What about Kinetic Energy Transfer? Does It Cause Psychological Stops?

Ah, the old “energy transfer” question.  You knew I had to address it sooner or later, didn’t you?  Turns out it was later.  But, I just ran across an interesting article that I think may prove quite illuminating on the subject.

What subject?  Psychological Stops.  As in, why does someone who’s shot superficially, or non-mortally, choose to drop their gun and stop attacking?

It’s an important subject because, while we typically deal with the concept of “incapacitating wounds”, the fact remains that a large percentage of gunfights seem to be ended due strictly to psychological factors, rather than physiological factors (i.e., the person voluntarily decides to stop attacking, instead of being forced to stop attacking.)

How many cases are of psychological stops rather than physical incapacitation?  I don’t know of any definitive study that has attempted to classify it.  I do know that there are doctors who say that (with treatment) six out of seven people shot by handguns will survive.  In a case of true incapacitation (where the person’s body has been so damaged by the bullet that their body itself shuts down and therefore removes their capacity to continue acting voluntarily) the odds would seem to be drastically lower, since true incapacitation usually relies on either the death of, or paralysis of, or the rendering unconscious of the attacker.  And rendering them unconscious usually happens through blood loss so substantial that their blood pressure drops below that necessary to keep them conscious and acting.  And if they’re losing blood that fast (through a damaged artery or circulatory system organ) then it doesn’t seem likely that emergency responders would be able to get there in time to prevent a total bleed-out.

As such, it seems that a very high percentage of people who are dissuaded from their actions via gunfire, do so not because their body has been so damaged that they cannot continue, but rather they choose voluntarily to stop.  (I offer as food for thought my prior articles on just how much damage a human body can sustain and still keep attacking; Peter Soulis put twenty-two rounds of .40 S&W in Tim Palmer and Palmer didn’t stop until the twenty-second round hit him.  It can at times be quite difficult to force a determined attacker to stop just through the use of gunfire.)

Incapacitation vs. Psychological Stops

Before continuing, I want to point out one of my prior articles, “An Alternative Look at ‘Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power‘.”  In that article, I attempted to evaluate the data collected by Greg Ellifritz and put some context into it, as far as how the data could not necessarily be used to draw the type of conclusions that people are wont to draw about data like this (such as “the .40 S&W is the best manstopper, and the .32 ACP has a higher one-shot stop percentage than the 9mm”, or any other such conclusions.)  The crux of my argument there was that there was no real delineation in the data between what was a Psychological Stop (i.e., the person shot just gave up) vs. true Incapacitation (which, by my definition, means that the bullet damages the body to the point that the person is no longer capable of voluntary action).  And if we don’t know that distinction, we can’t attribute the performance to the bullet alone.

I believe that in my prior article I laid out some good reasoning for how we couldn’t tell which were Psychological Stops, and which were true Incapacitation.  Accordingly, I think the percentages listed simply cannot be relied upon as a predictor of how effective any particular caliber will be in causing an attacker to stop.

However, I’d like to revisit this subject because of a follow-up article by Mr. Ellifritz (who, generally, I do agree with on almost everything else in his articles).  Ellifritz published an article on the use of his data to evaluate the .22LR as to its effectiveness for self defense, especially in context with answering some questions raised by readers of his prior articles.

I think Ellifritz’s data sheds some excellent light on a subject that’s been the source of many questions for many people, and that is:

Does Kinetic Energy Transfer Cause Psychological Stops?

So here’s the crux of the matter, in a nutshell: there are two different schools of thought on handgun bullet performance, the Light & Fast vs. the Slow & Heavy.  The Light & Fast group typically use terms such as “energy transfer” or “hydrostatic shock” to talk about how a bullet affects a person’s physiology; the Slow & Heavy group generally ignores all that and focuses on what actual tissue was destroyed by the bullet itself.  The Slow & Heavy school (of which I am a member) say that if you poke a hole in someone’s vital organs, they’re going down.  And if you don’t poke a hole in their vital organs, they won’t have any physical reason for stopping.  They MAY choose to stop, but there isn’t necessarily any anatomical reason for them to have to stop.

The Light & Fast group, on the other hand, focuses on the size of the temporary cavity created, and some argue that the faster the bullet “transfers its energy to the target”, the more likely the person is to stop their attack.  The idea behind this philosophy generally involves the notion that a “rapid energy transfer” will cause incapacitation.

I don’t know about that; I know of zero studies that have been done that show that there is any increased likelihood of a psychological stop due to energy transfer, and don’t know how an ethical researcher could even begin to undertake to test for such an effect.  Seriously, such testing could only be conducted against human subjects (since only humans have human psychology), and would likely require a very large sample size before you could filter out the noise and start to see real patterns emerging.  Probably at least a thousand data points would be needed, and I think it’s safe to say we aren’t going to see any researchers shooting a thousand people to see what percentage are likely to just “give up” in a gunfight…

So the question arises — is a “Light & Fast” bullet more likely to cause a psychological stop, than a “Slow & Heavy” bullet is?  Does more energy transferred make a person more likely to quit a gunfight?  Would a fast-energy-transfer gunshot be more painful than a Slow & Heavy gunshot?

Again, these are all questions we cannot answer scientifically, without some serious ethical breaches of protocol!  But, using Ellifritz’s .22LR article, I think we can take a good step towards clearing up some of the confusion and sorting through the fog.

Here’s the thing that stood out to me, in Ellifritz’s studies — while we don’t know what percentage of his data subjects were true psychological stops vs. true incapacitation, we do still have a lot of data to examine on people who were shot.  And, in Ellifritz’s article on .22LR, he makes some insightful observations, specifically that the .22LR is the least likely of all calibers to cause a true physically incapacitating shot.  Due to the small diameter, light weight and low velocity of the .22LR, its penetration capabilities are less than the other calibers are, so the likelihood of it having caused substantial body damage sufficient to cause true incapacitation is reasonably presumably lower than other calibers.

And yet — a whole lot of people in his study stopped attacking after getting shot with a .22LR.  According to his data, 60% of the people who were hit with a .22LR round, stopped their actions.  Only 31% didn’t, regardless of how many rounds they were hit by.

What does that tell us?

Well, it tells me that people don’t like to get shot, and getting shot is frequently enough to get a person to give up.  Even if the bullet doesn’t mortally wound you, the sheer shock and horror and fear of being hit by a bullet (any bullet) and the attendant pain, blood, and fear of imminent death that all can be expected to occur in gunshot recipients, is very likely enough to get that person to say “screw this, I’ve just been shot, I’m not sticking around to get shot again.”

Going by Ellifritz’s data, the percentage of people who stopped after getting shot by a single shot of a .22LR, is about the same as the percentage of people who stopped after getting shot by a single round of .380, or .357 Magnum, and it’s even higher than the percentage of people who stopped after getting shot with a single round of .38 Special, 9mm, .40 S&W or .45 ACP.  Seriously, that’s what the data shows.

How many of those stops were psychological?  We cannot know, the data was not gathered in a way that would tell us that, but seeing as the percentages are relatively quite consistent (from 47% for the 9mm up to 62% for the .22), and knowing that the .22LR is the least powerful of all the cartridges tested and therefore (as Ellifritz eloquently reasoned) the least likely to be doing true physical incapacitation to the attacker’s body, I think it’s fairly safe to say that a whole lot of these 47% to 62% of “one shot stops” were strictly psychological.  Again, this is supported when we look at other shooting scenarios (see my prior articles referenced in this article) where five hits of 9mm or .38 Special, or 7 hits of .45, or even 22 hits of .40 S&W, were not enough to bring an attacker or an officer to the point of incapacitation, it seems unlikely that a single .22LR bullet is likely to drop an attacker through sheer force of incapacitation (without a direct hit on the central nervous system or circulatory organ, that is).

