Stopping Power – One Doctor’s Point of View


By DrF

I’m not sure what would happen if there were no more internet discussions about “stopping power” as applied to handguns. What would we talk about? I am sure that it would be a better world, and there would be lots more available bandwidth. The stopping power of my brakes is easily determined, as is the (absence of) my power to stop eating chips and salsa. But when it comes to handguns, things get a little trickier.

What is “stopping”, exactly? From a physics point of view, we could say “stopping” is taking the momentum of an object to 0. In the case of the FAA standard 170 pound man walking 3 miles an hour, his momentum is 68.8kg*m/sec. A .45 ACP round has a momentum of 8.3 kg*m/sec meaning that if you can put every shot where it counts, you can stop your standard guy from moving forward after more than 8 shots. I guess there is a reason for 8+1, huh?

Of course, that’s pretty meaningless. What we want to know is what is best for stopping fights or attackers, expressed as “stopping power”. We want to protect ourselves and our own. There are lots of ways to do this. Producing your weapon, of any sort, may discourage your opponent and that may be all it takes. A hammer to the head might do it, and pepper spray can take grown men to their knees. If you are skilled, there are all sorts of things you can do with hands and feet and so on, but if you’re close enough to put the hurt on the bad guy, he’s close enough to return the favor. And you can always run. Even if the law allows you to stand your ground, it isn’t mandatory. Running might be the best option. You’re not trying to prove anything, you just want to sleep in your own bed tonight with all of your people secure.

Now handguns are wonderfully…handy. But that’s their only functional advantage. In every other way, they are inferior to long guns. The mighty .45 ACP is a pop gun compared to most any deer rifle or a 12 gauge shotgun. An AR with 30 rounds of 5.56 is a lot more useful than anything you can carry easily and shoot with one hand. But you’re not going to have any of that in your IWB holster as you pick up the dry cleaning or run out for chips and salsa. So when it comes to guns for defense, we’re mostly left with wimpy little handguns, the weak sister of the firearm world.

So comes now the day you’ve been dreading. The fight has come to you. You draw and fire, and you get it done. The bad guy gets one right in the breadbasket, wherever that round is. Or maybe 5 or 8. But you might not be done yet. Unlike the movies, your shot will not lift the guy out of aisle 4 and fling him into the dog food. He may not react at all. Now the question of “stopping power” is entirely relevant. What can your trusty heater actually do to end a fight?

Shooting deer at 100 or 300 yards with my trusty .280 is easy. I’ve done it a number of times and all of the deer ended up with two holes in their chest and died promptly. Hitting things with a handgun is comparatively difficult. And you can be sure that your skill will drop off if you are actually fighting with your handgun.I am aware of a situation in which cops fired north of 50 rounds at a bad guy, and they all missed. Skill with a handgun is not easy to develop and skill in shooting while moving at people that are moving and shooting back isn’t generally available without a 4-year commitment and a move east. WAY east.

Leaving aside the interaction of you with your weapon, there are two variables to consider as to the “stopping power” of a gun. The first is bullets. Love and beauty aside, the function of guns is all about projectiles. The point is to send little bits of metal downrange to a predetermined place to do a specific thing. In the case of self-defense, the object is to eliminate the threat. How can this be done?  You are going to launch a bullet into a bad guy (you hope), maybe more than one. And perhaps more than one bad guy. What can your bullet do to help you get home that night?

There are lots of bullets out there. There has been lots of testing done shooting walls and car doors and gelatin, with and without clothing, wet phone books, you name it. What hasn’t been done is shooting angry people of identical build in exactly the same place with the same projectile at the same velocity a few hundred times. And until Dr. Moreau does that experiment a few hundred times, it’s all speculation. Till then, we’ll be shooting Jell-o, which can tell you a lot about what to do if you get attacked by dessert.

Is it all useless, all of this testing? Who knows? It seems reasonable to think that more energy is better, or that bigger and faster is better than smaller and slower, but we don’t really know what the difference is, and how much. Add to that all of the possibilities that we’ll peek at below, and I maintain that no one knows which bullet at what velocity is best for a given situation, let alone what’s best for ALL situations. Reasoned speculation is often correct, but it isn’t the same as knowing. Likely as not, we’ll find out in five years that tissue stretch at a certain velocity causes the release of massive quantities of iquitamide, causing rapid incapacitation and we’ll all be shooting phonograph needles at 121,000 fps and knocking ‘em down.

So what can you do with your bullet to get the bad guy to lose interest? You have the gun out, and he’s still in the game. The first and best thing is to take out the brain. The brain is what tells the rest of the body what to do. If you can put out the lights, that person will no longer be able to hurt you. KO, You win. But the brain is hard to hit, and it’s surrounded by thick bone that can deflect bullets. And your bad guy might just move as you draw a fine bead. So brain shots are tough.

Bleeding is generally how game animals are brought down. It’s the most reliable effect of a bullet. Bullets make holes. Holes in people bleed. If there is enough bleeding, weakness will come, followed by unconsciousness. It’s just applied physiology. Bad guys bleeding is a good thing. But it may take a while. Some holes bleed more than others, and exactly what’s bleeding matters.

If you can blow the heart apart, blood pressure will go to nothing pretty quickly. Well done. Lots of points. But your bad guy (and he is yours, now, isn’t he?) still can have a functioning brain for maybe 10 more seconds. Ten seconds is a very long time in a real fight. During those 10 seconds, muscle function will be pretty normal, so your guy can still do lots of damage. People do Bill drills in two seconds. If your bad guy is a pistolero, he might get 2 or 3 of those done on you before he passes out. You may both die, but you get more points for drawing first blood.

