Handgun Stopping Power

Handgun Stopping Power

This is a discussion on Handgun Stopping Power within the Defensive Carry & Tactical Training forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; Handgun Stopping Power By Tom Perroni When it comes to Handgun Stopping Power I have always taught my students that a Handgun is tool; a ...

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Thread: Handgun Stopping Power

  1. #1
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    Handgun Stopping Power

    Handgun Stopping Power

    By Tom Perroni

    When it comes to Handgun Stopping Power I have always taught my students that a Handgun is tool; a tool to fight your way back to the shotgun or long-gun you should have had if you knew you were going to be in a fight. The FBI has put together an article about Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness that is the basis for the vast majority of this article.

    First let’s take a look at some statistics. The FBI, in the Uniform Crime Report (UCR), tells us that most shootings - about 80% - occur in low or reduced light. Most shootings involving police officers and civilian concealed carry permit holders happen at a distance of less than ten feet with average distance at three feet. In most police shooting the average number of rounds fired is ten. Keep in mind that most police agencies have a magazine capacity of 15 rounds. Of those ten rounds only two hit the subject that means an 80% miss rate. It is fair to say that most gun fights last about 10-15 seconds. And I would say as a general rule we know that action beats reaction.

    When I teach on the subject of stopping power I teach about the “Anatomical Theory of Stopping Power” The theory that states there are only two places on the human body that you can shoot a subject and get immediate incapacitation:

    1. The cranio-ocular cavity (about the size of a business card). This is the area on the head between the eyebrow line and the mustache line (Right between the eyes).
    2. The Cervical Spine. From the base of the brain to the top of the collar bone (In the area of the Throat.)

    Both of the above mentioned areas, when hit with a bullet, will shut down the central nervous system, thus incapacitating your attacker. There are also schools that teach the Pelvic Girdle shot. I am not a big proponent of this. When teaching I often ask my students “How many of you have seen a chicken get its head cut off?” “What happens once this happens?” The answer I most often get is it runs around for several minutes. My response is if a 10lb chicken can run around for several minutes without its head, what do you think a 200lb man bent on bringing the fight to you will be able to do with a small hole or two? (Adrenalin is a powerful drug) I often get asked, “Well, what if I shoot him directly in the heart?” The answer is: It will take about 15 seconds to bleed out. How much damage can the attacker inflict in that time?

    This may often happen because most police academies and shooting schools teach to shoot to center mass (It’s a larger target area to place shots). When the day comes and you are in a gunfight and place your shots center mass and the attacker does not go down then panic can set in and the good guy keeps shooting center mass. More hits mean more blood loss, but it’s still a time consuming and time dependent process.

    As a corollary tactical principle, no law enforcement officer should ever plan to meet an expected attack armed only with a handgun. Physiologically, no caliber of bullet is certain to incapacitate any individual unless the brain is hit. Kinetic energy does not wound. Temporary cavity does not wound. The much discussed “shock” of bullet impact is a fable and “knock down” power is a myth.

    With the exceptions of hits to the brain or upper spinal cord, the concept of reliable and reproducible immediate incapacitation of the human target by gunshot wounds to the torso is a myth.27 The human target is a complex and durable one. A wide variety of psychological, physical, and physiological factors exist, all of them pertinent to the probability of incapacitation. However, except for the location of the wound and the amount of tissue destroyed, none of the factors are within the control of the law enforcement officer.

    Physiologically, a determined adversary can be stopped reliably and immediately only by a shot that disrupts the brain or upper spinal cord. Failing a hit to the central nervous system, massive bleeding from holes in the heart or major blood vessels of the torso causing circulatory collapse is the only other way to force incapacitation upon an adversary, and this takes time. For example, there is sufficient oxygen within the brain to support frill, voluntary action for 10-15 seconds after the heart has been destroyed.28

    In fact, physiological factors may actually play a relatively minor role in achieving rapid incapacitation. Barring central nervous system hits, there is no physiological reason for an individual to be incapacitated by even a fatal wound, until blood loss is sufficient to drop blood pressure and/or the brain is deprived of oxygen. The effects of pain, which could contribute greatly to incapacitation, are commonly delayed in the aftermath of serious injury such as a gunshot wound. The body engages survival patterns, the well known “fight or flight” syndrome. Pain is irrelevant to survival and is commonly suppressed until some time later. In order to be a factor, pain must first be perceived, and second must cause an emotional response. In many individuals, pain is ignored even when perceived, or the response is anger and increased resistance, not surrender.

