Hollow Point in general legal terms

I got the below displayed items, a box and a single .303 Brit round, at Williamsport show and had discussions about hollow point as a legal military phenomenon. It seems like “not for combat use” is on the box because there are hollow point rounds inside. Also, it was mentioned that there is ammo with “not for use against civilized people” sticker. Firstly, would anybody have this sticker? Secondly, may someone expand on hollow point historically in legal terms? How and when all regulations came about? What is “hollow point” legally? Is it a hollow point if the cavity is filled with something of similar density as the body? Grateful aforehand.


IIRC it’s been covered before, but the main military issue with HP bullets dates to the Hague convention (circa 1890?) which “outlaws” bullets designed to expand and cause excessive wounding. emphasis mine

Now, by that criteria, the Sierra Matchking HP has been declared “legal” (USDOJ) under the terms of the HC, as the HP design is for purposes of accuracy only, and expansion is NOT part of the design criteria for the SMK, being a “pure” target/accuracy bullet.

Hang on to that Dominion .303 cartridge. It is an early MK 5 which is pre-Hague convention.

We also may take into account that when an enemy is not granted the combatant status any ammunition can be used against him (including civilians). Police for example is not bound to any of these regulations (also not Military Police).
To my knowledge the enemy in Iraq (after the defeat of the Iraqi military) and Afghanistan did not have the combatant status and all kind of ammunition has been used there.

Anybody with better info/knowledge to elaborate on this? (and correct me maybe)

I remember a 9x19mm hollow point cartridge issued to the U.S. Navy SEALs. Legal to use because “Terrorists” are not covered by the Hague convention…


‘Not for Combat Use’ can also apply to the utility of the cartridge. Many production match cartridges are not optimized, or in some case unsuitable for, use in all firearms chambered for that cartridge.

An example would be the longer OAL, heavier bullet weight and crimp/neck found in some 5.56x45mm and 7.62x51mm match cartridges do not match the trajectory/range tables or operating system of light machine guns chambered in the same cartridge.

I am not certain of the date when USN began issuing the Olin/Winchester 147gr JHP to NAVSPECWAR. There is also the mention of 9mm Parabellum and .357 Magnum JHP ammunition being issued to some of the same brave gents in Marcinko’s books.

In support of JAGs ruling on allowing the SMK for use is the inconsistent and unalarming performance of the bullet in tissue. The .308 SMK typically does not expand or deform with any reliability at the range for which it is intended. I won’t waste bandwith; Google term ‘DocGKR’ will yield a month’s worth of reading on this and other terminal ballistics topics.

I’ll bet that Ray can fill you in better than I, but if memory serves the SMK and other VLD JHP match bullets are manufactured as a JHP for a consistent boattail shape at the base of the bullet, and the hole in the tip has been shown to assist a wee bit in drag/BC. The size of the JHP cavity can vary widely enough to produce the inconsistent terminal performance mentioned above.

With only a few exceptions, Match bullets are made as a hollow point since perfection of the base is very important to accuracy while the meplat can be very uneven and still not affect accuracy. And, a hollow point does permit a variation in the size and weight of the core without affecting the ogive or bearing surface length. Some shooters use a tool to trim and uniform the meplats but there is no hard evidence that it makes much difference. But, shooters always hedge their bets and do a lot of things that probably are not important in the long run.

In 1990 the JAG’s International Law Branch issued a lengthy memorandum which concluded that the hollow point of bullets like the 168 grain SMK is designed for accuracy and not expansion. It further stated the bullets met the law of war obligations for use in combat. But, the “Not For Combat Use” continued to be printed on the cartons of M852 cartridges until it was discontinued in 1996. That may have been in deference to some combat commanders who would not permit their snipers to use the M852 lest they be shot on the spot if captured with the cartridges in their possession.

All of the current hollow-pointed sniper ammunition refers to the bullet as an Open Tip, or simply OT. Sierra, and other bullet manufacturers, continue to call the commercial bullets a hollow point.


[quote=“RayMeketa”] That may have been in deference to some combat commanders who would not permit their snipers to use the M852 lest they be shot on the spot if captured with the cartridges in their possession.

Ray I do not want to sound pessimistic but I never heard of any sniper that got captured (and IDd as such) AND kept on living, no matter what ammo he had in his pockets.

The specific wording in the 1899 Hague Convention comes in Declaration III:

“The Contracting Parties agree to abstain from the use of bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body, such as bullets with a hard envelope which does not entirely cover the core, or is pierced with incisions”.

US lawyers argue that the open-point bullets are not designed to expand, so the clause does not apply; European lawyers point to the specific wording which prohibits jackets which do not entirely cover the core. Of course, this wording is all a bit of a nonsense anyway because (with the exception of some recent TMJ designs) the jacket never entirely covers the core - the base is normally left open.

