Monday, January 12, 2015

The FBI is Going 9mm: Here Comes the Science

Very interesting article posted over at on the adoption of 9mm by the FBI.

The FBI is Going 9mm: Here Comes the Science

UPDATE: There have been some questions about the origin of this FBI statement. As the word of the FBI’s solicitation for 9mm handguns became public, they were hit with a flood of questions from state and local agencies, many who carry .40, about the change. This statement was prepared the FBI Training Division to answer those questions and was intended for dissemination to law enforcement agencies. It was not classified Law Enforcement Sensitive and has spread to civilians. I have confirmed its origin and feel that its release poses no threat to law enforcement while providing enlightening science, paid for by taxpayer dollars, to the public.
After the Miami Shootout in 1986, the FBI invented modern ammunition testing and led the law-enforcement movement to .40 caliber. The FBI is very conservative, and has one of the best ballistics labs in the world.
With the amazing 21st-century advances in ammunition technology, many people have advocated a move back to 9mm. Recently, the FBI announced they were buying a new gun in 9mm. When the FBI makes a move like that, they have thought it through very thoroughly.
I respect the science and how hard it was for them to make this change. The FBI takes their leadership role in law enforcement very seriously. Below is their carefully crafted message, sent to other agencies, explaining their reasons.

FBI 9MM Justification
FBI Training Division: FBI Academy, Quantico, VA
Executive Summary of Justification for Law Enforcement Partners
· Caliber debates have existed in law enforcement for decades
· Most of what is “common knowledge” with ammunition and its effects on the human target are rooted in myth and folklore
· Projectiles are what ultimately wound our adversaries and the projectile needs to be the basis for the discussion on what “caliber” is best
· In all the major law enforcement calibers there exist projectiles which have a high likelihood of failing LEO’s in a shooting incident and there are projectiles which have a high ting incident likelihood of succeeding for LEOs in a shooting incident
· Handgun stopping power is simply a myth
· The single most important factor in effectively wounding a human target is to have penetration to a scientifically valid depth (FBI uses 12” – 18”)
· LEOs miss between 70 – 80 percent of the shots fired during a shooting incident
· Contemporary projectiles (since 2007) have dramatically increased the terminal effectiveness of many premium line law enforcement projectiles (emphasis on the 9mm Luger offerings)
· 9mm Luger now offers select projectiles which are, under identical testing conditions, I outperforming most of the premium line .40 S&W and .45 Auto projectiles tested by the FBI
· 9mm Luger offers higher magazine capacities, less recoil, lower cost (both in ammunition and wear on the weapons) and higher functional reliability rates (in FBI weapons)
· The majority of FBI shooters are both FASTER in shot strings fired and more ACCURATE with shooting a 9mm Luger vs shooting a .40 S&W (similar sized weapons)
· There is little to no noticeable difference in the wound tracks between premium line law Auto enforcement projectiles from 9mm Luger through the .45 Auto
· Given contemporary bullet construction, LEO’s can field (with proper bullet selection) 9mm Lugers with all of the terminal performance potential of any other law enforcement pistol caliber with none of the disadvantages present with the “larger” calibers

Justification for Law Enforcement Partners
Rarely in law enforcement does a topic stir a more passionate debate than the choice of handgun caliber made by a law enforcement organization. Many voice their opinions by repeating the old adage “bigger is better” while others have “heard of this one time” where a smaller caliber failed and a larger caliber “would have performed much better.” Some even subscribe to the belief that a caliber exists which will provide a “one shot stop.” It has been stated, “Decisions on ammunition selection are particularly difficult because many of the pertinent issues related to handguns and ammunition are firmly rooted in myth and folklore.” This still holds as true today as it did when originally stated 20 years ago.
Caliber, when considered alone, brings about a unique set of factors to consider such as magazine capacity for a given weapon size, ammunition availability, felt recoil, weight and cost. What is rarely discussed, but most relevant to the caliber debate is what projectile is being considered for use and its terminal performance potential.
One should never debate on a gun make or caliber alone. The projectile is what wounds and ultimately this is where the debate/discussion should focus. In each of the three most common law enforcement handgun calibers (9mm Luger, .40 Smith & Wesson and .45 AUTO) there are projectiles which have a high likelihood of failing law enforcement officers and in each of these three calibers there are projectiles which have a high likelihood of succeeding for law enforcement officers during a shooting incident. The choice of a service projectile must undergo intense scrutiny and scientific evaluation in order to select the best available option.

