On stopping power

Ellifritz studied 1800 actual gunfights.

His study produced the seemingly absurd conclusion that the handgun most effective in stopping people, in resolving a gunfight to the shooters satisfaction, was by many reasonable measures the .22, a conclusion he was profoundly reluctant to accept.

Now obviously if you do a Mythbuster type experiment, put the gun in a vice, aim it at a block of gelatine, any other handgun will do a whole lot more damage to the gelatine than a .22, and by some reasonable measures the heavier bullets were more effective – but if you want a one shot stop, .22 is head and shoulders above the rest.

So what might be different when it is man on man?

Well consider the most studied combat of recent times. Zimmerman shooting Martin. Martin was pounding Zimmerman’s head onto the concrete, Zimmerman killed Martin with one shot directly through the heart. Obviously what mattered was not the gun but the man. What mattered was that Zimmerman was so well practiced he could put his bullet on target while blind and severely distracted.

Now, what is the cartridge that people practice with the most?

It is the .22 LR.

Thus the most likely explanation for Ellifritz’s seemingly absurd results is that stopping power depends on practice a whole lot more than it depends on the gun or the cartridge. So you should buy the gun you are most comfortable practicing with and have the most fun practicing with.

I would interpret his results as indicating that there were a higher proportion of expert shooters wielding a .22, hence the large number of one shot stops and deadly shootings, but that .22 was significantly less effective in the hands of a inexpert shooter who relies on spray and pray.

27 Responses to “On stopping power”

  1. Bruce says:

    I considered buying a .22LR/mag mini-revolver but decided against it. One problem is the .22LR and .22 mag really suck out of short handgun barrels. The .22 mag (out of a 2” barrel) can barely manage 100 joules which is a rule-of-thumb minimum for lethality. Lethality does not equal quick incapacitation.

  2. Koanic says:

    My takeaway is that the .22 pistol is great for back of head executions and center-mass frangible ventilation. Pistols poke holes and rifles make flesh explosions. A .22 pistol pokes more holes more accurately, upping the chances of striking a vital.

    The quick-stop is psychological. If he closes anyway, use your mobility and free hand.

    “Tis neither deep as a well, nor wide as a church door, but tis enough.”

  3. glenfilthie says:

    As a Canadian kid that grew up hunting – I’ve shot more soft targets than your most seasoned navy SEAL. Deer and moose: I’ve shot them with .303 Brit, .308 Win, .25-06, 30-30 Win. I’ve seen others kill them with 7×57, 7mm Rem Mag, 7-08, 30-06, 300 Win Mag, 300 Rem Ultra Mag, .308 Norma Mag…and probably some bigger cannons I’ve forgotten about.

    I learned the same lesson you did. Marksmanship trumps ballistics every time. Having said that, your study in no way “proves” that the .22 is a suitable home/personal defence round. The usefulness of statistics is dubious if we can’t interpret them properly. Carry a proper piece in a reasonable calibre. Make sure it is stoked with the proper ammunition. Be goddamned sure of the legalities of sel defence in your state. Killing humans is very serious business.

    I shoot God’s calibre as mandated by St. Cooper and St. Browning. Mild patty cake loads for paperwork, and stoked hand loads for social work! Put that into an HK USP Tactical or a respectable Glock or 1911 or whatever works for you… And start shooting. The only study that counts is your – put your time in on the range and do your due diligence. The outcome of any fire fight will be far more predicated on tactics and situation more than ballistics.

    • Epimetheus says:

      Me and family used to hunt white-tail with 22-250 and .243. Guys with 308s would make fun, but nobody walks off a heartshot just because it’s a 55-grain bullet.

  4. vxxc2014 says:

    Honestly these debates about Professional Football by people who haven’t touched a ball since high school…

    Or this ball ever….

    this is a hard part about the range.

    • B says:

      Takes a unique kind of intellectual dumbass to look at a study showing 31% of .22 shootings failing to incapacitate the subject (vs. 9-16% for normal pistol calibers), and making the conclusion that “the handgun most effective in stopping people, in resolving a gunfight to the shooters satisfaction, was by many reasonable measures the .22.”

