July 19, 2005

Ballistics Of A Ban

Via Jed I found that Gunscribe has done some useful digging into S 527. The gist is that it claims to be concerned with banning the FN-57 pistol & its ammunition because it will penetrate bullet resistant vests. What it will actually do is ban almost all handguns & a good chunk of ammunition currently available. Gunscribe does a very good job of detailing how this would be accomplished, so I'll refer you back to his post for the details.

I did a post a while back that touched on how bullet resistant vests work, or more specifically what they were & were not designed to work against (scroll down a bit to find the appropriate spot).

It's very important to understand how the vests work. Even the sellers of such vests will tell you that no vest is bulletproof. Vests are categorized by what cartridges they are designed to stop (actually by layers of the bullet resistant material but it works out easier to think of them in terms of stopping ability). For instance a Level I vest will usually stop a 158 grain lead round nose bullet that's traveling at 850 FPS (feet per second) from a .38 Special revolver. But if you jump that up to 964 FPS (as handloaders are able to do) or 1,000 FPs (as some ammo companies are willing to do, albeit labeling it .38 Special +P) Then the vest isn't nearly as effective even though the projectiles can all be fired from the same firearm.

That's where the language of the bill comes into play, as Gunscribe so aptly pointed out. It says (in relevant part):


" `(1) IN GENERAL- It shall be unlawful for any person to manufacture, import, market, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer, or receive--"..."`(C) any other handgun that uses armor piercing ammunition."

So if the AG decides to pick a Level I vest then that rules out the .38 Special as a legal handgun.

Now if any of you think that Gonzales wouldn't do that let me remind you of his thoughts on gun control & its use in protecting police:

"The president has made it clear that he stands ready to sign a reauthorization of the federal assault weapons ban if it is sent to him by Congress. I, of course, support the president on this issue."

"[Gonzales] spoke of his brother, who is a Houston SWAT officer, and said, 'I worry about his safety and the types of weapons he will confront on the street."

Doesn't that just make you feel warm & fuzzy all over?

Getting back to it, let's assume that they pick a Level II-A vest to use as the standard to determine whether a firearm or cartridge will be verboten.

A Level II-A will usually stop a 124 grain FMJ that leaves a 9x19mm's barrel at 10,90 FPS. Increase the velocity to 1,150 FPS & all bets are off. A 125 grainer at 1,250 would also circumnavigate the vests' protection (though again that is a +P loading).

So that knocks out not only the hotter loadings than used in the NIJ's tests to rate the vests, but anything hotter in any given cartridge. My .40 S&W will push a 135 grain bullet to 1325 with some factory ammo. With this very interesting powder made by Hodgdon called Longshot I can get over 1,500 FPS with that 135 grain bullet (& safely I might add).

And keep in mind it says "any other handgun that uses armor piercing ammunition". Even if you only use a handload that pushes that 135 grain bullet to 1,070 FPS your pistol would still be outlawed.

It gets worse.

(b) Purpose- The purpose of this Act is to protect the Nation's law enforcement officers by--
(1) testing handguns and ammunition for capability to penetrate body armor; and
(2) prohibiting the manufacture, importation, sale, or purchase by civilians of the Five-seveN Pistol, ammunition for such pistol, or any other handgun that uses ammunition found to be capable of penetrating body armor."

Lemme repeat one specific part:

"...or any other handgun that uses ammunition found to be capable of penetrating body armor."

A while back Ruger Vaquero's were being offered by Davidson's. what made these revolvers interesting were the cylinder conversions being sold with them. They were sold in .38-40 (or .38WCF to you old timers still lamenting trading in your buttery smooth Krags for those new fangled Springfields) but with a cylinder for .40 S&W. Now with the .38-40 I've seen 180 grain loads at over 1,100 fps but most factory ammo is right around 800 FPS (click on the Cowboy Ammunition button on the left & you'll see the .38-40 in the new frame.

So because this chambering of revolver has been & in theory can be made to take ammo (i.e. .40 S&W conversion) that will defeat a Level II-A vest then that revolver is not going to be approved for civilian use.

That's just a taste. If this bill passes & an AG chooses a Level II-A vest you're going to be left with .22LR; .25 ACP & maybe .380 ACP. Think your .38 Special is safe? Not if either of these two loads can go through the test vest. & it's not even a mater of the projectile penetrating the vest. The NIJ uses a blunt trauma standard (in addition to a penetration standard) to determine whether or not a certain type of vest falls into a category. So it's entirely possible that many cartridges that don't enable the projectile to penetrate the vest could be deemed to defeat them.

"Vests are tested not just for stopping penetration, but also for blunt trauma protection – the blow suffered by the body from the bullet's impact on the vest. Blunt trauma is measured by the dent suffered by a soft clay backstop to the vest – a maximum of 1.7" (44 mm) is allowed."

Also look here & note that they say the biggest difference between protection levels is blunt trauma impact protection. Think a 110 Grain .38 Special bullet traveling at 1,250 FPS will leave a 1.7" dent in some glorified modeling clay after hitting a Level II-A vest? I honestly don't know if it will or not, but it wouldn't surprise me if it did.

Another thing this bill does is amend a section of current law. In Title 18 section 921 to be specific. That’s the part of the U.S. Code that contains the definitions for firearms laws (funny; amongst all the definitions in there “constitutional” seems to be left out. I wonder why? ).

