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The Old Caliber Debate

Discussion in 'Tactical And Home Defense' started by Sn3aKyGuY, May 21, 2012.

  1. Sn3aKyGuY

    Sn3aKyGuY .30-06

    Messages:
    1,166
    This article pretty much sums up my views on this discussion. Good read no matter your opinion.

    Firearms Stopping Power: A Different Perspective
    by Greg Ellifritz, TDI Instructor/Staff

    I’ve been interested in firearm stopping power for a very long time. I remember reading Handguns magazine back in the late 1980s when Evan Marshall was writing articles about his stopping power studies. When Marshall’s first book came out in 1992, I ordered it immediately, despite the fact that I was a college student and really couldn’t afford its $39 price tag. Over the years I bought all of the rest of Marshall’s books as well as anything else I could find on the subject. I even have a first edition of Gunshot Injuries by Louis Lagarde published in 1915.

    Every source I read has different recommendations. Some say Marshall’s data is genius. Some say it is statistically impossible. Some like big heavy bullets. Some like lighter, faster bullets. There isn’t any consensus. The more I read, the more confused I get. One thing I remember reading that made a lot of sense to me was an article by Massad Ayoob. He came out with his own stopping power data around the time Marshall published Handgun Stopping Power. In the article Ayoob took his critics to task. He suggested that if people didn’t believe his data, they should collect their own and do their own analysis. That made sense to me. So that’s just what I did.

    Over a 10-year period, I kept track of stopping power results from every shooting I could find. I talked to the participants of gunfights, read police reports, attended autopsies, and scoured the newspapers, magazines, and Internet for any reliable accounts of what happened to the human body when it was shot. I documented all of the data I could; tracking caliber, type of bullet (if known), where the bullet hit and whether or not the person was incapacitated. I also tracked fatalities, noting which bullets were more likely to kill and which were not. It was an exhaustive project, but I’m glad I did it and I’m happy to report the results of my study here.

    Before I get to the details, I must give a warning. I don’t have any dog in this fight! I don’t sell ammo. I’m not being paid by any firearm or ammunition manufacturer. I carry a lot of different pistols for self defense. Within the last 2 weeks, I’ve carried a .22 magnum, a .380 auto, a .38spl revolver, 3 different 9mm autos and a .45 auto. I don’t have an axe to grind. If you are happy with your 9mm, I’m happy for you. If you think that everyone should be carrying a .45 (because they don’t make a .46), I’m cool with that too. I 'm just reporting the data. If you don’t like it, take Mr. Ayoob’s advice….do a study of your own.

    A few notes on terminology:

    Since it was my study, I got to determine the variables and their definitions. Here’s what I looked at:
    • Number of people shot
    • Number of rounds that hit
    • On average, how many rounds did it take for the person to stop his violent action or be incapacitated? For this number, I included hits anywhere on the body.
    • What percentage of shooting incidents resulted in fatalities. For this, I included only hits to the head or torso.
    • What percentage of people were not incapacitated no matter how many rounds hit them
    • Accuracy. What percentage of hits was in the head or torso. I tracked this to check if variations could affect stopping power. For example, if one caliber had a huge percentage of shootings resulting in arm hits, we may expect that the stopping power of that round wouldn’t look as good as a caliber where the majority of rounds hit the head.
    • One shot stop percentage- number of incapacitations divided by the number of hits the person took. Like Marshall’s number, I only included hits to the torso or head in this number.
    • Percentage of people who were immediately stopped with one hit to the head or torso

    Here are the results:

    .25 ACP
    # of people shot- 68
    # of hits- 150
    % of hits that were fatal- 25%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 2.2
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 35%
    One-shot-stop %- 30%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 62%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 49%

    .22 (Short, Long and Long Rifle)
    # of people shot- 154
    # of hits- 213
    % of hits that were fatal- 34%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 1.38
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 31%
    One-shot-stop %- 31%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 76%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 60%

    .32 (both .32 Long and .32 ACP)
    # of people shot- 25
    # of hits- 38
    % of hits that were fatal- 21%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 1.52
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 40%
    One-shot-stop %- 40%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 78%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 72%

    .380 ACP
    # of people shot- 85
    # of hits- 150
    % of hits that were fatal- 29%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 1.76
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 16%
    One-shot-stop %- 44%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 76%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 62%

    .38 Special
    # of people shot- 199
    # of hits- 373
    % of hits that were fatal- 29%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 1.87
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 17%
    One-shot-stop %- 39%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 76%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 55%

    9x19mm Parabellum
    # of people shot- 456
    # of hits- 1121
    % of hits that were fatal- 24%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 2.45
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 13%
    One-shot-stop %- 34%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 74%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 47%

