Capacity, Stopping Power, and Other Controversial Topics

NOTE: This article will seem to jump around with an inconsistent order to it. It was specifically written that way for the purpose of generating thought and provoking emotional reactions. It is through this non-standard format, that causes critical thought, and it is my intention to have the reader look at the issue from a side they have not before, so as to generate different thought, and to help make an informed decision.

So far, three of the articles have mentioned ammunition capacity. In the last one, I said that all the whys would be addressed in a future article. This is that article, which is simply my take on it, and the reasons behind my thinking.

In the article on selecting a duty pistol, I wrote: A minimum number of rounds in a duty gun, carried by a line officer, is eight (8). Learn to make high value hits, under stress, and in a reasonable amount of time, and a high capacity magazine becomes a lot less relevant to the mission of a Peace Officer. 

Then in the article on the revolver’s relevance as a modern day police sidearm for a front line officer, I wrote: The standard response we are primarily trained is to fire 2 rounds to the torso. If that does not work, we aim for the head, if it is an available target. Doing this with a snubby depletes more than 50% of your on-board ammo. That is fine if you are dealing with a single threat.

Finally, in the article about the shotgun, I wrote: The short version is, that the 12 gauge shotgun, when loaded in 00 buckshot or slugs, usually requires only 1-2 solid hits to immediately shut down the threat.

Most normal people, peace officer’s included; do not have the time, money, or resources to rack up thousands of hours of training, costing more than several Rolls Royce’s. I have been fortunate to work for several entities, and have had the opportunities afforded to me to see that level of training. That is over three years of my life, in 8 hour days, spent doing something with a gun, knife, baton, less lethal (or non-deadly, if you want to get in first on the new buzz words), empty hands, tactics, force on force, or otherwise firearm/defense related. The skills do not come easy to most, myself included, and will stagnate if not fostered, again, myself included. What am I getting at? Well counselor, I am establishing framework.

Let’s go back to the duty gun article. 8 rounds is the absolute minimum. Why? As much as it might surprise those of you who know me, it is not just because the United States Pistol, Caliber 45, Model of 1911, comes in factory trim with a 7 round mag, and reliable 8 round mags are now commonplace. It is also because the Smith and Wesson 3913 holds 8 in 9mm, the Smith and Wesson 4506 holds 8 in 45, the Sig P220 holds 8 in 45, the Sig P225 holds 8 in 9mm, the Sig P239 holds 8 in 9mm, These guns all have one thing in common, they are single stack guns. Why limit yourself to that? Because not everyone is built the same. Hand sizes are different. I have known multiple officers, that were outstanding lawmen, but could not get their hands around a double stack 9mm frame. If you cannot securely, swiftly, and repeatedly get a good grip on the gun (under stress, from all positions) that gun is not suitable for you. Fortunately, for them and the citizens they protected, their agencies were forward thinking enough to allow a suitable option of one or more of the above listed guns.

Myself as an example, can shoot a Glock 21 just fine, as long as I do not have to draw it from a retention holster, under time constraints. If I have to do that, I cannot deactivate the trigger safety about 40% of the time, and have to readjust my grip. That is not a training issue, it is a fitment issue. The Glock 21 is a fine gun, but it is too big for my hand. Same goes for a Beretta 92 or the HK45. The trigger reach is too long for me personally when they are in double action mode. Fortunately, you can get a variant of the HK45 in safety only, so that you can carry it cocked, and locked.

So, I said that the MINIMUM number of rounds should be 8, and that learning to make high value hits under stress and time make high capacity magazines less relevant to the mission of a Peace Officer. This is true for those with extremely high skill sets, and or smaller hands. If we look elsewhere in another article I discussed that every situation will be different, and cannot be predicted. Also, that if you could carry more, and it makes you more comfortable, then do so. There have been times where I did need or want larger capacity magazines. I was much more comfortable with Glock 17 in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, and the Sig P320ca with Pistol Mounted Optic gave me some extra peace of mind during the riots in Atlanta a few years ago.

Hand size is a factor for the capacity of the gun you carry. If you cannot get consistent performance because the gun is too big, accept that limitation, and use a different gun. If you just have to have a 45, which I completely respect, you may have to have a 1911, a cocked and locked HK45, or something similar. If you need that wonder nine, but can’t get fast and accurate first round hits, or consistent hits on multiple targets, you now have some options other than a single stack 9mm. The Glock 48 is available with a light rail and can be had with a cut for a PMO. Shield Arms makes 15 round flush fit, and 20 round extendo’s for it. Sig now has the P365ca (carry, which is the LE version of the Macro, without the useless not a compensator, not porting either, slide), which holds 17 rounds flush fit. It also has different backstrap options for different hand sizes.

