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Why Use Hollow Point Ammo in Self Defense Carry Guns

hollow point ammo

I've had quite a few people ask why I use hollow point ammo instead of ball or target ammo in my everyday carry (EDC) gun. For one, hollow points work better to stop bad guys.

But I think I'll take the time to explain each one in better detail to make sure we don't leave anything out.

The Misconception – Hollow Point Ammo is —

It is a common misconception that hollow point ammunition is dangerous and less humane for an attacker.

That makes sense if you don't think about it. Let me explain.

Hollow point ammunition is more dangerous —

Hollow point ammunition expands upon contact with an object, like the human body.

Hollow point

Here is a top-down view of Hornady .38 special on the left, SIG 9mm on the right.

When the bullet expands, its diameter and surface area increase. As a result, the expanded hollow point projectile quickly slows, dissipating its kinetic energy inside the attacker's body. The result is a projectile that does not pass through the attacker's body.

When full metal jacket (FMJ) projectiles, also called ball ammunition, impact human tissue, they don't expand as much, if at all.

Before law enforcement transitioned to HP ammunition, it wasn't uncommon for officers' bullets to pass through a suspect's body and strike an innocent person.

The public isn't safer when anyone uses FMJ ammunition in an environment where innocent people are all around.

Pictured here are a hollow point (HP) and projectiles on the left and a full metal jacket (FMJ) round and projectiles on the right.

Hollow point ammunition is inhumane for the attacker —

What about the attacker? Don't hollow point (HP) bullets damage more than FMJ bullets?

An expanded hollow point projectile creates a larger hole and wound channel than a jacketed bullet of the same caliber fired from the same gun. So, a hollow point projectile can cause more tissue damage as it travels into the attacker's body.

edc belt co foundation gun belt

However, this doesn't always mean a hollow point will cause more damage.

Remember, an HP projectile doesn't travel through the body but is designed to penetrate the desired depth and then stop. The full metal jacket bullet moving through the entire body could strike a vital organ on the way out, whereas a hollowpoint may have not. Additionally, FMJ bullets can create entry and exit wounds that complicate treatment.

No matter how you slice it, bullets aren't good for the body. The more bullets that enter the body, the worse it gets, regardless of the type.

Please keep in mind that it's never our goal to kill someone; our goal is to stop the attack and keep from being killed.

handgun ammo penetration test

This photo from the website Thomas Binger is a fantastic visual aid in understanding penetration differences between FMJ and HP projectiles.

The ‘hollow point ammunition explodes' myth —

Yes, people sometimes say that hollow point ammunition “explodes” inside the body. The prosecutor in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, Thomas Binger used this myth to make it seem as though Rittenhouse sadistically used hollow point ammunition that explodes.

The problem is that statement is entirely untrue.

Some projectiles are “frangible” and designed to fragment or break apart on contact. People wrongly think the projectiles are “exploding,” but they aren't. People use frangible ammunition in specific applications where minimizing potential ricochets and large chunks of lead and copper jackets are of high importance.

Of course, it should go without saying that any misses from any ammo can go through walls. Hollow points expand upon the impact of something like a human body. The problem with an HP projectile is that the recessed area is essential for proper expansion.

When the hollow point passes through something that clogs the recessed area, it may not expand as it should. Materials like thick denim or drywall can plug the hollow point. If the projectile doesn't expand, it penetrates deeper than it should. For this reason, some manufacturers insert a polymer “plug” into the hollow point that limits this possibility.

Understanding that hollow points may over-penetrate if clogged by drywall leads some to choose frangible ammo in home defense guns.

Does hollow point ammunition penetrate body armor —

New Jersey prohibits non-law enforcement possession of hollow point ammunition. The justification for this is an erroneous idea that hollow points are ‘cop-killers' because they will penetrate body armor. It is wholly false. Actually, hollow point ammunition is less likely to penetrate soft body armor.

Laying down is a 115 grain 9mm reload. Standing up is a .357 Sig S&B round.

Body armor spreads the bullet's force over a larger surface area to keep it from penetrating the vest. The HP projectile also expands to increase its surface area. So if you take a moment to think about the physics, it's clear hollow points would have a harder time penetrating a bulletproof vest.