    .357 (both Magnum and SIG)
    # of people shot- 105
    # of hits- 179
    % of hits that were fatal- 34%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 1.7
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 9%
    One-shot-stop %- 44%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 81%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 61%

    .40 S&W
    # of people shot- 188
    # of hits- 443
    % of hits that were fatal- 25%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 2.36
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 13%
    One-shot-stop %- 45%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 76%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 52%

    .45 ACP
    # of people shot- 209
    # of hits- 436
    % of hits that were fatal- 29%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 2.08
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 14%
    One-shot-stop %- 39%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 85%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 51%

    .44 Magnum
    # of people shot- 24
    # of hits- 41
    % of hits that were fatal- 26%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 1.71
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 13%
    One-shot-stop %- 59%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 88%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 53%

    Rifle (all Centerfire)
    # of people shot- 126
    # of hits- 176
    % of hits that were fatal- 68%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 1.4
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 9%
    One-shot-stop %- 58%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 81%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 80%

    Shotgun (All, but 90% of results were 12 gauge)
    # of people shot- 146
    # of hits- 178
    % of hits that were fatal- 65%
    Average number of rounds until incapacitation- 1.22
    % of people who were not incapacitated- 12%
    One-shot-stop %- 58%
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 84%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 86%

    Discussion:

    I really would have liked to break it down by individual bullet type, but I didn’t have enough data points to reach a level of statistical significance. Getting accurate data on over 1800 shootings was hard work. I couldn’t imagine breaking it down farther than what I did here. I also believe the data for the .25, .32 and .44 Magnum should be viewed with suspicion. I simply don’t have enough data (in comparison to the other calibers) to draw an accurate comparison. I reported the data I have, but I really don’t believe that a .32 ACP incapacitates people at a higher rate than the .45 ACP!

    One other thing to look at is the 9mm data. A huge number (over half) of 9mm shootings involved ball ammo. I think that skewed the results of the study in a negative manner. One can reasonable expect that FMJ ammo will not stop as well as a state of the art expanding bullet. I personally believe that the 9mm is a better stopper than the numbers here indicate, but you can make that decision for yourself based on the data presented.

    Some interesting findings:

    I think the most interesting statistic is the percentage of people who stopped with one shot to the torso or head. There wasn’t much variation between calibers. Between the most common defensive calibers (.38, 9mm, .40, and .45) there was a spread of only eight percentage points. No matter what gun you are shooting, you can only expect a little more than half of the people you shoot to be immediately incapacitated by your first hit.

    The average number of rounds until incapacitation was also remarkably similar between calibers. All the common defensive calibers required around 2 rounds on average to incapacitate. Something else to look at here is the question of how fast can the rounds be fired out of each gun. The .38 SPL probably has the slowest rate of fire (long double action revolver trigger pulls and stout recoil in small revolvers) and the fewest rounds fired to get an incapacitation (1.87). Conversely the 9mm can probably be fired fastest of the common calibers and it had the most rounds fired to get an incapacitation (2.45). The .40 (2.36) and the .45 (2.08) split the difference. It is my personal belief that there really isn’t much difference between each of these calibers. It is only the fact that some guns can be fired faster than others that causes the perceived difference in stopping power. If a person takes an average of 5 seconds to stop after being hit, the defender who shoots a lighter recoiling gun can get more hits in that time period. It could be that fewer rounds would have stopped the attacker (given enough time) but the ability to fire more quickly resulted in more hits being put onto the attacker. It may not have anything to do with the stopping power of the round.

    Another data piece that leads me to believe that the majority of commonly carried defensive rounds are similar in stopping power is the fact that all four have very similar failure rates. If you look at the percentage of shootings that did not result in incapacitation, the numbers are almost identical. The .38, 9mm, .40, and .45 all had failure rates of between 13% and 17%.

    Now compare the numbers of the handgun calibers with the numbers generated by the rifles and shotguns. For me there really isn’t a stopping power debate. All handguns suck! If you want to stop someone, use a rifle or shotgun!

    What matters even more than caliber is shot placement. Across all calibers, if you break down the incapacitations based on where the bullet hit you will see some useful information.

    Head shots = 75% immediate incapacitation
    Torso shots = 41% immediate incapacitation
    Extremity shots (arms and legs) = 14% immediate incapacitation.

    No matter which caliber you use, you have to hit something important in order to stop someone!

