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Another Real-Life Shooting Incident — The Waffle House Shooting

I take no pleasure in showing footage of an incident where a human being was killed.  I link to this footage primarily to hopefully educate people as to what they might expect to encounter if they are ever in such a scenario.

In January 2015, there was a shooting incident at a Waffle House in Fort Myers, Florida.  The incident was ruled a justified self-defense shooting, and the shooter had a valid Florida Concealed Weapons Permit.

After thorough investigation, the police have determined that the shooter acted appropriately, so that’s not really up for debate here.  All I’m looking at is the facts of the case regarding what weapon the shooter used, and what happened to the person who was shot.  We can get some details from the official Lee County Sheriff’s Office police report.

As to the weapon used, it’s a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson SD40, probably very similar to this model.  It’s perhaps considered between a compact and a full-size handgun; it’s about the same size as a Glock 23.  With a 4″ barrel, it packs the same power as a Springfield XD40 Service, which is considered to be a full-size pistol; however, Glock lists their 4″-barrel models as “compact” pistols, and the 4.6″-barrel Glock 22 would be what they consider a “full-size” pistol.  With 14 rounds of .40 S&W in the magazine and a decently long 4″ barrel, the SD40 used in this incident was certainly no lightweight pocket pistol.

No indication is given in the police report as to what ammo was used.  What we do learn from the police report is that there were three hits on the deceased’s body, and that only one of those bullets exited the body.  That bullet hit in the arm, so it only passed through the bicep and exited.  The other two bullets ended up in the chest and abdomen, and did not exit the body.  It’s reasonable to assume that these were some manner of hollowpoint rounds as commonly used for self-defense.

The bullets hit in the arm (which passed through), in the chest (with no indication of it having done substantial damage to the body) and in the shoulder.  The shoulder bullet traveled through the shoulder into the chest, where it did substantial damage before coming to rest in the abdomen.  This bullet hit the spleen and kidney, but it also hit two major circulatory organs, the Inferior Vena Cava (the main vein leading back to the heart) and the Iliac Aorta.  It is the autopsy doctor’s opinion that this bullet was the cause of death, due to “massive internal bleeding.”

As near as I can tell, this case exemplifies the conventional advice on self defense shooting.  The defender had a gun, exercised restraint before using it, and when he used it he shot until the threat stopped.  He did not shoot prior to being rushed (he’d even been punched in the face already, but did not shoot yet); he shot while under attack and stopped shooting once the attacker fled.  Considering how fast the events took place, it should be observed that his shot placement was quite good, in that all three shots hit, and two shots ended up in center mass.  The attacker fled, which resulted in the desired outcome of stopping the attack; unfortunately the assailant did die later of his wounds.

So — if it’s all “textbook”, why are we talking about it?  Because there are two or three things I’d like to point out about this case.  Even though the end result was a successful cessation of hostilities, there are still a few things that went quite differently from how people seem to think things should have gone.

Don’t Count On Someone Being Dropped By A Bullet

First — notice that the attacker, Mr. Dakota Fields, didn’t fall on the floor.  He didn’t collapse.  Even though he was shot with a high-power handgun (no pocket pistol here!) the attacker didn’t even really slow down, did he?  He ran out of the restaurant at about the same speed that he ran into it.  What does this mean for you?  It means that people may not stop just because they’ve been shot, and handgun bullets are lousy stoppers.   Fortunately for the defender here, the attacker CHOSE to leave.  He obviously wasn’t incapacitated, he could have continued to attack, he was physically able to; he just chose to run.

Now, as far as the self-defending citizen is concerned, either outcome is good — whether the person is incapacitated or they turn to flee, either way, the attack is stopped, and the purpose of being armed is to stop attacks against you.  So that part still works, but — it should be eye-opening for those who want to think that “a double-tap center mass will stop anyone.”  Even though this person was mortally wounded and would shortly die from his wounds due to massive internal bleeding, he still wasn’t immediately incapacitated!

Handguns Are Lousy Stoppers

They just are.  Handgun bullets, even though they can be fatal, really don’t have the power to knock a man down or drop him in his tracks (without a perfectly-placed shot on the central nervous system, that is).  You don’t know what someone might do after they’ve been shot — they may turn and run, as happened in this case.  Or they may not.  Mr. Fields could have chosen to continue fighting with the defender here.  There are no guarantees, and there is no way to predict.  Once again, you simply must be prepared to shoot until the threat stops.

