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Old January 13, 2010, 04:50 PM   #1
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Pistols for self defense

Hello all. I'm new here and wanted to post some information I've been putting together on pistol gunfighting (specifically bullet selection). Hope you find it interesting.

Anytime you’re in a fight, particularly a gunfight, halting your adversary is the goal. When you’re in a fight, you just want out of the fight. You can disengage, run, or neutralize your attacker. Or you can be killed.

Once your attacker has commenced his assault, stopping him becomes your life’s work. The firearm most likely available to you will be your handgun. If you are aware of the impending attack, you’ll most certainly arm yourself with a long gun. Since most attackers won’t afford you that opportunity, proficiency with your pistol remains paramount to your survival. Because of the array of pistol manufacturers, models, and calibers available, there is inevitably a debate about which combination is “best.” I am frequently asked to give my opinion on caliber selection. Even more than training, or tactics, or weapons selection. Everyone loves talking about ballistics. The problem is that most of us are knuckle-draggers and we only know two things about ballistics…jack and ****.

We get on the internet and google and read and talk to our buddies who seem to know a lot about guns. I’m no different. I’ve been amassing articles and studies about ballistics for as long as I can remember. This is my attempt to solve the “caliber riddle.”

First off, lets talk about knock-down power. Simply put, it doesn’t exist. The force a bullet will impact your adversary is equal to (or less than) the recoil you felt when you fired the round. It’s physics. It isn’t debatable. If you fired a bullet capable of knocking someone to the ground, you would likewise be knocked to the ground when you triggered it. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Sound familiar? It’s Newton’s Law of Motion. I may be dumb but that guy was smart so you should pay attention.

Whats confuses the issue is that many people tend to fall down when they’ve been shot. It isn’t caused by the projectile, they do it for all sorts of other reasons. The belief that they are more seriously injured than they are, the “training” received by years of movies and television, or simply a desire to quit fighting all contribute. Some people fall down when shot, some people don’t. Since you can’t control it, you can’t count on it to happen during a fight.

Ok, so knock-down power can’t be achieved. How do I stop my adversary?

The impact of bullets on the human body has four factors which contribute to how quickly an attacker is stopped. The first factor is Penetration and is measured by the distance the projectile travels into the target. The damage caused by penetration is directly related to the tissue disrupted or destroyed by the bullet passage. The second factor is the Permanent Cavity and is measured by the volume of space once occupied by tissue that is now destroyed by the passage of the projectile. This is the hole left in the guy after you shoot him. The next factor is the Temporary Cavity and is measured by the amount of expansion or stretching of tissue due to the transfer of kinetic energy from the projectile. The final wound factor is Fragmentation which are pieces of the projectile which separate and are propelled through the body. Fragmentation may not occur in every bullet wound, and should be considered a secondary effect. In fact, fragmentation in pistol rounds is extremely limited (typically less than one centimeter) and should not be heavily considered during bullet selection.

In order to quickly halt an adversary, the central nervous system must be severely damaged or destroyed. For the anatomically challenged, the CNS is the brain and spinal cord.

Notice the heart isn’t included. Shooting someone in the heart causes blood loss, perhaps major blood loss. This will leave your attacker with approximately 15 seconds of full voluntary function before being incapacitated. Fifteen seconds is a long time to have someone shooting at you.

In order to achieve fight stopping results, the brain or upper spinal cord must be severely damaged or destroyed. This type of accuracy is clearly a function of training more than bullet selection. The shot placement discussion occurs frequently, but it can’t be overstated how important marksmanship is to surviving a gunfight.

But bullet selection is critically important also. Even assuming the accuracy is there, the bullet must penetrate enough into the target to pass through the central nervous system in order to achieve fight stopping results. Because of this specific requirement, penetration is the most important factor in bullet selection.

