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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Shoot Until The Threat Stops

One thing that I keep coming across in gun forums, gun magazines, and bookstore shelves, is this concept of the “one shot stop.”  This concept is frequently mentioned along with “stopping power” or “knockdown power”.  It’s extremely popular, and I can see why: people want to know what ammo will be most effective in stopping someone with a single shot.  They want to know that they’re going to be successful if they ever have to deploy their firearm to stop a threat.

Of course, the concept is ludicrous and doesn’t apply in reality at all!

You cannot, and should not, ever count on getting a “one shot stop”, and it’s easy to prove that handgun bullets don’t have “knockdown power” (i.e., a handgun bullet impact is not going to blast someone through the air and crash through windows, like you see on old Western films or TV shows).  Handgun bullets don’t have the power necessary to knock someone down, and the whole general idea of “stopping power” or “knockdown power” is an inherently fundamentally flawed concept.  It’s an attractive concept, certainly — not unlike the magical 200 mpg carburetor or the perpetual motion machine; we all wish it existed, but it simply doesn’t.

Handgun Stopping Power

The perception of the deadliness and power of the handgun is really quite exaggerated in our society, as versus the reality of just how frequently ineffective handguns are in stopping a threat.  And that means ALL handguns — .22′s, .380′s, .38′s, 9mm’s, .40′s, .45′s, .357 Magnum, .357 Sig… they’re all handguns.  And they’re all poor stoppers, as compared to a rifle or a shotgun.

If you can stand some graphic visuals (and some of the photos are VERY graphic), this presentation by Dr. Andreas Grabinsky does an interesting job of showing just how wide the gap is between the destructive power of a handgun bullet, and the power of a rifle.  It shows actual video of someone being shot by a handgun, and barely even noticing that it happened (at about 14:40).  Dr. Grabinsky also points out some interesting statistics, such as that 6 out of 7 handgun shooting victims survive.

Clearly, handguns are not some all-powerful death ray of one-shot stopping power.  Now — let’s be clear here — in self defense, we are NOT setting about to kill anyone.  If your intention is to kill, then that’s not self defense; there’s a different set of words that are used to describe that: “first degree murder.”  In self defense, the goal is to stop the attack as quickly as possible.  Whether the attacker expires from their injuries or they survive, that’s not your primary concern, that’s a consequence of the actions they took when they decided to attack you.  You do not intend to or set about to cause their death; you set about to stop them from attacking you.  You should call 911 and summon help as quickly as it is safe to do so, for the person that you were forced to defend yourself against.

The key concept here is: stopping the threat does not mean killing the threatening person.  It means that the attacker is either discouraged from attacking, or incapacitated such that they cannot attack.  That doesn’t require killing them, although you should be prepared to accept that it might; that can be one of the very serious consequences of employing deadly force in defense of yourself or innocent life.

It is possible that a single shot will stop someone, but it is relatively unlikely that they will be stopped just by the force of damage that a single bullet did to them.  People stop attacking for many reasons.  Sometimes people stop because they are scared of getting shot.  Sometimes they stop because of the pain of the impact, or the sight of their own blood.  And sometimes, they stop because they have been physically incapacitated.  An example of that would be the case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin; in that fight, a single shot to the heart ended that encounter immediately, and resulted in a fatality.  A one-shot stop can happen, but it would be foolish to think that it will be the likely outcome of any defensive shooting.  You shouldn’t count on it; you should be prepared to shoot until the threat stops.

Examples

Let me show you a few examples of defensive shootings situations that turned out very differently (i.e., no “one shot stop”).  In 2013, a Georgia mother retreated with her kids into the attic of her home to escape an invader.  The invader followed, and the woman was forced to empty a .38 revolver at her attacker.  She didn’t shoot just once and look to see what damage was done; she fired all six shots at her attacker, and she hit him five times.  He was hit five times, in the face and in the neck.  It would be difficult to imagine more effective shot placement than hitting an attacker five times in the face and neck!  In this case, the attacker got up, climbed out of the attic, walked away, got in his car, and drove away (although he did crash into a tree before he got out of the neighborhood).  The attacker was hospitalized for a month, has recovered, and was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Point is — was he truly “incapacitated”?  He did stop attacking, so she did the right thing and as a result she saved herself and her children, but — if he was capable of climbing down a ladder, walking out of a house, getting into his car and driving, that should certainly imply that he would have been capable of continuing the attack, right?  In this case, it’s hard to argue that the attacker was stopped by the force of the bullets; instead it seems more reasonable to presume that he chose to stop the attack.

Second example: in this case, a man’s house is invaded by three attackers.  They shoot him, he shoots them.  But there was a vast difference in firepower: the home invaders shot him three times with a .38 (hitting him twice in the arm and once in the chest).  The homeowner fired back with — get this — a .22 Short mini-revolver.  Probably the smallest, weakest, lowest-power firearm generally available today — but it was enough to stop the attack.  He hit one of the invaders in the back.  When he started shooting, the invaders all left.  Which means that even though he was vastly outgunned, his little .22 Short revolver was enough gun to stop the threat.  He shot until the threat stopped.  But here’s where it gets interesting — even with three .38-caliber bullets in him, he managed to follow the invaders out to the driveway, write down their license plate number, then get in his car and drive 17 miles(!) towards a hospital, before he found a law enforcement officer and was airlifted to a hospital, where he survived.

Now, let’s think about this for a second — here’s a man who’s taken three .38 Specials (presumably), and .38 Special is a respectable self-defense round and was standard issue for the police for many many years.  He was hit three times, including a chest shot, yet — was he incapacitated?  By no means!  He retained the capacity to shoot back, and he could absolutely have continued the fight, had the attackers not chosen to leave.

Third example: police Sgt. Timothy Gramins now carries 145 rounds of ammo on him, every day, without fail.  Why? Because he was involved in a shootout where the bad guy just Would Not Stop, even though he was hit 14 times(!) with .45 ACP bullets(!)  From a full-sized Glock 21!  In general it would be hard to carry much more gun than a Glock 21.  Now, part of the internet gun banter is that “.45 ACP won’t just kill a man, it’ll also kill his soul”… or, another is to say “.45: because why shoot twice?”  But in Sgt. Gramins’ case, he had to fire magazine after magazine at this attacker, and he scored 14 hits, and at least six of those hits would have been fatal: the attacker was hit in the heart, both lungs, the liver, the diaphragm, and a kidney.  You cannot fault Sgt. Gramins’ shot placement!  And you can’t fault his choice of weapon or caliber; .45 ACP is about as good as it gets in handguns.  But the simple fact of the matter is, the perpetrator simply Would Not Stop.  All in all, Sgt. Gramins fired 33 rounds, hitting 14 times.  The attacker fired a total of 21 rounds from two different handguns.  Gramins finally took the attacker down with three shots to the head — but even then, the attacker was still alive when taken to the emergency room.  He would (probably) have died from any of those six shots before the head shots, but the big question is: when?  Certainly not immediately, and those shots didn’t take him out of the fight — he continued to fire at Sgt. Gramins, and could have potentially killed the officer, even though he would (likely) have eventually died from his injuries.  Again, it’s not about killing, it’s about STOPPING, and in this case the perpetrator simply would not stop, even though he’d been hit with lots of big .45 ACP bullets.

So much for that magical one-shot stop, right?

Fourth example is the murder of South Carolina Trooper Mark Coates by Richard Blackburn.  Blackburn knocked Coates to the ground and then shot him in the chest with a .22, but that was stopped by the Trooper’s bullet-resistant vest.  Trooper Coates fired at Blackburn with a .357 Magnum, at close contact range, hitting him.  Coates then retreated back to his car, calling for help, and continued firing — he hit Blackburn four more times.  With a .357 Magnum!  Blackburn then fired one more bullet from his .22 derringer, which (due to the angle that Trooper Coates was facing him) happened to find a gap in the armpit of the ballistic vest, and the bullet punctured Coates’s aorta, killing him.  And Blackburn, who was hit in the chest five times with the “king of the street” .357 Magnum? He survived, and is now serving a life sentence in prison.

