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What Stops Bullets and What Does Not?

What Stops Bullets and What Does Not?

Part 1: Inside the Home

What stops bullets, and what does not? It’s a simple question, and yet so foundational—if you’re concerned enough about personal and family safety to prepare defenses against contingencies such as home invasions and random gun violence outside the home. In your planning, have you given it any thought, much less prepared for it?

Most people, even many gun owners, don’t fully understand the penetration power of bullets, and would be surprised at the damage wrought by a typical handgun round, such as 9mm. We make assumptions that are flat out wrong, so wrong that they could kill you, or someone else.

Hollywood movies shape a lot of our false assumptions about what stops bullets.

In movies, you see people hiding behind walls. They’re pressed up against one side of the wall, and on the other side, you see bullet holes appearing as shots are blasting. This is not reality. Bullets, especially with rifle velocity, easily go through most walls, even multiple walls, multiple rooms. Bullets will go through four to six pieces of sheet-rock. Handgun rounds easily go through sheet-rock.

Most interior doors are hollow and bullets will go right through them. I have solid two-inch-thick wood doors, not hollow core, on all my bedrooms. I’d have a chance behind those, maybe with a handgun, but not a rifle.

What Does Stop Bullets

Thick metal and stone will usually stop bullets, especially handgun calibers. Concrete, cinder blocks, brick, and compact sand are effective.

How well a house holds up against bullets depends on the location, so it’s regional. In the south, for example, the exterior walls of many homes are built of cinder block—a good ballistic material. In the northeast and many other places in the country, homes are built with two-by-fours, sheet rock and insulation. Bullets easily go through that.

You hear about these cases in places like Chicago and Detroit and other areas, where there’s a drive-by shooting outside, and a stray bullet comes through the house, through the siding, through the insulation on the outside of the house, through the sheet rock inside the house, through the wood paneling, and kills a child sitting on the sofa in the family room. And that may not even be a high-caliber round. It could be a handgun round going through all that.

Appliances and Furniture

Many people think that appliances and furniture will stop bullets, but most are not reliably ballistic.

Major appliances are made of thin metal, and bullets rip right through thin metal. But it depends; for example, if you have a frozen side of beef in your refrigerator, that could work. Of course, that’s not reliable.

It’s believed that mattresses or couches could work as potential barriers against gunfire, because their soft and cushioned nature will absorb the impact. The reality is that while upholstery may slow the velocity of a bullet to some extent, it’s unlikely to stop it completely. Most handgun rounds can easily penetrate through layers of fabric and padding.

These misconceptions about the ballistic powers of appliances and furniture can again probably be attributed to Hollywood movies.

For example, in the first
Die Hard movie, John McClane (Bruce Willis) hides behind a ventilation shaft while being shot at by terrorists. The thin metal of the ventilation shaft miraculously stops the bullets. In the movie Bonnie and Clyde, an army of law enforcement agents surprise the gangsters in one of the movie’s shootouts, peppering them with rifles, shotguns and Thompson sub-machine guns, yet Buck Barrow is able to move across the property using a mattress as a shield. All this is not real.

Home Items are Not Designed for Ballistic Protection

Furniture, appliances, or anything else that might provide ballistic protection are not easy to move or easy to get behind: They’re not good shields.

Refrigerators, washers and dryers that are set up against a wall would need to be moved to serve as a shield. Book cases and file cabinets—if filled with enough books and thick dense paper—might provide ballistic protection, but again, these are typically up against walls and not easy to move. A toilet might do a good job of deflecting a bullet, because ceramic is a good ballistic material, but most people would have a hard time crouching down and getting full cover behind a toilet.

While not impossible, it’s very hard to find cover in the typical home. It’s easier to find protection outside the home (which I’ll cover in Part 2).

To fill the ballistic shield gaps in your home defense plan, you may want to consider professional products made for ballistic protection, such as ballistic panels, shields and vests or plate carriers. These specialized products are specifically designed to withstand ballistic impacts and tested to meet rigorous safety standards.

I keep a plate carrier by my bed in case there’s a home invasion and I have to move around. But I keep a shield in my closet to protect against stray bullets in a barricade situation. Ballistic vests and plate carriers are good for moving around; shields are great for hunkering down and waiting for the police, or for the intruder to leave.

To protect your family members from stray bullets in a home invasion situation, 221B Tactical offers a good assortment of ballistic shields, including some relatively inexpensive models such as our Alpha Shield and Delta Reflex.

If you, as the protector, need to move around to protect your family in a home invasion, I designed the QRF Plate Carrier as optimal for home defense. It’s stripped down, low profile, holds both small and large ballistic plates for different body sizes, and can be thrown on in three seconds.

As I said in my last email article, it’s unlikely you’ll have to deal with a home invasion. But from experience as a police officer, I know that being prepared makes all the difference if you should come up on the short end of the odds. And when it’s about the safety of your family, it’s not about the odds. It’s about the stakes.

Please let me know any questions or concerns.

Previous article What Stops Bullets and What Does Not? Part 2
Next article Home Invasions, Part 2: Planning the Tricky Part

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