Police Worried About New Vest-Penetrating Gun

Justin justin-cypherpunks at soze.net
Sat Jan 15 01:38:23 PST 2005

On 2005-01-14T15:42:18-0800, Bill Stewart wrote:
> At 01:54 PM 1/14/2005, R.A. Hettinga wrote:
> ><http://www.wnbc.com/print/4075959/detail.html>
> >NEW YORK -- There is a nationwide alert to members of law enforcement
> >regarding a new kind of handgun which can render a bulletproof vest
> >useless, as first reported by NewsChannel 4's Scott Weinberger.
> >...
> >The weapon is light, easily concealable and can fire 20 rounds in seconds
> >without reloading.
> A couple of questions to the gunpunks out there...
> I've heard that rifles easily penetrate bullet-proof vests,
> and that vests are really only useful against average-to-small handguns
> and against shotguns.  Is this accurate?

There are various levels of body armor specified by the NIJ.  In order
of effectiveness (lower to higher): Levels IIa, II, IIIa, III, and IV.

Level IV typically takes the form of a trauma plate and is put into a
pouch in the front (and/or in the back) of soft body armor.  III and IV
are heavier, bulkier, and as a result aren't used as much.

The NIJ standards are based on stopping standard bullets up to certain
velocity limits (preventing them from going through the vest), _plus_
"backface deformation" limits.  They put the vests over geletin, and the
volume displaced by the vest when it absorbs the shot is measured and
must be less than a specified limit.  There is a lot of sentiment that
this testing method is crap, and all that should matter is whether the
bullet goes through the vest.  Or at least that backface deformation
should be less heavily emphasized.

Then there are other specifications outside of the NIJ scheme; for
instance, the there's "PAGST" and "CRISAT" body armor.  I don't recall
what they stand for.

> Any idea how much you can saw off a rifle
> and still have it penetrate typical cop vests?

A lot.  5.56mm pistols (based on the AR-15 and available from olympic
arms or bushmaster, among other manufacturers) are perfectly legal and
will shoot through IIIa vests.  The real jump up is between IIIa and
III; the former mainly stops handgun rounds, while the latter allegedly
stops standard .223 and .308 loads, but I'm not sure... before I looked
it up just now, I thought only level IV trauma plates stopped .308.
Cops typically wear level II or IIIa armor.

And even trauma plates will not stop repeated hits to the same area.  If
you expect to be shot at with a rifle, you do not want to be out in the
open where many hits are unavoidable.  Ceramic plates weaken through
chipping, and metal plates weaken through stress/deformation.

> (And I assume the "20 rounds in seconds" is just a scary way to say
> "it has a big magazine and you have to pull the trigger 20 times".)

Of course.  Otherwise it would be a machine gun, and new machine guns
are not available to civilians... and haven't been since the 1986
Firearm Owners Protection Act.

The anti-gun forces try hard to associate the assault weapons ban expiry
with the availability of machineguns.  They are lying.

> Also, the police expressed worry that criminals might hear about
> these guns and then the cops would be in big trouble.

This gun, the Five-seveN, has been available for years.  What hasn't
been available for years, I don't think, is the "practice" non-AP
ammunition.  And, of course, some FFLs (gun dealers) are unwilling to
sell the Five-seveN to private citizens.

> Sounds silly to me - while some criminals might buy a
> "cop-killer handgun" for bragging rights,
> random criminals presumably only buy weapons useful for the
> scenarios they imagine being in,

Other armor-piercing handguns include .223 pistols and the CZ 52; there
are also nasty rounds, though generally unavailable, for 9mm handguns
that will penetrate IIIa armor.  Ordinary rounds at +P+ pressures may
even do it.  

The Five-seveN bullets have a muzzle velocity about half-way between
handgun bullet velocities and rifle bullet velocities.  Given the round
diameter (5.7mm) and the short barrel (compared to rifles) of the
Five-seveN, it's essentially a rifle round.  5.56mm pistols fire rounds
with nearly the same diameter, though they weigh more (5.7mm bullets are
~30gr, standard 5.56mm is 55 or 62gr) and therefore require more powder
to achieve the same velocities.  Hence the longer cartridges for 5.56mm
(I use .223 and 5.56 interchangably; they're technically not the same
thing but close enough for government work).

Most .223 pistols are based on the AR-15, so their magazines attach
outside of the pistol grip and make them look scarier.  That also makes
them slightly less concealable, which is why they're not being attacked
by the anti-gun forces.  Perhaps the anti-gunners don't think they're

> which is Saturday Night Specials for most applications,
> or whatever currently fashionable Mac10/Uzi/etc.
> for druglord armies that expect to be shooting at each other,
> or rifles for distance work and dual-use pickup-truck decoration.

Uzis, MP5s, short-barrelled rifles.  They'll have top of the line
handguns; If I were a criminal, I'd carry what I'd carry anyway, a
Walther p99 compact plus several full p99 mags (they work in the p99
compact, something that cannot be said for H&K P2000 mags and the P2000

Don't be fooled by the association with James Bond.  The factory p99 is
an excellent gun (if you don't mind polymer).  The PPK is another story.

> Do many criminals expect to initiate shootouts with vest-wearing cops
> in scenarios where a rifle isn't practical?

I don't know what criminals think is practical.  Very few criminals make
killing police officers their primary objective, for obvious reasons.
The fact that they get into a shooting at all implies that they have
planned, at some level, to kill police if they need to.  The statistics
speak for themselves.  It's rare to see rifles involved unless the
criminal is at home, in a car, or actively committing a crime (and even
in the last case, they're less common than in homes and cars).

middle of the page, "Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted"

According to the 2003 pdf, in 2003, 34 officers were killed with a
handgun, 10 killed with a rifle (out of 52 murders).  34 of the 52 were
wearing body armor.

On page 35 of the pdf (document p. 27), handguns were the murder weapon
in 56 ambush situations, compared with only 28 where rifles were the
murder weapon.

> Do most cops wear bullet-proof vests regularly other than in
> holdup/hostage SWAT situations, where the criminal might have rifles anyway,
> and where a regular pistol is just fine for shooting hostages?

They are not bullet-proof.  That's a term the anti-gun forces like
because it implies that any gun/ammo combination that will defeat the
vests are somehow magical or evil.  And yes, the majority of officers,
particularly city police, wear soft body armor.  Typically it is NIJ
level 3a or level 2, so it will not stop high-pressure or
maliciously-shaped standard-caliber handgun rounds, nor 5.7mm
(Five-seveN), nor 7.62x25mm Tokarev (CZ 52).  The CZ 52 can be found in
very good condition for $100-125.  I recall advice from somewhere that
the CZ 52 firing pin should be replaced with a titanium one on account
of reliability and safety concerns.


> Or is this mainly a problem for the cases when cops want to stage
> military-style pre-dawn assaults on people's houses,
> where they expect that the targets usually only have
> pistols handy near the bed and don't have time for rifles?

It's a problem for any cop wearing common body armor.  Most beat cops
and detectives wear it.  I don't know about SWAT teams -- of course they
wear some sort of armor, but I'd guess level 3 and possibly trauma
plates as well.  I don't know how the Five-seveN training rounds do
against level 3, but I'd guess they are stopped.

> Seems like scare-mongering to me, not a practical concern.

Of course it's not a practical concern.  Criminals already have access
to handguns that will defeat common soft body armor.  This media panic
was instigated by a press release from the Violence Policy Center, which
has evidently (for now) given up trying to pass a new assault weapon
ban, and is instead finding new legislative targets.

"War is the father and king of all, and some he shows as gods, others as men; some he makes slaves, others free." -Heraclitus 53

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