Winchester Black Talons The handgun ammo that was just “too good” to survive the pants-wetters.

The Following article about the Black Talon was written by Dean Speir on his now defunct website, The Gun Zone. Which used to be the home of Daniel’s The 5.56MM TIMELINE, which now resides here. Mr. Speir wrote this about the infamous Winchester Black Talon and its history in the media. I hope he doesn’t mind that I saved it for reposting here. So much was lost when TGZ assumed room Temp it would be a shame if it was lost forever.

On Thursday, 1 July 1993, 55-year-old mortgage broker Gian Luigi Ferri entered the San Francisco law offices of Pettit&Martin and opened fire with two Intratec TEC-DC9s and a Colt .45 ACP pistol1. Ferri killed eight and wounded six before turning the gun on himself. Moving through the office, he fired the TEC-9s which were loaded with a combination of Black Talon and conventional ammunition. Ferri ended the lives of some of the wounded with Black Talon rounds from his Colt pistol. Faced with financial problems, Ferri held a grudge against Pettit&Martin because the law firm had represented him in a 1980s trailer-park transaction that had gone bad.

Contemporaneous news reports cited the Black Talons’ “razor sharp claws,” and the resulting wounds as “devastating and non-survivable.” However, a year later at an International Wound Ballistics Association conference, the San Francisco Medical Examiner, Boyd Stevens, M.D., who had conducted the post mortems of the shooting victims stated that the wound trauma produced by the Black Talon was “unremarkable.”2

Five months and six days after the Ferri shootings, Colin Ferguson, a native of the Caribbean island of Jamaica, went on a murderous rampage on the Long Island Railroad (NY) with a questionably purchased3 Ruger P89 loaded with 9 X 19mm Black Talon 147-grain rounds, approximately one month following Olin’s decision to remove the entire Black Talon brand of ammunition from the Winchester commercial catalogue.

Representative of the anti-gun, anti-Black Talon hyperbole of the period was this over-wrought description of the carnage Ferguson wreaked on unarmed citizens:

Perhaps a prayer can stop a Black Talon. But a pocketbook probably will not. The bullet is designed to unsheathe its claws once inside the victim’s body and tear it to pieces. That’s what Colin Ferguson was firing, to the right, then the left, as he walked backward through the third car of the 5:33 train to Hicksville, New York, last Tuesday night. And the passengers who crushed toward the exits or dove under their seats or tried to hide behind their handbags did not stand much of a chance.– Time Magazine, 20 December 1993 One can not unreasonably argue that “Black Talon” never really had a chance either… except in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit: McCarthy v. Olin Corp., 119 F.3d 148 (2d Cir. 1997) which ruled…

The Black Talon is a hollowpoint bullet designed to bend upon impact into six ninety-degree angle razor-sharp petals or “talons” that increase the wounding power of the bullet by stretching, cutting and tearing tissue and bone as it travels through the victim.
. . .

[P]laintiffs failed to allege the existence of a design defect in the Black Talon because the ammunition must by its very nature be dangerous to be functional. … The risk of the Black Talon arises from the function of the product, not from a defect in the product.
. . .

The very purpose of the Black Talon bullet is to kill or cause severe wounding.
. . .

Because we hold that the Black Talon bullets were not defectively designed, we must affirm the dismissal of appellants’ strict liability claims. And that’s where the Black Talon issue rests today.

Black Talon

It was the Winchester Ammunition Company’s BIG announcement for the 1991 SHOT Show: “Black Talon” handgun ammunition, the first major munitions maker’s response to the post-11 April 1986 hysteria over the “ammo failure” in the notorious FBI Firefight.

The trade publication, Shooting Industry, awarded the design two years running:

  • 1992 Winchester Black Talon handgun ammunition
  • 1993 Winchester Black Talon rifle ammunition

In Fall 1993, Winchester took their Black Talon brand of hollow-point ammunition off the commercial market after the rounds were singled out during a particularly intense period of concern about gun violence.

Winchester officials used research to show that the Black Talon was no more deadly4 than any of the other hollow point bullets on the market, but they pulled the ammunition from the shelves to quiet public concern. Black Talon was the first product Winchester had ever removed from the market for reasons other than manufacturing defects in the almost 130-year history of the company.

“It is a hazard and shouldn’t be used,” Dr. Edward Quebbeman, professor of pediatric5 surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a general surgeon in Milwaukee hospitals was quoted in the September/October 1993 issue of thed radical-Liberal Mother Jones Magazine. “At an absolute minimum, I would like to see it banned from the civilian population.”

230-grain Black Talon SXT recovered from 10% ordnance gelatin

So too did the eloquent and blustering Democratic senior Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan6, who told a visibly horrified Jane Pauley, “It’s designed to rip your guts out!” in response to a question from the bopolar interviewer on WNBC’s “Live at Five” television show.

Within the week, then Winchester Ammo President Gerald W. Bersett, having been ambushed in his own driveway one morning by a TV crew intent on some headline-making “gotcha journalism,” ordered the rounds taken out of the commercial distribution chain.

For all intents and purposes, the “Black Talon” brand was dead from that moment forward.

What it is/was…

.45 ACP Black Talon cartridge

The original Black Talon7 line of handgun ammunition was introduced at the 1991 SHOT Show in Dallas, and was marked by a black-colored projectile seated in a nickel-plated case, which made for a very “sexy” round! With the black bullets and gleaming cases, they looked as if they were the “official handgun ammo” of the Oakland Raiders professional football team.

