An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power

This is a discussion on An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power within the Defensive Ammunition & Ballistics forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; This was posted by Greg Ellifritz, TDI Instructor/Staff Article with Charts and Graphs: http://www.buckeyefirearms.org/node/7866 Firearm Stopping Power…a different perspective. I’ve been interested in firearm stopping ...

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    JD [OP]
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    An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power

    This was posted by Greg Ellifritz, TDI Instructor/Staff

    Article with Charts and Graphs: http://www.buckeyefirearms.org/node/7866

    Firearm Stopping Power…a different perspective.
    I’ve been interested in firearm stopping power for a very long time. I remember reading Handguns magazine back in the late 1980s when Evan Marshall was writing articles about his stopping power studies. When Marshall’s first book came out in 1992, I ordered it immediately, despite the fact that I was a college student and really couldn’t afford its $39 price tag. Over the years I bought all of the rest of Marshall’s books as well as anything else I could find on the subject. I even have a first edition of Gunshot Injuries by Louis Lagarde published in 1915.

    Every source I read has different recommendations. Some say Marshall’s data is genius. Some say it is statistically impossible. Some like big heavy bullets. Some like lighter, faster bullets. There isn’t any consensus. The more I read, the more confused I get. One thing I remember reading that made a lot of sense to me was an article by Massad Ayoob. He came out with his own stopping power data around the time Marshall published Handgun Stopping Power. In the article Ayoob took his critics to task. He suggested that if people didn’t believe his data, they should collect their own and do their own analysis. That made sense to me. So that’s just what I did.

    Over a 10-year period, I kept track of stopping power results from every shooting I could find. I talked to the participants of gunfights, read police reports, attended autopsies, and scoured the newspapers, magazines, and Internet for any reliable accounts of what happened to the human body when it was shot. I documented all of the data I could; tracking caliber, type of bullet (if known), where the bullet hit and whether or not the person was incapacitated. I also tracked fatalities, noting which bullets were more likely to kill and which were not. It was an exhaustive project, but I’m glad I did it and I’m happy to report the results of my study here.

    Before I get to the details, I must give a warning. I don’t have any dog in this fight! I don’t sell ammo. I’m not being paid by any firearm or ammunition manufacturer. I carry a lot of different pistols for self defense. Within the last 2 weeks, I’ve carried a .22 magnum, a .380 auto, a .38spl revolver, 3 different 9mm autos and a .45 auto. I don’t have an axe to grind. If you are happy with your 9mm, I’m happy for you. If you think that everyone should be carrying a .45 (because they don’t make a .46), I’m cool with that too. I 'm just reporting the data. If you don’t like it, take Mr. Ayoob’s advice….do a study of your own.

    A few notes on terminology…
    Since it was my study, I got to determine the variables and their definitions. Here’s what I looked at:
    • Number of people shot
    • Number of rounds that hit
    • On average, how many rounds did it take for the person to stop his violent action or be incapacitated? For this number, I included hits anywhere on the body.
    • What percentage of shooting incidents resulted in fatalities. For this, I included only hits to the head or torso.
    • What percentage of people were not incapacitated no matter how many rounds hit them
    • Accuracy. What percentage of hits was in the head or torso. I tracked this to check if variations could affect stopping power. For example, if one caliber had a huge percentage of shootings resulting in arm hits, we may expect that the stopping power of that round wouldn’t look as good as a caliber where the majority of rounds hit the head.
    • One shot stop percentage- number of incapacitations divided by the number of hits the person took. Like Marshall’s number, I only included hits to the torso or head in this number.
    • Percentage of people who were immediately stopped with one hit to the head or torso

    Here are the results.

    .25ACP-
    # of people shot- 68
    # of hits- 150
    % of hits that were fatal- 25%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 2.2
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 35%
    One-shot-stop %- 30%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 62%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 49%

    .22 (short, long and long rifle)
    # of people shot- 154
    # of hits- 213
    % of hits that were fatal- 34%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 1.38
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 31%
    One-shot-stop %- 31%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 76%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 60%

    .32 (both .32 long and .32 acp)
    # of people shot- 25
    # of hits- 38
    % of hits that were fatal- 21%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 1.52
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 40%
    One-shot-stop %- 40%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 78%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 72%

    .380 ACP
    # of people shot- 85
    # of hits- 150
    % of hits that were fatal- 29%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 1.76
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 16%
    One-shot-stop %- 44%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 76%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 62%

    .38 Special
    # of people shot- 199
    # of hits- 373
    % of hits that were fatal- 29%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 1.87
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 17%
    One-shot-stop %- 39%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 76%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 55%