The affected part would be Title 18 921(a)(17)(B) (Scroll down till you hit the relevant part)

"(B) The term ''armor piercing ammunition'' means -
(i) a projectile or projectile core which may be used in a
handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence
of traces of other substances) from one or a combination of
tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or
depleted uranium; or
(ii) a full jacketed projectile larger than .22 caliber
designed and intended for use in a handgun and whose jacket has a
weight of more than 25 percent of the total weight of the

Here's how it would read if amended by S. 527 (additions in bold):

"(B) The term ''armor piercing ammunition'' means -
(i) a projectile or projectile core which may be used in a
handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence
of traces of other substances) from one or a combination of
tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or
depleted uranium; or
(ii) a full jacketed projectile larger than .22 caliber
designed and intended for use in a handgun and whose jacket has a
weight of more than 25 percent of the total weight of the
projectile. and
(iii) a projectile that--
`(I) may be used in a handgun; and
`(II) the Attorney General determines, pursuant to section 926(d), to be capable of penetrating body armor.

The two deletions are merely grammatical. The addition is worth considering.

A projectile that may be used in a handgun & the AG determines is capable of defeating a bullet resistant vest. That section 926(d) would be the section added to give the AG the power to determine the tests for armor piercing ammunition. The proposed section 926(d) seems mainly concerned with handguns, but not explicitly. Between 926(d) & 921(a)(17)(B)(iii) There’s nothing that limits the tests to ammunition fired from a handgun.

Ruger makes the New Model Blackhawk revolver in .30 Carbine. Its 7.5" barrel is 10.5" shorter than the M1 Carbine. Now if we assume an inch in barrel length equals about 50 FPS then we're going to see velocities about 525 FPS less velocity in the revolver than in the carbine. The M1 Carbine fires a 110 grain bullet at 1860 FPS for 865 Foot-Pounds of energy. The revolver should fire the same projectile at around 1335 FPS. That should give around 435 Foot-Pounds of energy. Now let’s assume for a moment that the revolver wouldn’t create enough velocity & energy to defeat the test vest. I see nothing in the language of the proposed law that would prevent the AG from using the M1 Carbine to establish whether or not the cartridge should be banned.

This brings to mind another point; some gun owners may not care because they have little interest in handguns. Keep in mind S. 527 would allow the ban of ammunition that may be chambered in a handgun, & not just a particular loading but all types of a specific cartridge if it's found to be able to defeat the bullet resistant vest that the AG chooses. Have an AK clone or an SKS? Well remember that they make an AK style pistol. Prefer the poodle shooter or a bolt action varmint rig in .223? Well there's an AR style pistol that uses the same ammo. Like your bolt action in 243 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington, 308 Winchester or 300 Winchester Short Magnum? Savage makes a pistol chambered for them. Have a lever action in .30-30 Winchester or a falling block in .45-70? The T/C Contender pistol is chambered for them. Do you prefer the .30-06 Springfield, .358 Winchester, .35 Remington or .444 Marlin? The Lone Eagle pistol is chambered for them. I have very little doubt that all of the cartridges listed above will defeat all but the very toughest bullet resistant vests, even when fired from a handgun. S. 527 wouldn't allow the AG to ban your rifle, but it would allow the AG to ban the handguns chambered for rifle rounds as well as all ammunition for them. That would mean no more .30-06, .45-70 or .30-30 Winchester. I just wonder if the people who drafted S.527 had this in mind or if it's just a coincidence.

So if this bill passes it would mean that the AG could determine not only particular loadings of a cartridge, but entire lines of cartridges as well as handguns that may be chambered for them are banned. The language of the bill is very clever. While I don’t think the bill has much of a chance of passing (though I’m not unconcerned about it) what is most troubling is the sophistication of the thing. The pro gun control lobby is getting help (do you really think Lautenberg crafted this unassisted?) & that help seems to know something about how firearms work. In Columbus, Ohio (which still can go to hell) they refined the typical “assault weapons” ban into something a bit more refined than what we usually see.

Previously we've seen bans that touched on cosmetics (aside from the NFA of '34). Now we're starting to see proposals that touch on performance. I think we'll see this strategy more in the coming years & with varying degrees of success. The public is more apt to listen to the gun grabbers if they think they know what they're talking about. The federal AWB was just foolish; debunking its flaws in fact & logic took a few minutes. Proposals like S. 527 are much harder because a certain amount of knowledge about arms & ballistics is required to make a meaningful refutation. "People should be able to buy bullets that can go through a cop's bullet proof vest" is much quicker to get out than the explanation that would question such a move. If it comes down to a sound-byte war the odds aren't in our favor.

Education is our best hope & perhaps the area we're furthest behind in. If we had a populace that was familiar with arms & their function (as well as the theory behind it) then 3/4's of our battle would be won already. But try to explain to a young lady in her 20's why we shouldn't ban handguns that can shoot through a cop's vest & you'll see what I'm talking about. This is another downside to the shooting sports being less acceptable than they should be & all the more reason for you to try to get someone interested in shooting.

As I said I don't think this particular bill has much of a chance of passing, but the strategy has me concerned.

Posted by Publicola at July 19, 2005 01:29 AM | TrackBack
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