Continuing with the “how many rounds are minimally needed” from the revolver article, I mention the capacity limits it to a 1-2 bad guy gun, 3 if you have your wits about you, and remain calm under extreme duress. Where are you, and what are you doing? Do you live in a rural town with almost no violent crime? Do cartels or street gangs every pass through that small town? Does anyone do drugs in that small town? Are you sure there are not any truly evil people in that small town? Do you ever have to leave that small piece of paradise? Do you work as an undercover narcotics officer, where you have to have a highly concealed firearm? Do you work anywhere with an interstate? Do you work in a metro area with constant crime? An answer of yes to any of those questions, justifies more capacity, IF you can handle the circumference of the frame. Remember the wisdom of James Thurber “He who goes unarmed in paradise had better be sure that that is where he is.”

Sometimes, bullets do not have the effect on humans they do in gelatin. Bullets behave erratically in tissue for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, a follow up head shot, is not practical due to distance, cover, concealment, or surroundings. Well, what about the practicality of one person against many? That particular situation, I previously described, was an ambush outside of a building. That particular person had a high skillset, a good gun, and dominated his environment. In his particular case, 8 rounds was all he needed. All cases are not the same. So, in events that become a running gun battle, or a planned and targeted home invasion, a coordinated terrorist attack, somewhere you have hard cover, or somewhere you can maneuver for tactical advantage, more rounds on board can be beneficial; and maybe even critical. Additionally, since most people do not have complete control over their physical abilities when someone is violently, combatively, and actively trying to murder them, they may not get those high upper torso shots in the required 3″ area, or be able to thread the bullet through the tear duct in a quick enough amount of time to neutralize the threat. They may have to shoot more to get the rounds where they need to be to shut the threat down, or they may have to depressurize the system causing a bleed out to end the fight someone else started. That is another probable factor for the vast majority of people to cause consideration of larger capacity. Remember the wisdom of my friend Super Dave Harrington: In a fight you must fire and maneuver, or you will be fired and maneuvered upon.

As far as calibers go, there is no magic bullet. Stopping power is achieved only through proper shot placement, with bullets or projectiles that penetrate deep enough to get to the specific are needed. This is a two edged sword, if you do not understand the human anatomy, Rule 4, and angles; then you will get more penetration than you want or need. So, there is that pesky little problem to add to the stress of a gunfight.

The areas that shut down the human body the quickest are: the spinal cord (between the nipples and up), the aortic valves at the top of the heart, the medulla oblongata, and the cerebellum. Those are what will cause immediate incapacitation. They are pretty small, and hard to hit while under duress, at night, in the rain, when you’ve been shot, when you’ve been in a physical altercation that has worn you out to the point you can’t stand, when you’ve been awoken form a deep sleep, when you are sick, tired, or just about any other time if truth be told.

The next way to stop a threat is to place so many bullets into the threat, in a rapid succession, that the blood pressure drops enough to make the body quit. The final way is with a psychological stop, where the person being shot decides to give up. The psychological stop should not be counted on due to a variety of factors such as: alcohol, narcotics, mental issues, mental fortitude, hatred, revenge, stubbornness, or being straight up evil.

Projectiles produce permanent and temporary stretch cavities. The permanent is the diameter of the actual bullet as it travels through flesh. This can be added to if bone or bullet fragment is introduced, but those usually do not have enough mass to do much damage, unless they nip an artery. The temporary cavity is larger than the permanent one. It is caused when the bullet passes through tissue and it expands then shrinks back to smaller than it expanded to, but still a little more damage than the permanent cavity alone creates.

00 buck and slugs have more mass and energy than pistol bullets, and tend to cause more substantial damage. Rifle bullets may have less mass, but move at triple or more the velocity, with lots more energy. Depending on the caliber, velocity, and barrel length, rifle rounds tend to be much more effective than handgun rounds; generally (until you use the wrong weight bullet in the wrong twist rate, of a short barreled 5.56×45, or the rifling is out of spec on a larger caliber, or….)

So, why not carry a 22 LR, lots of the experts carry them. Ok, I know some of the guys that do. They can because of their capabilities. Jeff Cooper recommended the 22 LR for those with grip strength issues, but that could consistently hit an eye size target out to 7 yards under stress. The guys I know that carry them have several things in common: they have grip strength issues from shooting hundreds of thousands or millions of rounds of ammunition, they have outstanding mental fortitude when violent felons are actively attempting to murder them, and they have been in their fair share of actual gunfights – that they dominated.

If you have meet those criteria, or physically can’t control anything above a 22, then, of course that is an option. Otherwise, that round does not have the mass, velocity, or energy to quickly shut down the threat with other than a tear duct shot. Sure, there is a possibility that a 22 LR (or 22 Magnum, for those screaming about it’s prowess as a man stopper) can shut down an attacker when placed somewhere on the body other than the tear duct. After all, it has put a lot of people in the dirt. However, this is a serious business, and serious men don’t count on luck. Unless you have nerves of steel, and a high skillset, why chance it?

