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Thread: Handgun Stopping Power Revisited

  1. #21
    Boolit Grand Master

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    Two Law Enforcement Officers, Marshall and Sanow, wrote several books, among them "Stopping Power, Street Stoppers, and Handgun Stopping Power." These three are sitting in my book case looking at me as I write this. What is different about their books is their approach to the question. They forgo much of the ballistic jello and velocity testing, although there is some of that, and instead pursue "what really worked".

    They did surveys of all the law enforcement agencies that would respond as to their involved shootings, inquiring as to caliber, bullet, load, etc. and limited their results to one-shot stops. One shot stops because that is a good indicator of stopping power, as multiple hits with anything are likely to be effective. The results are fascinating to read, and not at all what you would expect. Stopping power seems to be greatly dependent on (1) where the subject was hit, (2) the bullet design. Sometimes a .25 ACP was lethal, and sometimes a .44 Magnum failed. 9mm with modern JHP loads seemed all around very effective.

    Their books are becoming slightly obsolete now, simply because there are new bullet designs and new loads constantly under development, and more data has been produced from their use. However, their last book had such developments included as Gold Dot, Hydrashok, etc., and the books remain a "must read" for those interested in what works and what doesn't.

    DG

  2. #22
    Boolit Master


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    IMHO a handgun is a poor choice if you know trouble is coming. I'll take a rifle every time.

    However a handgun is much easier to carry around in daily civilian life.

    Short of a shot into the brain housing group, pelvic cradle, or a spinal hit you're not going to stop a threat till they want to stop or bleed out. Some people when grazed on the arm will fall down and give up. Others absorb multiple fatal shots and keep on going till they run out of blood.

    Handguns don't have "stopping power" IMHO, they have "stopping suggestions".
    NRA Benefactor.

  3. #23
    Boolit Grand Master


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    I look at things a bit differently.

    First is the persons capabilities. This factors how well they shoot and the degree of training they have. Go to a Cowboy Action match and see how many "gun people" miss a 10" plate at 7 yards when under pressure to perform. Note the plate is not armed or moving...just sitting there taunting you...LOL.

    The training I have had has stressed two shots in CM. So, a one shot kill statistic has little importance unless I miss the first shot. Most of the time, if you have either the ability, or are close enough, there will be two (or more) hits.

    When you are under duress, you will revert to your training. If you have been trained by most modern schools of self defense you will automatically be firing at least two shots. You should fire until the threat is neutralized.

    All this to say, if the .357 Mag with a 125gr commercially HP load is the best one shot performer, that does not check all the boxes for me.

    I am a good pistol shot. I have shot under the stress of competition where every shot counts. I have done well most of the time and screwed up too. I want more than one effective round to land on my aggressor. I know I may miss so I value firepower wrt to both terminal ballistics and how many rounds are in the weapon.

    That leads to consideration of the platform. I prefer HC semi-automatic guns even if I may never need more than 5 or 6 shots. Because...what if I do????

    As a result, I feel less prepared when carrying the Kahr than when carrying the Glock. Both will get the job done, but the Glock can "do more work". This is different than "spray and pray" thinking than some users of HC pistols end up at.

    IMHO, you are a fool to take one shot at an aggressor if you are using a pistol. It shows you have little or no training.

    My capabilities are not sufficient to depend on one perfectly placed .357 Mag when I am messing my shorts. I will take two or three less than perfect shots that hit CM. My highest scores have been with the lowly 9mm. It is not for everyone but it is what works best for me. In fact, I ended up buying a 9mm conversion barrel for my Glock 22. I carry 124 gr. Speer Gold Dots.

    If I was younger, I would likely use the .40 Short and Weak.
    Don Verna

    NRA Endowment Member

  4. #24
    Boolit Master



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    I am probably behind the times but I still have the feeling that the old Cooper or Taylor Short form with a 160 power factor based on momentum not muzzle energy is close. The factor of multiple hits would enter in. I think a modern 9mm defense load is probably a good trade off to a more powerful load in an auto. I also believe I'd rather have my Kel-Tec .380 than my fists and feet at my advanced age'70'. I like a .4 or more a lot better in my inner mind.
    JMHO-YMMV
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  5. #25
    Boolit Master
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    Nope.

