Legal Issues

Law Shield: Does Your Ammo Choice Matter in Court?

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Shopping for ammunition can often seem like a daunting task. With consumer overload from the different brands and an abundance of uses, when you’re looking at shelves of ammunition it can be difficult to figure out which type of ammo works best for your firearm and what is legal for you to have.

Texas Law Shield's Kirk Evans
Texas Law Shield’s Kirk Evans
Common slogans on ammunition advertisements include: “This ammunition is designed for military specifications, for consistent stopping power,” “Deep penetration and bullet expansion for the largest exit wound,” “This ammunition has been improved with engineering genius, ensuring the ability to stop any threat,” or “One of the few bullets to pass the FBI’s testing requirements,” followed quickly by, “Buy this ammunition!” These can make it difficult to figure out what will work best for you.

Based on comments in the blog, many Cheaper Than Dirt! readers who might be forced to defend themselves with a firearm worry about how the effectiveness of their ammunition may prejudice how they’re viewed by the courts. So we asked Kirk Evans, president of Texas Law Shield and U.S. Law Shield, to give us some insights into whether the law should affect your ammunition purchases: CHEAPER THAN DIRT!: From a legal perspective, does it matter what ammunition I use in my handgun? Evans: This is one of the most frequently asked questions of Law Shield’s program lawyers. The short answer is, probably not. But for the purposes of this discussion, let me be very clear — we’re talking only about Texas law here. Unfortunately, not every state can be as reasonable as ours. Some ammo may or may not be legal for possession or use in other states, so be sure to check the local laws to make sure what you are carrying is legal.

CHEAPER THAN DIRT!: You said, “probably not.” That is not a “No, it doesn’t matter.” Evans: From the Texas law point of view, if you have been forced to use your firearm to defend yourself, others, or property, usually the ammunition used will not be the main focus of the legal inquiry. Generally, the focus is instead on the circumstances and facts surrounding “why” you had to fire your gun in the first place: that is, was deadly force immediately necessary to defend yourself from death and serious bodily injury? CHEAPER THAN DIRT!: But the ammunition may come up in court? Evans: If you have been forced into the court system after you have used your gun and are relying on a justification defense, such as self-defense, a prosecuting attorney may attempt to argue that, because you used a certain ammunition, that you were looking for trouble. However, a competent defense attorney should be able to explain that a gun is just a tool, and you simply used the best tool to defend yourself. We recommend you use the best ammunition that you believe will protect you, period.

CHEAPER THAN DIRT!: Full metal jacket, personal-defense rounds, or any other legal ammunition are okay? Evans: It may be that you are more concerned with stopping power rather than barrier penetration, or you may want frangible ammunition to minimize the chances of accidentally shooting through a wall and hitting a loved one. These are ballistic issues to think about when looking over the vast array of ammunition. Ammunition is nothing more than a means to an end of safety, merely a tool; so use the best legally available resources you can find for your situation.

CHEAPER THAN DIRT!: What about ammunition marked as “law enforcement only?” Evans: This ammunition is still legal for private persons in Texas to buy, provided that it is not armor-piercing handgun ammo. Manufacturers may make the choice to brand it as law-enforcement ammunition for marketing purposes, or they may have been trying to avoid an excise tax. Either way, the result is the same: it is legal to own and possess in Texas. After all, if this ammo is considered reliable enough for the fine men and women of law enforcement to trust their lives to, what better ammunition to trust with your family’s safety? CHEAPER THAN DIRT!: You mentioned “armor piercing” ammunition as being illegal? Evans: One kind of ammo that is not legal is armor-piercing ammunition. “Armor-piercing” handgun ammo is illegal to possess under both Texas and federal law. Texas Penal Code §46.01(12) defines armor-piercing ammo as handgun ammunition designed primarily for the purpose of penetrating metal or body armor and to be used primarily in pistols and revolvers.

Federal law in 18 U.S.C. 44 §921(17)(B) is even more technical. It defines armor-piercing ammo “as a projectile or projectile core which may be used in a handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence of traces of other substances) from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, depleted uranium, or a full jacketed projectile larger than .22 caliber, designed and intended for use in a handgun and whose jacket has a weight of more than 25 percent of the total weight of the projectile.” CHEAPER THAN DIRT!: But aside from armor piercing…? Evans: If you have a chance, experiment with different types of ammunition until you find what works best for you.