So , that leaves us with primarily 2 rounds to look at for main duty pistols: the 9mm and the 45 Auto. Yes, there are others, but they are out of style right now. Check back in about 5-7 years, and I am sure that the ones I am not writing about will be the new hot ticket, yet again……..

In 2009, I transitioned an agency from 40 S&W to 9mm. Everyone told me I was crazy, the factory, the distributor, veteran cops, everyone but the Chief. Fast forward 14 years, and how many agencies are issuing the 9mm? I had many reasons to choose it for a mass issue firearm, and they are pretty much the same reasons as everyone since then has chosen it. One reason was the advancement of bullet design, specifically, the Federal HST 147gr. In actual, real-life shootings (not gel or backyard testing of mediums that don’t even react the same as a human body), the 147gr HST was phenomenal – often expanding upwards of a quarter inch in actual street encounters. However, the same bullet in 45 Auto was even more impressive.

So, why did I not issue the 45 auto? I tested the S&W MP45 and the HK45, but they were too big for all of our officers. While I love the 1911, and it is still my first choice, it is not a particularly good fit for most law enforcement officers as a general issue piece. The Sig P220 is also a fine weapon, but being Double Action, it has long since fallen out of favor with law enforcement; and would have required re-training of an entire agency, which was not feasible at that time for that agency. So, capacity, again.

Once you leave your patrol car, you generally will not go back to it, in a catastrophic event. So, having the extra rounds on your belt becomes a huge benefit. Off duty, and for the armed citizen, they usually do not have immediate access to a long gun, so capacity can be extra insurance for them if they get caught in a terrorist attack, or active shooter situation.

SWAT/Special Operations mostly starts out with a shoulder fired weapon, and the pistol on their hip/thigh is a back up. So, capacity is less important for them, unless/until it becomes a primary.

So, does that mean that you are under gunned with a short barreled revolver, or single stack auto? Depends, on if you hit what you are aiming at, in a quick enough time frame, and how many hostiles you are up against.

You, or your Firearms Training Unit, have done your research. You have the best 9mm semi auto money can buy, you have it loaded with the most technologically advanced ammo ever made, and you shoot expert on the state course every time. The best guns malfunction and break all the time. The most advanced ammo fails for no explicable reason. And, the state course is absolutely nowhere near coming close to ensuring you are street survivable.

Look at certain parts of South America and South Africa. They have vastly more police gunfights than we do in the US. Most of them involve the police using FMJ target ammo, because that is all they can get. They make it work through skill and shot placement. That does not mean that, when we have an option, we should choose FMJ as a duty round. FMJ over penetrates, it has a higher ricochet potential, and we have choices in the United States.

Expanding ammunition, from major manufacturers have something called consistency. Consistency in penetration, expansion, performance through barrier and bone. There is no way to predict what a bullet will do when it hits a barrier or the human body. However, if it performs well in an actual FBI test (done exactly as they specify, not in a backyard with questionable protocols), then chances are it will work well enough. Having said that, you cannot count on it to actually expand, or expand like it does in gel. If the bullet does not expand, and acts like ball, the larger caliber will offer more performance, given the same shot placement, than a smaller caliber (except, of course, if they both go through the cranial ocular vault). So, we are back to carrying an 8 round 45 Auto? Not exactly, unless that is what suits your specific situation. All of this is playing the odds. Wearing armor, carrying a specific gun and ammo combo, using a specific security holster, carrying a back up gun – all of it, is playing the odds. You make the best, most rationale decision; based off what is most probable to occur with you in your unique, specific situation. Then you vet the gear, train, practice, train some more; do what is right, moral, ethical, and good, and pray for the best.

The 9mm is a good cartridge. The 45 Auto is a good cartridge. The 38 Special is a good cartridge. The 22 LR or Magnum will work, if you have the skill and mental fortitude to place your shots where you want them when someone is trying to kill you, but that is with all calibers. Assuming all use a proven bullet and loading, the playing field starts to be less competitive. Having 5 rounds is ok. Having 8 rounds is ok. Having 20 rounds in the gun is ok too. IF, you can get to the gun quickly, and shoot it straight. Having more rounds or less rounds in the gun will only ever matter if it is your life on the line for that specific event, until another event occurs, then extra rounds may make may make a difference; or maybe they won’t. You never know until the flag flies.

Nobody can tell you what your gunfight will be like, or how you will feel afterwards (assuming you win). Everyone will present it’s own unique factors. Pick what you are comfortable with, make sure you can use it in realistic training scenarios, keep it clean and lubricated, and spend more time on living life.

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