Monday, February 7, 2011

Home defense guns

***Update with links to more pictures***

This post at Snowflakes in Hell reminded me of a test that a friend and I did a couple of years ago shooting drywall with rifles, which I will get to in a minute. The article is about fake gun experts, and is spot on. The expert in question drops this little gem:

Our instructor further advised that shotguns are the weapon of choice for home defense. Unlike a heavy-caliber handgun, a shotgun will put an intruder out of business without a bullet passing through a wall and killing a sleeping child.
I have found this to be a common belief amongst folks at the gun counter at the local Ganderous Mountainous, and it's not even close to being true. With AR type rifles becoming so popular, I had one loaded up in my home in case the Boogey Man came, and thought that the idea that rifles were overpenetrative in a home defense scenario was bunk. A good buddy helped me find out.

I never did publish the results of the shooting test as we did not complete it; we shot five walls with rifles using various loads, and intended to do the same with handguns and shotguns. While we had the walls set up we did fire one round of Winchester Super X 00 buckshot and a few rounds from handguns just for our own edification.

The five walls were to residential spec; 1/2" drywall screwed front and back to 2x4 studs. The longest span in either one of our modest homes measured 30', so we did the shooting at 15' with the walls spaced out over 15'. We used an AR15 and a Ruger Mini-14 both chambered in .223 Remington for the test, and we shot many different types of loads from factory ammo to some handloads. The results told us both without a doubt that that cartridge is way less penetrative than buckshot or handguns.



Here is the impact on the 2nd and 3rd wall made by a Black Hills 52 grain jacketed hollow point fired from the Mini-14's 16" barrel:




Click to make bigger.

As you can see, the bullet was sideways when it hit the second wall, and was in pieces when it hit the third. This was pretty typical for most of the rounds fired, but this was the most notable example of the round breaking up so quickly. Those little pieces of the bullet may still have been lethal, but then again, they may have not. That particular round didn't make it through the fourth wall, leading me to believe that it didn't have much energy left when it hit the third wall. Also, the bullet fragments would lose velocity and energy very rapidly given a little more distance, and when applied to a home defense scenario means that if a round fired from your rifle misses the bad guy and goes through an exterior wall of your home, it will not be nearly as likely to enter your neighbor's house and harm someone.

The one round of buckshot told a completely different story. Fired into the first wall at a distance of 15' from an improved cylendar choke showed that you still have to aim:



The orange dots are one inch, making the spread from the buckshot about six inches. That busts the myth about only needing to aim in the general direction of an attacker with a shotgun. It does show why they will effectively put down a scumbag with one well placed shot; the trauma of twenty five .30 caliber holes concentrated over the vitals gives you a high probability that you won't need to shoot twice.

Here is the face of the 5th wall, and if you look closely you can see 18 shot holes marked with arrows:



That leaves seven pellets unaccounted for. Some of them may have stopped in the fourth wall, or may have gone off the 5th wall and into the woods. The bad part about launching so many projectiles with one shot is that you cannot account for each and every one of them, as they go off on their own program if given some distance. With a rifle, you are only firing one round at a time, so you have much more control.

For fun, we also shot a .38 Special MagTec frangible round, a .357 magnum Glaser Safety Slug, and a Black Hills 124 grain +P 9mm at the walls, and all of them went straight through the five walls and into the woods. High velocity small mass bullets hitting something hard like drywall makes them break up and slow down, and low velocity high mass bullets just keep going.

Food for thought.

24 comments:

EliteAmericans said...

That's a really neat test. The way I see it, any round powerful enough for home defense is going to penetrate walls and still cause danger in at least the next room over. The only exceptions would be certain hollow points, and only if they hit the target square in the torso and did not leave the target's body. But that's still wishfull thinking.

CTone said...

I've been meaning to post the rest of the pictures from the rifle test for some time, but to tell you the truth I think the several pictures here tell the whole tale. Those little zippy bullets don't stand up too well to drywall, but buckshot and 9mm sure do. I keep that in mind every night when I go to bed, knowing that if I miss with my pistol, the bullet could very well pass through my house and into someone elses.