Do you use commercial ammunition or handloads for your personal carry? Tell us about your choice in the comment section.

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The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog. "The Shooter's Log", is to provide information - not opinions - to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decicions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (53)

  1. @ Bill Safrin
    Do you drive a $1500 car while leaving your $50,000 ride in the garage. afraid you will be in an accident? I carry high priced and medium priced, depending on what I want to carry at that time.

  2. Interesting comments. I figured I would slip off the intruders footwear, put it on, kick the door in assuming he didn’t and replace the footgear. Then I would swap out any firearm used for the “Saturday night special”. Then check the ammo and if any cop can tell the difference between reloads and brand new ammo I’ve never met him. Then I will call the non-emergency number at the PD or SO. Then my place will be turned into a crime scene so I will lock all the doors (locks already installed). My family will probably be kicked out for days so I’ll make sure they have money for a motel. I’ll respond, “no comment” to any questions and I will never take the stand in court. I would never allow a DA to ask a question unchallenged that would amount to testimony such as the one quoted above. Oh, I’ve appealed a district court ruling to a court of appeals and won so I’m not taking much of a .chance.

  3. My CCW instructor spent a large part of our class talking about the legal system and how it will effect you in a defensive use of a firearm.

    We were told to purchase several boxes of new manufacture loaded “defensive handgun ammunition” in our caliber, test fire and practice with that ammo. We were also told to keep the CCW gun loaded with that ammo and keep an empty box for that ammo at home.

    In the event of charges being filed against you and that question “SO YOU LIKE TO USE MAN STOPPER KILLER AMMO” or such a statement by the prosecutor, your response will be “I purchased the recommended ammunition for self defense use of this firearm as I was instructed in my class” and your attorney has the box to show the jury.

    1. @ Ken W.,

      Okay, I’m going to pick on your CCW instructor for a minute… When it comes to store-bought handgun ammo there is really no distinction aside from maybe a snake load. While hollow point versus full metal jacket has distinct applications, they are all designed to penetrate and destroy. So it is somewhat of a joke to label any round as “defensive handgun ammunition”.

      Does one find this specific “defensive” ammo located in its own section on a shelf next to the “murder your boss” ammo or the “rob a bank” ammo? I think not.

      Maybe I am missing your instructor’s point, but what difference does it make whether you kept the ammo box or receipt for that matter? When it comes to charges this serious, forensics will no doubt establish your choice of ammo; whether you kept the boxes or not.

      Also, given my vast experience testifying in court, I can assure you most prosecutors will never allow you such a lengthy answer. They will stop you and demand the judge order you to answer with only “yes” or “no” responses to their questions.

      Eliciting only “yes” or “no” only responses is a tactic used to play to the jury. That way if later they can prove that even a portion of a question should have been answered with a “yes” and you still said “no”, they will claim you are a liar and use it to discredit the rest of your testimony.

      However, a good defense attorney upon redirect will know to ask you the same question again and allow you to elaborate with a more lengthy answer in hopes it will counter any damage done by the prosecution. Unfortunately it is not always as effective and looks more like damage control to the jury.

      In the end, any ammo designed for your caliber gun is the right ammo. Anytime someone pulls the trigger, a reasonable person knows it has a high likelihood of resulting in death. A good attorney will get the jury past this ridiculous prosecutorial semantic of ammo type and move on to establishing a strong justification that the particular situation warranted you having to employ deadly force regardless of your choice in ammunition.

    2. G-man,
      Respectfully, after talking with Massad Ayoob, the purpose of keeping the empty box of ammo (or having a spare box) is for that forensic examination you spoke of.

      IF there are questions about how close you were to the perp or whether the ammo you used was questionable the forensics lab will do testing. If your statements indicate the rough distance to the perp, they’ll test fire a round or two of your remaining ammo, if any, at that distance to see if the powder residue is consistent with the stated distance and compare it to residue on the perp or perp’s clothing.