Over-penetration gets talked about frequently in the law enforcement and self defense communities. It’s true that a round can pass through the intended target and hurt a bystander. It’s also true, and more likely, that a round will completely miss the intended target and hurt a bystander. Misses are extremely common during violent assaults. The risk of over-penetration should be carefully weighed against survival. Over penetration might occur and a bystander could be injured, but a weak round will never quickly incapacitate an attacker. When selecting a round for defensive purposes, a minimum of 12 inches of penetration is desired. Anything less would be considered a poor choice. More than 18 inches of penetration is probably unnecessary, but your situation should be carefully considered. The round I select for my situation may be different than what is needed to meet your specific requirements.

Permanent cavity is the next most critical consideration when selecting a pistol caliber, or specific bullet. The permanent cavity is the volume of destruction as the bullet passes through the target. In this case, bigger is better. Assuming an equal amount of penetration, a larger round will create a larger permanent cavity and will cause more damage. Exactly how much “better” a larger projectile performs is extremely difficult to determine, and I won’t attempt to quantify it.

Temporary cavity is a much-hyped and misunderstood factor of projectile wounds. Pistol rounds are underpowered by nature and relatively slow moving. The latest research on temporary cavity is that the tissue damage could be as small as one tenth of the speed of the projectile. For the purposes of pistol gunfighting, it simply isn’t a factor. If someone is trying to tell you how superior a particular round performs because of its “kinetic energy transfer” or temporary wound channel, you’re being sold a line of crap.

Fragmentation simply isn’t a factor for handgun rounds. Pistol rounds move too slowly to achieve consistent fragmentation. Again, since you can’t control it, don’t count on it. Fragmentation in a pistol fight is a non-issue.

The final characteristic I want to discuss is the idea of expansion. Most of us have some experience with hollow-point ammunition. The round is specifically designed to expand on impact to inflict greater damage to the target. Assuming that 12 inches of penetration is achieved, an expanding bullet has lots of merit. The problem is that hollow point ammunition has inconsistent performance. When hollow point rounds impact bone, glass, or even thick clothing (it’s winter time), the round will expand very little, if at all. Many times, forensics experts are unable to determine if a pistol gunshot wound was inflicted by a hollow-point round or a ball round. Hollow point ammunition is certainly a good choice for a defensive round, but the performance in terms of penetration and permanent cavity should be used to assess performance. Any expansion achieved will be gravy.

During the assault, you are in charge of very little. Your attacker likely chose the place and time. He’ll control his actions, how many rounds he fires, and the tactics he employs. You can control where your rounds impact his body and the type of weapon and ammunition you employ.

In order take control during an assault you must be trained. Your training program should stress shooting on the move, shooting at moving targets, no-light engagements, and low percentage shots.

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Old January 13, 2010, 04:59 PM   #2
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That's an ambitious first post, Sir!

A quick search turned up the following information about you (at least I hope it's you), which should give your readers of the above a bit of perspective.

So the reader might know that you're not just coming out of left field, and all that.

About the Author: Scott Watson is a former Green Beret who served in the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). Scott deployed on 4 tours to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom with the 5th Group. He served as an ODA Detachment Commander in 2003-2004, as a battalion plans officer in 2005, and as the operations officer for a counter-terrorism task force in 2006-2007. Scott has conducted hundreds of raids during combat operations and understands how to prepare small units for war. He has trained US forces, Iraqi infantryman, Iraqi Special Forces, and coalition units. He is an expert in Unconventional Warfare and Close Quarters Battle. Scott has also served at the strategic level of counter-terrorism planning and operations.
Scott also served as an infantryman in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) after graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Since leaving the military, he has focused on translating his extensive combat experience to developing the most comprehensive training possible for the law enforcement community. His understanding of both individual combat skills and leadership make him uniquely qualified to assist both federal and local law enforcement organizations. He is co-founder of Jedburgh Corporation.
Scott currently lives in North Georgia with his wife and two children. To contact Scott directly, you may email him at [email protected]
Jedburgh Corporation was founded in 2008 and specializes in firearms training, counter-terrorism training, and network / information security.
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Old January 13, 2010, 05:02 PM   #3
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Have a good 9nn automatic or .357 Magnum/.38 Special revolver and learn to shoot it COM rapidly and you will probably be all right.
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Old January 13, 2010, 05:05 PM   #4
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Good article.

