Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Injury Science - Full Metal Jacket Bullets

I've been working on using the concepts and theories of injury science to gain insights into striking and kicking techniques taught in the martial arts or used in violence generally that would facilitate their study in a practical way. I came across this situation which I thought I'd share.

Injury is defined as the exposure to energy in excess of the tissues tolerance levels. In the case of impacts with moving bodies and objects, kinetic energy is the form of energy that is of interest.

A moving body or object possesses kinetic energy. On impact, when a force is applied, that kinetic energy may be transferred to the impacted body or object causing a change in motion or shape of that body or object. A change in shape refers to deformation, and in the case of a body, if the tissues are deformed beyond their tolerance limits an injury is produced.

If the moving body or object that impacts another body or object continues its motion after impact, not all of its kinetic energy has been transferred to the impacted body or object. For instance, a glancing blow or an exiting bullet is continuing its motion and has not transferred all of its kinetic energy to the target. This reduces the risk of injury or the severity of the injury.

The Hague Convention of 1899 prohibits the use of ammunition on the battlefield which is designed to increase the severity of injury or suffering of the wounded. The full metal jacket bullet is commonly used by the military in compliance with the Hague Convention prohibition. It is a bullet whose lead core is encased in a hard metal which resists deformation and fragmentation on impact. Stewart (2005) explains that this type of bullet will often completely pass through the body of the targeted person 'which means that they do not transfer all of their high energy into the tissues' (Stewart 2005: 188).

On the other hand, domestic law enforcement agencies tend to use bullets which expand on impact. Two reasons for this choice of ammunition are often given, both of which revolve around the tendency of this type of bullet to remain in the body of the targeted person. Firstly, it lessens the risk to innocent bystanders of being injured by an exiting bullet. Secondly, all of the kinetic energy is transferred to the tissues of the targeted person which 'cause such severe wounds that anybody shot by these bullets would be immediately incapacitated' (Gunn 193).

Interestingly, I have read that certain law enforcement agencies are adopting the use of full metal jacket bullets because they are considered more humane.

Standard military issue full metal jacket bullets are designed to reduce the severity of injury or suffering of a wounded combatant in a war zone. Standard domestic law enforcement issue soft nose jacket bullets are designed to cause severe wounds which incapacitate a civilian subject immediately. Am I alone is seeing the irony in this?


  1. >“Interestingly, I have read that certain law >enforcement agencies are adopting the use of >full metal jacket bullets because they are >considered more humane.”

    I read this and about fell out of my chair laughing. Having been associated with Law Enforcement for over 30yrs, and I have to say, this is another one of those “un-informed” (if not stupid) rumors that crop up on occasion.

    >“Standard military issue full metal jacket >bullets are designed to reduce the severity of >injury or suffering of a wounded combatant in >a war zone. Standard domestic law enforcement >issue soft nose jacket bullets are designed to >cause severe wounds which incapacitate a >civilian subject immediately. Am I alone is >seeing the irony in this? “

    Irony, is only in the eye of the uniformed, FMJ bullets reduce the instances of lead poisoning in the wounds of military combatants. Combat situations “did not” have the immediate response to a shooting instance that a civilian one would (hence, greater risk of lead poisoning before medical help could be administered). Additionally, Killing an enemy combatant is not always the most advantageous outcome for a skirmish. By only wounding the soldier, you occupy 3-6 enemy combatants (to tend to a wounded soldier), dead soldiers require 0 assistance.

    In Law Enforcement, the only time you draw your weapon is to utilize it. The only time you fire that weapon, is to kill the perpetrator (forget your television shows that “wound” all the bad guys, it don't happen, and only a fool would believe that it could ). Unlike military situations, the civilian (criminal) is very often under the influence of drugs. Those drugs will nullify the effects of any “wounding” done by a bullet's “hole” (as you inferred would be more humane). The only reasonable, quick (and safe) solution is to attempt to kill the perpetrator as quickly as possible. The HP round destroys a larger amount of tissue (thus further physically debilitating the criminal), and prevents their ability to continue with what ever they were attempting when they were fired upon. If insufficient damage is inflicted, the perpetrator will continue with their original actions. The argument for FMJ rounds (for civilian L.E.) has been argued for years (over 50 to my knowledge). The idiots that promote it are generally uninformed about the resultant effects of ammunition physics (on a human body).

  2. Openhand, thank you for your comment. I do not disagree with anything you've written, however, I think a bit of clarification is needed. The irony would not exist if the different types of bullets used by the military and law enforcement where not contrasted in this manner. It is the reasons for the adoption of the different types of bullets which produces the irony.

    It might have also helped clarify matters if I had have included, when advising that certain law enforcement agencies were considering adopting FMJ bullets on humane grounds, the author's comments which were exactly the same as yours. That those who are promoting the use of FMJ bullets for law enforcement are uninformed as to the realities of law enforcement where violence is involved. He is as critical of those proponents are you are, and to which I agree.

    You raise the issue of what actually happens with FMJ bullets. Again, the irony is limited to the reasons they are adopted. The type of firearm used can also increase the damage a FMJ bullet does if it produces tumble in the bullet, thus increasing the surface area at impact even though the bullet is designed not to deform or fragment. Then of course there is the issue of what tissues are impacted. An FMJ through the brain or spinal cord at the neck is fatal even though the FMJ bullet passes completly through the body thereby not depositing all of its kinetic energy into the tissues which is the cause of injury. Again, the irony is only limited to the reasons the bullets are adopted, not to their actual effect, nor to the realites of law enforcement.

  3. Ps: thank you for giving me the opportunity of clarifying what I can now see might be an inintended interpretation of my post.

  4. Beware of illegitimate information, the "tumbling bullet" fantasy is one that was promoted during the Vietnam war. An (ignorant) reporter heard the "buzzing" created by a spinning bullet (usually caused from impacting limbs and leaves)and told (incorrectly) that it was designed to do so (it's not). A spinning bullet bleeds off power and accuracy, and will actually cause/create less damage upon impact.

  5. thanks for sharing.


Your comments make my work all the more relevant as I use them to direct my research and theorising. Thank you.