An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power

Written by Greg Ellifritz

Topics: Articles

  • SumoMe


Written by: Greg Ellifritz


When bullets hit flesh, they don't always function the way you think they would...

When bullets hit flesh, they don’t always function the way you think they would…


I’ve been interested in firearm stopping power for a very long time. I remember reading Handguns magazine back in the late 1980s when Evan Marshall was writing articles about his stopping power studies. When Marshall’s first book came out in 1992, I ordered it immediately, despite the fact that I was a college student and really couldn’t afford its $39 price tag. Over the years I bought all of the rest of Marshall’s books as well as anything else I could find on the subject. I even have a first edition of Gunshot Injuries by Louis Lagarde published in 1915.



Every source I read has different recommendations. Some say Marshall’s data is genius. Some say it is statistically impossible. Some like big heavy bullets. Some like lighter, faster bullets. There isn’t any consensus. The more I read, the more confused I get.



One thing I remember reading that made a lot of sense to me was an article by Massad Ayoob. He came out with his own stopping power data around the time Marshall published Handgun Stopping Power. In the article, Ayoob took his critics to task. He suggested that if people didn’t believe his data, they should collect their own and do their own analysis. That made sense to me. So that’s just what I did. I always had a slight problem with the methodology of Marshall and Sanow’s work. For consistency purposes, they ONLY included hits to the torso and ONLY included cases where the person was hit with just a single round. Multiple hits screwed up their data, so they excluded them. This lead to an unrealistically high stopping power percentage, because it factored out many of the cases where a person didn’t stop! I wanted to look at hits anywhere on the body and get a realistic idea of actual stopping power, no matter how many hits it took to get it. So I started collecting data.



Over a 10-year period, I kept track of stopping power results from every shooting I could find. I talked to the participants of gunfights, read police reports, attended autopsies, and scoured the newspapers, magazines, and Internet for any reliable accounts of what happened to the human body when it was shot.



I documented all of the data I could; tracking caliber, type of bullet (if known), where the bullet hit and whether or not the person was incapacitated. I also tracked fatalities, noting which bullets were more likely to kill and which were not. It was an exhaustive project, but I’m glad I did it and I’m happy to report the results of my study here.



Before I get to the details, I must give a warning. I don’t have any dog in this fight! I don’t sell ammo. I’m not being paid by any firearm or ammunition manufacturer. I carry a lot of different pistols for self defense. Within the last 2 weeks, I’ve carried a .22 magnum, a .380 auto, a .38 spl revolver, 3 different 9mm autos and a .45 auto. I don’t have an axe to grind. If you are happy with your 9mm, I’m happy for you. If you think that everyone should be carrying a .45 (because they don’t make a .46), I’m cool with that too. I’m just reporting the data. If you don’t like it, take Mr. Ayoob’s advice…do a study of your own.



A few notes on terminology…

Since it was my study, I got to determine the variables and their definitions. Here’s what I looked at:

– Number of people shot

– Number of rounds that hit

– On average, how many rounds did it take for the person to stop his violent action or be incapacitated? For this number, I included hits anywhere on the body. To be considered an immediate incapacitation, I used criteria similar to Marshall’s. If the attacker was striking or shooting the victim, the round needed to immediately stop the attack without another blow being thrown or shot being fired. If the person shot was in the act of running (either towards or away from the shooter), he must have fallen to the ground within five feet.

I also excluded all cases of accidental shootings or suicides. Every shot in this study took place during a military battle or an altercation with a criminal.

– What percentage of shooting incidents resulted in fatalities. For this, I included only hits to the head or torso.

– What percentage of people were not incapacitated no matter how many rounds hit them

– Accuracy. What percentage of hits was in the head or torso. I tracked this to check if variations could affect stopping power. For example, if one caliber had a huge percentage of shootings resulting in arm hits, we may expect that the stopping power of that round wouldn’t look as good as a caliber where the majority of rounds hit the head.

– One shot stop percentage – number of incapacitations divided by the number of hits the person took. Like Marshall’s number, I only included hits to the torso or head in this number.