    9mm Luger
    # of people shot- 456
    # of hits- 1121
    % of hits that were fatal- 24%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 2.45
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 13%
    One-shot-stop %- 34%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 74%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 47%

    .357 (both magnum and Sig)
    # of people shot- 105
    # of hits- 179
    % of hits that were fatal- 34%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 1.7
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 9%
    One-shot-stop %- 44%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 81%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 61%

    .40 S&W
    # of people shot- 188
    # of hits- 443
    % of hits that were fatal- 25%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 2.36
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 13%
    One-shot-stop %- 45%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 76%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 52%

    .45 ACP
    # of people shot- 209
    # of hits- 436
    % of hits that were fatal- 29%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 2.08
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 14%
    One-shot-stop %- 39%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 85%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 51%

    .44 Magnum
    # of people shot- 24
    # of hits- 41
    % of hits that were fatal- 26%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 1.71
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 13%
    One-shot-stop %- 59%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 88%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 53%

    Rifle (all Centerfire)
    # of people shot- 126
    # of hits- 176
    % of hits that were fatal- 68%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 1.4
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 9%
    One-shot-stop %- 58%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 81%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 80%




    Shotgun (All, but 90% of results were 12 gauge)

    # of people shot- 146
    # of hits- 178
    % of hits that were fatal- 65%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 1.22
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 12%
    One-shot-stop %- 58%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 84%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 86%

    Discussion

    I really would have liked to break it down by individual bullet type, but I didn’t have enough data points to reach a level of statistical significance. Getting accurate data on over 1800 shootings was hard work. I couldn’t imagine breaking it down farther than what I did here. I also believe the data for the .25, .32 and .44 magnum should be viewed with suspicion. I simply don’t have enough data (in comparison to the other calibers) to draw an accurate comparison. I reported the data I have, but I really don’t believe that a .32 ACP incapacitates people at a higher rate than the .45 ACP!

    One other thing to look at is the 9mm data. A huge number (over half) of 9mm shootings involved ball ammo. I think that skewed the results of the study in a negative manner. One can reasonable expect that FMJ ammo will not stop as well as a state of the art expanding bullet. I personally believe that the 9mm is a better stopper than the numbers here indicate, but you can make that decision for yourself based on the data presented.




    Some interesting findings:

    I think the most interesting statistic is the percentage of people who stopped with one shot to the torso or head. There wasn’t much variation between calibers. Between the most common defensive calibers (.38, 9mm, .40, and .45) there was a spread of only eight percentage points. No matter what gun you are shooting, you can only expect a little more than half of the people you shoot to be immediately incapacitated by your first hit.

    The average number of rounds until incapacitation was also remarkably similar between calibers. All the common defensive calibers required around 2 rounds on average to incapacitate. Something else to look at here is the question of how fast can the rounds be fired out of each gun. The .38spl probably has the slowest rate of fire (long double action revolver trigger pulls and stout recoil in small revolvers) and the fewest rounds fired to get an incapacitation (1.87). Conversely the 9mm can probably be fired fastest of the common calibers and it had the most rounds fired to get an incapacitation (2.45). The .40 (2.36) and the .45 (2.08) split the difference. It is my personal belief that there really isn’t much difference between each of these calibers. It is only the fact that some guns can be fired faster than others that causes the perceived difference in stopping power. If a person takes an average of 5 seconds to stop after being hit, the defender who shoots a lighter recoiling gun can get more hits in that time period. It could be that fewer rounds would have stopped the attacker (given enough time) but the ability to fire more quickly resulted in more hits being put onto the attacker. It may not have anything to do with the stopping power of the round.

    Another data piece that leads me to believe that the majority of commonly carried defensive rounds are similar in stopping power is the fact that all four have very similar failure rates. If you look at the percentage of shootings that did not result in incapacitation, the numbers are almost identical. The .38, 9mm, .40, and .45 all had failure rates of between 13% and 17%.

    Now compare the numbers of the handgun calibers with the numbers generated by the rifles and shotguns. For me there really isn’t a stopping power debate. All handguns suck! If you want to stop someone, use a rifle or shotgun!

    What matters even more than caliber is shot placement. Across all calibers, if you break down the incapacitations based on where the bullet hit you will see some useful information.

    Head shots = 75% immediate incapacitation
    Torso shots = 41% immediate incapacitation
    Extremity shots (arms and legs) = 14% immediate incapacitation.

    No matter which caliber you use, you have to hit something important in order to stop someone!

