Thursday, November 17, 2011

On self defense ammo

I was wondering yesterday morning about why some ammunition manufacturers put "Law Enforcement Ammunition" on the front of some of their self defense ammo. To me, it could potentially offer some litigation in a shooting, but not in the way that's normally discussed.

One box of ammo in that picture -- Federal Gold Medal Match -- is not branded with a law enforcement logo despite it being a common choice amongst police who use rifles. That specific load is perhaps the most used round by police snipers. Both the Federal HST and Winchester Ranger-T are labeled "Law Enforcement Ammunition," while the Speer Gold Dot is labeled "The Choice for Law Enforcement" - a little less damning. I note that there's no federal law that I'm aware of that prohibits the use of this ammo to non-law enforcement. It's only company policy.

The argument goes that if the common man shoots a home intruder or violent scumbag using such ammo, that a prosecutor has an angle against the shooter because he used ammo that's designed for cops. I think that line of thought doesn't hold water because most police agencies chose ammo -- handgun ammo in particular, which is what I'm talking about in this post -- because it consistently meets a variety of criteria: meets the FBI requirement for handgun ammo; feeds reliably in the department's duty weapons; doesn't induce premature wear in duty weapons, and is accurate enough to be serviceable. Does any of that sound like what you would want in a handgun load for your personal defense weapon? It does to me.

Notice that nothing in there has anything at all with being more effective at killing people. It's agreed by the FBI, who's testing is considered the gold standard, that in order to "protect. . the life. . and the life of others, [and] to prevent serious physical harm [when applying deadly force to a human being]" -- "it is done with the explicit intention of immediately incapacitating that subject in order to stop whatever threat to life or physical safety is posed by the subject. Immediate incapacitation is defined as the sudden physical or mental inability to pose any further risk or injury to others." Emphasis mine.

Nothing in the preface of the FBI's standards for handgun ammunition, or anywhere in it for that matter, have anything to do with killing. The death of a subject of a police shooting is a side effect; one that is unintentional and unplanned: "The concept of immediate incapacitation is the only goal of any law enforcement shooting" -- and this is the only goal I would have if I were involved in a shooting as well, and should be for anyone who defends their life from another person.

In order to satisfy the FBI's minimum 12" penetration requirement in ballistics gelatin, in the many different barriers that are often encountered in shootings, simulated barriers are shot through into the gelatin. This is done for consistency and testing purposes. The barriers are: heavy clothing; auto glass; wallboard; plywood, and steel. Notice that in the linked ballistics information for Winchester Ranger-T, there's nothing there about killing potential. That's because there is none. Can you think of any scenario where you would want your ammo to perform against those barriers if you had to shoot someone to protect yourself, your family, or an innocent life? I can.

A common argument advocating for the common man to carry law enforcement ammo in a personal arm is that the ammo has been tested to perform in a reliable and predictable manner, and those virtues are something that one would want. If you had to gun down an attacker at a gas station, wouldn't you want to be using a load that has been tested to the highest standard? As I pointed out, cops aren't issued ammunition because it has a higher killing potential; their ammo is designed to feed in their weapon, and be accurate and predictable. Those are the same reasonable requirements that I want.

The reason I think that these ammunition manufacturers are walking a dangerous line with their "Law Enforcement Ammo" label is that it can be claimed that the ammo is somehow more dangerous or deadly, and because of this it can't be trusted to the common man - only police. Again, while it's obvious that police don't use this ammo because of killing potential, a police agency may still have to prove in court that their chosen fang-face-patriot-ninja-death ammo wasn't in the best interest of the deceased subject who was gunned down by one of their employees. So then my question is: what reason does a manufacturer have to make such a stark and divisive statement for their ammo? They could advertise that their ammo has met law enforcement standards, which would be far more defensible than branding it LEO only. I think that making that statement can be misconstrued, and that they would do well to ditch it in favor of something less damning.


Drew said...

i choose federal HST cause it's cheap and effective. which i think is good enough reason for anyone if ever questioned.

Anonymous said...

The reason for the "law Enforcement Only" label (which has no force of law at all) is fear of liability.

I believe it started with the the +P and +P+ ammo in 9mm decades ago. If you sell ammo to a few departments and basically tell them "we loaded the ammo you wanted, and we don't want to get sued if it creates problems", you are more or less covered (the 9BPLE and early Winchester 115gr +P+ JHPs were designed for specific departments, I don't remember which). Ammo companies don't have that sort of "protection" if they sell directly to the general public.

Nowadays, the "law Enforcement Only" label has become either/both an unchanged habit and a way to create a "special line" of ammo, as well as still protecting them if an individual citizen "misuses" it.

From the point of view of the individual citizen, as you point out, saying "I used what my local cops/FBI/other quality LEO agency uses" serves as a very good defense and I believe Massad Ayoob has written about such successful cases.