Shot Placement

You’ve all heard the mantra; the three most important factors in any defensive shooting are “shot placement, shot placement, and shot placement.”  Well, looking at this case… it’s not what you’d think, is it?  The bullet that did the damage was the one with (supposedly) lousy shot placement!

Again, going to the autopsy report, one of the bullets fired was to the “center of mass”; that bullet hit the left side of the chest, just below the nipple.  Right where you train to hit, right?  Right in the center of mass.  Yet, other than breaking a few ribs, the autopsy doctor doesn’t even bother to say what other damage the bullet did, only that it was found in the left chest.

The bullet that did the worst damage is the one that hit the attacker in the shoulder.  Yes, the shoulder.  Now, you’d think a shoulder shot would be lousy shot placement, right?  Well, here’s the thing — it doesn’t matter where you place the shot, what matters is what damage the bullet does.  And in this particular case, that shoulder shot did a lot of damage.

Watching the video, it looks like this bullet must have been the third (and last) bullet fired, and that Mr. Fields had started to turn away by the time this bullet impacted.  It appears to have been a sideways shot; the bullet must have hit the side of the shoulder because (again, according to the police report) this bullet:

“traveled at a downward angle striking ribs at the lower left chest.  The projectile then ricocheted off of the ribs and traveled across the body coming to a rest in the lower right abdomen.  This projectile struck the spleen, a kidney and severed the inferior vena cava (main vein leading back to heart) and the Iliac Aorta (aorta section leading from abdominal aorta to femoral artery).”

That’s a lot of damage, and a lot of distance for a bullet to travel.  I hear people on my YouTube channel all the time making comments like “my heart is only 4″ deep, why would I want a bullet that goes more than 8 or 9 inches?”  This gives a pretty good example — not all shots are going to be front-on at an unobstructed sternum!  Some will.  Some won’t.  Some will go into the chest and do nothing.  Some might enter through the side, through an arm or shoulder.  Some might need to bounce off some ribs before hitting something substantial.  You don’t know.  But the experts do — there are many good reasons why the leading experts in the field of terminal ballistics put the bare minimum acceptable penetration depth at 12″ of travel!

But, again, even with a bullet doing exactly what the experts advocate a bullet needs to do (disrupting the major circulatory organs), do keep in mind that Mr. Fields was not stopped by the power of the bullet.  Even though he was bleeding massively internally, he still managed to run out of the restaurant to the car, and he could still talk as he did so.

Self Defense Calibers Start With A 4?

You’ve probably heard it said, “any serious self-defense caliber starts with a 4″ (meaning .40 S&W, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, or .45 ACP).  And in this case, the defender was using a “4” round, .40 S&W.  So does this prove that rule? Hardly — if you look at the footage, it seems reasonable to conclude that the attacker disengaged because he was being shot at, not because of the overwhelming power of that “4” bullet.  While we can never know for sure, just looking at the footage makes me think that Mr. Fields would have disengaged whether he was being shot by a 9mm, a .380, a .45, or a .38 or any other common handgun bullet.  Along the lines of the discussion in my previous article Does Caliber Even Matter?, this may be a case where the caliber of the bullet may or may not have been a factor in the attacker’s decision to disengage.

What is undeniable, however, is that in this scenario, the bullet had sufficient power to do damage that resulted in the assailant being rapidly rendered unconscious due to the drop in blood pressure (testimony of Mr. Fields’ friends show that he quickly succumbed to his injuries once in the car).  So if Mr. Fields had chosen not to break off his attack, he would have soon been forced unconscious due to the injuries he’d sustained, because the particular gun and ammo combination chosen by the defender were sufficient to cause enough injury to vital circulatory organs, and because the bullets themselves managed to hit those organs.

There are many lessons that can be learned from this footage.  A few of them would be to keep alert, be armed, don’t instigate, move away from danger, shoot until the threat stops, and use as much gun as you can comfortably carry and accurately shoot.  Simultaneously, don’t believe the hype and nonsense about “stopping power” and “hydrostatic shock” and one-shot stops.  Use ammo that can penetrate deep enough and expand large enough that it can (with proper placement) damage the vital organs of your attacker to bring about rapid incapacitation, in case your attacker doesn’t voluntarily disengage.  And hits count a lot more than misses do, and even sub-optimal shot placement can still result in fight-stopping damage.

