Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fort Hood Shootings Weaponry

by Ben Small

Pat Browning asked some good questions via email about the Fort Hood shootings: How could so many bullets be fired by one person, and how many bullet hits can a body withstand without perishing?

The reports I've seen indicate that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was carrying an FN Five-Seven pistol and a .357 revolver. All rounds he fired came from the FN, a semi-automatic pistol which fires a 5.7x28mm cartridge, often called "the cop killer," because some forms of the round have been known to pierce a bulletproof vest.

Lee Lofland hit the nail on the head when he said Hasan intended suicide-by-cop. It's a phenomenon we're seeing quite often these days, where someone is too cowardly to pull the trigger on himself, or maybe is hopes to avoid a life insurance suicide exception, so he decides to let someone else do the job for him, and wants to make a public statement at the same time.

I'm sure there will be further investigation as to Hasan's motives, and I'll let the professionals handle that aspect. But I'd like to make a few comments about the cartridge and the gun Hasan used. I don't own one, but know the former CEO of FNH USA, have discussed the pistol with him, and I have friends who own FN Five-Sevens. I've shot them, and plan eventually to own one. This shooting will not deter me. It's an outstanding weapon.

The cartridge fired by the FN Five-Seven is the 5.7x28mm, a cartridge developed originally in the late 1980s for a personal defense weapon, FN's P-90. The cartridge is really more like a rifle cartridge than a pistol cartridge, much like the .22 Hornet. Here are pictures of the 5.7X28 mm cartridge and the standard 9x19mm Parabellum ("9mm) cartridge. The differences are self-evident.

The 5.7x28mm cartridge weighs roughly half as much as a typical 9mm cartridge, allowing extra ammunition to be carried easily. It also produces roughly 30% less recoil, improving control. It's a high velocity cartridge and features a high ballistic co-efficient, which means it's not only fast but accurate. And the lack of recoil means the gun stays on target, allowing for faster follow-up shots. It's a small, very pointed bullet, which means it will sometimes, in some forms, pass through a so-called "bulletproof" vest. That's why some versions are called "the cop-killer. In fairness, however, it should be noted that the armor-piercing version is only offered to the military and law enforcement, not commercial users. The ATF classifies the commercial versions of this round as "not-armor-piercing."

The FN Five-Seven pistol was designed to take advantage of this cartridge's favorable ballistic characteristics, primarily for military and police work, but it's also available commercially. The FN Five-Seven carries twenty rounds in its magazine, conceals well, and eleven round extensions are available, so it's possible to have thirty-one rounds available -- one in the chamber -- with just one magazine. Assume Hasan had extra magazines available and one can understand how some witnesses estimated a hundred rounds were shot in total. Hasan could have had ninety-one rounds available with just three magazines. Add in the shots fired by police, and the total approximates the round estimates from witness statements.

The FN Five-Seven has found more acceptance internationally than in the U.S. Cops and the U.S military don't like the round because of concerns for excess penetration, given the bullet's high speed and small size. One bullet can hit numerous targets. And the pistol has not been popular commercially because of high cost, both for the pistol and the ammunition. Plus, local gun stores don't usually carry the ammo; you'll probably have to order the round over the internet from large ammo dealers like Cabelas, Cheaper Than Dirt or Midway USA.

But to shoot one of these guns is to want one. The combination of low weight, accuracy and magazine count makes this pistol fun at the range. You won't believe how good your target looks. If you're shooting a beer round, make sure you choose this pistol for your turn.

So Hasan was able to put a lot of rounds downrange in a hurry, and with the penetration capabilities of the round, it's very possible numerous targets were hit with just one bullet. On the other hand, since the bullet itself is very small (only forty grains), its lethality is not assured unless a major organ is struck.

Hasan himself was struck several times but lived. How is this possible? Pat asked. Well, it depends on where he was hit and by what. The usual police carry gun is the 9mm or .40 S&W. The standard U.S. military gun is the Beretta, a 9mm pistol. Its adoption in the 80s was controversial, as the 9mm too is a small bullet. A famous shootout in the 80s in Miami between some bank robbers and the FBI left a number of Febs dead or wounded, as their 9mm weapons and some tactical mistakes allowed the wounded bad guys to keep shooting their much higher powered weapons. This event led to the development of the 10mm cartridge, now used almost exclusively by hunters. The 10mm cartridge proved to be too powerful, i.e. too much penetration, so the cartridge was cut down to a smaller size: the .40 S&W cartridge. A 10mm pistol will shoot the .40 S&W cartridge, but a .40 S&W cannot shoot the 10mm cartridge. A 10mm cartridge will not fit in the cylinder of a .40 S&W gun.

