High velocity law enforcement

     When it comes to bullet dynamics, some things are known. A bullet will damage an area through which it passes. But the use of slow, heavy bullets versus slim, high-velocity bullets is often debated. Some like high velocity bullets that meet the penetration criteria; others advocate high inertia bullets that create large wound channels. If we don't know the answer to which is best (we really don't), we at least know this: Officers can deliver lightweight high velocity bullets at targets with a great degree of accuracy and speed, increasing their ability to engage multiple targets.

     Law Enforcement Technology (LET) took a look at three high velocity guns on the market — the Sig Sauer P239 in .357 SIG, the Sig Sauer P250 and FNH USA's FiveseveN USG — not to fuel the debate, but to explore some alternatives to big bullets. In our tests, shooters equipped with our test guns increased their skills and engaged multiple targets with surprising speed in their follow-up shots.

Sig Sauer P239 in .357 SIG

     The Sig Sauer P239 is a compact off-duty or backup gun (BUG) suitable for duty calibers. Its single-stack magazine gives it a slimmer profile than its wide body siblings. In all other aspects the P239 feels, looks and handles like the doublestack models, except it sits better in an IWB holster.

     The gun comes in 9mm, .357 SIG and .40 S&W. The slide and breech face area is rather robust, and Sig Sauer probably knows that it can be configured for dozens more calibers as they become fashionable. Its .357 SIG cartridge is a .38-caliber combination that approximates the ballistics of the revered .357 Magnum, one of the most versatile cartridges ever designed.

     Sig Sauer also uses a hard two-piece synthetic grip, which is appropriate for the unique decocking system. The decocking lever is close to the web of the hand, which requires a smooth sweep from the bottom of the slide downward until hammer drop. The smooth grip material is good for decocking and snag-free concealed carry. It was a bit too slippery for us, so we added AGrip decals from Brooks Tactical Systems.

     The P239 is deceptive. At 27.5 ounces, it is light enough for off-duty and BUG carry, and the magazines are flat enough to be discreetly carried in a pocket. Yet, it looks and handles like a duty gun. Large-fisted shooters don't have to feel alienated: the compact grip holds all four fingers, instead of three like many similar products. It even sports a finger hook on the magazine base.

     This model has seen several federal law enforcement adoptions recently in the Sig Sauer DAK trigger configuration. The DAK trigger, also available on the P239, gives officers a light, consistent trigger pull that allows a second strike capability in case of ammunition failure. The P239 we tested also has the second strike capability, but with a double/single action trigger. This means that the initial trigger pull is double action, and subsequent pulls are single action. The decocking mechanism can safely drop the hammer and the gun is in double action again. Both actions are safe and simple, designed for natural manipulation and stressful environments.

     Our Oehler 35 Proof chronograph helped us gain even more respect for the .357 SIG cartridge, and Load-X of Santa Rosa, California, supplied our .357 SIG bullets for testing. We found that the Sig Sauer P239 preferred a bullet weight of around 124 grains. When we consulted with other gun testers we found that bullets near 125 grains or so give the best overall performance. Although lighter bullets were more comfortable to shoot, we found they over-penetrated and were slightly less accurate.

     We did some cursory barrier testing in order to get a feel for the .357 SIG. The Load-X 115-grain JHP (jacketed hollow point) averaged 1,624 fps. The first time we shot it into bare gelatin, it cleared nearly 24 inches of penetration. Despite the excellent expansion and wound channel, this was a bit much. Over-penetration is a problem in a law enforcement round because it can mean that the bullet did not transfer all of its energy within the desired area. Worse, it could strike a secondary target.

     The 124-grain TMJ (total metal jacket) bullet averaged 1,481 fps, while the 124-grain JHP averaged 1,476 fps. This is a higher average velocity than many commercial .357 Magnum cartridges, which range between 1,150 to 1,400 fps. This was also a little high for most .357 cartridges, so we ran them through the chronograph a few more times than necessary to gather more data.

     The Load-X 124 JHP averaged 19.5 inches in penetration. The jacket separated from the core in several tests, creating additional wound channels.