Final example: Officer Jared Reston was shot 7 times, by Joel Abner.  Reston was first shot in the face (a shot that destroyed 3/4 of his jaw).  Abner fired 13 .45-caliber bullets at Reston, who was hit a total of 7 times in his thigh, his chin, his buttock, his elbow, and three times in the chest (which were stopped by his body armor).  Reston fired 14 rounds and hit Abner 7 times with a .40 S&W Glock 22.  The fight continued until Reston fired three Ranger SXT 180-grain bullets to Abner’s head.  Until that point, both had been hit multiple times, and both continued fighting.  There was no case of a “one shot stop” here, or (for Abner) there wasn’t even a 13-shot stop, even though he was using a .45.

The point of bringing up these examples? You cannot expect to fire one bullet, and then sit back and evaluate the situation.  You cannot count on any “magic bullet”, or “street stopper”, or “kinetic energy wave” or “hydrostatic shock” or anything else.

You shoot until the threat stops.

It may not even require firing a single bullet — maybe the attacker will turn and run away at the sight of a gun pointed at them. But it may require firing every bullet you’ve got — and even then, you cannot be sure that the attack will be forcefully brought to an end.

Shoot until the threat stops.

People flying through the air and crashing into tables, or “one shot stops”, those are for Hollywood.  When it’s your life on the line, do as the Georgia mother did — shoot until the threat stops.  And if you want to have the best chance of your bullets forcing the threat to stop as quickly as possible, use good-performing ammo that penetrates deeply and put the shots where they will be most likely to damage vital organs.  An attacker cannot continue the fight if a bullet has severed their spinal column, or their blood pressure has dropped below the level necessary to sustain consciousness.

So what was the common element in all these cases?  It’s simply this: if you don’t hit something vital, you cannot count on the person being stopped.  In the unfortunate case of Trooper Coates, he was hit by the tiniest of bullets, but that tiny bullet hit something vital (his aorta), and caused his death.  In some of the other cases, head shots brought the fight to an end (but, not all head shots will bring the fight to a quick end; remember that the Georgia mother hit her attacker five times in the face, and Officer Reston had 3/4 of his jaw destroyed in a shot to his chin).

The ONLY thing that you can absolutely count on to bring a fight to a quick end, is to destroy the attacker’s vital structures (heart, brain, circulatory system, spinal column, or brain stem).  You cannot count on anything else.

You can put the odds of success in your favor by choosing ammo that penetrates deep enough, and by choosing the most powerful gun with the largest bullets that you can comfortably and accurately hit your targets with.  Big bullets are no guarantee of success; in fact, several of these stories involve .40′s and .45′s failing to stop attackers.  But big bullets will do everything smaller bullets do, but they will also do more damage than smaller bullets do, and therefore they may give you a bit of an advantage in destroying vital structures that a smaller bullet might miss.

Proper shot placement of a deep-penetrating bullet is the only thing you can actually count on.  You may get lucky and your attacker will choose to stop, but if not — you may have to force them to stop.  And that may take a lot of bullets, so…

Shoot until the threat stops.

 

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NAA .22LR Mini Revolver Ammo Quest Results

I have always been fascinated by the North American Arms mini revolvers, and I’ve been conducting testing from a Black Widow in .22 Magnum.  But, small as it is, the Black Widow is still substantially bigger than NAA’s smallest offerings, the .22 Short and .22LR mini-revolvers.

I loved the size of the .22 Short revolver, but its limited and (comparatively) expensive ammo choices made it a less desirable option to me than the .22LR mini-revolver, and truthfully its size was just barely smaller than the .22LR version.  In other words, the .22LR is only a third of an inch longer, but it gives you much more flexibility in ammo choice.  And, the .22LR mini-revolver is noticeably smaller than the .22 Magnum version (the magnum is about 3/4″ longer, 1/2″ taller, and weighs about 30% more.)  Plus, the .22LR will fit in the NAA Belt Buckle Holster, whereas the .22 Magnum wouldn’t, and … the belt buckle holster is pretty intriguing, so for all those reasons, I went with the NAA .22LR mini-revolver, in the shortest barrel length (1 1/8″).

Why didn’t I go for the longer barrel?  Three reasons, really:

1. I wanted the smallest .22LR revolver.  A longer barrel makes it … bigger.

2. According to NAA’s own ballistic testing, the longer barrel has extremely little effect on the ballistics; the 1 5/8″ barrel delivered (in their testing) only about 2.13% faster velocities, on average, than the 1 1/8″ barrel did.

3. It wouldn’t fit in the belt buckle holster.  And the belt buckle holster is cool.

Accordingly, I picked up one of these mini-revolvers and then commenced trying to figure out what would be the most appropriate ammo to use with it.  But I couldn’t find any sort of standardized test results out there.  There are many tests conducted on .22LR ammo, but many of them have been done from rifles or bigger pistols, and so those results would have little to zero applicability to how the rounds will perform from the tiny 1.13″ barrel… so — as I did with the .380 pocket pistol — I decided to conduct my own testing.

Testing Standards

I set as my standard the guidelines established by the 1987 and 1993 Wound Ballistic Conferences, where wound ballistics experts, medical examiners, forensic pathologists, police officers, trauma surgeons, combat surgeons, and others who worked with street shootings and bullets (and the wounds they cause) day in and day out.  These were the recognized experts in their fields, and they conducted conferences to determine what properties and capabilities caused a bullet to be most effective, and how they could then develop tests that would best and most accurately reflect real-world results, so that ammo designers could then design ammo that would perform most effectively.  Effectiveness was determined to be the ability to penetrate deep enough into the body to reach the vital organs (such as the heart, circulatory system, and central nervous system).  A bullet that can’t reach that far, and can’t be relied upon to disrupt the vital organs, was deemed an ineffective bullet.

When it’s all boiled down to the simplest guidelines possible, the parameters work out like this, in order of importance:

  1. A bullet needs to have enough power to penetrate AT LEAST 12″ of soft tissue simulant.  If it can penetrate through 12″ of ballistic gel, then that means it has enough power to pass through whatever combination of bone, muscle, skin, fat, and organs that it could possibly encounter, and still be able to reach the vital organs.
  2. A bullet should penetrate LESS than 18″ of soft tissue simulant.  Bullets that penetrated more than 18″ of ballistic gel would usually end up exiting the body of the attacker, regardless of how much bone or tissue it had to pass through.  That meant that the bullet posed a very real danger of overpenetration, and also that it was wasting its energy by passing completely through.  This turned out to be a non-issue with the NAA .22LR Mini-Revolver, as none of the bullets I tested could exceed 18″ of penetration.
  3. The bigger the bullets, the better.  The bigger the hole the bullet makes, the more tissue it destroys, and the more likely it is to damage vital structures that a smaller bullet might miss.  In this context, expanding bullets (that penetrate deeply enough!) are much better than solid bullets, because solid bullets tend to pass right through, whereas an expanding bullet grows larger and is more likely to slow down and stop in the desired window of 12″ to 18″ of soft tissue penetration.  (unfortunately, this turned out to be an irrelevant factor, since all .22LR bullets are the same diameter and make the same diameter hole, and none of the hollowpoint bullets expanded in my testing).
  4. Sharper bullets are better than round bullets.  This isn’t the most important factor, but an expanded bullet with sharp petals on it is more likely to cut an artery or other vital structure than a round-nose bullet might, especially at the limit of travel when the bullet is going more slowly.  A round-nose might just push tissue out of the way, where a sharp bullet may still be cutting and damaging tissue.  This is another reason an expanded hollowpoint is a better wounder than a round-nose FMJ (Full Metal Jacket).  Again, this isn’t much of a factor with the mini-revolver; the ammo available is almost entirely lead round nose (with or without copper plating); for purposes of this section I’m including the hollowpoint ammo as lead round nose, since the hollowpoints don’t expand at the low velocities the NAA mini-revolver can produce.
  5. Of all the parameters that matter when evaluating a bullet’s terminal performance, the most important is to achieve sufficient penetration.  Overpenetration is bad, yes, but as Dr. Martin Fackler said, “Overpenetration may get you sued, but underpenetration can get you killed.”

The FBI adopted these requirements for their duty ammo selection, which is only partially related to us in the self defense community; we’re not the FBI and we don’t need FBI duty ammo, but what makes a bullet effective in stopping a criminal are the same factors that make it effective in stopping someone who’s assaulting us.  Of course, none of this matters with .22LR, since the FBI doesn’t issue .22LR guns to their agents, nor do they conduct testing on .22LR ammo.  Even so, the penetration requirements don’t change because the bullet’s smaller!  So — the way I saw it, I was charting new territory here.