      Obviously, the fact that in 100 years of mass automatic pistol production, none of the various experts made this conclusion only attests to the unique intellectual qualities required to make it. From General John T. Thompson to LTC Jeff Cooper, none of these idiots knew what they were talking about, otherwise they would have preferred the .22 to the .45. “Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons.”

      I would love to know what happened to those shooters who failed to incapacitate, by caliber-how many of them got their weapon jammed up their ass. I guess if I had to choose a caliber for that, it would be the .22-the smaller, the better.

      It takes the same kind of intellectual firepower to look at Zimmerman, a guy who was having his pelvis sat on and his head punched into the pavement, stuck his gun (a Kel-Tec PF9, no external safety) into his assailant’s chest and pulled the trigger, and conclude that this was the result of extensive practice. Sure, all that work on sight alignment, sight picture, stance, grip, trigger control and follow through was really relevant.

      I’ll keep my 1911, thank you.

      PS: I notice .22 short, long and long rifle all go in the same box, meaning that this includes people shot with a .22 rifle, which produces up to 350 foot-pounds muzzle energy (for Magnum loads,) which is in 9mm range, and obviously is much more accurate than a pistol. Had this statistic been broken out further, we’d see an even bigger gap in failure to incapacitate between .22 and normal caliber pistols. Even as is, the conclusion is obvious.

      PPS: I have spent a lot of time on various civilian ranges, and have very seldom seen people practicing seriously (as opposed to plinking) with a .22. I had a .22 upper for my 1911 and would work with it, but this was not common.

      • jim says:

        You are an idiot.

        Zimmerman did not stick his gun into Martin’s pelvis, which would have enabled him to shoot by feel but would have exposed him to the risk of losing control of his gun to Martin. His gun was several inches away. Several inches is no problem hitting the target when you are standing up and shooting at your leisure, but a bit trickier when you are blind and being punched in the face and hammered against the ground.

        • B says:

          Obviously, I’m an idiot who’s put many thousands of rounds through a pistol and knows how to read and compare 31% to 9-16%.

          I didn’t say he stuck it into Martin’s pelvis. I said he stuck it into his chest. Whether his gun was making contact with Martin’s chest or was a couple of inches away when he pulled the trigger is irrelevant.

          If you can get your gun out while being mounted and pounded (which action I will bet another bottle of good single malt Zimmerman had never trained to do, although his little bit of MMA probably helped,) shooting a guy sitting on you is trivial (if you don’t have to manipulate a safety, which he didn’t.) It’s one of those things that’s hard to fuck up. It certainly has nothing to do with marksmanship fundamentals-basic proprioception is all it takes.

          • jim says:

            Whether his gun was making contact with Martin’s chest or was a couple of inches away when he pulled the trigger is irrelevant.

            Under the circumstances, getting a shot into Martin at all was non trivial. Getting it directly through Martin’s heart was impressive.

            • B says:

              Uh, okay.

              Do an experiment-get a paintball pistol, have a friend mount you blindfolded and then see if you can manage to miss the middle of his chest.

              Obviously he wasn’t aiming for St. Skittles’ heart-he wasn’t aiming for anything at all. He was pointing and shooting. Nothing to do with marksmanship.

              The hardest part of the exercise was getting the pistol out.

              • jim says:

                Since an essential part of that experiment would him bashing my face, slamming my head against the concrete, and trying to take my gun away from me, I would find such an experiment a little too stressful.

                In such circumstance, it is very hard to do anything unless it is instinctive.

  5. vxxc2014 says:

    Or you could not be a cheap bastard and shoot the caliber of weapon you carry.

    A .22 is what you learn to shoot with, if you’re betting your life on what you carry or have at home then train with at least cheap ball ammo for that tool.

    I can understand not wanting to waste your super duper Zombie Killer rounds on paper but if you’re going to change tools when you’re life depends on it expect variance.

    Most of this debate is and will remain for most sports level theory anyway.

