JANUARY 16, 2018

Editor’s Notebook: Shopping for Expertise

Have a question about what ammo is safe for your gun or "right" to carry for self-defense? Want to trust the advice of a stranger on the internet?


The internet is not always the best place to get information that could be critical to your success in a self-defense situation. It’s about as bad as the break room, coffee shop, gun shop – and, frankly, about everyplace else.

I say that for a reason. There was an exchange on an enthusiast’s “forum” or “room” or whatever which began as a  question about a lightweight five-shot 38 revolver – “is it okay to shoot ammo that’s “+P?””

To help you understand my anguish, these are real mostly-unedited answers from the “experts,” with their (available) profile occupations included:

“Lead 158 grains in a normal .38 special round out performs most hollow points in +p in a short barrel revolver.” – and –

(as to Hornady 110 grain Critical Defense FTX ammo) – “It mushrooms better than most out of a snub nose. The lead 158 grains don't over penetrate as much and transfer energy better.” (Listed occupation: a “delivery driver”)

“Not a steady diet, no. Why do you think you need +p ammo? The barrel is not long enough to be efficient with this kind of load. Lots of muzzle blast and flash for nothing. Not to mention excess recoil.” (Studied at a university)

“If a .38 special cartridge isn’t enough then buy a .357. Besides that, a regular.38 cartridge has plenty of stopping power (sic).” (Self-employed>

We also see the typical “I’ll carry more gun if I think I need more power” and “I carry this when I think I’ll need it.” The appropriate response would be “If you think you need more power or if you can tell when you’ll need a gun, why don’t you simply avoid that situation/location entirely? You are predictably entering into a deadly situation, a stupid idea.

If that’s not bad enough, some folks comment on potential legal issues – apparently not understanding that (1) what you post on the internet never goes away and (2) what you post on the internet is potentially accessible to the opposition in civil and criminal cases as evidence of your state of mind.

For instance, the issue of using deadly force against someone in the act of illegally entering an unoccupied car to steal property – “I don't care if it was my car or your car, I would stop someone breaking the law if it affected innocent people, or I would do everything in my power to try. I came up from nothing. My car is worth someone's life if they are trying to steal it.” (Emphasis added) (This one was a “software developer.”)

I’m thinking that taking legal advice from anyone over the internet can predictably lead to “negative outcomes.” Similar to taking advice about ballistics.

Is it okay to use .38 +P ammo in older, aluminum frame snubs? Well, it’s your gun so it’s not up to me to say, but S&W for example didn’t officially approve +P ammo for “airweight” guns until manufacture of those made in fairly recent times. Even then, the factory noted that use of +P would “accelerate wear” of the gun. If it’s a treasured heirloom – what the hell are you carrying it for anyway? Buy a new one and carry it. If you just want to shoot a few rounds through it, use quality factory ammunition and, if you care about your hand as well as the gun, simply buy some Black Hills 148 grain wadcutter – or the equivalent. Hornady Critical Defense 110 grain FTX is also available in a standard pressure load.

I won’t address the “38 versus 357 in short barrel guns,” because that’s not what the original poster asked. As to our “158 grain lead is better than 110 because it won’t over penetrate and it transfers energy better,” I just have to scratch my head.

It’s a non sequitur.

Any time I begin to answer a question someone posts on the internet, I try to hew to the policy “Know the context.” Is our poster asking whether he should shoot duty ammo in a light revolver of older vintage because that’s what he has, can’t afford anything else and it’s carry the old gun or nothing? Is he asking because he just wants to shoot the older gun and +P is the only ammo he has?

People are quick to offer their ‘thoughts’ on questions raised on the internet. Are they trying to be helpful, trying to be “someone,” or are they just asking for confirmation of their opinions?

It’s something. I feel moved to try to help bring folks along because a good many are either new to the gun culture generally or new to that particular type of firearm/ammo combination. The question then becomes why should they listen to me?

- - Rich Grassi