 

 

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Does Caliber Even Matter?

I’m planning on doing a series of tests to explore the question of whether and/or how much caliber matters when choosing a firearm, but until then, I wanted to take a moment to explore the bigger question…

Does The Caliber Of Your Gun Matter?  At All?

I have spent an absurd amount of time, and money, and effort, on testing ammo, trying to find what performs best from my various firearms, especially the little guns, and sharing that info for anyone else who may be interested in the same.

And I’ll be the first to tell you — obsessing over caliber and hunting for “magic” bullets is the least important factor in armed self defense. I do consider it a factor, but it pales in comparison to the other more important factors.

There are no reliable statistics out there, that I know of, that assess the question of whether or not the caliber of a gun made a difference in any specific defensive encounter.  Specifically, there’s no comprehensive data on a failed defensive gun use where a medical expert could point out a particular gunshot wound and say “see, if this person had been shot with a .40 or .45, that would have ended the fight right here and now, but because they used a 9mm the perpetrator wasn’t stopped.”  Singular incidents exist, definitely — perhaps the most famous being the 9mm bullet used in the ill-fated 1986 FBI Miami Shootout.  In that case, the 9mm was on a path to hit Platt’s heart, but stopped just an inch short.  Had it hit his heart, it may have incapacitated him much quicker.  That was a clear case where using a different type of bullet may have changed the outcome of the fight, or using a more powerful caliber may have changed the outcome, but — we don’t know that it would have changed the outcome.  And the fact that I had to go back to a case that happened 29 years ago, just to bring up an example, should point out just how huge the lack of data is on this subject.

What Factors Do Matter?

Not all defensive gun uses result in shots fired.  Not all shots that are fired hit the target.  And not all shots that hit the target, do any significant damage.  There are many instances where the caliber of your gun won’t matter at all.  Really.

Here’s how it breaks down, as far as I have been able to ascertain:

1) A large percentage of encounters end as soon as the bad guy sees that you are armed. Merely brandishing your firearm is frequently enough to convince the bad guy to leave you alone.  Exactly what percentage this is, we don’t know and will never know accurately, because many of these encounters are never reported. It’s impossible to gather accurate data if someone won’t share their experience, and if no shots are fired, sometimes folks don’t feel like sharing that story with the police. John Lott has done extensive research and conducted surveys on defensive gun uses, and he estimates that 95% to 98% of defensive gun encounters end with no shots being fired at all; just the sight of a gun causes the bad guy to change his mind and disengage.  There are other surveys out there that put the number lower; I’ve seen estimates of 70% to 80%.  Now, there’s no real way for us to know for absolutely certain what the number really is, so I’m going to take a wild guess at the middle ground and use 90%.  I’m not asserting that this number is accurate, only that it represents the middle ground between the high and low end of surveys that have been taken, and because no hard data actually exists, we cannot truly know what the true number is anyway.  So, for purposes of continuing the discussion, I’m going with 90%.  If we use this 90% figure, we could conclude that in at least 90% of defensive encounters, caliber doesn’t matter at all and makes no difference in the outcome of the encounter.  The bad guy turned and ran whether the crime victim was using a .22lr mini-revolver or a .44 Magnum.  Just the sight of a gun was enough to end the encounter.  Heck, odds are pretty good that the gun wouldn’t even have needed to have been loaded!