    I respect Ellifritz BTW.

  6. pdimov says:

    On the most important measure, “% of people who were not incapacitated”, .22 is worst (actually second worst after .25).

    On “One-shot-stop %”, again, tied worst with .25.

  7. ilkarnal says:

    Killing a person is not like mutilating a block of gelatin. It is like popping a balloon. If you make a decent sized hole in the heart or a large artery you have done basically the best you can – of course, you can do better by severing the person’s nervous system, but that is generally considered too small and too twitchily mobile a target. In both cases – halting the attack by lowering blood pressure, or halting the attack by severing nervous system, caliber does very very very little compared to aim.

    Another thing revealed by this knowledge is that it is penetration depth, not diameter or expansion, that you should be aiming for. You want to pop a balloon – making a great big shallow hole that, because of the angle, goes through too much unimportant tissue, is not a good result. We can take a LOT of flesh being torn and keep fighting and survive. What we can’t take is our balloon – our high throughput blood pumping systems – being popped. Whether the puncture is made by a BB pellet or a .45 is of secondary importance. BB pellets are relatively safe because of their low penetration potential, not their diameter. When one pierces through the wrong place – heart or great artery or brain – you’re DRT.

    Overpenetration is a retarded concern. Cases where the bad guy was hit and the bullet went through him and hit another person are much, much rarer than the bad guy getting shot at and the bullet missing him entirely and hitting another person. Shooting at someone is inherently dangerous to people in the vicinity and you’re not going to get around that fact. The very slight reduction to bystander risk from expanding bullets pales before the reduction to bystander risk from a tiny bit more training or a tiny bit more caution in terms of avoiding risky situations.

  8. TheBigH says:

    I’ve read far to many stories of small rounds bouncing off very large men’s heads to want to carry somethingas light as a 22.

    • jim says:

      If you are aiming for the head, you are doing it wrong.

    • Cloudswrest says:

      As to “bouncing off heads” the .22 has more penetration than a .45 ACP. Shoot a stack of 2x4s and see which one penetrates more.

  9. Pseudo-chrysostom says:

    Side note: PMR-30 uses .22 magnum, which is closer to 5.56 than .22 long rifle.

    I’m not surprised by the results, since this is a common debate topic on /k/ (common since there’s no shortage of newfags high on ‘stopping power’ myths so the same schooling is always being reprised).

    The only way to stop, and I mean stop stop, someone immediately on the spot is with a hit to the CNS (spinal column and brain). A distant second is a hit to the CPS (aorta and heart), which takes about 10-20 seconds for deoxygenation of the brain (this is why center mass/central axis is generally the most reliable aim point).

    The most important factors for small arms lethality then is accuracy to hit vitals, and penetration to reach vitals. When choosing a cartridge, the factors to consider is; if it has the range to reach the targets you want, and can penetrate the targets you want at the range you want. If these factors are met, it is then felicitous to make the cartridge as light as it goes while meeting the criteria, as this provides crucial tactical advantages in terms of; carrying more ammo, putting more shots on target, and faster recovery between shots.

    The kinetic energy of a round is largely a non-factor; human tissue is very flexible, ‘temporary cavity’ is not tissue damage. Speed and size of the round does not make much significant difference unless you are talking like sub mm beads or until you start talking about 15mm cannons (like in many things in life, the ‘rate of change’ in a paradigm is largely linear and uniform, up until you reach critical tipping points when things then change precipitiously). Rather, round design itself is what has significance after placement and penetration. Particularly, frangible ammo (like SMK or m193) that creates lots of small widely distributed wound channels upon impact is the only thing that really improves the lethality of a round to a significant degree (as it makes hits to vitals more likely).

    US Army studies on small arms lethality in battle concluded that the most significant factor in casualty infliction was the number of shots sent down range. More volume means more chances to hit vitals. It only makes sense that lighter rounds are more effective in the real world.

    • jim says:

      On that argument, the smallest round that is reasonably deadly is the .22 LR, and anything bigger gives you benefits that are not worth the fact that you are probably carrying less ammo, take longer to recover aim between shots, and so forth.