– Percentage of people who were immediately stopped with one hit to the head or torso



Here are the results:

.25ACP# of people shot – 68
# of hits – 150
% of hits that were fatal – 25%
Average number of rounds until incapacitation – 2.2
% of people who were not incapacitated – 35%
One-shot-stop % – 30%
Accuracy (head and torso hits) – 62%
% actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit) – 49% 
.22 (short, long and long rifle)# of people shot – 154
# of hits – 213
% of hits that were fatal – 34%
Average number of rounds until incapacitation – 1.38
% of people who were not incapacitated – 31%
One-shot-stop % – 31%
Accuracy (head and torso hits) – 76%
% actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit) – 60% 
.32 (both .32 Long and .32 ACP)# of people shot – 25
# of hits – 38
% of hits that were fatal – 21%
Average number of rounds until incapacitation – 1.52
% of people who were not incapacitated – 24%
One-shot-stop % – 40%
Accuracy (head and torso hits) – 78%
% actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit) – 72% 
.380 ACP# of people shot – 85
# of hits – 150
% of hits that were fatal – 29%
Average number of rounds until incapacitation – 1.76
% of people who were not incapacitated – 16%
One-shot-stop % – 44%
Accuracy (head and torso hits) – 76%
% actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit) – 62% 
.38 Special# of people shot – 199
# of hits – 373
% of hits that were fatal – 29%
Average number of rounds until incapacitation – 1.87
% of people who were not incapacitated – 17%
One-shot-stop % – 39%
Accuracy (head and torso hits) – 76%
% actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit) – 55% 
9mm Luger# of people shot – 456
# of hits – 1121
% of hits that were fatal – 24%
Average number of rounds until incapacitation – 2.45
% of people who were not incapacitated – 13%
One-shot-stop % – 34%
Accuracy (head and torso hits) – 74%
% actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit) – 47% 
.357 (both magnum and Sig)# of people shot – 105
# of hits – 179
% of hits that were fatal – 34%
Average number of rounds until incapacitation – 1.7
% of people who were not incapacitated – 9%
One-shot-stop % – 44%
Accuracy (head and torso hits) – 81%
% actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit) – 61% 
.40 S&W# of people shot – 188
# of hits – 443
% of hits that were fatal – 25%
Average number of rounds until incapacitation – 2.36
% of people who were not incapacitated – 13%
One-shot-stop % – 45%
Accuracy (head and torso hits) – 76%
% actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit) – 52% 
.45 ACP# of people shot – 209
# of hits – 436
% of hits that were fatal – 29%
Average number of rounds until incapacitation – 2.08
% of people who were not incapacitated – 14%
One-shot-stop % – 39%
Accuracy (head and torso hits) – 85%
% actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit) – 51% 
.44 Magnum# of people shot – 24
# of hits – 41
% of hits that were fatal – 26%
Average number of rounds until incapacitation – 1.71
% of people who were not incapacitated – 13%
One-shot-stop % – 59%
Accuracy (head and torso hits) – 88%
% actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit) – 53%
Rifle (all Centerfire)# of people shot – 126
# of hits – 176
% of hits that were fatal – 68%
Average number of rounds until incapacitation – 1.4
% of people who were not incapacitated – 9%
One-shot-stop % – 58%
Accuracy (head and torso hits) – 81%
% actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit) – 80% 
Shotgun (All, but 90% of results were 12 gauge)# of people shot – 146
# of hits – 178
% of hits that were fatal – 65%
Average number of rounds until incapacitation – 1.22
% of people who were not incapacitated – 12%
One-shot-stop % – 58%
Accuracy (head and torso hits) – 84%
% actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit) – 86% 






I really would have liked to break it down by individual bullet type, but I didn’t have enough data points to reach a level of statistical significance. Getting accurate data on nearly 1800 shootings was hard work. I couldn’t imagine breaking it down farther than what I did here. I also believe the data for the .25, .32 and .44 magnum should be viewed with suspicion. I simply don’t have enough data (in comparison to the other calibers) to draw an accurate comparison. I reported the data I have, but I really don’t believe that a .32 ACP incapacitates people at a higher rate than the .45 ACP!



One other thing to look at is the 9mm data. A huge number (over half) of 9mm shootings involved ball ammo. I think that skewed the results of the study in a negative manner. One can reasonable expect that FMJ ammo will not stop as well as a state of the art expanding bullet. I personally believe that the 9mm is a better stopper than the numbers here indicate, but you can make that decision for yourself based on the data presented.


Some interesting findings:

I think the most interesting statistic is the percentage of people who stopped with one shot to the torso or head. There wasn’t much variation between calibers. Between the most common defensive calibers (.38, 9mm, .40, and .45) there was a spread of only eight percentage points. No matter what gun you are shooting, you can only expect a little more than half of the people you shoot to be immediately incapacitated by your first hit.



