August 09, 2008

Encouraging News: Secret Service Doesn't Know Much About Bullets, May Have Jeopardized Case Against Assassination Suspect

The Secret Service agents that arrested Raymond Hunter Geisel claimed in their affidavit that 40 rounds (two boxes) of Black Talon bullets recovered from Geisel's vehicle are "armor-piercing," a claim that is categorically false.

Armor-piercing bullets have almost no legitimate use outside of shooting people wearing body armor. It is for this reason that it has been illegal to manufacture, import, transfer, or deliver armor-piercing ammunition in the United States since 1986, according to Title 18, U.S. Code Section 922.

The coating on Black Talon ammunition is merely an oxide designed to help minimize barrel fouling—it doesn't give bullets the ability to penetrate armor. The Black Talon cartridge uses industry standard velocities and hollowpoint bullets with an oxide finish. Hollowpoints are actually more likely to be stopped by body armor than most other bullet designs because of their increased surface area of the bullet shape. All ammunition recovered from Geisel's possession were types consistent with use in the shooting portion of the bail-bondsman class in which Geisel made threats.

Falsely claiming that Geisel's bullets are armor-piercing in information released to the media could be argued by an enterprising defense attorney as an intent to prejudice the case against Geisel by suggesting nefarious intent, when none could or should have been inferred by the incorrect description of the bullet type alone.

It's rather sad that one of our nation's most elite law enforcement agencies bought into an ignorant fantasy of magical coatings creating armor-piercing "cop killer" bullets, an illusion manufactured by the media and anti-gun groups more than a decade ago. It's worse that such ignorance might be used in the defense of a man who is accused of threatening political assassinations.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at August 9, 2008 07:35 PM

Thats just great. This is almost as funny as the posts on the Mythbusters boards that claim spraying your bullets with Teflon will make them punch through armor.

Idiotic, totally idiotic.

Posted by: Matt at August 9, 2008 09:31 PM

Actually, the Black Talon bullets were designed as "super-hollowpoints": maximum soft tissue damage, not as good at penetrating armor / cover / etc.

Posted by: SDN at August 9, 2008 10:12 PM

SDN, I've got to disagree with you, in that there is nothing "super" about the BT. Don't get me wrong, as I think is a good round--I carry a +P SXT variant in my S&W 637CT--but is an evolutionary design, not a revolutionary one, and doesn't have a track record of real-world performance appreciably different than other modern hollowpoints, be they Hydra-Shoks, Gold Dots, Silvertips, Starfires, or other quality designs.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at August 9, 2008 11:19 PM

Maybe the Secret Service is wearing that fancy lightweight cardboard body armor?

Posted by: Purple Avenger at August 10, 2008 04:49 AM

"SDN, I've got to disagree with you,"

+1. Black talons are 20 year old technology, and not that great in the first place. It seems that the initial tests done on their terminal effectiveness were done in milk jugs filled with water (one that recreated, and came up with different results).

Testing in water generally gives up very dorked up results because there is more hydrostatic effect on the projectile in regular water than in 10C or flesh.

Later on they started using 10C gel, and still only had expansion rates in the high 60 percentile. In flesh, from what I remember anyway, they only expanded if they hit bone.

The idiotic left antigunners have been trying to say Black Talons are armor piercing for many years, and it sounds like our boys in the Secret Service fell into the lies.

"Winchester Black Talon Revisited

There appears to be continuing confusion surrounding the different versions of the Black Talon bullet, its legality for possession by private citizens, as well as its alleged "cop-killer bullet" armor-piercing capability. Here's the lowdown:

Black Talon SXT: The original Black Talon handgun bullet. It was introduced in 1991. The cartridge consists of a black colored bullet seated in a nickel-plated case. The black paint-like coating on the bullet is a Winchester proprietary lubricant called Lubalox. The bullet has six serrations on the rim of the hollowpoint cavity (meplat), and six talons. The talons deploy when the bullet expands. They are described by Winchester as: "six uniform, radial jacket petals with perpendicular tips." Winchester voluntarily discontinued sales of Black Talon SXT to the general public in late 1993/early 1994 due to intense negative media and political pressure. Some political activists derisively referred to it as "Black Felon" ammo. Black Talon is packaged in boxes of 20 cartridges.

Ranger SXT: Ranger SXT is a less expensive version of the original Black Talon cartridge intended for the law enforcement market. It consists of a black Lubalox coated bullet seated in a brass case. The bullet has six serrations on its meplat, and six talons. Ranger SXT is packaged in boxes of 50 cartridges marked "Law Enforcement Ammunition."

Supreme SXT: Redesigned "civilian" version of the original Black Talon bullet. The cartridge consists of a copper-jacketed bullet seated in a nickel-plated case. The bullet has eight serrations on its meplat, and no talons. Supreme SXT is packaged in boxes of 20 cartridges.