      With factory ammo, what you shoot may be ammo you purchased last year or 8 years ago (especially at the price of good defensive JHP). The company may have changed powders and/or the size of the charge in the meantime. The result can be similar, with the new powder producing more or less powder residue than what you fired, leading to incorrect conclusions about the distance.

      If this becomes an issue in the case, having the original box with the lot number marked on one of the flaps can be invaluable to your defense. It could allow your attorney to discuss with the manufacturer if the powder or charge today is different than what you used.

      If you used reloads there is no commercial ammo for comparison since the powders they use won’t act like most available canister powders. And even if the powders were the same the size of the charge will likely be different and produce different results. Your larger charge of powder may produce more powder residue, indicating a shorter distance to the perp, contradicting your statements. However, if you still have about six rounds of the ammo left from the lot of ammo you loaded, it can be used to help verify your statements.

      As to Yes/No answers to questions, your attorney should be keen enough to brief you before any testimony. You can always appeal to the judge to allow you to answer more completely or ask the prosecutor if he could rephrase the question.

  4. Partly because of comments from former LEO, I only use factory new personal defense ammo from well-known companies. It will say “personal defense” or Law Enforcement Use on the box. Large companies have a reputation for careful quality control and record keeping.
    I also carefully avoid “zombie killer” ammo because it seems less serious or gives the impression that the killing is the most important issue. I know some of the zombie ammo is the same as defense ammo with different packaging or color.

  5. As an attorney in Houston for the past 21 years, I can say that many of these comments are spot on. Thanks to Cheaper Than Dirt for this forum to express our views.

  6. Answer to CTD question, I always have commercial ammunition in my carry weapons. The judicial system has no reason to know I reload.
    Outstanding points, Bill. I would like to add, when a Concealed Carry holder shoots a criminal, the LLEA will not arrive and pat you on the back. You will be arrested, your weapon taken from you, and depending on where you live there is a good chance you will never see the weapon again. I carry accurate and reliable firearms, but leave my favorites at home in the safe.
    God Bless All of You that live in California and New England. We the people of the Southern states are now receiving Firearms manufacturers that are leaving the states set on abolishing the Second Amendment. Please anyone that reads our comments if you are not an NRA member, join now.

    1. @ Wireslinger
      To your point, a carry gun should be a less expensive, but reliable gun (excellent new pistols can be had for less than $500 or even $400). It makes absolutely no sense to carry an engraved, gold inlaid 1911 worth $5,000. You will be carrying the gun day in and day out, which means that it is going to receive extraordinary wear and tear. Your carry gun(s) is going to constantly get bumped, rubbed, banged and scratched. A carry gun should be viewed as a rugged and reliable tool not a show piece. In fact, if you are a concealed carry permit holder, the gun should not be ‘shown’ at all…unless you are using if for defense at the time.

      I am EXTREMELY selective about whom I even discuss concealed carry with (as your knowledge of the discussion itself often reveals or at least implies that you are carrying). Even during such a discussion, I never display my own carry weapon unless I am in a VERY private setting and I know the other person exceptionally well. Acquaintances can be misjudged and unpredictable. Displaying a gun in the wrong company or setting can alarm a nearby party and elicit a painfully inconvenient interaction with the police.

      Get a reliable ‘Plain Jane’ gun, with only those upgrades which might make it more useful in its role, (i.e. Night sights, integrated laser, etc.) and keep the cost as low as possible. Crossing paths with a wrong minded LEO could have your gun ‘taken into custody’ by the officer for something as mundane as ‘establishing ownership’. Yes, I know that Police have no authority to LEGALLY do that without contributing probable cause, but it has happened more than once here in New Orleans (a staunchly liberal hotbed of a city right in the middle of the rabidly conservative state of Louisiana). The fact is that, if a LEO decides to ‘hang on’ to your gun, right or wrong, there isn’t anything you can practically do to stop them. Carrying a really nice gun could encourage a less-than-scrupulous officer to ‘collect’ your gun. Barring you being able to surreptitiously record the interaction on your phone, the officer can claim that he has no knowledge of your gun and it would be your word against his.