The average number of rounds until incapacitation was also remarkably similar between calibers. All the common defensive calibers required around 2 rounds on average to incapacitate. Something else to look at here is the question of how fast can the rounds be fired out of each gun. The .38 SPL probably has the slowest rate of fire (long double action revolver trigger pulls and stout recoil in small revolvers) and the fewest rounds fired to get an incapacitation (1.87). Conversely the 9mm can probably be fired fastest of the common calibers and it had the most rounds fired to get an incapacitation (2.45). The .40 (2.36) and the .45 (2.08) split the difference. It is my personal belief that there really isn’t much difference between each of these calibers. It is only the fact that some guns can be fired faster than others that causes the perceived difference in stopping power. If a person takes an average of 5 seconds to stop after being hit, the defender who shoots a lighter recoiling gun can get more hits in that time period. It could be that fewer rounds would have stopped the attacker (given enough time) but the ability to fire more quickly resulted in more hits being put onto the attacker. It may not have anything to do with the stopping power of the round.



Another data piece that leads me to believe that the majority of commonly carried defensive rounds are similar in stopping power is the fact that all four have very similar failure rates. If you look at the percentage of shootings that did not result in incapacitation, the numbers are almost identical. The .38, 9mm, .40, and .45 all had failure rates of between 13% and 17%.

Some people will look at this data and say “He’s telling us all to carry .22s”. That’s not true. Although this study showed that the percentages of people stopped with one shot are similar between almost all handgun cartridges, there’s more to the story. Take a look at two numbers: the percentage of people who did not stop (no matter how many rounds were fired into them) and the one-shot-stop percentage. The lower caliber rounds (.22, .25, .32) had a failure rate that was roughly double that of the higher caliber rounds. The one-shot-stop percentage (where I considered all hits, anywhere on the body) trended generally higher as the round gets more powerful. This tells us a couple of things…



In a certain (fairly high) percentage of shootings, people stop their aggressive actions after being hit with one round regardless of caliber or shot placement. These people are likely NOT physically incapacitated by the bullet. They just don’t want to be shot anymore and give up! Call it a psychological stop if you will. Any bullet or caliber combination will likely yield similar results in those cases. And fortunately for us, there are a lot of these “psychological stops” occurring. The problem we have is when we don’t get a psychological stop. If our attacker fights through the pain and continues to victimize us, we might want a round that causes the most damage possible. In essence, we are relying on a “physical stop” rather than a “psychological” one. In order to physically force someone to stop their violent actions we need to either hit him in the Central Nervous System (brain or upper spine) or cause enough bleeding that he becomes unconscious. The more powerful rounds look to be better at doing this.



One other factor to consider is that the majority of these shootings did NOT involve shooting through intermediate barriers, cover or heavy clothing. If you anticipate having to do this in your life (i.e. you are a police officer and may have to shoot someone in a car), again, I would lean towards the larger or more powerful rounds.



What I believe that my numbers show is that in the majority of shootings, the person shot merely gives up without being truly incapacitated by the bullet. In such an event, almost any bullet will perform admirably. If you want to be prepared to deal with someone who won’t give up so easily, or you want to be able to have good performance even after shooting through an intermediate barrier, I would skip carrying the “mouse gun” .22s, .25s and .32s.



Now compare the numbers of the handgun calibers with the numbers generated by the rifles and shotguns. For me there really isn’t a stopping power debate. All handguns suck! If you want to stop someone, use a rifle or shotgun!



What matters even more than caliber is shot placement. Across all calibers, if you break down the incapacitations based on where the bullet hit you will see some useful information.


Head shots = 75% immediate incapacitation
Torso shots = 41% immediate incapacitation
Extremity shots (arms and legs) = 14% immediate incapacitation.


No matter which caliber you use, you have to hit something important in order to stop someone!




This study took me a long time and a lot of effort to complete. Despite the work it took, I’m glad I did it. The results I got from the study lead me to believe that there really isn’t that much difference between most defensive handgun rounds and calibers. None is a death ray, but most work adequately…even the lowly .22s. I’ve stopped worrying about trying to find the “ultimate” bullet. There isn’t one. And I’ve stopped feeling the need to strap on my .45 every time I leave the house out of fear that my 9mm doesn’t have enough “stopping power.” Folks, carry what you want. Caliber really isn’t all that important.



Take a look at the data. I hope it helps you decide what weapon to carry. No matter which gun you choose, pick one that is reliable and train with it until you can get fast accurate hits. Nothing beyond that really matters!



