Monthly Archives: June 2019

9mm vs. .45- Who Cares?

Kahr E9 9mm and Detonics Combat Master Mk.1 .45ACP

This debate has been going on for at least as long as I have been aware of guns, and it’s likely to continue long after guns have been replaced by phasers or whatever. At which point it will be just as stupid and pointless as it is today.

Bullet design has come a long way in the last 30-40 years. Hollow-points have become hugely more reliable in terms of expansion and penetration, and 9mm has benefitted from this a great deal. Perhaps this argument was more relevant in the 1980’s when hollow-point expansion was much more hit-and-miss? You might think so… but you’d be wrong.

In the 1980’s Evan Marshall took the radical approach of looking at actual, documented real-life shootings to determine what worked. This study was flawed by focussing on one-shot stops, but it was the first public scientific study of real-world shootings. (I call this approach flawed because, as one Marine quipped during the recent war in Iraq, “Who shoots them once?”) When comparing 9mm ball and .45 ACP ball he was rather shocked to discover that there was no significant difference in their ability to produce one-shot stops- and neither was all that good at it. This is not anecdotal evidence, war stories or what have you- this was documented in actual shootings.

The Miami shootout of 1986 prompted the FBI to adopt first 10mm, then .40 S&W. But it also launched a thirty-year comprehensive study of handgun stopping power, which reached the conclusion that handgun stopping power sucks. What matters is breaking things the suspect cannot operate without. This means that the bullet has to penetrate deeply enough to reach those things, and you have to be accurate enough to hit them. Everything else is icing on the cake. Well… almost everything else.

More recently Greg Ellifritz  ( ) did a study of real-world shootings, and it does seem to indicate that caliber has some importance, but the difference isn’t heavy & slow vs. small & fast. All calibers had instances where they simply failed to stop an attacker with any number of hits, but common calibers below 9mm/.38 had this occur significantly more often; far, far beyond the statistical margin of error. That’s .32, .25 and .22. 327 Magnum and 7.62 Tokarev may buck this trend, but it seems there was insufficient data to determine this.

Counter-intuitive as it may seem, for calibers .380 and above, there was no statistically significant difference in stopping among the calibers surveyed- which included all major commercially available calibers chambered in defensive firearms.

This is not to say that no one should carry a .40 S&W, .45 or what have you- just that you shouldn’t do it with any expectation that the caliber will give you a margin for error. No matter what you are shooting you need to be able to place your shots where they will do the most good- and need to fire a bullet that will penetrate deeply enough to break the things it needs to- those being the heart, spine, aorta and brain.

So everyone should carry a .380? Not at all. On average there is little difference between these rounds, but conditions differ. Can you reasonably expect your assailant to be wearing heavy winter clothing? Do you need the ability to deal with dangerous animals? In these cases a more powerful round with better penetration may be advisable. In a very hot climate you might need to carry a smaller handgun- but this is balanced to a degree by the fact that people wear less (and thinner) clothing.

So caliber is less important than previously thought, but that’s no reason not to ‘stack the deck’ by buying high-quality, modern defensive ammo. In this day and age information about bullet’s terminal performance abounds; Youtube can provide FBI-style test information about all of the common bullets used in modern defensive ammunition. Pick a good one in the caliber of a gun that you like, shoot well and, most importantly, will actually carry and likely you’ll be just fine.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 30 June 2019

Swaging Bullets

It’s no secret that I shoot some odd-ball stuff; cartridge conversions, antiques etc. These, naturally, come in some odd calibers- .380 Revolver, .32 Colt Long, .44 Colt, .38 S&W etc. None of these take ‘normal’ bullets; the first three I listed use Heel-Base bullets like a .22, and the third uses a .361 diameter bullet rather than the ubiquitous .357-.358 bullets used in .38 Special and .357 Magnum.

Heel-base bullets are not common or inexpensive when you do find them; they are a specialty item with a very tiny niche in the market so they tend to command a premium. The solution for most people is casting their own bullets, but that is a can of worms I just don’t want to open. One thing I have as a result of my day-job is a lot of scrap steel- it occurred to me that I could swage my own from my go-to .45 bullet, Aaadvark Enterprises 200gr. LRNFP bullet. I already used these in .45 Colt and .45 ACP, so why not?

I got a small chunk of steel, bored a hole in it, then reamed it to .429″, then ran a .451″ reamer partway down to make a swaging die. I turned a steel rod down to .450″ for a punch, dropped a bullet in, set it on the anvil and hammered the punch in. Then I flipped the die and used a 1/4″ punch to drive the bullet and punch out and- voila! – I had a heel-base bullet.

.44 Colt with a swaged bullet. This on has the lubrication band outside of thje cartridge, which is problematic as it will collect dust and can even melt in extreme temperatures.

Loaded into .44 Colt cartridges this worked pretty well. I went through several iterations of this basic set-up, and eventually came up with a bullet that worked very well in both .44 Colt and my own .44-55 Walker cartridge.

My eventual bullet design replaced the lubricating ring with a lubricated felt patch loaded into the cartridge behind the bullet, which eliminated the issues of dust and melting lube.

It’s useful to have a drill press and metal lathe to make a simple swaging set-up like the one above, but in fact it could be made with a hand-drill, Dremel Tool and vice.

