The idle musings of a former military man, former computer geek, medically retired pastor and now full-time writer. Contents guaranteed to offend the politically correct and anal-retentive from time to time. My approach to life is that it should be taken with a large helping of laughter, and sufficient firepower to keep it tamed!
Defensive ammunition when you can’t use hollowpoints
(That restriction doesn’t apply to law enforcement personnel, of course . . . yet another reason for resentment. If it’s good enough for cops, why shouldn’t it be good enough for honest citizens whose taxes pay those cops and buy their ammunition?)
These restrictions upset the normal calculation about what cartridge or round New Jersey gun-owners (and others suffering under similar restrictions) should use for self-defense.
However, if that technology can’t be used, cartridge effectiveness must be assessed in terms of older measurements. I’m obliged to the anonymous editor of the Firearms History blog for his very useful articles on the following systems of measurement:
- Kinetic energy
- Taylor KO Factor
- Thorniley Stopping Power Formula
- Hatcher Formula
- Optimum Game Weight Formula
Follow each link for more information about the formula in question. Not all are useful in a defensive context, but they’re all informative. (We’ve discussed some of them in articles here.
It squares with my experience of shooting in Africa, be the target an animal or an enemy. In particular, I agree with its bias towards larger-diameter bullets when dealing with solids.)
To get back to the self-defense situation, if gun-owners are restricted in their use of expanding handgun ammunition, they have to choose the most effective cartridge available under those restrictions.
If it takes 2-3 .45 ACP ball rounds to do the same thing, and you have 10 of them in your gun, you’ll be able to deal with twice the number of attackers for the same expenditure of ammunition.
Despite modern attempts to reinterpret historical data, it’s clear that throughout the blackpowder era, bigger, heavier bullets did a better job of stopping a fight in a hurry than smaller, lighter ones.
“Instances have repeatedly been reported during the past year where natives have been shot through and through several times with a .38 caliber revolver, and have come on, usually cutting up the unfortunate individual armed with it. The .45 caliber revolver stops a man in his tracks, usually knocking him down.”
This led initially to the reissue of older Colt Single Action Army revolvers (the famous ‘Peacemaker’ of the so-called ‘Wild West’), and ultimately to the adoption of the renowned M1911 pistol and its .45 ACP cartridge.
That certainly correlates with my experience of handgun use in Southern Africa during that period.
Please note that I’m not by any means opposed to the use of smaller cartridges, provided that modern bullet technology is used.
The latter round in particular is attracting serious interest due to its performance under all likely circumstances, as outlined in this video from Hornady. It’s reported to be the only range of handgun ammo to pass every FBI test criterion with flying colors.
However, if for some reason I couldn’t carry expanding ammunition, my instant response response would be to revert to handguns chambered in .45 ACP or .40 S&W[respectively my first and second choices], loaded with the best-quality ball rounds I could find.
That’s why I keep firearms in my safe chambered for both cartridges. Furthermore, as Jim Higginbotham points out, it’s hard to make a .45 ACP bullet perform badly!
The late, great Jeff Cooper used to opine that an adequate defensive bullet in a handgun, irrespective of bullet type, shape, etc., should be at least .40″ in diameter, weigh at least 200 grains, and exit the muzzle at a velocity of at least 1,000 feet per second.
Multiplying those factors together, we arrive at a total of 80,000. If we use those factors and that total to assess the effectiveness of the most common semi-auto pistol cartridges, using ball ammunition, we can see how they stack up against each other:
- .45 ACP: .451″ x 230 grains x 830 fps (US Army standard ball) = 86,096
- .40 S&W: .401″ x 180 grains x 1,020 fps (Winchester Q4238) = 73,624
- 9mm Parabellum: .355″ x 115 grains x 1,190 fps (Winchester Q4172) = 48,582
Those values are pretty much in line with what the older measurements (referred to above) give us in terms of bullet effectiveness, and in line with extensive experience ‘on the street’.
I’m confident enough in either .40 S&W or .45 ACP ball to use them for defensive purposes if necessary. As long as I put enough of them in the right place(s), they’ll get the job done.
Of course, one can never rely on a single bullet being sufficient to stop an attacker. I’ve covered this extensively in three articles dealing with ‘The myth of handgun “Stopping Power”.’
Far better to have larger, more capable rounds in the gun, each one as effective as possible, so that the same magazine capacity will allow one to deal with more attackers.
What handgun to carry it in? That’s very much a matter of personal preference. Some prefer the ‘old reliable’ 1911 pistol, and I certainly can’t argue as to its effectiveness.
Small .45 ACP pistols tend to be uncomfortable to shoot for extended periods, because they don’t have the heft or the weight to absorb as much recoil as larger weapons. There are many possibilities out there, ranging from the Glock 36, to Springfield’s XD-S, to Kahr’s CW45 (the model I use) and many others.
However, if I were denied the ability to carry expanding ammunition and/or a high-capacity magazine, I’d live with the discomfort and switch to my Kahr CW45 in a heartbeat for deep-concealment scenarios (i.e. pocket or ankle carry – I’d rely on my Ruger SR45 for ‘normal’ holster carry). I also have a Glock 27, which would be my ‘go-to’ small pistol in the .40 S&W cartridge.
One final point. Big cartridges such as the .45 ACP are relatively expensive compared to their smaller counterparts, because their manufacture consumes larger quantities of metals, propellants, packaging, etc. (and, being heavier and bulkier, they cost more to ship).
All one needs to do is fire the larger cartridge sufficiently to remain familiar with its recoil and trajectory.