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Old January 13, 2010, 05:10 PM   #5
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Hardball, I agree that while COM will certainly be lethal with a decent handgun round, it won't necessarily cause your attacker to halt his attack.

COM hits, even to the heart will only cause massive bleeding and, while fatal, still leaves your attacker with full functions for a short period of time.

The summary of all my mumbo-jumbo is this:
you have to bring enough gun
you have to be accurate

How's that for a blinding flash of the obvious?

My experience has always been that most folks over-complicate caliber selection. Based on all the information I've read, it's actually a pretty simple deal.

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Old January 13, 2010, 05:32 PM   #6
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Should I be in fear for my life, or the life of loved ones, I will
attempt to stop the threat with either Remington 125 gr .357 magnum
hollow points or #4 shot 20 gauge shells.

I cannot explain the wound cavities or penetration or what will happen
due to COM hits.

The .357 is proven to be a pretty effective handgun round and a
20 gauge at home defense distances in my situation should be effective
as to stopping a threat or threats.
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Old January 13, 2010, 05:43 PM   #7
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I am a believer of double tap chest/head, as stated a terminal body hit often leaves an adversary enough lifespan to deal you a deathblow as well. If I had to trade off a heavier caliber for a lighter one, verses shooting accurately, I would pick accuracy over caliber every time. Fast accurate followup shots can win the day, BUT many old west gunfighters who survived many gunfights weren't always the first to get off a shot, but got off the most accurate shot first!
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Old January 13, 2010, 06:09 PM   #8
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The force a bullet will impact your adversary is equal to (or less than) the recoil you felt when you fired the round. It’s physics.
But the gun itself absorbs some of the recoil due to weight, and if it's a semi-auto, the recoil system. That's why a say, Kel-Tec PF9, has punishing recoil to some, while a full-sized 1911 has minimal recoil when firing the same round, though your adversary would likely feel no difference. If you could close your hand around a cartridge, touch it off, and completely contain the detonation so the projectile would go in a straight line rather than the case blowing apart in your hand, then I would say the physics lesson stands. The force YOU feel THEN is probably what your adversary feels. (Aside from the obvious wound pain)

Not trying to be argumentative, but I see this written all the time and it's always bugged me, so I'm stating my opinion. The OP sounds like he has impressive credentials, and he and anyone else is welcome to jump in to prove me wrong. I certainly wasn't a straight A physics student.
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Old January 13, 2010, 07:08 PM   #9
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The force a bullet will impact your adversary is equal to (or less than) the recoil you felt when you fired the round. It’s physics.
Depends on if you are talking about momentum or energy. They are different things. And that is physics.

Your gun won't rip a hole in you when you fire it but it sure does so on the other end. So you will find energy and momentum are different things.

In order to achieve fight stopping results, the brain or upper spinal cord must be severely damaged or destroyed.
Good luck on that.

But shot placement does trump all else.
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Old January 13, 2010, 07:36 PM   #10
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Use what you got, use it as well as you can, don't over gun yourself, a large bullet miss is not as effective as a small bullet hit. That being said I am a larger is better guy and I don't care what the muzzle velocity is, I'm not fast enough to duck a large slow moving 850 fps bullet any more than I can duck a 3200 fps bullet and I bet I'm not the only one. Simple
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Old January 13, 2010, 08:00 PM   #11
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Stevie Ray and Deaf Smith - You guys are obviously really smart and probably know a heck of a lot more about Newtonian physics than I do.

Without getting into a technical and/or scientific discussion (because I'd be hopelessly out-gunned), let me try to keep it simple.

The total force is the same on both sides of the gun. Yes, the recoil spring is preventing you from feeling the full recoil, but the totals are the same. My bottom line is that a handgun round isn't going to knock anyone to the ground. If you find yourself in a violent encounter, you need to be prepared to achieve effects on the central nervous system in order to quickly incapacitate your attacker. Otherwise you may be inflicting lethal damage, but still find yourself in the fight.

Thanks for the great feedback and the warm welcome.

