The “stopping power” debate will never end

John Fogh offers this advice from John Holschen:

Believing that the 5.56 “stopping power problem” is solved by a different bullet and/or cartridge is likely delusional in my opinion.

This statement doesn’t stand on it’s own because I’m pretty sure a 16″ shell from the Missouri is an instantaneous (for all practical purposes) man stopper. Just the muzzle blast will kill. But that’s the nit-picky engineer in me. And besides, Holschen qualifies it as referring to handheld firearms:

The stopping power “problem” is based on the misconception that there exists a hand-held firearm which can instantly terminate hostile behavior (reliably and repeatedly).

But the most interesting part to me was the conclusive evidence that:

…[A] BG was hit 12 times with an AR at a range of 9-12 yds.

  • 10 rounds struck his torso producing fatal damage to his liver, spleen, heart and both lungs.
  • 1 round struck his right femur fracturing same (and starting his fall toward the ground.)
  • 1 round entered through his left eye and destroyed a significant portion of his brain (this was the last shot according to forensics but they noted the BG was already falling at the time this round hit him.)
  • The shooting was captured on both video and (separate) audio recordings. The elapsed time from the LEO’s first shot to his 15th shot (total rounds fired) was just under 5 seconds.
  • During those 5 seconds the BG continued to fight, firing 6 rounds from a .357 revolver.

The LEO fired three rounds per second and got 12 of his 15 shots on target and one of those was a head shot, all while being shot at by the bad guy. Impressive. Had he been shooting a .30 caliber rifle I doubt he could gotten near as many shots on target in that time frame. What this may mean is that in a similar event the .30 caliber rifleman would have put only two or three shots in the target and the BG stopped his attack in the same amount of time.

So which caliber has more “stopping power”? Remember, you can double the effectiveness of any bullet by putting another round through your target.

7 thoughts on “The “stopping power” debate will never end

  1. They idealize the question and then say that it can’t be answered.

    The question isn’t “is there a round that can “instantly terminate hostile behavior reliably and repeatably”, but “is there a round that is MORE LIKELY to terminate hostile behavior MORE reliably and MORE repeatably than its peers?”

    In the military, with fairly consistent resupply and a virtually unlimited supply of taxpayer funded ammunition, it’s no big deal that it takes them 250,000 rounds (no, that’s not a typo or exaggeration) to kill one bad guy. In small unit tactics, they use the concept of high volumes of suppressing fire to pin the enemy and then maneuver to outflank and defeat them. Because they use volume of fire as an integral part of their tactics, it’s more important that they be able to carry lots of ammo than it is for them to carry small amounts of something more effective.

    Most of us don’t fall under the same circumstances as the military, so to suppose that the same weapons and ammo will work for us just as well as they do for them is a bit ridiculous.

    Saying that 5.56 is adequate for civilian purposes because you can just pump more rounds into the target sounds great as long as there’s only one adversary to worry about. How would the story have turned out had the bad guy had a partner who, during the 5 seconds or so that the cop was pumping rounds into the DOA perp, had been, in turn, pumping rounds into the cop?

    As you noted, a 16″ shell from a Battleship OBVIOUSLY has more “stopping power” than a 5.56, so why IS it a moot point to argue that something with more power has a better chance of putting down an adversary in les shots. Does that guarantee that it will happen? Of course not, but if it improves the chances, why go with something less effective just because the alternative MIGHT not be completely effective?

    Granted, shot placement is the most important factor in the effectiveness of any small arms round, but you don’t always have the luxury of good shooting conditions under which to place your shots. If I’m going to take that shot…especially if he may be shooting back…I want to be throwing something big and with more potential for doing damage, just in case my shot isn’t perfect.

    I just think that’s the smart way to go for civilian use…at least until taxpayers start supplying me with unlimited ammo and a squad of of well-armed, well trained partners to pin down the bad guys with high volume fire until I can maneuver in for the kill.

  2. The “best” round is the largest that you are comfortable with and can shoot accurately. I like .45 ACP, but my wife has a hard time practicing with it as she doesn’t have the upper body strength needed (which means she DOESN’T practice with it). Put a 9mm in her hand and she’d shoot the eyes out of a perp at 25 yards…

  3. Obviously, the only one-shot stopper is the Mk IV Blaster as shown on Forbidden Planet. The entire body or target is vaporized—no muss, no fuss.

  4. Talk to hunters too, about “stopping power”, and you’ll hear multiple stories of deer and other big game running 100 yards through uneven terrain after having been shot cleanly with good placement. Last Fall I put a soft lead, fifty cal (.495″) ball through the heart and lungs of a deer at close range, severing two ribs completely, super sonic at impact, and the animal ran neary 100 yards. You could have blown the heart into mush and the animal (or perp) can still function for a few seconds. The only sure, instant stop is going to be the CNS shot.

    Maybe we’ve all been treated to too many movies and TV shows, depicting multiple adversaries stopping the fight and going down instantly, each with one shot, and it has warped our expectations. Real killing is messy, nasty and uncertain. Have you all seen the man who was shot in the head with a 45 ACP years ago as a teenager? He walks around now and talks, and he’s missing about 1/3 of his brain including one side of the top of his skull.

    Sure; use the biggest, baddest round you can handle, but understand that there are tradeoffs no matter what.

  5. Lyle:

    I have to agree. The last MN whitetail I shot was at 40 yards, with a 180-grain Nosler Partition from a .30-06. A standing broadside shot, so close that I could pick which hairs on its side to put the shot on. That deer ran 25 yards down the side of the clearing before turning and jumping into the swamp. It went another 10 yards into the swamp before crashing into a tree and spinning into the ground. When I left my stand 10 minutes later I found it dead, hung-up on the tree crotch, spun around facing the direction it came.

    When I gutted it out I found that the bullet had crossed through both lungs and the heart. The heart was unrecognizable, having been turned into mush (just as you noted in your comment). I figure that it was able to run and jump like that for only as long as it took the brain to gray-out with no fresh supply of blood.

    The simple vitality of the animal (or person) plays a huge role. There couldn’t have been an adrenaline dump, since there was no heart left to pump anything around. Deer (and humans) can be incredibly tough critters.

    But the opposite is also true, and people and critters can be incredibly fragile as well. Remember the footage of the attempted Reagan assassination? That one big, tough Secret Service agent, hit with a “mere” .22, dropped like he’d been pole-axed.

    My personal opinion is similar to many others…carry the biggest, most reliable firearm that you’re willing to carry ALL the time (a .22 in hand beats a .44 Mag in the safe), and practice with it until it’s second nature. And hope that, just like the fire extinguisher in the kitchen, you never have to actually use it for real.

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