Stopping power studies have always interested me, though in truth I had long ago concluded that in general bigger slower bullets tended to have a slight advantage. But, as can be seen, all pistol cartridges are pretty anemic. With that having been said, for most self defense situations, I do not feel under gunned with either a 9mm, a .38 Spl, or a .45 ACP. So, it was with special interest that I read An Alternative Look at Handgun Stopping Power by Greg Ellifritz over at Buckeye Firearms Association. Hat tip to Keep and Bear Arms.
People have argued about which is the "best bullet" and the best round to use ever since I have been interested in guns; going on 35 years now. Back then it was .38 Spl, vs. .357 Magnum vs. .45 ACP. In the gun rags of the time, the .45 ACP often took on near mythical properties for its supposed ability to stop a bad guy with one shot. Since Mr. Gore's interwebz had not been invented yet, that was pretty much all anyone outside law enforcement had to evaluate which gun to purchase. Too, there was a certain logic involved. A theoretically bigger wound track means theoretically greater blood loss at a theoretically faster pace. What kept me away from the venerable John Browning design, and cast the vote for the .357 Mag was reputation that the M1911 had at the time to jam at the worst possible moment. If I was getting a gun for defense, I surely wanted it to fire when needed, and not choose that particular moment to become a short club. Revolvers, by contrast, pretty much fired when the trigger was pulled, even if they had been stuck in a drawer for twenty years.
Flash forward to 35 years later. Ballistic gelatin is now more widely available. The internet provides one with a forum to publish lots of data and have it evaluated by a wide variety of folks (which was the intent, incidentally) and the current war of words is over 9mm vs. .40 S&W vs. .45 ACP. The 1911 platform has been improved with better materials, and better manufacturing techniques such that it is seen as a reliable weapon for many police departments and elite military units. The puny 9 mm round has been improved to the point that ballistically it performs as well as the .38 Spl. But the question remains, which round is the best?
Now comes Greg Ellifritz to pop the arguments of all those who thought their favored round was the best. Ellifritz data, taken from 1800 actual gun shot cases, shows that among the most commonly used defensive rounds, there is virtually no statistical difference. .380 ACP to .45 ACP, they are all the same in terms of number of shots to stop an attacker. What does make a difference is shot placement. Unfortunately, shot placement can only be achieved through lots of dull, boring practice. So, here's some free advice on purchasing your next handgun. Buy one that points naturally for you, and that you shoot well. I have a friend that loves his little .380 ACPs, and I have friends who like their 9 mm and .40 S&W. They all work well, and I wouldn't want to be shot with any of them. Then go out and shoot the *#%$@ out of it in different circumstances, from different stances and different holsters. Don't worry too much about getting the latest super duper defensive cartridge. Studies show that the old reliable Federal HST round is still working great for law enforcement. In 9 mm, I like to use Remington Jacketed Hollow Points that come in 100 round value packs. They are cheap enough to use for the range, and can then be loaded up for carry on the trip home.
I took a break and went into the living room, where I found the Missus. I was telling her about the article and the interesting, to me, results. With her usual matter of fact dismissal she said, as I was explaining the .38 Spl vs. .45 ACP debates of old, "Well, shot placement is more important than what gun you use." That of course was the conclusion I had come to, but she had short circuited my "brilliant" discussion. But there is more to it, I said. If you believe yourself capable of cold bloodedly placing a shot at just the right point in the heat of battle, with your adrenalin pumping, your perceptions distorted, and possibly while severely injured, then shot placement is everything. But I don't believe most people know this about themselves, and I suspect most believe when they are in grave circumstances, there could be a few wild shots, or shots to parts of the body that may not stop the attack. So it is not unreasonable to search for an extra advantage; to seek an edge. Couple that with the well known tendency of people to take the easy path of purchasing their self defence rather that of taking the harder path of training, and you have the makings of a debate. But as Ellifritz has shown, within the range of defensive handgun rounds available, there is no advantage. I need to get some more training.