I remember the calls for gun control in the Post, Time, and Newsweek after that. It was this event that, obviously, saw the creation of the Brady Campaign, co-opting the existing group Handgun Control Inc. But my usually faithful memory is a bit foggy on a detail. I remember a brouhaha reported in those fine publications that the bullets Hinckley used were called Black Talons, and they were deadly to the victim AND they would injure the surgeon that tried to remove them. All that was actually reported, but I misremembered the bullet brand. Black Talons were hollowpoints that came out in 1991. Hinckley used something called Devastators. I wonder what other blanks from 30 years ago my memory has filled in for me, erroneously?
The anniversary got me looking up what was so special about the .22 rounds to get all the usual 1981 anti-gunrights suspect's panties in a bunch? And I mean a serious bunch. Part of the hysteria got the surgeons to don body armor when removing the rounds from the victims, for fear that they’d KABOOM and kill half the doctors and nurses in the operating theater. Or at least that was the impression I had at the time.
But that fear may have been hooey. How much explosive charge can you pack INSIDE a .22 round, after all? It’s not like he was shooting a Claymore at people.
It looks like what Devastators are trying to achieve is a better expansion of the bullet like hollowpoints try to accomplish. All the charge is a small primer sized charge made of lead azide with what looks like an aluminum cap on the tip. Presumable, when they worked like they were supposed to, the bullet’s charge would pop on impact with a target and expand it, creating a wider wound channel. If it worked. None of Hinckley’s rounds appear to have done so. Not even when hitting a limo door and a rib on the President. They don’t look to cause damage, per se, with an explosive charge directly.
Perhaps the delusional Hinckley could only afford a cheap .22 pistol, but he was rational enough to ask after the most 'deadly' ammunition he could stick into the chamber. Had he popped for something with a bit more oomph, like a .38 snubbie or something, history may well have been different, exploding bullets or conventional.
This was 1981, before serious hollowpoint for autoloaders had been done. All lead hollowpoints were available, certainly. The cops on the scene may very well have had .38 caliber semi wadcutter hollow points in their pistols. The unhinged Hinckley, thankfully, hadn’t really thought through the effectiveness of his weapon selection. But he had evidence of the effectiveness of the .22, at any rate, from Sirhan Sirhan.
Subsequent advances in bullet technology has put the dreaded ‘exploding bullet’ out of fashion and favor in the interim for self-defense applications. And modern hollow point bullets can’t be tarred with the slanderous ‘cop-killer’ moniker as the FBI and most police departments carry hollow points and they are hardly out to kill cops. I know of no police that carry ‘exploding’ bullets.
Money quote from an NIH article on exploding bullets relevant to today:
“Finally, it is interesting to note that the Devastator bullet was developed in the 1970s for use by sky marshals, to minimise the risk of penetration of the plane fuselage when incapacitating a hijacker; a concept that appears to be returning in light of recent world events.”
And exploding rounds aren't to be confused with 'exploding rounds'. Which also might not be ideal for self-defense purposes