    Conclusion

    This study took me a long time and a lot of effort to complete. Despite the work it took, I'm glad I did it. The results I got from the study lead me to believe that there really isn't that much difference between most defensive handgun rounds and calibers. None is a death ray, but most work adequately...even the lowly .22s. I've stopped worrying about trying to find the “ultimate” bullet. There isn't one. And I've stopped feeling the need to strap on my .45 every time I leave the house out of fear that my 9mm doesn't have enough “stopping power”. Folks, carry what you want. Caliber really isn't all that important.

    Take a look at the data. I hope it helps you decide what weapon to carry. No matter which gun you choose, pick one that is reliable and train with it until you can get fast accurate hits. Nothing beyond that really matters!






    Additional thoughts from the author after posting the initial article

    Some people will look at this data and say "He's telling us all to carry .22s". That's not true. Although this study showed that the percentage of people stopped with one shot are similar between almost all handgun cartridges, there's more to the story. Take a look at two numbers: the percentage of people who did not stop (no matter how many rounds were fired into them) and the one-shot-stop percentage. The lower caliber rounds (.22, .25, .32) had a failure rate that was roughly double that of the higher caliber rounds. The one-shot-stop percentage(where I considered all hits, anywhere on the body) trended generally higher as the round gets more powerful. This tells us a couple of things...



    In a certain (fairly high) percentage of shootings, people stop their aggressive actions after being hit with one round regardless of caliber or shot placement. These people are likely NOT physically incapacitated by the bullet. They just don't want to be shot anymore and give up! Call it a psychological stop if you will. Any bullet or caliber combination will likely yield similar results in those cases. And fortunately for us, there are a lot of these "psychological stops" occurring. The problem we have is when we don't get a psychological stop. If our attacker fights through the pain and continues to victimize us, we might want a round that causes the most damage possible. In essence, we are relying on a "physical stop" rather than a "psychological" one. In order to physically force someone to stop their violent actions we need to either hit him in the Central Nervous System (brain or upper spine) or cause enough bleeding that he becomes unconscious. The more powerful rounds look to be better at doing this.



    One other factor to consider is that the majority of these shootings did NOT involve shooting through intermediate barriers, cover or heavy clothing. If you anticipate having to do this in your life (i.e. you are a police officer and may have to shoot someone in a car), again, I would lean towards the larger or more powerful rounds.



    What I believe that my numbers show is that in the majority of shootings, the person shot merely gives up without being truly incapacitated by the bullet. In such an event, almost any bullet will perform admirably. If you want to be prepared to deal with someone who won't give up so easily, or you want to be able to have good performance even after shooting through an intermediate barrier, I would skip carrying the "mouse gun" .22s, .25s and .32s.

    A "little" about Greg...

    Greg Ellifritz is a 16-year veteran police officer, spending the last 11 years as the fulltime tactical training officer for his central Ohio agency. In that position, he is responsible for developing and instructing all of the in-service training for a 57-officer police department. Prior to his training position, he served as patrol officer, bike patrol officer, precision marksman, and field training officer for his agency.

    He has been an active instructor for the Tactical Defense Institute since 2001 and a lead instructor for TDI’s ground fighting, knife fighting, impact weapons, active shooter, and extreme close quarters shooting classes.

    Greg holds instructor, master instructor, or armorer certifications in more than 75 different weapons systems, defensive tactics programs, and law enforcement specialty areas. In addition to these instructor certifications, Greg has trained with most of the leading firearms and edged weapons instructors in the country.

    Greg has been an adjunct instructor for the Ohio Peace Officer’s Training Academy, teaching firearms, defensive tactics, bike patrol, knife defense and physical fitness topics. He has taught firearms and self defense classes at the national and international level through the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors, The American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers and Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police. He has a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Management and has written for several publications including: ‘The Firearms Instructor”, “Ohio Police Chief”, “Combat Handguns”, “Concealed Carry Magazine” and “The Journal of the American Women’s Self Defense Association”.

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    VIP Member Array varob's Avatar
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    This is a great read.
    I only wish he had the distance of the One Shot Stop percentage. A .25 cal. shot to the head at point blank range will probably get better percentage results than one shot from a .45 at 25 feet
    killam1357 likes this.
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    Good stuff. Seems to indicate that there is no magic bullet, and that multiple hits may very well be required regardless of caliber. Who'd have ever imagined? ;)
    A man fires a rifle for many years, and he goes to war. And afterward he turns the rifle in at the armory, and he believes he's finished with the rifle. But no matter what else he might do with his hands - love a woman, build a house, change his son's diaper - his hands remember the rifle.

