Hollow-Point Bullets:

A colleague asks: "[I'm] wondering if hollow point bullets are legal and if so, what is the rationale given by gun fanciers for that rule? I know under the international law of war they are not legal in combat, but I take it the same isn't clear in domestic law."

Many of our readers doubtless know more details than I do, but I think I can summarize the answer fairly well.

The bullets are indeed legal for civilian and police use. Wikipedia puts well the two reasons why many people prefer them, "Despite the ban on military use, hollow point bullets are one of the most common types of civilian and police ammunition, due largely to the reduced risk of bystanders being hit by over-penetrating or ricocheted bullets, and the increased speed of incapacitation."

To unpack this: (1) Because hollow-points deform on impact, they're unlikely to go through or off walls (or through the target and into the person behind him).

(2) If you're trying to defend yourself against attack, your goal isn't just to hit the person, but knock him down. Even a fatal wound might leave the attacker mobile enough long enough for him to kill you (either with his own gun, or with some other weapon if he doesn't have a gun). A hit with a hollow-point is much likelier to knock him down. It is also likelier to kill him, but that's a side effect, not the goal; the goal is for him to stop going at you.

Here's a 1998 story about the NYPD's adopting hollow-points (though I'm not sure whether the NYPD still uses them). The Police Commissioner is quoted as saying,

We are, in fact, going to switch to hollow-point ammunition as soon as we receive it. They are much safer than fully jacketed bullets, which will go through a person or tumble through a person's organs and then continue on and hit innocent victims.... It is the standard around the world in law enforcement to use hollow points.

The story also notes that "Other police officials have pushed for the bullets because they are more effective in stopping dangerous criminals, and they say that aspect further protects bystanders because officers have to fire fewer shots to incapacitate their targets." Likewise, "'[The hollow-point bullet] increases the wound's capacity to the victim, but it reduces a risk that the police are always concerned about: the risk of the bullet perforating the intended target and injuring a bystander,' said Dr. Stephen Hargarten, the director of the Firearm Injury Center in Milwaukee, Wis."

A few years ago there was concern about the hollow point's evil opposite, the teflon coated round. The teflon round was designed to go through body armor. Thus police were strongly against it.

Today bad guys can easily get body armor too, but usually they don't, whereas police can always don it if given any warning.

For law enforcement I think the hollow point, if designed to expand but not fragment, is the best of dismal choices.
4.19.2007 9:10pm
The State of New Jersey does ban hollow-point ammunition -- sort of. It's legal to purchase it, bring it home, take it to the range and practice with it, bring any extra back home, etc. What isn't legal is for any of the very, very few individuals who hold carry permits in the state to carry firearms loaded with hollow points. Retired police officers (who are the only people who are routinely issued carry permits) cannot carry hollow points. Obviously, this means that they are carrying ammunition more likely to overpenetrate (and hit the baby carriage on the next block, for example.) Active police officers use hollow points on patrol, just as most police officers elsewhere do.

The ban may exist because the state legislature was confused about the difference between hollow point ammunition and armor-piercing ammunition. There is precedent for this thinking: the legislature banned slingshots. They thought that the language in the bill banning slungshots was a misspelling, so they corrected it, making Dennis the Menace into a felon.

Hollow points are on people's minds at least partially because they were featured in the Sopranos episode two weeks ago. There was lengthy discussion of the illegality of the hollow points, but it did not make clear that it was a law unique to New Jersey.
4.19.2007 9:20pm
Joel Rosenberg (mail) (www):
Newton's Laws still apply; as a close approximation, if the recoil won't knock you down, the impact won't knock the other guy down.

The reasons hollowpoints are often preferred -- depending on the caliber; they're probably a bad idea with .32 ACP, frex -- is that they make bigger holes (thereby allowing more blood to leak; a bigger hole is more likely to do more damage than a smaller one, all things being equal) and are less likely to overpenetrate. The going through walls stuff? Nah -- hollowpoints will, by and large, go through walls just fine, unfortunately (depending on the wall, the speed of the bullet, etc.)

As to teflon bullets going through body armor, that's more of an urban myth than not.

Modern hollowpoints -- and better rounds, like the EFMJ (Expanding Full Metal Jackets) -- and the ammunition they're designed for tend to both expand reasonably quickly and penetrate adequately, but not too far.

For more than you want to know about issues around bullet penetration and wound dynamics, google for Martin Fackler.
4.19.2007 9:24pm
Bob Leibowitz (mail) (www):
Eugene is correct on his two points, non-penetration and "stopping power." Note that stopping power is not the same as lethality.

Pistols are marginal weapons in that they trade off substantial stopping power in favor of portability. If you knew for certain that you were going to be in a deadly encounter, you'd choose either a rifle, though interestingly not a military one, or a shotgun. When you see SWAT teams deploy, as on Monday, you saw a lot of shotguns and a lot of rifles. No pistols. Those folks were dressed to fight. Most people, civilians or police, don't really expect to fight every day and so don't arm up, but go for convenience instead.

Bullets designed for self-defense, again whether police or civilian, are attempts to improve the odds as far as possible. Since there are practical limits on mass of the bullet, and velocity, the best alternative is a bullet that expands.

The best of these bullets expand about 40% from their original surface plane. They begin to expand on initial contact. That process—the expansion itself—helps dump energy into the bad guy faster than would otherwise be the case, thereby slightly improving the odds of shock to the system.

Without them, it could take the bad guy 30 seconds to 90 seconds to stop being bad, even with a shot to the heart. Shots to non-vital areas with a "round nose" or training round are no worse than driving a pencil through. Not pleasant, wouldn't want it to happen to me, but not a show-stopper, either, especially following an adrenaline dump.

