Feature Article

Handgun Bullets: How Do They Penetrate in Home Materials?

Handgun Bullets: How Do They Penetrate in Home Materials?
All 45 ACP loads made a small hole that became progressively larger with penetration. What we were looking for was limited penetration in.

An important consideration in home defense is the prospect of the penetration of a wall by an errant projectile. The primary objective in a defensive situation is to destroy tissue that is vital to the adversary’s mobility. Only when an object or projectile strikes vital neural pathways (brain, spine, some nerve groups) or major blood pipelines (heart, lungs, some arteries and veins) that cause rapid blood loss will the pressurized system of the human body shut down. The primary responsibility of the home defender is to strike the target. Letting go with a round when you do not have a reasonable expectation of hitting the target isn’t a responsible action. Still, being human, we may miss the target, so it’s wise to know what a projectile (bullet, slug, or shot) may do when it connects with common building materials. Also, besides being responsible for every round we shoot, one of the raters in this test pointed out that the defensive shooter may also like to know what he can expect of materials that might hide or protect him if he or a loved on is under fire from an intruder.

To find out how handgun projectiles reacted to impacts on various materials, we first fabricated wall segments with commonly found wallboard and pine boards, then fired a few hundred rounds of ammunition to destroy the structures. At the end, we came up with common-sense recommendations that can solve the problem of overpenetrating handgun bullets that might be used in home defense. Remember, these tests cannot be compared to the FBI test program. The FBI was looking for penetration. That agency needed loads that would reasonably be expected to penetrate light cover and still strike a heavy blow. We were looking for handgun loads that don’t meet the well-known FBI penetration criteria.

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