One of the questions our independent program attorneys are asked most often is, “Does it matter what ammunition I use in my handgun from a legal perspective?” The short answer is: probably not.
Why do we say “probably not?” From the law’s point of view, if you have been forced to use your firearm to defend yourself, others, or property, usually the ammunition used will not be the main focus of the legal inquiry.
Instead, generally, the focus is on the circumstances and facts surrounding “why” you had to fire your gun in the first place: i.e., whether deadly force was immediately necessary to defend yourself from death, serious bodily injury, etc.
Ammunition Is Just A Tool
In Texas, if you approach carrying a gun as a tool and load your gun with what you believe is the most effective ammo to do the job, it is unlikely that the focus of legal inquiry will be on your ammunition.
This is not to say that if you have been forced into the court system after you have used your gun and are relying on a justification defense (such as self-defense), that a prosecuting attorney will never attempt to argue that because you used a certain ammunition that you were looking for trouble.
However, a competent defense attorney should be able to explain that a gun (and it’s ammo) is just a tool, and that you simply used the best tool to defend yourself.
Evaluate Your Own Circumstances
When it comes to ammunition, a person should look for what suits their circumstances the best: whether that be full metal jacket, personal defense rounds, or any other legal ammunition. It may be that you are more concerned with stopping power rather than barrier penetration, or you may want frangible ammunition so as to minimize the chances of accidentally shooting through a wall and hitting a loved one. These are ballistic issues to think about when looking over the vast array of ammunition available, so focus on keeping you and your family safe.
It should be noted that this article addresses ammunition ownership only for Texas. Unfortunately, not every state is as reasonable as ours. Some ammo may or may not be legal for possession or use in other states, so be sure to check the local laws to stay on the right side of the law when traveling.
What About Ammunition Marked As Law Enforcement Only; Is It Legal To Own As A Civilian?
You may have seen ammunition with a statement on the packaging that reads “For Law Enforcement Only,” or some other similar phrase. This ammunition is still legal for private persons in Texas to buy (provided that it is not armor piercing handgun ammo).
Manufacturers often make the choice to brand certain ammo as law enforcement ammunition for marketing purposes, or they may have been trying to avoid an excise tax. Either way, the end result is the same: it is legal to own and possess in Texas. After all, if this ammo is considered reliable enough for the fine men and women of law enforcement to trust their lives to, what better ammunition to trust your family’s safety with?
What Ammunition Is Illegal?
One kind of ammo that is not legal is armor-piercing ammunition. “Armor-piercing” handgun ammo is illegal to possess under both Texas and federal law.
Texas Penal Code §46.01(12) defines armor-piercing ammo as handgun ammunition designed primarily for the purpose of penetrating metal or body armor and to be used primarily in pistols and revolvers.
Federal law in 18 U.S.C. 44 §921(17)(B) defines armor piercing ammo as a projectile or projectile core which may be used in a handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence of traces of other substances) from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium or a full jacketed projectile larger than .22 caliber designed and intended for use in a handgun and whose jacket has a weight of more than 25 percent of the total weight of the projectile.
Hopefully you feel more at ease now about whatever type of ammunition you prefer. Just remember, ammunition is a tool meant to help keep you and your family safe and you should use the legal ammo you believe is best for the job.
Also, don’t forget the importance of a good attorney to assert the proper defense about your choice of ammo should the situation ever arise. Unfortunately, not all attorneys are experienced in the area of firearms self-defense. If you are a member, feel confident knowing that Texas Law Shield independent firearms program attorneys have extensive experience in firearms legal defense.
DISCLAIMER: The preceding should not be construed as legal advice nor the creation of an attorney-client relationship. This is not an endorsement or solicitation for any service. Your situation may be different, so please contact your own attorney regarding your specific circumstances. Because the laws, judges, juries and prosecutors vary from location to location, similar or even identical facts and circumstances to those described in this presentation may result in significantly different legal outcomes. This presentation is by no means a guarantee or promise of any particular legal outcome, positive, negative, or otherwise.