A Reasonable Discussion of Stopping Power

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by SharpDog, Feb 17, 2019.

  1. SharpDog

    SharpDog Member

    Oct 9, 2006
    We've had several threads recently that have shown, to my mind, inscrutable consistencies.

    One side always comes in with 'Handgun stopping power is a myth. and all handgun calibers are essentially within 20% effectiveness of each other. One poster asserted that the .357 Mag. is no more than 20% more effective than the .32 acp.

    OK, let's just think about all of this logically. If really, all calibers were only about 20% more effective than a .32 acp, we would all choose that caliber. possibly in bigger guns/different bullets but case closed. Cheaper ammo, lower recoil, more rounds on target, we're done.

    In the real world, where we could all get shot and killed, there exists a spectrum of handgun power.

    For now we'll take the .32 acp at the low end and move on up through the various popular calibers to .50 ae. (we're only considering semi-auto calibers here although a similar argument can be made for revolvers).

    Now the first question you need to ask yourself: Is .32 acp as effective as 9mm in humans?

    Let's move up a little in caliber:

    is .380 acp as effective as .40 S&W in humans ?

    ok, lets reach a little higher:

    is .32 acp as effective a .45 acp in humans ?

    How about .380 acp vs. full house .357 Sig or .460 Rowland ?

    The 'all handguns are the same' crap maffia will lead you to believe that all of these calibers are equivalent for the simple reason they are fired from a handgun.

    I call BS on this logic. Sure handguns may be less powerful than rifles but they are not all the same.
  2. PapaG

    PapaG Member

    Sep 12, 2010
    I think I agree. My philosophy is similar to Cooper's, and that is a minimum of 40-200-1000. 40 cal, 200grains, 1000 fps. I take the total momentum figure and extrapolate to what I have and my 357, 160, at 1100....My 44 spec, 250 at 950, or my 45 cap, 230 @ 870 all come close. Of course, all are swc or jhp.
    Thank God I've never had to shoot a human and hope never to but I have taken more than one deer and one enraged Doberman, not needing two shots.
  3. Steel Horse Rider

    Steel Horse Rider Member

    Jan 4, 2012
    Loveland, Colorado
    It only counts if you hold the weapon sideways gangbanger style....... People are free to believe and carry whatever they believe in but I don't carry anything smaller than a .38 special. My favorite for revolver is my Ruger security six in .357mag but I do like my Springfield .40 S&W for an autoloader. Maybe someday we will get to prove out our beliefs but I pray not.

    Edited to correct single six to security six.
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2019
    Olon, LoonWulf and JeffG like this.
  4. frogfurr

    frogfurr Member

    Oct 10, 2014
    Preble County, OH
    For carry I think most of us carry what's comfortable to wear all day and adapt the caliber to fit that purpose. At least I do.
  5. PapaG

    PapaG Member

    Sep 12, 2010
    Single six?
    JeffG likes this.
  6. JeffG

    JeffG Member

    Jan 6, 2017
    NE Wisconsin
    I am a fan of two goals when it comes to "stopping" a threat with a handgun:

    1. Shot placement. While it seems obvious, a bullet is not magic. No matter what you are shooting, you have to hit central nervous system, cardiovascular organs, or break bones. The effect of hitting each of these systems causes different effects, and length of time between impact and incapacitation of the animal target; be it unconciousness, imobility or death.
    2. Bullet diameter. The bigger the bullet the more damage is caused on impact. Velocity in handgun terms seems to lend more advantage to flatter trajectory, than instant stops. Bullet design aids in the intended destruction of the systems pointed out in shot placement. Meplats, hollow points or round nose all act differently upon tissue and bone.
    While I am able to shoot larger calibers accurately, not everyone else is. I don't discourage shooters of smaller caliber from carrying for defense, I point out that handguns are not the Hammer of Thor, and attackers, human or animal, might soak up a lot of rounds before stopping their attack. *see shot placement.
  7. Good Ol' Boy

    Good Ol' Boy Member

    Apr 26, 2016
    Mechanicsville, VA
    Folks that have actually killed things with handguns of various calibers probably have the best real world experiences.

    Personally I tend to not care so much about percentages and scientific tests. I shoot various things and base my thoughts on what I see.