So now we return to the central question of this article — how much of a role is Energy Transfer likely to play in psychological stopping?  Again, and sorry to repeat it so many times but it’s important to be clear on this: we don’t know, and we cannot truly know definitively.  We can only look at the information in front of us and try to draw what conclusions we can.  And the conclusion I draw is: “Energy Transfer” doesn’t necessarily mean squat as far as causing an increased likelihood of a psychological stop.

The reason I say this is specifically because of Ellifritz’s .22 data.  If you think about it, if higher levels of energy transference were going to cause people to be more likely to quit attacking, then shouldn’t the percentage of one-shot stops be much higher for the high-energy rounds (like .40 S&W or .357) than they would be for the tiny-energy .22 round?  Or, let’s put it another way — the .22 doesn’t really have much energy to transfer at all.  From a handgun, the .22lr is usually going to deliver less than about 90 ft/lbs of energy, as opposed to the 300 to 500 ft/lbs one is likely to see from a 9mm, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP.  So – if the amount of energy transferred was a strong indicator of the likelihood of a person to psychologically stop, then shouldn’t the 1-shot stop percentages be much higher for the higher-energy rounds?  And yet, they’re not.  The highest-energy round on Ellifritz’s list, the .357 Magnum, has a one-shot stop ratio that’s practically identical to the lowest-energy round on his list (the .22LR).  It’s 61% vs. 60%!  How can those be the same, when a .357 delivers 430 ft/lbs or more, and the .22LR delivers less than 90?  The leading theory to me is: because “energy transferred” doesn’t matter as much as people may like to think.

Surely the .357 creates a much bigger temporary cavity.  Surely the .357 delivers more pain and transfers more energy — heck, it’s got about 5x as much energy to transfer.  And yet… according to the numbers, the (fundamentally) same percentage of people hit with the low-energy round stopped attacking after one hit, as those who were hit by the high-energy round.

One could argue that a higher percentage of the .357 bullet recipients were incapacitated overall than the .22LR bullet recipients.  While we cannot know for sure, the data does show that while the one-shot-stop percentages were fundamentally the same, the % of those who “would not stop no matter how many times they were shot” is much higher for .22LR than it was for .357 magnum.  In the shootings Mr. Ellifritz evaluated, 31% of those shot with a .22 did not stop, whereas only 9% of those shot with the .357 didn’t stop.  Does that prove that the higher energy round was the more effective stopper?  Yes indeed — as you’d expect.  But — I don’t think it proves it to be any more effective for psychological stops.  I think the .357 should obviously be expected to be a more potent physical incapacitator than the .22, and I think the “% that did not stop” field shows that perfectly well.  However, I think that same field also demonstrates the point I’m trying to make — those that DID stop from the .22, are more likely to have CHOSEN to stop.

Because the .22 is less likely to have caused the type of damage that forces someone to stop than the .357 is, it leaves the question open: then WHY did those who were shot just once by the .22, stop at all?

And the answer can only be — they were mainly psychological stops.

What about the .357 then — it had the same % of one-shot stops (61% vs. 60%) — can we say that it had the same percentage of psychological stops?  Again, I don’t think we can draw that conclusion from the data, because it’s clouded by the “% that did not stop” field.  I think a decent hypothesis would perhaps be — in any given group of people, regardless of what bullet they’re shot with, a certain percentage is predisposed to giving up right away.  Since all the categories showed generally similar one-shot-stop percentages (generally 47% to 61%), I think that is a hypothesis that, while unproven, could still reasonably be inferred.  However — what percentage of those who would have given up, were in fact instead incapacitated?  That may be the difference — if someone was forcefully incapacitated (as would be more likely from the more-damaging .357 bullet) then we can’t know whether they would have been a psychological stop or not, because the choice was taken away from them due to true incapacitation.  And that may be the answer we see, between the “% stopped after 1 shot” and “% that did not stop” fields.

So that brings us back to — does the higher energy transfer of a high-energy round like the .357 make it more likely to cause a psychological stop than a low-energy round?  While we don’t necessarily know, I think that if we stand the question on its head we can draw an inescapable conclusion — those who chose to stop psychologically, from the .22, weren’t doing so because of high energy transfer!  The .22 doesn’t have much energy to transfer, and its temporary cavity is positively tiny compared to the high-energy rounds like the .40 or .357.  And yet, 60% of those shot by the .22 either chose to stop, or were incapacitated (and, again, the likelihood of those who chose to stop would reasonably be higher for .22 than for the other calibers, because the likelihood of true physical incapacitation would be lower from the .22 as compared to the other calibers).  So if (hypothetically) high energy transfer is what causes someone to psychologically stop, then why would anyone who was shot with a .22 psychologically stop?  There’s no high energy to transfer!

Therefore, it seems safe to conclude that the level of energy transferred is likely not as significant a factor in causing a psychological stop as it may at first seem.

My guess?  Folks who have been shot get scared, and getting shot hurts, and seeing your blood leaking out of you hurts.  Plus we’ve been programmed by decades of Hollywood movies to “know” that just the very fact of getting shot means that you are supposed to drop on the ground and die right away.  Those factors all weigh on the psychology of someone who’s been shot, and I believe they are the contributing factors that cause a psychological stop, far more than the caliber of bullet or the amount of energy transferred by that bullet.  Accordingly, I don’t think that adding more energy or higher velocity is a good predictor for increasing the likelihood of a psychological stop.  Now, let’s back up and say — I think more energy, more power, bigger heavier bullets, and more shots on target are all good things — if you could do any one thing that would increase your likelihood of stopping an attack, I’d say more shots on target would be the most important thing.  But I’d always advise to carry the most powerful weapon that you can comfortably and accurately shoot.  Just because data has been correlated that show a .22LR has been able to cause 60% of the people shot by it to stop attacking, doesn’t mean it’s a good choice for self defense.  The more powerful the weapon, the bigger and deeper-penetrating the bullet, the more likelihood you have of causing a true incapacitating wound — and if you do that, then it takes all the guesswork, all the hypotheses, and all the questions and flings ‘em right out the window.

First and foremost, place shots properly on the target to cause hits on the vital organs.  Second, place as many of those shots on target as you can until the attack stops.  Third, place them with the most powerful firearm that you can comfortably and accurately control.  Do that, and your likelihood of success in a defensive encounter will skyrocket, far more than worrying about whether your bullet transfers enough kinetic energy or what some one-shot-stop study says.

 

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Warning Shot? Shoot To Wound? Shoot To Kill? Or Shoot To STOP?

m4s0n501

If you read a lot of gun forums, or ever speak with anyone who’s anti-gun, sooner or later you’re going to run into the question of “Shouldn’t you just shoot to wound?  I mean, I don’t want to kill anybody.”  Or, from the anti-gun crowd, whenever a successful defensive gun situation is discussed you may frequently see them question “Why didn’t they just shoot him in the leg or something?  Did they HAVE to kill him?”

This usually leads to a discussion on the inadvisability of warning shots, “stopping power”, and, eventually, someone invariably will bring up something on the order of “Dead men can’t testify against you.”

Wow.

Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen that (or something like it) posted on a public forum, or said at a gun store or gun show.  It’s been repeated so many times that I fear new shooters may be getting indoctrinated with it and may actually think that’s “normal”.  And, obviously, the anti-gun side uses statements like that to paint otherwise lawful and rational firearms owners as “bloodthirsty.”  So, I’d like to go through all these scenarios and provide some hopefully clarifying commentary so that we can get to the bottom of these various questions.

