Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

The Hollow Point Men


I’ve often wondered why so many innocent people who are shot by police end up dead.

Granted that police officers spend a fair amount of time training with their service revolvers, and are thus likely to be better shots with a pistol than your average gun-owner. But even so, in so many cases where some unarmed person is shot by police, the result is death, and it makes you wonder how cops, often in the dark and on the run, manage with their notoriously hard-to-aim pistols to hit a vital organ with such depressing regularity.

The answer, I’ve learned, is that police in most jurisdictions these days routinely use hollow-point bullets, which are designed to do maximum damage to soft tissue targets. Because the tip of the projectile is composed of hollowed-out lead, it flattens on impact and spreads out, vastly enlarging the hole made upon entry into a body, causing catastrophic damage to vital organs, internal bleeding and wounds that are hard to repair even in an emergency room.

Just recently,  we learned that the Department of Homeland Security, a super-agency established by Congress and the Bush-Cheney administration in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, had ordered 450 million rounds of .40 caliber hollow-point ammo, which will reportedly be used at a rate of 90 million shells a year over the five-year life of the contract. (That represents one bullet for every American citizen over the course of the next four years!)

The Department of Homeland Security told us that it has 135,000 personnel who are licensed to carry a weapon. That means the DHS is buying 667 bullets a year for every one of those people. Let’s say that each of those people runs through three gross of shells in annual training at a shooting range, which would represent a fair amount of target practice. That would still leave them with 235 deadly shells left to account for — and remember — this being the government, most of those licensed fire-arm carrying people are working desk jobs where most of their shooting involves their mouths or balled up paper fired at wastebaskets.

The justification given by the DHS and also by local police departments like the Philadelphia Police and the New York City Police for issuing law-enforcement personnel deadly hollow-point ammo is that it is “less likely” to cause collateral damage. That is, a hollow-point bullet, because it expends its energy by expanding and ripping its way through a body, is less likely to pass through an intended target and, perhaps, wound an innocent bystander. The less-discussed purpose, though, is that police want to do the maximum damage to a perp when they decide they need to shoot. Arguably that makes sense. Police are not supposed to shoot people unless they feel personally at risk or think others are in danger, and then the goal is to shoot to kill, not to wound.

The trouble, of course, is that police aren’t all that great at knowing when a fleeing person is guilty of a crime, or even armed, or even whether the target might be a kid with a toy gun, and when a hollow-point bullet hits an innocent target, as was the case with the bullet fired by an off-duty Chicago cop into the head of Rekia Boyd, a 22-year-old woman standing in a group of men the cop thought were being too noisy, she didn’t have a chance of survival. His hollow-point shell, fired wildly, instantly destroyed her brain.

There’s a reason that the US military is banned from using hollow-point bullets in war. Hollow-point bullets do incredible damage, cause more pain and suffering, and make it far less likely that a person who is wounded will survive, much less recover. This ban was put in place in the Hague Convention of 1899, making it one of the first rules of war aimed at limiting the atrocities of combat. (Ironically, the US military does allow hollow point bullets to be used by military police, just not for shooting at enemy combatants.)

This huge order by the Department of Homeland Security raises a number of questions that should be getting asked, but so far are not.

First of all, why does the DHS need so much deadly ammo? Are they anticipating a mass surge over the Mexican or Canadian border that would require ICE agents to slaughter the masses “yearning to breathe free”? Are there so many terror cells in America that they feel they need to be ready for a mass extermination campaign? Or are they worried that eventually the quiescent and submissive US population will finally decide it’s had it with the crooked banks and insurance companies, and are going to start taking the law into their own hands, so that the government will have to institute martial law and start gunning down masses of citizens?

If not any of the above, it seems to me that the order for 450 million rounds of ammunition, hollow-point or not, is pretty wildly excessive.

But secondly, I’d suggest we need to rethink this domestic obsession with killing. In the U.K., police are not routinely issued hollow-point rounds. Many other foreign police agencies also do not use them. Here in the US though, they are standard-issue for cops on the beat.

We need to have a national discussion about this American obsession with officially sanctioned killing. Sure cops need to defend themselves against criminals who would try and injure or kill them, but given both the potential for killing the wrong person or someone who is being falsely pursued — for example someone who thinks a plainclothes officer is actually a criminal — and the near certainty that the target of a police shooter will be horribly injured if he or she doesn’t die — do we really want to have police using bullets that soldiers are barred from using in combat?

Finally, when it comes to Homeland Security, the situation is really different. Most of the gun-toting officers working for Homeland Security are not in the business of chasing down vicious killers. They are ICE officers who are going after border crossers, TSA personnel who are patting down air travelers, and the Federal Protective Service, who are really glorified building guards tasked with protecting federal property.

The work these armed personnel do can on occasion be dangerous, I’ll grant, but for the most part their work does not require killing people or dodging bullets. Do we really want them shooting to kill with hollow-point bullets?

The question about hollow-point bullet use by police, and especially federal agents, becomes more critical as we see the nation becoming increasingly brutal totalitarian in its handling of dissent and protest. As University of Alabama law professor Ronald J. Krotosznski Jr. wrote in an op-ed article in the New York times yesterday, police and federal authorities are making plans to essentially crush protests planned for the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. this summer. Inevitably, of course, there will be protesters who will not take such repression lightly, and who will resist — perhaps with some degree of violence (fists, kicks, tossing back of tear-gas canisters, and perhaps even rocks, though on the basis of past evidence, probably not guns or other deadly weapons). Do we want such justifiably outraged citizens, who are simply reacting appropriately to the shredding of their First Amendment right to protest and to petition for redress, to be blown away by police firing hollow-point bullets?

Those who answer Yes! have basically abandoned their country and handed it over to the fascists and crypto -fascists who have been gradually dismantling the Constitution. Those who answer No! need to demand that this obsession with up-arming the nation’s police be halted in its tracks.

Dave Lindorff is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. He lives in Philadelphia. 



Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Qaddafi
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Winslow Myers
Christopher Brauchli
Wonder Woman at the UN
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
Lee Ballinger
Tupac: Holler If You Hear Him
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”
October 20, 2016
Eric Draitser
Syria and the Left: Time to Break the Silence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Extreme Unction: Illusions of Democracy in Vegas
Binoy Kampmark
Digital Information Warfare: WikiLeaks, Assange and the US Presidential Elections
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Bogus History Lesson
Bruce Mastron
Killing the Messenger, Again
Anthony DiMaggio
Lesser Evil Voting and Prospects for a Progressive Third Party
Ramzy Baroud
The Many ‘Truths’ on Syria: How Our Rivalry Has Destroyed a Country
David Rosen
Was Bill Clinton the Most Sexist President?
Laura Carlsen
Plan Colombia, Permanent War and the No Vote
Aidan O'Brien
Mao: Monster or Model?