Hollow Point Ammunition-The Only Choice For Self Defense

Quite often, someone asks what type of ammunition they should use for self-defense. Broadly speaking, the answer is straightforward. Use hollow point ammunition in your self-defense and home-defense guns.

hollow point bullet

Hollow Point Ammunition is a Must for Self-Defense:

Of course, the ammunition must be the correct caliber, and there are various brands and types of hollow point ammunition.

However, the main takeaway is that you must use hollow-point ammunition for self-defense. Unless you happen to be one of the unfortunate souls living in New Jersey, where civilian hollow point ammunition is restricted heavily.

Some readers may think:

Why be so dogmatic on the topic? Why must someone use hollow point ammunition for self-defense?

How about you do you, and I'll do what works for me. After all, the military uses (FMJ) full metal jacket ammunition (also called ball ammunition). And if it's good enough for the military, it's good enough for me.

Over-Penetration:

Full metal jacket ammunition has a projectile that has a jacketed covering. The bullet's design allows it to penetrate through objects because it remains intact for the most part.

Because the FMJ projectile stays intact, it can potentially pass through a human body and strike another person with enough velocity to injure or even kill. For this reason, ball ammunition is a good choice for combat because there is less concern for over penetration or collateral damage.

But clearly not a good choice for an environment with innocent people all around.

Plus, ball ammo is cheaper to produce than hollow points. The cost makes it suitable for practice and for the government to supply the military with.

So yes, it is good enough for the military, but the military has a different mission than the citizen defender, so the gear should match the application.

self defense ammo

NYPD Shooting:

Consider, for instance, a February 4th, 1999 incident in New York City. NYPD Officers engaged a suspect with gunfire and, in total, fired 41 shots. Investigators concluded that 19 of the 41 shots hit the suspect. Out of the 19 hits, 16 of the rounds completely passed through the suspect's body. At the time, NYPD Officers used ball ammunition.

If rounds pass through the attacker's body, innocent people are at risk of being struck with a bullet, even if the shooter's rounds hit the mark.

The potential to harm an innocent person even in the best of circumstances isn't a good thing, legally and certainly not morally.

Moreover, the high probability that a well-placed round will pass through the attacker's body complicates a defender's decision-making process.  The greater the number of variables, the more likely the person will make mistakes (especially under extreme stress).

So reason number one for hollow points, penetration. The hollow point projectile expands on impact. One consequence of the expansion is that it does not over-penetrate the body and pass through.

Ability to Stop the Threat:

In a June 2000 The National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals Task Force on Police briefing, James Fyfe, professor of criminal justice at Temple University, spoke about the 1999 NYPD shooting mentioned above. He said:

The physical evidence in the case was absolutely consistent with their story that he stood through the whole episode. They were hitting him with bullets that did not knock him down and that were inappropriate for policing.

In that statement, Dr. Fyfe makes the second important point about why hollow point ammunition is the correct choice for self-defense.

hollow point ammo p365

When someone uses deadly force in a legal, defensive manner, the goal is to stop the attacker from carrying out what the person perceives, and evidence affirms, is a reasonable threat of death or serious bodily harm. But not only do we need to stop the threat, the fact that we are using deadly force means it's likely something we want to stop immediately.

I'll pause to remind readers that stopping the threat has nothing to do with killing the person. When we say “threat” in “stop the threat,” we are talking about the action perceived as likely to cause death or serious bodily injury, NOT the person per se. The moment the attacker no longer poses a deadly force threat, we no longer have the legal or moral justification for using deadly force.

In other words, it's possible for us to “stop the threat,” and the one who attacked us still be alive and kicking. In fact, it's possible to “stop the threat” and never fire a shot.

“Ineffective for Policing”

Dr. Fyfe says the FMJ rounds did not knock the suspect down, and that fact made the rounds “ineffective for policing.” This strategy is ineffective for policing and citizen self-defense for two reasons.

First, the longer the attacker continues to be a threat, the more force the defender must use. Think of an active shooter. Should the priority be stopping the threat quickly or over time through a volume of gunfire?

The same holds in an extreme close quarters attack. We want to stop the attack as quickly and with the fewest rounds fired because each second is more time the attack continues.

Second, more rounds mean greater potential for a miss and an innocent person's injury or death. Various studies put police hit rates in officer-involved shootings anywhere from 30-60 percent. Yeah, I know we all have a 100% hit rate on the range and never miss. But the range is not reality, and as much as we try, we can't guarantee we won't miss during an attack. Each round we fire increases the odds of a miss.

And I'll also throw in for consideration the capacity of your everyday carry (EDC) gun. In many instances, multiple rounds are necessary to stop even a single attacker. If NYPD Officers hit a suspect 16 times because after the 15th round he was still a viable threat, 5 rounds of ball ammo might not be enough.

over penetration concern for home defense

Quicker Incapacitation:

As noted, hollow point ammunition expands on impact. Because of this, the projectile makes a larger wound channel. Additionally, more energy transfers into the body, creating a more significant temporary wound channel. As a result, the injury to the vital organs and the nervous system requires fewer rounds producing a quicker end to the threat.

Because hollow point ammunition causes more damage to tissue than an FMJ bullet, many people think hollow point ammunition is “deadlier.”

Some studies show that people are more likely to die from a hollow point round than an FMJ round, but in my mind, these are not entirely definitive. I say this because there are many variables to whether or not someone survives a gunshot wound (GSW) that have more impact than if the round was FMJ or hollow point. For example, the location of the injury, distance, and number of rounds all play a factor in if a person lives or dies.