Next up are the long bones of the leg and the spinal cord. Take out the cord, and you paralyze your bad guy at that level. And to do that, you will be shooting at the chest or neck, and there is lots of stuff that bleeds in both of those places. Two ways to win. If you paralyze your assailant, he can still shoot, but you are way ahead on points. You’ll probably win. But of course, he isn’t always going to hold still for that, and you probably don’t know exactly where it is in every posture, do you? I sure don’t, and I’m a doctor. The human spinal cord is an inch or less in diameter. Try hitting that in someone who is fighting you. Long bones in the leg are pretty good also. Hopping around on one leg isn’t an efficient way to fight, Karate Kid aside. But long bones in the leg are also tough to hit.

Last, but in my opinion not least, is the psychological effect of being shot. If someone notices they have been shot, it can change their attitude. They may not want to fight any more, no matter how wounded they really are. This effect may be greater if some real visceral damage has been done. They may sit down, wave the white flag, and wait for EMS. Then again, they may not. If they quit, great. If not, well….

The second factor is who you’re shooting at, and under what circumstances. People are variable. Grown men can weigh anywhere from 100 pounds to well north of 300. Not only that, people are built out of a variety of tissues in varying amounts, including bone, and are full of things that are more or less important to the ability of the person to keep giving you a bad time. So your bullet may have wildly differing performance requirements depending on the circumstances of your fight.

Anatomy can also ruin your day. An inch or less this way or that may be the difference in your future. People are not homogenous, and no one is good enough to shoot the heart on a fighting person reliably. It’s luck. And it gets worse. Your bullet may absolutely shred the heart, or it may not. No bullet is perfect. Throw in a few inches of fat or muscle, some bones, varying positions, and it’s all, pardon me, a crapshoot. No telling what will happen. If I have to fight you, I’d prefer to put some holes in you first on general principles, but there is no guarantee of any particular effect.

And it gets still more difficult. People wear clothes and hide behind things, and they have stuff in their pockets. They sit in cars. They might be standing over you ready to deliver the coup de grace when you get off your first shot into the pelvis from below. Then you’ll be wishing for a lot more than 12 inches of penetration in gelatin.

Add to that the variation in the determination of your assailant, what he is wearing, how far away he is and how good you are in the worst moment of your life. Add it all up, and you will have to shoot till there is no need to continue, (or you run out of ammo) and hope for the best. There is no guarantee of winning even if you shoot first and best with the most.

Handguns are wonderful things. I own them, carry them, and have been pleased to have one handy in bad times. It is nearly always better to have a handgun, any handgun, if you have to fight. But trying to predict what will happen or which one is best is a fool’s errand. There is no quantifiable “stopping power” and way too many variables to make anything about this predictable. The correct answer to most “stopping power” questions is “who knows?”

My advice (or reasoned speculation) is get a gun that you like and will carry around with you. Since what little data there is suggests that guns usually stop the festivities without pulling the trigger  50 or 100 times for every time they actually are fired, don’t get too lathered up about what caliber it is. More important is that it’s comfortable and that you like it, and will actually use it. A .22 in your hand is better than a .45 at home. View the advice you receive at the gun store or from cops with healthy skepticism. I was the kid behind the counter at a really good gun store back in the day, and I can assure you that we didn’t know the answers. Some of the biggest, most egregious whoppers I’ve ever heard floated across counters at gun stores. And cops…never mind.

More importantly, get your mind off of stopping power and onto fighting. That’s what your gun is for, and it’s what you’ll be doing even if your gun doesn’t work. They don’t always. Most of us would be safer with some generic training in tactics and strategy for everyday life instead of blasting away at hanging paper, fun as it is.

If you want to become a shooter, do it! It’s great fun and the people are wonderful. Play around with different guns and calibers and bullets. Learn about tap-rack-bang and headspace and SA/DA or SAO. Then log in and let us all know what you think is best. No hurry, that debate will go on forever. No one can prove they are right, so no one has to be wrong.


  1. avatar Phoenix says:

    I stopped reading when you classified ballistics gel testing as what to do if we’re attacked by Jello.

    No sir, ballistic gelatin media is simply a standardized system of comparing bullet performance over a broad range of calibers. That’s one thing people misunderstand. If a bullet shot from Tnoutdoors9’s glock 19 goes 12″ into the ballistics gel through four layers of IWBA approved denim, it doesn’t mean that the bullet will penetrate 12″ into scruffy and jones at the bar when they decide you would make a nice hood ornament.

    It means that compared to the .380 that penetrated only 8″ the 9mm bullet will penetrate more. By how much? I’m not sure. I’ve been shot at 20yds by a daisy red Ryder bb gun and I can assure you the bb does not go 3.5″ inches into flesh.

    I may re-read the rest of the article later today, but unfortunately you lost me there, doc.

    1. avatar JR_in_NC says:

      “I may re-read the rest of the article later today, but unfortunately you lost me there, doc.”

      Yes, do read it. It’s worth it.

      The message is a good one: caliber wars are basically pointless but fun, and in the end, there are far, far too many variables to predict an outcome. Anyone that thinks they “know” what their gun/bullet/self will do in a gunfight is very likely fooling themselves.

      I agree with the point that we should instead focus on other things…tactics, awareness, mindset, etc.

      First rule: Have A Gun.

    2. avatar Stu says:

      The author was merely pointing out how the ballistics gel isn’t the best analog for human flesh and while it is the best comparison we have, it won’t show how a bullet will perform in every situation. You understand the point he was trying to make, even if you didn’t stop to hear him out: a homogeneous standardized media is wonderful for comparing designs side by side, but has obvious disadvantages because people aren’t blobs of uniform density gelatin but rather have bones, skin, organs and muscle. As an engineer, I face similar issues everyday while designing chemical reactors; I am aware my simulations aren’t perfect but they get the job done.

      The author doesn’t deserve derision just because he is aware of the limitations of current models.

    3. There should be a law against sarcasm on gun websites!

      1. avatar BigDinVT says:

        Well said, Stu.