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    I tend to agree. In most circumstances, even a .22 will probably work.

    In his statistics, he shows that .32 has better results than a .45 but look at how many people were shot with .45 compared to .32... 209 vs. 25. For instance, you could have 5 people hit with .32 and 4 of the people died or were immediately incapacitated. That's 80%. You could have 586 people hit with .45 but 425 died or immediately incapacitated. That's 73%. Does that mean .32 is superior? No, it just means .45 has a higher failure rate (if that's what you want to call it) because it's used more often. But it also shows .22 has better results than 9mm. I'd say that 9mm is certainly superior, to .22 despite his statistics. Heck you could have 2 failure to stops in 2 shots with .308 (yes, .308, not a typo), that's 0% stoppage and then 2 successful hits out of 3 with .25ACP (about 67%). Would that mean sniper's should have rifles chambered in .25ACP? Of course my "statisics" are not real, but ANYTHING can happen. It's all subjective, really.

    I'm certainly not trying to talk down on his research, just throwing my opinion into the mix. I find his research and dedication to be pretty impressive. I defiantly agree with him.... caliber doesn't REALLY matter.... We've all heard it 895347634586450869 times.... shot placement!

    I still agree with Ayoob saying, carry the biggest caliber you can. Then, IMO, find the best (in your opinion of course) carry ammo, whether is be a fancy JHP or even FMJ.

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    Makes sense to me. I do wonder about the one stop shot percentages though, because really, people who are trained don't generally just fire one round COM and see if it worked. They generally fire multiple rounds, think a double tap. So there is no way of knowing if the first shot incapacitated totally or not, because the second, or even third, was hot on it's heels.

    Also, I would be kind of interested to see his definition of a torso shot, and whether he included the pelvic girdle in it, or the extremity region.

    But it was a good read, and he obviously put a lot of work into it, and the conclusions generally line up with my own.
    Fortes Fortuna Juvat

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    I see nothing in his research to dissuade me from my fondness for the .357 Mag.
    "I do what I do." Cpl 'coach' Bowden, "Southern Comfort".

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    Quote Originally Posted by RKM View Post
    I tend to agree. In most circumstances, even a .22 will probably work.

    In his statistics, he shows that .32 has better results than a .45 but look at how many people were shot with .45 compared to .32... 209 vs. 25. For instance, you could have 5 people hit with .32 and 4 of the people died or were immediately incapacitated. That's 80%. You could have 586 people hit with .45 but 425 died or immediately incapacitated. That's 73%. Does that mean .32 is superior? No, it just means .45 has a higher failure rate (if that's what you want to call it) because it's used more often. But it also shows .22 has better results than 9mm. I'd say that 9mm is certainly superior, to .22 despite his statistics.

    I'm certainly not trying to talk down on his research, just throwing my opinion into the mix. I find his research and dedication to be pretty impressive. And yes, caliber doesn't REALLY matter.... to a point. We've all heard it 895347634586450869 times.... shot placement!

    I still agree with Ayoob saying, carry the biggest caliber you can. Then, IMO, find the best (in your opinion of course) carry ammo, whether is be a fancy JHP or even FMJ.
    Actually, the RATE should be consistent, no matter the actual number. If (for the sake of argument) the .32 ACP had an 80% "success" percentage and the .45 ACP had a 73% "success" percentage, then, yes, the .32 ACP would be statistically better than the .45 ACP. As long as you have sufficient numbers, the rate is the real measure, not the number. The issue in this case is there aren't really enough .32 ACP shootings to determine a realistic rate - with that few shootings, the chances that you have encountered a statistical anomaly rather than a representative rate is just too high.
    A man fires a rifle for many years, and he goes to war. And afterward he turns the rifle in at the armory, and he believes he's finished with the rifle. But no matter what else he might do with his hands - love a woman, build a house, change his son's diaper - his hands remember the rifle.

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    Good read JD.!!

    Go .357 mag{sig} !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Looking at the data, what concerns me the most is the fact that, untill you get to .380,
    % of individuals who were NOT incapacitated is way above 20%.

    That tells me all I need to know, insofar as bringing enough caliber, or what I personally would deem a reliable (getting the odds in your favor) stopper to adequately do the job, one shot, two shot or whatever.

    Any thing BELOW .380, and , it would seem to me, that you are in Vegas; shooting craps.
    If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.

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    Thanks for the long hours put in. Kind of how I've been thinking, nice to see I'm not off base. Feeling better about the .380, and no immediate need for anything other than a defensive shotgun or rifle now.