51 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Terri Renner says:

    Just a quick note to thank you for all the work you put into this study. I happened to hear you on Gun Talk today and found your study very interesting. What did I learn? I need more practice with my 357 S&W as I can now see that placement is really more important than caliber.

  2. Greg says:

    Thanks for all your work! This helps me tremendously since I’m trying to get a gun for my gf’s home protection.

  3. Bill says:

    I also heard you on Tom Gresham’s show, but just yesterday, when I played the podcast while on the road. Reading here, a couple things came to me. First, I want to take the data and put it in tabular format for easier comparisons.

    Second, while 1,800 shootings sounds like a lot (and researching them all IS a lot of work), I imagine it would take even more to be able to reach conclusions about variations within the categories, like the FMJ vs JHP as you mentioned. In particular, though, I wonder about the .357 round. The magnum is a revolver round that is more powerful than the .357 Sig. A person using the magnum has few rounds and likely to be careful in shooting that round. OTOH, a Glock 31 carries 15+1, and the shooter might shoot more of those rounds. I would be curious to see what the numbers looked like for just .357 magnum.

    All things considered, this is a great piece of work and is info that needs to be disseminated. Gun Talk was a good place to start. I’ve also posted a link on the XD forum and emailed links to a few friends who, like me, have been subscribers to the .45ACP as a “death ray”! Thanks for the information.

  4. David says:

    Wow, Great information, which gives me alot of data for what I have always believed, It’s more about shot placement than caliber. I’m a RSO and trainer at the local range, I just smile when I hear all the comments and statements made about the “need” of a large caliber weapon. Thanks for all your hard work.

  5. Roger Kimble says:

    Thank you! One of the most intelligent articles I have read on so-called “stopping power!” You did a lot of research in putting this together, and it’s appreciated by the folks out here for whom this type of thing is important. I have long felt that shot placement trumped everything else, unless you are carrying a 12 or 8 gauge shotgun.

    On top of this, you write well too.

    Thanks again.


  6. Drew says:


    This is absolutely brilliant! Thanks for collecting all the data, tabulating it, and sharing the results.

    Like you, I grew up reading gun magazines as a kid in the ’80s, and thought that Marshall’s one shot stop statistics were the best indicator of bullet effectiveness.

    Your data and analysis seems to follow a much better methodology than Marshall’s and Sanow’s yet still has the virtue of being based on actual shootings. One thing you don’t share are the ranges of values that gave the averages. Were the spreads pretty wide?

    I’m in the process of getting my carry permit again after letting it expire about a decade ago. I just traded a Colt Detective Special with some small problems for the much lighter and more powerful Ruger LCR in .357 magnum. I’ve been debating what to carry in it since I got it.

    The load that I seem to shoot the best is the .357 CCI Blazer 158 gr. JHP. That round has more power than .38 +P, yet is relatively mild. I get almost one-hole groups at 7 yards with very quick follow-up shots, and it hits at point of aim.

    Conversely, the Hornady .357 125 gr. Critical Defense rounds are full-house rounds that I _can_ shoot pretty well, but the recoil is more severe and I’m in the 8 ring on a B-27 target with the follow-up shots — no better.

    Your data has helped me see that there’s not really a lot of effective difference between the two rounds. I will likely carry the Blazer because I know I can shoot it very well — and it will likely be powerful enough.

    • Greg Ellifritz says:

      Thanks Drew!

      The LCR is a good gun. I think you will be happy with it. While the full-house 125 grain bullets in .357 mag are probably the best stoppers, they are a handful to shoot, especially in the smaller guns. I use the 125 grain Speer Gold Dot in my .357 revolvers, but it certainly isn’t a low recoiling round.

      In general, the lighter bullets will have less recoil. I think Winchester still makes a 110 grain .357 JHP that is very mild. Their Silvertip also seems fairly mild.

      My only concern with the Blazers is the aluminum case. They expand more than brass cases and occasionally stick in the cylinder after firing. I would hate to be slowed down by sticky empty cases if I had to reload in a hurry.

  7. Jeff Shi says:


    I read your article on Buckeye Firearms and found it to be very informative. Finally someone performs a good analysis on stopping power based on an abundance of empirical data.

    I currently work as a statistician for the USAF and I believe I can help you further expand your analysis of stopping power if you’re interested. With the raw sample data you have collected, you can actually perform what’s called a “Difference of Means” or “Student’s T-Test” to determine, with a certain degree of confidence, whether or not the difference in stopping power percentage between two calibers is statistically significant. This should put the last nail on the coffin on whether or not a caliber is significantly better than another.

