Revisiting the Myth: Stopping Power

This post is going to address this common thread from the perspective that if you have to use your gun that your adversary is not going to be frightened, will not run away in fear and has every intention of killing you regardless of how many times he has been shot.

A student sent me an email a few days ago with yet another “study” on the stopping power of various cartridges. The writer’s perspective was to collect data over a period of years and then analyze to see if there was conclusive evidence. The writer’s data went from .22LR to “rifle” and shotgun. The shortcomings of the study were not enough data for certain cartridges to be able to draw a statistically supported conclusion yet he kept those data points in his observations. The summation of the article, any cartridge will stop someone from trying to kill you. I am certain the author has some credentials as he is a LEO and an instructor for many years however I am willing to bet he does not carry a .22LR on his duty belt. My guess would be he has a 9mm or a .40 S&W AND am surprised why he would not recommend one of those in the article.

The major shortcoming I had with this study as well as with all studies is none actually determined if the cartridge actually stopped the bad guy physiologically. None really addressed the issue of the determined adversary who will not be deterred psychologically, the type of adversary you are going to have to shoot a lot until they can no longer physically carry on the attack.

Some of you may remember the infamous Miami Massacre where essentially one bad guy Michael Platt fought for over 4.5 minutes with 8 FBI Agents before ceasing to be able to fight. That is your determined adversary who will only be defeated physiologically. How many .22LRs do you think it would take to stop this type of adversary? Before you say one, keep in mind he is laying down deadly 5.56mm fire from a rifle at you.

My concept is simply this; I carry a gun because I know there are evil people out there and I refuse to be a victim. I am intelligent enough to know the statistics. The odds of ever having to use the gun are slim to none (although I have had to draw once), the odds of ever having to actually shoot are even less. The chance of ever running into a bad guy who can only be stopped physiologically is astronomical BUT the bottom line is if you run into that person you are going to need as much power in your gun as you can possibly carry because he is simply going to laugh at your .22LR/.32/.380ACP and proceed to rip your head off regardless of how many times you hit him with the little pea shooter.

So let’s talk about how you stop the determined bad guy with a bullet. We hopefully all recognize that there are but two ways to get them to stop, either you get a good central nervous system hit (CNS) or you cause enough blood loss that they lose consciousness. I hope everyone understands that in the gunfight hitting the CNS normally only happens by chance, not intentionally so if you are going to have to shoot you are going to have to make them bleed.

The best way to make them bleed is to put LARGE diameter holes through the various arteries, organs and veins that move blood from the heart to the brain and other muscles. The larger diameter the hole the more rapid the blood loss and the less likely bleeding will not slow. Assuming your JHP works as advertised it will be approximately twice its normal diameter after penetrating the target. 9mm will be approximately .70”, .40’s about .80”. Let’s say you’ve been well trained and have been practicing regularly and you get two rounds through the bad guys’ aorta, how long do you think he can keep up his attack before he loses oxygen to the brain? Based on which Doctor you ask, the bad guy can keep going anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes before they cease functioning. Now how much damage can this person do to you in a minute? To put this in perspective this video shows a bad guy shot in the heart who continued his attack, fled the scene and was able to drive a half mile and park the car before succumbing to his wound.

Putting all of this into perspective, many have heard of war stories where the enemy combatant was shot with the .50 BMG and literally exploded, and we know that most in combat would prefer the power of the 7.62 NATO round over the 5.56 NATO round, the simple reason being when you should the enemy with the 7.62 they go down and often it takes several 5.56 to accomplish the same thing. In making comparisons between these two rifle rounds and several pistol cartridges one consistent item keeps popping up, muzzle energy is a major factor in the round making significant injury on the bad guy.

Cartridge Pressures and Energy
Cartridge Chamber pressure

Practice Ammo Muzzle Energy

Velocity fps

Defensive Ammo Muzzle Energy

Velocity fps

7.62×51 (aka .308)        62,000





5.56×45 (aka .223)        55,000





.44 Mag        36,000





.40 S&W        35,000





.357 Mag        35,000





9 mm        35,000





.45 ACP        21,000





.38 Spl        17,000





.380 ACP        21,500





.22LR        24,000





The higher up the chart, the greater the chance your shot will stop the bad guy quickly. Keep in mind when reading other articles on stopping power that mention how quickly a certain bullet stops the bad guy that one shot from any caliber could cause the psychological defeat of said bad guy.

Over the last few months I have been interviewing citizens who have been in gunfights. My idea was to look for commonalities so I could share these with students in the hopes of helping them survive if they were to ever have to shoot. A few common threads have popped up, all of the interviewees carried .380 ACP or .38 Specials. Today ALL of them say they carry a large caliber handgun as these two calibers are not acceptable to them knowing what they know today.

And lastly for those who would suggest you carry a gun that you can shoot accurately I would concur. Additionally if the only gun you can shoot accurately is a .22LR you should stop immediately and find a quality instructor to teach you how to shoot because you do not currently know how. Any person can shoot accurately and fast a 9mm, .357 Mag or .40 S&W, with quality training and consistent practice.