     One of the design considerations of the .357 SIG bullets is the fact that it is subject to over-expansion and separation of the bullet lead core with its jacket. One cannot simply use a 9mm bullet design. This is like putting a Ferrari engine into a 1965 Beetle. The bullet must have aggressive expansion cuts and a bonded core.

Sig Sauer P250

     The Sig Sauer P250 cannot be described in conventional firearm terms. It is a semi-auto handgun, but the similarities stop there. Instead of having all the components that make the gun work integral with the frame, it has a chassis that can be completely removed. This chassis is the fire control mechanism, including the hammer mainspring.

     The first time we took it apart we were a little shocked. The hammer mainspring is usually found on the backstrap of a conventional pistol (the portion of the handgun that rests against the palm). On the P250, this spring is contained in the hammer itself. In fact, all mechanisms that make a gun go bang, sans firing pin, is in this chassis, or fire control system.

     The frame is really a magazine and slide holding mechanism, and the slide is all Sig Sauer high-quality engineering. The platform we tested was a medium-sized concealable gun with a mid-sized grip.

     We found that it's possible to disassemble this gun in less than a minute. Considering the DAK trigger and the P250 design, Sig Sauer now has two of only about a dozen or so paradigm breakers in the past 50 years of firearm innovation.

     Consider the possibilities. If one can remove the entire fire control system of a handgun in a single component, how easy would it be to clean it using a dipping solution? For the officer that goes from deep cover to duty, it would be easy to change the size or configuration just by dropping the chassis into a new "shell."

     Although we shot the 9mm for testing, it only whetted our appetites for the forthcoming .357 SIG conversion. Maybe if we sent Sig Sauer the slide and barrel and told them we would like the .357 SIG…

     The P250 will preclude a few paragraphs that firearms reviewers use regularly. For example, "It fits larger hands but..." and "We wish it came with a shorter barrel..." will probably not be part of the gun writing vocabulary when it comes to reviewing this gun. Like we said, this changes the paradigm.

     It took a while for shooters to warm up to this gun. It has a double action-only trigger without the usual sear reset of similar firearms. No one could shoot it without reciting "It looks like an auto; it shoots like a high capacity revolver." However, once they got over this hurdle, officers mowed down tactical targets all day.

     We anticipate this gun will be a blanket purchase for larger departments, owing to its simple manual of arms and versatility. It meets the "one gun" rule and still fits many moulds.


     The FNH USA FiveseveN USG is a lightweight, semi auto delayed blowback pistol that fires a 22-caliber bullet. Our test gun turned in respectable velocities of 2,000 fps, near its advertised 2,050 fps. This gun is a comfortable fit in the hand with aggressive moulded checkering. It's so light, it feels more like a hairbrush than a defensive firearm. It also features a light short-pull trigger and a very light slide with ambidextrous controls.

     Testers questioned the placement of the frame-mounted safety — sitting just over the trigger with extensions operating a trigger locking cam. After shooting it, we found that the trigger finger rests on it when outside the trigger guard and the support thumb rests on it when the thumbs are parallel. Thus, it can be operated from either side. It also has a magazine safety, meaning it cannot fire without a magazine.

     Like the other guns we tested, it has an accessory rail suitable for mounting any number of tactical tools. The front sight is a little tall, and users commented that its appearance slowed them down a bit. This did not surface in shooters' ability to lay down some very fast aimed fire on the range though.

     We had a little trouble keeping the SS195LF bullets in the ballistic gelatin blocks. The first two flipped end over end inside the blocks in the first 9 inches, then exited about 45 degrees from the direction of travel. The third behaved a little better, flipping five times before exiting after about 12 inches.

     Although leaving the gelatin is not entirely desirable, the end-over-end flipping is an excellent way for the cartridge to deliver its terminal performance. When some agencies originally tested bullets fired from an AR15, they found that this destabilization after hitting something made the carbine safer in urban environments. Because the bullet tumbled, it was less likely to continue to penetrate things like sheetrock or other materials, making it safer for the public. While we could not conclusively say that this is an added benefit of the FiveseveN system, our preliminary tests suggested that it should be investigated.

     Not every agency has a need for speed. It is evident, however, that lightweight, fast shooting guns firing high velocity cartridges have its place in law enforcement.

     Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer who teaches at Hartnell College in Salinas, California.