    2. Simply not accurate Wireslinger. Because you shoot someone in self defense does not mean you will be arrested. Yes, you will lose your weapon until an investigation is complete. However, I know a gentlemen who did just that. He defended his family from a home invasion, killed the intruder with a well placed shot to the throat amongst a horrific struggle and was absolutely not arrested. He did lose his pistol which after almost a year was returned to him. I know circumstances vary, but to say you will be arrested is simply not accurate. I believe it solely depends on where you live, the circumstances, and what LLEA is investigating.

    3. I shoot nothing but reloads that a ammo manufacturer in central tx reloads for me (9mm)-(223) ammo. I have shot ID PA compation shooting with my 9mm.ive had superior quality reloads.i love the company I do business with. Only 2 bullets out of 12000k rounds primer pin did allow to fire.when I bought winchester and Remington ammo I had more than 2 not fire out of 4 boxes of 100 round plus 5 boxes of 224 federal I had 2 not fire out of 25 bullets. I have no problems protecting myself with reloads that I use.i haven’t tried any other company because the company I use is perfect for me.

    4. Interesting. Except for some Thunderbolt Remington 22LR, made during the height of the rimfire shortage, I have never had a misfire with factory ammo. I have had misfires over the years with reloads, not mine but with so called “factory ” reloads. Not many mind you maybe 1 out of 10K [inverted primers]. And to be honest, it was during the 80s by a major company called 3D. I am not even seen there stuff in a decade.
      But I call you out on reloads being somehow better quality than first line manufactured ammo. With my practice shooting, I use reloads from Freedom and others but my carry ammo is factory. If the ammo fails and I die, I want my wife to be set. Really, in all seriousness, I trust factory ammo with you life.

  7. I would tell a Grand Jury or Court Jury that I used the same ammo as the Local/State/Federal Police because I know that they would not use an unsafe ammo and I’d want the same safety ammo that they have.

    That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

    Jungle Work

  8. In all of my research into this topic, I have discovered several valid ‘tips’.

    First, do NOT use reloaded ammunition in your self defense gun. It shouldn’t make a difference, but it gives overzealous DA’s an avenue to ‘muddy the water’s’ with the jury (who themselves may not be very gun savvy). Some DA’s will attempt to use the fact that you reload your own ammo as a way to ‘prove’ that you are a ‘gun nut’. Just use any quality factory load.

    Second, do NOT carry a gun which has had ANY tuning modifications (i.e. a trigger job with a lighter than standard pull), PARTICULARLY if someone else, such as a spouse, might use the gun to defend themselves. The DA’s can actually try to make a case that you didn’t INTEND to shoot the victim.

    Seriously! In some jurisdictions, if you shoot and kill a criminal to defend yourself, it’s self defense, but if you legitimately point your gun at him and the DA can convince the jury that you didn’t MEAN for the gun to go off, then it is manslaughter. GUILTY! No kidding, so don’t ‘tweak’ your self defense weapons.

    Third, (this one seems obvious) If you haven’t done it already, research defense attorneys right now! Find a Rock-star defense attorney BEFORE you have to defend yourself, then program his/her name and phone number into your phone! Alternatively, you could call the number of your legal defense insurance provider (which would hopefully put you on the phone with an experienced atty).

    Fifth, after a self defense event, call 911, and DO ONLY THESE THINGS! Give them your name and location, tell them you were attacked and had to defend yourself, request the Police and an ambulance, THEN HANG UP and immediately call your attorney or legal defense program hotline. As it turns out, even if you are on HOLD with 911, it’s still recording everything you or anyone else says and if you’ve just shot someone, then you might inadvertently utter something that can be twisted later in court!

    Sixth, do NOT say ANYTHING to the police without a lawyer present. You must VERBALIZE your wish to “exercise you fifth amendment right to remain silent”. Simply clamming up without verbalizing you wish to “remain silent” can actually be characterized as obstructionist, defiant or arrogant behavior by the DA.

  9. Good point sir. Yet as I said it the DA’s office you need to prepare for here. The best strategy is not to use nay reloads but use what the State police do.

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