Again, it is fair to say, all things being equal, a hollow point projectile causes more tissue damage than an FMJ round. Even when using self-defense rounds, the fatality rate of handgun gunshot wounds is slightly over 50 percent.

New Jersey is the only state that does not allow citizens to carry hollow point ammunition except for target shooting.

Hollow Point Ammo is “Deadlier”

Why do people think FMJ rounds are safer for the public? I believe there are two significant reasons for this. First, like the lawmakers in New Jersey, they are fervently anti-gun. Secondly, they are ignorant of firearms, ballistics, and self-defense.

Quite often, people will conflate hollow point ammunition with armor-piercing ammunition, which is incorrect. Some novelty ammunition manufacturers that advertise their ammunition as purposely more deadly don't help spread accurate information either.

Finally, a recent OIS in New York resulted in 9 bystander injuries. Six of the 9 received injuries from fragments of the jacket covering the hollow point rounds. All of these fragments came from rounds that missed the target. Ricocheting bullets that also missed the mark injured the remaining 3 bystanders.

It is impossible to know how many people would be injured by over penetrating FMJ projectiles.

We can reduce bystander injuries from ricocheting bullets with increased shooting proficiency. However, to minimize injuries caused by well-aimed shots that cause harm after passing through the threat, we have to go to a round that works better than FMJ.

hollow point self defense ammo

Conclusion:

Have you thought about which ammunition you use in your EDC? I find LuckyGunner has the best comparison of self-defense ammunition performance for a wide range of brands.

I've listed my top 3 choices for a 9mm self defense round in this article.

Also, have you made sure your self-defense ammo cycles in your gun? Some ammunition, gun combinations result in feeding issues, and that is a bad thing.

Defending yourself and your home is essential. Consider checking out our Complete Home Defense Course. It is over 8 hours of content designed to help you and your family establish and implement a home defense plan.

complete home defense

About Matthew Maruster

I follow my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who is the eternal co-equal Son of God. I currently live in Columbus, Ohio with my wife and daughter. I served in the Marine Corps Infantry. I was a Staff Sergeant and served as a Platoon Sergeant during combat in Iraq. After I was a police officer at a municipal agency in San Diego County. I have a Bachelors's Degree in Criminal Justice from National University. MJ Maruster Defense.

11 Comments

  1. Greg Raven on November 4, 2021 at 8:57 pm

    There are other ammunition options now for self-defense. I wish you had at least mentioned them.

  2. stegory1982 on November 5, 2021 at 6:32 am

    I’m a big fan of Hornady’s Critical Defense round. Excellent terminal ballistics, lower felt recoil, and almost no chance of over penetration. The ballistic energy is dissipated INSIDE the target due to the quick expansion of the round upon impact. That’s exactly what you need with Personal Defense ammunition.

  3. Dave on November 5, 2021 at 9:23 am

    Using the Winchester USA Ready line of ammo. Very good performance all around.

  4. Bill on November 10, 2021 at 7:01 am

    In regards to military use of hollow point ammo, isn’t that also restricted by Geneva Convention or some other agreement?

    • Matthew Maruster on November 10, 2021 at 8:45 am

      It was an “agreement” during the Hauge Peace Conference way back in 1899. We follow the sentiments in the agreement, but our government never ratified or officially adopted the agreement as law. Nevertheless, we all know that there has been tremendous innovation in ammunition since 1899, and the benefits of using expanding hollow-point rounds, especially in areas populated with non-combatants are evident. I presume there would be plenty of justification for the military’s use of hollow-point ammunition for specific missions based on the environment and application.

      • Rick McC. on November 10, 2021 at 6:01 pm

        And that’s exactly what they’ve been doing for a while now; mission specific ammo requirements.

        I believe that the special ops community has been using HP ammo for some time.

    • Mike on November 26, 2021 at 6:12 pm

      No it is not.
      The Hague Convention is what you should be referencing.

  5. Rob on November 10, 2021 at 9:40 pm

    The reason the military uses FMJ ammo is because of some stupid treaty from the late 1800’s (The Geneva Convention) that won’t allow anything else..

  6. cgray on February 25, 2023 at 2:54 pm

    There is ZERO empirical evidence that hollow points are more effective against a human attacker than FMJ. Zilch. And this after 30 years of common use by civilians and police departments. Plus, the threat of overpenetration which always kills the innocent little girl standing behind the bad guy is ridiculously overrated. Doesn’t happen in real life. The fact the author of this piece thinks there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe is…..revealing.

    • Matthew Maruster on February 28, 2023 at 12:39 pm

      If you want to use FMJ go ahead. The fact that you felt it necessary to misrepresent the article, and reject data that you could easily access with just a little work, tells me you’re just interested in confirming your biases to justify your position. Your attempt to discredit the validity of article because of my faith in God the Creator is petulant and serves to “reveal” your condescending and arrogant spirit Sir.

  7. Jim on March 5, 2024 at 9:23 am

    Matthew, thnak you for the info and your committment to truth!

    To cgray, see below.
    Man killed by same bullet he used to shoot woman in the neck
    Andrea Blanco
    August 1, 2022

    https://gundigest.com/gear-ammo/reloading/massad-ayoob-the-dangers-of-over-penetrating-bullets

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