Handgun stopping power

I noticed on another thread someone was wondering what kind of handgun to get. They specified “stopping power”, as people usually do. My question is… what the hell is a handgun worth if it doesn’t have stopping power? Is there someone who would want the gun with “wound your attacker just enough to seriously piss them off” power?

‘stopping power’ is a misnomer. Short of an hand-held anti-tank rocket, no handgun is going to flat-out stop someone without a head shot. Life isn’t like the movies. So the question becomes a tradeoff between how fast you can make an attacker bleed out and stop attacking you.

So various combinations of bullet diameter, velocity, and terminal ballistics offer different advantages. Generally speaking, carrying more bullets means the bullet diameter must be smaller or the gun must be bigger, which means you have to find the correct balance that fits you and your needs.

I bought a .22, a gun with little “stopping power,” because I like to target shoot and my .22 ammunition is much cheaper than ammunition for my .38 or .357.

I believe I read on this very board that most murders committed in the US (or maybe just firearm deaths?) are done with the lowly .22. Whether that’s true or not, even the .22 has enough “stopping power” should it hit someone in the right place on their body.

Now hitting that right place isn’t always a guarantee though and that’s where the preference for a larger caliber, with an implied increase in stopping power, may come into play. With them, even if you don’t hit a sweet spot, there’s still likely to be enough collateral damage that you’ve effectively ended the threat. I think this is especially true ever since there was an upswing in recreational drug use. A PCP, cocaine or similarly-fueled individual may be so energized by whatever they’re on that they could possibly continue to be a danger after being shot, even beyond a wound that would normally bring them down.

As an aside, anyone truly desiring stopping power will also need to consider the ammunition specifics too, i.e. weight, mushrooming capability, jacketing, etc, in addition to the gun delivering it.

Even a head shot is uncertain - people have been hit in the head, sometimes multiple times, and still kept on fighting. I know of one instance where a single head shot from a weapon killed one person, and multiple head shots from the exact same weapon, in the same fight, failed to stop another. the second person kept on fighting, returned fire, and stopped his assailant, this time with multiple torso hits. The assailant lived, too.

Barring a heart or central nervous system (CNS) hit, handguns are all problematical. Some are just more so than others.

Basically, “Stopping Power” is an imprecise and nebulous catch-phrase for “fight stopper.” What people whom are looking for when they talk about stopping power, what they’re really looking for is a weapon that will end a fight very quickly, and the actually lethality of the weapon is immaterial. Tasers, for instance, have huge stopping power. If they hit. If you miss, you’re in trouble. They have other draws-back, as well. Stopping power discussions all revolve around which weapon each person believes will meet their needs for affordability, utility, and reliability in stopping a fight as quickly as possible, preferably without taking any harm. Because terminal ballistics and human reactions are so varied, it’s very difficult to get a hard answer. Instead; anecdote, research, and empiricism blend with prejudice, practice, and urban legend.

The stopping power conversation has been going on a long time now, and shows no sign of coming to a consensus conclusion any time soon.

As Gabe said, ‘stopping power’ is a misleading phrase. Someone getting shot and flying backwards through a window or into a wall only happens in Hollywood.

What you are actually trying to do is to transfer as much energy into the target as possible.

Basic physics, E=mv^2, or energy = mass times velocity squared. So a one pound weight traveling at two feet per second is going to hit you four times as hard as it would at one foot per second. Traveling at three feet per second it’s going to hit you eight times as hard.

That makes it simple. Pack enough powder behind a small caliber round and it will have oodles of energy. The problem there is that it’s going too fast and passes through the target not having dumped all it’s energy. We wanted the projectile to stop in the target.

Plan B. Slow the bullet down enough that it doesn’t go all the way through. Problem, now there’s not enough energy to create the system shock to stop the target reliably.

Plan C. Bigger slug. Much better. More energy transferred into the target without penetration. More damage, more pain, more shock. More stopping power. Another benefit is that you can step the velocity back up a bit because the larger slug is encountering more resistance in the target.

Plan C1, C2, C3, etc. Play with the bullet design to maximize expansion and/or tumbling. Increase velocity further because slug is designed to stay inside the target.

Keep in mind the concept of stopping power vs firepower, as they mean different things when discussing guns:

stopping power: what’s been discussed above - how quickly a single round will eliminate the threat. Its generally a factor of bullet size/weight, design (hollowpoint bullets are more effective than solid core due to how they expand and fragment), and muzzle velocity.

firepower: how many rounds you can fire within a given time-frame. Its generally a function of firing rate and capacity.

These are usually inversely related - the bigger the round the larger it is, which affects capacity. The more explosive the charge the beefier the firing mechanism must be, which affects firing rate, etc.

Finding the proper firearm for a given situation generally means evaluating the above and deciding which trade-offs need to be made. Hunters, for example, often choose a heaver limited capacity gun with a lot of stopping power as they may only get one shot in at a given target.

Law enforcement officials try to find a good balance, but tend to go more with multi-shot fast-firing weapons with more firepower (hence you’ll see them with 20 round 9mm Glocks or Sigs rather that big ole .44 magnum that Dirty Harry used to sport.)

Lethality and stopping power are two different things. The .22 is infamous for inflicting wounds that eventually result in the death of the assailant, hours or days later. That said, with proper shot placement, it can produce a quick kill, with the advantage of minimal recoil and noise.

Have you ever shot a handgun? There is definitely an upper limit on how big a gun most people are willing to shoot. I would think that most people don’t want to carry a gun that they are afraid of. If you go out and buy a small concealable .44 magnum, the first time you fire it at the range may be the last time. I find full-magnum loads in my .357 to be right at the upper limit where I don’t flinch - anything bigger than that, and I anticipate the the explosion, and drop the barrel.
So, I for one, would rather carry a gun that I’m likely to be able to hit my target with, rather than one that might have higher theoretical stopping power.


Shot placement > everything else

And remember, the police and military have different gun needs than a citizen looking nly for self-protection. A crank-crazed dude will be something the police will have to encounter and there “the bigger the better”. But normal citizenry can usually just get away from that sort of encounter, usually the encounter is a robbery or rape, and there often just the sight of a handgun is enough to deter. And if not- a half-dozen .22 rounds will put an end to that encounter . Not that a crank-crazed person is an impossible encounter for a normal citizen, so some do prefer a caliber with some stopping pwer, but the best caliber for a normal citizen is one that :

1.Is in a gun you feel comfortable carrying. A gun left behind as it is too big or heavy is useless,
2. Is one you feel comfortable shooting, and can hit with a reasonable degree of accuracy. As Tranquilis and** beowulff** said- shot placement is crucial.

If this means a .25 or .22, so be it.

Slight hijack: Is Jeff Cooper still alive and writing about handguns? There was a guy who was serious about stopping power, way more so than the ex-policement who were writing about handguns at the time (about 30 years ago, when I was keen on gun magazines.)

Reading this made me shudder all over.

Yes, it made my hands hurt just typing it…

At that point, you might as well get a handgrenade. It’d be about as useful and about as accurate…

Someone is gonna get hurt, but no idea if it’s the person you want getting hurt…

Jeff Cooper died last year - I think he was somewhere in his mid-eighties.

Thanks for the update.