2) For the remaining 10% of encounters, the crime victim needed to do more than just show that s/he had a gun.  This means the trigger was pulled and  a shot was fired.  Now, presuming that a shot was fired towards the bad guy, we know that some percentage of those encounters will end immediately whether the bad guy is hit or not. As far as I know, we have no way of knowing what that percentage is, but surely there is some percentage of the bad-guy population who, when faced with the sight of their intended victim brandishing a gun, might think “oh, that’s not a real gun” or “no way this guy will have the guts to actually shoot me” or whatever.  For whatever reason, the sight of a gun is not enough to deter this particular crop of bad guys, and they may continue to attack — right up until their intended victim pulls the trigger. At that point, some percentage of the bad guys will turn tail and run, even if they weren’t hit.  Now, what percentage of bad guys will see a gun, but continue to try to mug/rob/rape/kidnap/etc you anyway, but will turn tail and flee when that gun gets fired? I have no earthly idea.  I haven’t seen any data on this, I haven’t seen any studies that have broken it down to this degree.  Simply put, I have no idea at all.  I just presume that it is logical and reasonable to think that there must be some percentage of bad guys who are dissuaded by the flash and noise of a gunshot, and will disengage because of it.  But there is no data (that I know of).  So, even though I am loathe to do it, I am left with no choice: I simply must make a random number up off the top of my head.  Let’s go with 1/3. Now, I have no idea whatsoever if that’s right, or close, or wildly wrong. I just know that we need some sort of number in order to continue exploring this question, and — even if this number is wildly wrong, I think you’ll see by the final conclusion that it really doesn’t matter all that much.  This final conclusion won’t and can’t be a a proper scientific conclusion because we simply do not have the data to go off of, so — we’re taking wild guesses here. So, in this hypothetical, wild-guess narrative, maybe 1/3 of the bad guys who didn’t flee at the sight of a gun, would indeed turn and flee when someone takes a shot at them, even if that shot misses. Which, for purposes of this discussion, means (once again) caliber doesn’t matter in these scenarios.

Adding together the 90% of bad guys who disengaged at the sight of a gun, with the 3.3% (1/3 of the remaining 10%) who were dispelled at the sight and sound of the trigger being pulled, that puts us at 93.3% of potential defensive gun uses ending with caliber not mattering at all (even though, again, these numbers bear no basis in reality, because we cannot know the true statistics, because they are not reported).

3)  That brings us to the third class of encounters — ones where the bad guy actually gets shot. Now, in our (admittedly inaccurate) tally here, only 6.7% of armed encounters are going to get this far, because in the other 93.3%, no shot needed to be fired. So what happens when a bad guy gets shot, by ANY bullet, of ANY caliber, whether it’s a hollowpoint or a frangible or an FMJ, whether it’s from a .500 S&W or a .22LR or something in-between? According to my evaluation of Greg Ellifritz’s “An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power“, the numbers are pretty consistent — approximately 60% of people who get shot, give up immediately.  According to Ellifritz’s data, approximately 60% of the encounters ended with one shot being fired, almost regardless of what handgun was used.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s 9mm or .357 Magnum or .40 S&W or 10mm or .44 Magnum or .22LR; the numbers were always in the general ballpark of 60% (ranging from 47% for the 9mm, up to 72% for the .32 ACP, but most calibers came in between 51 and 62%).  It doesn’t matter if the bullet was a hollowpoint or an FMJ or a frangible.  People apparently don’t like getting shot.  Apparently it doesn’t feel good and apparently it’s enough of a shock that they just plain stop right then and there. Now, what we DON’T know, from the data, is how they stop — whether those approximately 60% all drop dead from that one shot, or they faint, or they turn tail and run, or they calmly walk away, or if they put their hands up. Certainly some of this 60% of shooting incidents included all of the above. The data we have doesn’t discern among them. We don’t know WHY they stopped, we just know that they did stop. Updating our statistics, and using 60% as the approximate number of people who were discouraged or forced to stop after a single hit, that means that of the 6.7% of bad guys who actually needed to be shot to stop, 60% of them stopped after one bullet of any kind, so that’s 4.02%. If we add that 4.02% to our prior 93.3%, we’re up to 97.32% of armed defensive encounters where caliber basically did not matter and did not make a difference.

That leaves 2.68% of the encounters where caliber may or may not make a difference.

Stunning, isn’t it?  And, yeah, my numbers may be off — in fact, I guarantee they’re off.  But how far off do they need to be, before it starts to make a difference?  If we used John Lott’s assessment that 98% of encounters ended just by brandishing a weapon, then (keeping all our other numbers the same) that would mean caliber didn’t matter 99.53% of the time.  Or, taking the low end of the estimates (that 70% of encounters ended by brandishing), that would mean caliber didn’t matter 92% of the time.  So, take your pick — caliber mattered either 8% of the time, or 2.68%, or 0.47%.  Whichever you go with, I’m sure you can see we’re basically picking nits at this point.  I’m reasonably comfortable with my middle-of-the pack estimate  of 90%, and that leaves us with 2.68% of the incidents where the caliber of the gun might matter.  But in any of the described scenarios, it should be obvious that the caliber of the gun is not the most important factor when discussing a successful defensive gun encounter.

