John Farnam writes [via ammoland.com]

The problem in “researching” pistol ballistic performance is that the only “data base” we have to consult has too few samples, and samples we have are mostly second-hand narratives, which are invariably influenced by any number of agendas, political, personal, and commercial.

Sanow and Marshall readily acknowledged the foregoing as they did their research, which still enjoys considerable credibility, even today.

Rapid and permanent de-animation has always been our goal when confronting a close-range threat, and attacking the supply side of the felon’s circulatory system has always been the most reliable, and achievable, vehicle for doing so. Even so, most cardiologists agree with the “five-second rule.”

When blood pressure drops to near zero, even within a very few seconds, most people will still remain animated, for at least five more seconds, before becoming comatose.

And, “five seconds” is the minimum. Some cardiologists insist the real figure is closer to ten seconds, or more!

Rapid de-animation, however, is the result of more than just falling blood-pressure levels.

Individual physiological factors enter the equation. Some people fall down when shot (even in non-vital places) for no reason other than that they want to. They literally “act out” what they think they’re supposed to do, absent any external physical compulsion. A consequence of a squandered youth spent watching TV!

There is also the nebulous issue of “neural-shock paralysis,” upon which even eminent neurologists don’t agree. In any event, neural shock, if any, cannot be predicted, nor produced on demand. Sometimes it’s there, and sometimes it’s not, all for reasons no one really understands.

Neural shock was present, in spades, in the below-described incident!

As operators, we must do our part with regard to speed, accuracy, volume, and movement, but we must also be mentally prepared to confront nearly any eventuality, from the felon turning and running away, to the felon falling down immediately (albeit sometimes re-animating seconds later), to the felon continuing his attack while displaying scant discomfort!

In a near-fatal incident several years ago, one of my students (a police officer) came upon the scene of a bar-room shooting seconds after it happened:

The shootee had been hit at close range with a single 180gr 40S&W bullet (high-performance hollow point from a major manufacturer), launched from a G23.

Two antagonists were in near physical contact, and the bullet in question was launched from chest-height, at a downward angle. It entered the shootee, penetrating medium clothing (including a leather vest), passed through his body, and exited the shootee’s buttocks. It subsequently stuck the bar-room floor, skidded into a corner, and came to rest next to the baseboard.

Upon discovery and examination, the bullet in question showed some external striations (probably from the bar-room floor), but was otherwise unexpanded. Its hollow cavity was stuffed with batting (from when it passed-through the shootee’s clothing). The bullet probably could have been reloaded!

So, the bullet itself “failed completely,” at least by modern standards of ballistic performance. It passed through the body like hardball, without even the slightest expansion.

However, witnesses confirmed that the shootee, immediately upon being struck, de-animated and collapsed completely, as if he had been electrocuted! He was instantly comatose, and altogether unresponsive for several minutes, recovering a degree of consciousness only later.

The shootee ultimately survived the incident, albeit with some permanent disablement and disfigurement. But, in the short-term, he was taken out of the fight instantaneously, rendered totally impotent the moment the bullet struck him.

That is exactly the result we what we want from pistol bullets, eh?

And, you need not look very far to find examples of the opposite: “Perfect ballistic performance,” combined with “terminal-effect disappointment!”So here is an example of a “ballistic failure,” combined with a “ terminal-effect success.” Yet, the two are not supposed to go together, are they?

The foregoing is what makes this subject so difficult to study, and why we need to be cautious when coming to sweeping conclusions, and making recommendations, based on a single incident, nor believing glowing reports about “wonder-bullets.”

Consistent expansion of pistol bullets in human tissue is still desirable, for any number of reasons, and any ammunition we carry and use needs to be selected with that in mind. But, we still need to do our part, including the avoidance of “unrealistic expectations!”

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53 Responses to John Farnham: Be Realistic About Your Defensive Ammo

  1. It just goes to show you that anyone worth shooting is worth shooting as many times as it takes them to stop being a threat. That’s why magazine capacity limits are one of the worst travesties against Americans’ rights since the 1940s.

      • Internment of US citizens of Japanese ancestry is probably what the OP means.

        80K US citizens imprisoned without so much as a hearing in a court of law plus another 30-40K non citizens but still on our soil and therefore “protected” the Constitution.

        Yeah, I’d call that a travesty. Hell, I’d call that an abomination.

        • Honestly, we could sum up FDRs entire presidency as the worst tragedy for freedom in America. The creation of government programs/regulations which are now bankrupting us, the notion that America has to be involved in every war in every nation, the creation of the military industrial complex and how we always have a huge military with a bloated budget, the fact that he made it okay to jail people based on “We don’t like how they look.”

          It’s not surprising that FDR is rated as one of our “greatest” presidents by many. The right and the left both love huge fascist governments and FDR injected that into our country like no other. And the things I talked about are only the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t even go into his farm bill and other market blunders which still hurt us to this day.

