Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Continuing Education for Shooters

One of the most persistent falsehoods heard from anti-gunners, I mean besides the penis jokes, is that gun culture folks are all toothless idiots who "jest wanna shewt sumthin".  Of course, when you're familiar with the facts, you know that a large percentage of the folks who carry study all the time: they study tactics, take classes and spend a fair amount of their resources trying to be ready should they be called on to use that gun they carry.  (To be fair, there is probably a few percent that fit the mythology, but about 5 or 10% of the population of the country thinks we never went to the moon, so there's a few percent of losers no matter what group you look at.)

So in keeping with the idea of studying, with thanks to the Michael Bane Blog, we have this link to an alternative look at the persistent myth of stopping power, by Greg Ellifritz.  It's really one of the most interesting things I've read in a while. 
The average number of rounds until incapacitation was also remarkably similar between calibers. All the common defensive calibers required around 2 rounds on average to incapacitate. Something else to look at here is the question of how fast can the rounds be fired out of each gun. The .38 SPL probably has the slowest rate of fire (long double action revolver trigger pulls and stout recoil in small revolvers) and the fewest rounds fired to get an incapacitation (1.87). Conversely the 9mm can probably be fired fastest of the common calibers and it had the most rounds fired to get an incapacitation (2.45). The .40 (2.36) and the .45 (2.08) split the difference. It is my personal belief that there really isn't much difference between each of these calibers. It is only the fact that some guns can be fired faster than others that causes the perceived difference in stopping power. If a person takes an average of 5 seconds to stop after being hit, the defender who shoots a lighter recoiling gun can get more hits in that time period. It could be that fewer rounds would have stopped the attacker (given enough time) but the ability to fire more quickly resulted in more hits being put onto the attacker. It may not have anything to do with the stopping power of the round. (emphasis added)
I find that bolded text a very interesting statement.  Look at these two data sets, for example:
.22 (short, long and long rifle)
# of people shot - 154
# of hits - 213
% of hits that were fatal - 34%
Average number of rounds until incapacitation - 1.38
% of people who were not incapacitated - 31%
One-shot-stop % - 31%
Accuracy (head and torso hits) - 76%
% actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit) - 60%
compare that to this one:
 45 ACP
# of people shot - 209
# of hits - 436
% of hits that were fatal - 29%
Average number of rounds until incapacitation - 2.08
% of people who were not incapacitated - 14%
One-shot-stop % - 39%
Accuracy (head and torso hits) - 85%
% actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit) - 51%
Let's resist the conclusion that the .22 is a more lethal round than .45 ACP (34% fatal compared to 29%) with more "stopping power" (1.38 rounds to incapacitation vs. 2.08) and just go with his conclusion:
What I believe that my numbers show is that in the majority of shootings, the person shot merely gives up without being truly incapacitated by the bullet. In such an event, almost any bullet will perform admirably. If you want to be prepared to deal with someone who won't give up so easily, or you want to be able to have good performance even after shooting through an intermediate barrier, I would skip carrying the "mouse gun" .22s, .25s and .32s.
An interesting comparison is how those numbers for "incapacitated by one shot" jumps for rifles and shotguns.  As has been said many times, a handgun is for fighting your way to your rifle.  I'll add "or shotgun".  If you really need to stop someone right freakin' now, grab one of those! 

The famous FBI study of the Miami shootout concluded (to paraphrase) the three things that matter the most are: "shot placement, shot placement, and shot placement".  Ellifritz adds to that, and holds out the prospect that you're only going to need more than two hits in two cases: the goblin is really high on something and is oblivious to having been shot, or the goblin really wants to hurt you and will walk through a hail of lead to do it.

To use his conclusion:
The results I got from the study lead me to believe that there really isn't that much difference between most defensive handgun rounds and calibers. None is a death ray, but most work adequately...even the lowly .22s. I've stopped worrying about trying to find the "ultimate" bullet. There isn't one. And I've stopped feeling the need to strap on my .45 every time I leave the house out of fear that my 9mm doesn't have enough "stopping power." Folks, carry what you want. Caliber really isn't all that important
There's a lot of good stuff in that report; so you should go read.

(Special offer to O. F. Mossberg & Sons: I'll sell you exclusive rights to the phrase, "Mossberg!  When you absolutely, positively need to kill someone right freakin' now!"  Call me).


  1. Interesting data! I will always fall back to a person that has a Pistol and will use it effectively period. I did not mention a caliber in that statement.

    The first rule of winning a gunfight is to have a gun. Too heavy, can't conceal, hurts to carry, etc. means it stays home. And it is totally useless.

    Excellent Post!

  2. 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. Marshall and Sanow, two cops who did a "study" (since completely discredited) on "stopping power", were a couple of cops/ex-cops who cherry=picked data from an enormous variety of unconnected and unequivalent shootings to determine what calibers were most effective, including a myth of "one shot stops".

    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, overweight some data, or be used to justify someone's personal agenda.

    Medical forensics, such as those done by Dr. Martin Fackler from wound ballistic studies he began back in Vietnam, and real world results in large scale armed conflicts provide us with reason to believe that caliber counts, that penetration is paramount, the "hydrostatic shock" being a significant factor is a myth, and that one-shot stops should be placed under your pillow, in hopes the Bullet Fairy will leave you some spare change.

    That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

  3. Thanks for an interesting idea for some more column space.

  4. Didja spot the built-in sampling error in his data?

    (Hint: Between, say, .40 and .22LR, which caliber is more likely to have been involved in dynamic shootings at ten yards rather than single-shot killings at two feet?)

    But, yeah, given the caveat of modern expanding handgun bullets, there's really not much to choose from between service calibers.

  5. I like my .45 caliber handguns. I shoot them better than either 9mm or .40 S&W so that's what I carry. However, if I was to go for a pocket gun then I would choose .380 or a 9mm, or maybe even a revolver in 38 Special or .357 Magnum - man, ain't freedom grand?

  6. Tam - like this? (at about 30 seconds in, but the whole clip is worth watching)

  7. Graybeard,


    Not just like that, but .40 will be overrepresented by cops engaged in circular firing squads across half a parking lot, while Ruger Mk.II's are more likely to be involved in Joe Homeowner shooting an intruder right up in his face.

    Shootin' Buddy has been involved in two homicide trials, both one-shot DRT's. One was a .410 slug and one was a Ruger 10/22. Both were single shots to the heart. The 10/22 went through a front door first.