    Please let me know if you’re interested. Thanks.

    • Greg Ellifritz says:

      Jeff, one of the big criticisms of my study was that I didn’t do a more in depth statistical analysis. I actually considered doing the work myself (having taken several graduate level statistics courses while I was getting my master’s degree), but I decided against it. A better statistical analysis really won’t be helpful.

      This was not a scientific study. It was merely a collection of observations. There was no control group and there was bias involved (I only included incidents where I could obtain good quality information). There was no way to control for exactly where the round hit, the ranges involved, the size of the individual shot, whether or not the person shot was using alcohol or drugs, or the clothing that was worn. All of those factors will influence the results.

      Providing a better statistical analysis of imperfect data doesn’t provide us with any better answers.

      As I said before, the way to look at this study is as a collection of incidents that add to our collective knowledge pool and help us make some better decisions. I compare it to buying a car…I can scientifically study the rates of mechanical failures with a good statistical analysis. I could also talk to 20 people who have owned the car and see if it works for them. Both methods would likely give me different sets of information, but both methods would also likely give me the information I need to make a decision. Combining the two by doing a statistical analysis on with information received from talking to the car owners wouldn’t really add to the total knowledge pool.

  8. Ron says:

    The best work I’ve seen on this subject. Many thanks from and old man who carries and shoots.

  9. thebronze says:

    Excellent research, Greg!!!

  10. Mike says:

    Well done Greg. Let the forums rock and roll…LOL

  11. John Lloyd Scharf says:

    You say “Folks, carry what you want. Caliber really isn’t all that important.” Then you seem to disagree with that position every time you discuss the .22LR.

    You say, “These people are likely NOT physically incapacitated by the bullet. They just don’t want to be shot anymore and give up!” Given what I know about pain, a sudden large trauma leads to a huge dump of endorphins, of which enkephlin is the main one.

    The smaller the trauma, the more likely they will feel the pain sooner. Obviously, if you think about it, knowing you were shot by a .45 is not going to feel more like getting shot than being shot with a .22, which is the necessary converse of the logic when you make your statement.

    People who feel no pain will keep coming at you, even if they have a mortal wound. I have an example:

    In the 1986 FBI Miami shootout, Platt, who killed two and wounded two, was killed with the first shot, from a 9mm through his right arm, his lung, and stopping next to his heart. AFTER THAT, he took 11 more shots/wounds.

    While the mortal wound was taking effect, he fired one handed with his left hand emptying his Mini-14 [10 shots?] and five rounds from his shotgun.

    Essentially, your data and your conclusion make more sense to me than you want to admit, particularly with respect to the effectiveness of the .22LR, the least expensive handgun to operate.

    • Greg Ellifritz says:


      I’ve received lots of comments similar to yours. I’m going to expand on my rationale a little bit in a separate blog post. Look for it next week!

      • John Lloyd Scharf says:

        It is hard to understand your position given your data:

        47%-9mm Lugar
        49%-.25 ACP
        51%-.45 ACP
        52%-.40 S&W
        53%-.44 Magnum
        55%-.38 Special
        60%-.22 Short, Long, and Long Rifle
        61%-.357 Magnum and Sig
        62%-.380 ACP
        80%-All Center Fire Rifles
        86%-Shotguns, 90% of which were 12 gauge.

        Obviously, the fewer rounds it takes to incapacitate, the better. In this case:
        The typical Shotgun rounds incapacitates with an average of 1.22 rounds
        The .22LR round incapacitates with an average of 1.38 rounds
        The typical Rifle round incapacitates with an average of 1.40 rounds
        The .32 Round incapacitates with an average of 1.52 rounds
        The .356 Magnum incapacitates with an average of 1.70 rounds
        The .44 Magnum incapacitates with an average of 1.71 rounds
        The .380 ACP round incapacitates with an average of 1.76 rounds
        The .38 Special round incapacitates with an average of 1.86 rounds
        The .45 ACP round incapacitates with an average of 2.08 rounds
        The .25 ACP round incapacitates with an average of 2.20 rounds
        The .40 S&W round incapacitates with an average of 2.36 rounds
        The 9mm Lugar round incapacitates with an average of 2.45 rounds

    • Don Russell says:

      Platt never fired a shotgun at ALL. his partner fired ONE rd, and ONE #6 birdshot pellet hit one cop in the leg. big deal. platt wounded 5, not 2. the other wounds, other than the final 3 execution style shots to his head, from a range of 3ft, were not serious hits at all. Many were buck pellets to his feet, or other peripheral, shallow type hits. The cops MISSED him with over 40 shots, mostly from 5 yds and less. There is a book about that fight, written by the medical examiner who did the autopsy, IIRC.

