Monday, November 09, 2009


Using the Wrong Pistol

Before I get to Major Hasan "going Muslim" I have to take a minute for a cartridge lecture. We pretty much reached the point where firearm ammunition got as good as it gets last century and, in some instances, just before last century. There has always been a distinction between pistol ammunition (generally good out to 50 yards) and rifle ammunition (good out to 1,000 yards or more with a skilled shooter). In 1943, the Germans made a third category of cartridges relevant which was in the mid range between pistol and a full sized hunting, or military, rifle cartridges, which I will call assault ammunition (good out to 400 yards, which is about the range where soldiers other than snipers actually start shooting at the enemy).

There has always been another distinction between big heavy bullets going relatively slowly and little bitty bullets going very fast. In pistol ammunition, the fast ones, the .38 Super, for example, send a 130 grain bullet out the barrel at 1,215 feet per second, and the Tokarev 7.62 x 25mm sends an 85 grain bullet out at 1,700 feet per second--that's fast. The .40 S&W, on the other hand, sends a 180 grain bullet out the barrel at 1,150 feet per second (and a 200 grain at 985 fps). The venerable .45 ACP sends a 185 grain bullet out at 1,085 fps (and a 230 grain at 830 fps). Both of those are slower than the .38 Super or Tokarev, but where the small, fast round sometimes passes completely through the body of the enemy with a very narrow wound channel (think ice pick), the slower rounds put much more of the bullet's foot pounds of energy into the enemy's body with a wide wound channel (think sledge hammer); and often the slower round knocks the enemy down while the faster round leaves him standing. The most successful full size military rifle rounds do what big, slower pistol rounds do; they all go about 2,400 feet per second, and, with weights of bullets between 180 and 220 grains, they can both knock down, and blow off small pieces of, the enemy's body. There are also rifle rounds for varmints, like prairie dogs, which have a little bullet between 40 and 60 grains going out the barrel over 3,200 feet per second. A few of these varmint rounds come out the barrel just over 4,000 feet per second. That's really fast and we won't beat that for quite a while, not that we really want to. When these super fast, small rounds hit the prairie dog, for example, the target more or less explodes in a pink mist; but they are not as damaging to a human sized target. Just like the fast little pistol rounds, the wound channel from the fast little rifle bullets is small and the enemy is not always knocked down when hit.

There was just this sort of small/fast versus slow/large divide in the assault cartridges. The Germans kept the full sized 8mm rifle bullet (actually 7.92mm) but used a short cartridge which of course held less propellant so that the bullet went slower and less far. Thus the STG 43 (et al.) weapon (the first effective, mass produced assault rifle) used a 7.92 x 33mm round (aka 8mm kurz). The Soviets kept the same idea when they sorta copied the STG 43 and called it the AK 47. The assault round they developed was the 7.62 x 39mm (as opposed to their full sized, 7.62 x 54mmR rifle round). We Americans went varmint instead. Mr. Stoner used, for the AR -15 and then the M-16 and its progeny, a slightly changed .223 Remington round (a 40 to 60 grain .22 bullet that comes out the barrel at about 3,200 feet per second). The NATO version is designated 5.65 x 45mm. I have long thought that it was a mistake to go varmint. I think we should try to kill the enemy rather than merely wound him--knock them down so that they can't still shoot at you just after being hit--but no one listens to me.

OK, the cartridge shrinking process has repeated regarding some products of the Fabrique Nationale, which is a very good Belgium firearms manufacturer. They have taken the NATO .223 round and shrunk its casing and removed propellant to make an even more underpowered assault round, the 5.7 x 28mm. They put this in the FN P90 (the weapon they used in the latter years of the original Stargate series) and recently in a pistol, named the FN Five seveN, (styling name with the capitol FN repeated) which is the gun Maj. Hasan actually fired last week. Sorry it took so long to get to the subject.

Although the extremist terrorist got off perhaps as many as 100 rounds out of his post-modern pistol, and he hit a lot of people (43), he only killed 13. Had he hit that many with .40 S&W rounds, for example, I firmly believe, the death count would be higher and perhaps he would have come out of the firefight with police officers--Sgt. Mark Todd and Sgt. Kimberly Munley--the winner, as he hit her, perhaps all three times, with his relatively puny weapon before she, and perhaps Sgt. Todd, hit him with their 9mm Berettas, another underpowered weapon in my book. Hasan was hit with four 9mm rounds and he's still alive. Need I say more?

The media is all over the gun Hasan used, calling it a cop-killer. It is not (although if you used steel core bullets (only available to a few, not including civilians nor even Major Hasan) rather than lead core bullets, it might penetrate most body armor). The pistol Hasan shot is a wrong turn on a lane which was already a wrong turn, and perhaps more American soldiers are alive today because of Hasan's snazzy, but stupid, choice.

(h/t Bob Owens)


An old Air Force buddy (who knew WAY more about firearms than I) always said shopping for a weapon was for the ignorant. You shop for the round, then shop for the weapon that best delivers it.

Makes a lot of sense now.
That cartridge comes, as you've said, in both a "civilian" format and a "military" format. A TV news reader in Columbus, OH, said it's referred to as a "cop killer" in Mexico - where guns and ammo are frequently stolen from military supplies and sold to drug dealers. The military version is a very nasty piece of work and not available at your local gun store. OldeForce
Agreed, Eric, you have to know what your cartridge can and should do before you buy the gun.

The steel core is a good vest penetrator (as are most of the assault cartridges even with lead core bullets) It is cake to get AP .223 and 7.62 x 39. Why get an underpowered assault round that only goes through a vest with hard to get steel core bullets?
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