    But what do I know, I'm rural and have been told I speak with a draw so....
    40-82, brewer12345, Olon and 6 others like this.
  8. labnoti

    labnoti Member

    Apr 2, 2018
    Here's a good video to address the "bullet diameter" theory. It's a bit late for the hate-on-the-.44-Special thread, but here it is:

    Mizz Maddie, Doc Samson and JeffG like this.
  9. bearcreek

    bearcreek Member

    Nov 4, 2009
    NE Ohio
    This. I've never shot a person but I've trained under a lot of folks who have used handguns to fight real people who were shooting back. I use the caliber that they recommend.
    JeffG likes this.
  10. labnoti

    labnoti Member

    Apr 2, 2018
    The problem with the OP is you're trying to compare "effectiveness" of various cartridges without clearly defining what "effectiveness" means. We can compare the cartridges in a lot of different ways where we control variables to make the comparison "fair" or in other words, we try to make sure it's the cartridges that we're comparing and not differences in the guns or differences in the targets and other variables. But all this tells us is how they compare in gel, or the "meat target" or on pine boards or through a chronograph or whatever. But what a lot of people are wanting to compare is the relative effectiveness on their adversary in a future "gunfight" about which we really know nothing.
    JR24 and JeffG like this.
  11. Telekinesis

    Telekinesis Member

    Jan 23, 2011
    Birmingham, Alabama
    I don't think "The 'all handguns are the same' crap maffia" make the arguments you are attributing to them (outside of maybe that one guy). Of course a .32 cap will not perform the same way as a .454 Casull. What they all DO generally agree on is that the projectiles of major combat calibers (9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP) all perform so similarly when used in an anti-personnel role that the differences between the three are negligible.

    For the last 30 or so years defensive handgun ammo has been designed specifically to penetrate at least 12" in a test medium, stop before going further than 18", and to do the same after being shot through various intermediate barriers. Every bullet, regardless of caliber, was held to the same standard - so 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP will do the same thing.

    Let's first agree that the way these rounds produce their terminal effect is by crushing/physically displacing tissue along the path of the bullet. They don't travel fast enough to do anything other than poke holes in the tissue they physically touch. (I don't think that's a very extreme position, but just wanted to get that out of the way).

    There might be a little bit of gain on having a larger diameter bullet, but for the most part there is very little likelihood of a shot missing a vital structure (like the heart) with a 9mm being a hit if it was a .45 ACP.

    If we look at just bullet diameter (unexpanded, so this will be your entrance wound diameter too) 9mm is of course 9mm in diameter, and .45 ACP is 11.5mm in diameter, so overall difference is 2.5mm, which means the difference in radius is 1.25mm. If we assume that a fired rouns are centered on exactly the same location and the bullets do NOT expand for whatever reason, there is a very narrow window where a non-fatal hit with a 9mm becomes a fatal hit with a .45 ACP.

    The numbers are a little different when the bullets expand, but they tell a similar story. Using numbers from Lucky Gunner (just to have a somewhat reasonable source for comparison) a 230gr .45 ACP Speer Gold Dot has an average expansion of 0.702", and a 124 gr 9mm +P Speer Gold Dot has an average expansion of 0.572". Both of these seem like pretty middle of the road numbers to me - not horrible but not the most expansion I've seen. This is a difference of 0.130", or a difference in radius of 0.065". That's not a lot.

    So to summarize, between the major duty calibers of 9mm, .40, and .45, a hit with any one of them would almost assuredly be a hit with any of the others, and a miss with any one would very likely be a miss with any of the others. And if the round hits something, it will do almost exactly the same thing as any of the other rounds would have done.

    And to top it all off, from a target reaction stand point, people don't seem to behave very differently when shot with one caliber or another. At least not in any statistically significant way. And Trauma surgeons generally can't tell you what caliber handgun the patient was shot with if they don't find the bullet.
  12. MachIVshooter

    MachIVshooter Member

    Aug 11, 2005
    Elbert County, CO
    Of course they're not.

    Handguns, excluding some uber-magnums and specialty hyper velocity rounds, wound by crushing & tearing tissue the bullet comes into direct contact with. There may be some permanent crush cavity from hydraulic shock with more inelastic tissues like liver or brain, but generally speaking, the wound track of a handgun bullet isn't much bigger than the diameter of the bullet.