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Old January 13, 2010, 08:42 PM   #12
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Notice the heart isn’t included. Shooting someone in the heart causes blood loss, perhaps major blood loss. This will leave your attacker with approximately 15 seconds of full voluntary function before being incapacitated. Fifteen seconds is a long time to have someone shooting at you.
I don't know what the OP is basing his knowledge on but I do know that if you shoot someone in the heart they almost immediately lose all will to fight. I imagine some might fight on for a brief period of time, but that would be most unusual and perhaps the individual would have to be highly motivated. I also would not say that someone with a sucking chest wound would have "full voluntary function". Incapacitation start almost immediately, as the person becomes disoriented and is in a great deal of pain.
Thus a man should endeavor to reach this high place of courage with all his heart, and, so trying, never be backward in war.
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Old January 13, 2010, 08:54 PM   #13
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I do know that if you shoot someone in the heart they almost immediately lose all will to fight.
With all due respect, how do you "know" this?
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Old January 13, 2010, 09:56 PM   #14
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Best philosophy I have seen. see attachament
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Old January 13, 2010, 10:27 PM   #15
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Re: Pistols for self defence

To Jedburgh, that is one HELL of a post! I obivously don't know as much as you do as far as physics and what not, but I do disagree with one thing. You stated that "The force a bullet will impact your adversary is equal to (or less than) the recoil you felt when you fired the round. It’s physics." OK. BUT if a bullet is traveling at say 1,000 f.p.s., that works out to be oh, about 681.81 m.p.h.. Now I don't know about you, but my guns all have a nice little pop to them, but it sure as hell doesn't feel like something was hitting me at 600+ m.p.h. I understand that there are other determining factors involved here, but truth be told, the latter hurts alot more. Keep in mind that the cup pressure on a .40 can exceed 20,000 p.s.i..
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In a nutshell, if you can't hit your intended target with a good shot, then start going to the range. I'm confident that I could defend myself with a .22 caliber wheel gun, but I carry a Colt Defender 1911 .45 with night sights and a laser, in hopes that just the sight of it will make some idiot think twice.
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Old January 13, 2010, 10:35 PM   #16
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LOL funny okie. I like!

More seriously though, you DO often need to shoot more than once. Shooting once, and pausing and expecting the subject to stop can be a dangerous behavior that can very well get you killed.

Example: Officer Borders shot a perp 8 times with .45 ACP from a Glock 21 with little to no effect - the perp still kept fighting strong - before an extremely well-aimed headshot through the eye dropped the assailant instantly.

I think cases like these really support what was stated in the OP.

On the flip side of things, Trooper Mark Coates hit his assailant, Richard Blackburn, 5 times in the chest with a .357 Magnum failing to stop him. Blackburn fired twice with a .22 LR NAA mini-revolver. The first shot was stopped by Trooper Coates' body armor. The second shot entered under the armpit, bounced off the bone, and entered the heart, killing Coates in a matter of moments. With exceptionally lucky shot placement, a puny .22 LR tragically fell Trooper Coates. With exceptionally unlucky shot placement, the venerable .357 Magnum failed to stop Blackburn, who lived and was sentenced to life in prison.

So yeah, Shot Placement + Penetration* and size of wound channel in that order are paramount for pistols.

*If you have poor penetration, even exceptional shot placement can do little if the bullet stops 1 or 2 inches short of hitting a vital organ. Likewise, all the penetration in the world is useless if you miss. Pretty obvious, but worth spelling out.
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Old January 13, 2010, 10:41 PM   #17
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shots fired

The NYPD SOP has a massive dafabase of police-perp shootings. In their analyses they concluded that the single most important characteristic of shots that stopped the encounter was shot placement.
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Old January 13, 2010, 10:48 PM   #18
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Great Post.

Bigger IS better, with the caveat that "Only Hits Count". If you can not manage the gun, and do so comfortably, you won't practice to proficiency.

