Thursday, March 5, 2015

Ballistic Snake Oil

A Snake Oil Salesman is someone who pedals a product with wondrous promises or performance they know to be false.  Made popular as a term (and profession) in the 19th century by traveling men with magic bottles of liquid that would cure all, the modern snake oil salesman is still performing the same disservice, only their offered list of products has expanded.  Truth is, there has always been con men willing to shuck wares that would solve any problem; sometimes they are just cheap imitations of quality products, other times they are completely fake products that could never hope to live up to the promises made in their advertising.

So whats snake oil these days?  Well, many things in the firearms industry but lets look at the lie that just wont die.  The RIP round.

The RIP round makes some bold claims about its effectiveness, its billed as "The Last Round You Will Ever Need" (they even trademarked that) and its in actuality the "Rapidly Invasive Projectile" is, in a word, crap.  I honesty thought that the round had received enough factually bad press for it to die, but then G2 Research doubled down on their nonsense and got in with a "firearms expert" over at Breitbart and wowed them the same way they did the rest of the shooting community that doesn't bother to learn about ballistics, they shot some fruit...oh, and some onions too.

Thats right, in a world where ballistic gel exists and is considered an acceptable medium for measuring the terminal performance of a bullet, G2 is hitting up Wholefoods for scientific medium.  Despite the fact that the RIP round violates pretty much all of the principles of what you need in a self-defense handgun round, its still out there and people are still buying it.  In case you are wondering, there are several factors to incapacitation and handguns generally do not perform well in any of them when compared to rifles.  What are these factors?

Penetration:  The depth to which a round penetrates the body

Permanent Cavity:  The diameter of the wound, once occupied by tissue that has been destroyed by the bullets path through the body.

Temporary Cavity:  The expansion of the permanent cavity due to the transfer of kinetic energy during the penetration of the round into the body (this is far more common in high velocity rifle rounds than it is in handgun rounds)

Fragmentation:  The breaking up of the bullet and secondary fragments (such as bone) impelled outward from the passage of the bullet.  Fragmentation is more common in rifle rounds than it is in lower velocity handgun rounds.

Round Placement: The intentional or incidental placement of rounds into the body in areas containing life essential organs in order to cause Central Nervous System failure.

Now the G2 rounds selling point is its fragmentation, whereas every other self-defense focused handgun round relies on penetration then expansion and there is a damn good reason for that; because it works.  Fragmentation is a feature best included in high velocity rounds.  A fragmenting rifle round does its business with both permanent and temporary cavity creation (and penetration).  Because of the significantly higher velocity afforded by rifle rounds, fragmentation is a desirable feature.  In a handgun round, its, well, a gimmick mostly.  Fragmenting handgun rounds arent a new thing. Patents for fragmenting designs go back to the early 1900s, yet they have not gained widespread popularity for a very good reason; they don't work; well, not to the degree the designers wish they did, anyway.

Helpful if you ever get attacked by
a pumpkin.
Why wont the G2 round work?  Simply put, because it isnt moving fast enough for its fragmenting features to be effective.  Handgun rounds incapacitate through penetration and permanent wound cavity.  For the best penetration and the largest wound cavity, a round that expands and retains its weight is desired.  Thats why the hollow point design has been improved, but never abandoned.  It works.  A round that fragments at low speeds will lose both its penetrating and permanent cavity causing ability.  The G2 "trocars" that split off like little talons look cool, but each of them becomes a very ineffective little bullet that has very little mass and because of that, does very little damage when compared to a traditional hollow point.  Instead of one potentially deep and wide wound cavity, you get an anemic wound cavity (ironically from the base of the bullet) and a collection of shallow trocar paths, which to me are more like ice pic stab wounds performed by a 1 year old child who just isnt into his work.  Its snake oil.

For as long as firearms have existed, we have been making them better and for all those making them factually better, there are those who just want to profit off the desire for an improvement without offering an actual one.  The best recent example would have to be the Le Mas round that was all the rage in 2003-2007.  Its "Blended Metal Technology" was supposed to change the very nature of ammunition.  Le Mas touted it as the future:
“This technology is best described as ‘blended metal programming’. It is not just another ‘shiny new bullet’ but a projectile payload, pre-programmed to sense varying rates of deceleration…Upon arrival in soft target medium the payload de-programs and, only then, expends 100% of its retained energy in the form of micro-fragments.”
Turns out, the Le Mas was a blended metals.
Well, anyone with an understanding of terminal ballistics can read that quote and laugh, but many, many people bought it, at least at first.  Le Mas made some huge claims and the shooting community at the time called their BS.  It took a few years but eventually those with actual experience with the round, or those with extensive backgrounds in ballistics overcame the "magic round" fever and Le Mas was out of business.  Of course, this was before the power of social media made expertise something that was easily discounted by the power of the hashtag and fruit shooting video.  Sometimes its like being stuck in a room with one man calmly giving the facts of the situation while 100 potatoes bang on pots with spoons.