        There should be sarcasm about laws on gun websites. (/sarc…sort of)

      2. avatar Jeremy S says:

        Seriously. DrF’s comment was pretty clearly a bit tongue-in-cheek and there is plenty of other humor and sarcasm in the rest of the article as well, which makes reading something like this significantly more pleasant and interesting. Let’s not take ourselves too terribly seriously all of the dang time…

        BTW RE BB penetration and such, just penetrating the skin of a human apparently equates to about 3.5 to 4″ of penetration in FBI calibrated ballistics gel. It’s simply a consistent medium so as to create a basis for comparison.

    4. avatar TT says:

      It is a good article.

      I think the doctor’s point was that ballistics gel “is simply a standardized system of comparing bullet performance over a broad range of calibers” in ballistics gel only. Ballistics gel is not a conclusive way to compare bullet performance in people, animals, or anything other than ballistics gel. In other words, be cautious about concluding that because bullet x penetrates more in ballistics gel than bullet y, bullet x will therefore penetrate more in a person than bullet y.

      1. avatar John M. says:

        I recently read a statement by DocGKR that indicated that as he investigates actual officer-involved shootings, terminal performance of all the the normal “cop” hollowpoints in all of the normal “cop” calibers very closely tracks their performance in ballistic gel. That’s not a guarantee, but there are no guarantees once the shooting starts.

        And for my own comment on this, I think the “caliber wars are stupid because handguns suck anyway” statement is itself stupid. It’s clear to me based on the available evidence that any of 9mm, .40 and .45 are acceptable defensive calibers, with .45 ACP being somewhat less picky in its bullet technology to achieve good results and 9mm in particular requiring some of the recent advances in hollowpoint designs to get the best performance. But over 100 years of hunting (approximately man-sized and structured) deer has led to some notable findings, to wit: cartridges like .223 are marginal for deer, 30-30 is reliable and .308 is plenty. Of course, shot placement is critical, but–importantly–becomes more critical the smaller the pill is and the slower it’s moving. It’s meaningful to me that nobody will hunt deer with a .32 or .380.

        Certainly, if the gun you have is a .22 LR, you are better off carrying it than nothing. (Just don’t do it openly and unloaded, natch.) And if all you are comfortable shooting is a .22 LR, then, again, you are better off with it than with nothing. But that describes almost nobody, and is probably only something that should be pointed out while on the way to discussing better defensive calibers like 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP (with honorable mention to rarer calibers like 10mm and .357 Mag).

    5. avatar Phoenix says:

      I will re-read the article after lunch.

    6. avatar koolaidguzzler says:

      Wow, talk about missing the forest for the trees.
      If you let that make you stop, then perhaps you were looking for a reason to stop reading it from the beginning. One of the first things that can happen when a person closes his fingers around a pistol grip, is that his mind closes along with his fingers. That doctor’s article may be written in an irritating manner, but it’s direct and no-nonsense, while still being smart. That’s a rare combination in a defensive shooting article.

    7. avatar Daniel S says:

      Two words. Shot placement. When it comes to terminal ballistics, that’s what you should be focusing on. Regarding leathality, the differences in say a 230gr .45 Speer GD and a 147gr 9mm Speer GD and extremely minimal factors in comparison to things that you can not see or control such as body composition, positioning, or timing of bodily functions such as the blood pressure cycle.

      A good read:

  2. avatar Gregolas says:

    I had the privilege to be at the FBI Academy in ’93 for a police legal advisors conference. Former Firearms Training head John Hall gave us his personal view of the stopping power controversy, “Big holes are better than little holes. Many holes are better than few holes.”

    1. avatar Zach says:

      For a kind of fat guy with mediocre aim like me, that advice translates pretty exactly to “shotty”.

    2. avatar koolaidguzzler says:

      So John Hall is saying that shooting a guy with a bigger-hole 45 is more effective than shooting him with a smaller-hole 30-06? Likely not.

      Here’s a better one I was told by a combat-experienced special forces medic teaching a class — 2000 fps is the dividing line.
      Bullets faster than that, tend to stop a guy reasonably well. Bullets slower than that, not so well.
      Rifle bullets tend to exceed fps+. Handgun bullets are under 2000 fps.
      Therefore, there’s only two types of bullets in shooting humans — rifle bullets, and handgun bullets.
      To try to differentiate between handgun bullets, is mostly just splitting hairs and wishful thinking.

  3. avatar John Thomas says:

    “iquitamide”. i laughed.

  4. avatar Pikes Pete says:

    I am amazed to see an honest description of the vagaries of a gunfight. A while back I decided that after a 100 years or so of real world experience in the military, ball ammo ain’t that bad. It goes bang. It makes a hole (a big one as Gregolas above mentioned if in .45 flavor) and has the wonderful added benefit of going thru home furniture, car doors, and lots of clothing. Basically comes down to shoot fast, shoot until the mag is empty, move and take cover. It is indeed a fight.

  5. avatar Aaronw says:

    During one such discussion at my local range I offered: “stopping an assailant occurs at the intersection of physics, physiology and luck”

  6. avatar Mike R says:

    Use whatever gun/caliber you can accurately and consistently hit the target with. .38 or less you may need more holes in the target.

  7. avatar mark says:

    If you click on the chart, you’ll get the original article by Sgt. Roland C. Eyears. One thing I noticed on the chart is that, while it gives a variety of bullet weights for certain calibers, it gives only the lightest common weight (115) for 9mm and only the heaviest common weight (180) for .40SW. The only weight given for 10mm (155) looks very light to me, too. There are many other 9mm and .40SW rounds that are in very common use, so their inclusion would have made the discussion in the article a lot more informative. As it is, it’s amateurish. The article does provide the formula for deriving the final numbers, for anyone who wants to run them. Point: if you’re gonna use a chart for any purpose at all, it oughta be somewhat complete–it oughta at least represent the most common variables out there. No discussion of momentum either. That would seem basic in a discussion of this sort.