    Shot placement and penetration are paramount, of course. Gotta hit the vitals, and a small caliber that does is more effective than a larger bullet which does not. Assuming adequate penetration, obviously a bigger bullet does more damage.

    For the purposes of this discussion, though, let's not consider FMJ, LRN or other non-expanding bullets, as the wound track from a .30 or .32 caliber that doesn't expand isn't significantly different from that of a .40 or .45 caliber that doesn't expand.

    Where the velocity & energy matters is being able to drive bigger bullets deeper. People may argue that the .002" bullet diameter difference from 9x19mm to .357 Magnum doesn't matter if both penetrate adequately. Except the .357 can drive a heavier bullet at higher velocities, and it can push a bullet with more frontal area deeper, faster. So your 9mm can use a controlled expansion hollow point and do a pretty good job, but the .357 can use a bonded core expanding bullet with higher sectional density that expands earlier and stays together, so while total expansion may not be all that much different, if the higher velocity of the .357 opens the bullet up sooner and maintains that higher velocity longer as it passes through the target, more damage will be done. A lot more.

    Furthermore, when you start taking into account things like heavy clothing, angles where the bullet has to penetrate more clothing & flesh to hit vitals, bones, etc., the heavier bullets of larger calibers, and especially those starting out with higher velocity at a given weight, have more energy, more momentum to keep pushing through and still do damage.

    This explanation is a bit oversimplified, but it's not rocket surgery to understand that more powerful cartridges have more potential for terminal effectiveness.

    Of course, if you can't make the hits, all the power in the world is useless. That's why most people choose "service" type cartridges for home or self defense, .357 mag or 10mm being pretty much the very top end and the .380 generally being accepted as a minimum, with a few who find .32s acceptable. A .454 Casull driving a 250 gr. "flying ashtray" at 1,800 FPS is certainly gonna put down mr. bad guy with more authority than a .40 S&W 180 gr. JHP at half that speed, but the number of people who would carry and could manage such a hand cannon well in a life or death situation is rather small.
  13. SamT1

    SamT1 Member

    Dec 24, 2016
    We’d all be carrying a 45 if you could fit 19 of them in a magazine.
    Arguments for the extra power of a 45 are justified.
    Arguments for the extra capacity of a 9mm are justified.
    What’s perfect? 40s&w? Maybe a 10mm if you like full size.

    IMO you can’t justify anything smaller than a 9mm, less power and many times less capacity for a loose loose.

    I had a 32 auto one time, it was quite a joke. I had a 32-20 Winchester one time that was a hoot though. Neither was something I’d take along if I was expecting a gun fight.
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  14. Goosey

    Goosey Member

    Mar 19, 2012
    They are not all the same, but the difference between a 9mm of 370 foot pounds and a .45 ACP of 370 foot pounds is not worth much. Difference in their expanded diameter becomes inconsequential compared to the size of vital organs and the inaccuracy of the shooter. Like MachIVshooter pointed out maybe you get lucky enough to have something like 1/10th of an inch greater radius... but 1/10th of an inch? How large are your groups? How often would that change the outcome of a given situation? I think a meaningful difference in penetration though bones and other obstacles would prove more important, that would be where, for example, a 9mm FMJ could outperform a 380 FMJ, despite both penetrating 18"+ in gelatin and having the same diameter. However with 9mm, 40 and 45, the penetration is pretty equal, too, depending on what you hit... I think 40 has the edge there overall.
    JeffG likes this.
  15. Trunk Monkey

    Trunk Monkey Member

    Dec 25, 2011
    Stopping power is a myth
  16. Labguy47

    Labguy47 Member

    May 13, 2018
    I’m going to stick with the crowd and say putting lead on the target is the key. For me it’s an old 3” S&W mod 10. C&S hits are the key to quick resolution and that means putting it where I aim it. So if you shoot any of the standard 3 well, shoot what works for you.
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  17. LRDGCO

    LRDGCO member

    Jul 11, 2018
    1) with what combination of cartridge and pistol can you consistently hit a torso center when stressed?

    2) if, God forbid, you ever have to do that to another human, keep doing that until he/she/it stops moving.