Hague only applies to warfare between the signatory nations (the USA did not sign up to this, so under Hague the USA could use expanding bullets - and anyone could legally use them against US forces). However, the provisions of Hague have been subsumed into the Geneva Conventions, which apply much more widely and have added a much vaguer restriction, prohibiting the use of:

"weapons, projectiles and material and methods of war of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering"

This has been argued (by the International Committee of the Red Cross, who are tasked with overseeing the implementation of the Conventions) to exclude bullets which fragment as well as those which expand. So many European armies use bullets with thicker jackets than US practice so that they are less likely to fragment.

It seems unlikely that either of the new 5.56mm US bullets (the M855A1 EPR and the MK318) would be adopted by European NATO members.

I thought that all NATO countries used identical or similar equipment, thus I assumed that ammo would be standard too, and since USA was a major force within NATO, that everyone used US ammo standards. Do I understand correctly that I am wrong?

I wonder if non hollow-point frangible bullets would be banned under the vague restrictions of the Geneva convention adoption that Tony mentions above? Since frangibles are designed (in varying degrees) to fragment and sometimes virtually explode upon penetration or contact with certain surfaces such as bone, they might be deemed superfluous in their wounding potential.

I thought that all NATO countries used identical or similar equipment, thus I assumed that ammo would be standard too, and since USA was a major force within NATO, that everyone used US ammo standards. Do I understand correctly that I am wrong?[/quote]

There are two separate answers to that:

  1. The NATO standard ball ammunition is SS109 (M855 in US parlance) in 5.56mm and M80 in 7.62mm. However, the exact construction of the bullets is not the same in every country. M855 has a thin jacket which causes the bullet to fragment in high-velocity impacts, while European SS109 usually has thicker jackets.

  2. The M855A1 EPR recently adopted by the US Army and the MK318 Mod 0 SOST adopted by the USMC are entirely different in design (both from the SS109 and from each other) and are not (and are never likely to be) standardised as NATO rounds. The same is likely to apply to the US Army’s planned new 7.62mm M80A1 due out in a couple of years.

They might indeed. I’ve not seen any ICRC judgments on that as yet.

EOD. I agree, but a field commander’s first duty is to his troops and a good one would not simply dismiss the possibility by saying, “Well, it’s never happened and probably won’t, so go ahead and use the HP ammunition.”




I haven’t worked NATO ammunition issues for many years, but during the “COLD WAR” NATO’s “standardization” emphasis–especially in ammo, but in other things, such as radios, fuel, etc.–was “interoperability” not actually the “same” or even “similar.” If our 9mm could function other NATO member’s weapons, that was the goal; if the jet fuel that the US used could be used in other countries’ aircraft, that met the goal of interoperability. This was done to simplify logistics in Theater; to allow some limited “cross-leveling” of stocks in an immediate crisis, etc. It was NOT to make everything exactly the same or even similar.


US European Command Conventional Ammunition Officer, ECJ4/7-LPR, May 1986-Jan 1990

See the following link for a power point presentation (delivered at the May 2012 National Defense Industrial Association Conference, Seattle, Washington) concerning combat use of open tip M852 7.62 x 51mm ammuntion: [color=#0040FF]http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/2012armaments/Parks.pdf[/color]



Don’t believe everything a lawyer says. Hays wrote the 1990 opinion that justified the “open tip” arguement so he is probably a little bit biased. One mistake he made in that 2012 conference presentation was to show a carton of M118 without the “Not For Combat” warning on the label, but it’s a carton of non-military ammunition. Bottom line is, in today’s terrorist environment, the entire issue of “hollow point”, “open tip”, Hague Conventions, etc, is moot and should be laid to rest.

It’s also interesting that Sierra continues to call their bullets “hollow point”.



I think that is very unlikely to happen. Nobody (in Europe anway) wants the International Committee of the Red Cross to accuse them of adopting “inhumane and illegal” ammunition.

This is the current official British legal ruling on the question:

[quote]The UK LOAC Manual (2004) states in its chapter on weapons:

6.9. It is prohibited to use in international armed conflicts “bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body, such as bullets with a hard envelope which does not entirely cover the core or is pierced with incisions”.

6.9.1. This prohibition is aimed at soft-nosed bullets that mushroom on impact or bullets whose casing is designed to fragment on impact causing, in either case, unnecessarily serious injuries.

[United Kingdom, The Manual of the Law of Armed Conflict, Ministry of Defence, 1 July 2004, §§ 6.9–6.9.1.]

In Italy even the police can’t use HP or SP bullets. These bullets are also illegal for personal defense if used by civilians.

We can only use FMJ or lead bullets against a “human target”

I find it amusing how some solid-tip / lead-free frangible bullet manufacturers tout their bullets as “green”, or reduced collateral damage due to low-ricochet, when in many cases the frangible bullets can cause grossly disruptive wound cavities above & beyond anything that any hollow-point projectile is capable of. Not that I care either way, but as usual, the people who purport to care about “inhumane projectiles” are clueless to this and probably couldn’t care either way since the humanity or inhumanity of projectiles is not their true concern in any case - it’s gun/ammo bans and control over people at any cost. Very U.N.-esque they are.