.357 Magnum? Check. “Center Mass” hit? Check. Instant Stop? Er…

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?

I don’t.

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.

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24 thoughts on “.357 Magnum? Check. “Center Mass” hit? Check. Instant Stop? Er…

    1. brad

      I have to call bullshit on the case of officer lim. ANY hole in the heart ANYWHERE — left, right, top, bottom, front, back — is death within a minute, as all your blood pumps out into the pericardium and chest cavity. I am an ER doctor, and it is physically impossible to live with a hole in your heart. You would either die from exsanguination into the chest cavity and/or pericardium or catastrophic heart failure. Both of which would result in the inability to deliver glucose and oxygen to the brain (carried via blood), which would result in a complete shutdown of the neurologic system almost immediately. A nick in the muscle, not extending into the ventricles or atria, yes, you could THEORETICALLY survive that, but a hole? No way.
      Imagine if you had a closed-circuit pump system (your circulatory system) and that system had a hole in the highest flow area (the heart). How long would it take that pump to shut down (heart stopping = death)?

      1. pinetreebbss

        I wasn’t there, but perhaps the bullet just nicked here heart as the LAPD describe below.

        If you listen to the linked video Officer Lim describes her treatment. During her second open chest operation to stop bleeding she says, “…they sewed up an artery that they had missed…” It is at 4.10 in the video.

        From the LA police medal of Valor list: http://www.lapdonline.org/inside_the_lapd/content_basic_view/27327#Stacy%20Lim

        “Police and Medical personnel at the scene estimated that she had no chance for recovery, and doctors at the hospital gave her only an hour to live. Her family was summoned.

        However, she refused to die and survived three full cardiac arrests. By responding to a 90-minute heart massage, she showed her will to live. Her sense of duty and personal courage were equaled only by her reverence for the life of another, because she had placed herself at dire risk by giving a warning to an armed attacker. She had given him an opportunity to surrender and live. Her action upheld the highest traditions of the Los Angeles Police Department and is hereby recognized by awarding her with the Medal of Valor.”

        Last, my wife and I just had the pleasure of visiting a buddy that suffered a aortic dissection, as an older gentleman his survival is just short of phenomenal.

      2. waldengr

        one minute is plenty of attack time. bleed-out and “man-stopper” are not the same in concept or reality. in one minute a bad guy can cover sufficient ground to stab you to death before bleeding-out. the whole thrust of STB is that relying on the myth of one-shot stop for any handgun is downright foolish, if not dangerous. as noted in the articles on the subject, it is very difficult (if not impossible) to determine the true reason an attacker stops after being shot. (probably due to the high percentage of shot-ees no longer talking). a bullet that does not immediately turn-off the bad guy can still leave you in an uncomfortable position. brain shots are very difficult away from a controlled environment. and i think one very real danger for self-defenders is taking time to look at the attacker and marvel at the hole size or placement. to be repetitive, shooting until the threat stops threatening is the only prudent course.

      3. Toby Knight-Meigs,RN,BSN


        I’m an ED Nurse. I personally took care of a pt. that was stabbed in the R. Ventricle. (Pt. was a Meth Dealer on a collection run that went bad.) Pt, survived after approx. 30 Minute resuscitation in ED that included massive transfusion. Pt. went to OR & had the R.Ventricle defect oversewn. So, a penetrating wound to the heart is not the near instance death sentence that you would have the readers of this site believe.

        1. Bradley

          I think the key words here are “massive transfusion” and “resuscitation”. I am sure the patient was unconscious and on the verge if death from the moment he came in until they finally stopped the bleed. Giving someone 20 units of blood in the controlled setting of a hospital with high quality CPR doesn’t represent the reality of what an injury like that will nearly always do to someone….which is incapacitate them in less than a minute with death to follow swiftly. I also work in the ED as a PA and saw a person who was stabbed in the upper left chest by his girlfriend die within a few minutes of arriving. The hole was so small, you could hardly see it. He was unconscious the entire time and would have died much sooner without our intervention, which quickly proved to be fruitless anyway. A penetrating wound to the heart is nearly always fatal, unless you are shot in the parking lot of a trauma center. Your anecdotal story about a very lucky scumbag is far more misleading than the doc’s. Sorry, but let’s be real here.

  1. Sulaco

    In my 35 year LE career, which ended with the last 10 being my depts., firearms det., I have seen a lot of gun shots and gun fights. +1 on the article above more truth then not in most cases. I have seen a young man hit dead center, heart shot, with a .44 magnum and live, (although his blood was more pink then red from the Wringers at the hosp.) and a man drop DRT from a .22 short fired from across a front yard. You fire you gun and you takes your chances!