    1. avatar Dryw says:

      Can’t help but sense you missed the point of the article itself: ‘stopping power’ charts are numbers pr0n.

      The author’s contribution below the chart was pretty much the antithesis of numbers-derived “what’s best in a handgun fight?”. Carry/use what you shoot well. Practice often. Prefer long guns wherever feasible.

      Chart was contrast, not supporting evidence.

      1. avatar mark says:

        No, I didn’t actually miss that point. My point is that, even within calibers, bullet weight does make a significant difference. So, fine, shoot a caliber that you’re comfortable with, but educate yourself about the different rounds within your chosen caliber and give some serious thought to that. In my 30 yrs. of LE experience I shot most of the common LE calibers. None made much difference to me in terms of comfort except for .357, but there are clear differences among the other rounds that need to be taken into account. Penetration is usually considered more or less a function of momentum, and that’s why I was surprised at the lack of any mention of momentum. Opportunity for enlightening discussion missed.

    2. avatar Curtis in IL says:

      We live in the era of spreadsheets that can produce such charts with little effort.
      Go plug in your own bullet weights and velocities and make your own chart.

    3. avatar DRF says:

      The chart was courtesy of the editor, and I have no idea what it says.

      1. It says be happy with 9mm. If you want more punch, go with .45acp but forget .40. With .40, you trade recoil for not much more stopping power than a 9mm.

        1. avatar John P says:

          Actually it says “go with the 10mm if you want more stopping power”, because you get twice the muzzle energy in return for a 50% increase in recoil.

        2. I might agree with you. I have never fired the 10mm but from what I have seen, ammo is scarce and expensive. The weaker loads are more popular than the original full power so that defeats the purpose. Most people who shoot the full power load can’t stand it and complain that follow up shots are not adequate.
          I have always thought that a carbine/handgun combo in 10mm would be a good setup.
          For now I will stick to my 9mm and enjoy double, tripple and quadruple taps all in the scoring zone.

    4. avatar DRF says:

      The chart was added by the editor. I don’t know what it’s all about.

  8. avatar Robert W. says:

    Hey, I would shoot a phonograph needle towards a bad guy at relativistic speeds any day.

    1. avatar danthemann5 says:

      I would be worried about over-penetration, like in the next galaxy.

    2. So that is what the .9mm looks like.

  9. avatar preston says:

    so basically this was a super long winded way of saying ” shot placement trumps caliber size” what a shocker.

    1. avatar TT says:

      I think he’s actually saying random chance trumps caliber size.

  10. avatar Chilibreath says:

    Former big city career cop here and competition pistol shooter; in a nutshell the good doctor didn’t say anything a lot of us already know, the most basic fact being there are a lot of variables in gunfight and generally speaking bigger bullets are better than little bullets. But now come the variables, to wit: big bullets that go fast enough to go through the intended target are wasting energy, and very large and angry assailants will not always stop or go down just because you hit them, and this is why a modicum of basic handgun ballistics and range training are important to hedge your bet. In a perfect world you will have all your ducks in a row with equipment and training and you will NEVER ever have to prove your worth … and life is good just thinking you are prepared for the worst. But if you should have the unfortunate occasion to actually be forced to use your training and meticulously selected equipment then let’s hope and pray that you have the right equipment for the situation and you know what to do with it. As has been stated in this discussion ball ammo is an excellent choice for defense, especially for this who choose the carry a semi auto (less chance to misfeed), and I personally feel that penetration is more important than whatever else is on the table for discussion, but shot placement also has to be right there at the top as well. If you’re job entails carrying an exposed firearm (law enforcement, etc) then by all means consider something that carries a lot of ammo per loading, i.e., a semi auto. If you’re a private citizen who just wants hedge his/her bet while out in public, my personal preference is a smallish handgun with sufficient “authority” to take care of business without having to reload because reloading is usually not an option. After due consideration and many years of shooting, my choice for a personal carry gun is a 2-inch snubby that can handle +P ammo. That’s it, one man’s opinion on a topic that is as contentious as comparing football to baseball.

    1. avatar T. McNamara says:

      I agree completely. Penetration and shot placement are critical. It was the FBI in Miami who suffered the results of under penetration.
      My opinion is that hollow points are highly over-rated and were more a result of letting litigators get involved with equipment selection than common sense.
      Handgun rounds don’t give you “stopping power” they buy you time and hopefully distance from an attacker.
      Select a quality gun in a caliber you can manage with one hand and train yourself to use it to it’s best advantage.

      1. avatar Andrew Lews says:

        500 mag definitely has the stereotypical stopping power. As per the Saami spec charts it achieves rifle performance out of a rifle lenthg barrel, so it’s going to out perform any handgun round out of the same length barrel.

  11. avatar Kris says:

    Did anyone else notice that he didn’t mention the pelvis when talking about striking the spinal chord or a leg bone? A pelvis is a (relatively) large target but hard to penetrate. But if you damage a pelvis, that guy will be in a big hurt bag for a long time. His entire body will be screaming.

    1. avatar DRF says:

      Not sure what’s magical about the pelvis. If you can cause an unstable pelvic fracture with a bullet, it will probably put they guy on the ground. But that’s not easy with a bullet. I have never seen an unstable pelvis from penetrating trauma, only from high-energy blunt trauma (big falls and car wrecks).

      1. avatar Jack says:

        Hey Doc,
        Thanks for the article. As a student of history, I’ve studied Roman tactics which were built around specific means of killing their opponents. T he primary tactic for the Roman short sword was to thrust at an opponents gut as gut wounds would cause excruciating pain and disable the opponent quickly.