Probably more than you wanted to know, but it helps put some of what we see in perspective.

side note: Eugene, I'm not certain what NYC is using these days. Judging by some of their bullet counts, its officers are none too confident of their (weapons) (skills) (ammunition). -- Bob
4.19.2007 9:28pm
bud (mail):
The "teflon coated cop-killer" bullet is a mythological creature, a cartoon generated by the anti-gun crowd to sell their agenda. There was only 1 telfon coated round ever made, by KTW. It was made from tungsten, not lead or copper, and was coated with teflon to protect the barrel, since the tungsten was so much harder than steel that it would swage out the rifling. The teflon had absolutely no effect on its ability to penetrate, and, as a matter of fact, peeled off the bullet within a few feet of flight in the open air. The bullet would penetrate protective vests - its design criteria was to penetrate car doors in a barricade situation. However, it was only sold to police agencies, and was NEVER fired by anyone other than cops, much less at them. The only thing accomplished by the posturing that went on in congressional hearings was to alert the bad guys that most cops were wearing vests, and therefore aim for their head or groin. Those are the facts. Now, think about all the horsepucky you've heard about them, and realize just how much you've been conned.

The military has gone along with the Geneva convention prohibitions on hollow point bullets for a number of reasons, one of which is the hard-hearted calculus that a wounded and not killed soldier is a large drain on enemy resources. The second is that technology and understanding has allowed solid point ammo to approach hollow point in lethality, albeit at increased cost: bullets designed to tumble on impact, for one.

Hollow points are REQUIRED by every states Game Commisions for hunting ammunition. This is to reduced the possibility of wounded animals crawling off into to bush to die slowly and painfully. Hunters want clean, one-shot kills, both for it's merciful and practical aspects: nobody wants the animal to suffer, and they'd rather not chase it.

This means that hollow point ammuntion is the rule, rather than the exemption for any round used in hunting. That these bullets are standard for police should surprise no one.
4.19.2007 9:37pm
Chuck W:
The military also has different goals than the police. Under current military theory, wounding is preferred to killing, since it consumes enemy resources in caring for the injured soldier. For the police (and carry permit holders), the critical issue is stopping the person.

For this reason they use different criteria in selecting ammunition.
4.19.2007 9:39pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
A bullet which penetrates takes some of its energy with it downrange. Non-penetration puts all the energy into the target.
4.19.2007 9:48pm
Bud: Thanks for the info about the role of the teflon. All I remembered was the fuss, hearings, etc. Then nothing more was said.

Yes, a tungsten bullet would be expected to penetrate extremely well.
4.19.2007 10:03pm
Sebastian (mail) (www):
You have covered the major points, Prof. Volokh.

New Jersey is indeed the only state I'm aware of that bans hollow point, but my guess that has to do with New Jersey politicians and citizens are generally ignorant when it comes to firearms issues. With the police exemption, there was no one left to lobby against the ban.

I think the roots of it were a perception among the general public that hollow points are designed to be particularly lethal. Much like the media is spreading around today the grave lethality of the mighty .22LR when fired from a Walther P22, they have in the past spoken of the danger of hollow point ammo designed only to kill. In a state like New Jersey, where few people own guns, it translates into law, because not enough people understand the ridiculousness of the assertion to argue against it.

The height of the hollow point ammo scare, I believe, came with the hype over Black Talon brand ammunition. Check out the article.
4.19.2007 10:20pm
The other "nice" aspect of the deformation and increased wound size of hollow points is that one can use a smaller caliber firearm. For someone with small hands (or just someone who does not want to lug around a lot weight), a .40 or .45 may be too big, but a 9mm lacks stopping power. Using a 9mm with hollow points is a good compromise.
4.19.2007 10:27pm
Sebastian (mail) (www):
4.19.2007 10:28pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"There was only 1 telfon coated round ever made, by KTW."

I don't think that's correct. Black Talon bullets were Teflon coated. Their sale was banned in California after the 101 California Street shootings in 1993.

Just today I heard someone on TV described as a "Democratic Party Strategist" rant about Teflon "cop killer bullets" as part of his general diatribe against guns. When anyone uses that term, I ask him to name one policeman ever killed by such a bullet. I also ask him to tell me how Teflon would aid the penetration of body amour.

When it comes to the gun issue, Democrats get stupid. They don't seem to realize that they will suffer political blowback by taking a hard stance against guns. They also show their complete lack of knowledge about firearms. Fortunately for them the usual MSM interviewer is equally uninformed. Yesterday I heard another Democrat talk about the "gun show loophole" in the law. Normally the Republicans play the role of the "stupid party." I'm beginning to think the Democrats actually believe their own bullshit about guns.
4.19.2007 10:41pm
mike (mail):
Many competitive shooters use hollow point bullets since they are more stable in flight due to the mass being concentrated on the outside of the bullet, thus more accurate.

They are also more safer for the shooter since they deform on impact, thus reducing the chance of being deflected out of the shooting pit or even worse bounce back to hit the shooter (I've seen that happen 2 times).
4.19.2007 10:58pm
I don't think that's correct. Black Talon bullets were Teflon coated. Their sale was banned in California after the 101 California Street shootings in 1993.

This was 14 years ago, but I don't recall Teflon coating being the controversial thing about Black Talons. Weren't those the bullets with side panels that popped out on impact to cause nasty internal wounds? I recall reading that just one hit from a bullet like that, even in a non-vital area, could bleed someone out.
4.19.2007 11:07pm
Joel Rosenberg (mail) (www):
I'm sure you heard that . . . but it's more mythology. The evil "Black Talons" were repackaged, and are still around, as, I believe, the SXT.
4.19.2007 11:08pm
SayUncle (mail) (www):
Sorry, Eugene, but despite the movies, a hit from a bullet doesn't knock you down (generally). you may fall or lay down but no knock down. If a round fired from a gun could knock someone down, the expulsion from the barrel would also knock the person doing the shooting down. (some guns do this, like the .577 Tyrannosaur video) .

