Most handgun bullets are made of lead with a copper jacket around the core. This includes each size from a .22 caliber up to the largest made, a .50 caliber. Lead has been a common material for use in bullet manufacturing for many decades because of its denseness and cost.
- A lead bullet or lead core bullet will spin appropriately to fly true when in flight, as the handgun rifling is currently designed for lead bullets by firearm manufacturers.
- Lead is a relatively cheap metal, and thus lead core bullets are cheap compared to alternative metals.
- Lead is a heavy metal, and lead bullets of a specific weight can be smaller than alternative metals.
Lead is a material that has been proven to cause some serious environmental health concerns (recall the mandate to eliminate leaded gasoline some years ago) as in concentrations it can cause lead poisoning. Lead poisoning can cause serious health issues in children and adults, including high blood pressure, kidney damage, etc.
- Moves are underway to replace lead in ammunition with other materials, primarily copper. Some states and many European countries have already banned lead bullets to be sold or shot.
- Copper bullets are readily available but are more expensive than lead core bullets.
- Copper bullets do not appear to have any negative effects on the handgun when shot.
- Depending upon the handgun used, copper bullets may not be as accurate as a lead bullet of the same weight, since copper is a lighter material than lead. Thus, a copper bullet will need to spin faster to fly stable. Accuracy of a copper bullet will depend upon the twist rate (the rifling) of your handgun.