What Really Stops a Fight?

The great caliber debate continues. I really think people like to argue about this because there is so much information out there to review. Think about it: People have been compiling data for decades and the real gun geeks among us pore over that stuff the way we used to look at the Sears Christmas Wish Book. (For you youngsters, the Wish Book was how we shopped before Amazon!)

We get to talk about accuracy vs. power vs. capacity vs. muzzle velocity vs. impact energy, etc., etc. And the more of this stuff we read and learn about, the smarter we feel. Trust me when I tell you that we all want to feel smart. Very few of us in this world choose to be willfully misinformed.

So, this ammo debate gives us something to talk about. Many of us take that opportunity to talk, and talk a lot, about defensive ammunition. But at this point, I don’t think the debate should focus on caliber anymore. They all work. Plenty of fights have been stopped with the little .380. Plenty have been stopped with the .45 ACP. I’m guessing no one reading this would volunteer to be shot with a .22 LR or a .25 ACP just to show that those calibers “don’t do much damage.”

Those calibers — indeed, any caliber of handgun ammunition — will stop aggressive behavior. Stopping power is based not on the size of the hole put in the human body but on the idea that getting shot is not what you wanted that particular day. In short, psychological factors are better indicators of stopping power than is handgun caliber. This information comes directly from the FBI, a group with a vested interest and a pretty big budget for evaluating these things.

If you know about the Sears Wish Book, you were likely around for the 1986 Miami Shootout. We use just that term because this shootout has become so famous that most people know to what incident we are referring. The long and short of it is this: Eight FBI agents engaged in a shootout with two bad guys. A total of 145 shots were fired. When it was over, the bad guys were dead, but so were two FBI agents. Those agents were killed after they had delivered fatal rounds to one of the suspects. The man was dying, but as he was dying, he continued to fight and was able to kill two agents before he expired.

Those agents were using 9mm pistols, .38 Special and .357 Magnum revolvers and 12-gauge shotguns. Yet, despite being hit multiple times, the bad guys just simply refused to give up the fight. They had no drugs in their systems. They just did not quit fighting.

As a result of this shootout, the FBI changed guns and ammo. The Bureau continued to do research on officer-involved shootings and very recently, switched back to the 9mm, stating, without equivocation, there is no way to determine the effects a handgun round of any caliber will have on a subject. The most important elements in stopping a fight are psychological.

The next most import element is the projectile’s ability to penetrate deeply enough to cause a fatal wound. To do that, it must cause blood loss or destroy a portion of the central nervous system. All modern defensive handgun calibers will do that, as long as you can shoot accurately enough to hit a 3×5 card.

I say a 3×5 card because those magic places that stop a fight instantly are small and well-protected. Even if you shoot someone straight through the heart, that person will still have about 15 seconds of fight left. That’s plenty of time to fire enough rounds to kill you or others.

So, let’s not debate about caliber. Let’s plan to stop the fight with accurate gunfire.

Related: Media Manipulation on Guns