Stopping power is a myth. There, I said it. Every time there is a shooting, some yahoo comes forward to talk about how this gun or that one would be better because stopping power…
It’s bullshit. There are only four ways to stop a determined attacker:
- A catastrophic hit to the brain or spinal cord (CNS)
- Lower his blood pressure to the point where his brain is incapable of operating
- A ‘mission kill’ where his body is so damaged that it can’t continue the attack (for example: damage his pelvic girdle so an attacker armed with a melee weapon can’t close the distance)
- Convince him that he is out of the fight
Hitting the brain or spinal cord will usually end an attack. A hit to the head that misses the brain will not work. I can think of seeing at least three shootings from my years as a street medic where a bullet hit a person in the head, but didn’t penetrate into the brain. One of them was a suicide attempt. A good example of a head hit NOT taking someone out of the fight is Navy SEAL Matt Axelson. He took a bullet to the head that left his brain matter exposed, yet continued the fight.
Punch enough holes in someone’s vasculature, and they will lose blood pressure to the point where the brain is no longer being supplied with oxygen, and the person is rendered unconscious. Even a lucky shot with a small caliber like a .32 is capable of doing this- say if it hits the aortic arch and causes a transection. Sometimes it takes several hits. I have seen people take multiple hits to the torso from a .223 and stay in the fight.
A mission kill is where you damage a person’s body severely enough that they physically can’t continue the fight. Say, a hit to the pelvic girdle preventing someone from chasing you down. An excellent example of this was Kyle Rittenhouse shooting Gaige Grosskreutz in the arm. The hit not only rendered that arm as incapable of firing shots, but also made it impossible for that arm to release the handgun it was holding.
Then there is simply convincing someone that they are done. This is a well documented phenomenon where a person will be shot, and the wound is far from incapacitating, but the person simply lies down and is out of the fight.
There are people out there, however that still insist in the magical properties of this caliber or that bullet. Bullets are simple tools. They are a tool that delivers the chemical energy stored in the gunpowder to the target in the form of kinetic energy. The force with which a bullet hits the target is equal to the force that’s directed back into the shooter. It’s one of Newton’s laws- every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Any bullet that has enough power to “knock down” the target will do the same to the shooter. It is at this point that many will point to Marshall and Sanow’s work, and I will admit that I was a follower and believer in this study when it first came out.
The Marshall and Sanow “study” was fatally and egregiously flawed. The most basic flaw was “selection bias” in that the study excluded any shooting where it took more than one shot to halt the attack. So if I have a situation where I shoot someone and he doesn’t go down, so I shoot him three more times before he does, that shooting would be excluded from the study, even though that shooting demonstrated a complete failure to stop the attack.
What a bullet does is simple: the chemical energy in the gunpowder is converted to kinetic energy that is transferred to the bullet. That energy is then transferred to whatever that bullet strikes. If the object struck is a person, then physiology takes over from physics there. The damage done is dictated by how much energy was transferred to the targeted person, and what body parts of that person where targeted.
So there are a couple of things that are important in stopping an attack: the amount of energy transferred, and what part of the body that it is transferred to. Suffice it to say, you want a bullet to have enough energy to damage the body system that it strikes, and that means you want it to penetrate far enough to transfer that energy into something physiologically important. You don’t want a bullet bouncing off of the grizzly’s skull or getting stuck in a denim jacket. It does not do any good if that happens. You also don’t want that bullet to over penetrate. What ever energy that bullet has left after passing through the target is useless in stopping the target from doing things that you don’t want them doing.
You also want to work on shot placement. Hitting a right handed shooter in the left arm isn’t going to do you a bit of good.
Buy yourself a gun that you can shoot well, then spend time practicing. Load it with some high quality defensive ammunition, make sure the firearm functions well with that ammo, then practice.
Why? Because you want to keep shooting until the attack is over. That means if you have to shoot him to slide lock to stop the attack, then shoot him to slide lock. Make sure that you can hit a person-sized target 100% of the time at 10 yards, rapid fire WHILE UNDER STRESS. Make sure that you can hit a person sized target 80 percent of the time at 20 yards while under stress. Sounds easy, but studies show that shooting to this level is rare while experiencing the stress of an actual gunfight.
If you do carry a handgun, use a .38/9mm or larger if you can. If you can’t carry something that large, carrying any firearm is better than not carrying one at all.
Put good quality defensive ammo in it. Don’t worry about finding the perfect latest and greatest ammo, but do get something that is modern as well as being accurate and reliable with your chosen firearm.
Practice. A lot. At least 100 rounds per quarter at a minimum. Shooting is a perishable skill. The more you do it, the better you get at it.
To all of you 10mm or .45ACP fans: If you really believe in stopping power, then provide the physics or physiological basis for stopping power. How does it work, what causes it, why do you think your caliber is different from all of the others?