I should point out, there are other differences between the FBI testing and self-defense testing.  The FBI requires their ammo to pass additional tests of barrier penetration, including auto windshield glass, plywood, drywall, and other tests.  In the self defense community, those aren’t likely realistic tests that we need our ammo to pass, so I didn’t bother with those tests.  There are two main tests that are most important to self defense shooters: the bare ballistic gelatin test, and the 4-layer denim test.  The International Wound Ballistic Association standardized these two tests as a comprehensive evaluation of ammo performance in best-case and worst-case scenarios, and so that is the testing methodology I normally use when conducting my tests.  But in this case, I didn’t bother with the denim test.  Why?  Because the denim test is designed to evaluate a hollowpoint bullet’s ability to expand even after passing through a lot of fabric, and with the mini-revolver, hollowpoints just DO NOT expand.  At all.  Pretty much ever.  So the denim test would be a pointless and expensive exercise.  Accordingly, my testing here is limited to the bare gel test, using (mainly) ClearBallistics synthetic ballistic gel, and in some cases I used calibrated 10% organic ballistic gel.  I compared the results between them and got extremely similar results, so I believe the results here can be taken as valid regardless of which medium the particular round was tested in.

My goal was to test .22LR ammo from the 1 1/8″ mini-revolver, into ballistic gel test media, and see which (if any) rounds would deliver consistent penetration deeper than 12″.

Now, right here you may think I’m asking too much from this little mini revolver.  And I admit, I am — it would seem absurd to ask that a 4.5-ounce gun be able to deliver 12″ of penetration!  I agree.  However, the standards as set by the professionals seem to me to be a worthy goal to pursue.  Would we be able to achieve it? I didn’t know — but I certainly wanted to see what comes closest.  After all, why settle for something substandard, when it’s possible that there might actually be a round or two out there that actually would deliver the results and meet the goal?

It is also true that you may not NEED a full 12″ of penetration from such a tiny pistol, given that this type of pistol is less likely to be used as your main defensive weapon and is more likely to be used as a “last resort” type of weapon (meaning, it might be used in up-close contact distances where you’re actually shoving the revolver into the bad guy’s body and pulling the trigger.)  In cases like that, you wouldn’t have to worry about intervening arms getting in the way and requiring more penetration to get through them.  In a case of an unobstructed chest shot, it’s possible that an 8″ bullet might be able to get the job done.  But a 12″ bullet would always be able to get the job done.  And since we don’t get to pick and choose our defensive shooting scenarios, I wanted bullets that had the highest probability of delivering deep-penetrating hits in all possible scenarios.  And especially for those who may actually be relying on a .22LR mini-revolver for their main or only defensive weapon, they may very well need the full 12″ of penetration potential depending on the scenario they find themselves in.

With all that said, my final attitude was: I want the bullets to be able to penetrate 12″.  I would find it probably acceptable if they would penetrate at least 10″, that would probably be good enough for many scenarios.  If they’ll only go 8″, that’s pretty shallow and I certainly wouldn’t be happy about that.  But only proper testing can reveal just how far they actually can go.

I’ve blogged previously on the whys and wherefores of ballistic gel (for example, herehere, and here.)  In the simplest terms, it’s a soft tissue simulant that we use to evaluate a bullet’s performance through soft human tissue.  It’s not “jello”, it’s not a dessert, it’s actually powdered and reconstituted flesh.  Professional ballistic gel is made from ground-up and powdered pork skin.  It’s an effective flesh simulant because it actually is flesh.  I used synthetic ClearBallistics gel from www.clearballistics.com for most of the bare gel tests, and I re-confirmed the best-performing bullets’ performance by shooting them into genuine 10% organic ordnance gelatin.  (For reference, I did a comprehensive comparison between the two tissue simulant products before starting this Ammo Quest, and found that the synthetic gel was suitable and quite comparable for handgun bullet testing.)

Testing Procedures

My testing procedure was to fire at least five shots into each block of gel, from 10 feet, through a chronograph.  All 10% ballistic gel was calibrated with a steel BB at ~590 fps, was prepared to FBI specifications using FBI gel preparation procedures, stored at proper temperatures, and shot at proper temperatures, for consistent reliable data.  All bullets were measured for penetration distance while they were in the block of gel.  In some cases I may have shot more than five bullets, to get a higher statistical sampling of that particular ammo’s performance.  This is especially true in the case of the best-performing ammo; I wanted to verify that I wasn’t seeing a “fluke”, I wanted to verify that it was legitimate performance.  In the case of the winning ammo, I shot rounds into the synthetic gel and also into a block of organic gel, to ensure the results were valid.

I tested a total of 25 types of ammunition through bare ClearBallistics gelatin, and retested the best rounds in organic gel. This resulted in a grand total of 32 different tests being conducted (sheesh!)  I didn’t produce a separate video for each, as there really was no need — the bullets don’t expand, they don’t do anything different, there was no need for a bullet exam afterwards, they’re all just solid hunks of lead (or tin or plastic or whatever the bullet was made of).  So the only thing that really mattered was the velocity and the penetration distance.  I have compiled all those results in the following video, and in the tables below.

Results

The results are correlated in the tables below.    Penetration data is color-coded; red is totally unacceptable underpenetration under 9″; yellow is a bad sign (indicating modest underpenetration below 10″), green is considered decent (over 10″ but under 12″), and blue is considered excellent penetration (deeper than 12″).  When looking at these charts, the more blue and green you see, the better that ammo performed.

North American Arms .22LR Mini-Revolver With 1 1/8″ Barrel

Ammunition Test Results

Aguila Colibri

Bullet Weight 20
Bullet Type Lead CB
Average Velocity in feet per second 346
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 1.50
(corrected for bounceback) 2.50
2.50
2.50
2.50

Aguila-Colibri

 

Aguila Interceptor Red

Bullet Weight 40 grains
Bullet Type Lead Soft Point
Average Velocity in feet per second 860
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 10.50
11.00
11.50
11.75
13.75

Aguila-interceptor-red

 

 

Aguila Sniper SubSonic

Bullet Weight 60
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 596
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 6.00
6.00
6.50
6.75
7.00

Aguila-SSS

 

 

Aguila Super Colibri

Bullet Weight 20
Bullet Type Lead CB
Average Velocity in feet per second 509
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 4.00
4.50
4.50
5.00
5.50

Aguila-Super-Colibri

 

Aguila SuperExtra Blue Subsonic

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 648
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 6.50
7.00
7.50
8.00
6.75

Aguila-SuperExtra-blue

 

 

Aguila SuperExtra Orange High Velocity

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 680
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 7.75
7.75
8.00
8.00
8.00

Aguila-SuperExtra-orange

 

Aguila SuperExtra Yellow High Velocity

Bullet Weight 38
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 685
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 7.25
7.25
7.50
7.50
8.50
8.50
8.50
8.50

Aguila-superextra-yellow

 

 

Aguila Supermaximum Hyper Velocity

Bullet Weight 30
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 845
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 7.50
8.00
13.25
13.75
14.25
15.75

Aguila-supermaximum

 

American Eagle Hollowpoint

Bullet Weight 38
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 807
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 9.25
9.00
9.50
9.75
10.75

AE-38gr-HP

 

 

American Eagle Solid

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 823
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 9.25
10.25
10.75
10.75
11.50
12.00
12.00
13.00

AE-40gr-solid

 

 

CCI Mini-Mag 36-Grain Hollowpoint

Bullet Weight 36
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 838
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 12.00
12.00
12.50
12.50
11.50
11.50
11.25
11.25
11.75

CCI-mini-mag-36gr-1CCI-mini-mag-36gr-2

 

 

CCI Mini-Mag 40-Grain Solid

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 752
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 8.25
8.25
8.50
8.50
9.00

CCI-mini-mag-40gr

 

 

CCI Segmented Hollowpoint

Bullet Weight 32
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 928
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 4.50
5.00
5.50
5.50
5.75
5.75
6.00
7.00

CCI-segmented-HP-32-grain

 

CCI Short-Range Green

Bullet Weight 21
Bullet Type Lead-Free Solid
Average Velocity in feet per second 1005
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 5.50
7.00
7.50
8.50
8.75

CCI-short-range-green

 

 

CCI Shotshell

Bullet Weight 31
Bullet Type #12 shot
Average Velocity in feet per second
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 1 to 2”

CCI-shotshell

 