Hollow points essentially enter and expand, thereby creating more surface area for the bullet. This increases damage to tissue and increases the likelihood of hitting bone, which is generally the most effective means of stopping someone. As mentioned, HPs are also less likely to penetrate hard surfaces (walls, armor, etc) due to this.

Some folks also say that the HPs travel at a flatter trajectory, which makes them more accurate.

Black Talon bullets were Teflon coated.

No they weren't. They were the victim of their own ad campaign, mostly. They were never banned but winchester pulled them due to bad press. Winchester still makes them only they're called Failsafe and they're sold as rifle ammo. PC name = no controversy.

Also, it's illegal to hunt with full metal jackets in most places.
4.19.2007 11:26pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
" Weren't those the bullets with side panels that popped out on impact to cause nasty internal wounds?"

I am in error. The black coating is not Teflon, but molybdenum disulfide called "Lubalox." According to Wikipedia this bullet was advertised to have enhanced mushrooming, but in reality the effect was marginal. However Black Talons became associated with the Teflon-coated KTW bullet.
4.19.2007 11:33pm
Is it possible that some people are taking "knock down" too literally? More pain &more ripped flesh = greater incapacitation or ability to fight on, no?
4.19.2007 11:37pm
William Oliver (mail) (www):
"The military also has different goals than the police. Under current military theory, wounding is preferred to killing, since it consumes enemy resources in caring for the injured soldier. For the police (and carry permit holders), the critical issue is stopping the person."

The Hague prohibition on expanding bullets was supposed to reduce suffering.

The preference for wounding came home to me when I was in the Army on landmine protective devices (shoes and vests). Antipersonnel landmines are not designed to kill; they are designed to wound and cripple -- thus removing three people from the field rather than one. The Soviet PMN landmine was re-engineered because it was too often lethal. The PMN-2 has less than half the explosive.
4.19.2007 11:38pm
Robin Roberts (mail) (www):
Hollow point bullets are more accurate in general than full metal jackets. But that is because the original method of making full metal jacket bullets left the open mouth of the gilding metal jacket on the base. A hollow point would have its jacket cup mouth on the nose and so the base would be more uniform. The uniformity of the base is the most important characteristic of a bullet for accuracy. Target rifle bullets are hollow point in design but with a point that is so small of opening that they don't really expand.
4.19.2007 11:38pm
Sebastian (mail) (www):
I didn't take that to mean literal knock down, as in the energy of the round to literally knock someone off their feet. I took Prof. Volokh's assertion to be figurative, as in to stop the attack.
4.19.2007 11:41pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Ref being knocked down:
The first thing a bullet does is accelerate a gun backwards. The gun weighs many, many times as much as the bullet. The gun will therefore move more slowly, its momentum being much more weight/mass and much less speed. The movement of the gun is then absorbed over a certain length of time, distributing itself from the hand to wrist to the arm to the rest of the body. The result on the shooter is far different than the result on the target which absorbs the energy in far less time without an intervening gun.
4.19.2007 11:41pm
William Oliver (mail) (www):
"This was 14 years ago, but I don't recall Teflon coating being the controversial thing about Black Talons. Weren't those the bullets with side panels that popped out on impact to cause nasty internal wounds? I recall reading that just one hit from a bullet like that, even in a non-vital area, could bleed someone out."

The only thing about Black Talons that made them different for me was that you had to be a little more careful of the pointy bits when removing them from a body -- they can poke through a glove. However, in general you should not be pulling out bullets with your gloves anyway, but instead using forceps or a hemostat (preferably a plastic one).
4.19.2007 11:43pm
SayUncle (mail) (www):
Yeah, I was probably being too literal. But the video is still cool, right? ;)

Richard, I think the first thing the bullet does is exit the gun. But I recommend the mythbusters episode that dealt specifically with knock down from firearms. The couldn't move dead pigs even a quarter inch with any weapon they tried, except a shotgun, IIRC.
4.19.2007 11:48pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Here is an interesting comment on the wounds created by the Black Talons at 101 California Street.

"The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsies of the fatal shooting victims gave a detailed presentation about his findings at the 1994 IWBA Wound Ballistics Conference in Sacramento: "The 101 California Shooting: The Black Talon Bullet," Boyd Stevens, M.D., Medical Examiner, San Francisco, CA. He stated that the wound trauma produced by Black Talon was unremarkable, meaning the wounds were no different nor any more severe than wounds produced by typical JHP handgun bullets. Each of the victims incurred fatal injury because a bullet passed through a vital structure."

The same post also claims that under certain rare circumstances the Black Talons could cut an artery, leading to enhanced stopping power. But let's be clear, there is no such thing as a humane bullet. The whole point of shooting someone in self-defense is to stop him immediately. Poisoning a bullet, would be a different story as that would contribute to suffering, but not to stopping power.
4.19.2007 11:48pm
Montie (mail):
I know a couple of law enforcement officers that complain that complained about the lack of penetrating power of hollow point bullets. They were concerned that hollow point rounds would make it more difficult to stop an assailant who was driving a car.

I can't speak for the accuracy of this statement, but I thought I would pass it along.
4.19.2007 11:51pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
First of all part of the reason military forces have little desire to use hollow point bullets is that the very attributes which make them particularly deadly to unarmed individuals make them worthless against body armor. The basic principle of the hollow point bullet is to expand upon contact distributing the energy and momentum of the impact to a larger area.

