Photo Dave Spaulding
FEATURED IN TACTICS AND WEAPONS
To most Law Officer readers, the topic of hollow-point rounds might seem irrelevant, or, at the very least, archaic and outdated. In fact, if it weren’t for the date at the bottom of this page, this piece might fit really well into a 1970s publication.
However, recently my wife came home from work and asked a question on how hollow point ammunition works. It seems one of her girlfriends recently went through a concealed-carry weapons (CCW) class taught by a civilian firearms trainer who apparently kept his class of novice shooters highly entertained with fantastic tales about how hollow point rounds can “drive a full-grown man back five or six feet” if they hit him center mass.
My wife, being a CCW permit holder (one who happens to carry a .40 S&W caliber semi-auto loaded with Speer Gold Dot 165 gr. jacketed hollow-point rounds), decided not to join in the conversation regarding this myth of hollow points. This incident did generate a discussion of exactly what hollow points will (and won’t) do and prompted this piece about the history of hollow points and why the vast majority of law enforcement officers in the U.S. carry them. For the benefit of those cops out there who aren’t “gun” people, here’s the real dope.
Here are the three biggest myths about hollow-point ammunition.
Myth 1: Hollow-point ammunition was outlawed by the Geneva Convention.
Fact: The Geneva Convention, which was actually a series of conferences held in Geneva, Switzerland, between 1863 and 1864, had absolutely nothing to do with expanding (or hollow-point) ammunition. The Geneva Convention dealt with the formation of the International Red Cross, among other things. One of its primary concerns was the treatment of prisoners of war (POWs) and the overall uniform medical care of wounded soldiers.
Myth 2: Hollow-point rounds (“dumdums”) are outlawed by international law.
Fact: Expanding bullets have never been outlawed by international law in any war or conflict that the U.S. has participated in. The issue of expanding bullets was briefly addressed at the International Peace Conference held at The Hague in the Netherlands in both 1889 and 1907. However, the U.S. never ratified the twelve-paragraph document (Declaration IV, 3) that dealt with expanding bullets. In fact, fewer than 25 countries actually signed that declaration, and that declaration has never been enforced since its ratification on July 29, 1899.
Concerning “dumdums,” in 1897 the British Army discovered that round-nosed rifle bullets simply were not proving effective against their foe, the very committed Indian warriors. As a result, British researchers retreated to the laboratory, so to speak, and went to work on a new rifle bullet, one with an exposed lead core. That lab was located at—you guessed it—Dumdum, India! The new rifle bullet, later termed the “dumdum,” had an exposed lead core surrounded by a thinner metal jacket that allowed for expansion. It proved very effective. Later versions were modified with filed-down points, flat noses, and cores cut with longitudinal lines.
Myth 3: Hollow points cause more damage than other rounds.
Fact: This final issue can be debated until the cows come home. However, the bottom line on the use of deadly force with a firearm is a balance of safety and efficiency. Specifically, the safety of both the officer and the public, and the efficiency with which that level of force is deployed. Indeed, 180 grains of soft lead is a very ineffective way to stop 180 lbs. of angry humanity. The simple fact is that a bullet of sufficient mass that enters the human body and penetrates far enough (without the risk of over penetration) to reach the major blood-bearing organs will significantly increase the chances of ceasing life-threatening activity. When deadly force is appropiate, hollow points are designed to do just that—stop the threat with minimal collateral damage.
And, oh, by the way, they also don’t “drive a full-grown man back five or six feet.” Simple physics tell us that a body in motion will tend to stay in motion. A suspect who is charging at an officer with a deadly weapon (like a knife) in their hand will probably continue to move forward even if they’re struck with one, two or more hollow-point bullets. That’s why officers are trained to shoot until the threat ceases.
The reason most law enforcement agencies either issue or permit their officers to carry hollow-point ammunition is that when deadly force is authorized—when the immediate threat of serious physical injury or death to the officer, their partner, or someone else is present—hollow-point rounds have a better chance of stopping that threat without the risk of over penetration. In other words, the possibility of a through-and-through shot hitting someone it was not intended to hit is lessened. The goal is to step the threat without injuring or killing someone else in the process, and hollow-point ammunition helps do that.