    And I still don't have a solid preference one way or the other. Decades ago I would not be caught without a .357mag or .45acp. These days a 9mm or .38spl is just fine with me, loaded with good ammo. I still carry the magnum or .45 every now and then.

    I like the amount of effort Hornady has gone to in developing their Critical Defense/Duty loads.

    Sent from my SM-P580 using Tapatalk

  6. #26
    Boolit Buddy
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    Quote Originally Posted by charlie b View Post
    I like the amount of effort Hornady has gone to in developing their Critical Defense/Duty loads.
    Does that include Hornady's .38 Special Critical Defense Lite?

    I was using CD Lites (and Silvertips) as "calibration" loads when testing homemade .38 Special "duplex" loads in Clear Ballistic gel. The CD Lites and Silvertips both showed consistent under-penetration. Here's a typical example:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    The CB gel block are each 11" long -- re-cast in GI ammo cans. All shots entered from the left. The Critical Defense Lite only made about 9".

    The five shots in the second block are the back bullets of a duplex load I called the "Super (Duper) Police" -- a 95 grain Lee TC in front and 105 grain H&G WC base-forward in the back all at about 650 f/s. The back WC's averaged about 15" and the front TC's penetrated the full 22" of CB gel.

  7. #27
    Boolit Grand Master Char-Gar's Avatar
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    This subject is a bit stomach churning, having read this stuff for over 50 years. There is no and will never be agreement, just opinions with cherry picked facts as proof. Many years ago, Keith wrote in regard to handgun effectiveness on pissed off humans, use the biggest caliber you can shoot effectively. That is was good advice then and is good advice now.
    Disclaimer: The above is not holy writ. It is just my opinion based on my experience and knowledge. Your mileage may vary.

  8. #28
    Boolit Bub
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    Stopping power is simple. Load up anything you can shoot well. Practice alot. If you have to use it the Mozambique drill. Even the 22 is a stopper with two in the chest and one in the head, but if he didn't drop, run the drill again.

  9. #29
    Boolit Buddy
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    Quote Originally Posted by DougGuy View Post
    Afaik, nothing "Official" has been changed much. It comes down to if it starts with a 4, it has MUCH more stopping power than if it starts with a 3 or a 9.

    The same 1911 that served our boys in two world wars plus a whole list of other armed conflicts still has the same stopping power it had when it was invented, and if the discussion of stopping power is limited to handguns, it then branches into two basic areas, stopping power against human assailants or stopping power against dangerous game. The first scenario hasn't changed much since WWI with the exception of some well engineered defense rounds. The second scenario has grown considerably with the advent of the big bore cartridges in revolvers.
    You must not have read the entire last 40+ years of terminal ballistics articles and research, from private sources or the FBI. You'd have to purposely not be seeking the information to think that, for example, a .40 S&W is acceptable for self defense whereas a .357 Magnum is not. Even without discussing the relevant data and opinions of various experts and experiments done by them, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that not only is your statement closer to false than true, it really doesn't even add anything meaningful to the discussion at all.

    Pistols have had zero impact on the outcome of any war. As much as I love the 1911, it is totally irrelevant to this discussion.

    A lot of studying and research has been done on this issue, so much so that it's really not even worth discussing on a forum. Look for people who use the scientific method and evaluate these questions without bias and you might be surprised where it leads you.

  10. #30
    Boolit Buddy Doughty's Avatar
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    downzero,
    I guess I read the OP different than you. I took it to mean, "Is there anything new?" I thought it is "worth" discussing. If you didn't, why are you reading and posting here?

    Pistols may not have much impact on the outcome of wars, but they have had a lot of impact for some individuals in war. If you are one of those individuals, then a pistol can be very relevant. So happens it was a 1911 that was very relevant to me. Oops, that might make me biased. Hope it's okay if I post, even if it doesn't add anything meaningful.
    AKA "Old Vic"
    "I am a great believer in powder-burning".
    --Theodore Roosevelt, Hunting Trips of a Ranchman

  11. #31
    Boolit Buddy
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    Quote Originally Posted by 44MAG#1 View Post
    Now that the thread has gotten serious where do you think it will lead and/or lead to the changing of the thoughts on what most carry?
    I will not change my carry firearms or cartridges. Who will change? I say very, very, very, very few.
    I think it'll lead down the same rabbit hole that every internet gun forum goes when this topic comes up. Some will repeat old wives tales and gun shop folklore, others will talk about new FBI evidence, someone will say he's been carrying a 32 ACP since 1930 and he doesn't want to change, some other guy will say he carries a .45 because they don't make a .46, hopefully the ones who were simply ignorant and not willfully blind will at least have seen the scientific evidence, and it'll go for way more pages than the topic warrants.

