If there’s one thing that drives me batty, it’s the insistence upon certain folks that there’s such a thing as a “best” caliber, or that certain bullets or certain calibers have a higher percentage of “one shot stops” than others. And the one that gets talked about most often is … the .357 Magnum.
It seems like the .357 Magnum has become lionized as this incredible, unbeatable, instantaneous, immediate “stopper.” And perhaps it’s earned its reputation fairly, or perhaps it’s been exaggerated, it’s hard to say. But what we can say, definitively, is that there is no such thing as a guaranteed one shot stop. And anyone who relies on that notion, may very well be putting themselves in jeopardy of serious injury or death.
I’ve previously written about the case of Richard Blackburn taking a shot at Trooper Mark Coates with a .22 mini pistol, and Coates responding with five (count ’em, five) shots of .357 Magnum to the chest of Blackburn. Did that put Blackburn “out of the fight”? Hardly. Blackburn subsequently fired another shot from his .22lr, which managed to enter the armpit hole of Coates’ vest, find his heart, and killed him. Blackburn is alive today, serving his prison sentence.
Today I’ll bring another case to your attention, the case of LAPD Officer Stacey Lim. Officer Lim was followed by a gangbanger wanting to steal her car. When she pulled into her driveway and exited the car, he shoved a .357 Magnum at her from about five feet away and pulled the trigger. He didn’t miss. In Officer Lim’s own words, the .357 bullet hit her “just left center of my chest, it went through my chest and out my back, nicked my diaphragm, my liver, my intestine, shattered my spleen, put a hole in the base of my heart, and left a tennis-ball-sized hole in my back as it exited. It knocked me back into my car door.”
Now, folks, let’s think about that. If you were in a defensive encounter and had to shoot a bad guy, hitting them left-center in the chest, punching a hole in their heart, shattering one of their vital organs, and blowing a tennis-ball-sized hole out of their back … not to mention the .357’s vaunted “hydrostatic shock” effect, if such exists…) You gotta think that’s an absolute manstopper right there.
Well, a manstopper maybe, but not a woman-stopper. Ms. Lim was hit bad, yes, but she wasn’t stopped. Far from it. She transformed into a handgun owner’s worst nightmare: a determined combatant.
In her own words, she said “I think I was just more mad than hurt at the time, I figured ‘I could feel it later.’ ”
Just like in previous articles where I wrote about Officer Jared Reston who took a .45 to the face which shattered his jaw: that didn’t put him out of the fight either — it just made him more determined to win.
Officer Lim fired at the gangbanger and as he ran she pursued him around her car and fired three more shots at him, hitting him in the shoulder, the back, and the base of the neck. And that ended the fight.
Now, consider — she’s had a tennis-ball-sized hole blown through her. She’s got a hole in her heart, and holes put in vital organs. She’s rapidly bleeding out. And yet she maintained her composure, built up determination, went out and killed her attacker, then made it back to the front of the car, leaning on the hood, then started walking up her driveway, and then fell to the ground before finally passing out.
That’s a lot of time for her to be able to continue walking and consciously acting. Long enough to defeat the attacker, definitely. And while her injuries were potentially fatal (I’m sure she would have died without immediate medical treatment; in fact, her heart did stop while she was being treated)… but — again, the point of using a gun in a defensive encounter is not to eventually kill a person, it’s to stop them immediately from their aggressive actions. And in this case, even a well-placed shot with the legendary .357 Magnum was not only not enough to stop a determined policewoman, but she retained control of her body long enough to kill the shooter with four shots, before succumbing to blood loss and passing out.
Still want to buy into “one shot stops” and “hydrostatic shock”? Still think that a good solid hit of .45 is enough to put anyone down?
Now, understand — I’m not bagging on the .357 Magnum — it’s a superb cartridge, a very powerful cartridge, and the more powerful the gun you have, the higher the likelihood that your bullet can do more damage than a less-powerful gun. I think anyone carrying a .357 Magnum is very well armed indeed. But here’s the point — if you think that you’re going to be fine simply because you’re using a .357 Magnum, you’re fooling yourself. Especially if you’re using a snubbie 2″ barrel .357 (the .357 round loses a lot of velocity when it’s fired from a short little barrel; the reputation the .357 developed was from a 4″ barrel.)
The fact is, when you’re facing a determined attacker, they sometimes can and do shrug off shots from .357 Magnums, .45 ACPs, or whatever else you try to hit them with. Even with a tennis-ball-sized hole blown through them.
You cannot rely on “hydrostatic shock” to knock someone down or out. The whole concept of whether “hydrostatic shock” even exists from handgun rounds is debateable, but even if the effect does exist, it does not happen reliably enough that you can rely on it. Neither can you rely on a big bullet to knock someone out of a fight. I’ve had commenters on my ammo tests say things like “realistically, you hit someone with one or two .45’s and the fight is over.” Well, Peter Soulis hit Tim Palmer with 22 rounds of .40 S&W before Palmer finally stopped. Jared Reston was hit with 7 rounds of .45 ACP and never did stop, he won that fight. Richard Blackburn was hit with five .357 Magnums and still managed to shoot and kill the officer who he was fighting with.
These may be exceptions, yes. They may be unusual. But they can happen, and if you’re going to rely on a handgun for personal defense, you should be aware of what can happen, be aware of how a determined attacker may possibly react, and be prepared to take action to ensure that you emerge triumphant from the fight.
It’s been said before, it needs to be said again. Handguns are lousy fightstoppers. Use the biggest, most powerful gun you can comfortably shoot, and shoot until the threat stops, and forget the whole concept of a “one shot stop” — keep pulling that trigger until the threat you face is no longer facing you. Stay alert and be careful.