 At the end of the day, science and facts seem to matter less to the low-information shooter who just wants to have the latest in tech whether it works or not.  The fact that a ballistics expert can give his professional opinion and have it discounted by a random screen name on Instagram tells me that people can sometimes see themselves as just as qualified to speak on a subject just because they can talk to the same audience, qualifications be damned.

As for G2; I hope they honestly believe their RIP round is superior, because the alternative is that they know it is snake oil and they know that people are buying it to defend their lives with an inferior ammunition and they are okay with it and im not okay with that.

Now G2 is moving on to rifle rounds, time will tell if they are actually effective or just more smoke and mirrors, but the desire for a better bullet will always see upstart companies push "revolutionary" products to market and cause those who dont listen to the experts, or dont bother to even see what they are saying, to spend their money on magic that doesnt yet exist. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

My letter to the ATF regarding the proposed M855/SS109 ban.

Here, in entirety is my letter to the ATF regarding the proposed amendment to the 1968 GCA.  I had enough people ask what I put in mine that I decided to publish it here.

This letter serves to notify all concerned of my deep opposition to the proposed ban on M855 and SS109 ammunition detailed in the BATFE White Paper titled:


As a proposed amendment to the 1968 GCA, this ban if implemented will remove M855 and SS109 from the citizen market, the reasoning for this detailed by the ATF is “To protect the lives and safety of law enforcement officers from the threat posed by ammunition capable of penetrating a protective vest when fired from a handgun, the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), as amended, prohibits the import, manufacture, and distribution of “armor piercing ammunition” as defined by the statute. The GCA, however, allows for the exemption of ammunition that would otherwise be considered armor piercing if the Attorney General determines that the specific ammunition at issue is “primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes.”

Having served in law enforcement for nearly 10 years in addition to serving as a firearms instructor and training developer, I find that this proposed amendment to the 1968 GCA both an egregious mistake and a foolish attempt to further tighten already nonsensical firearms laws.  As the ATF believes that removal of the M855 and SS109 will help prevent law enforcement deaths as both rounds can penetrate common law enforcement soft body armor, I can only point out that many other government agencies including the FBI and the National Institute for Justice (specifically the  NIJ Ballistic Resistance Standard, 0101.06) state that any 5.56mm or .223 round, even the most common 55 grain FMJ can penetrate the level II and level IIIA armor so banning what is considered by the ATF to be an “armor piercing” round, the M855/SS109, is misinformed, disingenuous or improperly researched.  As the ATF has extensive existing research and capability for additional research, this move is both curiously timed and disturbingly ill conceived.

Furthermore, when referring to the FBIs Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted annual report,   of the 535 Officers feloniously killed 2003-2012 (the most current statistics) only 92 were killed with rifles and of those killed with rifles, only 5 were killed by a rifle chambered in .223/5.56mm.  It’s also telling that of the 535 officers killed, 21 died as a direct result of a body armor penetration (identified as the round fired exceeding the vests protection rating) and only one of total body armor failure.  Looking strictly at statistics, a ban on M855/SS109 does not equal a common sense approach to officer protection or a wise use of tax payer money.

 If anything, the ATF’s proposal looks more and more like an attempt to remove a threat that doesn’t factually exist from a round that is used overwhelmingly more in sport, hunting and training than in felony attacks on peace officers.  While the round is more dangerous for those facing an assailant armed with a rifle chambered to fire it, specifically the identified and imagined threat from an AR pistol, there simply are no facts to back up a ban on the M855/SS109 for the reasons stated and banning a certain type of bullet based on what may happen is not common sense nor a move meeting even the weakest burden of proof for justification.

To identify the M855/SS109 as “armor piercing” is to label it incorrectly and shows little understanding of modern ballistics in rifle calibers.   These rounds are no more dangerous (in fact, remarkably less so) than the dangers presented by law enforcement vehicle pursuits.   The loss of any life is a tragedy, and being in law enforcement I know the anger and loss felt when an officer is killed in the line of duty, however this proposed ban will not bring back the 5 officers killed by .223/5.56mm rounds and will do exactly nothing to prevent a future crime.  This ban will directly affect the citizen shooting population and ammunition companies (and their employees) by removing one of the most economical and versatile rounds on the market.  The ATF would better serve the shooting public and the Second Amendment by conducting a full review of their regulations and removing those that no longer (or never did) apply to the modern world.

It is also worth noting that the “sporting purpose” clause as cited by the ATF is a government manifested category that is loosely interpreted and boldly draconian as it does not address the very real nature of ammunition being used for self-defense purposes as well, which would not fall into a “sporting” or “hunting” category.  Given the sheer amount of ammunition on the market that is identified by the manufactures as being “self-defense” focused in its design, the ATF is focusing on an imagined threat while circumventing, in my opinion, the constitutionally protected rights of the citizenry.

As a law enforcement officer this proposed amendment will not make me any safer; its lip service only.

