Sighting In On: Ammunition: In Search of the Magic Bullet
By George T. Williams
Many of us live our lives in search of the magic bullet. Whether it is THE perfect round, THE perfect Defensive Tactics move, THE perfect agency, THE perfect mate, many of us seem to want to have some magical event occur to complete a picture in our minds of “how the world ought to be.” When it comes to which caliber and what type of round our agency should carry, many have very strong opinions—in fact, this discussion has sold a lot of firearms magazines over my lifetime (and I’m an old guy). The eternal question remains: Is there a perfect round “out there” to reliably stop an imminent threat?
A very informative PowerPoint by the FBI’s Defensive System’s Unit has been going around the Internet (again). The subject is an OIS (Officer-Involved Shooting) involving three police officers from Pennsylvania ambushed by a single suspect. The specifics of the shooting for this discussion, while interesting, are not too important:
• The officers carried .40 caliber Glocks loaded with Speer 180-grain Gold Dot ammo and Hornady 75-grain
TAP .223 caliber rounds in their AR15s (and SWAP employed 55-grain TAP).
• The suspect carried a single .45 caliber handgun.
• A total of 107 rounds (.40 cal and .223 cal) were fired by two officers. A third officer was wounded in the initial ambush.
• The assailant fired 26 rounds, and reloaded his magazine from loose rounds during the firefight.
• The suspect was hit 17 times, with 11 rounds exiting his body.
• The suspect’s right arm (humerus) was broken by a .40 cal. bullet after all .223 ammo was expended.
• The incident lasted approximately three-and-one-half minutes.
• The officers were forced to fight the suspect into handcuffs, even with all of his wounds, before he expired.
• The suspect had trace amounts of marijuana in his system.
What is important are the conclusions the officers and agency came to as a result of the shooting:
• The .40 caliber ammo “failed” and “did not cause incapacitation.” This is the opposite conclusion the FBI came to: the .40 caliber ammo was effective, while .223 ammunition “failed,” based on their gelatin “standards.” Who is right or is there a right or wrong answer?
Someone in the long line of forwards to this e-mail asked, “If the ammo did not fail, then why did they have to fight the (Suspect) after he was hit 17 times?…Wonder what the real truth is…”
To answer this question, we must remember there are only four ways to stop a human being:
1. Mechanically. His bones are broken and he can no longer stand up. If he continues to be motivated (see “Psychologically” below), he may continue to fight/shoot even though immobilized and on the ground.
2. Electrically. His Central Nervous System is disrupted (brain, spine, or motor nerves are disrupted). Dr. Martin Fackler, M.D., once stated that “any bullet entering the brain” immediately disrupts a human’s ability to act. Hits to the spine cut the body’s ability to send motor nerve impulses to the lower limbs, causing the body to fall. If the spine is severed high enough, the hands stop functioning.
3. Hydraulically. He bleeds out sufficiently to cause unconsciousness.
4. Psychologically. He doesn’t want to be in a gunfight/fight any longer and quits.
• NOTE: This is not about “killing” the subject. It is about stopping the “imminent threat” of the individual. Whether he dies or not is not relevant to the importance of stopping the threat.
With the above in mind, there are only three requirements necessary to end a gunfight when the opponent does not want to (and won’t) quit (psychological):
1. Bullet placement.
2. Bullet placement.
3. Bullet placement.
What is the most reliable way to stop someone? The answer is to put a bullet through the brain or upper spine. These targets are relatively easy to hit on a square range with bullets going in only one direction and with sufficient time. However, when bullets are in the air (these being bi-directional during an exchange of gunfire) with a corresponding overwhelming perception of high threat to one’s self, those “easy” shots on the shooting range generally become much more difficult. The higher the perception of personal threat, the greater the difficulty there will likely be.
The easiest portion of a human target to hit is the upper thorax and/or pelvis. The problem is that these targets require the threat to bleed out (unless the spine is hit) and this may take your lifetime before the offender can no longer fight.
• NOTE: A pelvis hit with rifle fire is semi-reliable to fracture the hip or pelvis (mechanical) and is likely to put an offender down as well as make him bleed out (hydraulic), whereas a pelvis shot with a handgun generally does not break the pelvis or hip, but is often fatal due to bleeding out (hydraulic).
