To begin with, I want to break the concealed carry world into three categories. Because we have very little relevant and legitimate statistics on Americans who conceal carry, I’m going to go off of my personal experience and interactions, which I hope should mirror the experiences of many other gun owners.
The Concerned CCW Holder- This genre of law abiding adults who conceal carry form perhaps 10 percent of the entire CCW population. These are people who take self-defense classes, compete in competition, are possibly from a Law Enforcement or Military background, practice situational awareness on a daily basis, are always looking for the exit sign in a restaurant, etc… But you get the point. They are the epitome of what a responsible, informed, and competent CCW holder should be. An example of this type is Jason Falconer, the former Cop, full time marksmanship instructor, and competitive shooter. He fatally shot the knife wielding crazy in Minnesota who had stabbed 9 people. Falconer probably wasn’t even thinking when he engaged the bad guy, he was probably on complete auto-pilot from having trained, practiced, and prepared for this exact situation thousands of times in training and in competition. As much as we aspire to join this genre, the reality is that very few CCW holders actually cross into it.
John or Jane Smith CCW Holder- J. Smith comprises around 80 percent of CCW holders nationwide. Smith is your average white collar, or blue collar worker who could have no income, be a retiree, or a full/part time worker. He/She is a concerned enough citizen to realize that self-defense is a human right, procured a CCW permit and a capable handgun. They might hit the range once a month, once a year, or years in between range sessions. Firearms and firearms training might or might not be a high priority on their to-do list, among family, job, or other hobby pursuits. However, they carry every day because they don’t want to be defenseless. Realize there is absolutely nothing wrong with J. Smith. Just because they don’t take the latest Travis Haley course, or place 2nd in their local IDPA league, doesn’t mean they have forfeited their right to carry a handgun. They are knowledgeable, are competent enough to handle a handgun safely, and have their wits about them enough to know when deadly force is applicable under a self-defense situation. A perfect example of J. Smith is David (Name witheld), a CCW holder, fighting off two robbers in a barber shop.
Borderline Ignorant CCW Holder- Luckily this only comprises 10 percent, or hopefully closer to 5 percent. We can’t pretend that the borderline ignorant CCW holders aren’t out there, because they are. They aren’t criminals, they aren’t bad people looking for an excuse to use a firearm in any situation. But they are probably somewhat unsafe, slightly irresponsible, and maybe even downright ignorant when it comes to the laws and regulations surrounding them. This is the person I was recently in a class with, when he took his holstered and loaded handgun off his belt, and blatantly laid it on the table, pointing up at the class instructor. The kid wasn’t a complete idiot, he’s obviously alive somehow, but he is an unsafe enough person to leave his handgun on a table, pointing at another human being (I corrected him later on in the class). A perfect example of this type is this drunk CCW Holder, who while fumbling with his handgun, discharged it, almost killing the woman in front of him at a theater, then fleeing the scene. I think any responsible gun owner would agree we could really do without this crowd altogether.
Hopefully these three classes of CCW holders jive with what you have experienced, as it certainly does with me. Realize that all three exist on a blurry continuum, wherein people might start off as J. Smith, then becoming more passionate about self-defense and moving into being Concerned. Or the opposite as people become less interested in shooting.
The reason I disagree with putting so much emphasis on any particular “wonder bullet” is directly related to J. Smith, the overwhelming majority of CCW Holders. The Concerned folks all understand what I am going to write thoroughly enough to write it themselves. The Borderline Ignorant CCW folks are probably not reading TFB to begin with (although I sincerely do want them to upgrade to J. Smith)
The Practical Application
First, a question. How many times have you ran into a friend, a buddy, or even yourself, and asked what they were carrying, and it turned out to be a magazine of Magic-Darts-for-Fire-Breathing-Dragons-at-Your-Doorstep, plus one in the chamber? Or when have you been at a range with a buddy and picked up a magazine of theirs, about to shoot it in their new Glock, and they exclaimed, “Oh don’t shoot that! That’s my self defense load/magazine/carry/etc.. shoot this Ball ammunition instead”.
How do you know the very rounds you are expecting to save your life, actually chamber/fire/extract/eject if you never even shoot them?
If every time you go to the range, you set that magazine aside and shoot cheaper FMJ ammunition. If you are J Smith, how many times are you going to a range? Once a month? Once a year? If you’ve only ever gone several times, and each time you set aside your magazine fed cure for Dementors, then what in the world are you actually training for? Sure, your handgun fires and cycles reliably with FMJ ammo all day, but what about what you are actually carrying every single day? How do you know the rounds you intend to use in a violent self-defense situation are even going to make it up the feed ramp? Unless you are training with the same rounds you carry, then honestly and truthfully how can you say they will work reliably?