        I realize the technology has changed a bit and the sword is a much larger caliber (diameter? hmmm) than a bullet, but people haven’t changed that much have they? Are gut wounds as efficient to stop a large attacker now as they were then?

        1. avatar DRF says:

          Don’t know anything about Roman tactics. I suspect it was all colored by the fact that the other guy has a shield. From my experience I would not count much on pain. Pain is in the brain of the beholder. The problem may be in the arm or the spleen, but pain, as something that changes behavior, is all in the brain. Makes sense. Behavior is all in the brain also. In stressful situations, pain can be completely supressed, while in depressive or anxious states, it is amplified.

          All that to say that I would not preferentially got for a belly shot.

      2. avatar Marc says:

        I was shot with a shot gun with #1 buck in the upper gut downward angle close range, 4 of the 12 hit my pelvic bone cracking it I was still standing and if I was in a fight I was still effective for a bit of time, I was awake for an hour passed out on the bird. Was able to keep pressure on my own wound and get my cell to my buddy to make the call.

  12. avatar Coldhammer says:

    Mmmm, made me want some chips and salsa. I’m going for lunch…

  13. avatar Mk10108 says:

    “More importantly, get your mind off of stopping power and onto fighting.”

    Entertaining read and the pearl is the quote above.

  14. avatar Jay says:

    “get your mind off of stopping power and onto fighting. That’s what your gun is for, and it’s what you’ll be doing even if your gun doesn’t work. They don’t always. Most of us would be safer with some generic training in tactics and strategy for everyday life instead of blasting away at hanging paper, fun as it is.” Absolutely right!

  15. avatar former water walker says:

    Once again read “terminal ballistics as viewed in a morgue”. We’d all like to carry a 12gauge on our hip 🙂

  16. avatar Sid says:

    Are you freaking kidding me?

    Where in the world am I going to find a decent supply of phonogrpah needles to train and practice? I mean, yeh, the initial outlay for the gun is a significant expense. My real concern is finding PNs in quantity so that I can maintain my shooting ability.

    On a related note, is there any reliable data on the ballistics of standard phonograph needles versus the premium needles of makers like Astatic? Can I use subsonic PNs with a suppressor?

    1. avatar ropingdown says:

      Just remember that phonograph needles can only be fired from the .9mm handguns.

  17. avatar Mark N. says:

    Good advice, Doc. Can I get a prescription for that in 9mm?

  18. avatar Solitude says:

    Paul Gomez (RIP) said it best ammo in gun = time in the fight.

    1. avatar mark says:

      Yep, he hits the nail on the head–heaviest load in any given caliber gives the best and most consistent penetration. The reason for that is “sectional density,” which is what imparts momentum–the greater the sectional density the greater the momentum, the less likely the bullet will continue in a straight line against resistance.

      What’s interesting is that between the three most popular defense calibers there is a high degree of consistency as to sectional density, from lighter to heavier bullets:

      9mm / .355 caliber

      115 grain, SD .130
      124 grain, SD .141
      147 grain, SD .167

      .40 caliber

      155 grain, SD .138
      165 grain, SD .147
      180 grain, SD .161

      .45 caliber

      185 grain, SD .130
      200 grain, SD .140
      225 grain, SD .158
      230 grain, SD .162

      All this and more is borne out in the chart at this link: “common performance parameters for several 9×19mm”


      Given that the bullet performance of the three most popular calibers is remarkably similar, it makes sense to me to sacrifice a bit of diameter in favor of a round that I can load more of and with which I can execute faster aimed shots.

      Edit: Here’s a link to the article which Gomez’ video is based upon:

      Wound Ballistics: An Overview

      1. avatar mark says:


        the greater the sectional density the greater the momentum, the MORE likely the bullet will continue in a straight line against resistance.

  19. avatar Accur81 says:

    Once again, a mix of speculation and science. Thankfully more science than not.

    Where’s the science of the YouTube and Liveleak videos where handguns work well? There are plenty of instances where the sight of a handgun makes the bad guy turn tail. Fortunately that was mentioned in the article. There are also solid instances where multiple torso hits from a handgun has caused quick incapacitation. Heck, we saw multiple shoots from a Glock take out an ill-tempered moose! Finally, there are times when handguns have failed to produce an immediate effect. Just gotta suck it up and keep fighting.

    Your handgun is a tool to fight. It is a very good tool to fight with, and soundly beats knives, pepper spray, kicks, and punches. Usually. Fight your way to a rifle or shotgun, if possible. If not, keep fighting until you have won, you can retreat, or you are dead.

    Carry the biggest, most powerful handgun you can comfortably carry and shoot with reasonable accuracy and excellent reliability. A .380 is better than a .22. A 9mm / .357 / .40 / .45 is better than a .380. An AR is better than a handgun. A high quality semi auto12 gauge shotgun with 00 buck double tap has more ability to stop an attacker than than a .223 or 5.56 double tap. In a similar vein, my .45-70 LeverEvolution drops deer with authority. It hits much harder than my .30-06 or .308 within 100 yards. My .30-30 doesn’t hit as hard as my .308. My .454 Casull handgun dropped a 6 point buck virtually in an instant. My buddy has killed several deer with a .357 magnum, each requiring multiple hits. Revolvers are a special kind of loud, especially with an compensator.

    I don’t think there is any intelligent argument to use the *smallest* possible caliber or gun.

    And If you stuck with hand to hand combat, you’ll wish you spent some time in the gym and/or doing martial arts. The guy who bench presses 400 pounds is going to hit harder than the guy who lifts 300, 200, or my ex-girlfriend with an eating disorder who couldn’t bench press 45 pounds.

    Of course those who have situational awareness are probably less likely to be attacked in the first place, and if you don’t diet and exercise heart disease will get you.

