Another Look at an Alternative Look

First off, you need to understand something. This is not an attempt to demean either of these gentlemen or diminish their contributions. Props and all due respect to Mr.Marshal and Mr. Ellifritz. Both did pioneering work and deserve to be lauded for that. But as time moves on, new perspectives are applied we continue to move forward.

In 1988 Evan Marshal published ‘Handgun Stopping Power: the Definitive Study,’ an examination of handgun stopping power based on the results of actual shootings rather than theories or simulated testing. While this was a major stride n the right direction it was obsessively focused on one-shot stops. Instead of asking, ‘what worked in real-life shootings?’ it asked, ‘Among shootings where a single shot ended the fight, what worked best and most often?’ Given that fights ending with a single shot represented a minority of shootings this was less helpful than it appeared at first glance.

Ten years ago Greg Ellifritz published the results of asking more relevant questions in his article ‘An Alternative Look at Handgun Stopping Power.’ Those questions were ‘In real life shootings how often were handguns of a given caliber effective regardless of the number of shots fired?’ and the equally important, ‘How often did handguns of a given caliber fail to stop an attacker, regardless of the number of shots fired?” This study found that there was little practical difference between calibers between .380 ACP and service caliber or even magnum caliber pistols in stopping an assailant.

.380 ACP ‘just as good’ as 9mm or .45? Well, it depends…

This study produced a much more relevant set of data, given that most shootings with handguns involve multiple shots. It’s a praiseworthy effort, but it doesn’t go quite far enough to be universally applicable, because private individuals self-defense shootings and police and military shootings are often fundamentally different and require a different question, which is ‘How often do civilian shootings end with the flight or surrender of the assailant compared to Police and Military shootings?’

My impression is that flight or surrender is significantly more likely in civilian shootings than police and military shootings, and that police and military shootings are more likely to require a ‘hard’ or ‘mechanical’ stop where the assailant stops because they are physically incapable of continuing. Mr. Ellifritz does address this to a degree in the discussion, but a lot of people look at the tables without reading all of the way through so I felt it necessary to reinforce and expand upon this point.

If my impression is correct not distinguishing between police and civilian shootings might tend to skew the results in favor of calibers like .22 LR, .25 ACP, .32 and .380 ACP and .38 Special, which are used almost exclusively by civilians these days. The shootings they are involved in are less likely to require a hard stop. Shoot most criminals in the course of a robbery or assault and they are likely to flee or surrender, which exaggerates the effectiveness of these calibers. Service calibers used in the weapons of LEOs and soldiers have a greater need to produce a hard stop and therefore have a higher burden of required effectiveness. It appears that ‘adequate stopping power’ in a handgun is at least in part situational. As usual gunfights are more complicated than a simple set of statistics can express.

Sure, ball can do the job, but why not stack the deck in your favor?

We often say there’s a screw for every nut, but there is definitely not a single nut for every screw. As an individual, whether you are Mr./Mrs./Ms. Citizen, a law enforcement officer or military, you need to realistically assess the threats you will face and balance their likelihood against practical considerations. As an average citizen you are, on average, likely to be OK with any gun you can carry routinely, train with regularly and shoot well. As on-duty Police or military you will probably find you want more capability; more power, more shots, better penetration etc.

Regardless of who your are telling you it’s a good idea to rely on the largest, most powerful handgun practical for your life, skill and circumstances is not bad advice… and while you are at it use proven, modern defensive ammunition.

Stay Safe and take care.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 19 January 2021

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4 thoughts on “Another Look at an Alternative Look

  1. Brett

    Fantastic observations. Police can’t run away after they fire a shot or two like I will. The bad guy knows this too so he will more likely to fight the cop. I hope Ellifritz is continuing to gather data. “Fascinating” as that pointy eared guy says

  2. Pingback: Weekend Knowledge Dump- January 21, 2022 | Active Response Training

  3. Mike

    Your article is a reasonable take on differences between police and military actions in contrast to citizen defensive shootings and you make some valid points. The difference however becomes mostly moot once a certain threshold of performance is reached. Once a cartridge and firearm combination are reliable, accurate and penetrate 12″ in 10% ballistic ordinance gelatin while barrier blind the differences in performance are miniscule and measured in decimal points when looking at handgun wounding performance. If the defender (police, military or citizen) gets their handgun out, fires, hits and the projectie penetrates the 12″ equivalent to reach vital organs the difference is almost meaningless if the projectile started at .355 dia or .451 dia. It means little if it had 500lb/ft of energy or 300. Whether it expanded to .68 or stayed closer to original dia. The key that makes the MOST difference is where it hits and this is where the biggest issue comes from. Police hit ratios are often abysmal with ranges below 50% for the best and often as low as 10-15% and that is any hit not vital organ or solid torso hit. The military hit ratio is also not great. Citizens do a little better but mostly due to counter ambush surprise or defender on home turf scenario differences vs police and military being recognized and facing unknown threats they have to react to. The real focus needs to be awareness and recognition for fast and efficient response and then accurate hits to vital organs and areas. Lower power, less recoil, less muzzle rise, muzzle blast and more rounds may be more beneficial than more potent round. Better sights, trigger and more usable gun will help too. But proper quality training and practice mean more than any hardware.


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