Hollow Point Ammunition Versus Full Metal Jacket - Which Is Better for Self-Defense?

Carrying a weapon, whether concealed or in your vehicle, comes with a lot of responsibility.  You not only have to think of your safety but the safety of those around you.  When I say the safety of those around you, I mean in the case of having to use your gun for self-defense.


It is for this reason that the discussion often comes up if it is better to use hollow point ammunition (an expanding bullet that has a pit or hollowed out tip) or full metal jacket (FMJ - a bullet consisting of a soft core, usually lead, encased in a shell of harder metal).  Both types have their supporters and both really do have their pros and cons.

There are those people that firmly believe in hollow point ammunition because it will not "over-penetrate", or so it is said.  By over penetrate I am referring to entering one human and hitting another that is on the other side or in the bullets path.  Many people believe that many police officers use this type of ammunition because of that fact.  Others believe that the police use hollow points because it does more damage upon entry through expansion of the round.  Either way the non-criminal public should be safer right?  Not necessarily and for several reasons -

  • It has been proven that police officers only hit their targets between 12% and 42% of the time.  If the hollow point misses the intended target and strikes an unintended target it would do more damage to the unintended target than a FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) round.
  • It has been proven that many HP rounds not only do not over penetrate but often do not penetrate the target far enough.  It has been tested and shown that some hollow points do not go through thick winter clothing or some heavier materials like jean materials
  • In smaller caliber hollow point tests the results were surprising.  Many of the rounds did not expand as would be expected.  The .22 hollow point showed no expansion in several tests and the 32 and 380 showed some but not full expansion.  It showed the smallest round that properly expanded to created the desired effect of not over penetrating was the Makarov 9mm (9 X 18). 

I often carry a .32 because of the convenience of it's concealability and this really got me to thinking.  I did some more research to see what the effects of the traditional FMJ round was and they proved to preform pretty well with the exception that they did in some cases "over penetrate".  I would have to question if this was necessarily a bad thing in the case of a bullet that missed the intended target and struck a bystander.  I would say this is a real issue if it over penetrated the intended target and struck and innocent. 

Some people worry too that the FMJ round may over-penetrate and go through a wall hurting a family member or even leaving one  house and going into a neighbor's house.  These are things that absolutely could have in extreme cases.  Even a small .22 caliber can travel over a mile if unimpeded.  But that same .22 does not have the velocity to strike a human, exit that human and then go through walls into another house. 

From the research I have done it is more common for a bullet to hit an unintended target by the shooter simply missing the target and very rarely is it a situation of a bullet over-penetrating a target and striking a second target.  I could only find one example of a documented over-penetration and that was by a law enforcement officer.  I am not saying there are not more of such cases I am merely saying that there is often more fear placed on over penetration that research warrants.

We can say all day that you should know your intended target but if you are in an up close self-defense situation you many not have a choice but to make a shot that would be less than perfect by your choosing. 

Am I telling you not to use or carry Hollow Point ammunition?  No, it is not my place to tell you which ammunition to use for your self-defense.  I would strongly recommend that you try several types of ammunition and see what the results of that ammunition is with your particular gun and caliber. 

I would definitely say I am going to do some additional testing on this topic.  I am going to test each of my carry guns with hollow points and without hollow points.  I will use water jugs to simulate the human body.  It is recommended to use at least 4 water jugs backed against each other.  I will use a frame and hang some denim over the frame to simulate the average clothing also.  I will definitely be posting the results of my personal test and hopefully we will all learn from this testing.

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