    And then we'll all go back to casting bullets.

    Quote Originally Posted by Doughty View Post
    downzero,
    I guess I read the OP different than you. I took it to mean, "Is there anything new?" I thought it is "worth" discussing. If you didn't, why are you reading and posting here?
    I don't because I scrolled through two pages to see people repeating the same gun shop folklore from 100 years ago in a new format. I clicked hoping to see a new bullet design, some new scientific research on bullet performance, some new FBI study on bullet performance that had new bullets previously unconsidered, or maybe just a simple point that cast bullets work because what's old is new again. When that wasn't the case, I took the opportunity to let anyone who started at the end and worked up to know that all of this was more of the same nonsense instead of genuine discussion.

  12. #32
    Boolit Master poppy42's Avatar
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    Ok I wasn’t going to post, but I can’t resist. All these what’s the right caliber topics remind me of beating a dead horse with a stick! Plain and simple the only way to ensure a one shot stop IN ANY MAMMAL is the separate the brain stem from the rest of the nervous system. Period! I don’t know any avid hunter, that’s being honest, that hasn’t seen a deer hit squarely in the boiler still manage to run for 100 yards. Can you say adrenaline! The same thing applies to two Legged mammals. There was a medal of honor recipient from World War II that I believed sustained eight or more shots fired from a German machine gun nest and he still managed to take out that nest, and attempt to take out another one. I apologize for not remembering the heroes name. The Internet is full of stories of people being shot in the head and surviving, some severely disabled while others live a perfectly normal life. Now with all that being said. You must understand that the size of the area of the human brain stem is the size somewhere between a quarter and a half dollar. There aren’t a lot of self defensive shooters that can consistently hit an area that small under extreme stressful conditions. It can certainly be done with a 22 under deal conditions. As a matter of fact it can be done with the rock! Unfortunately I can’t think of any self defensive situations that occur during ideal conditions. So what is the answer to the problem? Carry the largest caliber weapon that you can shoot accurately. Practice practice practice so that you can consistently hit the center mass of a man size target. Choice of caliber is completely irrelevant if you can consistently use proper shot placement. What has often been said the 22 that you carry is a lot better than a 44 magnum sitting in your safe.
    Long, Wide, Deep, and Without Hesitation!

  13. #33
    Boolit Master

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    Quote Originally Posted by memtb View Post
    . . .If the attacker is an animal, or a human with impaired thought processes (mental or drugs)....this offers a different situation. The humans may not show the typical human response of self preservation, and the drugs or mental impairment may slow the reaction to a fatal wound. In these situations, in my opinion, there is “no substitute for cubic inches”! Though, bullet placement, and bullet construction are still of paramount importance.....however, increased tissue damage (though permanent wound size and wound depth) are a plus. I don’t think that many of us, knowing without a doubt we would find ourselves in this scenario would choose a lesser cartridge over a large bore, much more powerful handgun!
    I've shifted gears toward smaller somewhat on this topic as well, and playing around with cast bullets has been a big part of that change in thinking.

    How a bullet penetrates depends GREATLY on its construction. You can have two 147 grain 9mm bullets at equal speed, and one of them will stop in 3-4 milk jugs of water and the other will not be stopped by nine or more.

    How a bullet damages tissue can depend GREATLY on its shape. If penetration AND tissue damage are required, it's hard to top a non-expanding, heavy-for-caliber WFN design for the task.

    And then we start splitting hairs. Yes, if you are hairy-chested enough to take on Cape buffalo with handguns, a 300 grain .44 will be better at a stem-to-stern raking shot than a 147 grain 9mm flat point, but on things that are smaller and softer. . .both rounds will penetrate a lot, and both are below the 2000 fps threshold of useful hydrostatic effects, so what we really have to consider is just how much more useful a "drain" does 0.07" of diameter REALLY make? Especially when you can install the very slightly smaller "drains" at a rate of about 3 or 4 to 1?