        • Actually , Adam , although I would agree that Roosevelt was in the top five as worst presidents for the Republic of These United States , he certainly wasn’t THE WORST , I would put A. Jackson #1 , W. Wilson #2 , Theo Roosevelt #3 , F. D. Roosevelt #4 and give old Berry the #5 spot . ………………………………… and as far as the ballistics issue , the bleed factor has been my argument all along as the #1 factor in a gun fight . Your ability to put as many projectiles , on target , into your adversary , as possible , is key , you increase your odds of effectiveness in numbers ( volume ) of holes and if your intentions are actually to end the life of your assailant then in my humble opinion the smallest caliber with the highest velocity will create the greatest loss of blood while at the same time making the most areas of blood loss effectively making repair by medical personal much less likely . Blood loss is the #1 reason for gun shot deaths . The 22 magnum can create between 200 and 300 foot pounds of energy at close distances depending on length of barrel and of coarse ammo choice and with little to no recoil it can have the greatest chance of finding it’s intended target from the greatest number of casually trained of shooters . The PMR 30 holds 30 rounds of 22 WMR ammo , safer to say 28-29 rounds but given all parameters I believe it to be a very effective self defense tool in most persons hands , and being a full frame , light weight , pistol with decent sights and an exceptional trigger only adds credibility to it as a very good gun to consider as a CCW.

  2. ‘As operators, we must…’ That’s where he lost me.

    I’ve heard enough stories of .30-06 heart shot deer bolting like a bat out of hell before dropping 50 yards away to understand that immediate stopping of a violent assault can only happen from either a psychological stop or from either obliterating the brain or the cord that connects it to the rest of the body. About all you can do is hit ’em. hit ’em hard, hit ’em again and pray.

  3. Oh I don’t expect miracles from my 9mm loaded with HP ammo. If I want a I shot stop I’ll use my 12gauge. But it doesn’t fit in my pocket…

  4. I do my own testing of ammo at my own range. Bought one box (need to test first) of what was supposed to high quality HP ammo; not so much. Totally failed my ballistics tests miserably. I recovered those slugs along with other brands of HPs & actually took the samples to the next gun show I knew they were going to be at. They were at a loss to explain the total failure & were going to research the issue; they were also grateful for the physical samples & feedback. Main conclusion was a batch of ammo with insufficient powder load. Tests were done with sub compact, compact & full size pistols to eliminate barrel length issues; all slugs were identical with all 3 size pistols. Moral of this long winded story, do your own testing (if possible) with the actual batch of ammo you purchased; it may not be up to par.

    • I do my own testing too. Although expensive, it’s really the only way for me to verify for myself. I appreciate Luckygunner testing but will always take a vendor’s results with a grain of salt.

      Which ammunition are you referring too?

      • The company that had the severely underperforming ammo was very concerned and much appreciated my input. They were very concerned about it’s performance. Because of their pro-active response I voluntarily told them that I would not disclose my findings by name or company; I am sticking to this. Ammo that has tested very well for ME is Speer Gold Dot GDHP 9mm 124 gr, Magtech BJHP 9mm 124 gr, Remington 38+P 38 Spl, American Eagle SJSP .357 mag 158 gr, Blazer Brass SJHP .357 mag 158 gr, Fiocchi SJHP .357 mag 125 gr, Magtech SJSP .357 mag 158 gr, Ruger ARX 9mm and Ruger ARX .380 ACP. The Ruger (made by Polycase) ARX ammo is eye opening; this stuff is have your cake & eat it too. Going to get around to testing the ARX in .357 mag; this should be something else. By the way, ARX .380 performs like (for me) a quality 9mm or 38 spl HP with less recoil. Basically takes a sub compact Ruger LCP Custom to 9mm compact performance levels (by my testing).

        • I’m carrying the ARX ammo in my P3AT (10 shot now) also got some for my wife’s .38 snub.. Shoots accurately. Until I come across a possum, dillo or fresh deer carcus to really test it on I’ll have no way (becides ammo quest) how good it really is. I need to get some of the .45 colt and shoot a hog and see. I picked up some of CCI’s copper-22’s haven’t had a chance to try em out yet. Looks like the same type bullet.

        • Just FYI, make sure that when you buy Ruger/Polycase ammo that you are picking up the ARX and not the RNP product. RNP is just a round nose bullet & behaves as such. The fluted ARX is the tissue destroyer. The CCI .22 is similar but different. It’s not fluted & lacks range.

  5. Check out Lucky Gunner, http://www.luckygunner.com/labs/self-defense-ammo-ballistic-tests/
    One of the best, most comprehensive testing of handgun defense rounds I’ve seen. The detail, research, breadth of testing, and real-life scenario testing (clothing, FBI standards, etc.) are all there. And the best part – photos of the fired rounds – some of the better expanding rounds had only 3 of the 5 rounds expand at all, some rounds tore apart, etc. – exactly the scenario above. One must consider consistent, reliable performance.

        • Interesting. The anomalies in velocity are probably due to variations in cylinder gaps. Slower (heavier) bullets spend more time in the barrel and lose more energy out the cylinder gap. Hopefully they’ll test out some of the full pressure stuff and not just the neutered factory stuff. A 158gr. bullet with a light charge and a short barrel might run around 1000-1100fps whereas a full charge out of a 6″ barrel will launch the same bullet at over 1500fps. Might have a drastic effect on terminal ballistics.