From the pure statistics of the use of a handgun in self-defense we know that statistically you will never have to draw your gun. We also know that between 92% and 98% of time a citizen draws their gun the bad guy runs away. If you walk around thinking that the moment you pull the gun out the bad guy runs screaming in fear down the street, you may be right but if you are wrong, if you come across someone who will not run away in fear you will be wrong and dead. The gun is not a magic talisman, not everyone will run in fear. Carry a gun that will apply significant force, only after you have received professional training and are well practiced. Remember one day you may actually have to use it.


What is your first consideration when selecting a gun for CCW?

There are hundreds of guns, with hundreds of people swearing how good their guns are. There are thousands of people writing on gun forums everyday attesting to the superior gun in their arsenal . . and then there are even people who profess any gun will do. Will the only consideration I have when looking for a gun that I am going to bet my life will work when it is called upon. A known history of reliability.

I can read the forums and reviews, I can ask the guys at the gun store, I can ask old Uncle Joe and I can even talk to the manufacturers but in the end, every single of them is offering their opinion, generally based on what they like. I need something more if I am going to bet my life on a gun. States and local agencies believe it or not base their purchases to some degree on cost. That does not work for me because my life is priceless. I do not care what the gun costs, my only concern is that it never, ever fails to fire.

In 1986 I had made the decision that I was going to carry concealed. At that time there was no permits required so I just started carrying a S&W Model 60 Combat in .357 Rem Mag. It is a great gun, fun to shoot, dead accurate if fired in the single action mode and seemed to be pretty reliable as many LE agencies were carrying that exact gun. One day on the range I cocked the hammer and the trigger would not budge. I banged the cylinder hard into my palm and kept trying to fire or uncock the gun. NOTHING would work. After calling my friend Tim and TJ’s Gunsmith in Aurora Colorado I took the loaded and cocked gun to him. He grasped the barrel holding the gun upside down and grabbed a rubber mallet off his bench. Now I’m looking at him wondering what he was going to do with that mallet and he started wailing away on the trigger guard. I quickly looked around the shop for someplace to hide expecting that 357 to go bang at any moment.

So Tim would hit it a few times and then try to uncock it, hit is some more and try again. Finally after several whacks with said mallet he was able to uncock and unload the gun. I’m standing there with my mouth hanging open and said “what in the heck did you just do”. Time replied that there had been some firing debris, most likely copper jacket, which had gotten into the cylinder lock. I stated that I had never seen that happen in over 35 years of shooting revolvers. Tim said, oh ya, it happens all the time, you probably just didn’t realize it. He then looks at me and says, did you bang on the cylinder when it first locked up? Standing there, mouth hanging open nodding my head up and down, and Tim was right it had happened before. That very night the Smith went into the safe and out came an S&W Model 3914, never again did the revolver ride my hip in self-defense; I had lost all faith in its ability to save my life in the time of need.

The 3914 was a sweet little gun; carried it into 1988, never seemed to fail me but I had been studying a Miami shooting the FBI had been involved in and was very concerned about the 9mm being able to stop the bad guy in that moment of need. The FBI had recently changed to the Sig Sauer P229 chambered in .40 S&W so I thought I would give it a try, bought that and a H&K USP Compact the same day and started shooting them. As a quick side note, any gun I carry I have shot at least 1,000 rounds through and have owned them for at least a year before I ever bet my life on it.

The competition between the Sig and the H&K went smoothly over the next year and I started carrying the Sig. I carried that gun almost full time, collected a lot of holsters for it, watched it wear a hole in the liner of my sport coats AND as of today it has fired over 104,000 rounds without one single hiccup. From this experience I learned something about reliability. The FBI does not care what a gun costs, they will test the gun to the extreme for they have only one concern, when the trigger is pressed it will go boom, every single time. That is a zero failure rate gun.

In 1984 the Sig P226 passed the XM9 Service Pistol Trials but the Beretta was chosen due to cost. The Navy Seals in their independent fashion picked up the Sig then, due solely to reliability. Much like the FBI, the Seals only concern is reliability.

From this I have learned, if I want to know about reliable guns I will go to the people who use those guns daily to save their lives, and who better than those who do not care about cost, the Federal Government.

Since that time the FBI switched from Sig to the Glock in 2002 although agents may use the Sig if they wish. There is my reliability standard.

We have added another maker to our own EDC list, that is Kahr, they make great guns, the slimmest around and come in a variety of weights and sizes.

Well what about the latest and greatest hot new gun from S&W or Springfield . . . or maybe even some cheap little Ruger? I would hate to buy a new gun and have to take immediately to a gun smith to have the trigger replaced with something other than OEM equipment. I will be willing to give these guys guns a try after they have had a decade to two in service with the FBI and USSOCOM.

Imagine coming home and you see an email that the gun you have been betting your life on has been recalled? Or you’re at the range shooting with a friend and the trigger on his little cheap pea-shooter just breaks off? Would you really want to bet your life or your loved ones life on something that is not the most reliable gun made?