In addition to extreme velocity, armor-piercing projectiles have a hardened tip that can maintain form to penetrate the vest's design.

New Jersey's hollow point ammunition ban is a perfect example of ignorant legislation. Criminals use hollow points regardless of any law. All NJ has done is make it harder for good folks to protect themselves and more dangerous for anyone in the area when someone defends themselves with a gun.

Ball, FMJ, Target, etc.:

So what is ball ammo good for?

This ammunition is suitable for training because it's comparatively less expensive than hollow point or frangible ammunition.

Don't forget that you must occasionally run your self-defense, hollow points through your guns to ensure everything works properly.

While some guns have no issues with any ammo, others do. Therefore, it's always the BEST idea to try out your chosen self-defense ammo before carrying it. If your hollow point ammunition doesn't cycle, you should use a different manufacturer.

ball ammo

Here is a top-down view of 9mm on the left, .357 Sig on the right.

I want to know: Why do YOU carry hollow points in your gun? Tell me in the comments below.

Oh, and this reminds me, should you ever need to defend yourself, it's a good idea to have legal coverage before the fact. Check out our self-defense legal protection comparison chart to evaluate which company works best for your needs. Push this link, or click the below picture, which is at the top of our chart:

*This post is revised and originally published in May 2019 by Josh Gilliem.

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22 Responses to Why Use Hollow Point Ammo in Self Defense Carry Guns

  1. David May 23, 2019 at 5:51 pm #

    I have Glock 20 Gen for and prefer the Liberty Civil Defense round because it screams at 2400 fps. Who doesn’t like things that go fast? I do seriously prefer the hollow point because I do live in a metropolitan area and our houses are compacted on top of one another. I want stopping power but not so much power that it goes through the walls and endangers my neighbors or any kids playing outside. Also, in a public setting for the same reason. Hopefully, situational awareness keeps me from ever having to draw on anyone. That is a true good guy with a gun attitude.

  2. David May 23, 2019 at 5:57 pm #

    I have Glock 20 Gen four and prefer the Liberty Civil Defense round because it screams at 2400 fps. Who doesn’t like things that go fast? I do seriously prefer the hollow point because I do live in a metropolitan area and our houses are compacted on top of one another. I want stopping power but not so much power that it goes through the walls and endangers my neighbors or any kids playing outside. Also, in a public setting for the same reason. Hopefully, situational awareness keeps me from ever having to draw on anyone. That is a true good guy with a gun attitude.

  3. David May 23, 2019 at 5:57 pm #

    I have Glock 20 Gen four and prefer the Liberty Civil Defense round because it screams at 2400 fps. Who doesn’t like things that go fast? I do seriously prefer the hollow point because I do live in a metropolitan area and our houses are compacted on top of one another. I want stopping power but not so much power that it goes through the walls and endangers my neighbors or any kids playing outside. Also, in a public setting for the same reason. Hopefully, situational awareness keeps me from ever having to draw on anyone. That is a true good guy with a gun attitude.

  4. Rick May 28, 2019 at 6:25 pm #

    Because they’re more effective and safer.

  5. David June 4, 2019 at 8:04 am #

    If I am forced into a life or death struggle I want to hit the bad guy as hard as I can and do sufficient enough damage to end the fight. I don’t want to endanger others. Yes I have USCCA insurance. Risk mitigation is the purpose of insurance. We insure our cars, homes, lives etc. It is just good sense to carry insurance for potential liability suits after a shooting event.

  6. Lee September 25, 2020 at 8:01 am #

    Excellent explain, Joshua! I carry nasty here in FL. really nasty with a .44mag long barrel. I cannot carry this guy concealed and it will probably break my wrist if fired perpendicular to my body. however whatever I hit with this nasty thing is not gonna be interested in fighting either. this is probably the same weapon carried in AK to protect themselves against bears. you do NOT walk around ANYWHERE in AK without something really nasty.

    I see these mountain bike riders in CA NOT CARRYING! these people are just plain STUPID because neither hand is free. the problem there is lions. they’re the 4th largest cat in the world after lions, tigers, leopards. they’re even larger than cheetahs (that normally do not attack man). I see this show on TV where a guy is chasing them with dogs.. but then letting them go free after they’re tree’d. WHY? these things need to be exterminated from the planet.