      It’s silly to include head shots or limb hits. Of COURSE limb hits are rarely incapacitating, and OF COURSE head hits usually are very much debilitating. So they ruin your survey, just like Marshalls survey is silly. he counted it a stop if it succeeded in THREE seconds! Anyone can stab, slash, club or shoot you 12x in 3 seconds, with each hand! They can charge you from 40 ft away or more in 3 seconds, so that’s NOT a “stop”, by any stretch of the imagination.

    • Don Russell says:

      the fact is that NOTHING to the torso can possibly incapacitate in less than 4-5 seconds. beheadings, double carotid chokes, hearts blown apart, have let people’s brains to continue to function for that long. so, other than a fluke hit to the spine, chest hits are not going to incapacitate in time.

      what we see, when guys collapse quickly, is a case of psychological QUITTING, not an incapacitation. while this quitting ISN’T 100%, it’s far more reliable than incapacitation, because the latter CANNNOT be achieved in less than 4-5 seconds, by bullets to the vital organs of the chest. so what we should seek is rds that maximize our ability to inflict shock, pain, and damage, in the shortest possible time, in the HOPE of maximizing our ability to make our attackers QUIT. Nothing else can be done, about the ammo part of things.

      a head hit, altho it misses the brain, is very often QUITE likely to render the “hittee” combat-ineffective. Quite often, because the attacker is using cover, the head is the only mark that we have, or the offender is holding a hostage and only a brain hit is likely to save the day.

      what we can do is get more practice at getting swift hits to the head. We can learn better tactics, use cover more frequently and effectively, draw faster, hit faster, hit more times faster,, keep our distance, use movement, use obtacles in the attacker’s path, wear our body armor,use a flashlight more often and more effectively, and whenever possible, use hearing protection. If you have time to run and get a gun, there should be a set of muffs lying beside the gun, and you can don them plenty fast enough (if you can get to the gun at all, that is).

      • Ben P. says:

        Better yet run a suppressor if it is legal in your state. Then you can still hear what is going on around you and remain situationally aware, and not deafen yourself when you do have to take shots

  12. Tom Crawford says:


    Excellent job. The only problem I see here is that it actually requires some thought to interpret what the data means, within its limitations. I think you did an excellent job of that in your discussion, but clearly some people will use your work to bolster their pre-conceptions.

    I see what you have done here as an improvement over what Evan Marshall was trying to do. I only hope that in 2013, we have grown up to the point that you won’t be savaged by detractors with an axe to grind as he was for doing his work, however flawed it may have been.

  13. Mark says:


    Thanks for the awesome articles, and the awesome mini-seminar you held at TDI in the Active shooter class for treating wounds. Keep up the great work bro!


  14. will says:

    It’s my understanding that rifles have a greater wounding capacity than handguns. Since they’re usually smaller and often lighter I have to assume this is because of the velocity but I still don’t completely understand why this makes so much difference. Can you offer any explaination for this is true?

    • Greg Ellifritz says:

      It is true and it is related to velocity. At handgun velocities, the bullet simply makes a hole. It’s stopping power is determined by where the hole is located, how wide it is, and how deep it is.

      Rifle bullets not only make a hole, but because of the increased velocity, they send a shock wave into the tissue. That wave also tears and damages tissue creating additional damage beyond the boundaries of the hole the bullet creates.

  15. Mike Boyce says:


    Excellent work! I recently had to research the new caliber and weapon for my department and your work played a big part in the final decision. 9 mm by the way…

  16. Doug REID says:

    No, make that “WOW!”
    How long did it take to collect data on 1800 events? And how many of those event were military-presumably using ball ammo?
    No, make that “THANKS!”
    DOUG out

  17. Frederick Strobel says:

    I have been in a lot of firefights. Two tours with the 3rd Marine Division in Vietnam. In ten of them I went to my sidearm, 8 times a 1911A1 45acp, & 3 times a Victory Model S&W 38Spl.

    In each case my rifle, most often a M14, was dry, and the black hats were at bad breath distance. What my experience taught me was if I did my job and put the bullets where they needed to go, they both worked. When I rushed the shots, and did not place the shots properly, both calibers did not work.

    In all cases it was/is on me to get proper hits, not caliber.

    Good study.