Understanding Handgun Caliber Terminal Ballistic Realities
Many so called “studies” have been performed and many analyses of statistical data have been undertaken regarding this issue. Studies simply involving shooting deaths are irrelevant since the goal of law enforcement is to stop a threat during a deadly force encounter as quickly as possible. Whether or not death occurs is of no consequence as long as the threat of death or serious injury to law enforcement personnel and innocent third parties is eliminated.
“The concept of immediate incapacitation is the only goal of any law enforcement shooting and is the underlying rationale for decisions regarding weapons, ammunition, calibers and training.”1
Studies of “stopping power” are irrelevant because no one has ever been able to define how much power, force, or kinetic energy, in and of itself, is required to effectively stop a violent and determined adversary quickly, and even the largest of handgun calibers are not capable of delivering such force. Handgun stopping power is simply a myth. Studies of so?called “one shot stops” being used as a tool to define the effectiveness of one handgun cartridge, as opposed to another, are irrelevant due to the inability to account for psychological influences and due to the lack of reporting specific shot placement.
In short, extensive studies have been done over the years to “prove” a certain cartridge is better than another by using grossly flawed methodology and or bias as a precursor to manipulating statistics. In order to have a meaningful understanding of handgun terminal ballistics, one must only deal with facts that are not in dispute within the medical community, i.e. medical realities, and those which are also generally accepted within law enforcement, i.e. tactical realities.

Medical Realities
Shots to the Central Nervous System (CNS) at the level of the cervical spine (neck) or above, are the only means to reliably cause immediate incapacitation. In this case, any of the calibers commonly used in law enforcement, regardless of expansion, would suffice for obvious reasons. Other than shots to the CNS, the most reliable means for affecting rapid incapacitation is by placing shots to large vital organs thus causing rapid blood loss. Simply stated, shot placement is the most critical component to achieving either method of incapacitation.
Wounding factors between rifle and handgun projectiles differ greatly due to the dramatic differences in velocity, which will be discussed in more detail herein. The wounding factors, in order of importance, are as follows:
A. Penetration:
A projectile must penetrate deeply enough into the body to reach the large vital organs, namely heart, lungs, aorta, vena cava and to a lesser extent liver and spleen, in order to cause rapid blood loss. It has long been established by expert medical professionals, experienced in evaluating gunshot wounds, that this equates to a range of penetration of 12?18 inches, depending on the size of the individual and the angle of the bullet path (e.g., through arm, shoulder, etc.). With modern properly designed, expanding handgun bullets, this objective is realized, albeit more consistently with some law enforcement projectiles than others. 1 Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness: Firearms Training Unit, Ballistic Research Facility, 1989.
B. Permanent Cavity:
The extent to which a projectile expands determines the diameter of the permanent cavity which, simply put, is that tissue which is in direct contact with the projectile and is therefore destroyed. Coupled with the distance of the path of the projectile (penetration), the total permanent cavity is realized. Due to the elastic nature of most human tissue and the low velocity of handgun projectiles relative to rifle projectiles, it has long been established by medical professionals, experienced in evaluating gunshot wounds, that the damage along a wound path visible at autopsy or during surgery cannot be distinguished between the common handgun calibers used in law enforcement. That is to say an operating room surgeon or Medical Examiner cannot distinguish the difference between wounds caused by .35 to .45 caliber projectiles.
C. Temporary Cavity:
The temporary cavity is caused by tissue being stretched away from the permanent cavity. If the temporary cavity is produced rapidly enough in elastic tissues, the tensile strength of the tissue can be exceeded resulting in tearing of the tissue. This effect is seen with very high velocity projectiles such as in rifle calibers, but is not seen with handgun calibers. For the temporary cavity of most handgun projectiles to have an effect on wounding, the velocity of the projectile needs to exceed roughly 2,000 fps. At the lower velocities of handgun rounds, the temporary cavity is not produced with sufficient velocity to have any wounding effect; therefore any difference in temporary cavity noted between handgun calibers is irrelevant. “In order to cause significant injuries to a structure, a pistol bullet must strike that structure directly.”2 2 DiMaio, V.J.M.: Gunshot Wounds, Elsevier Science Publishing Company, New York, NY, 1987, page 42.
D. Fragmentation:
Fragmentation can be defined as “projectile pieces or secondary fragments of bone which are impelled outward from the permanent cavity and may sever muscle tissues, blood vessels, etc., apart from the permanent cavity”3. Fragmentation does not reliably occur in soft tissue handgun wounds due to the low velocities of handgun bullets. When fragmentation does occur, fragments are usually found within one centimeter (.39”) of the permanent cavity.4 Due to the fact that most modern premium law enforcement ammunition now commonly uses bonded projectiles (copper jacket bonded to lead core), the likelihood of fragmentation is very low. For these reasons, wounding effects secondary to any handgun caliber bullet fragmentation are considered inconsequential. 3 Fackler, M.L., Malinowski, J.A.: “The Wound Profile: A Visual Method for Quantifying Gunshot Wound Components”, Journal of Trauma 25: 522?529, 1958. 4 Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness: Firearms Training Unit, Ballistic Research Facility, 1989.