    That's stopping power in a handgun.
    JeffG likes this.
  18. Obturation
    • Contributing Member

    Obturation Contributing Member

    Dec 24, 2018
    Northern illinois
    This is so silly.
    But im not with the current thought of all handgun cartridges are the same, thats just not true.
    They may be loaded to produce similar results but that doesnt render them equal.
    Logically if this were in fact the case why would a 45 acp +p and a 9mm fired from firearms of the same weight not produce equal recoil? The answer is because the physics of driving a heavier projectile at a similar velocity will generate more force - on both ends. If that doesnt equal a more effective projectile i must be in the twilight zone or something. If a bigger hole isnt better , why have projectiles that expand? In the case of a projectile that does not expand what are you left with but a hole about the size of the bullet that went through it. Look at the two ends of the spectrum of the type of cartridges were looking at. A 25acp is as good as a 50 ae? Obviously not. The difference, diameter and velocity. Every little bit larger you go it becomes more effective, every little bit faster also produces better results (no one would claim a 22lr is just as effective as a 5.56, that would be silly the difference being velocity not diameter in this case). So how could someone reason that a projectile of a larger diameter and greater weight at a similar velocity is just the same as the smaller and lighter projectile? Im not saying a 9mm isnt effective, it is. But a 9mm cant do what heavier projectiles can. Gel tests are a great visual demonstration but dont have much to do with living tissue, i can push my finger right into gel- never met a man or beast i can poke a finger into. Why is a 10mm much more powerful than a 40 s&w? Because its velocity is greater with the same projectile, the muzzle energy is more- nothing else. People discredit muzzle energy but thats what seperates a 45acp from a 460 s&w magnum , i couldnt imagine anyone saying the 45acp is just as good. Long winded, i know. But a 380acp is no 9mm and a 45acp is no 460 rowland. Just as a 180 grain 40s&w is no 185 grain 45acp+p, theyre just not equal. Bigger is better if you dont have hydostatic shock on your side. I know, ive shot my fair share of things that walk and crawl.
  19. Kaybee

    Kaybee Member

    Nov 30, 2017
    My 2 cents:

    I don't think you should look at calibre alone. That is purely academic.

    For me, it comes down to two other important considerations.

    1. Being able to have a gun on you at all. (For some places, 100% concealment mandatory)
    2. Multiple, Fast shots ON TARGET.

    If I can't do those two things nothing else matters. They should be the top considerations. I believe the experts that say multiple fast hits have a cumulative effect.

    When comparing calibers consider what a string of shots from that caliber would be like out of your particular gun. Will shots go wild? How many fast hits can you get out of that gun?

    The first time I was introduced to timed drills was a rude awaking. For deep cc I went down in calibre until was able to complete the drill fast. I DO go up in calibre with bigger guns, but always maintain a zone where I can get a string of fast hits.

    Charts and energy measurements and gels and stuff is all nice but you need to hit a bunch fast. (and also do ok 1 handed and offhanded)

    It helps that this is really fun to practice. :thumbup:
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2019
    JeffG likes this.
  20. earlthegoat2

    earlthegoat2 Member

    Aug 28, 2008
    SE GA
    Shoot until the target is no longer a threat. If your gun doesn’t have the capacity or the power to stop a threat you need to increase power or capacity somehow.

    To take it a step further, shoot until all the targets are no longer a threat. Hopefully your gun has enough power AND capacity to stop multiple targets up until a point where you feel comfortable that your not going to be engaging all the terrorists at once.
    JeffG likes this.
  21. mavracer

    mavracer Member

    Jan 9, 2007
    Nope I just don't agree.
    JeffG likes this.
  22. JR24

    JR24 Member

    Aug 16, 2011
    The center of the mitt
    This is very much how I feel about the calibers.

    So for me its how they shoot. With the same platforms I am markedly, consistently, faster on hits with 9mm.

    Last time I compared I used the "3 seconds" average everyone quotes and ran a similar weapon in the 3 calibers on the clock (Glock 19, 23, 30S with my handload 147, 180 and 230 grain).

    I did go at 7 yards, because 3 is tough at my range.

    What I found was after my draw, same holster, I got 4, almost 5 rounds on target with 9mm in the remaining time vs 3 with the .40 and .45. Hits were all on the center of a plate and all runs were slow enough to get a sight picture and make a good hit.

    So, by that metric the consideration is the slightly bigger holes more desirable over one entire new wound track? That's up to each to decide.

    I like 9mm for carry pretty often and keep the HD guns hi cap 9mms because my wife vastly prefers them to bigger calibers.

