Saturday, August 20, 2005

Primers and Liability

A reader identifying himself as "Retired Geezer" left this comment:
I would just like to recommend that nobody makes up their own "special load" for defense. Just use what the police use. I don't want anyone to hear the attorney to say "He wasn't happy with regular bullets, he had to make his own "Man Killer" bullets.
You hear this advice all the time, and for the most part I think it's good advice, but not really for the same reasons as are commonly given.

Massad Ayoob; certainly the countries premier expert witness on self defense shootings; has performed an extensive study of self defense shootings in which handloads were involved, and he has found that:

1. while your likliehood of being demonized by prosecutors is very high; that would be the case anyway, and that basing that demonization on ammo choice is a weak strategy for the prosecutor because this argument can be asily turned around on them by competent counsel and expert witnesses

2. Use of handloads in a self defense shooting seems to have no effect on your liklihood of conviction

There is one thing that WAS a definite negative, in that Ayoob found that the use of handloads made if FAR more likely that prosecutors would decide to charge you in the first place, and that a grand jury would return a true bill of indictment (as lawyers are wont to say however, a good prosecutor could indict a ham sandwhich).

Okay so that out of the way, I personally would suggest not using handloads for another reason entirely: primer contamination.

In 20+ years of shooting I have had perhaps one failure per year of the primers in quality factory centerfire ammunition. In fact I doubt that it is even that high, but they do tend to stand out in memory.

And that is the point, they stand out in memory because they are so rare. I typically fire several thousand centerfire rounds a month (at least 1000 a month minimum, and when I'm lucky several thousand a week) in various calibers and weapons. As I said, I get MAYBE one failure a year from my quality factory ammo.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said of my handloads. I am handling primers perfectly (careful to avoid skin oil and sweat contamination), and I am not using penetrating solvents etc...; but through the course of several thousand handloads (admitedly I don't load very much) I have had perhaps 10 times the rate of primer failure.

I specifically credit this to primer failure because I have pulled bullets and tested powder from several of these malfunctions, and in each case it was the primer failing to ignite the powder with a solid hit.

This has occurred with three different primer manufacturers, from different presses, and using different processes (routines). Not only that but discussion with other handloaders has indicated similar experiences.

On the range, or in the match, I absolutely trust my handloads. I won't take the chance that I screwed up, or that the primer died for some unknown reason when my life is on the line.