By Bruce Flemings
Liberty Ammunition recently reintroduced its Civil Defense line of ammunition in new packaging. Coinciding with the new packaging, the line was extended to include 380 Auto. Another notable change is that the 45 ACP load is now labeled as a +P load. These two loadings join the previously released 9mm +P and 40 S&W to complete the Civil Defense line-up.
Liberty proclaims the Civil Defense line to be the “World’s Fastest Handgun Rounds”. Published velocities range from 1500 feet per second for the 380 Auto up to a blistering 2000 feet per second for the 9mm +P and 40 S&W. Last year, I tested the 9mm and 40 S&W just after they were introduced (as Halo Point) and verified velocities exceeding 2100 feet per second from both loads when fired from 4.5” service length barrels. I was very curious to see how the Civil Defense bullets would perform at the lower velocities published for the 380 and 45.
I’m sure you are wondering what kind of magic Liberty uses to generate such extraordinary velocities from their ammunition. Put simply, Liberty has reduced their projectile weights to less than half of a traditional lead core and copper jacketed hollow point bullet. They machine their bullets from solid copper and nickel plate them to give them their distinctive silver bullet look. I pulled and cross-sectioned a 45 bullet so you can see how much of the bullet interior is hollow.
What I found most interesting about the Civil Defense ammunition is the recoil the shooter feels when firing. While it isn’t possible to cheat the laws of physics, it is possible to use them in your favor. Liberty has done exactly that by reducing the bullet weight and driving up the speed. Allow me some latitude and I’ll present an example. I’m warning you now that the math won’t be perfect, but it will explain the concept and demonstrate why Civil Defense is different than traditional ammunition.
Comparing the rough recoil estimates, the lighter and faster Civil Defense generates 30% less recoil than the heavier and slower Critical Duty. Comparing muzzle energy, the Civil Defense delivers 30% more muzzle energy than Critical Duty. All calculations are based on manufacturer muzzle velocity estimates. Having tested both loads in a 4.5” barrel, I can attest that the velocity claims are accurate.
With a better understanding of how Liberty Civil Defense is different from traditional hollow point bullets, it was time to hit the range for some in-depth terminal testing.
Terminal Test Protocol:
Step 1) Measure and record temperature and relative humidity. 68F and 31% RH
Step 2) Run a five-shot velocity average over a ProChrono Digital Chronograph at a distance of 10 feet.
Step 3) Run test shot through two layers of cotton tee shirt material and into a block of Clear Ballistics Gel that is calibrated to 10% Ordnance Gel density. Shot distance is 10 feet.
Step 4) Run test shot through four layers of 14 oz./yard heavy-weight denim into a block of Clear Ballistics Gel that is calibrated to 10% Ordnance Gel density. Shot distance is 10 feet.
Step 4) Run a 600 fps calibration test bb shot into the Clear Ballistics gel block and record penetration depth. 380 Auto test block 597 fps 3.486” penetration. 45 Auto test block 603 fps 3.48” penetration.
Velocity Test Results:
Video Documentation of the Entire Test from Range to Bullet Recovery:
The Civil Defense 380 Auto was very pleasant to shoot and functioned perfectly in both test pistols. The 1500 feet per second published velocity proved to be overly optimistic in our test pistols. The lower velocity and introduction of clothing barriers kept this load from performing as designed. We experienced incomplete fragmentation in the light clothing test, and complete fragmentation failure in the heavy clothing test.
380 Key Performance Metrics:
Light clothing test main fragment weight 42.7 grains with 10.5” penetration.
Heavy clothing test main fragment weight 49.5 grains with 11.375” penetration.
On the other hand, the 45 ACP +P load performed really well. The load easily exceeded published velocity specification by a healthy margin from our 4.5” test barrel. Both test pistols demonstrated flawless feeding and extraction with the Civil Defense ammunition. Both test shots performed as designed and created enormous temporary stretch cavities while demonstrating complete fragmentation.
45 Key Performance Metrics:
Light clothing test main fragment weight 43.7 grains with 10.875” penetration.
Heavy clothing test main fragment weight 44 grains with 10.625” penetration.
My Thoughts on This Test:
Civil Defense offers two undeniable advantages over traditional jacketed hollow-point ammunition. The first advantage was previously discussed in my crude recoil comparison versus traditional ammunition. Less recoil could lead to faster recovery time between shots. The second advantage is a significant weight reduction versus traditional ammunition. The picture below shows a weight difference of 4.5 ounces between a Glock 21 magazine loaded to 13-round capacity with Civil Defense 78 grain and the same magazine loaded with the same number of 230 grain Gold Dot hollow point cartridges. For those who carry a spare magazine or two, this weight reduction could be significant.
I think I understand the concept behind Liberty’s Civil Defense Ammunition. The high speed, and high energy, bullets create an exceptionally large temporary stretch cavity when they hit the gel block. Due to the fragmenting nature of the Civil Defense bullet, the fragments radiate off the temporary stretch cavity and leave behind permanent damage. Unlike traditional hollow-point bullets, Civil Defense adds some level of permanence to the temporary stretch damage. Civil Defense also has a deeper penetrating base component that behaves much like a traditional jacketed hollow-point bullet.
Is Civil Defense a better choice for personal defense? The truth is that I do not know. My expertise starts and ends with structured testing and reporting the information discovered during testing. I have no expertise in comparing the potential terminal effectiveness of one ammunition type versus another. As mentioned in the test video, real world performance feedback is required before making that judgment.
Disclaimer….This test should not be considered an endorsement or recommendation for the product(s) tested. All tests represent actual performance in ballistics testing media. Terminal performance in all other media will show different results. It is up to each individual to make his own personal decision on which specific ammunition to use for their needs. It’s also critically important to test any ammunition in YOUR SPECIFIC FIREARM before relying on it for any purpose.
Ammunition labeled as +P or +P+ should only be used in firearms that have been certified by the manufacturer as safe for the additional pressures generated by these ammunition types.