    I think much of our "bigger is better" rationale grew out of the middle decades of the 20th Century when we thought everything had to expand, and bigger often became necessary to penetrate sufficiently once it did. We're getting over that, but old dogmas die hard.
    WWJMBD?

    "I'M MELLLLLLLLLLTING!" - Elphaba

  14. #34
    Boolit Grand Master

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    Quote Originally Posted by pettypace View Post
    A google search for "handgun stopping power" (without the quotes) reports "About 7,060,000 results". A google site search (site:castboolits.gunloads.com handgun stopping power) shows that about 800 of those results are from castboolits.

    In those 7 million internet pages (or even just in the 800 pages from this forum) there must be a lot of different opinions about "handgun stopping power." My own opinion is that the FBI probably got it right in 1989 when Special Agent Urey Patrick wrote "The critical wounding components for handgun ammunition, in order of importance, are penetration and permanent cavity."

    But that was some time ago. I'm curious not just about the current thinking, but also about the history of the idea. What theories have been proposed? What theories have been rejected and why? And what theories have been generally accepted? Any thoughts?
    No theory ... actual fact ... a 22LR HP bullet fired at a distance of 6 feet that enters the right side of your head , just below the temple will mess up your day . I stopped doing what I was doing .
    I still carry several fragments from the HP in my head . It stopped me ... I can't calculate stopping power or give any calculations or fancy fomula's ... just take my word for it ... a 22 LR to the head will drop a man .
    It felt like I was hit upside my head with a baseball bat . Took me right out and down for the count .
    No statistics here ..True Life Experience ... I lived it .
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  15. #35
    Boolit Buddy
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigslug View Post
    I think much of our "bigger is better" rationale grew out of the middle decades of the 20th Century when we thought everything had to expand, and bigger often became necessary to penetrate sufficiently once it did. We're getting over that, but old dogmas die hard.
    I think it's older than that. In the 19th Century, with black powder, the only way to make something kill better and faster was to make it bigger. After smokeless, cartridges have become smaller, more efficient, flatter shooting, and the circular error probability got smaller with time.

  16. #36
    Boolit Buddy
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    OK, I haven't been reading forums for 50 years, and I haven't been sitting around gun shops swapping stories much. And I don't believe I've ever read a book on the study of gunshot wounds. I cast, reload and make holes in paper targets because it's fun. I have a couple of semi-auto handguns, but the majority are revolvers with a couple single shots thrown in for entertainment. I have a CC permit, but only because I need one for the Blackhawk under my jacket during deer season. I don't choose ammo based on lethality except for hunting. All of our interests point in different directions. Sorry, but I don't find the topic ridiculous or monotonous.

    But I do have a question to ask. Is there even a consensus on what 'stopping power' means? It seems some here lean toward equating it with lethality. That's not my take on it. With others it appears to be the sheer damage done by the projectile, or at least violence upon impact. That's closer to my take, but not quite there. And as noted, a well placed shot can sever the spinal cord on man or beast for the ultimate stopping power regardless of caliber. So, is there a definition to center a discussion on, or do we simply tack off on random tangents like we're arguing over who the greatest super hero is? Or would we end up in the same circular discussion trying to define it?

  17. #37
    Boolit Master

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    Quote Originally Posted by downzero View Post
    I think it's older than that. In the 19th Century, with black powder, the only way to make something kill better and faster was to make it bigger. After smokeless, cartridges have become smaller, more efficient, flatter shooting, and the circular error probability got smaller with time.
    Or at least the transition from round ball (which is the worst shape possible for both flight and penetration) to conoidals (which grant great flexibility). As far as game is concerned, the biggest difference between a .45 ACP hardball and a 500 grain .45-70 GI load is a hella lot of sectional density - which most critters smaller than bison won't require.