Eley Match EPS

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Lead Flat Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 721
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 8.50
8.50
8.50
8.50
9.00

Eley-Match-EPS

 

 

Federal Champion 40-grain Solid

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 808
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 9.50
9.75
10.00
11.00
11.50

Fed-40gr-solid

 

 

Remington Golden Bullet

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 782
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 8.50
9.50
9.50
9.50
9.75
10.00
10.00
10.00
10.50
11.00
11.00
11.00
11.75

Rem-golden-bullet

 

Remington Subsonic

Bullet Weight 38
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 664
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 7.25
7.75
8.00
8.25
8.75

Remington-subsonic

 

 

Remington Thunderbolt

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 718
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 7.00
8.75
9.00
9.00
10.00

Remington-thunderbolt

 

 

SK Standard Plus

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 680
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 7.00
7.25
7.50
7.75
8.25

SK-standard-plus

 

 

Winchester Varmint LF

Bullet Weight 26
Bullet Type Tin Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 1008
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 6.25
6.50
6.50
7.50
7.50
8.00

win-tin

 

 

Winchester Super-X Super Speed Hollowpoint

Bullet Weight 37
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 774
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 8.75
8.75
9.25
9.50
10.75

Win-superX-37gr-hp

 

Winchester Super-X Hyper Speed Hollowpoint

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 730
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 8.00
8.00
8.75
8.75
9.00

 

Win-superX-40gr-HP

 

 

Wolf Match Target

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 663
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 9.75
9.75
10.00
10.50
11.00

Wolf-match-target

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Gold? Silver? Or… Lead?

This is a bit of a departure from my typical article, but it seems timely, and it seems that people who are concerned about preparing for their own self-defense, are also the type of people who take steps to prepare for their financial future.  So perhaps it’s not so unrelated after all…

Occasionally on gun forums the discussion will turn to “prepping”, or preparing for a variety of scenarios that are usually abbreviated as “SHTF” (or, politely, when the Stuff Hits The Fan) , or “WROL” (Without Rule Of Law), or “TEOTWAWKI” (The End Of The World As We Know It).  Now, it’s far beyond the scope of this blog to go speculating on the politics, or the likelihood, of any such scenario arising, and how to cope with such a scenario if it were to come about.  But I would like to address one particular aspect, especially for those of us who may not be independently wealthy…

Gold.

(or, specifically, Gold & Silver).

Are gold and silver the best places to put your money?  Should you be buying gold coins, or gold bars, or “junk silver” or ZomBucks or other such offerings?  What about BitCoin?  Will the banks collapse? How will you survive if hyperinflation comes?

The reason this came to mind is because it’s nearly impossible to turn on a cable news show, or listen to a talk radio station, without being barraged with ads or talk about buying gold, and about how gold is safe, and gold will increase in value, etc.  And, further, I just read a story where people on the lower end of the economic scale tend to think that gold is the best investment and to distrust real estate, stocks, etc., whereas people at the top of the economic pyramid tend to have exactly the opposite view.

Should you be buying gold?  Will gold prepare you to ride out a financial collapse?  Is gold the best place to put your money, and will it go skyrocketing in value?

In short — no.  No, no, and no.  Gold’s great for what it is, but unless you’re very wealthy and have a few hundred thousand dollars you’re looking to preserve, I would say gold should not be your #1 priority for preparing to ride out a financial crash/WROL/SHTF scenario.  There’s a much, much better place to put your money.

And no, it’s not silver!

It’s lead.  Specifically, ammo.  And steel — as in, stainless steel (or blued steel, your choice)… heck, polymer will do.  I’m talking about guns here.  Or, a third option, batteries.

But those things don’t go up in value!

I frequently say “stick with me here” in these blog articles, and I would indulge your patience again, because (for some of you) I’m about to turn your world upside down, but this is a highly important concept you really need to understand.  Gold doesn’t go up in value.  Yes, the price of gold changes, and it fluctuates with speculation, but — overall, gold isn’t going up in value.  Instead, it’s your MONEY that is going DOWN in value.

Ask anyone what “inflation” is, and you’ll likely get an answer on the order of “that’s when prices go up.”  But they don’t.  That’s not it at all.  The relative value of goods doesn’t change during inflation; it’s that the value of your money goes down.  The value of paper money is like water in a glass which has a leak in it — and the rate of inflation is equivalent to how big the hole in the glass is.  The higher the inflation rate, the faster the “value” (water in the glass) leaks out.  Which is why holding cash as an investment has always been mocked and ridiculed; cash’s value wastes away with time.  The government is constantly whittling away the value of money; the Fed’s stated goal is that they want to see inflation at an annual rate of 2% — meaning, they want to see your money lose 2% of its value each and every year.

Seriously.

Think about a gift card from a store… you get a gift card, and you know you have to use it soon because it’ll waste away to zero, right?  They start charging fees until the value of the card is worthless.  That’s EXACTLY what inflation does to your cash.  And the higher the rate of inflation, the faster the money’s value disappears.

Gold and silver, in general, don’t waste away.  They’re considered “hedges against inflation” because their value, in general, stays constant regardless of how the value of the currency fluctuates.  So why is gold $1,300 per ounce today, when it was only worth $35/oz in 1964?  Because inflation has eroded the value of the dollar so much that, whereas they used to be so valuable that you needed only 35 of them to buy an ounce of gold, now they’re so (relatively) worthless that you’d have to pay 1,300 of them to buy that same ounce of gold.  The gold didn’t change.  Its relative value hasn’t changed.  It’s just that the dollar has shrunk in value so small that now it takes over 37 times as many of them to buy the exact same product (an ounce of gold).

Here, let me give you a graphic example that perfectly illustrates it: you can buy a $1,000 bag of U.S. quarters from a gold & silver dealer, but they won’t sell them to you for $1,000 — they’ll charge you $15,536.95!  Seriously, we’re talking about buying a bag of quarters and dimes, the exact same thing cashiers used to give you as change from a paper dollar… With a face value of $1,000.00 (so, that’d be 4,000 quarters, or 10,000 dimes) but it will cost you over $15,500 of your paper dollars in order to buy that $1,000 worth of quarters  (at today’s silver price, which is about $19.64 per ounce).  Why?  Because those quarters and dimes were made prior to 1965 — and back then, quarters and dimes were made out of silver (well, 90% silver).  There is no silver in today’s quarters; today’s coins are made from metals that have extremely little value.  Now, if you go to a vending machine and put in one of today’s quarters, or one of those older silver quarters, they’ll work the same.  If you go to Wal-Mart and pay for a pack of gum with a 1964  silver quarter, or with a 2014 quarter, the cashier will take either and value them equally.  But if you went to a silver dealer, he’d give you 25 pennies for that 2014 quarter, but he’d give you almost four dollars for one of those older silver quarters.  This is a graphic example that shows that today’s money is worth literally 1/16th of what it was worth just 50 years ago.

The value of the pack of gum didn’t change, its price didn’t go up, it’s that the value of the money went down, and that’s why you have to pay so much more for it.  This is the effect of inflation — it makes your money plummet in value.

And, in a SHTF/TEOTWAWKI/WROL scenario, it’s likely that we might encounter hyperinflation, like other societies have faced (such as Germany, Argentina, and Zimbabwe).  In a situation of hyperinflation, prices don’t soar!  Instead, the money plummets.  The value of the underlying goods doesn’t change, it’s the value of the money that changes.  Think of it like this — in 2008, a loaf of bread cost $2.79 in the USA.  It cost over $800,000 in Zimbabwe dollars.  In 2009, that same loaf of bread cost $2.79 in the USA, and it cost over $10,000,000 in Zimbabwe dollars.  Did the bread change? Did it become suddenly more scarce, or suddenly more nutritious?  Did it get bigger? Could one loaf of bread now suddenly feed 10x as many people?  Of course not.  The thing that changed, is that people lost faith in the Zimbabwe dollar, and were not willing to part with a truly valuable good (a loaf of bread) unless you gave them more and more of those Zimbabwe dollars.

The same thing is happening in all countries that are experiencing inflation.  It’s not that the goods are becoming more dear, it’s that the money to buy them is losing value.

