As an expert witness in shooting cases over the past few decades, Massad Ayoob has drawn a few conclusions about what works and what doesn't. In this excerpt from his recent book, Combat Shooting with Massad Ayoob, he explains why he avoids the use of handloads for defensive purposes.
Anti-gun types have attacked our ammo as well as our firearms since long before I came on the scene. It happens in the press, it happens in State Houses, and yes, it also happens in the courts. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, he established malice when he loaded his gun with hollow-nose dum-dum bullets, designed to rend and tear brutal wounds and cause horrible pain and suffering and ensure the agonizing death of his victim!” It happens more routinely than you’d think in armed citizen shooting trials, though rarely in police shooting cases since hollow points became the law enforcement standard.
This argument is, no pun intended, easy to shoot down…if your lawyer knows how. We simply establish that you chose the same type of ammo as the police, for the same reasons. With hollow points, the bullets are less likely to over-penetrate the body of the dangerous felon and strike down unseen innocent bystanders, and also less likely to ricochet and create unintended additional victims. Moreover, since collective experience shows us the improved stopping effect of the HP (hollow point) ammo means the bad guy will have to be shot fewer times to neutralize his violent activity, he is relatively less likely to die of his wounds. However, the argument in favor of hollow point ammo is useless if not effectively presented by the defense. Famed appellate lawyer Lisa Steele has seen defendants convicted with this argument when their trial lawyers failed to neutralize the poison. So have I. This apparently happened in the Arizona case mentioned above, contributing to what I for one believe was a wrongful conviction.
While it’s a slam-dunk to defend your use of hollow point ammo, the use of handloads in a shooting presents much more serious problems to your defense team. Defensive shootings are often very close-range affairs in which gunshot residue (GSR) from your muzzle is deposited on your attacker’s body or clothing. This can become a critical evidentiary factor if the other side insists he was too far away from you to endanger you at the moment he was shot. The distance testing is done with exemplar ammunition, that is, ammo identical to what was in your gun, but not the same exact cartridges. Don’t count on the crime lab testing the remaining rounds from your weapon as taken into evidence at the shooting scene. If the fight was sufficiently intense, there may not be any rounds left in the gun that saved your life. Even if there are remaining cartridges in evidence, they may not be tested. The prosecutor can argue, “Your honor, firing those cartridges consumes them! It’s destructive testing! The defense is asking the Court’s permission to destroy the evidence! You cannot allow it!” Do you think that’s a BS argument? So did I…until I saw a judge accept it, in a case where handloads were used in the death weapon, but the state crime lab tested with a much more powerful factory load, based on the headstamp on the reloaded casings. That gave a false indication of distance involved, and the defendant – whom I have strong reason to believe was innocent – was convicted of manslaughter.
You’d think the court would take the reloader’s records into account and allow testing based on that. It doesn’t happen. No one has yet been able to offer a case where the Court took the reloader’s data or word for what was in the load. It’s seen as self-serving “evidence” that can’t be independently verified. Sort of like a rape suspect saying, “I couldn’t have done it, because it says right here in my own diary that I was somewhere else that day.”
After seeing these things in court, I learned to avoid the use of handloads for defensive purposes.