    I also don’t go along with “they were here first”. too bad might has right. if you attack US intentionally with intent to kill you need to be eliminated from the planet and I don’t care WTF animal you happen to be! yeah compare a wild shark to a wild Orca. which one would YOU rather be around? Number one (Orca) or number two? why? there’s never been a known attack on a human by an Orca (in the wild) by the top predator on the planet (besides us). why? because these guys are SMART! they may even be as smart as we are!

  7. Michael Clark December 1, 2021 at 11:37 pm #

    Josh
    Thank you for the very informative post. I suspected FMJ would pass through the human body. I just confirmed it.
    I do however have an unusual question, perhaps maybe a dumb one. I was approached by a young man and I did not know how to answer this. (He has a good idea) Maybe.
    What if….(If being the smallest word, meaning so much)
    What if I was to take for example, a 9 mm Luger bullet, file the top & make it flat….without generating a lot of heat, drill the center & make incisions on the projectile to mimic a hollow point. How dangerous do you think this is and is it worth the time and aggravation.
    By the same token, what about just flattening the top of the projectile? I just thought about it.
    Let me know when you can.
    Semper Fi Brother.

    • K. L. Jamison March 30, 2022 at 12:56 pm #

      I have heard of this being done, and the lead core squirting out leaving the case lodged in the barrel. I tried it in my youth and the resulting cartridges did not have enough mass to cycle the action.

  8. Sheldon Sanders March 29, 2022 at 1:13 pm #

    I carry three magazines the first one that is inserted into my firearm(Taurus G3) is fmj where are my two spare magazines are federal hp. I do not disconcert myself with how the bad guy feels if and when I feel I have too discharge my firearm. As long as it does it’s job in stopping him I am fine either way.

    • Matthew Maruster March 29, 2022 at 1:55 pm #

      What is your reasoning for using FMJ in the first of three magazines?

      • Sheldon Sanders March 30, 2022 at 6:44 am #

        I feel fmj is the first line and if I have to resort to the hp round then I feel I’m in a situation where the hp plus added rounds are needed to better secure my survival.

        • Matthew Maruster March 30, 2022 at 9:53 am #

          Do you choose the FMJ first because you feel they have better or worse ballistics than the HP?

          I only ask because FMJ rounds perform fine if you don’t take into consideration that they have the potential to pass through the attacker’s body and injure or kill innocent people. HP ammunition doesn’t give up any substantive ballistic advantage to FMJ and reduces the likelihood of over-penetration.

          • Sheldon Sanders March 30, 2022 at 1:16 pm #

            They have better penetration but at same time i do not shy away from the hp one bit. If going into a situation or environment I’m not familiar with I will switch out with one of the hp mags. Hp around my way are known as cop killers I don’t support that term but I feel more comfortable if a officer pulls me and asks if my frearm and it’s loaded with fmj opposed to hp. There is less static and misconception. I follow all rules and try to leave as little room for concern on the officer part. I’d have to personally go with hp for the damage it does internally against penetration and the possible chance of hurting someone innocent because my round over exceeded it’s purpose. I just want the threat stopped internal damage is fine with me. A thru and thru is a concern to others.

  9. Marcia Loffredo March 30, 2022 at 12:55 pm #

    HP for defense – don’t want to kill any innocent person. FMJ for practice. I have Sig Sauer P365. Good to carry and shoot. The length of the barrel is just right for me to carry. Love the detailed explanations of the ammo. Thank you very much!

    I lead a women’s shooting group (Gals Glitter and Guns). I will definitely share this info with them. Be well and safe. I live in Middle TN on the Cumberland Plateau.

    • DEFENDER April 1, 2022 at 1:44 am #

      Are you familiar with IDPA – Intl Defensive Pistol Assoc ?
      Clubs all over the US and World sponsor matches.

      We shoot a match every 3rd Sat at Cleveland Hunting Rifle and Pistol Club in
      South Cleveland Tn.