    But I also carry .45 pretty often because I really love carrying a 1911 and all mine are currently in .45 or 10mm.

    If I was really concerned 9mm isnt enough, I personally would skip .40 and .45 and go straight to 10mm. In my hands it's not much slower than .45 with my favored load (200 gr XTP @ 1200 fps) and very accurate, but I'm not yet convinced i need to go that powerful for 2 legged threats, yet.
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  23. TN Outlaw

    TN Outlaw Member

    Jun 13, 2017
    SouthWest TN
    This may be the most discussed topic on firearm forums. After years of debating, the discussion rolls on. That in an of itself is pretty neat.

    1st off, I agree all handgun chamberings are not created equal. A 32acp and a 460s&w are not equal, no doubt, but that's a really extreme example.

    There are rounds that are closer together either in diameter or power that there isn't much separation in actual SD shooting results. They have very very similar "stopping power" if you want to call it that. The difference in say a 40s&w and a 45acp is not enough to live on imo. It's there, the 45acp does have a larger diameter and the 40s&w does have more velocity but taking them off of our paper discussion and applying them to a real world shooting of an aggressive human being on the attack, the "stopping power" of one vs the other is so small it's almost crazy to argue the difference.

    There are several rounds that compare very strongly to another. Yet we constantly bicker back and forth on which is better. Yes there are differences between each cartridge but within a certain window where more than one cartridge all are extremely close in their actual effectiveness those difference are so suddle and so far down the list of reasons to choose that handgun/cartridge that it's hard to understand why we discuss it ad nauseum. It's way more important how well we can shoot a particular gun, how fast we can make our follow up shots, capacity, ease of carry, and so on but we choose to fight and die on the hill over something way down that list like 9x19 vs 40s&w and the nearly non-existent effectiveness of their stopping power.

    Kinda wierd actually.
  24. jmr40

    jmr40 Member

    May 26, 2007
    These discussions rarely remain reasonable

    It is far more accurate to observe what actually works after the fact than to try to predict what will work before the fact. When you approach the discussion from that perspective the data clearly shows that when similar bullets are used, ( FMJ vs FMJ and JHP vs JHP) there is virtually no measurable difference in the effectiveness of 9mm, 40 S&W, 357 Sig, 357 Mag,44 Special, or 45 ACP against HUMAN threats. Other rounds such as 32, 25 ACP, and 380, have proven less effective. The 38 special is one of those that is on the edge. While not quite as effective as the others, with proper bullet choice is close enough for many to feel comfortable with.

    What do all of the effective rounds have in common? Adequate penetration with enough speed to get some expansion. And most have reasonable recoil to ensure good accuracy. All of the above rounds are capable of pretty much the same penetration with selected loads. When I highlighted the word human it is because large predators or game animals require more penetration to get the job done. There are other cartridges such as 10mm, 44 mag etc., that will produce more penetration, but it is more than necessary for human threats. While they are more powerful, it doesn't to translate into being any more effective on humans.

    Velocity does matter as long as it doesn't negatively effect penetration. I've long read that bullet shock wasn't a factor with handgun rounds like it is with rifles. I disagree. It may not be as big of a factor, but it still plays a role.

    Bullet expansion does seem to help end threats faster, as long as over expansion does not limit penetration. Bullet construction comes into play. The same 125 gr bullet designed to expand at 38 speeds might not be a good choice at 357 mag speeds.

    Bullet diameter doesn't matter. There has never been any data to back this up, only hyperbole. Think about this, a typical human body has 3100 square inches of surface area, over 4,000 cubic inches of mass. Relatively speaking a 45 caliber hole is a SMALL hole. A hole 1/10 of an inch smaller just isn't that much smaller relative to a target with 4000 cubic inches of tissue.

    Getting hit with a handgun round is just as deadly as getting hit with a rifle round. I've long read that a handgun was far less effective than a rifle. The data just doesn't support this. The difference is range. A rifle is a lot more accurate and easier to get proper shot placement with, especially as range increases. But at close ranges, with good placement, and with the better handgun cartridges the end results are about the same as with rifle rounds.
    JeffG, JR24 and Trunk Monkey like this.
  25. Fine Figure of a Man

    Fine Figure of a Man Member

    Jun 11, 2011
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