If you hit flesh then spreading out the impact trades off 'wasted' energy and momentum that the bullet would have retained exiting the other side for greater damage to the target. On the other hand if you impact body armor, a car door, etc.. this very property makes sure the bullets won't penetrate. As enemy soldiers often where body armor and there are other targets on the battlefield requiring penetration it makes little sense for the military to use hollowpoint bullets.

Interestingly along K's point they have developed special kinds of bullets now that totally disintegrate when they hit a hard target (airline fuselage) for use in confined situations where deflected bullets could be dangerous.

As for the momentum issue, yes, obviously you won't be able to physically knock your opponent down with a bullet you can fire without bracing yourself. However, this doesn't mean that the transfer of larger amounts of momentum will not stun him for longer as well as cause more long term damage. Just as you are unlikely to physically knock someone down with a punch (you might make them drop) but a harder punch is better at stopping them so too seems plausible with bullets.

Finally I don't know about hunting with hollow points but I would be surprised if the overall death count in this country was radically increased by the availability of hollow point bullets.
4.19.2007 11:52pm
Sebastian (mail) (www):
It doesn't really matter what kind of interaction with the gun happens. The fact is that if you expel a projectile outward, there will be an equal and opposite reaction backward. Some of that energy will go into cycling the action on the pistol, but most of it will be recoil. If the recoil does not knock over the shooter, there's no way it will knock over the target. Conservation of energy/momentum will demand that.
4.20.2007 12:00am
A. Zarkov (mail):
"They were concerned that hollow point rounds would make it more difficult to stop an assailant who was driving a car."

In a defensive situation, you don't know the target beforehand, so can one use a mix of rounds. This is often done with shotguns.
4.20.2007 12:01am
jvarisco (www):
Why is hollow point ammunition banned in war?
4.20.2007 12:06am
Shane (mail):
Regarding knockdown and classical mechanics:
Sure, Newton's laws apply, but imagine the following scenario where a person sneaks up behind their identical twin and with feet planted, pushes the twin with a large enough force to knock him over, but does not fall backwards himself.

The total impulse (integrate the instantaneous force over time) is the same on each twin, but one is prepared and the other is not. Also, the point of where the force is applied is different, and the orientation of the bodies in comparison to where the force is applied also is different. Finally, since impulse and not maximum force is constant between the two bodies, we can easily imagine scenarios where both bodies experience equal impulse (as Newton's laws require) but dramatically different maximum force. After all, the buffer spring on my M16 is designed to distribute the force on body over a longer period of time, reducing perceived recoil when fired.
4.20.2007 12:12am
Jay (mail):
Massad Ayoob:

Experience has taught police that what actually happens on the street is more important than what happens in the artificial environment of the laboratory. The 9mm round now acknowledged to work the best is a 124-grain to 127-grain high tech hollow point at a velocity of 1250 feet per second. NYPD, with some 30,000 officers carrying this type of ammo, the Speer Gold Dot +P 124-grain, is happy with the performance of its 9mm service pistols.
4.20.2007 12:15am
Sebastian (mail) (www):

Probably for the same reason New Jersey banned them... new technology that weren't understood very well. The conventions happened when "dum dum" bullets were new on the battlefield, and New Jersey's law happened when they first started to be known on the civilian and law enforcement market (well, at least as far as the media was concerned).
4.20.2007 12:15am
Robin Roberts (mail) (www):
Technically, hollow point ammunition is not banned in war. The Hague Conventions, dating back to late 19th Century banned any bullet that "increased suffering". This has historically been interpreted to mean any expanding small arms bullet. And in fact, the "hollow point" jacketed was really not practical for at least a half century after the adoption of the convention. There was a form of lead bullet without jacket at the time that had a large hollow nose that were called "Dum Dum" bullets that were viewed for some inexplicable reason as being more cruel than ordinary bullets.
4.20.2007 12:17am
Goobermunch (mail):
Bullets knocking targets over is a myth, as many folks have already stated.

Re: the idea that being shot with a bullet is like having a pencil pushed through you. That's not a very accurate notion. Bullets are remarkably fatal, even when they strike a "non-vital" area. There are a number of reasons for this, but the primary one is hydrostatic shock. Shooting a person is not unlike shooting a water balloon. When a person gets hit with a bullet, the bullet's kinetic energy is distributed throughout their body. It tears blood vessels throughout the body.

4.20.2007 12:20am
A. Zarkov (mail):
"Why is hollow point ammunition banned in war?"

The Hague Convention of 1899 prohibits the use of expanding bullets to avoid the more severe wounds they cause. A number of posters have explained why military needs differ from civilian self-defense and police use. In war you don't want to kill an enemy soldier as much as you want to just remove him from being a combatant. In the civilian arena, you only shoot someone to save lives and you want maximum immediate stopping power. Of course in war you might need stopping power to keep the enemy from killing you in a close one-on-one situation. I wouldn't blame a soldier if he kept a reserve handgun with hollow points for just such and emergency. But he would be in violation of the rules of war, and in the case of an American, he might find his own country putting him on trial. We make our soldiers follows the rules even though in almost every case our enemies don't—Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
4.20.2007 12:26am
hey (mail):
The dum dums bounce around, shattering bones and maiming people. Especially back before anti-biotics, these were lingering wounds that would create horrible suffering and likely a lingering death. The FMJ is less likely to create such a wound. Picking out all those pieces of lead was also a chore and created long term issues.

Hollow points don't have the heavy bouncing pieces of lead, but rather just make really big holes. The huge leaps of medicine have also nearly eliminated the horrible lingering wounds from gun shots. Thanks to innovation we still have horrendous wounds, some of them lingering tortures, but these are caused by larger explosions, fires, vehicle crashes...