  20. avatar Wes says:

    I have carried for years but I do not get out as much now to practice my dead-on aim or “oh shit” drills as much as I would like. However I have always subscribed to the notion that it is not as much the size of the round or even how fast it is about how many holes you poke in the perp. .22 and .380s are the hands of a competent and trained shooter as is any round really. However, I am not a LEO so I am by no means confident that I can drill someone between the eyes everytime and with adrenaline flowing. I am though a damn good shot when it comes to hitting the mass of the body which really, to KILL someone you have to poke holes in them that cause as much bleeding as possible. Now I am old school but when I go out into the rougher parts of town I tend to carry my .357 versus even my ever trusty .45. I know I only have 6 rounds but I also believe that I have a damn good chance of delivering both an entrance and exit wound (2 for 1 deal) and the more holes, the more bleeding. Also I still cannot bring myself to believe that even the best 1911 is going to be as reliable as my revolver if (hope never) I have to use it and if that day comes I want to drop them even if I don’t get that sub MOA grouping we all like to think we can pull off in the heat of the moment.

  21. avatar Chuck Haggard says:

    FBI spec ballistic gel is clearly the best way to predict bullet performance in the real world, and that research has been well vetted by comparison to animal testing and autopsy results such as;

    To say otherwise is ignorant at best.

    I can strongly concur that people hung up on caliber need to get to the range more and argue less.

    1. avatar DRF says:

      I read your article. Maybe you ought to as well. It excluded shots that hit bone. Without actually doing the research, I am confident that more than 95% of all bad guys have bone. I also must have missed the part where the article concluded anything at all about stopping power…could you point that out?

      Seriously, you are talking about bullet performance. I am talking about STOPPING POWER. They are related, but they are not the same thing. And seriously, the topic might make a great article for you to write.

      1. avatar Michael in GA says:

        I like this DRF guy! If James Yeager was a Doctor, he would be like DFR!

  22. avatar W.P. Zeller says:

    First of all, the good doctor stops the parade with “phonograph needles”. I can picture a large segment of readership asking, “what are those?”
    Meanwhile, when it comes to this subject, I go generally with three things and then move on to other topics.
    The real-life experiences of gunfight survivors do add up to a certain degree. Best anecdote ever, from a 30-year Chicago copper of my business acquaintence: “The only gun I’ve ever seen work every time is a 12-gauge with buckshot, and I even once saw a guy hit in the chest with that, go down, and get back up before a second shot killed him.”
    From this and similar recountings, one thought that comes is that multiple hits may indeed tend to cause more shock and debilitation just as a matter of overwhelming the body’s abilities to resist. But then I recall my (other old Chicago copper Bobby’s) buddy’s story of being trapped in a tenement vestibule with a drug-addled giant intent on decapitating him with a bayonet and watching his partner put six .357 Magnum 125s into the guy’s torso to utterly no effect. Or my old Gary copper buddy’s story of placing seven 9mm Hydrashocks into yet another raging drugged-up opponent and getting stabbed because the Hydrashocks had no effect.
    All three of those guys, incidentally, switched to .45ACP and are still employing it (when able).
    Second is a sort of mechanical-common-sense concept: bigger, heavier will break more stuff, and go through more stuff to break through more stuff.
    So, I have identical Commanders in .45 and .38 Super. I shoot the Super slightly better, and it holds two more rounds (11 vs. 9). My head computes that and says: .38. But my natural-mechanic’s gut instinct tells me bigger=better and so my .45 goes for a ride every day.
    And a final note: after shooting handguns avidly for over four decades, and handling guns every single day, my conclusion is that attending one, two, or three action pistol matches such as USPSA or IDPA a month will do more for you in a gunfight than almost anything: gunhandling, proficiency, familiarity, and gunhandling. Plus, gunhandling. You only get that if you go live, with (a modicum) of pressure, and have to think and keep thinking and working while the gun is still firing (instead of being enchanted by the gun firing, which you can see any day on any range).
    And work on your gunhandling, too.

  23. avatar Chuck Haggard says:

    The science behind FBI specification ballistic gel is well proven to match real world results, and is the best predictor to real world performance. To say otherwise is ignorant at best.
    One example;

    That said, people who obsess about caliber need to go to the range more and argue less.

  24. avatar bontai Joe says:

    I remember a shooting involving local police arresting an armed bad guy and they had him semi surrounded when the gun fight started. It was over 30 years ago, and I don’t remember the specifics, but the cops shot this guy multiple times in the chest and torso (more than 10 shots) and the bad guy finally tossed his gun, raised his hands and surrendered. He was handcuffed and transported to the hospital where it was discovered none of his multiple wounds as seriously life threatening. Apparently his 400 plus pound physique saved his life, because none of the bullets penetrated the layer of fat he had. One of the cops made the comment that his pistol was empty and he was still looking at the suspect standing, and had the thought, what do I do now?

  25. avatar Lurker_Of_Lurkiness says:

    “From a physics point of view, we could say “stopping” is taking the momentum of an object to 0.”

    In what reference fram? Just kidding.

    Anywho from a physics pov power is energy/time (well really the derivative of energy wrt time)

    Soo stopping power would be the rate of change of energy into the target per time.

    In a physics sense anyway.

  26. avatar Gov. William J. Le Petomane says:

    In the article by Mr. Eyears he states, ‘Although kinetic energy figures are handy keys, they are not a valid reflection of stopping power. Because the formula for calculating muzzle energy requires that bullet speed (by far the largest number in the mix) be squared, the power factor is distorted in favor of a smaller, lighter, and faster projectile.’

