Handgun Stopping Power 101

Handgun Stopping Power 101

In my last two blogs I discussed the importance of mouse guns and bigger mouse guns as concealed carry weapons.  I also mentioned that the gun manufacturers have given the gun carrying public so many new choices to choose from in size, caliber and format.  We now have several options in sub-compact 9mm Luger pistols that have been specifically designed for the concealed carry market. I like to refer to these new offerings as Maxi-Mouse guns.  Although they are approaching the physical size of a mouse gun, they are offered in a more substantial caliber—maybe I should have called them “Hybrid 9s.”

It was my intention to discus these gun at this time, but them I imagined someone asking me what they really wanted was a one shot, one-stop no nonsense gun.  Well stop looking for the end-all be-all gun because it doesn’t exist in the concealed carry world.  Why?  Well, for one reason the gun would be large and heavy and not something you would want to carry on your person all day.  Another reason is to understand the rudimentary elements of handgun stopping power in order to realize that caliber isn’t the primary factor to consider, although important as it may be.  If there ever was a topic that was more heatedly discussed than handgun stopping power, I can’t imagine what it would be.

One of the reasons that so many people view this topic differently is that they fail to realize that the sidearm is a defensive weapon; the rifle / shotgun are offensive weapons.  In other words, the sidearm (regardless of format) is a get-me-out-of-trouble weapon; the long gun is a run-to-trouble weapon.  Only in the movies does the hero carry a nickel plated 1911 with unlimited ammo capacity with the power to stop the BG (bad guy) in his tracts at 100 yards with one shot.  In the real world, the GG (good guys) go into battle with automatic rifles with red dot sights for CQB (close quarter battle) situations.  Yes, our solders still carry side arms, but not as their primary weapon.  But the civilian population doesn’t have that choice.  For us, the sidearm is our primary weapon.  And for many others, the mouse gun is their only option for defense due to their particular needs and shooting abilities.  Our daily carry sidearm isn’t as potent a weapon as we think it is.  It is, and always has been, a CQB weapon.

If you knew you would be facing a trio of ugly BGs in the mall parking lot, and you were give a choice of weapons, which would you choose: a) 12 gauge shotgun loaded with 00 Buck, or b) any handgun of your choice?

I would choose option a) 12 gauge shotgun with 00Buck…4Buck works for me, too.  Why option a)?  Because of its greater STOPPING POWER over your day-to-day sidearm?  That’s why!  But either option is better than no option--holding air in your hands is not an acceptable tool for surviving a bad confrontation.

Now that I have established that your side arm is a get me out of trouble gun, let’s agree that mouse guns and maxi mouse guns are different peas in the same pod, but share similar traits.  This way what we say about one caliber can generally be said about all of the common calibers.  OK!?  Oops.  There is one more caveat to cover; that is to lump the two major velocity camps into one camp for discussion purposes only.  You know that there are those who believe that a heavy projectile (.45ACP) moving at approx. 850 fps is more effective than a light projectile (9mm) moving at plus 1200fps.  This is an interesting topic, but we can kick that can down the road at another time.  Right now I just want to put all the theories into one camp so we can have a general discussion on handgun stopping power.  OK?  Let’s briefly look at some of the major variables regarding stopping power that’s common to all handguns.

Target Variation. Most data regarding bullet penetration and expansion is based on a block of ballistic gelatin, which in theory is similar to swine tissue because it closely resembles human tissue.  However, the human body is an entity unto itself.  When you consider the overall human physiology and its ability to absorb shock when under severe stress, you soon realize how difficult it would be to design a gun and cartridge combination that one can carry concealed all day and that would work one-hundred percent of the time as a one shot man stopper.

Multiple Hits.  Handgun stopping power largely depends on your bullet hitting major vessels and /or vital organs; namely the brain, heart, and lungs.  What you want to achieve is incapacitation through multiple hits in the shortest time possible.  This will causes shock waves within the body causing it to shut down.  Projectiles that just go through the body without hitting at least one major organ will not produce the shock waves needed to end the confrontation.  Yes. The BG might eventually die from a loss of blood, but eventually may not be soon enough to save your life.

Caliber.  I’m not going to favor one caliber over another, but I will say that it should be considered.  After all, calibers with greater mass will produce more felt recoil for you to handle along with a corresponding slower follow-up time to your next shot.  If you miss your target with a large bore caliber you accomplished nothing.  Yet two or three hits with a .380 ACP should create enough discomfort to your adversary for you to make your escape.  Dare I say that hits from a small caliber are more important than close misses from a larger caliber?

