheads on the ships…

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