Firearms Are Instruments Of Deadly Force

Let’s start with the first and most obvious fact that we simply have to address: Firearms are not toys.  They are not symbols.  They are not warning flags, or status symbols, or penis-measuring devices.  They are instruments of deadly force, and they are only to be used when deadly force is necessary.  You should only ever pull your firearm out when it is necessary to protect your life, or other innocent life, as your local and state laws and statutes allow.  You should never use it for any other purpose (such as waving it out the car window to intimidate another driver; that in and of itself may be a crime known as “brandishing.”)  You should never pull your firearm unless you are prepared to use it.  A firearm is capable of inflicting deadly force, and it should always be considered in that context.

You Will Not Be Tried In A Court Of “Right” And “Wrong”, You Will Be Tried In A Court Of Law.  What Is LEGAL Is What Matters There

Now, before going any further, let me say that I strongly advise you to discuss these issues with your lawyer.  Only a lawyer in your state who is versed in your state’s firearms laws can truly, really answer your questions.  And if you don’t have a lawyer, and you carry a firearm, you should seriously consider getting one.  It doesn’t even need to be a situation where you pay big bucks for a one-on-one meeting; something as simple and comparatively inexpensive as a prepaid legal service like USLawShield would be vastly better than having nothing (and getting all your advice from strangers on a gun forum or a blog like this one.)

If you use a firearm, you can expect to deal with law enforcement officers, and perhaps a Grand Jury, be arrested, and perhaps face a trial.  Firearms are serious business, and you need to understand that whatever your fears or motivations were, you will be tried on the LAW, not on your emotions.  And your intentions matter very much.  So let’s look at some examples:

Warning Shots

Why are warning shots a bad idea?  Folks who don’t know anything about guns frequently seem to think that hey, you should just fire a warning shot to scare the bad guys away.  Even the U.S. Vice President gave that advice!  But it is terrible, terrible advice.

Why?  First, because of the law of gravity.  What goes up, must come down.  A firearm is an instrument of deadly force, and if a potentially-lethal bullet is propelled from that firearm, it’s gonna go somewhere.  If you shoot up in the air, that bullet is going to come down, somewhere, and if it’s from a rifle or a pistol, that bullet will almost certainly still be potentially lethal when it hits.  Of course, if you didn’t fire up in the air, but instead fired horizontally, well, that bullet’s going to hit something — and it could be an innocent person that it hits.  And depending on what it hits, it could ricochet, and hit someone who wasn’t anywhere near where you fired at!

Firing a warning shot is an incredibly irresponsible thing to do, and may subject you to all the drawbacks and penalties of having used deadly force, while offering none of the benefits (i.e., the ability to actually stop the attacker).  A “warning shot” can be thought of as another name for a “missed shot”.

So why does the fascination with warning shots persist?  I think it’s because people really, really want a way to discourage someone without having to resort to potentially lethally injuring them.  I understand that wish, and I sympathize with it.  All I can say is — don’t use a firearm to try to do it.  A firearm is for using deadly force.  If you want a non-lethal deterrent, then hey — use a non-lethal deterrent!  Use pepper spray or mace or some other non-lethal defensive approach, if what you really want is just a way to say “I’m serious, leave me alone.”  If it’s legal where you live, you can carry pepper spray or mace in addition to your firearm, and if you decide that the situation warrants a non-lethal warning, you could use it.  But don’t go negligently firing deliberate misses, because that bullet is going to be potentially deadly to someone.  A “warning shot” is the wrong way to use a firearm.

Secondly, a key concept to understand here is: firearms are to be used to protect your life when you are facing an imminent deadly attack (or you fear that you are in imminent danger of substantial and grievous bodily harm).  If you have the time to think about and conduct a warning shot, were you really in imminent danger?  Probably not — because if the situation was that imminent, you’d have shot AT the attacker, instead of trying to shoot randomly in the air.  Which means, once again, that use of a firearm in that scenario is probably not warranted and may not be legally justified.

There are other ways to discourage an attacker.  Just holding your firearm at the low-ready position may frequently be enough to discourage the attacker.  In responsible firearms management, there really isn’t a place for a “warning shot”.

Shoot To Wound?

Getting past the ill-conceived notion of a warning shot, let’s move to the next bad idea: shooting to wound.

Why is shooting to wound a bad idea?  I mean, we don’t actually want to kill anyone, do we?  Can’t we just disable them and then run away?

Again, I understand the desire here.  The idea of getting away safely is always the paramount concern.  The question is: is shooting to wound a good idea, and is it a proper use of deadly force?  And the answer is a resounding no.  Because shooting to wound means you’d be deliberately trying to avoid hitting important targets, in order to try to focus on hitting an inordinately small target (like a forearm or a thigh, instead of a big broad chest).  Defensive shooters are taught to shoot for the “center of mass” or, more specifically, the upper center of the chest.  Among other reasons, it’s the biggest and slowest-moving part of the body, and therefore the easiest to hit.  Arms are much smaller, and they move much faster, and are a potentially much more difficult target to hit.  Legs, while bigger than arms, are still vastly smaller than the chest and much more subject to quick movement.  And, heck, both arms and legs have arteries in them, and shooting someone in the arm or leg could indeed cause them to die if the bullet hits those arteries, so — it’s still deadly force that may still result in the person’s death, even if you only intended to wound.

Remember the central premise here: a firearm is an instrument capable of inflicting deadly force.  You should only use it if you absolutely must, to save your own life or the life of an innocent person.  You should be very, very, very hesitant to pull that trigger, and you should only pull it if there is no other way.  And if that’s the case, and you’re in a situation where the law authorizes the use of deadly force, then you should obviously not be screwing around trying to take low-probability “wounding” shots, you should be following your training and taking deliberate shots that have the highest likelihood of forcing the attacker to stop.

Shoot To Kill?

Which brings us to the central question — should you shoot to kill?

If you follow internet gun forums long enough, or listen to enough guys at the gun store or gun show, sooner or later you’ll run into someone who insists that “dead men tell no tales” and “dead men can’t sue you” and “if you kill him, he can’t testify against you” and other such statements.

Frankly, I find that horrifying.  I mean, seriously, think about it — killing people to keep them from testifying against you is something the mob does, not something that law-abiding citizens do!

Look — if you find yourself in a defensive gun use, and you shoot an attacker, and the attacker dies from his injuries, you can expect that you may find yourself on trial.  The purpose of the trial, largely, is going to determine the facts of what happened, and to determine your INTENT.  What was in your mind when you pulled the trigger?  Did you WANT to KILL the person?  Or were you solely trying to protect yourself?

In the smallest possible nutshell, that’s really the crux of the matter: the difference between self-defense and murder can largely be attributed to what your intent was.  If, by pulling the trigger, your intent was to ensure that the person you shot dies, then that’s murder.

There have been examples of this in the news; the Byron Smith trial is probably the most noteworthy because he actually recorded himself during the shootings and you can clearly hear how he told investigators that he “fired a good clean finishing shot.”

The facts of the case are well-known, and you can read up on them if you want, but in general Smith may have felt that he was defending his home against intruders, and in fact two intruders did break into his house.  But Smith didn’t just shoot at them to drive them away.  His intentions were clear; he wanted them to die.  And, once the facts were heard by a jury of his peers, Smith was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder.

I’ll say it again — just because you have a license to carry a weapon, does not give you a license to kill.  The law does not justify or sanction civilians killing people.

So What Should You Do?

If you’re in a situation that is so dire that you need to employ legally-justifiable deadly force, you should shoot until the threat stops.  You cannot and should not try to shoot to wound, or fire some vague warning shot, or fire just one bullet and then stop to see if maybe the bad guy will drop, or anything else.  Follow your training, put the shots in the center of mass, and shoot until the attacker stops threatening you.  And immediately after the attacker stops threatening you, you STOP SHOOTING.

