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.