Thursday, December 30, 2010

Handgun stopping power

Handgun stopping power is a subject that has been discussed, argued, and debated for many years. We are not talking about killing power, which is not the issue in mortal  defensive combat. A .22 Short through the biceps that misses major blood vessels, but has dirty lint on it may eventually kill, but chances are it will not stop a fight.

For defensive combat purposes, the first order of business is to be armed. Whether a .22 Short or a .45 Auto, if the handgun is in a safe back home, it is useless. I think very small handguns, such as the NAA mini-revolvers, deserve a place in the defensive battery, simply because of their small size. They are only .22 caliber, but can truly go discreetly anywhere that it is legal to carry a handgun. And, most people don't really want to be shot with any caliber of gun (psychological).

Stopping power can be divided into two major categories, psychological, and physiological.

If a person is shot and thinks he is done for, he probably is, even though most handgun shootings are not fatal. On the other hand, soldiers, police officers, criminals, and determined armed citizens have sustained serious wounds and still prevailed. A person's mindset* can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of a lethal encounter.

The physiological effects can be divided into two sub-categories, major blood loss and trauma/shock due to organ/tissue damage, and central nervous system (cns) shutdown due to a spine or brain hit.

  • Organ/tissue damage is analogous to shooting a radiator hose in a car. The engine will eventually overheat due to coolant loss and the car will stop. Likewise, as blood drains due to tissue damage, the blood supply to the brain eventually ceases, and the cns shuts down. This may take seconds or minutes, during which time an assailant can still cause significant bodily injury or death.  With an abdominal shot, the time frame may be extended to hours or days, and barring treatment, infection may eventually cause death. The upper chest center is generally recognized as the best target area, because of the organs there. There is also the possibility of hitting the spine, which should instantly incapacitate (cns hit).
  • Another target area is the left or right pelvic area. This has the advantage of possibly breaking the pelvic girdle, limiting mobility (the assailant falls down), and possibly rupturing the femoral artery (blood loss).
  • The third target area is the head. This is analogous to shooting the car's distributor or computer, which means the engine stops now. A good head shot, likewise, should cause instant incapacitation and probably death. This instantly shuts down the cns, but is the most difficult target to hit. Some law enforcement agencies teach two shots quickly to the chest, assess, and one carefully aimed to the head, (the Mozambique Drill). Even a .22 Long Rifle (LR) to the cerebellum should cause instant incapacitation and death. Thus excellent stopping power, if delivered to the cerebellum. [I had the personal experience of delivering a .22 LR to the cerebellum of a bull elk years ago. He had taken several shots from a .30-06 to the chest, and was down, but not out. He would have died soon, but, to help him along and prevent unnecessary suffering, I pulled my .22 Ruger pistol and administered the coup de grace.
There is no guaranteed one shot stop. Therefore, shot placement is very important, calling for lots of practice. I have recently gone to the 9mm because the stopping power of the 9mm with modern hollow point ammo approaches that of the .45 Auto, and the nine offers much larger capacity in similar sized handguns. If I have to shoot, I will shoot until the threat is stopped.

*See Cooper's Color Codes. If one is not caught in White, one can more likely respond quickly to an attack, mount a counterattack, and defeat his assailant.

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Disclaimer: The information and ideas presented in this column are provided for informational purposes only. Gun rights, like all other Constitutionally recognized rights, must be exercised responsibly. Firearms, like cars, kitchen knives and life itself all can be dangerous. You should get professional training as part of any plan to use firearms for any purpose. I have made a reasonable, good-faith effort to assure that the content of this column is accurate. I have no control over what you do, and specifically accept no responsibility for anything you do as a result of reading my columns. Any action or lack of action on your part is strictly your responsibility.


Mad Saint Jack said...

I shot a NAA mini when I was a kid. I could not hit a soda can at a distance of 4 feet. Personally I'll take any blade over the mini revolver (the 21 foot rule works both ways).

As to 9mm, I think one of the best reasons to shoot it is cheap ammo. Cheap ammo means more practice, practice means more hits.

Unknown said...

You've missed one important aspect. Add a discussion of the vagus nerve with respect to cardiac function, and you'll have a better picture.

Richard said...

Anyone worth shooting once is worth shooting twice.

Anonymous said...

My training officer taught us to keep shooting until the target(s) are down.

Anonymous said...

"There is no guaranteed one shot stop."

Anyone ever survive getting hit by a 20mm round yet?

Anonymous said...

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