So how do you survive hyperinflation?  If you’re in a hyperinflating society, get rid of your money as quickly as possible.  Convert it into something that has lasting value.  If the money is plummeting in value, get out of it.  Buy something.  Buy a house.  Buy food.  Buy batteries, or ammo, or guns, or gasoline, or bungee cords.  Convert your money into something useful, so that it will hold its value and not plummet, like a paper currency will (and does, and is basically designed to do).  Or, alternatively, if you need to keep it in paper, convert it into a stable currency.  The value of the US dollar barely changed between 2007 and 2008, but the value of a Zimbabwe dollar shrank to where in 2008 it was worth 1/230,000,000 of what it was worth in 2007.  Hyperinflation is a local phenomenon, just because one currency is hyperinflating doesn’t mean other currencies are.

So that brings us back to gold, and silver.  Why not buy all the gold and silver you can?  It’ll protect you against inflation and hyperinflation, right?  Well, yes, maybe.  But that’s a rich person’s game.

For the financially challenged, frankly, gold and silver are downright silly investments.

Why?

Because gold and silver can’t DO anything.  They just sit there.  They’re a means of exchange, but they in and of themselves have no actual workable properties.  They will retain their value.  They are a “store of value”; if you have the ability to buy ten loaves of bread today, and you instead buy an ounce of silver, then five years from now it’s likely that you could trade that ounce of silver back for ten loaves of bread — regardless of how much the local currency may have devalued.  So it works, yes.  But so will many other things — and those other things may have actual intrinsic and usable value too.

Like lead. (meaning, of course, ammunition).

So let’s say you’ve got $20, and the price of silver is $20.  You could buy an ounce of silver.  Or, you could buy a box of .308 ammo to go with your trusty old hunting rifle.  Which is the better buy?

Well, let’s put it like this — that ounce of silver may make you feel warm and fuzzy, but it’s not going to do a thing for the hunger in your belly.  Whereas a box of 20 rounds of .308 has the potential to put twenty deer on your table.  That could feed a family of four for several years…

Sobering thinking, isn’t it?

Okay, consider this — do you think ammo will suffer from inflation?  Do you think ammo is going to lose its value?  If we enter an SHTF scenario, where the trains stop running and the delivery trucks are discontinued and the store shelves are ransacked, do you think ammo will become less valuable, or more valuable?

Exactly.

Now, the thing about silver (especially junk silver coins) is that they’re highly exchangeable; a junk silver quarter is worth almost $4.00, a junk silver dime is worth around $1.50.  Having junk silver on hand for easy exchange seems like a good idea.  But you could exchange a few rounds of ammo just as easily, couldn’t you?

Is ammo a currency?

Maybe.  Look around today — neckbeards are exploiting the ammo shortage to drive up the price of ammo, charging $80 (or more) for what should be a $20 brick of .22lr ammo.  During the super-drought of 2013, I know I paid well over 50% to double what the MSRP of the ammo should have been, because I had to have it.  How much more desirable will ammo become, if the dreaded hyperinflation scenario arrives?  Especially if, during the worried-about economic collapse, they’re not making any more of it?

Properly stored, ammo should last for years and years.  So will gold and silver.  Any of them should be easily exchangeable, but there’s one big overriding difference — nobody, now or ever, is likely to actually NEED a bar of gold or a hunk of silver.  But people WILL need ammo. And guns. And, for that matter, chocolate, and whisky, and cigarettes, and batteries.  Those items will always be in demand, and they will hold their value in any hyperinflation scenario, in any WROL/TEOTWAWKI scenario, and will always be highly exchangeable.

BitCoin, not so much.  If the electric grid goes down, just how much bread do you think someone will be happy to trade you for your hard drive full of bitcoins?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying BitCoin is bad.  I’m not saying gold and silver are bad.  All I’m trying to do is point out how the market forces are likely to work, and get you thinking about some options that may make more sense.  If you had $13,000 to your name, you could either spend it to buy one single 10-oz bar of gold, or you could buy a couple of decent rifles, a decent shotgun, a half dozen pistols, and a thousand rounds of ammo for each of them, and maybe a whole lot of MRE’s.  Which do you think would serve you better to survive a hyperinflation or TEOTWAWKI event?  Or, put another way — if you were sitting on that stockpile of guns, ammo, and food, and someone came to you and said “I’ll give you this 10-oz bar of gold if you’ll give me all of that stuff”, would you make the trade?

I didn’t think so.

Gold and silver are fine as a store of value, but again, that’s a rich person’s game.  Once you’ve bought your supplies, you can put extra cash into gold (or real estate or foreign currencies or whatever else makes sense to you).  But if you’ve only got a little, and you want to protect yourself and your family from financial ruin, and you seriously think hyperinflation or a WROL scenario is headed your way, I think you’d be much better off putting your limited money into steel and lead (guns and ammo) than into gold and silver.

Of course, I’m not advocating that you put the rent money into boxes of FMJ’s.  And I’m not saying we’re facing some imminent collapse of the financial system, or that TEOTWAWKI is right around the corner.  I’m not doom-and-glooming.  I’m just saying that there might be alternatives that you hadn’t considered for the money that you may be planning on putting away, and so, depending on your own outlook for the future, maybe this will give you something else to think about.

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.22LR For Defense? It’s About Probabilities, Not Possibilities

Probabilities, Not Possibilities

I have a review coming soon on the North American Arms .22LR mini-revolver.  And I’ve just done some ammo tests on the North American Arms .22 Magnum Black Widow mini-revolver.  And that’s got me thinking about bullet effectiveness, caliber, and some of the misconceptions in the gun world, especially with some oft-repeated statements such as:

“The .22LR has killed more people than any other cartridge in history.”

“The .22LR will kill you deader than crap.”

“The caliber wars are over.  Caliber doesn’t matter.”

And that leads us to the holy grail of gun statements:

“The only three things that matter are shot placement, shot placement, and shot placement.”

As with so many other subjects in life, there’s truth in all of the above statements, and all of the above statements can be misused to seriously mislead someone.  So let’s look at them and see if we can’t make some sense out of all this — especially in how it applies to armed self defense.

First — the notion that the .22LR has killed more people than any other caliber.  Is this true? I don’t know — I haven’t seen any studies done that actually attempt to correlate and compare these figures.  It is likely true that .22LR is the most popular caliber in the world, and it is probably true that more accidents happen with .22LR than with any other.  It may be true that more youth get involved in accidents with .22LR than other calibers.  But even if it ends up being true that the .22LR has killed more people than any other caliber, does that make .22LR the best caliber for self defense?  MOST DEFINITELY NOT.  For a number of reasons, but let’s start with the first and most basic — self defense isn’t about “killing” an attacker.  Armed self defense is about STOPPING an attack.  Whether the attacker dies is not our primary focus, and certainly shouldn’t be — after all, if your desire is to “kill” someone, then you’re not acting in self defense, you’re trying to murder someone.  If your intent is to immediately halt someone from doing you imminent serious bodily injury or death, that’s self defense — and stopping someone doesn’t have to leave them dead.

Let’s turn to the second statement — “The .22LR will kill you deader than crap.”  Is this true?  Yes, a .22LR is a lethal caliber that absolutely can kill.  A .22LR is more than enough bullet that, if it hits a vital structure, can bring about incapacitation or death.  But, again, does that make it an appropriate choice for a self-defense caliber?  I would say it has zero bearing on the discussion.  Example: when people die from gunshots, is that always because they were shot in self defense? Obviously not.  Accidents, and assassinations, are not cases of self defense.  .22LR has been used by assassins, with the specific intent to kill — and kill it can — but that cannot be attributed to self defense.  So if someone dies from an assassination or from a gun-related accident, what bearing does that have on the legitimacy of a caliber for being appropriate for self defense? None.  After all, what use is it to you, if you shoot your attacker in the gut with a .22LR, and they then proceed to murder you, and then drive to their friend’s house, get patched up, but get infected and die three days later from peritonitis?  Yes, the .22LR would have killed them — but it would have been useless in stopping them from attacking you.

You should absolutely respect the .22LR.  It is not a toy, it is a deadly cartridge — even from as tiny a firearm as a 1″-barrel micro-revolver.  It definitely is a deadly cartridge, but it is no more deadly than any other cartridge, and, in many ways, it is less deadly.  There is absolutely no terminal effect that a .22LR possesses, that a .380 doesn’t also have*.  The .380 does everything the .22LR does, and it does it with much more energy, more mass, and larger size.  And the 9mm does everything the .380 does, with even more energy, mass, and potentially larger expanded size.  And the .40 does everything the 9mm does, with even more energy, mass, and larger size.  Any of them (and, of course, the .45 and all other larger-than-.22 calibers) can kill just as easily as the .22LR can, but the key thing is that any of them are MORE LIKELY to kill (or injure or stop) a person, as the .22LR is.