It does not matter how mad or indignant or offended you are, you do not have the legal right to summarily execute someone.  And you most definitely do not have the legal right to kill someone just to avoid the inconvenience or expense of a trial — again, that’s mobster activity, not the kind of thing a law-abiding citizen does!

Shooting to stop means placing the bullets where they have the most likelihood of forcing the attacker’s body to immediately discontinue its ability to attack you.  That usually means destroying or damaging a vital organ such as the circulatory system or central nervous system, so that the attacker will fall unconscious or be otherwise incapacitated.  And, yes, that MAY mean that your attacker may die as a result.  That, however, should not be the desired or intended outcome, that would instead be an unfortunate but unavoidable result of a chain of events set in motion by the attacker’s decision to assault you.  However, once they stop attacking you (i.e., they drop their gun, they turn to run away, or they fall unconscious) then you must stop shooting.  If you continue to shoot them, you then will likely have crossed that line between “lawful self defense” and “unlawful murder.”

A defensive gun engagement can end in several ways — the attacker may break off and flee just at the sight of your gun, or you may fire and miss a vital structure but hit him somewhere else and he decides “ouch, that hurts, I’m not doing this anymore” and he breaks off.  Both are effective, non-lethal ways to end a defensive encounter.  But if he continues to attack you, you may have to force him to stop in order to save your own life.  An effective shot that damages an attacker’s heart or major circulatory system can result in a rapid loss of blood pressure which causes the attacker to fall unconscious, thus rendering them unable to continue attacking you.  That would be a nonlethal way that the encounter could end, although the person would need immediate comprehensive medical care to avoid dying from such a wound.  The thing is — whether he lives or dies is, at that point, out of your hands and out of the equation.  You would have legally and lawfully used deadly force to defend yourself.  Your conscience is clear.

I’ve seen some people argue that “shooting to stop” and “shooting to kill” are the same thing.  I would contend that there is a significant, substantial, and crucial difference, and that difference is in your intent, and your intent is one of the major things a trial will be attempting to uncover.  Someone shooting to kill and someone shooting to stop, may in fact hit the attacker in the same place, and do the same damage.  But one of these shooters is preoccupied with the idea of making sure that the attacker dies, whereas the other one is not attempting to make anyone die, they are merely attempting to avoid death themselves.  There is a difference, and while it may sound overly dramatic, the law may find that it’s the difference between a finding of “lawful self defense” and one of “murder”.

I hope you and I never find ourselves in a scenario where we would need to employ deadly force.  But if you do, remember what the law permits — there are certain scenarios wherein you are permitted to use deadly force to save yourself or other innocent life (or perhaps for other reasons, depending on your local laws).  If you are forced to use deadly force, use as much of it as necessary, as quickly as you can, to immediately stop the threat.  But don’t go one step further.  And consider your intent — if you feel like that you really need to “finish” someone off (to keep them from testifying or suing you or whatever else) — I sincerely doubt that the law will agree with you on that.

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The Best Ammo Test Ever

This is a total departure from my normal blog articles, but I just found this video (even though it’s over two years old at the time of this writing).  But not only is it informative, and (unfortunately for the host) quite entertaining, it also really illustrates a very important point, so I’d like to call attention to it.

The test under discussion was a test of the Kimber Pepper Blaster II, a pepper-spray gun.  This is a less-than-lethal alternative for self defense, as compared to using a firearm.  While few serious self defense advisers would recommend pepper spray over a firearm, there are certainly some reasons why one might want to consider something like pepper spray, including:

  1. Depending on your local laws, it may be legal to carry it without any additional licensing;
  2. In a home defense situation, it is nearly inconceivable that it could pose a threat to occupants in nearby rooms or adjoining apartments or condos;
  3. Depending on local laws, it may be legal to carry a device like this into places that prohibit firearms (some places can legally prohibit licensed firearms carriers from carrying their firearms into them);
  4. For those who simply cannot or will not accept the possibility that they, through using a firearm, might cause another person to be seriously injured or die, maybe they would be more comfortable with a less-than-lethal option; and, finally:
  5. It’s gotta be better than nothing, right?

And so it is that I did a little digging into the current state of pepper spray devices.  Pepper spray, when employed properly, can be quite effective in discouraging a person from doing whatever it was that you didn’t want them to be doing (i.e., robbing or assaulting you), but how effective are they, really?

That’s when I found this test, by YouTuber “TheLowBuck Prepper“:

It’s a long video, over 22 minutes long, so if you want to save some time and jump to the relevant parts, here’s an overview:

In this test, the host (an intimidating-looking gent, to be sure) acts out a scenario wherein he attempts to rob someone of their purse, and gets shot with pepper spray, right in the face.   Accordingly, due to language, let me say that this video is most definitely NSFW!

Now, before we go any further, I just have to say — that took cojones, to volunteer to get hit with what must certainly be an extremely unpleasant experience, in the name of science and to inform us all as to what the experience is really like!  It was manly, it was bold, and I’m sure I speak for many when I say “thank you” to TheLowBuck Prepper for quite literally “taking one for us.”

Skipping to the most interesting bits, here’s what I observed:

03:00 – the initial test shot, where the host attempts to grab the purse and gets shot in the face with the first shot.  In this first test, the host was shot in the chin at extremely close range (looked to be no more than about a foot away). The results were completely and utterly ineffective — the host was not incapacitated, he wasn’t slowed down, and while he admits that the impact of the pepper cartridge on his chin didn’t feel good, it certainly didn’t stop him from doing anything that he wanted to.  The pepper itself didn’t do much of anything to him; he could feel a little bit in his mouth and said it basically felt “like eating some hot wings”.  He classified this as a total fail.

08:30 – they decide to test it again, this time at a distance of about 12 feet.  And in this test, the pepper disperses in the attacker’s face, and it drops him to the ground nearly instantly.  And then he goes on an epic 14-minute rant describing the pain, the incapacitation, dousing himself with gallons of milk, having his friends douse him with a hose nearly continuously.  The language is harsh, as you may imagine, and the description of the pain is extremely educational, and the visuals and the description may lead you to giggle like a schoolkid, (especially when he describes what happens to “Roscoe”).

I find this test fascinating for two main reasons: first, because this brave man put his body on the line to get us some legitimate real-world answers, and secondly, because we get to see two real-world examples of how ammo (bullets or pepper spray) may work.  Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t.

And that’s the real takeaway here.  The exact same weapon, the exact same attacker, the exact same defender, and two entirely opposite outcomes.  It happens.  Pepper spray could turn out to be worthless in defending you, or it could turn out to be an absolute manstopper.  TheLowBuck Prepper wasn’t killed, he wasn’t permanently injured, but he was STOPPED.  He dropped to the ground, and he couldn’t see.  He would still have been very dangerous if he had been within contact distance, but if the defender was out of reach when firing that second shot, he/she could easily have gotten away and there’s pretty much zero chance that TheLowBuck Prepper could have continued his attack — or would have wanted to.

As I’ve pointed out in prior articles, this is the exact same type of scenario that may happen with a firearm.  Maybe you’ll hit your attacker and they’ll immediately stop.  But maybe you’ll hit the attacker (like the first pepper-spray shot in this video) and the attacker will not even give any evidence that they noticed or cared that they’d been hit.  Either scenario is possible, and your particular choice of caliber or handgun won’t really make that much of a difference — it’s really up to the attacker and to where the shot was placed.