So let’s look further into those shooting scenarios where caliber may have mattered (meaning, in those 2.68% of encounters, the person didn’t stop just because they were shot with some bullet somewhere in their body, they continued their attack, and needed to be shot multiple times to force them to stop.)  How do we determine whether the caliber mattered or not? Once again, there’s no real way to know.  A person shot with a .22LR through the brain stem will drop instantly; one shot through the thigh with a .45 ACP FMJ may not even show any reaction.  Or they might — they might faint right away.  Here’s the tricky thing: even though we know (from Ellifritz’s data) that there were people who stopped after being shot multiple times, we don’t even know whether or not multiple shots were necessary.  Maybe the first shot was a .22 that hit them in the thigh and didn’t force them to stop, but the second shot went through the brain stem and dropped them immediately. Or, maybe they were shot 21 times by a .40 S&W and wouldn’t stop, and the 22nd shot they were hit with went through their brain and forced them to stop (it’s happened before). Or maybe they were hit with a quick double-tap — maybe they would have stopped after being shot just once, but the good guy hit them with a second shot so quickly that the bad guy didn’t have a chance to stop before being hit with the second bullet.  This might be the case in many police shootings, where multiple officers might unload on a suspect simultaneously — perhaps the suspect would have quit after the first hit, but we can’t know because he was hit with multiple shots before even getting the chance to stop. We don’t know, the data doesn’t specify.  It’s entirely possible that the earlier estimate of about 60% (of people stopping after being shot once, regardless of caliber) is low, because perhaps some percentage of multiple-shot scenarios would have ended after the first shot.

What we do know is that for this last 2.68% of defensive encounters, we’re probably past the point of wondering whether our super-duper-magic-frangible bullet had enough mystical “stopping power”, and we’re into the category of “the bullet had better damage the bad guy’s body enough that they cannot continue to threaten you.” And here’s where we really need to focus on shot placement first, and caliber second.

Shots That Will End A Gunfight

A perfectly placed shot on the central nervous system (one that hits the upper spine or brain stem, or through the major circulatory system organs) WILL, without a doubt, bring a fight to an immediate stop, guaranteed (but if, and only if, the bullet has sufficient power to reach and destroy those organs). If your ammo falls short, there’s nothing that your shot placement can do to make up for that, but as long as your ammo penetrates deep enough to hit those targets, shot placement on those areas will result in an immediate cessation of hostilities.  No human being can continue to attack you if a bullet has damaged their brain stem or upper spinal column.

Additionally, a perfectly placed shot on the major circulatory system organs will absolutely bring the fight to a stop, in short order but not necessarily immediately.  If a bullet damages a major circulatory system organ (such as the heart, or a major artery), blood loss will, sooner or later, cause the bad guy to drop unconscious.  However, once again, the bullet needs to penetrate deep enough to do its job.  A perfectly placed shot that stops 3″ under the skin will likely not force a stop. A deep-penetrating bullet that misses the vital organs and only zings through a shoulder or thigh, will likely not guarantee a stop. A .22LR or 9mm FMJ through the brain may or may not cause a stop. A 9mm JHP through the heart will cause a stop — maybe not instantly, but within a dozen seconds or so the bad guy absolutely will stop, as blood loss causes them to lose consciousness — and in this case, a .45 hollowpoint will probably bring about unconsciousness faster than a .22LR roundnose, even though both would likely eventually cause unconsciousness; bigger holes will result in faster bleedout and a more rapid loss of blood pressure. Shot placement matters a lot, and bullet performance matters, but amazingly enough they only really seem to matter in this last group of 2.68%.

Now, truth be told, the data is inconclusive and unreliable. We don’t know that the group is really 2.68% (even if we assume that the 90% figure for no-shots-fired is accurate, or the 1/3 wild guess for shots-fired-but-missed is accurate). In that last 2.68%, all we know is that they weren’t stopped by being hit by only one shot. What we can’t know is whether they may have chosen to stop after two, or three, or four shots — even if none of those shots were true incapacitating shots! There may be a tough guy out there who takes a 9mm to the shoulder and shrugs it off, but after three or four of them he may decide to throw in the towel. What % of bad guys would this involve? No way of knowing, other than to say it seems reasonable to assume that there is SOME % of them out there.