In sum, the restrictions on hollow points are just like all the other Geneva Conventions: useless, antiquated, and only observed by Western nations, rather than their opponents, and are used solely as a stick to beat the West, especially the US. As methods of controlling limited wars between Western powers they had some use, but with total war and opponents with utterly different value systems, they are at best a hindrance.
4.20.2007 12:57am
This is a good place to find informal penatration test data.
My personal experience is that a 176 grain soft point slug traveling at about 2800 f/s will knock a 140 pound deer off of its feet.
4.20.2007 1:09am
Bob Leibowitz (mail) (www):

Re: the idea that being shot with a bullet is like having a pencil pushed through you. That's not a very accurate notion. Bullets are remarkably fatal, even when they strike a "non-vital" area. There are a number of reasons for this, but the primary one is hydrostatic shock. Shooting a person is not unlike shooting a water balloon. When a person gets hit with a bullet, the bullet's kinetic energy is distributed throughout their body. It tears blood vessels throughout the body.

Your comment applies only to bullets fired from rifles, and only some at that, just those that will exceed 2000fps. Very few pistols, and none that concern us here, fire bullets at a speed that will create hydrostatic shock. They will not rupture blood vessels. They are not like a balloon. They are like a pencil. Still bad, but...

There are only three areas on the body that will result in near instantaneous stops, say within three seconds, still a long time if the bad guy has a finger on a trigger, a bomb release or a knife. Two of the areas are non-lethal. Each would have the same effect whether hit by a Black Talon or a #2 pencil.

Past that, pistol bullets are notoriously non-lethal, at least by firearm standards. In fact, one of the items that struck me about Monday was the extraordinarily high lethality rate for amatuer fire from 9mm and .22 caliber pistols. I'm going to assume for the time being that it reflects a) victims who didn't attempt to avoid the gunfire and thereby allowed accurate shooting, and/or b) multiple shots at each victim. None of this reduces the effect on the victims, their families and friends, and I mention this only to stimulate thought on how best to reduce future casualties.
4.20.2007 1:22am
He stated that the wound trauma produced by Black Talon was unremarkable,

The real problem with the "Black Talon" was that it rhymed with "black felon." That helped with police marketing but was very, very politically incorrect to the press.

The IDENTICAL bullet is now sold as the Winchester STX (a name that is meaningless) and box is marked "law enforcement use only," but anyone can buy and use them.
4.20.2007 1:32am
James Fulford (mail):
I'm going to make an exception to my usual habit and post something from memory, because I can't find it online.

I believe that there have been several cases in police work of police bullets penetrating the body of a criminal and striking the policeman's own partner. It's easy to see how this could happen at close quarters in a struggle, with one policeman about to be stabbed, his partner trying to pull a knife-armed attacker away from him.

If you shoot people with military ammunition, which you might reasonably expect to go right through them, you're being reckless. You can't see through them, and you don't know where the bullet will go. For example, the Border Patrol was criticized for using hollow-point bullets, but they have to deal with large groups that include

(a) violent criminals
(b) women
(c) children

A military-style bullet fired into (a) can go right through and hit (b) or (c).
4.20.2007 1:44am
Jim FSU 1L (mail):
Hydrostatic shock doesnt wound unless it hits a stiff organ like the liver or a full bladder or stomach. Extensive testing has revealed that only permanent wound channels inflict any meaningful injury.

The mechanisms for creating larger permanent wound channels can roughly be divided into 3 categories:
-larger projectile diameter

Hollow points are used in handguns because at handgun velocities (which are limited by metallurgy and barrel length), the only effective wound infliction mechanisms are larger projecile diameter and expansion. Deep hollow points are the only effective way of expanding a slow moving projectile in a viscious liquid medium like human tissue.

The Hague weapons rules are irrelevant. Hague is currently paid lip service but almost completely ignored in practice. Aerial bombardment is widespread and nearly every FMJ projectile is constructed in such a way as to explosively fragment upon contact with human flesh.
4.20.2007 3:04am
Jim FSU 1L (mail):
Oh yeah, one could also argue that the rules were only meant with high powered rifle cartridges in mind, not handguns. The average infantryman in the pre WWI days or even today is not issued a pistol. Back then they didnt even have the concept of pistol or intermediate caliber long arms. When Hague was drafted, it was Enfield/Sprinfield/Mosin/Mauser for everyone. Only officers carried pistols and I dont beleive they were expected to fight.

Additionally, one could argue that the drafters of the Hague were a bunch of european aristocrats who were unconcerned with the idea of using guns for self defense.

Also, the US was never a party to that treaty. Never been ratified.
4.20.2007 3:09am
David W. Hess (mail):
Because of the velocities involved, rifle bullets can trade penetration for faster energy transfer by using a short gilding metal jacket to expose the soft lead at the tip. The short barrel length in a pistol limits velocity making that method less effective so a hollow point is used instead. Even with a soft point or hollow point, rifle ammunition will typically have no problem going through a car door or pistol rated body armor.

For low velocity firearms, you can really see the difference by comparing the results of hollow point and round nose .22 Long Rifle ammunition on water filled aluminum cans. The round nose bullets will punch little holes through both sides allowing the water to run out while hollow points will split and destroy full cans. Often the hollow points will not even pass through to the outside.

For exterior ballistics using a hollow point design allows a longer bullet for a given caliber and mass but in my own reloading and target shooting I have never observed a significant difference in performance except when bullet stability was marginal to begin with. A competition shooter probably would though.

