Ammo Test: Liberty Ammunition Civil Defense 9mm and .45 ACP

Liberty Ammunition's Civil Defense 9mm

Liberty Ammunition’s Civil Defense 9mm, delivering a light 50-grain bullet at blisteringly fast velocity.

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Liberty Ammunition’s Civil Defense ammo subscribes to a different theory for rapid incapacitation. We tested two varieties, the 9mm and 45 ACP rounds to see how they stack up.

Taking the idea of “light and fast” model to new levels, the Civil Defense projectiles weigh in at well under half that same caliber traditional bullets. For example, the 9mm projectile weighs just 50 grains. Compare that to 115 or 124 grains for common 9mm defense rounds. The .45 ACP bullets weigh in at 78 grains as compared to a more traditional weight range of 185 to 230 grains. The result is blistering speed. The 9mm ammo is factory rated at 2,000 feet per second while the .45 claims 1,900 feet per second. Even with those velocities, recoil is shockingly light, owing to the superlight bullets.

I tested the 9mm with this Sig Sauer P229 Legion.

I tested the 9mm with this Sig Sauer P229 Legion.

I used a Springfield Armory 1911 TRP to try out the 45 ACP load.

I used a Springfield Armory 1911 TRP to try out the .45 ACP load.

When you look into the “hollow point” cavity of a Civil Defense bullet, you’ll see a seemingly bottomless hole. The cavity is cut nearly of the base of the bullet itself. I described it as a hollow point, and it appears that way, but it’s not designed to expand in the traditional manner. The idea behind the bullet design is that the solid copper, nickel-coated projectile will pass through barriers without major upset or deformation. When it hits an organic target (read liquid-filled), the pressure of liquid against the interior of the cavity causes the projectile to split up into multiple fragments. The bullets aren’t scored, cut, or pre-fragmented, they just break apart from fluid pressure. The desired results is a big wound channel followed by 10 inches or so of penetration from the base of the projectile.

That’s the design theory; let’s see how the two calibers performed.

Shooting Some Liberty

Recoil was fantastic. Meaning there was hardly any, for either caliber. That physics thing about weight and velocity is legit, and lighter bullets like those used in the Civil Defense load will feel a lot easier on the shooter. In a handgun application, that’s great for reducing flinch and facilitating quick follow-up shots. However, since the velocity is through the roof on both of these loads, you will hear some significant noise. Since I’m one that considers happiness as the sound of gunfire, I didn’t care. I’m just passing along the observation that both the 9mm and .45 ACP loads were noticeably louder than standard loads with more traditional bullet weights and velocities.

The 9mm load did what it said it would - fragment violently, then penetrate to over 10 inches.

The 9mm load did what it said it would – fragment violently, then penetrate to over 10 inches.

The 9mm Civil Defense load has a velocity rating of 2,000 feet per second while the .45 ACP load claims a leisurely 1,900 feet per second. To see how fast they actually performed from my test handguns, I set up a Shooting Chrony Beta Master Chronograph 15 feet down range to measure actual velocity. The 9mm Civil Defense load, fired from my Sig Sauer P229 Legion, averaged 1,917 feet per second. The .45 ACP version, fired from a Springfield Armory 1911 TRP averaged 1,916 feet per second.

I did notice that both calibers tended to impact high and a little left to point of aim at 25 yards. I might be going out on a limb, but I’m thinking that the extreme hyper-velocity is causing an anti-matter, cyclical vortex, black hole through the time-space continuum as they fly. Or, maybe not :). This is no big deal, nor a reflection on the ammo, just an observation. If you choose any ammo with weight and velocity parameters outside the “average” for caliber, you’ll want to drift your sights accordingly to get to the point of aim/point of impact relationship that you want.

Fragmentation started about two inches into the gelatin block and pieces penetrated to about 3.5 inches depth.

Fragmentation started about two inches into the gelatin block and pieces penetrated to about 3.5 inches depth.

For accuracy testing, I set up targets 25 yards downrange and used a Blackhawk! Titan III rest anchored by a 25-pound bag of lead shot.

To test the 9mm variety, I used a Sig Sauer P229 Legion pistol and sighted with the SigLite sights. As the company sent a limited supply of ammo, I was only able to shoot two 5-shot groups for accuracy. Those measured 3.56 and 4.73 inches center to center for all five shots.

For the .45 ACP ammo, I used a Springfield Armory 1911 TRP pistol. I used the same rest and also sighted the old-fashioned way and got five-shot groups of 2.53 and 3.96 inches.

Jello Performance

As this is self-defense ammo, I shot into Clear Ballistics 10% ballistic gelatin blocks. I covered the front of the block with FBI heavy fabric to simulate clothing. This fabric consists of four layers, loosely sewn together. On the outside is a denim layer, followed by an insulation layer and two different cotton layers. The idea is to approximate the effect of a shirt and jacket worn as clothing.