I suspect the shooting officer was firing a 9mm Beretta. If she had used a .40 S&W or the even larger .45 acp, it's more likely Hasan would have been incapacitated sooner. A .45 acp round will cause massive damage. It's about mass. Get hit with a .45, and more than likely, your involvement in the shooting is over. Get hit in the arm, and you'll likely lose that arm. The leg, and you'll likely bleed to death. The same cannot be said of the 9mm cartridge. With that cartridge, it's all about placement. No wonder our military don't like the 9mm cartridge; no wonder officers often opt for a .45 acp 1911.

I also don't know if our heroine, Sergeant Munley, was using a fully jacketed round or a hollow point. I'd guess a fully jacketed round, because that's the standard military round, whereas police generally prefer a hollow point bullet because of the risk of collateral damage with a fully jacketed round, which will pass through a human body. But I don't know this, and I could be wrong. Regardless, the lethality of what she was shooting would depend both on the bullet and where Hasan was hit. And those are facts I do not know.

It's interesting to note that Hasan did not shoot his .357 magnum revolver. That's because it only holds five, six or seven rounds, depending on model, and reloading would take awhile even with a speed loader. With the Five-Seven, however, Hasan just drops the mag, slaps in another, racks the slide, and he's back to shooting again. A new mag might take as little as a second-and-a-half to load.

Regardless, please don't forget: Guns don't shoot people; people shoot people. This guy was intent on killing people and having the cops kill him, and he could have chosen any number of means to achieve his purpose. He probably had access to shotguns, flame throwers and other weaponry, and he targeted a place where he could access a number of folks in a short period where they had no ability to escape. I believe I read Hasan also had available a number of Improvised Explosive Devices ("IEDs). He just happened to choose the FN Five-Seven pistol for his malevolence.


Anonymous said...

Many thanks, Ben! This is one of most facinating news stories to involve shooting. I wonder how long it will take the FBI and the military to sort it out and come up with answers. Probably not long. They must be working day and night on it. It will be a long time before the shock wears off, however.

Your analysis and explanation are a big help in understanding this tragedy. Thanks again!

Pat Browning

Jean Henry Mead said...

How very tragic that so many young people were killed and by someone they trusted. I echo Pat's thanks for explaining the technicalities.

Unknown said...

Thank you both. One of the dead was a former Tucsonan, well-loved by this community. My heart goes out to everyone impacted by this terrible event.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Like most of us, I'm infuriated by this murderous incident. I never felt safer than when I lived on a military base, and this act detroys that confidence. The only past event that comes close to this is when a fellow pilot attempted to hijack a commercial airliner, which happened fifteen years ago at FedEx. As the terrorists have proven, it is nearly impossible to protect against people who are hell bent on destruction.

Anonymous said...

"Lee Lofland hit the nail on the head when he said Hasan intended suicide-by-cop."


I think you and Lee are nuts for suggesting suicide-by-cop as the motive here. In your effort to explain the details, you've missed the simple, obvious fact that Hasan's choice of an FN 5.7 all but proves that his intent was to murder as many people as possible, including anyone wearing armor. Additionally, it's a very common thing for shooters to carry two weapons - one for live fire, and one with which to commit suicide. The 357 obviously was his suicide gun. It's obvious, so obvious I find it silly that you appear to have completed missed this given you competent description of the shooter's weapon and it's capabilities. There can be no argument that Hasan's choice of an FN 5.7 was puposeful, and 'suicide by cop' was not the purpose. The purpose to pack as much killing power in as small of a package as possible, with the fewest mag changes as possible. The purpose was not to commit 'suicide by cop'. If his intent was to simply draw fire from law enforcement, why the flip would he buy such an esoteric firearm? Why not choose something cheaper to buy (and shoot), something in a more available caliber? The answer is simple; he chose the weapon to kill as many people as he possibly could before he either was shot, or ran out of ammo (at which point he would then have put the 357 to his temple and pulled the trigger).

Jaden Terrell said...

I was in Cape Cod when I heard about it, and it made me nauseous to think about that roomful of unarmed young people being slaughtered by someone they should have been able to trust. They were failed, not only by the traitor, but by the government and military officials who knew this guy was reaching out to terrorists and still did nothing to stop him.

beccam said...

Yes, it was his intent to kill as many people as possible, but he also wanted to make himself a martyr by being killed by a cop. Suspect that's why he was wearing Islaamic garb, to make his point, demented though it was.

Beth, I suspect political correctness is partly responsible for him not being investigated further when warning signs were evident. Suspect some Feds or military -- maybe both -- were afraid of offending Muslims and being accused of profiling. Just like some people are afraid now to call this "terrorism."

And no doubt, now there will be some who want to "help" this man.

Unknown said...

I know this is an old thread but...the 5.7 certainly is lethal WITHOUT an organ being hit. All 11 people shot COM died from the wounds, including one gut shot. The bullet is dangerous, thus, awesome