    This thread piquing my curiosity, I did a quick web search for diameter of human blood vessels, which tops out at just under an inch - which just about has to be the aortic arch at the top of the heart. The aorta itself seems to run between about 0.6" to 0.85" - depending on where you measure. Interestingly, this is just about identical to the diameters of expanded duty rounds in the common .35 to .45 caliber offerings. All of our roughly 5 quarts circulate through that diameter of pipe in about a minute.

    Now maybe we've got some hydraulic engineers here who can more learnedly discuss the effects. . .that bullet's channel may intersect with many blood vessels large and small, but they're all part of the same system and all pressurized by the same pump. Generally, though, I think what I'm getting at here is that an aorta-sized hole transecting the torso is cause for a really bad day - regardless of the headstamp on the cartridge that made it.
    WWJMBD?

    "I'M MELLLLLLLLLLTING!" - Elphaba

  18. #38
    Boolit Buddy Gunners Mate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Burnt Fingers View Post
    IMHO a handgun is a poor choice if you know trouble is coming. I'll take a rifle every time.

    However a handgun is much easier to carry around in daily civilian life.

    Short of a shot into the brain housing group, pelvic cradle, or a spinal hit you're not going to stop a threat till they want to stop or bleed out. Some people when grazed on the arm will fall down and give up. Others absorb multiple fatal shots and keep on going till they run out of blood.

    Handguns don't have "stopping power" IMHO, they have "stopping suggestions".
    Having first hand experience with an armed intruder (drug addict high as a kite) in my home quite sometime ago, I 100% agree with a handgun is not a primary defensive weapon. I had both a 12ga win Pump riot loaded with a staggered loads of 00 buck and slugs and a 357 S&W 686. I gave the pistol to my wife and reached for the 12ga, we met in the hall about 15 feet separated us he got one round off a 9mm, catching me in the calf and I ended him with a 00 buck and a slug in that order the 00 stunned him but did not stop him, that shot was a little low the slug entered right at about the adams apple and exited completely severing his spine. Drugs and adrenalin do strange things I did not even know i was shot till it was over. So I would surmise that things may have turned out differently had I picked the 357 that night or he had a shotgun or rifle. After a couple of decades of reflection I drew the conclusion that there is no such thing as over kill when it comes to your life or your family. If someone made a 10ga pump riot it would be in the corner instead of the 12ga.
    Last edited by Gunners Mate; 07-13-2021 at 11:20 PM.

  19. #39
    Boolit Master
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    I don't care what round you carry. You fire until the aggressor stops. Period. That is stopping power.

  20. #40
    Boolit Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by pettypace View Post
    …In those 7 million internet pages (or even just in the 800 pages from this forum) there must be a lot of different opinions about "handgun stopping power." My own opinion is that the FBI probably got it right in 1989 when Special Agent Urey Patrick wrote "The critical wounding components for handgun ammunition, in order of importance, are penetration and permanent cavity."

    But that was some time ago. I'm curious not just about the current thinking, but also about the history of the idea. What theories have been proposed? What theories have been rejected and why? And what theories have been generally accepted? Any thoughts?

    The various opinions on modern “stopping power” concepts can often be traced to conflicting conclusions drawn by real forensic experts and statisticians being compared to junk research that has been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked, like the Marshall/Sanow literature.
    The desired effect in all of these comparisons is to end a dangerous encounter requiring deadly force immediately. If “immediately” isn’t accomplished “As quickly as possible” is a secondary goal.

    In agreeing with the FBI assessment, a little clarification might be in order.
    Penetration is of utmost importance because… 1)Reaching the vitals is critical, but reaching the SPINE results in instantaneous incapacitation….Two holes bleed out faster than one…Knowing that heavy clothing and/or heavy bone (arms, for instance) will reduce penetration is something that needs to be considered. The FBI trials after “The Shootout in Miami” fiasco kept that front and center during their research.
    2)Permanent wound channel… Two holes bleed out faster than one (see above)… Larger diameter bleeds out faster than small… Sometimes lost in the discussion, a smaller bullet that “almost” clips the spine could be a larger diameter that DID clip the spine (see (1) above).
    None of the above means anything if you miss.

    My conclusion/opinion… The largest diameter PERMANENT wound channel that reliably penetrates from any angle through the vitals AND spinal area is a VERY good choice, if you can deliver the bullet where you need it.
    “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”.... Mark Twain

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