    “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” — Plato

  18. Fred says:

    Nice work, Greg!
    And thanks for your efforts!
    Your results do not surprise me at all. They confirm my own “seat of the pants hunch” as well as the anecdotal stories I have gleaned from years of following the “discussions”.

    I tell myself and others that what really seems to matter in these situations calling for “combat” is; 1) Your willingness to fight, and 2) Your ability to use your weapon of choice to its best effect.
    Everything else boils down to opinion and mythology.

    One more thing; regarding the “bullet type” debate. I’m just guessing, but my suspicion is that were you to collate data regarding hollow points vs ball vs lead vs lead semi-wadcutter, etc., you would probably find not all that much statistically significant difference there either.
    No magical calibers and no magical bullets, either.

  19. Frederick Strobel says:

    Never forget it is the “injun, not the arrow” that will carry the fight.

    To quote Col John Boyd of OODA fame: Mindset-Skillset-toolset IN THAT ORDER.

    Traing and proper practice with a reliable weapon that is cleaned and maintained properly for the fight, is by an order of magnatude more important than caliber or bullet.

    Don’t learn to shoot, learn to fight the fight you will most likely find your self in. Don’t be a “Wanna be.” Prepare and train for the worst case, not the best case. And never forget that no plan survives first contact, be it one guy or an Army.

    Go figure.


    Semper Fi

  20. Ken Garrison says:

    I understand the importance of using incapacitation as the primary end point of your study. It is after all when we have to stop shooting in self-defense. There is another end point that you may have in your data that would be of interest to those who still fuel the caliber choice debate – fatality. Perhaps this can be further refined to fatality at the scene, or fatality with head or torso hit. Basically all the data you provided could be looked at using one hit in head or torso fatality percentage.

  21. John says:

    Lovely job, thank you for your effort!

    One thing not discussed in study:
    Those people who shoot larger, harder to control calibers undoubtedly have practiced more and are generally more proficient with a handgun, than those who tend to shoot lighter calibers. If at any point the larger calibers appear more successful, I wonder if it’s because of the more effective operator?

    • Fred says:

      I bet that would turn out to be a wash. Because on the other end, you have the smaller calibers being much easier to control and to score accurate hits with.

      Either way, I bet is doesn’t matter that much. My guess is that under stress and pressure to act quickly, even people who train probably don’t do very well in the real world of a street gun battle. And I doubt that there are enough of those kinds of people out there to change the statistics very much.

      The best source of anecdotal stories on this subject that I know of can be found in the NRA’s magazines under their article “The Armed Citizen”. This column gives brief descriptions of real world instances of self defense with firearms as reported by local news papers. These “battles” are very similar. Lots of instances of people acting very quickly and with surprisingly good effect, without being particularly accurate with their handguns.

  22. Ralph Mroz says:

    Greg – I just found this post of yours – great work and results similar to what Claude Werner has found thru a different methodology.

    I’d be curious to know — when the next guy takes on this amount of work – what the effect of missed rounds are. No one wants to be shot at, and most criminals don’t expect to be, so I wouldn’t be surprised that even missed rounds are somewhat effective. After all, we know that the mere brandishing of a gun is effective in most cases.

    • Greg Ellifritz says:

      Good to hear from you Ralph! You are right. That would be an interesting project. I’m working on something similar right now…not exactly missed shots, but I’m studying what happens when armed citizens fire warning shots. What does the bad guy do? Is the shooter more or less likely to be injured after display of the gun? What percentage of warning shots hit something they weren’t intended to? How often does the shooter get charged criminally? Trying to answer all those questions now. It’s a big project. I’ll send you the results when I’m done.

      Hope all is well!

      • Ralph Mroz says:

        OK, just to get a reaction , here’s a thought experiment that takes this to its logical end: Since we know that 90% of the time the (justified) mere display of a gun is sufficient to extract one from a bad situation (Kleck), and between Greg’s and Claude’s research we can deduce that a small gun is as effective as a big (hand) gun, then why not simply carry a toy gun? No license required, and if used only when the display of a real gun would be justified I doubt that any laws would be broken (that that you wouldn’t have to fight potential charges). Does away with a lot of hassle, no?

        Meant tongue in cheek, of course, but not completely stupid either, I think.

        • Ebola says:

          You would have to have a orange tip so that the cop can tell that is it not a real weapon , so the criminal would be alerted and probably still attack

  23. Ebola says:

    Really good article! Learned a lot!

  24. Roger Hayes says:

    Great study and thank you for all your hard work. Have been in a few of your classes at TDI. Loved them. Cant wait for your next study on “warning shots” Thanks again.