    • … and after reading that, Mrs. C. and I are in the process of function-testing some of the ones we thought looked good.

      We intend to run about 100 rounds from 5 or so brands through each of our primary go-to pistols, looking for misfeeds and other problems, as well as how well we shoot using that ammo.

      One nice thing about having owned 1911s … it helps you remember to check whether your gun likes your defensive ammo.

    • I’m glad they didn’t do any of the gimmicky crap that people on youtube seem to love, like shoving cow bones and whatnot in the middle of the block. That’s a nice test in an easy to read format- thanks for the link.

  6. I understand that if you shoot someone with a 9mm,the bullet will bounce off their chest. If you shoot with a .45 and miss though, any struck buildings will explode on contact. This leaves the .40 as the best choice. It won’t hurt your hand to shoot unless you’re a girly man, but will still magically gain extra energy in the air. Enough to knock any bad guy down.

    Or, something like that

  7. Shot #1….Go for the penis. When they immediately look down, their mouth an O as in OMG then: Shot #2….top of the head! In my DGU’s this has proven to be effective. At ease.

  8. A .22 can stop a human, but rarely does. A .45 can stop a human and often does.

    One of the prime reasons taken from studies back in the mid 1970s is the shock wave which travels through the fluids of the body. As it travels out from the point of impact it shocks the internal organs, nerve system, brain, lungs, and blood vessels. These shocks to internal systems interrupt the coordinated body functions. Nerve signals are interrupted/stunned. A sort of “shock and awe” in the way an earthquake sends out shock waves. Combat veterans have experienced this affect during heavy artillery barrages. The shock waves stun many into a state of temporary catatonia which is a secondary intended purpose of such an attack.

    In the 1970s this led to the creation of ammunitions which had tremendous expansion rates. One maker produced a .38 Spl round which, upon initial contact, expanded to .50 while retaining something over 90% of it’s mass. Reports indicated that the “victim” was rendered incapacitated immediately and out of action.

    • No one would claim that .22 rimfire is a great defensive round, but it ain’t terrible either. Greg Ellifritz documented a large number of shootings using police and ME reports.

      To answer your claim that a .22 rarely stops a human, the correct numbers are a 31% probability of stopping with one shot, and a 69% probability of stopping with multiple shots. The average number of shots to incapacitation is 1.38.

  9. It irritates me that even “high level” training classes have such emphasis on double taps and Mozambique drills. You might need an octuple tap to take out someone on PCP. I think a close range 1/2 mag or full Mag dump is entirely realistic.

    Anyways, shoot the threat until it ain’t a threat and carry on – preferably with a good lawyer.

    • Unless you experience extreme bullet failure, I don’t think any amount of PCP (or bath salts or jenkem, etc.) will render a properly executed Mozambique drill insufficient. However, if you do put a Mozambique on someone you’d better have a damn good lawyer and probably a couple of witnesses who will testify on your behalf. It would be a pretty easy sell for a prosecutor to claim that the third round to the head was a deliberate act with the premeditated intent to kill after the threat was neutralized. You’re better off with a full mag dump to the chest.

  10. Anyone ever pushed adenosine? Chemically stops the heart for what seems like 10 minutes when you are watching the EKG, but it’s more like 5 seconds. Most people feel crappy but don’t pass out.

  11. As long as the box of bullets has “DEFENSE” on it in big fat letters, its good enough. Just in case they try to pull one of those intent to kill with man killer bullets and super high performance fancy snazzy unobotanium charged cartridges.

    Probably the most important thing because just about any reliable off the shelf bullet gets the job done but if you get dragged to court… It may help to have a box of ‘defense’ ammo.

    Then again I know nothing so. blah!

  12. What was that crazy movie where the guy put mercury in the bullets and sealed it with wax? maybe? I always wondered where they got that idea?

  13. Just another episode in the drama of “pistols are HORRIBLE defensive weapons”.
    Roughly 80%…..that’s FOUR OUT OF FIVE people, shot with a handgun survive
    the incident. The ONLY reason to carry a handgun is because you cannot carry
    a long gun. Until blasters, light sabers and phasers become routinely available it’s
    probable that the lowly handgun firing chemically powered lead projectiles will remain
    the defacto tool of self defense for most people. Not because it’s great. But because it
    is better than nothing. It has the one shining positive that most other concealable hand
    weapons do not……it doesn’t require much strength, practice or experience to be used
    by an average person successfully. ( although practice and experience never hurts).

  14. The facts are that most defensive armed encounters are resolved with just the PRESENTATION of a hand gun. Furthermore, the best statistics say that most encounters where shots are fired, end favorably with something like an average of one point something rounds fired into the BG.

    Handguns may not be the Hammer of Thor, but having one on one’s person can USUALLY get a person out of a tight spot. If the person carrying one does something stupid or gets into a fight with an extraordinary individual, all bets are off. But, personally, knowing ALL this, I feel SO much safer with my little, ultra-reliable, seven shot 9mm semi holstered under my shirt. Cause I know that, If I do my part, it will save my life in the vast majority of bad situations that I might encounter.

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