*(see comment by Aaron below for an example of a unique terminal property of 22lr)

It’s not that the .22LR can’t stop someone, it’s a question of: is it MORE LIKELY or LESS LIKELY to stop someone, than a larger caliber is?  And the inescapable conclusion is: it’s LESS LIKELY than the bigger calibers are.

It’s not that it can’t do the job.  It’s just that, owing to its tiny size and lower power levels, it is less likely to get the job done than the other, bigger calibers are.  It really is that simple.

Of course, there’s a counter-argument here, which says that the .22LR is a more shootable caliber, easier to make more accurate shots with and easier to get back on target due to its lesser recoil.  There is some truth to this too, of course, but we’ll explore why this may or may not be a valid counter-argument in the section below on “shot placement”.

Caliber Wars

Next statement on the list: “The caliber wars are over.  Caliber doesn’t matter.”  As a participant in a few online firearms forums, I’ve seen this type of statement come up over and over.  And, usually, it’s repeated by a moderator on the forum.  The forums I visit have largely “outlawed” what they call “caliber wars”, and say that the caliber wars “are over”, and all the calibers are equal.  Which is patently absurd on the face of it.

I understand why they do it; I’ve seen caliber wars devolve into what amounts to nothing more than a “pissing match”, and it seems that people are so emotionally invested in their personal choice that they feel they have to defend it at all costs.  But it all seems so silly, when the answer is plainly and obviously staring us in the face.  Here, let me re-use a picture from one of my earlier articles, about Bullet Size:

HST-vs-22

One of those is going to do more damage than the other.  Both are easily capable of reaching deep enough into a body to hit the vital organs, but one of those is more LIKELY to hit something vital, than the other one is.  One of those is more likely to cut a major artery, or destroy the heart, or nick the spinal column, than the other one is.  It’s obvious.

For those who insist caliber doesn’t matter, let me turn the question around — say we’re in a scenario where, for whatever reason, you ARE going to be shot.  Maybe you’re a mob informant and the mob’s caught you, and their punishment to you is that they’re going to shoot you with one bullet.  You get to choose which gun they shoot you with.  The choices are either a .45 ACP, or a .22LR.  You’re GOING to get shot, so you have to pick one.  Which will it be?

I think that answer’s pretty obvious.  Caliber DOES matter.  It definitely doesn’t matter as much as many other factors, but it does matter.

Which leads us, finally, to:

“The only three things that matter are shot placement, shot placement, and shot placement.”

Okay, hold on to your hats, and keep your keys off the keyboard until I’m done typing, and maybe we can get through this with a minimum of outrage.  Is shot placement important? Highly important, yes. Is it the only thing that matters? No.  Is it, in fact, the most important factor?  Yes. And no.

Here’s where it gets complicated, and hopefully we can try to navigate these waters so it all makes sense.  The first and foremost thing is — what the bullet HITS is what’s most important.  That’s not the same thing as shot placement, although it is frequently mistaken for such.  But let me explain:

When facing a firearm being used for self defense, human beings will stop attacking someone for a variety of reasons, but they can be boiled down into two categories: voluntary, and involuntary.  And in many of these cases, caliber doesn’t matter, but it might.  And shot placement doesn’t matter for many of them, but it might.

Voluntary reasons

There are many reasons an attacker may choose to stop attacking you.  Sometimes merely seeing a gun might be enough for them to say “hey, wait a minute, hold on, we’re cool, I’m just gonna walk away.”  That may happen, but even then, caliber may matter.  For example, someone getting a face-first view of a six-inch barrel .45 revolver might be MORE LIKELY to be dissuaded, than that same person might be if they instead got a face-first view of a .380 pocket pistol.  Once again, it’s not a question of “will this be effective” or “will this be ineffective”, it’s a question of “which is MORE LIKELY to be effective”?  I think it’s a fair assessment to say that someone MIGHT be more likely to back off when they see you carrying a Dirty Harry-style big revolver, than they would be if they saw you had a North American Arms .22LR mini revolver.  So in this case we have an example of someone who could be dissuaded by seeing a gun, but even then, the caliber might make a difference.  Now, can we find cases where someone backed off after being faced with a .22LR mini-revolver?  Certainly.  But just because it CAN happen, doesn’t tell us how LIKELY it is to happen.  And it doesn’t invalidate the argument that it is MORE likely that someone will be dissuaded by a bigger gun, than they would be by a littler gun.

But let’s move up the ladder — let’s say they see you have a gun but they don’t stop.  Some of those attackers MIGHT be persuaded to stop, if the gun was pointed AT THEM.  There’s a difference between them seeing that you have a gun (maybe holstered, or even held in a low-ready position) and seeing the muzzle of the gun pointed at them.  Sometimes merely the change in perspective of seeing down that barrel is enough to get an attacker’s bravado to dissipate and to get him browning his shorts.  And this could be a case of where an attack was stopped, without a shot ever having been fired.  Now, is it possible that someone might call off their attack if they saw a pocket .380 or a tiny .22 magnum pointed at them?  Yes, of course it’s possible.  But is it LIKELY?  I don’t have the stats to answer that question, I can only pose the obvious follow-up: is it MORE likely that they would stop, if they saw a bigger pistol pointed at them?  Again, I think it’s obvious that there are some people who will not be stopped by just seeing any size pistol pointed at them, and there are some who will definitely not be stopped by just seeing a pistol (any pistol) pointed at them.  But there’s a group in the middle, those who wouldn’t stop at a micro-pistol but WOULD stop when facing a behemoth.  And that’s the group at the heart of this question — is it more likely that someone would stop, if they saw a bigger pistol pointed at them? I believe it is more likely.  I think it’s obvious that there is some percentage of encounters that would be stopped by virtue of the defender having a bigger pistol, than would be stopped in the identical same circumstances if the defender had a smaller pistol.  Again, it’s not a question of whether a small pistol CAN stop an attacker, it’s a question of how LIKELY it is that the small pistol would be able to stop the attack.

Group Three: Seeing & Hearing A Gun Go Off

Okay, let’s move on.  Let’s assume that we’re facing an attacker who will not stop just because he sees a pistol pointed at him (regardless of the pistol).  That means we’re going to have to fire the pistol.  Now, obviously, you should never draw your pistol unless you’re prepared to fire it and you are in such a dire circumstance that you believe firing it to be necessary to save your life (or innocent life, or to otherwise meet the local and state statutes that govern the permissibility of using deadly force).  Maybe you’ll get lucky and before you fire, the attacker drops his gun or knife and backs off, and you won’t have to even discharge the weapon — but maybe you won’t, and you have to fire.  Is it possible that merely firing the gun might get someone to stop?  Most definitely.  Even if you miss, sometimes the muzzle flash and the deafening bang are going to trigger a response in the attacker that gets them to back off.  In a case like this, does caliber matter? Again, we don’t have statistics to refer to, but I’d think it matters less than in the other cases.  If you get to this point, it’s pretty obvious that the attacker isn’t impressed by the size (or lack thereof) of your gun, but I would have to think the sensory stimulation and attendant adrenaline rush that’s going to happen when they see that blast and hear that explosion, are going to affect them whether it comes from a bigger or smaller gun.  If there’s a possibility of dissuading them, the physiological reaction to a gunshot may make them rethink their actions, and it may not matter whether it comes from a bigger or smaller gun.  Put another way, I don’t think they’re going to calculate in their heads what the size of the sound was, I think the fight-or-flight instinct will kick in regardless of the magnitude of the blast — and, let’s remember, sometimes little bullets can put out an incredible amount of noise and flash.  A .22 Magnum or a 5.7×28 can be incredibly loud and have a huge fireball associated with them.  So, I don’t know whether caliber would make someone MORE likely to stop from experiencing the flash and sound, but I doubt it.  I think this one might be a case of caliber not mattering.

What About Getting Shot?