    Psychological factors are probably the most important relative to achieving rapid incapacitation from a gunshot wound to the torso. Awareness of the injury (often delayed by the suppression of pain); fear of injury, death, blood, or pain; intimidation by the weapon or the act of being shot; preconceived notions of what people do when they are shot; or the simple desire to quit can all lead to rapid incapacitation even from minor wounds. However, psychological factors are also the primary cause of incapacitation failures.

    The individual may be unaware of the wound and thus has no stimuli to force a reaction. Strong will, survival instinct, or sheer emotion such as rage or hate can keep a grievously injured individual fighting, as is common on the battlefield and in the street. The effects of chemicals can be powerful stimuli preventing incapacitation. Adrenaline alone can be sufficient to keep a mortally wounded adversary functioning. Stimulants, anesthetics, pain killers, or tranquilizers can all prevent incapacitation by suppressing pain, awareness of the injury, or eliminating any concerns over the injury. Drugs such as cocaine, PCP, and heroin are disassociating in nature. One of their effects is that the individual “exists” outside of his body. He sees and experiences what happens to his body, but as an outside observer who can be unaffected by it yet continue to use the body as a tool for fighting or resisting.

    When discussing Handgun caliber with my father, a Marine combat veteran and former police officer, he said this “A hit with a .25 caliber beats a miss with a .45 caliber every day of the week.” I often wondered why my father carried a .25 caliber semi auto for a Back Up Gun (BUG). His explanation was so simple it made perfect sense… at least to me. “If I am in a fight for my gun with a Bad Guy - at this point by the way I am in a fight for my life - and for what ever reason I can’t use my primary handgun i.e.; out of ammunition, malfunction, or I am laying on top of it for weapons retention in a fight, I can pull that .25 caliber out of my pocket or vest carrier. And when I point it at the eye socket, nostril, opening of the ear canal, open mouth and pull the trigger the bullet will go in and not come out. End of fight.

    So when we are in a gunfight it is not the size of the handgun or the size of the bullet. “It is knowing where to place hits that will stop the threat.”

    And when I asked about why a 9mm he said it’s all about magazine capacity.
    A Glock 17 9mm can hold 20 rounds - 19 in the magazine (with a +2 floor plate) and one in the pipe. We all know the average number of rounds fired in a gunfight is 10 and that Law Enforcement has an 80% MISS rate meaning 2 in 10 rounds hit the subject so, as my dad put it, I just doubled my odds in a gunfight if I can shoot to stop the threat at the Head & Spine. 20 rounds = 4 hits instead of 2.

    However let’s not forget in order to prevail in a real world “Gun Fight” we need:

    1. Combat Mindset
    2. Tactics (use of cover & concealment & handgun presentation & Reloading)
    3. Training ( Combat Marksmanship & Learn to Shoot, Move & Communicate)
    “In a real world environment or at QCB distances of 3 feet or contact distance”

    27 Wound Ballistic Workshop: “9mm vs. .45 Auto”, FBI Academy, Quantico, VA, September 1987. Conclusion of the Workshop.
    28 Wound Ballistic Workshop: “9mm vs. .45 Auto”, FBI Academy, Quantico, VA, September 1987. Conclusion of the Workshop.

    The information for this article came from: Special Agent UREY W. PATRICK
    Firearms Training UMT FBI ACADEMY QUANTICO, Virginia July 14, 1989
    Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness
    Thomas A. Perroni Sr. & Frank Borelli also contributed to this article.

    Tom Perroni
    Last edited by QKShooter; June 11th, 2007 at 08:01 PM. Reason: correct minor typo

  2. #2
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    Thumbs up

    I'm going to put a "sticky" on this for a few days to help maximize the number of forum members who will read it.

    We have a LOT of new members and a lot of good folks brand new to self~defense carry.

    Handgun Stopping Power has been quite a Hot Topic on DefensiveCarry lately and you've pretty much summed it all up right here in one neat and tidy package.

    Thanks for posting this Tom.
    Liberty Over Tyranny Μολὼν λαβέ

  3. #3
    Senior Member Array flagflyfish's Avatar
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    Excellent info Thanks for posting it!
    "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier
    and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the
    service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the
    love and thanks of man and woman."

    -- Thomas Paine (The American Crisis, No. 1, 19 December 1776)

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    Member Array FIREARMZ's Avatar
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    While this is good information we also would like to know the criteria the FBI utilized for their low light shootings. When ever we look at a statistic that is published we have to know the criteria for the research.

    The FBI's criteria at that time for low light is 6PM to 6AM, no exceptions were made for inside a building, lighted parking garage, or any other artificial light source. So that one area could be considered flawed in the report.

    Also in the latest FBI/Department of Justice Report every officer that utilized a flash light was shot. In the latest statistics out by the FBI and DOJ shooting occurred at:
    24% Midnight, 34% in the day, 42% evening hours.