    This is not a flaw in calculating ‘stopping power’ it is a fundamental fact of physics. The energy contained in a moving object increases exponentially with increased velocity. If you want to make a bullet move out of the barrel at twice the speed, it’s not going to take twice the powder, it’s going to take 4 times as much powder, and when it strikes an object it’s going to transfer 4 times the energy into it. It doesn’t just work that way with bullets either. If a 100mph wind gust hits your house you will probably loose a few shingles. If a 200mph gust hits your house it will reduce it to a pile of toothpicks. And it works in reverse, a light fast bullet, often touted for a flat trajectory will shed it’s energy faster than a slow heavy one, whether the medium the bullet passes through is air or flesh.

    Ignoring this fact of physics leads to concluding that a FMC .45acp slug with 345lb/ft of energy has more ‘stopping power’ than a .223 round exerting 3.7 times as much energy. In the real world the .45 wound would look like a stab wound with an ice pick, while the .223 wound would look like the victim swallowed a mini hand grenade. The .45 round will slip right through a human torso and carry half it’s energy out the other side.

  27. As a gel tester, I admit to a tad of irritability when people call it “Jello testing” and refer to it as something worthwhile only “if a dessert attacks you”, etc.

    But other than that, I largely agree with the Doctor’s article. The simple fact is, if you get in a gunfight, you never know what your exact scenario will be. And after reading articles such as where Officer Tim Soulis poured twenty-two .40 S&W’s into a bad guy before he finally stopped (with 17 of them to the torso!), or where trooper Mark Coates poured five .357 Magnums into the chest of Richard Blackburn, who then got up and shot and killed Coates with a .22LR…

    … there is no other possible conclusion a reasonable person can come to, other than “stopping power is a myth.” There is no magical property of one handgun bullet over another handgun bullet that makes it magically stop attacks. DrF got it right; sometimes people stop because they are scared of the sight of a gun, sometimes they stop because they got shot and the sight of their own blood leaking out of them freaks them out, and sometimes they simply WILL NOT stop until you’ve forced them to, by damaging their body in ways that they cannot ignore (the dr’s mentioned items being the brain, the spinal cord, or the circulatory system organs).

    Yes, shot placement trumps caliber. A direct brain-stem shot with a .22 will stop any person immediately, whereas a shot in the leg with a .45 may not even slow them down.

    But here’s where it comes back to gel testing — ammo selection is the ONE area where we can actually make some choices that will make a difference. We cannot predict what our shooting scenario will be, and we cannot know if we will be up against someone who will drop their gun immediately once they’re hit, or someone who will take hit after hit of .45 and keep coming. You don’t know if you’ll be up against a 350-lb lineman or a meth-head or a fugitive with a murder warrant out on him (like Officer Soulis faced). You can train for shot placement, but when the bullets are actually flying and adrenaline has taken over and stress has reduced your fine motor skills to zero, how much of a difference will it really make? We don’t know.

    But what we do know, is that if you do manage to score a direct hit on the bad guy, but your ammo sucks… then it won’t stop him. A direct hit to the base of the skull may be tremendous shot placement — but if you’re shooting paintballs, it isn’t gonna bring the bad guy down. A direct shot to the heart with a .22LR may or may not go into the heart — little lightweight .22LR bullets are highly prone to veering off course. And a direct shot with ammo that doesn’t penetrate deep enough won’t do you any good either.

    You can avoid all those problems by a) carrying enough gun, and b) carrying ammo that has been tested and proven to do its part. If you do your part, but your ammo fails on its end, you’re screwed. But if you do your part, and the ammo does its part, then — together, you’ve got the best chance of stopping the bad guy as quickly as possible.

    So — with all due respect, I do think standardized gel testing is a vital thing to do, and — while it’s not the ONLY thing that matters (obviously!) it IS the only thing that you can actually buy that may actually make a real difference.

    1. avatar Gov. William J. Le Petomane says:

      The only thing you can control is how much damage your bullet does to the flesh it impacts. If you face a foe that will not willfully cease his attack and is armed with a firearm, the only way to end the attack is to unplug his computer. Even a solid heart shot will leave him 10 or 15 seconds to continue to fire. So to that extent, it is a crapshoot.

  28. avatar Grindstone says:

    “You can always run.”

    The handicapped would like a word with you, doctor.

    1. avatar DRF says:

      As one entitled to a handicapped placard, I completely understand. Once I gained that unfortunate privilege, I was even more grateful for the right to keep and bear.

  29. avatar Sheepdog6 says:

    Minor sticking point. The FAA standard for passenger aircraft is 190 and 195 pounds now, depending on the season.

    All your conclusions are invalid now…

    Kidding. Really. Again. Still.

  30. avatar Indiana Tom says:

    After viewing actual gel blocks at the NRA convention, I just have little faith that one round is going to stop the crook. Rifle and shotgun rounds would do much more damage than a pistol round. The gun control crowd states you do not need the “high capacity” magazines, but reviewing actual shootings, I can see a possible good many rounds being expended to eliminate the threat, especially with multiple thugs of whom I almost had a DGU with. Having shot more than a few animals, shot placement can be key.

  31. avatar jwm says:

    we can run. Like a striped assed ape if given the chance. We can call 911. But when all else fails we need a gun. Caliber means squat. The gun must work. No excuses, it must work each and every time.

    No ammo preferences(hunt with a guy who’s 870 remington will choke on winchester brand ammo), no finicky mags. No excuses. If it don’t work reliably every time it doesn’t need to be on you.

    1. What the GLOCK are you talking about!

      1. avatar jwm says:

        I see what you did there.

  32. avatar Full Cleveland says:

    So to some up;
    As a spear is to a knife long guns are better than handguns hence the worldwide armament of soldiers with long guns but handguns are often effective in non military self defense situations.
    Handguns require continual practice for both accuracy and skillful deployment.
    Self defense scenarios vary in too many ways to predict but self confidence is paramount to control the threat.
    Understand your weapons strengths and limitations.