Any discussion of stopping armed adversaries with a handgun has to include the psychological state of the adversary. Psychological factors are probably the most important relative to achieving rapid incapacitation from a gunshot wound to the torso.5 First and foremost, the psychological effects of being shot can never be counted on to stop an individual from continuing conscious voluntary action. Those who do stop commonly do so because they decide to, not because they have to.
The effects of pain are often delayed due to survival patterns secondary to “fight or flight” reactions within the body, drug/alcohol influences and in the case of extreme anger or aggression, pain can simply be ignored. Those subjects who decide to stop immediately after being shot in the torso do so commonly because they know they have been shot and are afraid of injury or death, regardless of caliber, velocity, or bullet design. It should also be noted that psychological factors can be a leading cause of incapacitation failures and as such, proper shot placement, adequate penetration, and multiple shots on target cannot be over emphasized. 5 Ibid.

Tactical Realities
Shot placement is paramount and law enforcement officers on average strike an adversary with only 20 – 30 percent of the shots fired during a shooting incident. Given the reality that shot placement is paramount (and difficult to achieve given the myriad of variables present in a deadly force encounter) in obtaining effective incapacitation, the caliber used must maximize the likelihood of hitting vital organs. Typical law enforcement shootings result in only one or two solid torso hits on the adversary. This requires that any projectile which strikes the torso has as high a probability as possible of penetrating deeply enough to disrupt a vital organ.
The Ballistic Research Facility has conducted a test which compares similar sized Glock pistols in both .40 S&W and 9mm calibers, to determine if more accurate and faster hits are achievable with one versus the other. To date, the majority of the study participants have shot more quickly and more accurately with 9mm caliber Glock pistols. The 9mm provides struggling shooters the best chance of success while improving the speed and accuracy of the most skilled shooters.

While some law enforcement agencies have transitioned to larger calibers from the 9mm Luger in recent years, they do so at the expense of reduced magazine capacity, more felt recoil, and given adequate projectile selection, no discernible increase in terminal performance.
Other law enforcement organizations seem to be making the move back to 9mm Luger taking advantage of the new technologies which are being applied to 9mm Luger projectiles. These organizations are providing their armed personnel the best chance of surviving a deadly force encounter since they can expect faster and more accurate shot strings, higher magazine capacities (similar sized weapons) and all of the terminal performance which can be expected from any law enforcement caliber projectile.
Given the above realities and the fact that numerous ammunition manufacturers now make 9mm Luger service ammunition with outstanding premium line law enforcement projectiles, the move to 9mm Luger can now be viewed as a decided advantage for our armed law enforcement personnel.

This information was published by Loose Rounds on September 21, 2014.


Don Williams said...

I would note several points not addressed by the FBI statement:

1) The military has found the 9mm FMJ to have inadequate stopping power on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. One of their primary requirements for the new Modular Handgun System is that the MDS fire a cartridge that gives a bigger permanent wound channel than the current 9mm Nato FMJ round-- which is roughly +P in power.
2) It is a waste of a handgun's limited energy to design significant distortion of a lead bullet -- such limited penetration rounds is why several FBI agents were wiped out in the Miami shootout. Plus hollow point rounds may fail to expand if clogged with clothing fibers -- one reason why the FBI tests the performance of rounds fired through heavy jackets, residential building wall board , plywood and auto windshields.
3) Throwing out the 3.14 pi factor, a cartridge's cross-sectional area is proportional to its diameter squared. 9mm squared gives 81. 10mm squared gives 100. 11.4 squared (45 acp) gives 131. In standard weight and velocities, the the FMJ penetrate roundly the same depth, with the result that two 45 acps give the same permanent wound channel as THREE 9mms.
4) The permanent wound channel of a bullet is a function of its momentum --mass times velocity(MV). MV for a 9mm is significantly less than that of a 45 acp with the 40 S&W in between.
5) The power density of a handgun is its volume divided by its total power. Total power is momentum of a cartridge times the number of rounds in the magazine. Calculation will show that double-stacked 9mm and 40 S&W Glocks have more power density than a single stacked 1911 45 ACP but that the 40 S&W's power density is greater than that of the 9mm.