In the first example, the defender placed the shot fairly decently — it did hit the attacker in the face, after all — but it had little to no effect, and it had zero effectiveness in FORCING the attacker to IMMEDIATELY STOP.  Zero.  Bullets can be the same way, whether they’re little .22′s or great big .45′s — just because you hit the attacker somewhere, doesn’t guarantee that the attacker will be FORCED to STOP.  Read my recent articles (such as this one or this one) for case studies of attackers (and defenders) who took repeated, multiple hits from major calibers (9mm, .40, and .45) and simply were not stopped.  In this first shot, even though the attacker was hit in the face, nothing VITAL was hit — the projectile impacted with his chin, bounced off, and leaked pepper spray into his beard.  He was able to ignore all that.

In the second example, the defender placed the shot perfectly, and the attacker’s vital organs were hit (his eyes and nose).  The pepper dispersed properly and brought his actions to a screeching halt.  He was incapacitated — literally, his body was incapable of continuing the voluntary actions of attacking or pursuing the defender.  He wasn’t inconvenienced, he didn’t choose to stop attacking, he was literally forced to stop attacking because he could not keep his eyes open and he could not even stand up.  If you’re ever involved in a defensive gun use (or, for that matter, a defensive pepper spray use) that’s what you would really want to be able to do — cause your attacker to immediately stop their attack.  And the only way to guarantee that is to incapacitate their body so that they simply cannot continue, no matter how much they may have wanted to.

In pepper spray, it’s obvious from the results of this test that:

  • you have to hit the eyes and/or nose with spray, and
  • it has to actually disperse.  You can see in the video how the cloud of pepper disperal made it pretty much impossible for the attacker to avoid getting swarmed with the spray, whereas in the first test it looked like there really wasn’t any cloud of dispersal.

With a firearm, the obvious and unavoidable conclusions are that:

  • You have to place the shot such that it will hit a vital organ, and
  • the ammo has to perform properly.  It has to penetrate deep enough, and expand big enough, that it is capable of doing enough damage to the vital organs that the attacker’s body is incapable of continuing his attack.

A shot that doesn’t hit a vital organ (such as a major artery, or circulatory system organ, or brain or brain stem or upper spinal column), cannot force the body to stop immediately.  It may hurt a lot, and the attacker may choose to stop, but they might not choose to stop either (see the aforementioned articles for examples).  But a hit on a vital organ gives the attacker no choice — their body will be rendered out of their control.  Even so, be aware that the effects may or may not be immediate — even in the case of a major circulatory system hit, the attacker may have enough oxygen in their system that they can control their body for up to 10 or maybe even 15 seconds.  That’s a long, long time when you’re engaged in a life-or-death struggle; someone could easily empty the entire contents of a pistol’s magazine in less than 10 seconds.

Similarly, a shot that is placed to hit a vital organ, but doesn’t have the requisite destructive power to actually destroy or substantially damage that organ, may not do you any good in bringing the fight to a quick stop.  It may eventually even cause the attacker serious complications or even death, but that’s not your concern — your concern is and should be to bring the fight to the quickest possible stop.  If you use ammo that doesn’t penetrate deep enough, or doesn’t expand big enough, it may not damage the organ sufficiently (or even at all!)

Finally, multiple shots increase your chances of scoring a hit on a vital organ.  Shoot until the threat stops threatening you (whether voluntarily or through incapacitation, it doesn’t really matter; as soon as the attacker breaks off their attack, you legally must stop shooting them).  But as long as the attacker remains a threat, and deadly force is a legal and appropriate response, many self defense advisors and instructors would tell you that you should continue shooting until the threat stops being a threat to you.

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Another Case Study on Bullet Effectiveness

Winchester Black Talons.

Is there any bullet out there that has sparked as much hysteria, fear, dread, and media coverage as the legendary Black Talon?

Just how deadly was it?  If you shot someone with a Black Talon, was their ticket immediately punched?

I don’t know of any comprehensive studies on Black Talons, but I do know that Winchester pulled them off the market, and subsequently introduced Ranger SXT, which has been characterized by pundits as standing for “Same eXact Thing” as the Black Talon… just not “black” (the Black Talon bullets were covered in a Lubalox coating, which gave them a distinctive black appearance).

So let’s examine another case study of how real bullets performed against real people in real shooting situations.  The idea here is not to prove or disprove any particular aspect of bullet performance; rather it’s really just to provide another example that will hopefully enlighten the self defense community as to what MAY happen in a shooting scenario, and what you should be prepared to face.

There are cases where a single shot stops an attacker; the case of George Zimmerman vs. Trayvon Martin comes to mind, where a single shot of 9mm resulted in Mr. Martin’s death.  That one incident, however, must not be taken as representative of what a person is likely to encounter if they use a 9mm pocket pistol for defense — it would be unwise (if not downright insane) to conclude that a Kel-Tec PF9 (the pocket pistol used by Mr. Zimmerman) was a “one shot stopper” or that “if you use a Kel-Tec PF9, you only need to shoot once.”  The only reasonable conclusion we can draw from this scenario is that, regardless of the gun, a gunshot through the heart is very difficult to survive.

The Case of Officer Soulis vs. Tim Palmer

So, let’s go on to today’s incident, which didn’t take place today, it’s actually from several years ago.  The writeup I’m using as the basis for this article is from a 2008 article on lawofficer.com.  And in this incident, officer Peter Soulis used a .40-caliber Glock 22 in a protracted gunfight against Tim Palmer, who (unknown to Soulis) was wanted on a murder charge in a neighboring state.

So, to set the stage — Officer Soulis is armed with a Glock 22, a full-sized handgun (no pocket pistol here!) chambered in the quite-powerful and large .40 caliber, and loaded with Winchester Ranger SXT ammo (which is, as said before, basically the Same eXact Thing as the vaunted Black Talon).

Would you say that Officer Soulis was well-armed?  I certainly would!  A Glock 22 holds 15 rounds of .40 S&W, and Soulis was using premium ammunition that was so feared that it was literally hounded off the market for civilians.  I don’t know about you, but I would gladly trade in a pocket pistol with 6 rounds of .380 or 9mm, in favor of carrying a Glock 22 with 15 rounds of .40 S&W.  That would be a huge upgrade in firepower!

And, being a well prepared officer, Soulis also had spare magazines on hand.  It would be hard to imagine how someone could have been better armed for a handgun fight.

If you’re unfamiliar with this story, I recommend buckling your seatbelt, because over the course of the gunfight Soulis hit Palmer with 22 rounds of .40 S&W!  Twenty-two hits… and 17 of those were to center-of-mass!  And yet, Palmer just Would. Not. Stop.  Palmer lived for over four minutes after the last bullet hit him, and over the course of the fight Palmer would hit Soulis at least five times with 9mm bullets.

One shot stop? Don’t be a fool.

Was Palmer amped up on drugs or booze?  No, an autopsy showed nothing more than a small amount of alcohol in his system.  What about Officer Soulis?  He ended up receiving multiple gunshot wounds, including one that may have hit his leg’s femoral artery.  Palmer used a 9mm handgun and hit Soulis at least five times, although Soulis’ vest stopped one of those.  Soulis wasn’t amped up on drugs or booze either.  Both men were just exceptionally determined: Palmer was determined to avoid going to jail and facing that murder charge, and Soulis was determined that Palmer wouldn’t kill or hurt anyone else.

22 hits with a .40 S&W?  And he kept fighting?  Think about it.  If you were to be involved in a self-defense scenario, would you really be comfortable firing just one bullet and then looking to see what the effect would be?