I used to keep my rifle for HD, but with all of my toddlers in the house I now keep it locked up.

Me said...

The 5.56mm round destabilizes rapidly when it hits something like drywall. 9mm just keeps going and going. This is why numerous urban SWAT teams have switched their H&K MP-5s for AR-platforms.

TinCan Assassin said...

Any chance you can do that test with a 7.62X39 JHP? Just saying...

Geodkyt said...

Ah, shotguns. The Poor Man's submachinegun.

I've never understood why police administrators thought shotguns n urban areas were "good", but selective fire carbines were "bad".

I'd feel a LOT safer in a city if the Po-Po had M4 carbines (even if they left the Happy Switch welded to "BURST"), knowing there is a limit of how many unaccounted for projos are dancing down the allyeways. (And round balls at 1300 fps bounce better than FMJ-BTS at 3000+ fps after hitting a brick wall at an angle.)

DirtCrashr said...

No .45 ACP? You're going to get a lot of calls to repeat this test in various calibers - and with pink insulation! :-)

Chas S. Clifton said...

I love it when people back up opinions with real-world testing. Congratulations.

mike's spot said...

Great post C-Tone, good info- as I am one of the guys with 00 buck in the go-to shotgun.

Laughingdog said...

Honestly, a shotgun really is the ideal choice for a home defense weapon for most people, but not for the bullshit reasons so many instructors give (e.g., won't penetrate drywall, you don't have to aim, etc.).

You can get a good pump action shotgun for less than the cost of a good handgun, and much less than the cost of a good semi-auto rifle. That pump action shotgun is also easier to operate than most semi-auto rifles. Most people can figure out a pump-action without a lot of help.

I'm just glad I've gotten all of the other instructors at the range, as well as about half of the salesmen downstairs, to accept that bird shot is not acceptable self-defense ammo. Even the stubborn ones finally cave when I say two words to them to describe why bird shot sucks for that purpose: "Dick Cheney".

Laughingdog said...

To clarify the point I was trying to make there. The average person is not going to spend the money on a good rifle. They also aren't going to spend the time training with that rifle. So, for that type of person, a shotgun is a good choice, but not because of the myth that it won't go through the walls.

Anonymous said...

TinCan Assassin; Any chance you could do that 7.62 x 39 test for your very own self? These folks have already done part of your work for you. By what standard are they obliged to do the rest? -- Lyle

Thomas said...

Please do not take this the wrong way, were your walls true "walls" (two sheets of plywood mounted on opposite sides of the same 2x4)

If.... your walls are 5 freestanding sheets your 5.56 may be a less penetrative round than you have shown (and not a bad thing) since it keyholes between the 1st and 2nd sheet....

The key-holing and 3rd wall shrapnel penetration may not be the as pronounced when the distance between the 1st and 2nd sheet is 3.5" instead of 5' or 6'....

Mike said...

Thomas:

From just above the first picture in the post -

"The five walls were to residential spec; 1/2" drywall screwed front and back to 2x4 studs."

CTone said...

I have been meaning to continue the test, I had just meant to do a "full up" type test with handguns in several calibers one day, and then with shotguns using birdshot, buckshot in various sizes, slugs, and maybe some turkey and coyote loads. I have a bunch of sheets of drywall, so I'll do this in a month or two when it gets warmer. I'll also have to post the rest of the pictures from the rifle test, and maybe do some more different calibers (7.62x39 definitely).

As for shoguns for HD - I still believe in them completely; absolutely devastating with close to %100 chance of one shot stop if you hit the scumbag in the boiler room. I had a Mossberg 500 bantam 20 gauge loaded up in the closet for years, but my kids got old enough now to be curious but not old enough yet to teach gun safety, so I had to put it in the safe.

DJMoore said...

I do not have the means to conduct these tests myself, so I'm just ignorantly commenting off the top of my head.