I tested the 9mm round, figuring that’ll be the most commonly used version. The angle of the photos are a bit deceiving, but the penetration of the bullet base was just a hair under 12-inches into the gelatin. I dug it out and what was left weighed 30.1 grains. About two inches into the gel block, the bullet fragmented violently, creating about ten different fragments moving out in different directions at a 45-degree angle. Those fragments penetrated to a depth of about 3.5 inches.

The 30.1-grain base of the 9mm bullet penetrated to just under 12 inches.

The 30.1-grain base of the 9mm bullet penetrated to just under 12 inches.

Summing it up

Normally, I accuracy test ammo using a UM Tactical rail scope mount and a Bushnell Elite 3500 Handgun Scope. I find that this takes 90% of the potential “optical iron sight” error out of the equation, so as a result, groups shrink by a significant factor. I was not able to do this for this outing, so assume that the groups shown here are worst case scenario. With the optic, based on other ammo performance, I suspect I could have reduced the group size by 40% or so if I had been able to use the scope.

Lack of recoil and muzzle flip is the big benefit here, although there is plenty of noise. The lack of felt recoil was shocking, to say the least. As for penetration, you’ll have to make your own call there. Terminal ballistics are half science and 94% voodoo, so if you’re cool with the explosive fragmentation a couple of inches in, then this ammo might be for you. Personally, I would like to see more depth of all pieces, base and fragments, but that’s the tradeoff. You can have negligible recoil paired with big velocity for lot’sa foot-pounds of kinetic energy, or you can have a heavy bullet that penetrates deep, but it’s hard to have both.

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About the author: Tom McHale Literary assault dude writing guns & shooting books and articles. Personal accountability rocks!

{ 22 comments… add one }
  • Robert Adams September 4, 2020, 11:12 pm

    This ammo will penetrate windshields,ribs,car doors,etc.
    Make yourself a “meat” target.
    Go to the junk yard.
    Shoot a vest.
    Then you can properly “poo poo”
    this awesome ammo!

  • CRAIG GALLAGHER September 6, 2019, 12:02 pm

    Their seems to be quite mixed opinions on this ammo but have yet to read any actual self defense use and it’s aftermath . As for the civil matters the lawyers will always try to make anyone the bad guy no matter who is actually breaking the law. As for the feebs reviews that actually might be one of a few thing’s they do correctly .

  • Joe Vice January 7, 2019, 8:04 am

    The difference between the FBI and police using ammo is if their ammo goes through someone and hits someone else they are covered. I use this ammo because it won’t. And that is the same reason I would give if I did kill someone. I’m not using it because it’s more devastating I’m using it because it’s safer for the people behind someone I’m shooting at. I hope I don’t have to shoot ever but I couldn’t deal with it if my bullet went through someone and killed someone Innocent

  • Gerald Leroy Clauson March 27, 2017, 9:24 pm

    I would be interested to see if it would take the sting out of my Double-Tap Derringer.

  • J March 27, 2017, 8:18 pm

    I have used the .45 stuff on pigs out of my Colt Commander. Results were as advertised. The pig I shot weighed in at about 100lbs . Shot her at 4-5ft on a quartering shot. Bullet penetrated the gristle pad and came unglued at the shoulder bone turning it into fragments that destroyed the top half of the lung and took the bottom half of the heart off. There was no exit wound and I did not recover any bullet fragments. Most likely got tossed with the offal. Penetration as probably around 10 inches. This is a great self defense round, I would rather explain I court why I used such a lethal round on a dilequent, than console my neighbors on there loss if my “what the police use” round goes through my target and the wall and hits someone or something they love. This concept is not new I carried MagSafe for years , same effects but the liberty stuff is better on barriers and cost about 1/3. Which lets me practice with it a bit more.

  • Paul S. March 27, 2017, 3:27 pm

    I like this ammo and carry it daily. My question is why are you testing “self defense ammo” at 25 yrds? To quote one gun writer…”25 yards is not self defense…it’s retaliation”. Having shot this ammo in both .38 and 9mm I have found that the combat accuracy is about the same as most other SD ammo that I have tested. But that is at combat “self defense” ranges of 5 to 15 yards while drawing from a holster. Accuracy at 25 yards is irrelevant, this is not target or plinking ammo. it’s designed for carry guns.

    • Trace Brown August 18, 2020, 9:40 pm

      It must be accurate at 25 yds + for “Extreme situations” like shoot the shooter 30 yds away.

    • Tim Jacobs October 18, 2020, 1:04 pm

      Thats interesting. However its problematic. Have you ever done the Tueller drill? With many students a draw from holster and put 2 shots on target was approx 78ft avg. (With one student being 118ft and the fastest being 42ft in one class)

  • Edad March 27, 2017, 1:17 pm

    I thought it a good SD ammo, based on the fact that it would not over penetrate. Shooting through walls an possibly hurting neighbors. So in a civil suit im defending my self without random hurting of innocients.doesnt this make sense,isnt this what SD ammo is designed for? Knock him down stop the threat?