      Shoot and Move, Shooting around wall corners, shooting while moving, moving threat targets, Non-threat/no-shoots thrown in, more. Realistic type scenarios. 6 stages.
      Man-size threat targets. Like clearing a room in a house. Great practice for the “Real Thing”. Also learn Gun Safety like you have not seen.

      Visitors welcome and free.
      Shooter fees $20 to shoot match.
      You should come down, watch a match, see what you think.
      Would be an Eye-Opener.
      Great practice for the real thing.
      Good people.
      A few women usually.
      Typical 70-80 shooters/match.
      “I” graduated Tenn Tech – Engr., live Chattanooga

      Register at 9am
      Hammer Down 10am
      [email protected]
      Mail me I will send details.

    • Gerry O April 4, 2022 at 1:45 pm #

      I conceal carry the Sig P365 too with HP ammunition. Very comfortable firearm.

  10. Eljay March 30, 2022 at 1:25 pm #

    HP are called defensive ammo for a reason. Their expansion in the body help minimize the likelihood of going through your intended target and possibly hitting an innocent bystander.

    If I am forced to use deadly force, my target injuries will be of little concern since my main concern will be surviving the incident by effectively stopping an attacker using deadly force upon me or my family.

  11. Don March 30, 2022 at 7:23 pm #

    I’m actually surprised that people ask this question, unless they’re getting their info from movies or TV. I use P+ hollow points for EDC, and FMJ for target practice, and don’t see why anyone would do otherwise if permitted by state law. I was born in NJ but left at age 2 and haven’t been back, and your article just gave me another reason to stay away.

  12. Tony March 30, 2022 at 10:39 pm #

    In Tennesse we use handguns for hunting we have to have non-FMJ ammo for that &
    I use Hollow Point for self-defense also.

  13. Michael Nistler March 30, 2022 at 11:29 pm #

    Actually, I seem to be an outlier here but then I’ve never been one to “stay within the box” when it comes to a loaded question like:
    “Why do YOU carry hollow points in your gun?”
    Naturally I prefer to practice primarily with FMJ, but I’m with my LEO friend who taught me not to fall in the “either-or” trap when it comes to choosing FMJ or HP.
    So I’ve learned to alternately mix FMJ and HP in my defensive magazines on my 9mm and 40 caliber handguns.
    Certainly the nature of your target and environment matter in addition to the assailant’s wardrobe. Ditto on your accuracy, involving distance, assailant movement, day/night visibility, etc. And yes, I agree that other factors like your weapon’s caliber, projectile velocity (including cavitation) are worth considering as well.
    Anyway, aside from all of the above diatribe I’ll wisely defer to Paul Harrell’s excellent analysis

  14. Joe March 31, 2022 at 7:19 am #

    If only the gangbangers and street thugs use HP, I’m sure we would be reading about far less kids and ppl being shot..in the streets of Chicago, Baltimore and other Democratic run cities. But then again it’s hard to hit your target when you hold your gun sideways..

  15. DEFENDER April 2, 2022 at 4:46 am #

    HORNADAY CRITICAL DEFENSE
    “ALL” my guns are always loaded with Defensive Ammo – Hollow Points.
    I do NOT want to have a “shoot-thru” to an innocent by-stander.

    In a “Real Fight” It will be hard enough trying to get all shots on target w/o the potential of shoot-thrus to innocent people.

    And I “have” tested them – in water. Perfect expansion as advertised.

    I Carry – “Everywhere”.
    And Highly Trained in “Defensive/Combat Shooting”.
    So a decent chance I will have to use it some day – especially now with
    how the world and this country is changing – due to Covid etc.
    People getting more “Confrontational” – it seems.
    Seems will Get Worse before Better.

    Hornaday Critical Defense to be exact, for me – for pistols.
    Like the man said they do not Over-penetrate.
    And have a “Closed Nose” so not likely to clog up ON ENTRY.
    Specifically Designed to stay inside your intended threat target and not pass-thru to hit an innocent by-stander.

    My former SWAT Cop, church security guard carries Hornaday Critical Duty.
    A bit better penetration.

    Going to practice or for a Competition?
    Remove the mag of HP’s insert Ball Ammo mags.
    I have 5-6 more Mags for Ball Ammo for Combat Competitions.

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