Terminal Ballistics, much fire and fury over the internet.

So Tam, writes a pretty reasonable post about not using old bullets that have better alternatives now: http://booksbikesboomsticks.blogspot.com/2017/12/nostalgia-doesnt-belong-in-your-ccw-gun.html

What kills me is how they’re hyping 90gr +P .38 Spl & 9mm and 185gr +P .45ACP bullets as if the last thirty years of accumulated terminal ballistics knowledge hadn’t even happened.

Flying dimes with no sectional density moving at Warp Factor Six are how we got Miami and then wound up spending twenty years wandering in the .40 caliber wilderness, and the shit is being pimped by people who should goddam well know better because, I dunno, Cameron Hopkins is a nice guy or something and the boxes make older gunwriters feel nostalgic.

So…she’s right, 90gr bullets in 38 Special are a poor choice, and 185gr 45 ACP bullets are a poor choice.

However, it was the “flying dimes with no sectional density” part that ticked off the drama llama over at the captain’s journal, who doesn’t address either 90gr 38 Special nor 185gr 45 ACP, but goes off on a tangent about the 5.7 FN.


Now…he’s also right. The 5.7 FN has a lower sectional density than other pistol rounds and the 5.7 FN proved that it could kill unarmed people charging you when Nidal Hasan went postal at Fort Hood back in 2009. 13 people died at Fort Hood, 12 from center of mass hits and one from a head shot. 32 more were wounded.

Now Tam is a gunwriter, and Herschel has been around the block, and any drama between them is between them, but just to stir the pot a little, here’s Roland’s Rules of Ballistics.

  1. All bullets are lethal.
  2. Shot placement matters.
  3. A better bullet doesn’t kill ’em deader.
  4. Incapacitation is impossible to measure via ballistics gel.
  5. Mass shootings are not defensive gun uses.
  6. Any formula to calculate “knockdown power” is garbage in, garbage out.

To illustrate point 5, the Hi Point carbine and TEC-9 9×19 firearms were used quite successfully during the Columbine school shooting. 13 victims died at Columbine, 21 more were wounded. When you compare Fort Hood 2009 with Columbine 1999, you have some similarities and some differences.

Similarities include number of victims and the choice of deliberately unarmed victims. Nidal Hassan could have chosen to shoot up a rifle range on Fort Hood, but that would have ended his jihad right quick. The differences are that at least 3 people charged Hasan, and there is no record of anyone charging the two murderers at Columbine. The police response at Fort Hood 2009 was much faster than the Columbine response. The terrain of a school is much different than an Soldier Readiness Processing Center.


There are a lot of formulas out there that calculate some level of effectiveness based on bullet weight, velocity, diameter, and use that to calculate some numeric score. It’s all bullshit designed to sell guns, but people like to use it to show that the 45 ACP is a monster slaying badass while the 9mm doesn’t make “Major Power Factor” in some games. It is all bullshit.

Why is it BS? Well because if you run the numbers for a 223 Remington with 55gr soft point bullet through one of those pistol bullet calculators it’ll tell you that it’s a horrible choice for actually stopping an attacker. The reality is that a 55gr soft point is a great choice for stopping an attacker because that 55gr soft point is going to shred all sorts of internal organs and stop the attacker as long as the bullet hits anywhere near center of mass or central nervous system.

But Roland, rifles are rifles and pistols are pistols! Sure, but that why the FN 5.7 with it’s low sectional density and tiny bullets still goes back to point #1, All Bullets Are Lethal. The way that the 5.7 is lethal is largely different than how a 9×19 with a quality hollow point is lethal (the 5.7 will fragment, the 9×19 will expand) but essentially they accomplish the same outcome, blood out, air in.

Now the FN 5.7 isn’t the first high velocity, low bullet mass pistol cartridge. The 7.62×25 Tokarev developed quite the reputation for pushing it’s FMJ bullet through all sorts of soft body armor way back in the ballistic stone age of the 1980s. The 85gr bullet up to over 1,600 fps isn’t something I’d like to get shot with, as Rule #1, All Bullets Are Lethal. As a side note, the 357 Sig was chosen for use in Chicago because it could defeat the seats on trains with duty ammo. Ironically enough bullets designed for law enforcement like the original KTW round was the impetus for Federal laws that prohibit armor piercing bullet technology because they were “cop killers.” Then again, passing a law is what Congress does instead of anything useful.

Now, with that in mind, lets turn away from mass shootings and go to the infamous Miami shootout. Two military veterans turned murdering bank robbers were armed with a shotgun, a Mini-14 rifle, and some handguns got into a shootout with FBI agents who had shotguns, 38 Special & 357 Magnum revolvers, and 9mm handguns. At the end of the shootout both criminals were dead, and two FBI agents were dead.

The criminals were killed by a combination of pistol and shotgun fire. Both FBI agents were killed by the Mini-14. The obvious lesson here should have been that going up against two military veterans with a rifle is a dangerous thing to do, and yet the FBI chose to focus not on issuing “patrol rifles” for FBI Agents, but changing the handgun caliber to something that might have given the agents on the ground in Miami better performance. The FBI first tried the 10mm, and when that was too much for some agents switched to the 40 S&W. After the FBI testing criteria had been available for a while, ammo manufacturers made 9×19 ammo that passed, and the FBI went back to issuing 9×19 to agents.

However, if the Miami shootout happened today, with modern 9×19 ammunition, the outcome would likely be exactly the same. Going up against two military veterans, one of whom has a rifle, is just a poor life decision or really shitty luck if you only have pistols and shotguns as police in Hollywood, California, found out just over a decade later in 1997 at the North Hollywood Shootout.

And rather than ramble on for several more paragraphs, whatever you carry, train with it. Whatever you carry, feed it the best bullets you can afford. Whatever you carry, try not to get into a gunfight with someone who has a rifle. Because no matter the quality of bullet you have in your heater, there is no guaranty of instant incapacitation. Not with a FN 5.7, not with a 357 Magnum, not with a 9mm, 40, 45, or 10mm. It can happen, but if it does it will be because YOU put the bullet where it needed to go, as Rule #1 goes, “All Bullets Are Lethal.”


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2 Responses to Terminal Ballistics, much fire and fury over the internet.

  1. mcthag says:

    The lowly .25 ACP has killed a LOT of people over the years.

    Contact range to the back of the skull solves the shot placement problem pretty well.

    Liked by 1 person

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