Where can we lay the blame for this failure to stop?  On the gun? I don’t think so, the Glock 22 is among the most superb and powerful weapons.  On the ammo?  Maybe, maybe not.  SXT was Winchester’s premier hollowpoint at the time, and even if it was failing to expand and just passing through, 17 hits has to add up sooner or later.  Shot placement?  Well, yes and no; Officer Soulis hit his target 17 times in center-of-mass!  How can you get better than that?  Yet Palmer kept coming.  We can only conclude that while Soulis did his best to get the shots where they would matter, it seems unlikely that any of those shots actually damaged vital circulatory system organs or vessels that would have caused rapid incapacitation due to the blood pressure dropping below the level necessary to sustain consciousness.  The one thing we do know is that an attacker cannot continue to attack if their arteries are severed or their heart has a hole blown through it and they’ve bled down to the point where not enough oxygen is getting to the brain.  And seeing as Palmer kept coming shot after shot after shot, it seems safe to assume that that situation had not occurred.

I haven’t seen any info on Palmer’s autopsy, which might answer some questions; until then I can only speculate.  It seems like either the “Black Talon”-like SXT either failed to expand, in which case it would perform like an FMJ and would have comparatively little actual terminal performance, or Palmer was the luckiest guy in the world in that the bullets just managed to keep missing his vital organs.  And if a bullet doesn’t hit vital organs, then the aggressor may very well not be stopped — even after absorbing 22 rounds (more than a full box!) of premium .40-caliber hollowpoints from a full-size handgun!

What Will Your Shooting Scenario Be Like?

If you are ever unlucky enough to be involved in a defensive shooting, what will yours be like? Will the aggressor brown his shorts and run away at the mere sight of your gun? Or will you have to empty the magazine, pop in your backup mag and empty it, and he’ll keep coming at you?  I don’t know.  And you don’t know.  There’s no way to know in advance — heck, if you knew for a fact that you were going into a gunfight, you should go somewhere else instead!  And if you can’t go somewhere else, you should bring something better than a handgun — a 12-gauge shotgun, or a .308 rifle, would be two good places to start.

I hope none of us ever has to face that situation again.  But if you do… use the most powerfun handgun you can accurately control, and the best-performing ammunition that works properly from that handgun, and put your shots on target, and don’t stop shooting until the threat is neutralized.  It MAY happen after one shot, but you would be very unwise to expect it to happen after just one shot.  Ideally you would have a spare magazine on you, and shoot until the threat stops.

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A Realistic Look At Gunshots

No big philosophy here today, just — a video that shows what can REALLY happen when someone gets shot.

Now, the lead-up here is: people have been conditioned by decades of Hollywood movies that when a person gets shot, it’s a tremendously devastating event… the person who’s shot is usually depicted as immediately collapsing to the ground (or sometimes shown as being lifted off their feet and blasted through the air).  The perception that’s given is that handguns are overwhelmingly powerful, and that people who get shot are instantly devastated.

Getting shot is nothing to take lightly.  Handgun bullets can indeed be fatal, depending on where they hit and what vital organs they impact.  Sometimes a single bullet from a handgun can destroy vital organs and have a horrific effect on the victim’s body.

But sometimes, they just don’t.

And I think it’s important that you see a couple of examples of live video of people actually being shot.

Why?

Because it’s important to see what can really happen in case you are ever forced into the position of having to fire upon a human attacker to save your own life.  You should understand the real-world impact that a bullet may have on a person, so that you’re best informed on how to use a gun to save your own life.

That said, here’s the first example, from a CNN news report.  The actual gunshot takes place at about 30 seconds into the video.  A robber takes aim and fires a gun into the leg of the store clerk.  This is real security-camera video of a real person, shot by a real bullet from a real gun.  What happens to the gunshot victim?

Not a whole lot.  I mean, seriously — watch the video.  The man who is hit doesn’t even react.  In fact, after being shot, he then puts up a fight and wrestles the gun away from the robber, and even chases after him — running on a leg that’s got a bullet hole through it!

Did it hurt? I’m sure it did, I’m sure it hurt a lot.  Was it life-threatening?  If left untreated, it may very well be.  But the salient point here is: it didn’t stop the clerk.  It didn’t incapacitate him.  It didn’t make him collapse to the floor, it didn’t knock him unconscious, and it certainly didn’t paralyze or kill him.  Watch the video — he acts like it never even happened.

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s what you may be up against.  If you’re ever forced to defend yourself against an attacker with deadly intent to harm you, you cannot expect that just firing a gun at them will somehow miraculously render them incapacitated.  It just doesn’t work that way.  It MIGHT work that way, depending on what you hit (if you hit them in the spinal column or brain stem, for example, they’re going to immediately stop).  But it may not work that way — they may not even be slowed down.  You might have to fire again and again and again in order to get them to stop.

Let me show you another example, from a presentation by anesthesiologist Andreas Grabinsky M.D.  The whole presentation is well worth watching, but do be prepared that there are some very, very graphic images that could be quite disturbing (especially around 8:20 to 10:05).

The part I want to point out in this video starts at about 14:00 to 15:10.  In it, Dr. Grabinsky shows another shooting victim, this person shot twice in the torso.  Does he get knocked to the ground, blown away, immediately incapacitated?  No… in fact, he runs away.  Then comes back in the scene, then gets up and walks away.

I gave several other examples in my recent post Shoot Until The Threat Stops.  But I think actually seeing the impact (and non-effect) of some example bullet hits, really drives the point home.

Watch these incidents.  See why the notion of “shooting to wound someone” is such a dangerous fallacy; these people who were shot remain very much able to attack and hurt you.  See why you should never think that you’ll get a “one shot stop”, or that a bullet is some sort of magical death ray of immediate incapacitation.  Now, don’t underestimate a bullet either — any bullet can absolutely be fatal, and all handguns and bullets need to be properly respected and you simply MUST constantly adhere to the Four Rules Of Gun Safety.

Handgun bullets ARE capable of killing.  You have to respect that.  But they’re also capable of being pathetically ineffective in stopping a determined attacker, and you have to know that too.  If you’re going to be a responsible gun owner, you should have a proper idea of what the possible results of inflicting a gunshot could be, if you’re ever involved in a defensive encounter.  It’s possible that a single bullet might immediately stop an attack, but it’s also possible that your attacker may not even know that he (or she) has been hit (or they may know it, and they may just not care; it may not affect their ability to continue attacking you).

These videos show why shot placement is so important — if the bullet impacts nothing but muscle or fat (such as in the clerk’s leg) then it may have very little real-world stopping power.  However, a bullet to the heart or brain will likely have much more detrimental effect against an attacker and either would be much more likely to FORCE the attacker’s body to stop.  WHAT you hit (in the attacker’s body) is the most important factor in stopping an attack quickly.  Careful aim is important, but so also is proper-performing ammunition (a good-performing hollowpoint can do much more damage than a round-nose FMJ, for example) and so is a proper determined mindset that causes you to fire and continue firing until the threat against you is neutralized.  If the situation is so dire that you’re called upon to use deadly force to defend yourself or other innocent life, then you should understand just what it may take to neutralize that threat and be prepared to take action until the threat is no longer a threat.  It MAY happen with a single shot, but it is my opinion that you would be foolish to think that it will; I think you would be much better served to be prepared to shoot until the threat stops.

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An Alternative Look at “An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power”

“Stopping Power.”

Are there any two words, when put together, that are more likely to start a heated internet debate in gun forums than those two?  (actually, probably “caliber wars”, but other than that, I can’t think of many).

I just did a big article on “stopping power” but I want to go a step further and expand on this a bit, because I think this is one of the most confusing, frustrating, misleading, and dangerous subjects in all of gundom.  (made up a word there — take that, spellchecker!)

So the topic of today’s discussion is an article published by Greg Ellifritz on the Buckeye Firearms Association website, entitled “An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power”.  In this article, which has spread throughout the internet forums, Mr. Ellifritz compiled a decade’s worth of data on shootings, and compiled the data into some tables, that enable readers to make some comparisons.  Some very, very faulty comparisons.