  25. Brent Ambrose says:

    Good work. Having been a police officer for 31 years with 18 on SWAT and the last 10 years on training (including firearms instruction).

    We performed ammo tests many times over the years. We carried Speer ammo that was specifically loaded for our department as it was the most consistant performer 4ound after round. Yes, unfortunately, we proved the round more than once in shootouts with armed subjects and the round never let us down.

    Now comes a little bit of knowledge and experience. Caliber is a minor issue compared to “Shot Placement”. Police shootings are quite poor in that area with a hit ratio from one in seven to one in eleven rounds even contacting the suspect. With a hit ratio that low, caliber hardly matters. However, I’ve seen a subject shot in the chest which effectively removed his heart and blew a hole in his chest that should have been what many call “instantaneous death”, however I watched the guy lying on the ground moaning and moving his right arm around waiving for 5-6 seconds. How many rounds can you shoot in 6 seconds? I know my answer to that question and that’s ” All of em”. So, yes, there is no such thing as the perfect bullet.

    Hypovolemic shock is what kills almost everybody who dies from a bullet. For those of you that are about to look that up, I’ll save you the time.

    The bigger the hole, the faster the subject will pass out from blood loss or loss of blood pressure.

    Shot placement folks, and don’t sh$t talk police for not shooting better, until you are willing to walk in our shoes. Cops are people too, and are subject to human emotions. Fear is a huge reason that police miss, I call it pray and spray (I don’t teach that, nor do I recommend it either, the gun has sights on it for a reason, us em).

  26. Michael Ciaio says:

    Nice job! Thanks.

  27. Keith Morgan says:

    Your conclusion on psychological stops tracks closely with Steve Silverman’s research in the early 2000. He studied “action after being shot” and concluded that it was broken nearly evenly into 3rds. 1/3 would go down whether they needed to or not. 1/3 would turn away from the gunfire and typically wind up with entrance wounds in the side and back. And 1/3 would keep doing whatever it was they were doing when they got shot.

  28. RBR says:

    Your conclusions are, not surprisingly, similar to those of the FBI report and common sense. That is to say that shot placement and the ability to make second, third or more follow up shots with some degree of accuracy are the most important considerations in choice of caliber (and sidearm).

    A number of law enforcement agencies have been transitioning from .40 S&W and .357 SIG to 9mm for those reasons and the increased magazine capacity.

  29. tom says:

    How many ghetto rats have taken a 22 to the back of the heah? Surpise, and being close , makes a .25 dangerous.

  30. Mick says:

    Thanks for reproducing this. It’s not the first time I’ve read it, nor do I expect it to be the last. I vary between J-frames and 9mm Shields for carry; I’m told I’m not carrying enough ammo in my J-frames, and need a reload for my Shields by the hi-cap crowd; this is a bit more reassurance that my choices are valid, using premium ammo in both calibers. It wasn’t that long ago that the 9mm was considered inferior to the .38 Special; the time they are a’changing.

    • George says:

      Only reason for a reload for a semi auto is the possible failure of the cheapest part of the gun; the magazine. If you fire one or two shots then the mag fails, without a reload you are toast.

      On the revolver, much less argument for failure but I’d argue its even easier to carry a reload for the revolver in the modern version of the old Bianchi Speed Strip. 6 rounds in a flat, flexible piece of plastic is easy to slip in a pocket almost anywhere.

      Great article and good research, thanks.

  31. Burt says:

    Great information. Just found the article and really enjoyed reading it. Carried a Model 27 S&W w/ .38Special +P JHP as a Reserve Officer easy to control. Now debating carry weapon, leaning towards .40S&W but your study may change my mind. Thanks again.

  32. Don says:

    Like Burt and George above, I also just read this article – I was reading an article in Gun Digest by Grant Cunningham called “Defensive Shooting Myths and Misconceptions: “I Shoot That Gun Really Well!”, and he referenced this article and included a link to it.

    I’m sure this post is too old to get a response from Greg, but I noticed the .22 mag was not included. Not enough data, perhaps? If so, I wish Greg had mentioned it, especially since he included the .22 short, long and long rifle. I don’t know if the .22 mag was mentioned in any of the comments above, but I read quite a few of them and didn’t see a mention of it (let alone a response from Greg), which also surprised me a little.

    Great article, though, and a truly impressive undertaking! Greg mentioned several times that this took a long time. Just out of curiosity, I’d like to know how long …

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