I still have several boxes of 10mm Black Talons I picked up on close out and except for the molybdenum disulphide coating and nickel plated case they almost exactly resemble Winchester XST.
4.20.2007 5:16am
Pete the Streak (mail):
Actually, the term 'dum dum' is a misnomer when applied to regular hollow points. Dum dums are created by altering the hollow point (or any bullet), such as cross-cutting the tip. This allows for even greater expansion. With ball rounds, it creates a tumbling effect (even 'in flight' at longer ranges) that increases the 'tearing' of tissue. Dum dums, while more damaging, are also much less accurate. Not to mention illegal nearly everywhere.
4.20.2007 7:20am
bill korner (mail):
If these bullets stop targets with fewer shots then we should see police who use them discharging fewer shots into people they shoot, no? Is that actually what has happened as hollow points were introduced in police forces?
4.20.2007 7:29am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Re: hydrostatic shock, I wish some of our experts would go visit the Wikipedia article, which (without citation) describes the entire theory as false. Seems like there are several commenters here who could revise the article.

Excellent thread, btw, except for the creepy swipes at following Geneva even though the bad guys don't.
4.20.2007 10:34am
Waldensian (mail):

If you knew for certain that you were going to be in a deadly encounter, you'd choose either a rifle, though interestingly not a military one, or a shotgun.

Not sure I follow the comment about not choosing a military rifle. If I was told that I was about to be involved in a shootout, I think I'd grab my Garand, or an M14 if I had one. What civilian rifle would you recommend instead, and why?
4.20.2007 10:47am
markm (mail):

The military also has different goals than the police. Under current military theory, wounding is preferred to killing, since it consumes enemy resources in caring for the injured soldier.

That only works against civilized enemies who have hospitals to carry their wounded to. In the kind of fighting we're involved in now, they're likely to leave their wounded lay - and those that aren't unconscious or otherwise totally disabled are still a threat. Expanding bullets would put them in that state much faster, especially when we are using small-caliber extremely high velocity rifle rounds like the US's 5.56mm.

The ban on dum-dum bullets started as a ploy by the Kaiser's (Germany) and Czar's (Russia) governments to embarrass the British, who used expanding bullets (often homemade dum-dums made by cutting the nose of factory bullets) to better stop colonial enemies such as the Zulus. Germany had started too late in the colonial game to lose much thereby, and who could tell if the Russians respected this convention when it came to fighting the wilder tribes in the far reaches of their empire. (They might have followed it simply because expanding bullets cost more, and draftees were cheap...)

OTOH, body armor might stop expanding bullets, even from high-velocity rifles, so there's good reason to keep on using the hard full-metal-jacket rounds (FMJ) except where you're sure you won't be facing the best body armor, or to mix your ammo load with alternating FMJ and expanding bullets. It's not practical to wear enough armor to stop FMJ at full rifle velocities, so "srmor-piercing" bullets aren't needed except against armored vehicles, and then you usually need a weapon considerably heavier than a shoulder-fired rifle. It might barely be practical to provide wearable protection at long range against the larger but lower-velocity AK-47 round, and against carbines firing rifle rounds from short barrels.

IIRC, the Hague convention also banned poison gas and bombardment from "balloons". Less than 20 years later, the signatories were gassing each others' troops, dropping bombs from airplanes, and at least the Germans also dropped bombs from balloons (Zeppelins). So the ban on expanding bullets remained, not because they respected the convention, but because it made sense in the context of that war; a wounded man took two men out of the battle to carry him, and substantial resources were needed to treat all the wounded. It eventually became clear that using poison gas on an enemy that could equip it's troops with protective gear and retaliate in kind was also a counterproductive in the long run, and so WWII was fought with FMJ bullets and without using gas - but aerial bombardment worked, and that part of the convention was quietly forgotten by all, while there have been too many examples since then of the use of poison gas against those who lacked the resources to protect themselves or retaliate.
4.20.2007 10:48am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
SayUncle. If the first thing the bullet did was exit the gun, there'd be no recoil.
A battleship can fire a one-ton shell in excess of twenty miles. How come the battleship doesn't go twenty miles in the opposite direction? The recoil is dampened--does not mean goes away--over a fraction of a second by the recoil mechanism, transferred to the turret, transferred from the turret to the fabric of the ship, each step spreading it out into several thousand times the mass, thence to the ocean.
I think I saw the mythbusters piece, coming in at the end. If the pig carcass was hanging, which is the one I saw partially, it doesn't count. Because the bullet would have to move the carcass not backward, but backward and upward along an arc whose center is where the rope is attached. But the experiment could have been something else. I was hitting the remote button pretty quickly.
It is possible a bullet isn't going to knock a man off his feet. But since a man's balance is absolutely gone when his center of gravity gets behind his heels, he can be knocked down by having his torso shoved back a couple fo inches.
4.20.2007 10:54am
Re: That Mythbusters episode

There was a ~150 lb pig carcass hung from a hook with a 1/4" space left on the hook. The only gun capable of knocking the pig off the hook was a shotgun.

Great episode!
4.20.2007 11:01am
K Bennight (mail):
As some have noted, hollow points are preferred for hunting.

Also I did not catch in the discussion a mention of WSM or WSSM ammunition, that is fatter than normal cartridges to allow for more powder. These rounds hit with such impact that the slug tumbles when it hits a body. That increases the odds of your deer dropping near where you shot it. Obviously, the slug would also tumble in a human body.
4.20.2007 11:07am
ed o:
all this nonsense about stopping power but, essentially, with this case, we had a society that was helpless to confront a lunatic despite ample warning of his lunacy. VT had no stopping power and its inhabitants still seem to think they did things right. you can have all the weapons and all the stopping power on the face of the earth but if being a lunatic is a "civil right", it will not do you a bit of good.
4.20.2007 11:10am
Houston Lawyer:
When I was purchasing a pistol, the salesman informed me that the 9mm was a military round, designed to go through a person. The old .45s previously used by the US Military as side arms were designed to kill.