Don Williams said...

6) While federal LEO qualification courses call for shooting out to 25 yards, FBI statistics indicate most gunfight occur within 7 yards. At that range it is essential to hit with the most power with 3 rounds at small fleeting targets in dim light, which gives the advantage to the 45 ACP. At those distances, you are not likely to have time to fire more.
7) At the same time, the advant of body armor has led to the need for more rounds -- instead of two rounds to the unarmored chest, one may need two rounds to the pelvis (to stop a charge) plus one to the head (to stop the attacker once he is immobilized.) This gives the double stacked 40 S&W or 357 SIG the advantage over the single stack 1911 45 ACP.
8) Unlike FBI agents--who are investigators-- US State Police have to aggressively confront multiple suspects many times a day in isolated rural areas --alone , without backup and with SWAT teams far away. Which may be why, as of July 2014, State Police forces in 36 states used 40S&W or 357 Sig, 14 used the 45 ACP or 45 GAP (albeit in Glocks, SIGs etc and not the 1911) and only two states used 9mm.
9) Re stopping power, the FBI overlooks a third means of incapacitation --the sucking chest wound. The lungs are huge targets compared to the brain. A 45 ACP sized hole both front and rear causes a sudden decompression of the lung , which makes the heart start to malfunction as the lung leans on it. Definitely gets the attention. Whereas the pointed 9mm --if it fails to expand --makes a small icepick wound that is practically self-sealing.
10) Precise marksmanship is all very well but researchers have noted that many police shootings occur in conditions not tested on qualification courses -- close range ambushes in dim or confusing light. Somewhere in the center of mass or pelvis may be all that is feasible.
11) And the FBI should not scoff at the cavitation effect of a high speed pistol round -- I saw a news video of a robber at a shopping mall knocked on his behind when an off duty Secret Service agent shot him near the solar plexus.

12) The FBI is hardly the preeminent federal law enforcement unit --in many ways, Immigration and Customs Enforcement(ICE) is more influential. When the federal government hired thousands of contract security guards in recent years, their qualification course was a relaxed version of ICE's, not the FBI's.
13) There is nothing wrong with the 9mm. CIA has long used it --probably because if you shoot someone in a foreign country, a 45 ACP or 40 S&W points right back to the local US Embassy. Plus 9mm is easier to commandeer
in isolated locations. Seals have used a +P+ version , probably because it was common to their silenced MP5 submachine guns. Plus it is a frugal use of lead.

But both Marine SOC and SOCOM chose the 45 ACP and Delta Force reportedly choose the 40 S&W sweet spot between power and hi-capacity mags.

Don Williams said...

1) Power density of a handgun is total power divided by volume, not volume divided by total power.
2) Higher capacity mags are also an advantage if facing multiple attackers, especially they wear body armor.
3) Re item 11, the Secret Service uses the high velocity 357 Sig (as do the Federal Air Marshalls.) with the larger temporary wound cavity.
Shooters in those two services obviously face threats more demanding than what the average FBI agent is likely to encounter.

The FBI report doesn't address the effects of hydrostatic shock on nerve plexus like the solar plexus. That --and the failure to address sucking chest wounds to lungs -- indicate it is more a bureaucrat's hand-waving, butt-covering memo than a medical analysis.

While surprises and ambushs happen, LEO's response to a potential threat is to bring lots of backup and/or SWAT (HRT in the FBI's case), not to get a better gun. Getting more people qualified and adequately armed with limited budgets is the focus of many LEO organizations, with the exception of those who can't compromise, like the Secret Service , Federal Air Marshalls, Delta,etc. FBI HRT and LAPD Swat use 45 ACP.

Anonymous said...

....because females can fire 9mm better???

Anonymous said...

The .45 is marginaly more powerful but for those who cannot divest themselves of their bias the .45 is "god".
The 10mm and .40 cal has better stopping power than the 9mm. But more recoil and thus in a crisis situation less accurate.
The .357mag has great stopping power and .44mag even better but unavailable in a semi-auto.
The problem, seperate from the caliber bias, is that most handgun shots fired in a high stress situation do not hit the target. Thus what is needed is a low recoil and a high capacity clip where the bullet itself can be altered to complete the picture giving you a better chance. Right now that caliber is 9mm. I understand that you have had your .45 for 50 years and you love it and cannot stand the fact that everyone doesn't love it but get over it. It was never "that" good and certainly not as good as the 10mm or the .40.