  33. avatar AD Snuff says:

    The trouble with predicting the outcome of a wounded assailant is obvious to me. I have seen and I’m sure some of you have heard it, a guy in prison that got there because of their violent gang ways. Some of them have been shot over 20 times through out there gang carriers and seem to be proud of it. It is more of the question of will a wound deter the assailant from his attack or are we better off with a stun gun or other devices. The odds are they will survive the ordeal. But, will we survive as well if we had something other than a weapon that merely blew a single hole in there gut.

  34. “…get your mind off of stopping power and onto fighting.”

    Best. Advice. Ever.

    Thank you, Mr. Zimmerman.

  35. avatar Robert Curry says:

    I still have reasonable confidence in the stopping power of my .454 Casull revolver, loaded with 270 grain hollowpoints, if used against an attacking human target! (No, it is not the most portable or concealable, or the best for indoor use, but it IS very EFFECTIVE!)–You and the target may BOTH be deaf after firing it indoors without ear protection, but HEY, even MEDICINE has “side effects!”

  36. avatar Don from CT says:

    I stopped reading after about 10 seconds because the good Dr. can’t get the math right in his chart.

    a .45 has 60% more frontal area than a 9mm/.38/357. But his chart only reflects a 25% increase.

    If he can’t get basic algebra right, how can we expect the more complex stuff right.


    p.s. My math – the area of a circle is pi x R^2.
    pi is a constant, so we can drop that.

    The important fact re relationsihps is the squared aspect. So we can use diameter since diameter is 2 x R and its a constant so irrelevant in comparisons.

    .452^2 / .356^2 = 1.61

    His frontal area chart –
    9mm – 1.12
    .45 – 1.41

    1.41/1.12 = 1.25

    1. avatar DRF says:

      The chart belongs to the editor. I didn’t do it!

  37. avatar Ed Parker says:

    While tests have not been done on humans, as you state, per se, statistical data and some cold blooded tests on the “Goats at Strasbourg” have given the “best stopping power” award to the .357 magnum 125 gr hollowpoint moving at 1468 fps, for its 96% one-shot-stop record.

    The doctor’s points are well made – the gun/caliber/bullet combination, while a significant factor, is not the only factor in surviving a gunfight. A board doesn’t care what kind of hammer pounded that nail in, and the board doesn’t care about the size of the nail. But if the nail penetrates the board sufficiently to hold the picture, the job is done. A human doesn’t care if he has been shot by a Davis or a Korth. A human feels the pain of the shot but unless there is critical damage to the central nervous system, reaction to that pain varies. If the human abandons the attack, the job is done. Cemeteries are full of people who were shot with a .22.

  38. avatar asdf says:

    Stick to physicianing; leave the physics to the physicists. Your walking man example has about 27 times the momentum of a standard .45 ACP bullet. Not “8plus 1”.

    Don’t know where your math went wrong, but I’m assuming it was in unit conversion.

  39. avatar ed sanson says:

    i was caught in the bed with another woman n the ol lady shot me 14 times in the head with a 25 acp, i continued makin love until she camr back with the 12 gauge and finished me off, so handguns dont stop nothing, not even sex.

  40. avatar Wyantry says:

    So in this new century, why hasn’t some enterprising engineer/doctor/manufacturer come up with a “standard” combination target?
    Since most weapons-training seems to emphasize “center-mass” targeting, then attempting to accurately duplicate the rib-cage/sternum/spine within ballistic gel would allow for more meaningful comparisons.
    I envision a block of ballistic gelatin with “bones” made of some equivalent-density plastic in specific locations to replicate human rib-cage/sternum or pelvis/spine conditions; or any other interesting anatomical parts.
    Then tests can accurately be made and specific ballistic damage assessed.

  41. avatar Michael says:

    Very interesting read and I agree, there’s far too many variables to ever know how a certain projectile in whatever caliber is going to work. What I have always believed is most of the time gunfights stop very quickly simply because no one wants to be shot. Take a look at any video where some twisted mental reject has opened fire and everyone starts running in every direction there is. Why? Same reason I mentioned earlier, obviously! No one wants to be shot. I, like anyone else on here I’m sure doesn’t want to be popped with a BB gun, let alone anything that uses gunpowder to make it work. Caliber wars will go on forever and they’re usually by people that have never ever been in a gunfight. Even if they have been, they only know how things worked that time and believe that it always will. Unfortunately it isn’t true. The results could be entirely different the next time. If someone has to shoot a bad guy and that bad guy is very determined, the good guy is going to be in for a real big surprise when they find out the heat seeking bad guy killing bullets the gun shop clerk sold him aren’t working at all like he said they would. Human beings can withstand a tremendous amount of trauma and still survive. Our young men and women that have come home from whatever war they were sent to without an arm or a leg prove that in every way, so when you consider that, you realize your handgun, no matter what caliber pretty much sucks. But, it’s a damn sight better than nothing at all and the biggest factor is the bad guy realizes you’re armed and you’re going to shoot him or her also. That changes their thinking in very short order. It doesn’t mean they’ll stop what they had intended, but at least you can fight back with equal force.
    Best wishes to all!

  42. avatar Jared Smith says:

    After 4 years on carrying several dozen combinations of handguns, calibers, brands etc Ive settled on My Sig P224 in 357 Sig loaded with Speer gold dots. Some people say that calibers such as 357 Sig, 10mm, even the revered 357 Magnum are no distinct advantage over 9mm .40 & .45 because they don’t travel at rifle velocities, but I have to think that that is flat out incorrect. I think a 357 Sig round at 1400 fps is going to be more effective than a 9mm +p @ 1200 ish…assuming that you can get good hits. Does anyone care to weigh in?

  43. avatar Bip says:

    Carry the most powerful, concealable handgun you can shoot quickly and accurately. Nothing exists in a test tube, except experiments. We do the best we can, while realizing nothing is perfect except for God…The most reliable.

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