If you want to stop a bad guy from shooting at you, remember the following:
• Hit him in a place that will disrupt his ability to continue to be an imminent threat. This type of wound dramatically affects the mechanical, electrical, or hydraulic function of the body. Until that happens, he can keep going until he wants to stop.
• A “psychological stop” cannot be predicted or counted upon.
• A “hydraulic stop” can take a very long time (every two-tenths of a second is another round fired at you, and every round fired at you meets the definition of “a very long time”). During that time, he remains a threat to your life, and may kill you even though he is dying.
• The only truly reliable stop is the “electrical stop,” but it requires a bullet strike through very small, mobile, and hard-to-hit targets.
• The concept of “accuracy” is context specific. On the square range, tight groups on the target are the premium. Facing an imminent threat, it is actually beneficial to have a 3- to 5-inch spread between rounds to maximize the wounding potential, resulting in injury to a wider range of organs.
• “Speed is fine; accuracy is final” (Wyatt Earp) is as true as anything can be. Striving to be “first” is important, but what does that mean? Getting the first shot off is impressive but may be fatal to you. Strive to be the first to hit the target in a vital area. Hitting is the name of this game, as slow as you have to in order to hit and no faster.
• The more hits you have on important structures (brain, spine, upper thorax, femoral triangle, pelvis, etc.), the more quickly the threat will (likely) stop shooting at you.
• Discipline your training and slow your rate of fire to ensure sufficient hits with combat accuracy. Forget “hammered pairs,” “double-taps,” and other “game”-related activities. Continuously fire on the threat until he is no longer an “imminent threat to life.”
The belief that ammunition will save your life is implicit in the question, “If the ammo did not fail, then why did the threat continue?” While some ammunition types are more effective than others, the simple truth is that the round you have in your chamber right now can save your life.
Even if you had a magical magazine holding an unlimited number of rounds, that would be a good of example of every blessing being a potential curse. Would that “unlimited” number of rounds simply result in an unlimited number of hits? Would it just assure that you would get on that trigger like never before in hopes that a wall of lead might get the job done? The best strategy is to fight with the round in your chamber and put that one bullet through a target that disrupts the imminent threat. Then fight again with the next round and the next. Strive to hit him with every round of your fire.
We all want the “silver-life-snuffer-magic-bullet” but that isn’t going to happen with present-day technology (OK, probably it would with the .50 cal BMG round, but I’m not able to carry a Barrett—or even better, an M2 BMG in my hip pocket—Dang!). While some handgun bullets may be statistically better than others, most bullets are going to do the job sufficiently well to eventually stop an assailant (it should be remembered that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office approved the use of hollow points because it was proven that hollow points stopped fights more quickly while full metal jackets were more likely to eventually kill the suspect). As Cutting Edge Training teaches in our firearms and knife classes, “All gunshot wounds and knife wounds eventually stop bleeding.” If you want to do it faster, employ the three requirements necessary to ending a gunfight that must occur (see the list above if you don’t remember).
The Real Truth and The Magic Bullet
The lesson: Stop blaming ammunition for any alleged failure to stop. A .22LR in the right spot is an immediate fight stopper. A .22 Short pistol in the hands of a motivated and skilled shooter makes for a deadly opponent. If you have reliable ammo (it feeds and goes “bang” every time), then forget about the ammunition you are carrying. 9mm vs. .40 vs. .45? Big holes are a little better than little holes when accurately fired. However, we are talking about a difference of only 1/10 of an inch between the 9mm and .45. The only difference in effectiveness is what it passes through in the body. A .45 through the outside of the thigh with no bone involvement will not stop the fight faster than a 9mm through the heart. The answer is bullet placement, bullet placement and bullet placement.
To be effective, you must hit the imminent threat with what you brought to the gunfight, one round at a time. That is the real truth about magic bullets; they don’t really exist. PM
George T. Williams is the Director of Training for Cutting Edge Training in Bellingham, Wash. He has been a Police Training Specialist for more than three decades, as well as an expert witness in federal and state courts nationwide and a widely published author for more than two decades. Mr. Williams develops and presents revolutionary concepts within integrated force training solutions through a problem-solving format, functionalizing police skills and tactical training. He may be contacted at email@example.com.
1. Is there a magic bullet that will reliably stop a threat 100 percent of the time?