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Less Lethal Ammunition

In the course of talking with the mother of one of my students she asked me a very good question about concealed carry and frankly one that doesn’t get brought up very much, probably not for the right reasons, though I really have no idea. First a little background on the conversation and why it came up.

I own a drivers ed school and I make sure and cover all the laws the state leaves out of the curriculum but are terribly relevant, firearms transportation being one of the big things. For instance, in my state, it is perfectly legal to carry a loaded and unconcealed firearm with no permit, once you get into a motor vehicle, that all changes. Firearms must be unloaded and either clearly visible or inaccessible to the occupants of the vehicle. In a state where a huge chunk of the population owns firearms and many of those people hunt, transportation is a big issue, a felony if you screw it up badly enough.

I had just covered this portion and this parent having talked with her daughter assumed I might know more and she had questions, she was interested in getting her concealed carry permit you see. Her question, and my reason for writing this, was, “what about rubber bullets, is it really necessary to carry rounds intended to kill?” The answer, is both yes and no, you need to understand a little about how revolvers and semi-auto pistols work, the various types of ammunition and how they work, and lastly about the appropriate use of lethal force.

Revolver vs Semi-auto: A revolver holds rounds in a revolving cylinder (strange right?) and that cylinder revolves with each trigger pull. A semi-automatic, rather than use the action of each trigger pull to bring a new round to bear, ejects the spent casing and loads a round using the energy from the previously fired round. This means that the energy required to cycle a revolver is a fraction of what is needed to cycle a semi-automatic pistol. This is very important, don’t forget.

Types of ammunition:

Full Metal Jacket (FMJ): This means the core of the bullet, usually lead, is completely wrapped in copper or a similar metal. Copper is harder and so retains the bullets shape better when it hits something. Usually this results in less damage to the target but it also means that the bullet is more capable and thus more likely to pass through the target and possibly right through other things behind it as well. In the case of self defense or hunting, you want to hit only what you are shooting at and nothing else, you also want that hit to be as devastating as possible. This means that FMJ rounds are ill suited to law enforcement or self defense usage and pose a greater danger to the shooter because the target is less likely to be killed or incapacitated and more danger to what or whomever is down range.

Hollow Point (JHP): Hollow points usually have a partial jacket of copper or similar metal that exposes a cavity in the front of the bullet. The partial jacket is often “scored” to promote it pealing back like flower petals when it hits something. The idea here is the opposite of a FMJ round, the bullet is meant to expand as much as possible, which both causes more damage to the target and reduces the risk of ricochet and/or over penetration because of the massive and rapid transfer of energy. These features are why they are favored by law enforcement and civilians for almost all purposes, they are more effective and safer for everyone involved.

Rubber, Beanbag, Paint, Chalk, etc: Now we come to it. These kinds of rounds do exist for handguns but are not common. The reason is that these rounds usually have little or no propellant because of the projectiles relative lightness. That fact means that they almost universally do not have enough energy to cycle a semiautomatic firearm of any type, but since revolvers do not harness excess “ompf” to cycle, they can be used. You will note if you pay attention, that when these rounds are used they are used in conjunction with revolvers, pump, bolt, or lever actions, or with specially modified arms that are not suitable for use with lethal rounds.

Legal and Moral Considerations on the Use of Force: Less lethal is the real term, NOT non-lethal and since that is the case if you point a gun at someone, regardless of the ammunition, they better be a threat to your life or physical well being. If they are such a threat to your or those around you, lethal force is not only legal, but usually the only moral choice. If you choose to try and injure, rather than kill an assailant and fail to do so enough to stop their violent actions, you become a party to that violence.

Using a firearm is a great responsibility, as is carrying one, and who has more incentive to protect your own life than you do? If you choose to carry a firearm you must understand that the only time to fire it is when you have the justification to use lethal force. That isn’t to say that refraining from immediately shooting a man with a knife is the wrong course of action, but not having the ability to back up the brandishing of a lethal weapon with lethal force is irresponsible at best.

Now, some of the circumstances where less lethal ammunition is used. The first is obviously for fun and training, think paintball and simunition (chalk rounds used in military and police training). The second is when it is undesirable to introduce truly deadly weapons to a place, prisons in areas accessible to prisoners would be a good example. Third would be for crowd control or during riots, or other cases where it may be difficult to target only the people actually engaging in violent behavior. In at least the second and third cases that use of less lethal force is always backed up by the availability of lethal force.

Last thing I’ll mention: Animals. I’ve shot several animals with the handgun I carry daily, including two raccoons that were almost certainly rabid. Additionally, during a missing persons search a few years ago, the team I was leading came upon a game warden, also participating in the search, who had shot a black bear. Usually those animals are not terribly dangerous, but in this case the bear was injured, and not at all in a good mood for that fact. As someone who hikes regularly and spends a great deal of time in the woods I can assure you I always go at least minimally armed.

Concealed carry permit holders, by and large, do not think they will need a gun when they go someplace. In fact, the sort of people who actually think they will need a gun are probably crazy. I for one would avoid places where I thought I might need to use lethal force, in much the same way I avoid driving places I think I’ll need a spare tire, but I still keep one in my car because for all my other talents I cannot predict the future, whether that be in reference to the location of nails in the road or with regard to the location of every mugger, bank robber and just your everyday nutcase.

Preparedness is not the same thing as paranoia.

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