Which Handgun Round Has the Best Stopping Power?
Asking that question around gun owners is like bringing up religion or politics at a party. It’s certain to elicit a wide variety of opinions and almost as likely to stir up an argument. This article will define what the question “which handgun round has the best stopping power?” means, and offer unbiased information that will help the readers to make up their own minds on the subject.
What is Stopping Power?
First off, it’s important to understand what the term refers to. It definitely doesn’t mean the ability to kill the target. Any round can accomplish that, even the much-maligned .22. However, in a self-defense situation, the object isn’t to kill your attacker; it’s to end their ability to cause you harm as quickly as possible.
American troops in the Philippines discovered this important distinction in the late 19th century. They found that their guns wouldn’t stop the insurgents charging at them, until seconds or minutes after the bullets entered their adversaries’ bodies. This gave the enemy a chance to still bury a spearhead in the shooter’s chest, before finally collapsing from internal damage and blood loss.
Factors like these led to the military adopting the Colt .45 ACP pistol as its standard sidearm in 1911. Its round is designed to not only kill the attacker but also to stop him in his tracks. This is accomplished through simple physics; a larger bullet imparts more force into its target than a smaller one. Think of hitting a person in the chest with a broom handle, then picture striking the same spot with a 5 lb. sledgehammer. You get the idea.
The Debate Continues
It turns out, however, that things aren’t that simple. The best stopping power is a complex mix of many different factors, including how fast the round is traveling and what it does when it enters the attacker’s body. While the classic .45 ACP round is large, it’s also relatively slow, with an average velocity of 850-900 FPS for most types of ammo. Among other things, this makes it ineffective against body armor.
In 1985, the US military replaced the .45 ACP with the 9mm round for its standard sidearm. The 9mm travels a great deal faster than the .45, with average muzzle velocity averaging between 1100-1200 FPS. The smaller size of the 9mm also allows for more rounds per magazine, as well as lighter weapons. These features, along with superb marketing efforts, have made the 9mm the round of choice, not only for the armed forces, but also for most police departments in the U.S.
So, is the 9mm the ultimate handgun around? Well, depends on whom you ask. Anyone who has seen Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” movies is familiar with Sergeant Callahan’s favorite sidekick, his .44 magnum revolver. Developed in the 1950s, this round combines high velocity with large bullet size. Then, there’s the venerable .357 magnum, which, though smaller than the .44, comes roaring out of a barrel at speeds as high as 1600 FPS. For members of the hand-cannon clique, toting a weapon loaded with anything less is just asking to be shot or killed by street punks who are “feelin’ lucky.”
For Everything There’s a Price
So, the answer is simple, right? Everyone should buy a magnum-powered handgun in .357 or larger caliber and feel completely secure that he or she has the best stopping power.
It would be nice if it were that simple – but of course it’s not. The reason is recoil. As Sir Isaac Newton pointed out a few centuries ago, for every action there’s an equal reaction in the opposite direction. For gun owners, this means that, when you fire a brutally powerful weapon, it’s going to shove you backwards as well as fly up.
This can cause more than embarrassment. It can also destroy your aim, and the strongest bullet on earth is useless if it doesn’t hit the bad guy coming at you. For this reason, some dismiss magnum rounds altogether and sing the praises of the S&W .40 round, which supposedly combines the best features of the .45 ACP and the 9mm. However, others say that the lowly .22 LR has the best stopping power, since it stays in the target’s body and bounces around, shredding arteries and punching holes in internal organs.
What Everyone Agrees On
As stated before, this article isn’t intended to solve the stopping power debate, but only to discuss the issues it involves. However, there are two factors virtually everyone agrees on:
1. Hollow point bullets are superior to round-nosed ones. When they enter the body, they spread out into a star-shaped pattern that enhances the damage caused by the wound channel. For this reason, jacketed hollow point (JHP) ammo is the only realistic choice for those who carry a handgun for self-defense.
2. Any weapon is only as good as its owner, making the person behind the trigger the single greatest factor in how much stopping power a gun ultimately yields. This translates to a simple formula for shooting success: practice, practice, practice. Practice drawing the weapon, aiming it, and firing. Repeat over and over, and keep doing so even after proficiency is achieved. Of course, smoothly drawing a handgun leads directly to another subject: which holster is best for those concerned with personal protection? But that’s a subject for another article.
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