Controlled-Expansion vs Hardball in Today’s Ammunition

By John Farnam

Will your self-defense ammo do what it's supposed to like this Sig Sauer V-Crown .45 ACP?
Will your self-defense ammo do what it’s supposed to like this Sig Sauer V-Crown .45 ACP?
Defense Training International, Inc
Defense Training International, Inc

Ft Collins, CO –-( Modern small-arms ammunition for our military?

With regard to my last Quip, a friend asks:

“Does not the ‘Geneva Convention’ restrict our military to hardball pistol ammunition? If so, isn’t 9mm 124 gr. FMJ, whether launched from a Beretta 92F, G19, or Sig320, confined to the same abysmal terminal performance from which our military has suffered since ‘upgrading’ from the 45ACP?”

Here is the answer:

In 2011, the BBC lamented that London Metro Police (the few of them who are actually armed) were to be issued “unsurvivable” hollow-point ammunition, “outlawed in warfare under the Hague Declarations of 1899/1907.” Many Brits, particularly professing “journalists,” obviously know nothing about guns, ammunition, nor fighting, and like leftists everywhere, take arrogant pride in their ignorance!

You won’t find the term “hollow-point” anywhere in the 1899/1907 Hague documents. Hollow-point pistol ammunition was unknown at the time. Soft-point pistol ammunition was produced, but its performance in human tissue was inconsistent (poor by today’s standards). The actual Hague language vaguely describes small-arms bullets which “expand or flatten easily in the human body.”

Curiously, during the 1899 debate on the subject, it was in fact, the British themselves who defended the use of such ammunition!

In the Hague document, the subject of controlled-expansion pistol bullets is obviously non-specific and imprecise, and by design. Any bullet can “expand” upon impact, whether it is designed/intended to do so or not. In fact most do, to one degree or another! However, writers knew when they mentioned anything specifically, no one would sign the agreement. They thus wrote in vague terms, so nations could subsequently “translate” the text any way they wanted.

Then, they added:

“The present Declaration is only binding for the Contracting Powers in the case of a war between two or more of them. It shall cease to be binding from the time when, in a war between the Contracting Parties, one of the belligerents is joined by a non-Contracting Power.”

CYA was alive and well, even back then!

In the often-incorrectly referenced “Geneva Conventions” of 1864, 1906, 1929, and 1949, the subject of small-arms ammunition isn’t even mentioned. Those documents concerned themselves mostly with treatment of prisoners and non-combatants.

9mm Luger
9mm hardball Luger

Up until recently, the USA’s armed forced have voluntarily restricted themselves to hardball pistol ammunition. Until the 1970s, American police did the same!

Yet, with modern, controlled-expansion pistol ammunition, through-and-through penetration is less likely. Deanimation takes place faster, making protracted gunfights less likely, and multiple shots less likely to be necessary. It is much better than hardball, for all concerned!

In the American police community, the fact that controlled-expansion pistol ammunition is thus vastly superior to hardball, became so obvious that today virtually all police routinely carry modern ammunition. Even the Brits have joined-in, as noted above.

Our military community is now, at long last, waking-up to this same set of facts!

We can “translate” the 1899/1907 Hague Documents any way we want. Everyone else has!

Once again, technology has out-paced ancient conventions, will-meaning as they might have been, in this case making them mostly irrelevant. A “ cultural lag,” as social scientists like to describe it.

It is time to catch-up, and move on!


About John Farnam & Defense Training International, Inc
As a defensive weapons and tactics instructor John Farnam will urge you, based on your own beliefs, to make up your mind in advance as to what you would do when faced with an imminent and unlawful lethal threat. You should, of course, also decide what preparations you should make in advance, if any. Defense Training International wants to make sure that their students fully understand the physical, legal, psychological, and societal consequences of their actions or inactions.

It is our duty to make you aware of certain unpleasant physical realities intrinsic to the Planet Earth. Mr Farnam is happy to be your counselor and advisor. Visit:

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Special Ops and other small units should be using more lethal than FMJ ammo, especially against “non-Contracting Powers,” like ISIL, Taliban, Al-Queda and other non-state belligerents. if they aren’t already. Put ’em down, keep ’em down and move on to the next objective.

Wild Bill

, Unfortunately, it is and has been U.S. policy, for more than seventy years, to follow the Hague Conventions that we have signed against non-signatories. And maybe it is time to revisit that policy.


Fmj ball ammo is better in my opinion in alot of shooting storys jhps fails to expand when they do there less effective than fmjs also jhps have been known to perform less effective than fmjs when hitting bones in people and lastly when they do expand through someone’s chest sometimes they lack penetration due to expansion speed stops I seen a xray where a 2 40sw jhps expanded one stopped just 1 centimeter short of there aorta artery there fine today.

Clark Kent

WRONG! If FMJ ‘ball’ ammo is so great then why do ALL USA police departments issue hollow point ammo? Plus ‘ball’ ammo tends to over-penetrate, especially 9mm Luger FMJ ammo.


Did the United States actually sign-on to the Geneva Conventions?


In today’s combat against insurgents you really don’t see them carrying off their wounded, so that old adage of taking 3 off the field doesn’t really apply anymore. Now it can change if we go again to a nation again.

In today’s combat environment it’s better off to kill them right off the bat as quick as possible as they could be wearing explosive vest or other items that can go boom if they are just wounded.

War is hell and there is no real use of just wounding the enemy anymore.

Clark Kent

Since when do insurgents ignore battlefield casualties? Generalize much?


further to the above post, it is far tactically superior to wound your enemy than it is to kill him. If you wound him you have immediately taken 3 trigger fingers off the battlefield. (the wounded solder and two stretcher bearers) Then there is the logistics to care, feed, and treat the wounded. The doctors, nurses, and medics have to be supplied and of course there is the logistics problems again and contribute nothing and put a load on the battlefield. In many cases the wounds that are inflicted on the enemy are life altering and require care from their… Read more »


I am well aware of the concept of “two to carry, one to bury” but I am not sure that it applies to an enemy that does not care about his brother in arms, as represented by the Islamic terrorists. Whether these people are partially or permanently immobilized, their brethren will carry on.


The military still uses and will probably continue for some time to use normal ball ammo. It is critical to understand the difference between a self-defense situation and a military engagement. In a self-defense situation, there are limited participants, usually only two. You must incapacitate the opponent as rapidly as possible, in order to make him quit attempting to inflict great bodily harm upon or to kill you personally. Usually of course, this causes their death. On the battlefield, there are usually large numbers of combatants. Usually it is not possible for one group to completely annihilate the other group… Read more »


Agree 100% !!

Ron Willis

So, what kind of ammo is our military currently being issued for their pistols and rifles? Knowing the military mind-set of ordnance and logistics as I do, I bet they still issue hard-ball, with the possible exception of spec-ops.