  2. The Judge

    Joseph Paul Franklin shot Larry Flint center mass with a 30-06. It put him in a wheelchair, but Larry Flint is still alive today, decades later.

    The issue this article talks about is true of all firearms. It’s not limited to handguns, by any means.

    It is also the exception, not the rule. You certainly won’t find many people who survive a 30-06 shot center mass, and you won’t find very many people who run around and kill their attacker when they have a tennis ball sized hole through their chest and a holein their heart and several other vital organs.

    It happens, but people also make the shot from half court to win the prize, pick the correct keno numbers to win the prize, and end up sleeping with random models on an airplane that they just happened to get seated next to on the day they wanted to make their boyfriend jealous. I wouldn’t plan on any of it happening.

    In general, if you put a tennis ball sized hole through someone’s heart, they are down and out. And if by some freak of nature they’re up and running around, shoot them again.

    1. Sulaco

      It has A LOT to do with luck of the draw but statistically it has more to do with energy. On average, a handgun wound of any type from any handgun is 50% survivable. Any wound from a long arm, rifle or shotgun is 20% survivable. The wild card kicks in after the shot (s) are fired….that has not changed since the first hand cannon was in use.

    2. DonM

      Teddy Roosevelt wrote about the effect on soldiers of 7mm Mauser rounds fired by Spanish rifles in Cuba. His summation: if shot in brain, heart or spine, the solder died quickly. If shot anywhere else, the soldier lived and recovered quickly.

    1. DonM

      Lavoisier conducted an experiment during the French Revolution. Sentenced to death, he arranged for a friend to observe, and blinked his eyes as long as possible after having his head cut off at the neck. His friend timed the event. It took 16 seconds for him to stop blinking his eyes. That is with the head removed, and no blood pressure at all.

      Voltaire said, it took 16 seconds for that head to die, and another thousand years will not produce another like it.

      1. Shooting The Bull Post author

        As I understand it there is not necessarily any evidence for the Lavoisier story. I looked up for confirmation and came across this:

        I have seen other stories where it’s said that heads have responded to some degree after death or decapitation, so — I don’t know. I’m just pointing out that there doesn’t seem to be a definitive source for the Lavoisier report.

  3. pinetreebbss

    Listen to a Chicago policeman (A Second Amendment supporter too.) and veteran of fourteen gunfights talk about stopping power. Massad Ayoob that does the interview. His first gunfight is an eye opener.

  4. Greg S

    As a combat veteran & gunsmith 45 years, I’ve heard the old “stopping power” adage so many times, I ignore it. IME There is no such thing as stopping power, short of a howitzer, in a handgun caliber especially. There are stopping shots, but those are based on shot placement, not caliber. As you say, some rounds have a better chance of getting it done, and your fine work here helps people who choose not to be victims, make educated choices. A short piece I did on hunting calibers on my site: http://classicsportingguns.com/articles.html
    As a kid, I used a Colt Woodsman 22 for hog hunting and killed 50 or so of them before folks convinced me that wasn’t enough gun :o).
    Thanks for all your work here!

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  6. Mountain

    Trooper Coates was using a .357 revolver but was using .38 special ammunition. This is often overlooked in these particular discussions.

      1. Rustyshacklefort

        There is a video interview with that blackburn…?…..peice of shit, where he describes where he was shot and some of the damage done. An interesting point was that it was often cited that the rounds failed to penetrate his large mass, but he stated the rounds exited him. Also the “lengend ” of the .357 was not built on the silvertip, and if you believe the m&s stuff there are more effective 9mm loads than the .357 silvertip. (Not saying that any of that is true) As always shot placement is king. In this case it was primarily poor tactics that contributed to Coats death. Coats murder was tragic, but the lessens learned have undoubtedly saved other officers lives.

        1. Rustyshacklefort

          How do I edit a post? I inadvertently misspelled Trooper Coates name and would like to correct it. Also, my post is not intended to start a m&s, or caliber war. Just pointing out that the reputation of the .357 (deserved or not) was supposedly built on the 125 gr semi jacketed hollow point. Also, to point out that unless someone has better info…that a lack of penetration did not appear to be an issue in this case, as I have heard some say as to why Richard Shitbag wasn’t fully incapacitated.

          1. Shooting The Bull Post author

            I think what’s really missing is that the reputation of the .357 was built on a 4″ barrel, not on the 2″ snubbies that people use today. There’s a massive world of difference between those. A 2″ snubby .357 generates about as much energy as a 3″-barrel 9mm pocket pistol shooting +P ammo. Which is to say, not a lot. .357 from a 4″ barrel is in a different world from .357 in a 2″ barrel.

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