The bullet’s black molybdenum disulfide coating… Winchester’s proprietary name for which is “Lubalox…” was applied for increased lubricity. The tip of the projectile utilizes six serrations on the hollow cavity’s nose (meplat). Upon introduction at a specific velocity into soft tissue, the projectile’s jacket expanded along those six pre-stressed lines forming the “talon.”

The "horrifying" appearance of the Black Talon's radial jacket petals

Winchester described this as:

Six uniform, radial jacket petals with perpendicular tips.

Winchester’s Dave Schluckebier8 and Alan Corzine designed the Black Talon in the late ’80s with what they termed a “reverse-taper jacket;” i.e., unlike conventional hollowpoint handgun projectile construction, the copper jacket is thicker at the nose than at the base. This heavier gauge provides the necessary structural stiffness to the “talons” after expansion so they remain in optimal position to slice through tissue as it parts around the mushroomed skirt of the bullet.

The Scandal and Beyond

The controversy over the Black Talon took place in an era when the public was largely uninformed about the reality of the new bullet technology developed in response to the FBI-facilitated Wound Ballistics Seminar at Quantico in September 1987.

To complicate matters, sentiment was already being heavily influenced by the efforts of anti-gun organizations such as Handgun Control, Inc. The issue blew into a firestorm, with HCI, the media, and even some in law enforcement vilifying the rounds and inflaming the public with such near hysterical statements from a surgeon in a Houston, Texas Emergency Room that the rounds were…

…being designed to explode inside a person like a thousand razor blades, (with) most people having almost no chance of survival.

Little wonder that Ms. Pauley looked a little pasty around the gills.

And HCI, having worked Josh Sugarmann’s extraordinarily prescient “strategy of confusion“9 so well in the aftermath of the Patrick Purdy schoolyard shooting in Stockton, California almost five years earlier, reconfigured that campaign to “help” the public believe that the Black Talons were “deadly Cop-Killer Bullets.”

At that point it was an understandable “corporate decision” for Winchester’s Bersett to hit the panic button as a damage control measure.

End Notes:

1.- All three of Ferri’s weapons were acquired from licensed dealers by illegal means. A California resident with a still-valid Nevada driver’s license, Ferri traveled from California to Nevada to buy the Intratec guns. Because he lied about his residency, the handguns were purchased illegally. Both of Ferri’s TEC-DC9s were equipped with Hellfire trigger activators, a small spring device which allows the shooter to mimic the speed of fully-automatic fire. 2.- Winchester Ranger Talon (Ranger SXT/Black Talon) Wound Ballistics. 3.- The handgun had been obtained at a California sporting goods store after Ferguson had shown proof of residency, a driver’s license using the address of a motel where he was staying. Ferguson passed the background check and waited the mandatory 15 days before picking up his gun. 4.- Ironically, siqnificantly undercutting the implied claims of Winchester’s advertising campaign for the Black Talon line of handgun ammunition. 5.- Why were we not surprised? The American Academy of Pediatrics was in the forefront of the anti-gun onslught in the earlt ’90s. 6.- But then Moynihan had spent his entire senatorial career (1976-2000) attempting to ban one form of handgun ammunition or another, mostly .25 ACP, .32 ACP and, despite the law enforcement wundernine transition craze of the late ’80s, during the 102nd Congress (1991-1992) even 9 X 19mm/9mm parabellum! When it came to the Black Talon rounds, however, Moynihan was threatening a 1000% tax on all hollow-point handgun cartridges. 7.- Olin had briefly considered naming their new round “Black Widow,” but a far-thinking employee quickly dissuaded the company from such an undertaking. Even so, at least one major West Coast law enforcement agency with a well-identified public relations problem with the African-American community it served, refused to purchase the rounds for duty issue unless Winchester shipped them in generic packaging similar to the company’s “USA” brand ammo without any “Black Talon” identification. 8.- Not long after the Black Talon project was completed at Olin, Schluckebier moved to Remington where he designed and developed the “Golden Saber” line of handgun ammunition. 9.- In September 1988, four months prior to Purdy’s rampage with a semi-automatic Kalasknikov in January 1989, Sugarmann had issued “Assault Weapons and Accessories in America: a strategy paper” in anticipation of just such an event, suggesting that the anti-gunners raise a hullabaloo about “the need to ban such deadly assault rifles,” by trading on the public’s inability to tell the difference between a fully automatic and a semi-automatic firearm. He urged that the anti-gunners make use of this confusion to open another front with greater prospects of success, noting that:

[A]ssault weapons are quickly becoming the leading topic of America’s gun control debate and will most likely remain the leading gun control issue for the near future. Such a shift will not only damage America’s gun lobby, but strengthen the handgun restriction lobby….

The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons – anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun – can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons. In addition, few people can envision a practical use for these weapons.

Following Stockton, the pro-Second Amendment people immediately went on a silly counter-offensive correcting the media about “assault rifles,” by definition being capable of full-auto fire, having already been heavily regulated by the National Firearms Act of 1934.
A lot of good that did… within a very short time President Bush (#41) and his “drug czar,” Bill Bennett, had banned further importation of all AK-47s and most other semi-automatic rifles, the media quickly adopted Sugarmann’s “assault weapon” term, and in September 1994 the Clinton Administration passed a major ban on such firearms and high capacity magazines as part of a “Crime Bill.”

by , formerly famous gunwriter