Here’s the thing — will YOUR defensive gun use be part of that first 90%? Or will it be part of that last 2.68%? I don’t know. You don’t know. Caliber may be irrelevant in your situation — or it may matter. It might. We just don’t know.

Wrapping It Up

After years of studying this subject, these are my conclusions: in a majority or even potentially the vast majority of potential encounters, caliber will not matter. But sometimes it might. And sometimes, it will. What kind of encounter will YOUR defensive encounter be? The odds say caliber won’t matter, but the reality says that if it’s MY life on the line, I want the best chance of surviving I can get. And that’s why I’ve spent so much time testing ammo from a wide variety of guns: because I cannot control what type of bad guy I will encounter, I cannot pick and choose what scenarios will cause him to flee or stop, but I CAN control what goes in my gun, to at least verify that IF I end up in the worst-case scenario, at least I know that my ammo will be capable of doing the job that needs to be done.

Better shot placement can take years of training and effort and, sometimes, luck. Better ammo performance? That’s a matter of just spending $20 and picking up the right box of ammo for the type of gun you’re using. You may or may not be able to control your shot placement, but you definitely can control your ammo choice. In the end it may or may not matter, but if you encounter one of the rare instances where it does matter, then — seems like such an easy thing to fix, why not use stuff that performs properly and gives you that little extra edge?  And that’s why I test for deep-penetrating, proper-performing hollowpoints from even the smallest of pocket guns.

We also know that there’s such a thing as physics.  Larger bullets lead to larger holes.  A smaller bullet (like a 9mm) can be made to expand to a larger size, but there’s always a chance that an expanding bullet might not expand.  It happens.  As fans of the .45 say, a 9mm might expand, but a .45 will never shrink.  Also, bigger bullets can carry more momentum and smash through bigger bones and stay on course better, but that’s not to say that smaller bullets can’t get the job done satisfactorily.  Smaller bullets (9mm for example) can give you greater capacity in your magazine than larger bullets (.45 ACP for example) will — and that may mean you have more chances to put shots on target before the gun runs dry.  These are some of the things that we do know.  But how important are these factors, in the overall scheme of things?  It seems like in 97.32% of the cases, not important at all.  But in 2.68% of the cases, it may matter some.  I doubt it will ever matter a lot.  To what degree it does matter, that’s why I carry a .45 or 10mm whenever possible. Even though I know it won’t matter most of the time, I cannot predict when it will matter, and I want to be as prepared as I can be.  As has often been said, nobody who’s ever been in a gunfight has ever said “man, I wish I’d brought a smaller gun.”

But knowing how little it’s likely to matter, that’s why I also feel plenty adequately armed with even a 9mm pocket pistol, and why I have on occasion carried only a pocket .380.  Because in somewhere around 97% of the potential scenarios that I’ve been able to identify, caliber doesn’t seem to matter.  Being armed, however, does seem to matter very much.  Remember, depending on the estimates you use, between 92% and 99.5% of all defensive gun confrontations were settled just by having been armed at all.  Given those numbers, it seems prudent to reiterate Rule 1 of Gunfighting: Have A Gun.

My advice: carry the biggest, most powerful firearm that you can comfortably conceal and accurately shoot.  If, for you, that means a 10mm, then you will be well prepared to meet any threat that a handgun can be expected to meet.  If, for you, all you can handle is a pocket .380, then go for it — you’ll still be prepared to handle a huge majority of potential defensive gun encounters (if the data is to be believed).  Don’t use this article as justification to carry less gun than you know you should, but do take from it that the first and second priorities are that you should be armed, and that you should be skilled with your firearm.  Everything else (caliber, capacity, particular ammo, draw speed, etc) pales in importance with those first two priorities.  They’re still important, but don’t ignore the bigger picture by getting caught up in the minutia.

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

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

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

Wow.

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

Firearms Are Instruments Of Deadly Force

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

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

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

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

Warning Shots

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shoot To Wound?

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

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

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

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

Shoot To Kill?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So What Should You Do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Realistic Look At Gunshots

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

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

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

But sometimes, they just don’t.

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stopping Power.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s going on here?

The Problem Is That The Wrong Questions Were Asked

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

What’s missing?  Here are a few examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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