January 12, 2005

WNBC News Jumps The Gun

I have always been a staunch Second Amendment advocate.

I think we would benefit as a society from a national concealed carry law. I am a proponent of reinvigorating high school and college shooting programs, and feel that what the media labels as assault weapons are exactly the kinds of firearms the Founding Fathers intended us to have as I noted in a previous article.

But as strongly pro-gun as I am, I have finally found a specifically horrific firearm/ammo system whose ban I wholeheartedly support once I saw it pre-pitched for broadcast Wednesday evening (01/11/05) at 5:00 PM on WNBC News, New York.

Once you saw the pitch, how could you not?

"It" is the Fabrique Nationale Five seveN, a handgun that fires the relatively new 5.7x28mm cartridge. One kind of ammunition for this firearm is SS190, ammunition that looks like scaled-down 5.56mm NATO rounds and boosts the 2.02 gram (31 grains) pointed steel and aluminum core bullet to the muzzle velocity of 650 meters per second (ca. 2130 fps) from the pistol barrel.

It isn't a hunting handgun like a .454 Casull or .475 Linebaugh that penetrates armor as a side effect, but a weapon specifically built from the ground up to penetrate helmets and body armor to kill the person inside when using the SS190 ammunition. As law enforcement officers are the only Americans who typically wear body armor, this weapon/ammunition combination in civilian hands functions only as a "cop killer." Right?

We would be fools to allow this monstrosity of gun and ammo to be for sale on New York streets, or streets anywhere else. The nerve of these people! Got your righteous indignation up? Freshened your torch and sharpened your pitch fork?


Come with me and burn down WNBC News, because this weapon/ammo combination is not now, nor has ever been, available to the public.

You heard me right: this firearm/ammunition combination is not for sale at any price, to any civilian in the United States.

If WNBC News had bothered to Google the Five seveN, they might have run across the very prominent information that this specific ammunition and weapon combination is available for government and law enforcement sales only. The Five seveN, itself is perfectly legal to own, but only with the slower, lighter SS192 practice/duty ammunition that in not armor penetrating.

Even in armor-piercing SS190 form, this ammunition is thought to be less lethal than most existing handgun ammunition, and has not convinced experts that it has any more stopping power than the anemic .22 Magnum rimfire, and weaker than 95% of handgun designs currently on the market.

So much for the myth of the magical cop-killer. I guess this myth will go the way of the plastic gun invisible to x-rays.

Remind me again who the professional journalists are?

Post-Broadcast Update
WNBC News, to their credit, did a better job with their story than I was prepared to give them credit for initially. They acknowledged that the SS190 ammunition was not for sale to the public, and were able to show that the SS192 practice/duty ammunition was able to pierce a piece of body armor they selected in an uncontrolled environment.

WNBC News showed footage of a law enforcement officer firing a three-shot group from a Five seveN loaded with SS192 ammunition into a ballistic vest on an indoor firing range at a distance I estimated to be about seven yards.

There was definite penetration of the ballistic material, but their demonstration raised as many questions as it answered, at least in my mind.

What was the age, classification, and integrity of the vest in the demonstration?
How old was this vest? Was it recent, using the most modern ballistic materials, or was it an older vest made with less advanced technologies than are used in the average body armor of today's police officers? Was it obsolete?

What was the classification of this vest? I know that no body armor is truly "bulletproof," and that there are various levels of protection, from vests rated at a relatively low Level 2 that will stop edged-weapon attacks and some low-to-mid-powered pistol bullets, to Level 4 armor that will stop direct, multiple hits from 7.62 rifle rounds. What was the rating of the vest in question? I have seen body armor before, and quite frankly, the armor used for the demonstration looked flimsy, at least on television.

What was the structural integrity of this vest prior to the demonstration? The demonstration claimed to fire three rounds from the Five SeveN followed by one round from a low pressure .45 ACP, but the vest appeared to have as many as six impact points prior to firing the .45 ACP round. Multiple bullet strikes can diminish the ability of the vest to stop following rounds, and therefore if there were previous rounds fired into this vest, it could have weakened it significantly.

In short, if WNBC News used an older early model ballistic vest with lower level protection, and/or a vest that had been previously compromised by multiple bullet impacts, then they ran what is essentially a rigged test with severely compromised validity.

The fact that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms approved both the Five seven and it's SS192 cartridge indicates that the experts who evaluate these firearms and their cartridges before allowing their sale and import, obviously disagree with WNBC News as to the armor-piercing abilities of this handgun and its ammunition. To me, their rigorous testing and expertise is just a bit more believable than an uncontrolled impromptu demonstration performed with questionable methodology and materials.

In addition, WNBC News made no comment at all as to the miniscule size of the actual bullet and its lethality, or "stopping power," preferring instead just to focus on its velocity. Folks, ask any real gun guy you know and ask them if they'd rather be shot by the Five seveN's 5.7mm bullet, which some experts compare to a .22 magnum, or the nearly hundred year-old .45 ACP cartridge. The vast majority will take their chances with the over-hyped mousegun that is the Five seveN. It is highly hyped, but unproven.

WNBC News managed to pull off a more sophisticated smoke and mirrors act than most news channels do in their anti-gun stories, but in the end, it is still just seems to be smoke and mirrors.

NYPD Update: I noticed this weekend that this site is getting some traffic from a law enforcement message board discussing the Five SeveN. I would like to point out that while the Five SeveN has much more velocity and lower recoil than any other duty-sized semiauto that I can recall, there are at least three half-century-old inexpensive pistol/ammo combos that I can think of right off the top of my head that can defeat many kinds of body armor, though for your safety, I will not mention them here.

My advice to the brave men in law enforcement is to simply follow your training; even a lowly .22 short can kill you if it hits you in the right spot. So don't get shot (Gee thanks, C.Y. we wouldn't have thought of that on our own!).

Get expert opinions from firearms guys in the BATF, FBI, and the firearms and ballistic armor industry before you make policy changes and leave the hype (positive or negative) to the news guys, the brass, and the bloggers.

Final (hopefully) update: The Five SeveN was built from the ground up as an anti-armor sidearm and ammunition combination.

While I do not advocate infringing upon the Second Amendment, I would note that the BATF is the organization responsible for determining whether a firearm an caliber of ammunition are available to the public.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at January 12, 2005 03:05 PM