The real world situation (for standalone homes, not apartments) isn't a few sheets of sheetrock close together.

It's sheetrock; some kind of insulation; sheathing (usually plywood or OSB); some kind of siding, ranging from plastic to wood to aluminum (even brick, which I'll ignore as being a good stopper for a single round of anything likely to be used in home defense); several yards of free space, possibly even across the street; and then another wall of similar components in reverse order, followed by several more yards of free space.

A solid bullet of sufficient caliber might pass through all that and still possess enough energy to put a substantial hole in somebody.

But as you have demonstrated, shot will scatter, spreading the energy across a wide area. The more free space it traverses, the wider it will scatter. Only a few pellets might hit someone in the next house, maybe even one; and the energy of each pellet will be substantially less than that of a solid bullet. (Granting that energy is mass times velocity squared. I've never seen an analysis of the energy carried by a single shot pellet versus a hard ball round.) Further, since a round pellet presents the same profile despite tumbling, the hole it makes will be of consistent size, unlike a tumbling bullet.

So: using a shotgun may not protect someone on the other side of an internal wall in another room of the same building, but it may very well cause far less damage to someone in another building entirely.

D.W. Drang said...

DJMoore: If the internal walls don't stop buckshot, but will stop 5.56mm/.223, that fact alone is significant.
Yes, a true test will use up a fresh new subdivision's worth of sheetrock, studs, insulation, and siding to be definitive, and maybe more than a few skyscreens for chronographs--calling Jim Scouten, or maybe Roy Huntington--but I think we can draw a preliminary conclusion that a .223 rifle is safer to shoot inside an occupied house than a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot.

WV: Judon. Not with my arthritis...

MattCFII said...

This link has a very similar and more indepth test:
http://how-i-did-it.org/drywall/index.html

It also has a 7.62x39 Wolf load as well. I have plans to redo this style of test with AK calibers but it's been on the backburner. Basically that Wolf load starts to tumble in their test but I would have really like to seen it it would have continued through an external wall as it was flying sideways.

I would really like to see this test done with another wall that is "external" at the end. I generally know where my family is located in my house but not my neighbors'.

In general, I wouldn't use 7.62x39 as a home defense gun in a urban/suburban area, unless maybe I was using the Hornady V-Max or Corbon MPG frangible load. The FMJs/HPs of the Wolf, Bear, etc. are mild steel jackets that won't allow the bullets to break up. That means tumbling is the only mechanism to stop them from tearing through more walls.

My current house gun, despite having handguns, shotguns and other AK, is an AK74 in 5.45x39 with Hornady's V-Max.

If anybody does these tests, keep the walls spaced out realistically, it gives the bullets time to tumble and rip apart. Box 'o Truth did a test but stacked drywall much closer together so most bullets went through all the sheets.

CTone said...

The spacing is definitely significant, but I saw the majority of the rounds that I fired hit the 2nd or 3rd wall completely sideways, leading me to believe that I had enough spacing. Usually the bullet would pass through the 1st wall and hit the remaining walls sideways before breaking up. Some of them went through multiple walls sideways, which makes sense considering that the bullet is no longer stabilized by spinning. I don't believe that they tumble at all.

MattCFII said...

I definitely think the spacing on your tests were realistic. Box o' Truth had them inches away from each other.

By tumbling I meant any kind of flight where the bullets' tips were not going forward, including sideways, not just end over end.

mariner said...

If I were a shotgun guy I'd know what kind of buck shot was used by the fact that one 12 ga. shell had 25 pellets.

Obviously I'm not.

Anonymous said...

Better check your facts. 30 caliber holes would come from 00 Buck which only has 8 pellets per shell. For 25 pellets you had #6 which is only about 22 caliber size.

CTone said...

It was a 3" shell, which would be #1 buck according to Winchester's website. Either way, I was incorrect about it being 00. Good catch!

DirtCrashr said...

Valuable real-world test-data!

Ammo said...

You have done quite neat & clean test for this Gun