FBI – The 9mm – No, the .40 Cal – No, I mean the Nine?
The FBI is going back to the 9mm for its standard issue duty carry. The FBI discarded the 9mm after the disastrous and tragic 1986 Miami firefight where two agents were killed and five agents were severely wounded. These casualties were suffered in a gunfight where the FBI had an eight on two advantage. Actually, it was and eight on one advantage since one suspect got off just a single shot before being knocked unconscious. One gunman did all the damage.
The Old Nine
The FBI, the best law enforcement agency in the world if you believe what they say, found itself with two dead agents, five in the hospital, and a huge PR embarrassment. I believe the FBI reacted to this debacle like any other ordinary government agency: they identified and blamed a patsy. Their patsy was a single bullet fired from an FBI 9mm semi-automatic pistol which failed to penetrate one more inch. One bullet out of a verified 70 shots fired by the FBI. Having studied this gunfight I know there were a myriad of tactical and mindset issues contributing to the appalling results. I attribute most of the problems to the quality of the agents’ training. The FBI’s response was to seek a new round having greater penetration capabilities. This decision lead directly to the now famous FBI Protocols, a series of ballistic tests favoring a round’s depth of penetration in 10 percent ballistic gelatin and through several different barriers. From this arrived the 10mm, and later the .40 Smith and Wesson (the 10mm short).
In 1989 the FBI released a paper written by Special Agent Urey W. Patrick titled: Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness. In this paper Patrick discusses many aspects of terminal ballistics and concluded “bigger is better”. I guess he was saying the 10mm/40 S&W are better than the 9mm because they are bigger and the FBI wants to shoot the bigger and “better” bullet.
That was 1989.
The New Nine
And now the FBI has announced it’s bringing back the 9mm. Since 1986 the Bureau has suffered from a chronic case of tunnel vision relentlessly focusing on just one element of a bullet’s terminal ballistics. For them it’s penetration, penetration and yet more penetration. This obsession began as a handy “CYA” moment and transmogrified into a stone engraved commandment from the clouds. The FBI now says due to improvements in bullet technology they can enjoy their 12 to 18 inches penetration standard and agents can shoot faster and more accurately with the smaller nine.
I searched extensively for the FBI’s most recent such analysis telling us why bigger is no longer better and they like the nine again. I couldn’t find it. I even asked one of my magazine editors if he knew where the full analysis could be found but he also had no success. I did find on looserounds.com an “Executive Summary” (Summary) of the analysis supposedly obtained by a FOIA request. Curiously this Summary reads much like the 1989 paper making the same points again and again. In one section the Summary even cites the 1989 paper as a source. Yet remarkably the Summary concludes no longer is bigger better but in fact higher magazine capacities and faster, more accurate shooting are better. In the second paper the FBI even dismisses “…the old adage ‘bigger is better'”. Although the points realized in the FBI’s most recent epiphany are well taken do they really translate into FBI agents or other law enforcement officers shooting more accurately in gunfights? Both papers cite the same statistic: LEO’s hit their targets at only 20 to 30 percent rates. In the 1989 paper I assume Patrick is referencing their hit rates shooting the 9mm and the Summary cites the rates shooting the .40. So what’s with that? I would think Patrick would have had better hit statistics to cite since back then almost everyone was carrying the faster, more accurate 9mm. The Summary even makes this curious point: “The 9mm provides struggling shooters the best chance of success while improving the speed and accuracy of the most skilled shooters.” So when a law enforcement professional struggles at the range the answer is not additional training but to give him/her an easier gun to shoot? I don’t think so.
The evidence cited by the Summary proving one can shoot faster and more accurately with a nine than a .40 is a test conducted by the Ballistic Research Facility. This test was conducted on a range and who among us doesn’t know we all shoot everything faster and more accurately at the range than in a gunfight?
I’ve seen other writers who’ve said higher magazine capacities are a great reason for going back to the nine since the FBI’s hit rate is just about 20 percent and therefore agents will make more hits by firing more rounds. The problem here is if the 20 percent is a higher number so are the 80 percent which are misses. The solution to low hit rates isn’t to light off a higher number of shots the solution is make the 20 percent 30, 40 or 50 percent. The solution is more and better training.
So the FBI Says
These days the FBI’s credibility is in the mud. For me, anything coming from the J. Edgar Hoover Building is suspect. Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey should be in jail. I watched Comey’s July 5, 2016 press conference live and listened to Comey chronicle the crimes committed by Clinton and then listened as he announced he would not recommend indictment. Going in I assured myself no recommendation was going to happen, however as Comey listed the discovered crimes I actually said to myself “Is he really going to do it?” No, he wasn’t. Anyway we all know from where the fish rots.
The New Bullet
The American Rifleman reports the FBI’s new duty round will be the Speer 147 grain Gold Dot G2. The G2 stands for Generation Two. This bullet supposedly combines the finest aspects of Federal’s HST, Speer’s legendary Gold Dot and Hornady’s Critical Duty/Defense bullets. The latter evidenced by the hollow point cavity being plugged with an elastomer tip. This bullet is the manifestation of technological improvements in bullet construction cited by the FBI as one reason why they are going back to the 9mm. I was going to go into the specific ballistic performance of this bullet but decided not to because any technological improvements in a 9mm bullet can be applied to any caliber. Which to me makes even more curious the FBI’s “evolved” opinion on that old adage “bigger is better”.
We can expect many law enforcement agencies at all levels to follow the FBI’s lead and transition back to the 9mm. Many folks watch what federal agencies, police departments and other agencies say about the weapons and ammo they use. And many often seek to emulate these “experts” when making their choices about the hardware they rely on to protect themselves and their families. My point here is I don’t care what any government agency chooses as a duty weapon or cartridge. Government organizations like the FBI must consider issues irrelevant to the millions of gunfighters who by definition fight and train as individuals. Government organizations must pay for and maintain arsenals, choose weapons and calibers suitable for many, pay for periodic qualification training and wrangle with politicians many of whom believe guns are inherently problematic. These factors easily contribute to decisions and choices not suitable to the lone defender. Because we control the quality of our training and the weapons and ammo we use, I believe anyone dedicated to realizing their full potential and effectiveness in combat can prove to be more battle ready than most professionals. The training regimes of most police officers consists of what they learned at the academy and periodic qualifications requiring minimal skills to pass. My friend, a retired police officer and longtime police firearms instructor, is a plain and blunt speaking man. Many of his reflections about supervising police firing lines cannot be repeated here.
All we have to worry about is our gun. We choose what gun and ammo is best for us and worry little about wear and tear, other people’s maintenance problems and what a bunch of gun-phobic council members think about our hollow points. Therefore, because I can, I choose the big bores. I have two primary carry guns: a Ruger SR1911 in .45ACP and a Ruger GP100 in .357 Magnum. I have accepted where there is a big bang there is recoil and I manage to that recoil. I like shooting big and fast. If others prefer different choices, they make different choices. Because we have the freedom to make our own choices we must examine the decisions made by any government agency with analytic skepticism.
Finally, and this is me, I rarely dismiss anyone as having nothing to offer. I approach most folks believing they know or can do something I need to learn. However I believe there are very few things we the citizen gunfighters need look to the professionals for regarding decisions about how we defend ourselves. I believe it’s useful to study and understand their decisions but given the dissimilar needs and motivations of these organizations, I prefer to just watch what they do and see how it works out. Their opinions on this or that mean little to me.