Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Fallacy of "One shot, one kill"

If you've read any gun forums, or read a gun magazine in the last 50 years, you've heard the arguments that will go on into eternity: .45ACP vs 9mm, 7.62x39mm vs. 5.56x45mm, Full Metal Jacket vs. Hollow Point, etc. While there is some validity to arguing the point of "which is more powerful" or "which delivers more energy to the target", most of the arguments are based on the "one shot, one kill" fallacy.

In a perfect world, warfighters, cops, and law abiding citizens would be able to shoot a bad guy one time and have him stop, literally dead in his tracks. In reality, unless the bad guy is shot squarely in the brain, he is not automatically out of the fight. Another problem with "one shot, one kill" is that most people, when threatened with death or grievous bodily injury, will panic to some extent and keep pulling the trigger until the target stops (which is the right thing to do, in my opinion). In fact, I have read some doctrine (with which I agree) says to fire controlled pairs until the target stops. That means pop-pop, assess situation, repeat as necessary. I haven't seen first hand, nor heard about a gunfight that was ended by a single shot.

Now this is not to ignore differences in kinetic energy delivered by different rounds. Obviously, a .22LR will not be as likely to end a fight as, say a 10mm. Nor is this to negate the differences in wound channels caused by hollow points, versus the wound channels of full metal jacket rounds. Yes, accuracy is key. However, you should not go into harm's way with the mentality that a single bullet is going to end any given fight. That doesn't mean "spray and pray", it means you should be prepared to hit a target multiple times, regardless of the caliber of your weapon. Just because you put a hole in a bad guy with your STG-58 chambered for 7.62x51mm, doesn't mean he is automatically down for the count. Just because you put a BIG hole in a bad guy with your 1911A1 chambered in .45ACP doesn't mean he is going to stop.

The point of all this rambling is that the caliber of your weapon, and the type of bullet fired is not as important as the mentality (and level of training) of the firer. Don't let someone talk you out of carrying a pistol chambered in 9mm, or buying an AR-15 in .223REM because there is some magic gun out there with a bigger bore, or more kinetic energy. Keep in mind that for a lot of years, people defended their lives quite successfully with .36 caliber black powder revolvers with roughly the same muzzle energy as a .380ACP. Even a dinky little .22LR can kill a human. It is not terribly productive to pick a firearm just because it is supposed to kill with a single round.

So, when you're on the range, don't just practice firing one single round that is carefully aimed. Instead, practice drawing, acquiring the target, putting the sights on center of mass, and firing two or three rounds in a controlled fashion. Get a good sight picture, but don't wait for a perfect one. Remember, that target can close 21 feet in a little over one second. The closer you are to the target, the faster those rounds need to get into the target. Aim, but don't treat it like a bulls-eye match.

One shot, one kill is a great idea, but ultimately an unlikely scenario. Sure, work on your accuracy. When training for self defense or tactical situations, change it up and fire odd numbers of rounds into the target. Don't get your muscle memory used to firing only one round to stop a threat. Be ready to do what you have to do to stay alive. Even if that means not being like Mark Wahlberg.

1 comment:

KNAB said...

This is an interesting analysis actually, and one that I will find useful in my counter-insurgency studies. The psychological and training aspects are sometimes overlooked when people discuss insurgency, rebellions and revolutions. Some focus squarely on the hardware mismatch of the military versus the civilian population. Some think that a government should be able to carpet bomb a population into submission. But in a mountain or urban environment, this is not the case. Long-term insurgents (or patient, cause-activated insurgents) in a mountain environment often wait a foreign occupier out as their enemy wastes material and resources going after them. They will wait for their enemy to get bored or distracted and seize the opportunity to do psychological damage in order to demoralize the occupier (and the smart ones also do it to activate the sympathies of the civilian population of the occupied country). In an urban environment, a government cannot "carpet bomb" a civilian population without causing mass grievances and a loss of legitimacy (in other words, a loss of human resources) and this may, and often does, translate into economic damages. So a government often hurts itself by fighting an insurgency in an urban environment without caution and without mobilizing the civilian population against the insurgents. If the government waits the insurgents out in this situation, the insurgents will get desperate and need to act. But since opportunistic insurgents (like the kind we see in Iraq) tend to be one-trick ponies organized around the principle of shedding blood, their own violent actions in the context of a relative easing of violence can cause them to lose the hearts and minds of the civilian population (this is similar to Davies' J-curve theory - expectations are on the rise, an intervening event occurs that frustrates those expectations, people see that the situation can and should be different and they mobilize to change the situation - this is my own reverse reading of Davies' J-curve in this context for purposes of showing how the theory could be employed for counter-insurgency, which I don't think anyone has done before). Anyway, for a mountain-insurgency, a government should not waste material and human resources tracking them down, simply build coalitions with leaders using incentives and have a defensive strategy, while arming and training select members of the civilian population to defend themselves. But also importantly, you have to win the hearts and minds of the people, so when the enemy returns and tries to infiltrate society and restoke ethnic hatred and conflict, the populus is ready for it and will turn their anger against the troublemakers. In an urban setting, you have to mobilize a sense of normalcy as soon as possible after an army is defeated, and set conditions up [definitely see Thomas Barnett's SysAdmin, which you can find online by going to Barnett's website] so that an insurgency only hurts itself by attacking . A government should use an insurgency's attacks against them in order to demonize them, and to foster sympathy with the civlian population and to recommend your cause as a solution to end the conflict (in Iraq's case, promoting the virtues of civil democracy, fostering accountability, and institutionalizing these values so that the population can reduce the appeal of factionalism in the long-term).

So this is a long-way of agreeing with you that hardware does not always win out, at the micro-level (battle) or the macro-level (war, revolution or insurgency).