Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Continuing Education for Shooters - II

In response to yesterday's post on an interesting analysis of shootings, commenter Reg T raised some interesting points.  I frequently turn long comments and responses into new posts, and will do so here.  Reg's points (I'm editing here - you can read the whole thing):
When trying to decide what is significant and what isn't, I usually take anything based on plain statistics and throw it out the window. ...(some content deleted for brevity - GB)

When looking to the real world, especially in the effectiveness of ammunition, I tend to think the military - especially in places where there have been many thousands of shootings, like Vietnam, Afghanistan, etc. - provides the best data available.

The Moro uprisings in the Phillipines caused the military to switch from a .38 caliber ammunition to the .45, because the .38s were frequently not effective at stopping Moro warriors, while the .45 was often effective. More recently, the military has given excellent reason to believe the 9mm is often ineffective, and a number of military units that have a choice in what caliber they use have switched back to the .45.

Any ammunition can be effective under the right circumstances, especially with proper placement. Overall, though, especially with troops that do not get the best training with handguns, nor the most effective ammunition (FMJ vs hollow points), real world results measured over many thousands of uses indicate that caliber is indeed significant.

Statistical analyses do not always prove out in the real world. They can sometimes be useful for generalizing or in determining trends, but it is too easy to miss significant data, over weigh some data, or be used to justify someone's personal agenda.

In regard to statistical analyses in general and Reg's distrust, being skeptical is good and healthy.  There's a great quote I got in a statistics class: "Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital!".  In this case, the relevant question is what these statistics are concealing.  While this is counter-intuitive, what if the .22 really was massively superior to the .45, but the statistics showed them roughly equal?  Wouldn't you want to know? You can shoot a .22 all day for $20 (I have) while $20 buys one box of .45 FMJ; it would be nice to know if .22 was better. 

Let me put forward an idea.  I'm not going to argue it's absolute truth, but I think it's logical.  Suppose there's a fundamental difference between the people the military faces and who you're likely to face in a self defense situation?  To use the statistics term, they're not the same population - and that's what his statistics conceal.

The opponents the military faces know they're in a war, and are driven by some mix of duty, honor, loyalty to squad mates and (often) religious fervor.  That means they're much more likely to keep fighting after they've been shot than a criminal is.  After all, he's probably a criminal because he doesn't have a really good work ethic.  From the self defense standpoint, the Moros are not a good model; they were a dedicated army, in a war, defending their homes and families, "reinforced" with various drugs, not a lowlife trying for an easy meal ticket. 

That's what Ellifritz is saying: that the attacker doesn't get incapacitated so much as they quit the attack once they realize they've been shot.  I've heard (can't confirm, obviously) that the Marines are now teaching new guys that they may well get shot in a battle, but just keep fighting. What Ellifritz' data is saying is that in the average self-defense situation, you're not fighting a trained Marine; once he realizes he's been shot, he's going to stop.

Put another way, the most widely accepted statistics (there's that word, again) on self defense say that there's around 2.5 million uses of a firearm in self defense every year, and that thousands of times every day, simply drawing the firearm ends the confrontation without a shot being fired.  Does it really matter if you pull a .32 or a compact .45 if they're going to back down as soon as they see a gun? 

Now, everyone has seen the stories of a drug-wracked stoner who doesn't stop until he's been hit 40 times.  The Moro tribesmen were drugged up on something that kept them going, too.  It's not like that's an unlikely scenario, either, with the prevalence of crystal meth in our society.  Faced with that situation, I'd really prefer 12 ga to the brain stem, but I'd settle for a major caliber handgun.

And the other viewpoint is also obvious: there's often no disadvantage to carrying your .45 instead of something smaller - my .45 when fully loaded weighs an ounce or two less than my 9mm XD subcompact (which has 3 more rounds).  So why not carry the big one? 


  1. Excellent points, SG. The Moros were frequently under the influence of drugs, and their religious fervor did indeed make many of them believe they were invincible.

    Consider, though - as a police officer, quite a few suspects I contacted in the commission of a crime were under the influence. Sometimes alcohol, sometimes meth, sometimes both (usually, users of marijuana were too "laidback" to commit any crime other than driving under the influence. I was rear-ended by one on duty, as a matter of fact ;-) Interviews with criminals in prison done by people investigating the criminal mind seem to indicate that a fair number of violent criminals know that A) police officers are often woefully _under_ trained in the use of their firearm and B) these same felons do not believe they will be incapacitated when shot.

    Yes, many - perhaps even most - of the criminals a citizen is likely to come up against will react as you or I might (if we were untrained), and believe being shot is the same as being killed, or that it will incapacitate us.

    The question I think you want to ask yourself is this: do I want to bet my life, or the lives of my family, on the chance the criminal is one of these offenders? Or would you rather prepare for the possibility that it will take more force - a bigger hole to bleed through, at least - to stop the guy who wants to hurt you or your loved ones?

    That is part of the problem with statistics. They may be accurate in a general fashion, but they may let you down in the particular. When considering what to carry, I decided that I would rather plan for the worst case scenario than to hope for the best.

  2. I stopped too soon :-) I want to add that throughout most of the miliary actions Americans have participated in, there have been many instances - far beyond just those who have been awarded our Medal of Honor - of wounded servicemen and women continuing to fight after taking hits that would leave me crying for Momma. The military should indeed be training their men and women that you can fight on after being shot or wounded by shrapnel. Police departments should be training their people in the same way, as I have read of officers dying from wounds that were survivable because they _believed_ they were going to die.

    Perhaps that is true of some military folks as well, but as you pointed out, war often motivates the individual to sustain more due to feelings of duty, or honor, or - as I believe is more common - simply not being willing to let your teammates down, or to be thought a coward for giving up too soon.

    My distrust of statistics is in the particular - they may be accurate in general, or in pointing out a trend, but they will not protect me from the instances that don't fit the mold, that deviate from the norm. If I am investing money I might trust them, but not when it comes to protecting those I love - including myself ;-)

  3. I hear you.

    Besides, there's a lot of variables involved that are not being controlled for in these surveys, like modern ammunition vs. older designs.

    Like I said, my .45 weighs a couple of ounces less than my 9mm. Once I get more comfortable with it, it may end up being a regular carry (still haven't run SD ammo through it to make sure it works).