I remember a statement from "All Quiet on the Western Front" where they described how any soldier caught with dum dums was killed on site. I believe the same punishment was meted out to anyone with a three-sided bayonet.

I have never seen a hollow point rifle cartridge. The ones I've seen have a soft metal tip, such as silver, to cause rapid expansion.

As far as not bringing a military weapon, the M-1 fires a 30.06 cartridge. It is far more powerful than an M-16. However, it's kick makes it difficult to keep on target for more than one shot.
4.20.2007 11:25am
Earnest Iconoclast (mail) (www):
If you do the math, the momentum carried by a bullet isn't enough to move a human body much at all, certainly not enough to knock him over. It might knock someone off balance or knock someone down who is already off balance, but it won't knock him down or back. Gunshot victims fall forward as often as they fall backwards.

Human tissue is very tough and organs and blood vessels are often pushed out of the way of a bullet moving through the body. Hollow points are larger and often have jagged edges to catch organs and vessels.

There are also bullets that consist of hollow metal shells full of small pellets. I've seen pistol bullets with six largish pellets embedded in epoxy and I've seen ones with many tiny pellets. The latter are supposed to fragment when they hit flesh or sheetrock, preventing you from accidently shooting someone in the next room in your house.

As far as outlawing hollow-points goes, that seems kind of silly. If you let people use guns, trying to make them "less lethal" is rather pointless. But then gun laws are often silly.

Example: I have an SKS, a so-called "assault weapon." It came with a bayonet. Attaching the bayonet is a felony. Keep in mind that this is a rifle. The bayonet wasn't particularly sharp. Also, it had a built-in 10-round magazine. Under the law, it was illegal to replace it with removable magazines UNLESS I also replaced the original stock with a "sporting stock" and filed off the bayonet lug. So I did both and then was legally able to use 20-round detachable magazines. Also, I used to buy cheap Chinese military surplus rounds for target shooting. They became illegal when someone made a target pistol that used the same caliber because it is illegal to sell "armor piercing" rounds for pistols. The surplus military ammo had a steel core. I suspect that the FMJ/TMJ bullets I must buy now are just as deadly. Or I can buy soft-tip bullets for it. But the steel-core are no longer available.

I wish there were a Constitutional prohibition against stupid laws...

4.20.2007 11:35am
Mark_in_Texas (mail):
I wish there were a Constitutional prohibition against stupid laws...

I believe that Justice Thomas stated in one opinion that states have a constitutional right to make stupid laws and that just because a law is stupid does not mean that it will be overturned by the Supreme Court.
4.20.2007 12:28pm
Andy Freeman (mail):
> It is possible a bullet isn't going to knock a man off his feet. But since a man's balance is absolutely gone when his center of gravity gets behind his heels, he can be knocked down by having his torso shoved back a couple of inches.

"knocked down" suggests something more than "lost his balance".

As to how fast one would be shoved, we can do the math.

Momentum is conserved. Very heavy pistol bullets weigh 24/700ths of a pound and are slower than 1000fps. If the shot person weighs 150 lbs and is on a frictionless surface, getting shot will make him move backwards at less than 1/4fps.

That's not "knock down".

Note that 9mm bullets are typically just over half that weight and the heaviest are only 12-15% heavier than the typical ones.

Result - if a heavier person gets shot with 9mm, it's a negligible blow for the purposes of "knock down".
4.20.2007 12:33pm
Mark_in_Texas (mail):
Hollow point bullets penetrate less and are more likely to be deformed and lose energy if they hit a masonry wall or pavement, lowering the hazard from ricochets. An enterprising attorney could make a case that it is irresponsible to use any other kind of bullet.

Overpenetration is definitely something that merits concern. If you are old enough to remember the assasination attempt that left George Wallace crippled, several other people were wounded by the would be assasin's bullets. All the bullets that hit those other people had passed through the body of George Wallace.
4.20.2007 12:56pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Fantasia. Guess I saw it. The pig carcass--this is a law blog, I believe--as I was saying, the pig carcass would have to move up rather sharply if the arc was almost entirely the carcass itself. Now, suppose we had some way of balancing it as if it were standing upright.
Much different question.
"knock down" isn't the same as "knocked off your feet and through the air".
The .45acp replaced the earlier pistol in the Phillipines in order to improve the "stopping" power againts charging Moros at close range. If you "stop" a guy who's closed down, wired, and charging forward, you're putting a good deal of energy into him. If he's standing still, what would that energy input look like?
4.20.2007 1:23pm
jvarisco (www):
Are shrapnel bombs also banned? Seems like a bit of a strange thing, though it does appear that hollow point would be less effective in war (you want to hit multiple targets if you can). But then I guess that's normal for all the just war nonsense thrown around by Michael Walzer and co. Would anyone actually follow this if hollow points were in fact effective in war?
4.20.2007 1:23pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):

Nobody bothers to restrict the fifty-cal, or its Warsaw Pact equivalent, the 12.7mm to material targets which I believe is the legal issue.
At one time, ball ammo was replaced by armor piercing. Copper jacket, lead filler surrounding a small hardened steel penetrator. The breakup of the round in the body was as bad as, but different from, hollow point. And you got the penetration of light material as well.
4.20.2007 1:48pm
Gray Jay:
Mr Aubrey, re knockdown: This link shows an employee of Second Chance body armor being shot with a 7.62 NATO bullet while wearing body armor. He isn't knocked down from the momentum of the bullet. Having a sizeable chunk of lead and gilding metal shoved through my innards would knock me off my feet, but not from the momentum of the bullet, which is all I think Mythbusters was alluding to. In my very limited hunting experience, shooting blacktail deer (smaller than a large man) with high-velocity rifle bullets did not once knock them down.

