Changes made to school marshal ammo program; debate continues on ammo use

Published 2:30 pm Monday, January 30, 2017

New legislation is coming down from Austin that could expand on the Protection of Texas Children Act as well as update the type of ammunition used by school marshals.

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, recently filed House Bill 867 expanding the Act allowing for the appointment of school marshal’s in private schools and House Bill 960 allowing community colleges to participate in the program.

The original act specifies the type of projectile to be used as frangible ammunition. A representative of Villalba’s office said Villalba has worked with ballistic experts at the state and federal level and made a change to the type of ammunition first specified in the act.

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The change requires that a handgun carried by or within access of a school marshal may be loaded with frangible duty ammunition approved for that purpose by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.

Experts in the field of ballistics have a difference of opinion on the safety of frangible duty ammunition.

Sgt. Wade Parham, instructor with the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training program, or ALERT, is one of the experts who has been meeting with Rep. Villalba to help find the best ammunition for the job.

“While most frangible ammunition penetrates sheet rock just like a normal bullet, in a school there are many other construction materials such as brick, tile, concrete and metal.  Therefore the use of a frangible ammunition may lessen ricochet threat to bystanders,” Parham said. “There are several bullet designs that have recently come onto the market or are in the design phases that the manufacturers describe as duty frangible or hollow point frangible. If these prove to offer acceptable terminal performance and a lesser chance of ricochet, they may be a good choice for the school marshals.”

In providing TCOLE with oversight in school marshal ammunition selection and usage, Parham is confident the commission can find the right bullet for the right job.

Buford Boone, a former FBI supervisory special agent who ran the FBI Ballistic Research Facility in Quantico, Virginia, is a staunch opponent of the use of frangible ammunition by school marshals.

It is commonly believed by some outside the ballistics industry that frangible ammo means bullets that break apart once they hit any surface. This type of ammo was originally developed for use by law enforcement during training or practice shooting against steel targets. A “regular” bullet would ricochet when hitting such a target. Frangible projectiles were developed to break apart once they hit something of sufficient hardness such as a steel target.

The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturer’s Association, SAMMI, defines frangible as a projective that breaks apart on impact. Boone is associated with SAMMI and said he is aware the have or intend to redefine this to include the wording “reduced hazard.”

“As understood in the industry, “frangible” ammunition is that which contains a projectile designed to break into many very small pieces when contacting steel.  It reduces the hazard of ricochet or bounce-back when training on steel targets,” Boone said. “It does not necessarily work the same when encountering anything softer than steel.

This means the projectile will likely continue through tissue and “over penetrate.”

There is work being done to create ammunition with projectiles claimed to be frangible that will also break apart in tissue.

Boone said the best way to determine the appropriateness for the Texas School Marshal program would be to have test data from a scientifically repeatable test protocol, like the one used by the FBI.