The common reply is that “Self-Defense” ammunition is expensive. Alot of JHP ammunition is indeed very expensive, coming in packs of 25 rounds, and usually costing just as much, if not more. And I’m sorry, but this just isn’t feasible for J. Smith, who doesn’t see spending half his/her income on the same rounds he/she carries (in this case JHPs), just so he/she can get an adequate amount of range time in. Life happens, and needs to be attended to. Children, a job, the house, familial ties, all come before a trip to the range, in completely practical terms.
Those of us wanting to criticize and push J. Smith into the dust for not training more, or taking self-defense more seriously are missing the point entirely. Sure, J. Smith could be doing more, he/she could be on their way to becoming a Concerned CCW Holder, but that’s not taking into account other people have priorities and motivations that might differ from the rest of us. I’m not implying that J. Smith doesn’t take self-defense seriously. Of course he/she takes it seriously, or else he/she would be in the Borderline Ignorant category.
The other aspect of this practical side is that a carry handgun should be routinely cleared for a number of reasons. Cleaning, range time, trying out different holsters, etc… It happens, you have to unload and clear your carry handgun, the thing can’t be perpetually in Blast Off mode (Condition One in the Marine Corps), round in the chamber, magazine inserted, safety on.
It is common knowledge within firearms canon that chambering and re-chambering a cartridge can potentially lead to either the bullet seating further into the case, or even light primer strikes (AR15s). Maybe not on the second time, or the third, or the fourth, but it can eventually lead to a failure to fire, or even a catastrophic malfunction.This article goes into the problem with some detail, outlining specific examples as well.
If all J. Smith can afford or want to afford is those Evil Demon stoppers, and all J. Smith has is 25 rounds, what percentage of the J. Smith population is going to realize once a year to probably change out the ammunition in the magazine, or at least the order of the rounds? I’m willing to bet that a number of J. Smith CCW holders out there have had the same rounds loaded in their carry gun for a year, or even several years. How many of those rounds have been chambered multiple times? How much deeper are those bullets now seated in the case? Will they even fire? Most won’t know because that carry magazine gets set aside every time a range trip is done.
I’m not a Ballistician, mostly leaving matters of ballistics up to Nathaniel F. But what I do know is that our knowledge of terminal ballistics is incredibly limited and understudied compared to the field of genetics for example. There is much out there on Gelatin tests, penetration, and all sorts of other measurements. But when it comes to the actual study of incapacitating human beings intent on doing harm, how can there be an objective study at all? The only evidence we have is scant, and has so many variables it is mind boggling. When it comes to handgun ammunition, we have differing accounts of people getting shot with smaller rounds and going down instantly, then with larger rounds and instead escalating their attack. I mean seriously, so much comes into play that any real measure of success seems to be countered with a later example of failure.
So within this myriad of half supported conclusions based on evidence that can never be objectively presented in a truly scientific manner, I’m being told that JHP ammunition performs better than FMJ ammunition? In what perfect scenario does this pan out? The intricacy of the human body is such that all sorts of factors come into play when dealing with terminal ballistics. Energy levels, psychology, Fight or Flight, levels of narcotics, body composition, fat, muscle, etc… etc… And just when we think we have it all solved, we have this Civil War soldier who took a direct shot to the T-Box, living another 3 decades! Or the insane story of Hugh Glass, however exaggerated.
So “Self-Defense” ammunition might be better, but by what margin, and with what collected, researched, and vetted evidence? I don’t think we yet nearly have enough solid evidence and research to formulate a proper conclusion on the matter. We know that if someone is shot with a .500 S&W it sucks alot, and if someone is shot with a .22 LR, the results if not fatal are possibly minimal. But everything in between is completely up for debate. Compared to something like, the study of Algebra, there is so much more we don’t know about terminal ballistics than we actually do know.
Jumping right off the Terminal Ballistics bandwagon, is the industry we are surrounded by, and enticed by, propagating the “Self-Defense” ammunition solution. Much of the current firearms industry is a products based one. It is based on the trade and commerce of firearms, ammunition, parts, accessories, etc… If anything, concealed carry has taught us that the industry balance favors Product over the Training aspect of CCW. The latest rave is all about the newest holster, belt, ammo, clothing, Kydex, etc… I mean, ironically sub-compact and compact handguns have existed for over a century, they’ve always been there. There is nothing new about the Glock 43 or M&P Shield when it comes to being the newest design or shape in this “sub-compact” category (the word is somehow a recent invention). Sure it might offer some reliability or ergonomics over century old designs, rusts less and shoots more. But a Walter PPK in the hands of a competent CCW holder will most likely run circles around a Springfield XDS in a similar competition or other metric.
You open up any gun magazine, browse any website, go into any gun store, and the “Self-Defense” ammunition is waiting for you, in your face so to speak. You can’t avoid it. When buying a new carry gun, you purchase a couple hundred rounds of FMJ, and then that box of 25 “Self-Defense” ammunition. And for what I ask?