    Conclusion:

    This study took me a long time and a lot of effort to complete. Despite the work it took, I'm glad I did it. The results I got from the study lead me to believe that there really isn't that much difference between most defensive handgun rounds and calibers. None is a death ray, but most work adequately...even the lowly .22s. I've stopped worrying about trying to find the “ultimate” bullet. There isn't one. And I've stopped feeling the need to strap on my .45 every time I leave the house out of fear that my 9mm doesn't have enough “stopping power”. Folks, carry what you want. Caliber really isn't all that important.

    Take a look at the data. I hope it helps you decide what weapon to carry. No matter which gun you choose, pick one that is reliable and train with it until you can get fast accurate hits. Nothing beyond that really matters!

    Additional thoughts:

    Some people will look at this data and say "He's telling us all to carry .22s". That's not true. Although this study showed that the percentage of people stopped with one shot are similar between almost all handgun cartridges, there's more to the story. Take a look at two numbers: the percentage of people who did not stop (no matter how many rounds were fired into them) and the one-shot-stop percentage. The lower caliber rounds (.22, .25, .32) had a failure rate that was roughly double that of the higher caliber rounds. The one-shot-stop percentage(where I considered all hits, anywhere on the body) trended generally higher as the round gets more powerful. This tells us a couple of things...

    In a certain (fairly high) percentage of shootings, people stop their aggressive actions after being hit with one round regardless of caliber or shot placement. These people are likely NOT physically incapacitated by the bullet. They just don't want to be shot anymore and give up! Call it a psychological stop if you will. Any bullet or caliber combination will likely yield similar results in those cases. And fortunately for us, there are a lot of these "psychological stops" occurring. The problem we have is when we don't get a psychological stop. If our attacker fights through the pain and continues to victimize us, we might want a round that causes the most damage possible. In essence, we are relying on a "physical stop" rather than a "psychological" one. In order to physically force someone to stop their violent actions we need to either hit him in the Central Nervous System (brain or upper spine) or cause enough bleeding that he becomes unconscious. The more powerful rounds look to be better at doing this.

    One other factor to consider is that the majority of these shootings did NOT involve shooting through intermediate barriers, cover or heavy clothing. If you anticipate having to do this in your life (i.e. you are a police officer and may have to shoot someone in a car), again, I would lean towards the larger or more powerful rounds.

    What I believe that my numbers show is that in the majority of shootings, the person shot merely gives up without being truly incapacitated by the bullet. In such an event, almost any bullet will perform admirably. If you want to be prepared to deal with someone who won't give up so easily, or you want to be able to have good performance even after shooting through an intermediate barrier, I would skip carrying the "mouse gun" .22s, .25s and .32s.

    About Greg Ellifritz:

    Greg Ellifritz is a 16-year veteran police officer, spending the last 11 years as the fulltime tactical training officer for his central Ohio agency. In that position, he is responsible for developing and instructing all of the in-service training for a 57-officer police department. Prior to his training position, he served as patrol officer, bike patrol officer, precision marksman, and field training officer for his agency.

    He has been an active instructor for the Tactical Defense Institute since 2001 and a lead instructor for TDI’s ground fighting, knife fighting, impact weapons, active shooter, and extreme close quarters shooting classes.

    Greg holds instructor, master instructor, or armorer certifications in more than 75 different weapons systems, defensive tactics programs, and law enforcement specialty areas. In addition to these instructor certifications, Greg has trained with most of the leading firearms and edged weapons instructors in the country.

    Greg has been an adjunct instructor for the Ohio Peace Officer’s Training Academy, teaching firearms, defensive tactics, bike patrol, knife defense and physical fitness topics. He has taught firearms and self defense classes at the national and international level through the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors, The American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers and Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police. He has a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Management and has written for several publications including: ‘The Firearms Instructor”, “Ohio Police Chief”, “Combat Handguns”, “Concealed Carry Magazine” and “The Journal of the American Women’s Self Defense Association”.
    Bobster likes this.
  2. Renegade

    Renegade .22LR

    Messages:
    16
    Thanks for your time and effort, it only confirms what I say about caliber wars...... :cool:
  3. DHonovich

    DHonovich Founder Staff Member Administrator Sponsor "Philanthropist"

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    6,923
    Great article and it too sums up my beliefs in calibers. Thanks for sharing.
  4. Ripsnortr

    Ripsnortr 20g

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    934
    And the shotguns have it!

    I know, but I couldn't resist it... :cool: :lol:
  5. MikeD

    MikeD I'm Your Huckleberry Staff Member Global Moderator "Philanthropist"

    Messages:
    12,178
    QFT


    I've long held that getting rounds on target is more important than the caliber used. A handgun is far from the best tool but it's the best one I can easily carry.
    cmcdonald likes this.
  6. meanstreak

    meanstreak .30-06 Supporter "Philanthropist"

    Messages:
    3,891
    I had never read this before, but find it interesting reading.
    cmcdonald likes this.
  7. Ernst

    Ernst 20g Supporter "Philanthropist"

    Messages:
    582
    Article certainly confirms that shot placement is vitally important.

