Prepper Guns: Firearms, Ammo, Tools, and Techniques You Will Need to Survive the Coming Collapse (2016)
A Clear-Eyed Look at Handgun Stopping Power
Unless you’re stupid, you can’t ignore physics or facts.
It’s a fact, heavyweights hit harder.
There is no question that the Internet is the greatest invention of our time, although Al Gore trying to take credit was one of the sleaziest acts ever.
The trouble is that there is no filter on the net. I was talking with the editor of a very large gun magazine recently about a test I am doing on a defensive shotgun.
“Don’t do like (name withheld to protect the stupid) and test a smooth-bore, defensive shotgun with sabot slugs designed for rifled barrels,” the editor said with what I hoped was an ironic laugh. Then he told me, “That guy will not be writing for us again.”
The point being that with magazines, the writers have a filter and the fools and dumbasses don’t make it into print, at least not regularly. If you are a writer for any of the major magazines, you made your bones first. You had to work your way into that position by proving you knew your stuff.
With the Internet, not so much. Anybody can start a blog. If what they are writing catches the fancy of the reader, it doesn’t have to be true. If that reader has a blog, maybe he repeats it like it was his idea. Then one of his readers posts it on Facebook, where 1,000 people “share,” then all their friends share and so on, until pretty soon people start to believe it’s the truth.
This is why much of the misinformation about the effective stopping power of defensive handguns is being repeated over and over. In fact, the term “stopping power” is disparaged and distorted today. I am amazed at the total BS out there.
Let’s take a look at reality. I am a big game hunter and I have been lucky enough to spend up to 150 days a year for decades hunting over most of the world. I have shot a lot of stuff including Cape buffalo, elephant, hippo, and hundreds of smaller critters. I have watched other people shoot hundreds more. With the exception of the very big game like those mentioned, we use rifles that are proportionally much more powerful than defensive handguns.
For example, a whitetail deer is similar to a man in size. The .30–06 Springfield is one of the most popular cartridges used to hunt them. With a 150-grain bullet at 2,910 ft/s, it produces 2,801 foot-pounds of energy. A 9mm 124-grain bullet at 1,150 ft/s has 364 foot-pounds of energy. So in effect we are shooting a deer with a bullet carrying 670 percent more energy than that popular self-defense cartridge carries to stop a bad guy the same size as the deer.
Contrary to what you see on outdoor television, big game rarely just falls down when it’s hit. For television, most people are using a high-shoulder shot that shocks the spine and causes the animal to fall. It’s great for the camera, but is not the best shot from a hunter’s perspective. The more common and less risky shot is to double-lung the deer by shooting behind the shoulder, center of mass. It’s always fatal, but the deer will almost always run before they die, even when hit with a powerful rifle bullet that does an incredible amount of damage.
The author shot this Cape buffalo with a .500 NE double rifle.
If a .30–06 doesn’t drop a deer in its tracks every single time, how can we expect a 9mm or even a .45 ACP to drop a man instantly?
The elephant or Cape buffalo is perhaps a better comparison. We use big guns with about 5,000 foot-pounds of energy, but they are big critters. So in the case of a big buffalo we are hitting it with about three foot-pounds of energy per pound of body weight. With an elephant it’s about 1:1, or even less. Shooting a 200-pound bad guy with a 9mm is hitting him with 1.8 foot-pounds of energy, per pound of body weight. With a .45 it’s just over two foot-pounds of energy per pound of body weight. So, this is a fair comparison.
Heart shots are effective, as is a double lung for buffalo. They run away, you wait a while and then follow. In a short distance you find them dead. If he had decided to attack during the time he spent running away, a “dead” buffalo could do a lot of damage to a person.
Nobody with a brain messes around with dangerous game and little guns, even though a double-lung shot with a small rifle might well kill a buffalo or elephant. That’s because when an elephant or buffalo charges, you need to stop them before they turn you into a bloody puddle. In that situation, you shoot for the brain, to take out the control center, but it’s a tough shot on any charging critter. That’s why we use big, heavy bullets with as much horsepower as we can get behind them. The idea is, if you miss the brain or spine, you want to break bones, take out the structure so they can’t keep coming. A big bullet also does more tissue damage, which is what ultimately kills anything being shot with a firearm. Plus, they impart more shock; this may stun the attacker and perhaps buy you a little time for another shot. Every fraction of a second counts here. Bullets through the heart, lungs, and other important stuff will kill them, but you need to stop them long enough for that to take effect; so you take out the structure with deep penetrating, big, and heavy bullets with lots of power pushing them. Little guns may well kill dangerous game, but only a fool chooses to bring one on a dangerous game hunt.
The same concept applies to defensive handguns. You should be planning for the worst-case scenario, not what’s adequate most of the time. There are no do-overs when you are fighting for your life. Sure, a small cartridge may kill the guy who is trying to kill you, but the goal is not so much to kill him as to stop him from trying to kill you as quickly as possible.
No handgun is going to be an instant man-stopper 100 percent of the time on any bad guy. If a .30–06 is not an instant stopper, a 9mm or even a .45 ACP will not be either. However, a .45 will do more tissue damage and break more bones than a .380 or 9mm. Bigger bullets mean a bigger hole and more energy on impact. That’s simple physics.
The only shot that will be a 100-percent instant stop on a bad guy is one that shuts down the central nervous system, even temporarily. Always shoot for center of mass because it’s much easier to hit in a stress situation. If you have options, forget head shots; they are Hollywood bullshit. The brain is small and easy to miss. The skull is tough and, with a glancing blow, can deflect a pistol bullet. Besides, the head is usually moving. High, center mass puts you into important tissue to damage and a bullet with enough penetration may hit the spine for an instant stop. If not, just as with the hunting TV’s high-shoulder hit, it may cause enough tissue displacement to disrupt the spinal cord’s function long enough to stop the fight. Remember, the bone structure is all connected and a big, heavy blow to the sternum or ribs is going to have effect. You are playing the odds with any shot, but with a bigger bullet and more energy the odds are swayed in your favor.
The laws of physics still stand and a more powerful handgun with a bigger bullet carrying more energy is always going to be a better option than a smaller cartridge. There are other considerations when choosing a defensive handgun, but shot for shot, bigger is always going to be better. We can distort the argument with anecdotal evidence, emotion, and other non-scientific arguments, but it doesn’t change reality. The laws of physics remain intact.
A .380 in your hand is better than a 1911 .45 ACP back home.
Granted, a .380 in your pocket is better than a .45 at home on the kitchen table when it comes time to fight for your life, but nobody can argue that the .380 is a better man-stopping cartridge than a .45 ACP.
When choosing a defensive handgun, look at terminal ballistics as well as magazine capacity, recoil, and the other critical factors. Pick a gun that works for you. It may well be a 9mm, but make your choice based on a solid foundation of scientific information, not what the latest instant expert on the Internet is spouting as “fact.”