Over time it occurred to me that heel-base bullets were not the only use for swaging. My Webley Royal Irish Constabulary revolver in .450 Adams prefers hollow-base bullets when using smokeless loads, and it was relatively simple to construct a punch and die to create them.

More recently bullets for .38 S&W have been an issue; this caliber uses a .361 caliber bullet rather than the ubiquitous .357 caliber bullets of modern .38s. The simple fix is to use hollow-base wadcutters, and this actually works quite well. But I have to order these on the internet, and shipping boxes of lead gets expensive in a hurry. By happy chance for a time Pinto’s had a stock of .361 150gr. LSWCs from an estate purchase, but I ran through those in fairly short order. Fortunately I discovered that Aardvark Enterprises .357 158gr. LRNFP Cowboy bullets were soft enough to bump up a few thousandths to .361, and work quite well. I experimented with some .355 124gr. RNL made for 9mm, but the slightly smaller diameter combined with a harder alloy meant that they would not bump up and properly engage the rifling, resulting in low-powered shots that tended to key-hole. The solution was at hand, fortunately. I invested $8 in a .361″ reamer and with a bit of lathe-work I was in business!

I’m not sure what the name is for this bullet shape… but they are .361 caliber and make lovely, clean holes in paper targets.
This is the swaging set-up for turning 124gr. .355 RNL into .361 caliber bullets. In front is the swaging die, with the punch that creates the bullet profile. In the middle of the block behind it is a punch for driving the bullet out of the die to remove the profiling punch, and a 1/4″ brass rod for pushing the swaged bullet out of the die.

It’s all a bit labor-intensive, but it’s not hard. In fact it’s sort of meditative to listen to the radio and swage out a supply of bullets one-by-one.

This sparked an idea- it was pretty easy to up-size .355- to .361… How far could I take that? I had some .240gr. .429 bullets for my .44 magnum, but I’m not shooting that much at the moment. Yep, they swage to .451 just fine. What about those 210gr. copper-washed .41 caliber bullets I bought by accident? Yep- 210-gr .451 bullets, perfect for .450 Adams loads.

Former .41 caliber bullets, now .451!

This is a pretty good deal- I often come across ‘clearance’ bullets that aren’t a caliber I shoot, but this opens the door to repurposing some of those inexpensive bullets.

Another new (to me) swaging innovation appeared in Pinto’s clearance bins- a Herters bullet-swaging die for the paltry sun of $5.

Herter’s swaging die.

This handy device screws right into my RCBS reloading press and produces semi-wadcutters. I had to make something to replace the shell-holder to use it, but that was not difficult. Put a bullet on the plate, center it and run it up into the die. Tap the top with soft hammer and a lovely, fresh-minted SWC pops out. Brilliant!

Home-made base-plate for use with the Herter’s die.
200gr LSWCs made from 200gr. LRNFP (right) punch cleaner holes in paper- useful for target shooting etc.
Swaged 240gr. LSWCs punch nice, clean holes in the target!

Since making that base I’ve discovered that what I need is a ram that actually enters the die with the bullet, so I’ll be making one of those shortly. I’ll also be making swaging dies for heel-base .32 Colt Long bullets, and I’ve recently completed a set for .380 Revolver; essentially a .38 S&W with a heel-base .375 caliber bullet. (In the 20th Century British .380 Revolver cartridges reverted to using .361″ inside-lubed bullets.)

If, like me, you insist on shooting oddball, obsolete cartridges, swaging could be a viable alternative to casting your own. Worth looking into- there’s significantly less investment than getting into casting, and less concern about toxic fumes, molten metal etc.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 29 June 2019

Guns Aren’t Dangerous- Ignorance and Criminal Intent are Dangerous

A hammer is a tool. An ax is a tool. An electric hand-drill is a tool. A gun is a tool. All of these objects are harmless. They are incapable of causing harm without direct human intervention. Left to their own devices they just sit there, and maybe rust.

OK, this is genuinely scary.

A hammer, an ax, or a gun are frightening only in the hands of a criminal bent on mayhem. The electric hand-drill in the hands of a criminal intent on mayhem is fucking terrifying. The common element of all of these things is that they are rendered dangerous by human action. Whether that action is due to malevolence or ignorance is immaterial- it is human action that makes the difference. None of these objects are inherently harmful or dangerous.

‘But guns are designed to kill!” I hear you cry. It’s mostly true, but again irrelevant. Someone who has had their head bashed in with a hammer is not magically ‘less dead’ because of the tool used… and the tool is not responsible for how it’s used.

It’s true that repeating firearms offer a greater potential to produce more casualties more quickly than the other tools mentioned. This is why their ownership is restricted to citizens over a certain age, and without a significant criminal history. It’s why we require a background check for persons to own one, and why certain types of military arms are under tight restrictions or are banned from private ownership. BUT a firearm is just a tool. It is not evil, it is not malevolent. It is frightening only to the ignorant. It creates havoc only by virtue of direct human intervention. Perhaps the practical solution to gun violence is to work on the humans, not the guns.

If you find firearms frightening educate yourself. Take a gun safety class. Understanding relieves fear. Even if you continue to dislike guns you will at least be informed enough to make sensible decisions about them. If you study actual, honest to God crime statistics and are informed about the operation and safe use of firearms you will at least be able look at proposed laws and regulations with an informed eye, so you are better able to judge their potential effectiveness.

Ignorance creates fear. Fear creates bad decisions and bad laws. Break the cycle.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 27 June 2019