Legal experts say expanding bullets cause less collateral damage

In a surprising break from decades of compliance with a 19th century treaty, the Army has said it will likely allow its troops to use hollow-point and frangible ammunition in its handguns, arguing the rounds are commonly used by law enforcement and for self defense and pose less of a risk to bystanders than fully jacketed rounds.

The previous ban on the use of hollowpoint ammunition for military rifles and handguns stems from the first Hague Convention of 1899, where ammunition that “expand or flatten easily” was banned for use in war. Though the United States never ratified that part of the treaty, the U.S. military has generally complied with the restriction for its conventional forces.

But as the Army is leading the way to a replacement for the 1980s-era Beretta M9 standard-issue handgun, service officials say they’re open to using hollowpoint ammunition as standard issue for the new XM-17 pistol.

“There’s a myth that [hollowpoints] are prohibited in international armed conflict, but that doesn’t make any sense now,” Richard Jackson, the Army’s law of war expert, told Army Times newspaper.

The new openness to issuing hollowpoint ammo to troops is “a significant reinterpretation of the legal standard,” he added.

The new rules come as the FBI issued a report last year that argued the 9mm round is the most effective pistol ammunition for stopping threats, backing away from its earlier adoption of the .40mm pistol round that stemmed from a now infamous 1986 Miami shootout. With modern hollowpoint 9mm ammunition, the FBI argues, law enforcement can be just as effective at stopping threats as they can with a .40, and carry more rounds with less recoil.

Similarly, the Army — which issues hollowpoint ammunition to its MPs and some special operations troops — now argues that expanding ammo is commonly used worldwide and is more humane than jacketed rounds.

“Law enforcement agencies use hollowpoints all over the world, so if it doesn’t violate the human rights standards that applies these days, why are we applying those standards on the battlefield?” Jackson told the Washington Post. “There are actually humanitarian benefits from the use of this type of ammunition. By staying in the target there isn’t as many collateral effects … it will not go through the target into a bystander nearby or someone in the next room.”

The Army is currently evaluating more than a dozen submissions for the M9 replacement, which will eventually outfit most of the U.S. military with a new sidearm. The Army isn’t set on a specific caliber, and will evaluate submissions in .45, .40 and other chamberings, the service says. The Pentagon plans to buy nearly 300,000 of the new handguns by 2018.