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Law Enforcement Handgun Stopping Power Part One; Bullet Placement, Weapon & Ammo Selection, Shooting Penetration & More

Those who carry a weapon for self defense are concerned with the ability of the firearm-caliber ammunition combination to neutralize the threat. We are not shooting to kill, but to stop aggression or neutralize a threat. The firearm we choose has to be capable enough to do the job if we do ours. A S&W 500 Magnum is useless if you cannot hit anything with it. Bullet placement is the key.

Weapon & Ammo Selection

If we do our part, what is needed in weapon and ammo selection to accomplish our mission of survival? First we need two things, the ability to quickly and accurately put lead on target. If you don’t hit the target all other arguments are moot. Second if you are aiming to center mass, meaning the torso, you need to create as much damage as possible and penetrate to the vital organs. A surface wound will not stop someone who is high on adrenalin; a deep extensive wound channel is needed to disrupt the control system, meaning shots and damage to the nervous system. In police shootings, only about 30% of the rounds fired strike the intended target.

Handgun Stopping Power

Given the primary criteria of control and subsequent physiological reactions experienced in a deadly force situation, a point has to go to the 9mm. Of all the pistol calibers available, the 9mm Luger or Parabellum is the most benign and controllable for the shooter. Given the low hit rate in armed confrontations the added magazine capacity would also merit consideration. The .40 S&W and the .357 SIG are high intensity rounds with higher recoil and muzzle blast due to relatively high operational pressures. The .45 ACP propels a heavy bullet at a lower velocity experiencing only moderate pressure, but again relative high recoil.

One Stop Shot Scenario

We can define stopping power as the ability of the firearm to defeat an aggressive, hostile and violent offender from killing or maiming you in the shortest time possible. There are many incidents where an assailant has outlived a lethal wound long enough to kill his opponent. Is stopping power quantifiable? Well, probably not. There are too many variables in a typical shooting incident for a number representing stopping power to be viable. Some studies have relied on stopping aggression with only a single hit. Given the low hit rate, increased pulse rate, loss of motor skills of the shooter and the existence of chemicals in the target (adrenaline or drugs) and the targets mental state it is unlikely this type of one hit scenario can be definitive.

Shooting Control, Penetration & Wound Creation

The FBI has conducted numerous tests and attempt to quantify stopping power. The FBI search started after an incident in Miami when during an altercation with five agents wounded and two dead. The FBI initiated a search to find a more robust round and gun that were more adequate than the .38 Special and .357 Magnums they were armed with. From this study the 10mm was born followed by its little brother, the 40 S&W auto. The goal was to attempt to balance the characteristics of control, penetration and wound creation. But the 40 S&W is too much gun for some shooters. Most, but arguably not all small handed individuals, particularly women, find the 9mm to be their ideal.

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