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    Interesting. The .25 performed fairly well (percentage wise), despite the naysayers. In fact, it performed on par with 9mm. That doesn't mean I'm going to put my 9mm in a drawer and go buy a .25, but I do feel a little more comfortable with my Dad's decision to make one his edc.

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    Quote Originally Posted by varob View Post
    This is a great read.
    I only wish he had the distance of the One Shot Stop percentage. A .25 cal. shot to the head at point blank range will probably get better percentage results than one shot from a .45 at 25 feet
    What leads you to this conclusion? The velocity/energy of pretty much any round had not dropped so much at 25 feet so as to make a dramatic (the numbers would have us believe) difference in terminal performance. Considering that (as an example) the 230 grain Gold Dot has only lost about 5% of its velocity at 50 yards, I find it very hard to believe that 1/6th of that distance would make very much difference at all...
    A man fires a rifle for many years, and he goes to war. And afterward he turns the rifle in at the armory, and he believes he's finished with the rifle. But no matter what else he might do with his hands - love a woman, build a house, change his son's diaper - his hands remember the rifle.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Spidey2011 View Post
    Interesting. The .25 performed fairly well (percentage wise), despite the naysayers. In fact, it performed on par with 9mm. That doesn't mean I'm going to put my 9mm in a drawer and go buy a .25, but I do feel a little more comfortable with my Dad's decision to make one his edc.
    What I found particularly interesting is that the .44 Magnum was a whopping one percentage point higher in "fatal hits" than the .25 ACP... Does that make me more impressed with the .25 ACP, or less impressed with the .44 Mag (and by extension all handgun rounds)? Hmm...
    JD likes this.
    A man fires a rifle for many years, and he goes to war. And afterward he turns the rifle in at the armory, and he believes he's finished with the rifle. But no matter what else he might do with his hands - love a woman, build a house, change his son's diaper - his hands remember the rifle.

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    Distinguished Member Array claude clay's Avatar
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    lots of good reading and lots of numbers. i worked in a tab house back in the mid 70's and learned fast that figures lie and lier's figure.
    i ain't saying any of the referenced was or is comprised of falsehoods. just saying that filtered differently one can make a compelling case for either conclusion from the same raw data.

    I'm going with real estate--location, location, location and than power

    so depending on where i think I'm going and what may change that, i dress appropriately
    or as simple a thing as i need to clean a gun soon so i may as well carry it for a week or so, shoot a couple hundred rounds and than clean it
    pd451--7 of 22mag
    332--6 of 32 H&R mag, 32 long, 32acp
    642-5 of 38 or 38+p
    NAA Black Widow--boot gun
    p3,2 p3at, p11
    sig p239/40 or 357SIG or 9mm
    variety is good & good nite all
    Be aware, be deliberate in your actions and be accurate.
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    Ballistic statistics are always problematic to interpret because they involve people in highly unusual circumstances. There are four elements that factor in any analysis, yet the statistics we have generally do not give us information about all four. These are:

    1. The psychological outlook of the players in question.
    Is the assailant a cheap punk looking for an easy score, or a vengeful ex willing to do anything to succeed?

    2. The reaction of the person being shot.
    Like Woody Allen as Jimmy Bond in Casino Royale says, "My doctor says bullets can't enter my body at any time..." Most people aren't going to stand around while you pump lead in 'em.

    3. The physical circumstances of the scenario.
    Is it light? Dark? Is the assailant running, ducking, is there cover? Is he shooting back?

    4. The mental condition of the assailant.
    Is the person sane? Psychotic? Suicidal?

    We've seen some dropped with one or two shots, and others take 20 or more hits and keep resisting (and surviving). In large, general terms, it's most likely that the mere presentation of a firearm will resolve a situation successfully, and if not, one or two shots should finish things up, regardless of caliber.

    I'm no Internet commando - I hope I never have to find out for myself how these things play out. We arm and train for the worst-case scenario, but if you're living clean, it's not likely you'll have to deal with a drug-fueled psycho hell-bent on walking through a wall of flying lead to get to you.
    TSiWRX, Sleipnir and oFant0mo like this.
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    Quote Originally Posted by OPFOR View Post
    What I found particularly interesting is that the .44 Magnum was a whopping one percentage point higher in "fatal hits" than the .25 ACP... Does that make me more impressed with the .25 ACP, or less impressed with the .44 Mag (and by extension all handgun rounds)? Hmm...
    I think that's more or less the idea. Shot placement is key, and a .25 ACP can make someone just as dead as a .44 Mag (or less dead if you're a "glass half full" kind of person).

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