I honestly hope that more educated positions will prevail and this proposal will be abandoned in favor of an informed approach to correcting not only this situation, but previously modified, amended or arbitrarily changed regulations so that the American public can enjoy all the freedoms intended to them.  It should not be the ATF’s mission to constantly introduce new and more restrictive laws/regulations; rather it should be their duty to see the rights of the people protected by monitoring wise and fact based changes that reflect both the spirit of the Second Amendment and its specific wording.


Aaron Cowan

Ammunition Scare? The low-information shooter, letting someone else do the work.

So the ATF is considering an amendment and/or reinterpretation of the 1968 GCA to cover SS109 and M855 as an "armor piercing" round and of course once this news made its way around the internet, Cheaper Than Dirt wasted no time in pricing gouging the ever loving hell out of panic buyers.  Currently on Cheaper than dirt, a 900 round can of 62 Grain green tip is a "bargain" at $840.00, or it would be if it was not already sold out.  Anyone willing to pay that price, well, good for them.  Me, im not willing to give Cheaper Than Dirt any money, especially after their price gouging during the 2013/14 panic buying following Sandy Hook where a USGI mag could be had for the low price of $99.  A quick look at Ammo Seek shows that there are a few people price gouging, but none to the full douchebag level of CTD.

CTD is making a killing off the ammo scare market, supply and demand writ large.  If CTD was a person, he would look like this:

But can we blame them?  Every educated shooter knows that there are many shooters that are of the low-information crowd and are susceptible to easy panic over any little thing.  If the ATF went after the Magpul BAD lever, there would be a run on them (and CTD would sell you one for $200).  If the ATF suddenly decided the sling on a rifle was something that needed to be banned, a CTD sale would run you $400 and grandmothers nationwide would not be able to knit for a lack of yarn (we would also see the birth of a "MOLON LABE" sling market).

The sad truth as it is apparent to me is that the panic buy will always be a thing for the same reason that UTG and Sightmark are in business making cheap accessories that some are willing to put their life behind.  There is a distinct difference between cheap and inexpensive and this difference is lost on the low information crowd.  If the SS109 and M855 is indeed going to be banned from citizen purchase, what does spending $840.00 for 900 rounds of it really do for you?  Sure, it provides you with a much higher resale option down the road, much like "high cap" magazine prices during the AWB but then SS109 and M855 becomes a non-renewable commodity with an ever-increasing price as supply is reduced or removed from the market by ammunition hoarders.  Do you need to sit on a few thousand rounds of ammo?  Absolutely; but why didn't you have it already?  If the SS109 or M855 was the best damn round to have for use on two-legged predators (it isn't), shouldn't you have already built an ammunition throne in front of your DTOM flag?

The low-information shooter would be better served taking an interest in helping to prevent the ban instead of helping the owners of CTD build mattresses out of money to watch Breaking Bad on.  The ATF is still taking comments on the proposed change, its as easy as writing a quick email but I honestly have to wonder how many of those panic buying up the SS109 and M855 are also taking the time to drop a well though out email to the ATF to oppose their latest attempt at a Clinton Era flashback?

If we only depend on organizations like the NRA, GOA or USCCA (among others) to speak for us, we run the risk of getting some of, or none of what we want.  Is it any different than giving a dollar a day to a non-profit promising you letter and pictures from a child in Africa you sponsor? Sure, it will make you feel better the next time you see a commercial with the saddest kid they could find in the village but the amount of direct involvement you have is akin to yelling at the chick in the horror movie to not go upstairs; yell all you want, she wont hear you.  Theres action, and the appearance of action and for some they are one in the same.

Buying up all the green tip you can find may give you an economic edge if such a ban does occur, though what are you actually doing to try and prevent it?  I know, "The ATF wont listen to me."  Perhaps you are right, but the "theres nothing I can do" attitude is not how we are supposed to do shit here in America.  If you are not fired up over the increasingly usurpatious actions of our current administration (and those already passed), then you really aren't on board as a responsible gun owner.  We are not built from men who took the easy road, nor men who huddled in angst under the hopes that someone else would fight their fight for them.  Hope is not an actionable plan, its the same as wishing to win the lottery without so much as buying a ticket.

Did you know:  Abraham Lincoln was an accomplished amateur
rapper who used to dominate Open Pulpit Night at Gadsby's Tavern? 
So send an email; take the time to write out a well composed argument to the ATFs latest bullshit and hit send.  If all we do is share memes and macros with quotes from our forefathers, presidents and Ted Nugent in response to the governments encroachment on our rights, we are yelling our complaints into a well that always says back what we want to hear.

ATF will carefully consider all comments, as appropriate, received on or before March 16, 2015, and will give comments received after that date the same consideration if it is practical to do so, but assurance of consideration cannot be given except as to comments received on or before March 16, 2015. ATF will not acknowledge receipt of comments. Submit comments in any of three ways (but do not submit the same comments multiple times or by more than one method):

ATF email:

UPDATE:  PER Cheaper Than Dirt, the Ammunition pricing on 900 rounds of 62 Grain Green Tip previously linked in this blog has been removed and according to CTD was a pricing error, not an attempt to price gouge the shooting public.