According to Olin-Winchester public relations, the Supreme SXT bullet design has not been factory tested in standard ordnance gelatin because it was not designed to meet police ammunition performance specifications. As a result, there's no valid and verifiable performance data available from Winchester or the FBI.

We find Winchester's attitude troubling because they're marketing a personal defense bullet (a life safety device) in which they confessed to us that they've no idea how well (or poorly) it performs. Therefore, we advise you not to buy and use Supreme SXT until Winchester gets its act together and coughs up performance data for this cartridge.

Ranger Talon: The second generation version of the original Black Talon SXT bullet. The cartridge consists of a copper-jacketed bullet seated in a nickel-plated case. The bullet has six serrations on its meplat, and six talons. Ranger Talon is packaged in boxes of 50 cartridges marked "Law Enforcement Ammunition."

There is no Federal law that prohibits a private citizen from purchasing or possessing any of the Black Talon bullet variants. Additionally, there is no Federal law, which forbids private possession and use of "law enforcement" handgun ammunition, except specifically defined armor-piercing handgun ammunition. Black Talon, Ranger SXT and Ranger Talon do not meet the criteria for armor-piercing handgun ammunition as defined by Federal law. However, there may be State or local laws that ban private possession of Black Talon and its variants.

The negative media frenzy of late 1993 produced untrue assertions that Black Talon was an armor-piercing "cop-killer" bullet. We've fired both 9mm and .40 S&W Black Talon bullets into threat level IIA soft body armor and the armor easily stopped the bullets. The "armor-piercing" myth may have originated from the markings used on certain military small-arms ammunition. U.S. military cartridges with a black painted tip indicates the bullet is armor-piercing.

(Federal Nyclad ammunition is often mistaken as armor-piercing ammunition too, due to the blue-black nylon coating on the lead bullet.)

The black Lubalox coating on the Black Talon bullet is meant to reduce in-bore friction and chamber pressure. Once the bullet leaves the muzzle, the mission of the coating is completed. Lubalox does not give the bullet any special property that allows it to blast through police soft body armor.

Recently, the newer Winchester 9mm 127 grain +P+ Ranger SXT bullet (product number RA9SXTP) has been found to penetrate some lower threat level soft body armor. Second Chance Body Armor Company recalled one of its vests in response to officer safety concerns posed by this particular bullet."

Posted by: Matt at August 10, 2008 09:36 AM

Correction: "armor piercing" should read Under Armour piercing.

Posted by: Pablo at August 10, 2008 10:43 AM

Hollywood did a lot to popularize "cop-killer" bullets, especially Lethal Weapon 3 (released in 1992) which had "cop-killer" bullets penetrating the steel blade of a bulldozer before perforating the criminal operating it.

There are a lot of fables promoted by the anti-gun crowd, but I would expect even the greenest federal agent to know the truth about such matters.

Posted by: Just Askin' at August 10, 2008 07:33 PM

Actually, one should not assume that law enforcement officers, even those who work for federal agencies, know much more about firearms than the manual of arms necessary for the firearm(s) they commonly carry. It is not uncommon for cops to know relatively little about their own weapons and most LE agencies require handgun qualification only once or twice a year with generous passing scores on relatively easy courses of fire. For most American cops, that's all the shooting they do, and some don't even bother to clean their weapons after those infrequent shoots.

One could reasonably expect that the average Secret Service agent would be required to attain a higher level of proficiency with their weapons and spend more range time than the average local patrol officer, but that's about all one might be safely able to assume. One shouldn't expect federal law enforcement to be on the cutting edge of weapons, tactics or ammunition either. Such agencies tend to be rigid and inflexible, choosing weapons and ammo based on criteria (low bids, inflexible thinking, office politics, etc.) other than tactical excellence.

For example, for many years, the FBI absolutely resisted semi-automatic pistols and the Weaver position which are today the default standards of pistolcraft. I remember in my early law enforcement career being trained in FBI tactics which the FBI claimed were absolutely state of the art. I believe they called it the Combat Crouch, but I called it the squat and spray method. One faced fully onto the target, squatted deeply, fired one handed only, and clutched the weak arm fist over the heart. The FBI taught that this would prevent penetration of a round that might otherwise strike the heart. That it also rendered one's shooting much less effective and made movement difficult didn't enter into state of the art federal thinking at the time. Our little Wyoming police department was decades ahead of the feds back then.

I'm not dumping on law enforcement at all, just explaining that while most cops carry firearms, a small proportion are expert in their use, and a smaller proportion expert in firearm and ballistic science. Should they know better? Yes, and there is nothing keeping the Secret Service from running such things past agents who know what they're talking about before making public pronouncements.

Posted by: Mike at August 10, 2008 10:58 PM