Why do cops use hollow-point bullets?

Hollow-point bullets before and after hitting their targets.

A Board of Supervisors committee will tomorrow (Thu/21) consider a pair of proposals to regulate the sale of ammunition in San Francisco. And while the legislation is all but certain to pass – gun control is always popular in San Francisco, even when it has minimal impact – one of the measures raises some interesting questions about our understanding of the purpose of deadly weapons.

Sponsoring Sup. Malia Cohen and Mayor Ed Lee held a press conference in December, shortly after the horrific shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, announcing proposals to require notification of the San Francisco Police Department when someone buys 500 round or more of ammunition and banning “the possession or sale of law enforcement or military ammunition.”

The latter measure concerns the sale of hollow-point bullets that are designed to expand after entering the bodies of their targets, which General Hospital Dr. Andre Campbell told those assembled at the press conference “create absolute devastation in the victims. When they strike a victim it's like a bomb going off.”

So why do we let police officers use them? After all, while officers are instructed to shoot-to-kill when firing their guns, do we really need to make extra sure that those hit by police bullets die? I'm sure the families of the long list of people shot by police who are at most guilty of less than a capital offense -- let alone innocent victims of overexuberant policing -- might disagree with that approach.

Well, one reason that law enforcement sources cite for their use of hollow-point bullets is that they tend to stay in their targets, thereby reducing collateral damage from bullets exiting a victim and hitting someone else. Fine, but doesn't that same logic also apply to criminals shooting at rivals in the street? Isn't it better for their intended target to suffer more damage if it might save other innocent bystanders?

Incidentally, the use of hollow-point bullets was once recognized as a war crime, banned under the Hague Convention of 1899, precisely because of the extra damage they inflicted on human bodies. But now, San Francisco seeks to protect them for cops but ban them for citizens, which certainly seems to violate the spirit of the Second Amendment and intent of allowed an armed citizenry to stand against police state tyranny.

The board's City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee takes up the measure starting 10am in City Hall Room 263.