      But that argument does not predict that the 0.22 would be more effective per shot, just that one can fire more shots in less time. The data is anomalous and surprising in that by many important measures, the smaller caliber is more effective per shot.

      • Pseudo-chrysostom says:

        Yes, I’m simply piling on (eg in cases where resource is less of an object).

        It is a common refrain to say that ‘the best cartridge is the one you have the most practice with’, but well, this is proof positive of that fact. The best cartridge *is indeed* the one you can practice the most with, tout court. Cheaper ammo means more practice, which means more accuracy, which means more chance to hit vitals.

  10. Horace says:

    The biggest issue I have with .22 is reliability. If Glock made a.22 I’d be on the waiting list. PMR-30 looks like a fun time but I don’t know if I’d want to bet my life on it.

    • Lord Larperston says:

      RE: .22LR reliability: I sometimes carry a Walther P22, and I find it only cycles consistently with high velocity ammo (I use CCI stingers, 32 grain hollow point @ 1640 FPS). With regular 40 grain 22LR ammo it’s a dog.

  11. Mike says:

    Accuracy depends a lot on the trigger too. I noticed last time I went shooting that the groups I shot at 15 yds with a 45ACP 1911 were much tighter than the groups I was able to get with a typical 9mm. The main difference was the 1911 was a smooth and crisp single action while the 9mm was a relatively heavy double action. I have a 22 that’s pretty accurate, but then again, that pistol is single action too.

    I really don’t practice as much as I should though.

  12. viking says:

    Jim that wasnt his conclusion his conclusion was about half the attackers were stopped almost uniformly by a single shot of any caliber likely because they didnt want to get shot again, and that more aggressive attackers were stopped at a gently increasing rate as caliber increased. he also cautioned most data was not through heavy clothing or cover, and did not get into the fmj v hp debate that would tie into that.
    Your theory reminds me of the theory that 45s are less accurate which i find to be rubbish since its only true at distances gunfights dont happen.I will accept that 45 ammo is expensive and less practice will be likely and smaller calibers can be had in smaller sizes less likely to be left home.

    • jim says:

      That was his conclusion. But I don’t think his data supports his conclusion, for his evidence is not that a .22 is pretty much as effective as .44 magnum, but that a .22 is in many important ways more effective than a .44 magnum.

      Which can only make sense if the difference is in the man, not the gun – that people are more willing to practice with small guns that use cheap ammo, as demonstrably they are.

      • Lord Larperston says:

        I’ve had the chance to train with a friend who is a special detail LEO and a combat instructor. In live action scenarios involving motion, cover, darkness, and stress, the guys with the big guns usually finish last, because they miss a lot.

        I’m not saying a civilian CAN’T train to a high level with a “gun that begins with .4”, as the keyboard commandos like to say. I AM saying that most civilians DON’T train to that level, and/or are uncomfortable carrying big iron (it’s heavy and hard to conceal – reduce the weight, increase the misses with big calibers).

        I think most of the .22LR one shot stops involve bad guys who don’t like getting shot, for whom getting shot wasn’t why they became bad guys in the first place. But for the bad guys who need to get hurt or killed, most (relatively) inexperienced shooters can get a lot more hits, faster, with 22LR or .380ACP than they can with .357 magnum or .40, .44 magnum and .45ACP.

        Train as much as you can. Get comfortable with large caliber handguns, if you can. But carry what you can get hits with, fast, on your worst day, because the day you use it will be WORSE than your worst day.

  13. Hank says:

    Stopping power has a few components.

    Psychological effect of “getting shot” – approximately equal for most calibers.

    “Shot in immediately vital organ (brain, heart)” – improved by shot placement (better for smaller calibers) & penetration (better for larger calibers).

    “Bleeding out” – takes surprisingly long, longer than most defensive encounters last.

    There’s also the issue that gang shootings prefer shitty guns in small calibers via ambushes, and that police generally don’t carry small calibers, so there are some selection effects going on.

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