Now we move on to the next level — what if they are NOT dissuaded by experiencing the flash and noise of a gunblast?  Well, they move up the ladder of reasons why a gun might stop someone: next stop, getting hit.  For some attackers, the experience of getting shot might be enough to stop them from wanting to continue attacking.  Now, remember, we’re still talking about an attacker CHOOSING to stop.  Getting hit by a bullet, any bullet, is likely to be a really unpleasant experience, a feeling of intense pain followed by seeing blood bursting forth.  That can frequently be enough to get an attacker to call off the attack.  And, if that’s the case, does caliber really matter in that situation?  Again, I think probably not.  I don’t think people who get shot are really cognitively assessing their situation and thinking “I got shot, but it’s only a .22, so I’ll keep attacking.”  I think it’s more along the lines of “ack! Pain! Blood! Stop!”  Remember, we’re talking about an immediate incident, not some protracted long event — there’s a rule of thumb that says most defensive gunfights follow the 3-3-3 rule: they take place at 3 yards or less, with three shots fired, and are over in three seconds.  That’s not a lot of time for thinking and evaluating; that’s more of the realm of instinct and thoughts of self-preservation.  In my opinion (again, unbacked by studies to prove one way or another), I think the sensory overload of gunshot/blast/sound/pain/blood combines to make an immediate decision — the attacker will either immediately stop, or will not be affected.  I don’t think the caliber is likely to be involved in this decision-making process.  As such, I doubt caliber is that important for this level of attacker.

Involuntary Incapacitation

At this point, we’ve pretty much exhausted the opportunities for a voluntary stop.  If the attacker has faced this ascending ladder of prospects and has chosen to continue to attack, then there’s pretty much nothing else that is going to make them choose to stop.  Heck, they’ve had a gun pointed at them, they’ve been shot, they’re bleeding, and they’re still coming at you.  What else can you do?

At this point, you have to rely on your gun’s ability to physically incapacitate them.  What do I mean by “incapacitate”? I mean, take away their capacity to attack.  Actually physically render them unable to attack any further.  And for a handgun, that’s not easy — it means you are going to have to damage the vital structures of their body in such a way that they physically cannot continue their actions.

To force an immediate stop, typically that means you need to damage their central nervous system (specifically the brain stem, or the spinal column).  The brain stem is an on/off switch for a human being — if it is damaged, the person ceases to exist.  Immediately.  If you damage their spinal column, they will no longer be able to control their actions (i.e., they will be paralyzed, or worse).  Those actions will immediately stop an attack, instantly.  The brain is a less-likely immediate incapacitator; many people have been shot in the head and survived.  They may lose some functionality, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will lose ALL functionality.  The brain stem and spinal column are guaranteed fight-stoppers.  They are also extremely hard to hit, being very small.

The other way to bring a fight to a very quick stop is to do substantial damage to the circulatory system.  Destroying or substantially damaging the heart, major arteries, or other substantial circulatory system damage can cause the attacker’s blood pressure to drop below the level necessary to sustain consciousness.  An attacker who passes out from blood loss will be unable to continue their attack.  Again, they don’t have to die from the injury in order to stop, they just have to lose consciousness.  It is not easy to imagine a scenario where someone has substantial enough damage to their circulatory system that they pass out, but still manage to survive, of course, but we’re not trying to kill, we’re trying to stop, and damage to the circulatory system or central nervous system are the only known ways to reliably and predictably bring a fight to an immediate (or extremely quick) close.  Damaging the circulatory system may not result in immediate incapacitation; even complete destruction of the heart could leave someone with enough oxygen in their system and in their brain to be able to act for up to 10 to 15 seconds, so circulatory system damage is still not immediate, but it will result (within about 15 seconds) in involuntary incapacitation.  They won’t have a choice — once their blood pressure drops low enough, their body will force them to stop.

So the question is: does caliber matter, in bringing about involuntary incapacitation?  Yes and no.  A confusing answer, but let me try to simplify it — it’s not about whether a caliber CAN bring about involuntary incapacitation, because frankly they all can.  Again, it’s about how LIKELY it is, for any particular caliber to be able to bring about involuntary incapacitation.  A .22LR to the brain stem will result in the immediate death of the attacker just as quickly as a .45 ACP to the brain stem will.  A .22LR to the spinal column will result in the same immediate paralysis as a .45 to the spinal column will.  In both cases, hitting that central nervous system will result in immediate incapacitation.

The question is: how LIKELY is it to hit the spinal column with a .22LR, vs. how LIKELY is it to hit that same spinal column with the .45 ACP (or 9mm or .40 or other larger-than-22 caliber?)  It is my contention that the much-larger bullet maintains a higher likelihood of hitting the target (and things near it) than the tiny bullet does.  Put another way, the tiny bullet leaves no margin for error.  The larger bullet gives you more options; an inch-wide bullet means that you could miss the spinal column by .78″, and still hit it with as much damage as the .22 bullet.  If the large bullet is aimed left of the spinal column, but a quarter of an inch of its outer edge still manages to hit, then it will do as much damage as the .22 would if the .22 shot were placed squarely right on the spinal column.

Here we can see — it’s not a case of whether the .22 CAN incapacitate, because clearly it can, but by using the larger bullet you put the odds in your favor that you will be more LIKELY to incapacitate the target.

Same thing applies to the circulatory system.  You might place a .22 shot right next to the heart, right next to the superior vena cava, where the bullet slips right between these vital structures, hitting nothing, and doing only a minor flesh wound.  Whereas with the .45, with the identical same shot placement, there’s so much more bullet there that it might rip the superior vena cava and the heart both, causing rapid blood loss and forcing incapacitation.

circulatory

With a bullet hitting where the yellow arrow points above, and identical shot placement, a small caliber might result in effectively a non-event, whereas a large caliber might be an effective fightstopper.

That’s not to say a little bullet can’t be a fightstopper… it can.  It’s possible.  It’s just less likely, is all.  You’d need extraordinarily precise shot placement with a .22 to bring a fight to an immediate stop.  If you used that exact same precise shot placement with a larger caliber, it would bring the fight to the exact same stop.  But the larger the bullet, the less precise your shot placement needs to be, to get equivalent fight-stopping performance.  The bigger the bullet, the MORE LIKELY to end the fight.  Even if it’s a small increase in probability, the more likely you are to be able to end a fight, the better off you are.  Which brings us to:

“The only three things that matter are shot placement, shot placement, and shot placement.”

Sigh.  This is one of those statements that gets trotted out with the intention of immediately ending all discussion.  I can imagine that many times, people who bring this statement to the discussion somehow think that they’re telling us something we don’t already know.  Seriously, who doesn’t know this?  We all know this, yet the dispute remains.

So while we’re already disputing, let me rock the boat significantly by saying “Shot Placement Ain’t Everything.”

(and yes, I’m ducking behind the furniture, knowing that the tomatoes are going to start flying).

But — look, shot placement is important, but it is not the end-all and be-all.  It’s close, but wrong, to assert that shot placement is the most important factor.  It’s not where you place the shot that is important, it’s WHAT THE BULLET HITS.  Now, lots of people will think that’s the same thing, but it isn’t.

If the bullet hits the spinal column, it will bring the fight to an immediate halt.  So, surely, advocates of the “shot placement is king” theory would advocate aiming for the spinal column, right?  No? Why not?  Ah, yes, because the spinal column is a very tiny target and extremely difficult to hit.  Right.  Got it.  But if the bullet DOES hit the spinal column, the target is going down, regardless of what caliber hits it.

Similarly, the brain stem — it’s nearly impossible to hit, and I’ve never heard anyone advocate that you should aim for it, since the brain stem is located at the top of the highly-flexible and highly-mobile neck.  But if you were able to hit it, the attacker would stop.

If you’re still with me, here’s where the whole discussion takes a turn — what if you don’t hit where you aim at?  What good is “shot placement” as a theory, if the bullet takes a turn?  And bullets do, occasionally, take a turn.  Some will be deflected off bones, some will just plain turn in a different direction.  When bullets hit flesh, it’s not a guarantee that the bullet will stay on the path that you sent it on.  Especially with small-caliber bullets like .22LR, their light weight and weak momentum leaves them especially susceptible to turning and veering off course.  So even if you put the bullet perfectly on target to hit the brain stem, there are chances that it may deflect or turn off course and only end up hitting flesh or fat.

Bullet-turn-gel

The above is an example of a .22LR bullet fired from a mini-revolver.  Actually there are several shots in that block, and you can see the various damage tracks that show what directions the bullet went.  A few went basically straight, but you can see where one took a turn upwards and exited the top of the block, and you can see the highlighted track where the bullet entered straight but then just turned downwards and ended up a good three inches off target.  Sometimes, bullets just don’t go where you told them to.