Bullet configuration: FMJ or HP or SWC.  Hollow points aren’t always your best option.  A HP that doesn’t expand is nothing more than an odd looking full metal jacket or even an odder semi-wad cutter bullet.  A hollow point that expands but doesn’t hit anything of importance (bone or a vital organ) isn’t that much better than a FMJ or SWC bullet.  Regardless of which bullet you use, you want to hit vital organs with multiple shoots in rapid succession to cause as much shock waves and physiological damage as possible.

Mindset & Training.  One can talk about guns and ballistic and which caliber is best until cats bark and dogs meow and still accomplish nothing of value.  It all boils down more to proper training and mindset than it does to caliber (with in reason, of course).  In a nut shell it’s all about proper shot placement (hitting vital organs) followed up by multiple shots to disrupt one’s central nervous system to shut it down as quickly as possible.  Several small caliber bullets placed strategically to your adversaries’ body has always been a deadly combination.  Even a single .22 LR rimfire discharged between your eyes will drop you like the proverbial sack of potatoes.



Pax vobiscum (Peace be with you.)

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  1. That’s a pretty open ended qutieson. There are tons of great guns out there for carry, especially as of the last 5 years. S W makes some great revolvers that are small and easy to carry. You have tons of autos the are easy to conceal as well. A little of it depends on your budget and experience level. I have a Kahr PM9 (wish I would have bought the .40) that is decent priced and very easy to carry in any attire, and is very accurate and reliable for a small pistol. I think at the top of my list now is the Kimber Ultra carry, but I still don’t recommend 1911 s to beginners. The Sig P239 is a great choice too. I would go to a good gun store (not a big chain) and just look at and feel as many as you can to help narrow it down a little. Find one that is comfortable in your hand. Don’t make the mistake of going too big because you’ll end up not carrying it. Holster selection is huge too for carry. Having the right holster is about as important as the pistol itself when it comes to carrying it comfortably.Edit: Well narrowing it down helps. I would suggest you look at the Kahr PM9 or PM40. They are double action, very reliable, have decent trigger pull, accurate and very easy to conceal because they are so small and light. The 9mm has very little recoil to boot. I would go with something in this size catagory for starting. As you get used to carrying and learn what’s comfortable to you, you can always move up. If you start with one too big , you will end up not carrying it near as much which defeats the purpose. I would advise against the double stack magazines because they do feel big and bulky, and can be hard to conceal in some attire. I also wouldn’t go below a 9mm because it does give you a lot more stopping power than the .380s without sacrificing much in size now-a-days. I’ve had my license for about 8 years now and carry everyday.

    • Yeah, do you want to carry a pistol; or would you retahr carry a concealed rifle? :BigGrin: How about a Glock Model 19, or Model 26, a SIG P226, or maybe a compact Smith Wesson M P, or a Springfield XD(m). Any one of these should do it for ya. For a lot of good reasons i.e.: A slow recoil impulse, rapid front-sight recovery, and the large 230 grain FMJ bullets I prefer to use I carry a big Glock Model 21. But, but, I’m a big guy who’s carried for many years. I know how to hide things on my body; my wardrobe is, also, designed to, dress around the gun’; and, most importantly, I am keenly aware of how to move while carrying a large pistol WITHOUT, patterning’ the presence of the gun. I swear: I, once, got pawed and, felt-up’ by a pair of elderly grandmother-types while standing in line at Wal-Mart! They were ogling my new Hawaiian Aloha shirt; and, when they realized how well-made it was they just couldn’t keep their little, seamstress hands’ off of it. They were pulling, tugging, and feeling the fabric while I just stood there thinking to myself; This isn’t really happening!’ Another thought kept occurring to me, too: Keep on feeling me up, ladies; and, sooner or later, you’ll find that, PDA’ * I’m, also, wearing!Know what? In the 30 seconds, or so, that these women kept on fondling my shirt, commenting on the natural buttons and stitching, neither one of them realized that I was carrying: a large pistol. a large knife, and a spare 17 round magazine! (They DID find my keys and cell phone, though.) By the way, for self-defense use, you do not want a single action anything OK. * PDA’ = Personal Defense Assistant’

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