Before I get into this, let me say that I really appreciate all the effort Mr. Ellifritz put into this.  It seems like he was seriously trying to make some sense out of what is a very confusing subject.  It must have been a lot of work, and I believe his heart was in the right place, just as I believe that Marshall & Sanow set out with the best of intentions to find the answers that people really wanted to know.

The problem is, they asked the wrong questions.  Or didn’t ask the right questions.  And in the end, that results in statistics that are highly misleading and can lead people to draw completely unwarranted conclusions from the data presented!  And that’s bad.  Regardless of how good the intentions were, the resulting posted information may lead (or empower) people to draw unwarranted, inaccurate, or just plain faulty conclusions.

The .380 ACP Is “The King Of The Street”???

Let me show you what I mean.  Let’s take the example of Ellifritz’s compiled data on the .380 ACP.  According to this article, you could easily draw the conclusion that the .380 is the overall most effective handgun round of all the common self defense weapons(!)  Bet that took you by surprise, didn’t it?  But if we take the data at face value, there’s no question — the .380 is better at stopping people than the .40 S&W, it’s better than the 9mm, it’s better than the .45 ACP.  Or, at least, that’s the conclusion one would be forced to reach, if they take the data at face value!  Look at these categories:

.22LR .380 ACP .38 Special 9mm .357 Mag/Sig .40 S&W .45 ACP
% of hits that were fatal 34% 29% 29% 24% 34% 25% 29%
Average # of rounds to incapacitation 1.38 1.76 1.87 2.45 1.7 2.36 2.08
One-shot-stop % 31% 44% 39% 34% 44% 45% 39%
% actually incapacitated by one shot 60% 62% 55% 47% 61% 52% 51%

Those are (many of) the numbers reported in the article.  What immediately jumps out at you?  I’ll tell you what I see:

According to this data, the .22LR is the deadliest bullet on the market.  34% of the .22LR shots were fatal, versus (for example) only 24% of the 9mm rounds.  So should people ditch their 9mm guns and trade them in for .22LR’s?  Not so fast, let’s keep looking… what if you ignore killing power and just go for stopping power — what caliber stops people in just one shot?  Well, according to this data, that’d be the .380 ACP, which has a 62% rating of people being incapacitated by just one shot(!)  That’s a much higher percentage than, say, 9mm, which had only a 47% record.  So surely, .380 ACP is a better choice for self defense than 9mm (or, for that matter, 40 S&W, or .45 ACP, or .357 Magnum).  That’s what the data is telling us, right?

How about if you want the fight to stop quickly — as in, using the fewest number of hits before the attack stops?  Well, according to the data, you’d want to be using a .22LR for that — after all, people who are hit by less than 1.4 shots of .22LR stop attacking, whereas with .357 Magnum it takes 1.7 bullets, right?  Surely the .22LR is a more powerful manstopper than the .357 Magnum, according to the data, right?

Clearly all these conclusions are complete poppycock.  Anyone drawing these type of conclusions would be sorely and severely mistaken.  So what’s going on here?  Is the data faulty?  Or is there some “magical” property of the .22LR that makes it more effective in stopping people than a .357 Magnum is?  Of course not.  And Mr. Ellifrtiz doesn’t believe that either — he even states in his article that “I really don’t believe that a .32 ACP incapacitates people at a higher rate than the .45 ACP!”  Even though that’s what the data shows — his data shows that for a % of people incapacitated by one shot, the .32 ACP did it 72% of the time, whereas the .45 ACP did so only 51% of the time.

So what’s going on here?

The Problem Is That The Wrong Questions Were Asked

The data is woefully incomplete.  It doesn’t ask the right type of questions.  And because the data is incomplete, NO USEFUL CONCLUSIONS CAN BE DRAWN FROM IT.

What’s missing?  Here are a few examples:

1. HOW were the people incapacitated?  In fact, what was the definition of incapacitation?  As near as I can tell, the author is using the term “incapacitation” interchangeably with the notion of the person stopping their attack.  But there’s a massive disconnect here — there’s a huge difference between a person CHOOSING to stop, and one being FORCED to stop.  “Incapacitation” means (and should mean) that the attacker no longer has the capacity to attack — i.e., that they’ve been rendered paralyzed, unconscious, or dead.  No indication of this is given in the data; instead, anyone who stopped without landing another blow or firing another shot is considered “incapacitated.”  That’s grossly misleading, because it ignores the fundamental question of whether the person was CAPABLE of continuing the attack or not.

2. There’s data on the # of rounds that are fatal, but there’s no indication given as to WHEN the attacker expired.  And that makes a huge difference!  If someone is swinging a crowbar at your head, and you shoot him, does it matter to you if your attacker dies on the operating table 2 hours after they shoved that crowbar through your brain?  To me, whether they die or not is irrelevant; the important question is whether or not I stopped the attack before they did serious bodily harm or death to me or someone I was protecting.  If you shot someone with a .22LR in the gut, and they didn’t get treatment, they would likely die — in about three days, from infection.  But that would have zero determination on the outcome of your immediate fight!  Remember, self defense isn’t about killing your attacker, it’s about stopping them — so eventual fatality is irrelevant in the discussion.  Incapacitation (using the proper definition) is the crucial data point — and that’s what’s not properly represented here in this data.

3. What type of gun was used?  No indication in the data is given, but it makes a tremendous difference!  Let’s use .22LR for example — a 32-grain CCI Stinger from a 1″ barrel NAA mini revolver delivers around 40 ft/lbs of energy.  The exact same bullet, fired from an 18″ rifle, delivers 3x to 4x as much energy.  Three or four times as much!  Yet no indication is given (although we can presume that the rifle is irrelevant from the data above, as the author included a separate category for all rifles).  So let’s just stick with handguns — how about with the .357 Magnum?  Let’s use a 125-grain Hydra Shok.  Was that bullet fired out of a little Bond Arms derringer with a 2.5″ barrel?  If so, it’d travel at about 1100 feet per second and carry 335 ft/lbs of energy; but what if it was fired from a 4″-barrel police duty revolver?  In that case, it’d be traveling at about 1550 feet per second and carry 667 ft/lbs of energy!  Twice as much, from the exact same cartridge, all depending on just a simple change of barrel length.  It makes a difference.  It makes a big difference.

Heck, let’s take it a bit further — a 9mm normally uses a 124-grain bullet, and from a Glock 17 a Hydra Shok travels at about 1100 feet per second.  That’s the same diameter, size, weight, and velocity as the .357 Magnum from the 2.5″ barrel!  So can we draw the conclusion that a .355-diameter Hydra-Shok weighing 124 grains and moving at 1100 feet per second would perform fundamentally identically to a .357-diameter Hydra-Shok weighing 125 grains and moving at 1100 feet per second?  Of course we could; there’s practically no difference whatsoever.  So how are we to know what the data in the article represents?  Does the .357 Magnum data show the results of 335-ft/lbs, or of 667 ft/lbs?  We don’t know.  But it makes a difference.  Anyone thinking that the .357 Magnum cartridge is magical on its own, without considering the gun barrel it’s coming from, would be making a disastrously misinformed decision.