Another vote for googling Martin Fackler in order to learn far more than you really wanted to know about this subject. Other useful sites for terminal ballistic information include this one and this one.

If you can get past the frequently sophomoric humor, this link at has some information on the 1899 Hague Conference and 1907 Hague Convention dealing with expanding-point ammunition. Other links at that site deal with the Black Talon controversy. Many links at the gun are both graphic (dealing with the consequences of negligent firearms discharges) and NSFW, so be careful.

To answer jvarisco's point on whether anyone actually follows the prohibition and why, my guess is that most combatants use military ammunition, due to availability and price. Military ammunition is mostly made by signatory states and therefore would be made in compliance with the 1907 Convention. Given the existence of napalm, white phosphorus, and fragmentation bombs, the prohibition on expanding ammunition does seem silly.

(Apologies if the links don't come through, the preview software here doesn't allow me to test-click them.)
4.20.2007 1:50pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
I believe that Justice Thomas stated in one opinion that states have a constitutional right to make stupid laws

S/b "uncommonly silly" for "stupid," and you're referring to Thomas's dissent in Lawrence v. Texas.
4.20.2007 1:57pm
Mark_in_Texas (mail):

It wasn't Lawrence v. Texas. It was several years earlier in a case where someone in Michigan had borrowed a car and then, while driving that car, solicited a prostitute. The owner of the car claimed that the car, which had been confiscated, should be returned to the owner. Michigan state law said otherwise and Justice Thomas said that the Michigan legislature had the right to pass that stupid law.

I'm pretty sure that he used the word stupid.
4.20.2007 3:10pm
Discussing "knock down" reminds me of President Reagan's assassination attempt.

Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy was shot in the chest or abdomen. The impact pushed him back, and in the slow-motion video you can see that his feet were lifted an inch or two into the air.
4.20.2007 7:58pm
Colin (mail):
The impact pushed him back, and in the slow-motion video you can see that his feet were lifted an inch or two into the air.

I'm pretty sure that wasn't from the impact of the bullet. If a couple of hundred pounds came a couple of inches off of the ground, the force almost certainly came from the agent himself, lunging or jumping or just jerking his muscles. That amount of force certainly didn't come from the bullet.
4.20.2007 8:20pm
FredR (mail):
Wikipedia has a very complete article on how this all started. Just search for "Dum-Dum" if the link fails:

In the late 19th century, the invention of Cordite ammunition permitted higher velocity than black powder, and corresponding higher hit probabilities. ... Originally, dum-dum referred to a new type of ammunition produced in the early 1890s at the arsenal at Dum Dum near Calcutta in India. ... such small caliber rounds were less effective at wounding or killing an enemy than the older large caliber soft lead bullets. .... the Dum Dum arsenal produced its now infamous solution - the jacketing was removed from the nose of the bullet. This could lead to the jacketing being left in the barrel and the British Army produced ... ball rounds which were of the hollow point design. These bullets expanded to a significantly larger diameter, producing larger diameter wounds than the full metal jacketed versions. Because the energy was roughly the same, none of these rounds actually produced more severe wounds than the then previous .45 Martini-Henry British service round.

So there you have it -- the whole purpose of the experiment was to make the new high velocity rounds as lethal as the old soft lead rounds such as those used the the American Civil War. was the Germans (of all people) who objected to those new rounds. As the article points out this was not so much for humanitarian reasons as to give their own new Spitzer ammo an advantage. Since the machinegun dominated WWI the issue of expanding bullets was forgotten.

That's pretty much how it stands today -- another outdated "law of war" that no one understands any more. Police can use hollow points, and do, and military can use them in "police" actions, but not against other regular forces, even if it saves civilian lives. As someone mentioned this is mainly used as a stick to beat Western armies. There's certainly no reason to think that it produces any more cruel or lingering death.

As a practical matter I doubt if many armies would use it, since hollow points are not very good for penetrating body armor, which even guerillas are using these days.
4.20.2007 11:19pm
Waldensian (mail):

I have never seen a hollow point rifle cartridge. The ones I've seen have a soft metal tip, such as silver, to cause rapid expansion.

Hollow point rifle cartridges are readily available. Actually you can buy them in huge bulk at major retailers.

As far as not bringing a military weapon, the M-1 fires a 30.06 cartridge. It is far more powerful than an M-16. However, it's kick makes it difficult to keep on target for more than one shot.

So, as a preliminary matter, bringing the M1 to a gunfight would be entirely sensible, and it's a military weapon, which was my point. Perhaps I misread your original post and we don't really disagree. Incidentally I think it's ".30-06," representing a .30 caliber round adopted in 1906.

I completely disagree regarding your second point. It's really not at all difficult to keep a Garand on target for more than one shot, as thousands of U.S. vets can attest. Thousands of German and Japanese soldiers also would agree with me, but they're dead. Keep in mind that the Garand is much heavier than an M16. If you're ever in Richmond, VA, shoot me an e-mail and I'll let you try mine out.

A crazed shooter with an M1 would be really, really bad. And if you jump through a few hoops -- hoops that Cho could easily have jumped through -- you can buy them from the government through the mail. Or at least you could until recently, because the government sold out.
4.21.2007 12:41am
K Parker (mail):

Attaching the bayonet is a felony
Not if you live in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave! I do realize that the situation in NJ and CA is probably different...

But speaking of stupid laws, you'd better be darn sure that your mods to your SKS don't fall afoul of regulation 922r or you are committing a felony in any state in the union. Once you modify anything you must ensure that the remaining foreign-origin parts count doesn't exceed 10.

Ahh, now we're back to discussing law; hope that makes everybody happy! ;-)
4.21.2007 9:25pm