Placement IS everything, so practice placing them where they'll do the job.
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Old January 13, 2010, 10:48 PM   #19
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No handgun (or practical self-defense shoulder fired long gun for that matter) is a guaranteed stop. Unless you're clearing your house with a Solothurn. People have kept fighting after center mass hits from .45's, .44 magnums, 12 gauge slug and buck, 7.62x51 and 54R etc. Keep shooting until the threat is stopped, and don't count on your magical uber-magnum.
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Old January 13, 2010, 11:36 PM   #20
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MTT TL, let me tell you that having been on the recieving end of fast flying metal, you usually don't know how bad your hit or if you're hit at all. With adrenaline pumping and you reacting (ever notice a deer with a heart or double lung shot still running 50 to 100 yards? but a good neck shot DRT) you can contenue the fight for longer than most think. Gunner on the 2 truck took a 7.62 round into the back and out the chest and tried to get back up even though he was bleeding like a stuck pig. He had to be held down so they could stop the bleeding.
Also bigger isn't always better. The cops have a video about this as well, and one example was a bolt-action mistake where a round detonated before the bolt was engaged and it blew the bolt back into the guys hip or abdomen (either way it penetrated at point blank range) massive hole, bigger than any hand gun bullet. The guy lived. Shot placement is the true decider. Or a mossberg 500 with 00. 9 .38 rounds going into someone at once. My choice of weapons for home defense would be the mossberg 1, and a GLOCK 27 loaded with talons being #2 and could use it for concealed carry.

Good post, even if the title was misleading. I was hoping for a list of good defense pistols.
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Old January 14, 2010, 12:12 AM   #21
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Newton's laws state there will be an equal and opposite reaction. This is a long standing fact.

The reason we don't fall over and die is because that energy is dissipated through the gun's mass and area, the shooter's tissue, and the ground. The energy to move a 150lb human holding a 2lb firearm is much greater than a 230gn chunk of metal. Since the bullet has a small cross section, it will penetrate; whereas the stock distributes the forces over a MUCH wider area.

This is the old "two people of different masses push each other on a ice rink" problem. The lighter one WILL move faster.
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Old January 14, 2010, 12:31 AM   #22
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Check out Officer Stacy Lim's citation from

Shot through the heart with a .357 Magnum at a distance of less than five feet, Officer Lim returned fire, chased down and killed her assailant. Officer Lim collapsed only after her assailant had been stopped.

It's easy, from the comfort of an easy chair, to have an opinion about what humans will or won't do under stress. But human reactions are a little more varied than our expectations generally allow.

If you are attacked, will your assailant have the motivation and mindset of an Officer Lim? Or will your assailant just curl up into a quivering ball of fail at the very sight of a gun? No way to tell. But I'll tell you this: if I'm ever in a life-threatening criminal encounter, I fully intend to react as Officer Lim did, fighting until my body is unable to sustain the fight any longer. And to defend my own life, I'll be prepared to keep fighting until my opponent is out of the fight, regardless of whether I think he should have quit with the first hit.

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Old January 14, 2010, 03:13 PM   #23
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Then you have Trace Adkins, country singer who was shot thru both lungs and two chambers of his heart. This happened before he was famous.

Fell free to google it.
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Old January 14, 2010, 04:57 PM   #24
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Great post Jedburgh -- very informative.

I also never believed in the "one shot stop" theory either. It's basically a crap shoot. If the BG is high on drugs, adrenaline, rage, all three, etc. Not to mention an animal's will to keep fighting/fleeing when wounded. That would be both the 4 legged and 2 legged variety.

That's why not only shot placement, but quantity, is important IMO. Shoot to stop a threat means exactly that. Don't stop shooting until the animal is down, you're out of reloads, or you're stone cold dead.
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Old January 14, 2010, 05:25 PM   #25
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Whoa, we're assuming that a shot needs to be fired!

Discharging a round is about fourth on the list of things you need to do for security! I fire Gold-Dots and don't worry about the FPS, the recorded "one shot stops" or the anecdotes in gun magazines. I don't even start my thought processes on this issue.

As I've stated before, my Dad worked for 42 years in the security industry. The single biggest factor for safety is good doors, windows and locks. Even Jeff Cooper utilized a color code for safety awareness that had many levels before firing.

Yikes, before I'd wonder about placement, bullet performance, number of shots to be fired or a situational combat mindset I'd desperately look for a safe exit.
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