4. What TYPE of bullets were used?  We don’t know — the data presented to us makes no distinction whatsoever.  We could be looking at hollowpoints, or roundnose full metal jackets, or flatnose FMJs, or wadcutters, or ratshot shotshells, or frangibles.  We don’t know what weight of bullet (and bullet weight can vary widely within any given caliber; 9mm ranges from around 50 grains on up to 147 grains). Are we being asked to assume that a 50-grain frangible is exactly as effective in “stopping power” as a 147-grain hollowpoint, which is exactly as effective as a 95-grain roundnose FMJ?  Apparently we are, but that is a plainly silly thing to even consider.  Furthermore, Mr. Ellifritz’s data includes military shootings, which would usually mean FMJ/ball ammo, which is less effective in damaging tissue than hollowpoints are.  The 9mm data listed includes over half the shootings involving ball ammo, and that skews the data on the 9mm’s effectiveness (as Mr. Ellifritz rightly points out in his article).  But doesn’t that acknowledgement really point out the flaw in the whole exercise? Acknowledging that certain types of ammo are more effective than others, and then lumping them all together in the same category, prevents us from drawing the proper conclusions here.

5. Did the bullet WORK?  If it was a hollowpoint, did it expand?  We don’t know, because the data presented gives us no way to draw any sort of conclusion.  I for one would be very interested in knowing what percentage of bullets fired failed to work properly, and how that affected incapacitation, but we don’t know.  And I’m not complaining about Mr. Ellifritz’s efforts; he did the work he did, and I didn’t, so I don’t get to complain — but I still feel it is my obligation to point out why we can’t draw comprehensive conclusions from the data as presented.

So, in short — we don’t know what type of gun was used, we don’t know what the barrel length was, we don’t know what type of ammo was used, we don’t know what velocity the bullet traveled, and we don’t know why the person stopped attacking (i.e., did they voluntarily just choose to stop, or did the impact of the bullet force them to stop?)  How can you draw a reasonable conclusion from any of this?

Here’s the conclusions I think we can draw from it:

1. People do not like getting shot by bullets, and the pain, fear, shock, adrenaline, or panic that comes about by getting shot is frequently enough to stop someone from continuing to attack you.  And if someone is inclined to stop attacking you if they get shot, then the actual caliber they get shot with doesn’t seem to matter much.  If someone’s going to stop because they feel the pain of a shot and they see themselves bleeding, it probably doesn’t make much difference whether they got shot with a .22 short or a .357 Magnum; in either case there’s a loud bang, pain, and blood.  So for this subset of attackers, caliber probably doesn’t matter much.  For that matter, bullet type wouldn’t matter much in that case either (hollowpoint or FMJ), barrel length probably wouldn’t matter, heck, not much of anything matters other than having the ability to make a loud noise and poke some manner of hole in the attacker’s body.

I think this situation is fairly common, and represents a large portion of self defense shootings.  I don’t have the statistics so I can’t definitively prove it, but I believe this to be a reasonable conclusion based on the notion that about 6 out of 7 people shot with handguns survive.  True incapacitation (forced unconsciousness due to blood loss, or death, or paralysis) could reasonably be presumed to have a much lower survival rate.  Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that most people who stop an attack after getting shot, have CHOSEN to stop that attack, rather than been FORCED to stop their attack.

2. Sometimes people will not choose to stop attacking, even after being shot, and you will have to FORCE them to stop.  And in that case, caliber matters very much — as does gun size, bullet speed, bullet construction, bullet performance, shot placement, and all the other factors that go into the overall process of a bullet colliding with flesh.  If you are in a situation where you have to FORCE someone to stop, it will be through the bullet damaging their body in such a way that they cannot continue to act voluntarily.  And that means damaging their central nervous system (resulting in paralysis), or their brain stem (resulting in immediate death), or in the bullet damaging their circulatory system such that they bleed out rapidly and lose consciousness (a situation which, left untreated, will likely also result in their death).  Can your choice of gun and ammo, working together, accomplish that?  That’s the big question — and that’s the question that is left completely unanswered by the types of data examinations that we can conduct based on Ellifritz’s or Marshall & Sanow’s work.  I mean, let’s get real here — according to the Ellifritz data, a .44 Magnum is less effective in stopping attackers than a .32 ACP!  The data shows that 72% of people were incapacitated by  one shot from a .32 ACP, whereas only 53% were incapacitated by a single shot of .44 Magnum.  Yet a .44 Magnum is vastly more powerful and destroys much more flesh.  The .44 Magnum is far more likely to be able to cause a truly incapacitating hit than the .32 ACP ever would be.

So, really, where does that leave us?  I think it leaves us here:

A. If someone’s going to choose to stop attacking after being hit by a shot, any gun in any caliber is likely to work as well as any other gun in any other caliber, so this should be completely ignored in your choice of carry weapon and caliber.  It’s not that “caliber doesn’t matter”, it’s that it doesn’t matter in this particular case — therefore, you should most definitely NOT choose your gun and ammo based on “well, they’re all the same”; instead, you should ignore all such data because it can seriously mislead you into choosing something that’s underpowered.  Do you want to bet your life on the hope that an attacker will just choose to stop?  I know I wouldn’t want to bet my life on that, I’d want to put the odds more in my favor.

B. If someone’s not going to choose to voluntarily stop attacking, and you have to force them to stop, you would be best served by the gun/ammo combination that is capable of causing the most damage possible, and that you can shoot most accurately.  The specific caliber isn’t nearly as important as the amount of damage done to the target.  You have to view the gun and ammo as a complete system that results in damage being done to the target; a powerful bullet being fired from a tiny gun may likely not be as powerful or do as much damage as a less-powerful bullet being fired from a bigger gun.

C. Proper ammo tests can show you what type of damage you can expect a particular gun/ammo combination to deliver.  What performs excellently from a 6″ barrel might perform pathetically from a 2″ barrel.  You have to see the specific combination tested together before you know for sure what type of damage the gun & ammo combination can deliver.

D. In general terms, there actually really is a big difference between the amount of damage the small calibers (.22LR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, and .380 ACP) can do, and how much damage the “service” calibers (9mm, .40 S&W, .357 Magnum/Sig, and .45 ACP) deliver.  A pocket 9mm is a much more powerful weapon than a pocket .380 ACP, for example.

Summary

You cannot assign a “stopping power” value to any particular cartridge, or any particular caliber, or any particular bullet weight, or any particular kinetic energy value, or any particular bullet velocity.  These things all have to work together to produce damage in tissue.  The more likely that the bullet & gun combo can reach the vitals and the more vital tissue that bullet damages, the more likely the attacker is to stop sooner.  You want 12-18″ of penetration capability through ballistic gel and, once sufficient penetration is achieved, you want as big of a bullet size as you can possibly get.  A big bullet penetrating deeply and impacting the vitals at high speed will cause damage, and that will stop the most determined attacker.  (of course, if you miss the vitals, all bets are off; a hit with a .22 beats a miss with a .44 Magnum any day of the week).

As a final word, I’d like to quote from Evan Marshall.  Marshall is the author of several studies on “street shootings” and “stopping power” and his work is often quoted by those who want to talk about “one shot stops”, and his work served as some inspiration for Ellifritz to do the study that’s been under discussion here.  So does police officer Evan Marshall rely on specific cartridges or specific calibers for “one shot stops”?  Of course not.  Here’s Marshall’s advice, quoted from a post made on his forum at Stopping-Power.net:

1st, let me be perfectly frank. I see no benefit from carrying a .380 when I have a 9MM that is sitting inside a front pants pocket inside a Blackhawk pocket holster as this is being typed.

2nd, we need to focus on the right aiming point. I’ve named it the “Golden Triangle”-nipples to nose.

Finally, shoot to lock back, drop the pistol, and shoot them with the 2nd gun repeatedly. I only reload after I’m convinced the Super Bowl is over.

If you are not carrying at least two guns you haven’t been paying attention.

My interpretation?  Forget the whole notion of “stopping power” by caliber or by cartridge.  Don’t try to draw conclusions from data that doesn’t ask the right questions.  Instead, choose a gun & ammo combination that delivers as much damage as you can accurately control, and just put your shots on target, and shoot until the threat stops.

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