    • Steve March 27, 2017, 3:58 pm

      yes, but who knows how effective this is in the real world?
      if you’re looking for a low penetration round check out corbon’s urban response (though I think they only make it in 9mm and .223.)

  • jsmith6 March 27, 2017, 11:40 am

    I remember buying stuff similar to this in the late 90s/early 2000s. It was made by Aguila with the same concept of a ultra fast handgun projectile that was “smart” meaning it would penetrate hard surface but expand upon impact. I believe it was called Aguila IQ actually. It was fun to shoot and I took it to task on some milk jugs filled with water. Oddly, I shot 9×19 and .45ACP, much like the author. The results were almost exactly the same: high velocity, base of the projo separated from the “petals” and so forth. I actually bought some of this Liberty stuff and shot water filled milk jugs with the same results.

    I would be very curious as to a real world test though, something like wild pigs or coyotes or something of the likes. I can say this though: no matter how much people love or hate this stuff, I would not stand in front of someone with one round of any caliber and take one to the chest.

  • George March 27, 2017, 10:29 am

    Nothing “new” about this ammo. Google “THV ammo” and you’ll find this has all been tried before, several decades ago. I have major issues with these new and “improved” ammo ideas which are supposed to be the holy grail of self defense ammo. Firstly, no-one has expended as much time and effort in testing ammunition fired out of handguns than the FBI and whatever else they are lousy at, the FBI is darn good at testing ammo. Having done some limited barrier penetration testing myself with my agency’s duty rounds and many other commonly available rounds, we found that the FBI were pretty spot on with their tests. Buy this crap if you want but if a terrorist is using a vehicle to try to kill you or your family, good luck on having them be effective after going through a windshield.

    Secondly, if you do happen to shoot someone in a self defense incident, good luck on defending your use of crap like the RIP rounds or this junk in the civil suit. Articles like this one will be dragged up and presented to the jury to show your intent to cause as much damage as possible to the “poor misguided kid who was trying to turn his life around” regardless of the fact he was trying to rob you. I advise all my students to simply use the same ammo as we issue to our officers; its good, reliable, well tested ammo and a simple “I used the same ammo in my firearm as the local police do” is enough to shut up the most loud mouth ambulance chaser and make the focus on WHY you shot NOT with what you shot the criminal with.

    More slick marketing designed to separate fools from their money.

    • Robert March 27, 2017, 2:53 pm

      Good points. The second part is exactly the same advice given in the CCW class I took. The instructor gave us specific brand and bullet-type recommendations, all of which are current or previous local LE issue. If things ever do go sideways, it’s good to be as far on the ‘right’ side of the law as possible.

    • Stanley June 28, 2017, 9:44 pm

      old habits die hard.

    • WALTER WILLOUGHBY April 12, 2020, 2:21 pm

      I use Civil defense for close up situations inside my home. Other than that I am totally satisfied with my accuracy and testing of my go-to round, Speer Gold Dots in 45ACP and 9×19.

  • Nick Prives March 27, 2017, 8:39 am

    This reminds me a lot of RIP ammo. Made to perform extremely well in a gel block, but will have trouble penetrating a rib cage. Realistically the base is the only part of any significance, but at 30gr it is unlikely to retain much (if any) energy after penetrating bone. The fragments are extremely unlikely to be able to penetrate any bone.

  • Theron Ballard March 27, 2017, 7:06 am

    I remember seeing MAC at military arms channel do a body armor penetration test on the 9mm and it zipped right through 3A armor. Very effective ammo.

  • William March 27, 2017, 6:06 am

    A clip full of 2000 FPS ammo, at that occasional coyote, would be nice. Flat shooting, less ricochet?

    • jsmith6 March 27, 2017, 11:42 am

      I would like to see someone test this stuff out of a carbine length 9×19 or .45ACP. Wait, I have a MP5 and a Thompson. I just need to find a working chrono…..

  • Mark N. March 23, 2017, 1:33 am

    I’m with Mike D. on this one. Powdered metal fragments penetrating 3 or 4″ in gel means essentially zero penetration to critical structures in real flesh–and on the other side of the rib cage. That leaves that minuscule 30 grain base to do the real work–and that simply won’t cut it. Do they sell these as a “less lethal” alternative? Thanks but no thanks.

    • Paul S. March 27, 2017, 3:12 pm

      Mike… you need to watch the YouTube videos on this ammo. Looks very effective to me. I’m carrying the .38 Liberty Civil Defense 50 grn. in my S&W Bodyguard Airweight. With the light weight of the ammo and gun this makes for a very easy, comfortable, all day carry package. And after shooting a couple of boxes for testing and practice, I’ve never feel like I needed different ammo.

  • Mike D. March 22, 2017, 10:29 am

    Glad to see new attempts at improving ammunition, but I’ll take a pass on these light weight but high velocity types of ammo.

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