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Safety Ammo for Apartments or Multi-Family Dwellings

A questioner writes:  “I recently purchased a 9mm Kahr PM9 for concealed carry and home defense. I live in an apartment and would like to get ammunition that will not put others in the complex in danger. I am looking at Mag-Safe but have read mixed reviews about the functioning in autos. Thank you for your time.”

This was a great question.  It is an excellent issue to consider if you live in a multi-family dwelling or apartment complex.  The questioner was being a very responsible person to be making sure that they minimized the opportunity for ‘collateral damage’ should they have to use a handgun for personal defense at home.

Mag-Safe and other frangible rounds will essentially break up on contact with any hard surface.  The Mag-Safe rounds in particular have a pellet core in the 9mm configuration and will not penetrate sheet-rock.  Most other frangible rounds have an epoxy core and again will not penetrate any hard surface that you might fire at.

Glaser Safety Slugs are another variety of ammo that is designed to avoid over penetration.  Glaser uses a jacketed round that contains a tightly packed lead shot projectile.  Again, the issue here is that in many cases the projectile does not achieve enough penetration to do significant damage to your intended target.  Thus, the lack of stopping power tends to defeat the purpose of using a gun against your bad guy.

There are a couple of versions of Glaser rounds that supposedly have different penetration characteristics.  The ‘blue’ version is supposed to penetrate a soft target 5-7 inches where the ‘silver’ version is supposedly good for between 8-10 inches of penetration.  These tests are done using ‘ballistic gelatin’.  Last time I checked, ballistic gelatin does not wear heavy clothing or hide behind walls, doors, furniture or other objects, so I would take these penetration numbers with a grain of salt.

There is a potential for reliability issues with this type of ammo when used in a semi-automatic pistol.  It is generally not a ‘feed’ issue but a ‘cycle’ issue.  Many of these rounds are not powerful enough to reliably cycle a semi-automatic pistol.   I have used frangible ammo extensively during training exercises in shoot houses and in my personal experience, this has been an issue for certain weapons and calibers.

I would suggest a couple of things right off the bat.  First, if you do use something like Mag-Safe or any other ‘frangible’ ammo, I’d strongly suggest that you do not use it for concealed carry when you are ‘out in the world’.

Using frangible or pre-fragmented ammo is great if you are concerned about penetration in your home, but lousy if you need to shoot through a hollow core door, heavy concealment, a car door or something else that your bad guy is hiding behind.

The Federal Air Marshals did some testing with frangible ammo a few years back.  It is instructive that they now all carry standard hollow point defensive ammo and do not carry frangible ammunition.

If you are really concerned about over-penetration at home, I’d probably suggest having two different magazines.  Load one with a frangible round and put that one in the gun when at home.  Load the other one with a high quality defensive round and use that one when ‘out in the world’.

One last thing to consider…if you are shooting a high quality defensive round and hit your intended target, you should not have to worry about over-penetration putting your neighbors at risk.  It is only an issue if you ‘miss’.  With good marksmanship and situational awareness, you may not really need the frangible ammo at all…

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Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. In the Know says:

    Doug,

    You need to do your research a bit more carefully. Federal Air Marshals do NOT carry frangible ammo, although they wish they did. I’d like to see that study you are referring to. In the mean time, please read this story:

    http://washingtontimes.com/news/2006/jun/13/20060613-123248-2105r/

    Also, in the Miami shooting, 5 of the 9 bullets that struck the subject went right through him and embedded into the wall. That’s not frangible ammo that does that.

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  2. Doug Little says:

    I wanted to respond to the comment by Vegas Sky Marshal.

    According to my research, Federal Sky Marshals did test and use Glaser Safety Slugs in the 1970s and 1980s.

    As my article noted, this is no longer the case. It states that Federal Sky Marshals currently carry standard hollow point defensive ammo.

    I just wanted to be clear about what my article did and did not say.

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