    The most common handgun used by the bad guy was a 9MM (32%).

    The average officer spent 62 hours in basic sidearms training. Then 13 hours per year after that.

    Behavioral description of the offended officers:
    • Friendly.
    • Well-liked by community and department.
    • Tends to use less force than other officers felt they would
    use in similar circumstances.
    • Hard working.
    • Tends to perceive self as more public relations than
    law enforcement.
    • Service oriented.
    • Used force only as last resort
    -peers claim they would use force at an earlier point in
    similar circumstances
    • Doesn’t follow all rules, especially in regard to
    - arrests
    - confrontations with prisoners
    - traffic stops
    - waiting for backup (when available)
    • Feels he/she can “read” others/situations and will drop
    guard as a result.
    • Tends to look for “good” in others
    • “Laid back” and “easy going”

    The average distance that the BG fired was 15 feet, good guy 25 feet. Action beats reaction every time.

    The hit ratio was GG 39%, BG was 68%. This difference was due again to the fact the BG had the initiative and fired first up close, action beats re-action again.

    Does all of this apply to us as civilians, probably not, and I am sure some of the report is flawed and bias is shown in certain areas as all reports usually are. Combined with the initial post they both offer great information.

    Mindset, awareness and first strike if possible is key, regardless of what you are shooting good hits count more that big holes in something else. More ammo is better, had you rather be shooting or reloading?

    The report is very long but I suggest reading the entire book. It offers a valuable insight to the criminal mindset, what worked and what did not work.
    Ken Forbus Owner of FIREARMZ

  6. #5
    Member Array Randy's Avatar
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    Spot on.

    Patrick's article, and many other good ones, are available from Firearms Tactical. Read up!


  7. #6
    Member Array Brian@ITC's Avatar
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    The average distance that the BG fired was 15 feet, good guy 25 feet. Action beats reaction every time.
    Not EVERY time! There are signs that someone is about to attack you. If you pick up on those signs BEFORE the physical assault happens, you can successfully react to that attack. It also depends upon the distance between you and the attacker(s). I think that the saying “Action beats reaction every time” is a bit over used and misused at times.

    The hit ratio was GG 39%, BG was 68%. This difference was due again to the fact the BG had the initiative and fired first up close, action beats re-action again.
    The hit ratio for the GG would probably increase IF people spent time drawing from concealment and firing! But how many people actually do that? You should be a FAST moving target! I'm talking about running fast!!! However, due to firearms instruction, people tend to move slower than they should because they are focusing on taking the threat out instead of surviving thus increasing the BG's accuracy. The average person's mindset is that if I fire first I will win. That is not at all true! If people were moving as fast as they should to survive, the BG's accuracy would go down and you probably wouldn't get ANY shots off because you were moving FAST!!! What is the #1 goal in a gunfight? NOT to get shot! Does that mean drawing your gun is even an option? MOVING FAST is much of the time your best option. If the BG's accuracy is higher than the GG's, what is that really telling us?! Not that action is always faster than reaction, but rather that moving faster will decrease the BG's accuracy as well as ours. But again, our goal is SURVIVAL and NOT on taking the attacker immediately out of the fight! In addition, people tend to focus on shooting the attacker and not on surviving which may very well mean not firing any shot or attempting to go for your gun.

    Does all of this apply to us as civilians, probably not, and I am sure some of the report is flawed and bias is shown in certain areas as all reports usually are.
    I am sure that the report is flawed as any report is. There are so many circumstances that we will never know about. In fact, the people who write the reports don’t know all of the information either.

    What I will say is this.

    #1-Can you get your gun out and use it in a confrontation? That is, do YOU have the skills necessary to do this? Have you PRACTICED to do this?

    #2-You cannot count on taking the attacker immediately out of the fight with your handgun. If you have this mindset, then when you shoot the attacker and they don’t fall down, you won’t be disappointed or shocked. However, from my research people THINK that they will be able to shoot the attacker AND take them immediately out of the fight.

    #3- As the FBI’s report states, “Precision handgun shooting in a life threatening situation is extremely difficult due to the dynamic elements involved. So again, this goes back to point #2 that I made. Sure, at close ranges your accuracy is going to be better, but that applies to the adversary as well.

    #4-stopping power IS a myth! It is probably a myth created by ammunition manufactures to sell more ammo and of course Hollywood shows us that if you shoot someone they will fall down on the first shot. NOTHING is farther from the truth!

    Brian K. LaMaster – Innovative Tactical Concepts, LLC
    “Train hard, train often, and train realistically”

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