And that’s why “shot placement” isn’t nearly as important as “what’s hit.”  If you placed your aim squarely at someone’s heart, and the shot veered off and hit the spinal column, that person will drop immediately.  If you placed your aim squarely at someone’s spinal column, and the bullet veers off and hits only a lung, then that’s not likely to take them out of the fight right away.  Sure, it might slow them down, but it’s a case of where your “perfect shot placement” wouldn’t have actually done all that much good.

So what you HIT, is much more important than what you AIM AT.  Now, obviously, it’d be nice if those were the same thing, but unfortunately they aren’t always the same.  We can’t predict what the bullet WILL or WON’T do.  But there are factors at our disposal that can influence HOW LIKELY the bullet is to do what we want.  How can we put the odds more in your favor that you hit what you aim at?  Well, practice helps, obviously; you have to be able to hit where you’re aiming.  But that doesn’t solve the problem of the bullet veering off course, or deflecting off a bone.  So what does?

Mass.  Momentum.  Size.  Caliber.  Once again, these factors come into play.  A small lightweight 30-grain .22LR may be highly susceptible to changing direction in the flesh, but it’s unlikely that a 180-grain .40 S&W or a 230-grain .45 ACP will be so easily deflected.  Again, it’s POSSIBLE that the heavier bullet might turn or change direction, but it is not LIKELY that the heavier bullet will turn as easily as the lighter bullet will.

I’ve shot thousands of rounds of various calibers into ballistic gel (without bones) and can tell you, definitively, the heavier bullets are MORE LIKELY to stay on course and go where you told them to go, than the lighter bullets are.  I see more course changes and veering bullets from .22, .380, and 9mm, than I do from .40 and .45.  And I see more course changes in 115-grain 9mm, than I do in 147-grain 9mm.  As a general rule, the more mass and momentum the bullet has, the more likely it is to keep traveling in a straight line.  That’s not an absolute rule, but it is an accurate predictor of the likelihood that a bullet will go straight.

And the more likely the bullet is to keep traveling in a straight line (and avoid veering off course), the more likely it is to hit what you aimed at.

Which makes your shot placement more effective.

Boiling It All Down

So what does this all mean?  To me, it means that there are some things you can do to put the odds more in your favor.  While it’s POSSIBLE to stop a fight with a micro-pistol or mini-revolver, those are less likely to stop a fight than a bigger pistol would be.  It’s possible that a .22LR pistol might bring a fight to an end, but identical shot placement from a .45 is more likely to bring that fight to an end.

There are things you can control, and there are things you can’t.  You can improve your accuracy through training.  And you can improve your ammo performance through testing and selection of better-performing ammo that works best with your chosen pistol.  If you have the choice of carrying the NAA mini-revolver, or the Glock 19, you would be better armed and stand a better chance of ending any potential fight with the Glock 19.  That’s not to diss the mini-revolver, I have one and I love it, but I wouldn’t want to rely on it as my primary defensive weapon, because a bigger caliber pistol (such as a Springfield XD-S) puts better odds in my favor that if I had to use it, it might bring any potential fight to a quicker end, in many ways.  It’s easier to aim, it’s easier to control, it places the bullets more accurately, the bullets have more power to them, they have more mass and momentum, and they expand to a much, much larger size.

The first rule of gunfighting is “have a gun”.  And as we discussed above, just the presence of a gun, regardless of caliber, might end many potential defensive encounters.  So caliber isn’t everything, of course.  But as you ascend the ladder of reasons why an attacker might stop, you’ll see that the more power you can bring to bear on your side, the more likely you are to end a fight quicker and more successfully.  Sometimes the tiny mini-revolver or pocket pistol is all you can carry — and if that’s the case, then, hey, do so, but with an understanding that these little pistols are less likely to end a fight quickly, than a bigger pistol would be.  And whenever you have the choice, go for the more powerful weapon.  Put the odds in your favor as best you can.

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Why Bullet Statistics are Useless

What matters when choosing your self defense ammo?  Is it the muzzle energy?  Is it the velocity?  Is it the bullet weight?  Which of these statistics is most important?

NONE OF THEM.

(cue the internet howler monkeys, lining up to scream and throw poop at me, but stick with me for a minute please…)

Bullet weight, in and of itself, is not an indicator of terminal performance.  Neither is muzzle energy.  And neither is velocity.  In fact, they’re all interrelated — if you use a heavier bullet, it’s likely that the velocity will go down (and, when velocity goes down, muzzle energy usually goes down).  It’s easier for a cartridge to throw a lighter bullet faster than a heavier bullet, so for any equivalent powder charge, the lighter the bullet, usually the faster it travels, and the faster it goes, the more likely that the muzzle energy will be quoted as higher (since the formula for energy is (velocity squared x mass x 0.5), so any increase in velocity is going to have a much bigger impact on total energy figures, than any similar increase in weight would.)

Some manufacturers take advantage of that, making deliberately ultra-light projectiles, which will then travel faster than other manufacturers’ projectiles, which lets them quote much higher muzzle energy and velocity figures.

But what does that mean?  Not a whole lot.  What matters isn’t the velocity, or the mass, or the weight of the bullet — what matters is: what does the bullet do when it hits the flesh?  How deep does it penetrate? Does it reach and disrupt the vital organs? Or does it just impact on the surface or make a nasty flesh wound?  Does the bullet expand to a larger size? Does it stay on target or does it wander around and veer off course?  Does it plug up with clothing and fail to expand?  Does it stop in the body or does it zip right through?

Those are what matter.  And you can’t figure out ANY of those answers by studying weight or muzzle energy or velocity.  For example — assuming an identical powder charge, ANY 124-grain bullet is going to have identical weight, muzzle energy, and velocity as ANY OTHER 124-grain bullet.  So a 124-grain full-metal jacket is going to have identical weight, muzzle energy, and velocity as a 124-grain hollowpoint.  But their terminal performance will likely be extremely different.  In fact, that’s really the point behind Winchester’s new “Train & Defend” line – they’re making the identical same ammo in self-defense and practice rounds.  But even though the weight, energy and velocity are identical between the two, the “Train” rounds would be lousy choices for personal defense, as compared to the “Defend” entries in their lineup.

Let’s take it to a silly extreme — if you were to pack 124 grains of corn flakes into the shape of a bullet and jam that into a 9mm cartridge, and successfully fire it, it would have the same muzzle energy and same velocity and same weight as a premium 124-grain Federal HST bullet.  But which do you think would be a more effective manstopper — an HST, or a wad of corn flakes?

The specs printed on the box don’t matter (much).  What matters is what happens when the bullet hits the flesh.  How it rips, cuts, tears or crushes flesh, and how much flesh it destroys, and how reliably and repeatably it does so, are what determines what makes a successful handgun bullet.  Not the ft/lbs of energy printed on the box.

Standardized testing (especially of multiple rounds) is designed to answer those questions.  But even then, there’s a further variable that has to be accounted for, and that’s what barrel length you’re using.  A test from a 4.6″-barrel service/duty pistol might show brilliant results for one particular type of ammo, but if you’re using a 3″-barrel concealed-carry pocket pistol, that exact same ammo might perform miserably from your pistol.  An example might be a 147-grain bullet that travels at 1000 feet per second from that 4.6″ barrel, and expands hugely, and penetrates 14″ — that’d be great.  But the 3″ barrel likely can’t impart that much velocity, so the identical same ammo might travel at only 900 feet per second, which might be too low to force the bullet to expand, so it might fail to expand and end up zipping right through your target, penetrating 32″ or more, which means it’d have (comparatively) very little terminal effect on your target, but would instead pose a big risk of overpenetration.  Same ammo, very different results — so testing can be informative, but only if the testing is comparable to what you’re going to be using.

So don’t be swayed by marketing, or by numbers printed on the box.  Look for some qualified testing that shows how the bullets really perform.  And, ideally, look for testing that’s done from a comparable-sized pistol as what you’ll be using.  And the more the testing conforms to industry standards, the more informative it will be.

I wish it was easier.  I wish we really could just look on the box and see meaningful statistics (barrel length, penetration depth, and expansion size) but the manufacturers don’t list that; instead they give us weight, velocity, and muzzle energy… and those aren’t actually useful in helping us know what’s really important: how much damage will this bullet do to human flesh if you (heaven forbid) you ever found yourself in a situation where you needed to use it against an attacker.

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