Don Williams said...

1) The primary factor --as the Army's Modular Handgun System RFP recognizes -- is the size of a person's hands. If I had huge paws I would go with a double-stacked 45 ACP.

But when a gun recoils, the bottom of the grip rotates upward around the pivot point of where the grip meets the web of the hand. For accuracy, it is important that the little finger and ring fingers have a good hold on the grip and can restrain the rotation.

For small to medium hands, a Glock 22 Gen 4 in 40 S&W may work better than a double-stacked 45.

Don Williams said...

Re Anon at 10:04 AM:

NYPD firing 41 rounds at an unarmed man suggests they don't have a high confidence in their 9mm.

I wonder why they didn't just call in an artillery strike?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Do you think those police would have reacted any differently if they had .45's?
In that instance what they experienced was the feedback they got from the shooting they could hear and not knowing if it was their fellow policeman or the suspect. Not an uncommon occurrence and it is the inevitable result of inexperience. It has zippo to do with the caliber of their weapon.

The problem is and always has been that the caliber is a compromise. My favorite vehicle is a pickup truck but if I were young and single I would like a corvette. I had to compromise and buy a station wagon because I was married and had kids. The same thing is true with a handgun. The perfect handgun, in my opinion, is a .357 revolver. reasonable accurate, reasonably powerful and reasonably trouble free. But if you live in Alaska they laugh at .357 and nothing less then a .44 mag is their choice. If you are a policeman who previously carried a .38 revolver you now carry a 9mm auto and it is in fact a better gun for the street. I like a full size frame 9mm auto but it is a poor choice for CC. This list of pro's and cons goes on and on endlessly. SO no matter what caliber you choose and/or for what purpose there will be a valid or even not so valid arguement for it or against it. It is all a compromise. Is there a "perfect" handgun for "combat"? NO! In fact no handgun is suitable for combat today and the only reason they still use and issue handguns to the military is for those unusual circumstances that lend themselves to a handgun. Probably a better answer for the military would be to replace the handgun with one or two more clips of rifle ammo. But even that compromise would anger some.
The point of all this is or should be to find the better compromise and not to prove that "you" are right and someone else is wrong. For the FBI and cops I think 9mm is the best compromise. I think 10mm and .40 would be about as good.

Anonymous said...

"After the Miami Shootout in 1986, the FBI invented modern ammunition testing and led the law-enforcement movement to .40 caliber."

No. After that shootout the FBI 'invented' the 10mm semi-auto which turned out to be a huge mistake.

Chuck Haggard said...

Virtually everything that Don Williams has posted is made up internet crap, derp opinion, or has been proven to be completely false in the terms of modern wound ballistics.

The military is NOT going back to the .45acp, except for the Marine MARSOC, which bought a 1911 system off of emotion, a gun that didn't even pass.
it's own testing criteria.
Even then, just yesterday they announced that they will also be suing the Glock 19 for some of their missions.
Delta has been using .40, on red dot equipped Glock 22s, for some jobs in specific circumstances, but the vast majority of guys in the special units not using an M9 are using a Glock 19.

The 9mm actually has an advantage over the .45 in the military field, due to being able to penetrate barriers better. Things like a loaded AK magazine chest rig, a full canteen, a steel helmet, often stop a .45 FMJ cold, but are easily penetrated by 9mm ball.

One reason the 9mm is the choice for the FBI now is the very FACT that their 9mm duty ammo equals their .40 duty ammo in performance, and EXCEEDS their .45acp duty ammo in performance.

To quote a friend who has shot or seen shot over 20 people with 9mm NATO ball launched from pistols, "None of them were unimpressed with the cartridge".

What does the world's leading expert on gunshot wounds say?;
“…there is no appreciable difference in the effectiveness of the 9 mm and the .45 ACP cartridges.”
Vincent J. M. Di Maio, GUNSHOT WOUNDS: Practical Aspects of Firearms, Ballistics, and Forensic Techniques SECOND EDITION, Page 150.

To quote a retired Special Forces guy I know "All handguns are pathetic pop guns". Even the .45

Judge Rusty Johnston said...

Fist, regarding the military, they have not found the 9mm to be inadequate. Even if they had it would be because they use full metal jacket ( FMJ) ammo instead of a good self defense ammo.

A good self defense ammo in 9mm for example will give you 20 rounds in a Beretta M9 (Beretta 92) instead of 7 or 8 rounds [n a 1911 chambered in .45 acp .