Authorities have identified the weapons U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan used to carry out his murderous assault at Fort Hood as a FN Five-seveN pistol and an older model Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolver. Initial accounts indicated that only the Five-seveN was used. Hasan fired an estimated 100+ times in the five-minute span from the start of the shooting spree until a civilian police officer at the base put him down with four shots from her own weapon.
Thirteen died and 30 were wounded Hasan’s Nov. 5 attack. It was the worst attack ever on a stateside military base. Predictably, media in the United States and overseas have reacted with breathless horror at the news Hasan used a weapon they’ve deemed a “cop killer” and “an assault rifle that fits in your pocket.” Few things could be further from the truth.
What’s the truth? It may not come as a surprise that the media is wrong yet again, but the reason why may be surprising. Ironically, more of the wounded soldiers are possibly alive today because of Hasan’s media-hyped choice of weapons.
The Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (FN Herstal) Five-SeveN pistol chosen by Hasan for his assault was produced for the first time just over a decade ago as a companion to the FN P90, a unique personal defense weapon first produced in 1990 and chambering a new 5.7x28mm cartridge. The SS190 5.7x28mm cartridge shared by the P90 carbine and Five-seveN pistol was specifically designed to be more effective than the pistol caliber rounds used for most of the previous century by using a small-diameter, high-velocity, armor-piercing bullet that could penetrate the soft body armor increasingly being used by enemy soldiers, terrorists, and criminals.
The Five-SeveN pistol was released to the U.S. civilian market in 2004. Shortly thereafter, the Brady Campaign and a trio of anti-gun law enforcement organizations made the claim that the gun was a “cop killer.” This claim was based upon a misrepresentation of marketing materials discussing the pistol’s capabilities using SS190 armor-piercing ammunition and non-certified “tests” that were contradicted by more stringent and controlled testing done by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF).
Though the SS196SR and later SS197SR ammunition available to the public was verified by government testing of being unable to penetrate the soft body armor worn by police, the media seized upon the “cop killer” claim and used it with reckless abandon.
As a result of the inaccurate branding, the Five-seveN became attractive as a status symbol for some criminal elements of society. They became particularly popular among drug cartels in Mexico that had previously been partial to 1911-style pistols chambered in .38 Super, based upon similar claims regarding its ability to penetrate vehicles and crude “body armor.” The Five-seveN is used by both government forces and the cartels in Mexico’s ongoing drugs wars. The not uncommon practice of cartels obtaining some of their firearms and ammunition directly from corrupt officials means that in Mexico some Five-seveN pistols serving the cartels are loaded with armor-piercing ammunition issued by the government.
That brings us back to the shootings at Fort Hood.
ABC News and the Telegraph (and, yes, even Brady once again, recycling the term and misleading claims they did so much to create) are once again reveling in articles shouting about the evil power contained in Major Hasan’s “cop killer” gun. But the simple fact of the matter is that there is good reason to believe that at least some of those wounded in Thursday’s shooting are alive today because of the 5.7 cartridge’s dubious capabilities.
It may seem counterintuitive to many, but the high velocities that enable the Five-seveN’s .22 bullet to drive through soft body armor are thought to be mostly wasted on unarmored targets.
The 5.7 is a relatively new cartridge with limited distribution and so actual “real world” ballistic performance is anecdotal at best, but high-velocity pistol bullets like the .38 Super noted earlier and the 7.62×25 Tokarev have been around almost 80 years. Their established track record is that of bullets with excellent penetration characteristics but with questionable stopping power. The 5.7 round uses a far lighter bullet at higher velocities and the high velocity gives the bullet the distinct possibility of fragmenting. But even then, a high-velocity bullet that only weighs 40 grains (as does the legal SS197SR bullet Hasan used) is at a distinct disadvantage when compared to other pistol cartridges. Instead of dumping the bullet’s energy into the body of the person shot, these high-velocity rounds typically stab a long narrow wound channel completely through a human-sized target, or they erupt into fragments that cause narrow wound channels.
Slower, heavier bullets such as those found in the .40 S&W and .45 ACP hollow point cartridges favored by American law enforcement dump most if not all of their energy in the human body. The difference between a wound from a 5.7 bullet and a .45 ACP is not dissimilar to the difference between the wound from an ice pick and the wound from a sledgehammer. The ice pick will penetrate far deeper, but the sledgehammer will cause far more traumatic injuries.
No rational person would ever wish for our soldiers to be attacked, but the simple fact of the matter is that Hasan’s reliance on a gun the uneducated media told him was a powerful “cop killer” quite possibly saved lives at Fort Hood. If the same victims had been hit with 155-180 grain .40 S&W or 185-230 grain .45ACP hollow points, their wounds would likely have been far more severe than the wounds they suffered from even a fragmenting 40 grain VMAX bullet in the most commonly available 5.7 cartridge.
The American media has a long and ignoble history of firearms ignorance often based upon the propaganda of anti-gun organizations.
Finally, if but for once, that ignorance and fact-free hype may have served to actually save lives.