Law Shield: Does Your Ammo Choice Matter in Court?

By Woody published on in News

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.

Click here to ask a confidential legal question of Texas Law Shield.

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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 decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (42)

  • Wireslinger

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    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.

    Reply

    • Biff Sarin

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      @ 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.

      Reply

  • Jungle Work

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    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

    Reply

  • Flick

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    Bill,you are dead on at every point.Well Stated

    Reply

  • Biff Sarin

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    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.

    Reply

    • G-Man

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      @ Biff Sarin: Simply excellent advice!

      Reply

  • Peyton

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    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.

    Reply

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