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.


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