    One concern - both pistol and rifle rounds tend to be very simular in design. Yes, there are differences between FMJ and Hollow Points regarding expansion and penetration but nothing like the dissimulatity in shotshell loads. Tremendous difference in stopping power between ordinary birdshot, buckshot and/or slugs.

    Certainly would be interesting to see the breakout of shotshell shootings by type of rounds. However, think there is little doubt regarding the lethality of 12 ga 00 Buck nor the penetration power of slugs.

    Excellent research and comparison of calibers.

    Regards
    cmcdonald and meanstreak like this.
  8. Tom396

    Tom396 .30-06

    Messages:
    1,621
    .22 (Short, Long and Long Rifle)
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 76%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 60%


    .44 Magnum
    Accuracy (head and torso hits)- 88%
    % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit)- 53%

    Conclusion, based on this data? While the .22 may not be as accurate as the .44 Mag, is does stop the attacker more often when you get a torso or head hit. :sarcasm: Fun with statistics. Take care. Tom Worthington
    cmcdonald and meanstreak like this.
  9. MikeD

    MikeD I'm Your Huckleberry Staff Member Global Moderator "Philanthropist"

    Messages:
    12,178
    I pointy stick to an attackers eye or a kick to the crotch is better than something you cant hit a barn with.

    Change my mind!
    cmcdonald, Rodburner and meanstreak like this.
  10. meanstreak

    meanstreak .30-06 Supporter "Philanthropist"

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    3,891
    Lol, hand to hand combat is the next thread.
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  11. Bobster

    Bobster .30-06 Supporter

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    2,225
    I've always been partial to .45ACP--5" Colt, I aim for the neck... :D I CC a 9mm though--G26. :rolleyes: ;)
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  12. cmcdonald

    cmcdonald Forum Moderator Staff Member Moderator Supporter "Philanthropist"

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    1,627
    I don't recall seeing this thread before either, super interesting.

    The 22 performed far better than I expected, especially in the % of hits that were fatal (34%) combined with the average of 1.38 rounds to incapacitation and 60% actual one shot incapacitation...that's pretty impressive for such a small round.

    Up here in Canuckistan, we lost hi-cap centerfire mags a long time ago but we still have (generally) unlimited mag cap in rimfire cartridges. A combo of a hi cap semi-auto 22 backed up with some 12 ga brawn might be all we're left with soon.
    meanstreak and Rodburner like this.
  13. S.R. Crawford

    S.R. Crawford .410

    Messages:
    78
    I heard somewhere that .22 tends to bounce around inside whatever it hits increasing the likelihood of hitting something vital. Don't remember where I heard that though.
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  14. meanstreak

    meanstreak .30-06 Supporter "Philanthropist"

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    I read basically the same thing. The .22 does not generally have enough energy to pass through , the article I read was about a head shot, so it ricocheted inside the skull and basically turned the brain to mush.
    cmcdonald and S.R. Crawford like this.
  15. S.R. Crawford

    S.R. Crawford .410

    Messages:
    78
    That might be it. Kel-Tec has that nifty 50-rd .22 pistol now that might actually end up being pretty lethal.
    cmcdonald and meanstreak like this.
  16. meanstreak

    meanstreak .30-06 Supporter "Philanthropist"

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    3,891
    cmcdonald likes this.
  17. meanstreak

    meanstreak .30-06 Supporter "Philanthropist"

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    3,891
    Well that reply ended up in the quote.lol.
    cmcdonald likes this.
  18. S.R. Crawford

    S.R. Crawford .410

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    78
    Regardless I think that's the gun I was trying to talk about
    cmcdonald likes this.
  19. cmcdonald

    cmcdonald Forum Moderator Staff Member Moderator Supporter "Philanthropist"

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    1,627
    @meanstreak I’ve looked at those PMR 30’s...if I didn’t already have a couple semi auto 22’s I’d pick one up. Having the 22 WMR is certainly an added attraction.

    I saw this one a while back and the above info only serves to reinforce the findings in this video.



    In a nutshell, I sure don’t want to stand in front of one.
    meanstreak likes this.
  20. meanstreak

    meanstreak .30-06 Supporter "Philanthropist"

    Messages:
    3,891
    I decided a long time ago I did not want to be shot with a .22. The .17 HMR falls into that category as well.

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