Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Gun Nut Bloviates

I've been meaning to write something coming out of the experience of taking the NRA First Steps defensive shooting class for my concealed weapon permit. Writing about the process is sort of a moot point unless I have more than James reading this from Iowa (the states that allow carrying have totally different laws and procedures). The class was geared toward someone who has never held a gun before, and I'm assuming my meager audience has been shooting for a while. But one thing stuck in my mind a bit.

The caliber debate between 9mm, .40S&W, and .45 Auto raged on throughout my two day course. The instructor kept saying "pick the biggest caliber you can shoot well", and gently hinting that 9mm and .38spl were okay, but not the best. I can tolerate that because a bigger hole is generally better when it comes to self-defense. But the occasional Counterstrike ninja would mumble that 9mm and .38 are too small and weak. Well, once again, I'm forced to get out my calculator and calipers for a mental beat-down.

By the numbers: (Velocity squared x weight in grains)/450436 (per Modern Reloading by Richard Lee) will yield kinetic energy in ft/lbs.

9mm: 124gr Hornady XTP (what I use in my 9mm) at 1100fps = 333ft/lbs

.40 S&W: 180gr JHP at 1000fps = 399ft/lbs
.45ACP: 230gr JHP at 900fps = 413ft/lbs

So the .40 has 66ft/lbs on the 9mm and the .45 has about 80ft/lbs on it. Both are, by the numbers, more powerful. But let's compare them to yesteryear's gold standard--the .357 Magnum. Say, a 125gr JHP at 1650fps. That's 755 ft/lbs. Nearly twice what the .45 has and the .357 isn't a fabled manstopper like the .45. So maybe it's frontal area we're concerned with.

9mm: .355"

40S&W: .400"

.45ACP: .452"

We see the .40 has .045" more frontal area than a 9mm. The .45ACP has a whopping, massive, HUGE .097" more frontal area. That's very nearly a tenth of an inch!

And then there's anecdotal evidence. "Mr. X" was shot a million times with 9mm and still didn't go down. Well, I've done a number of research papers on police use of force, and for every instance of a 9mm not killing a suspect, I can bring you another showing a .40S&W or .45ACP failing to stop a bad guy. Perhaps the answer is that a handgun is a poor choice for stopping an attacker outright. Perhaps it isn't caliber alone. Perhaps it is shot placement that kills attackers dead. A panicked shot to the lower abdomen (which is where lots of panicked shots go, and which does little damage to vital organs) will not stop a determined adversary. Even if they're hit by a mighty .45ACP.

The one time the instructor slipped, he was referencing a case in Des Moines where a man was able to free himself from an armed robber by shooting the bad guy in the shoulder with a .22 magnum revolver. The instructor opined that "a .45 would have taken the guy's shoulder off". I've seen the results of shootings and bombings first hand, and let me be the first to tell you that it takes a hand grenade sized explosion at very close range to tear limbs off. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I suspect a hand grenade has more kinetic energy to impart than a .45ACP round. Shoulder shots don't end hostage situations. Gut shots don't stop coked-up murderers.

This is what a dead would-be murderer looks like. And my "antiquated" S&W Model 64-3 helped me put holes in that paper. Of course a .45 would have made the X explode in a tiny mushroom cloud.

Keep your shots in the X ring and caliber doesn't really matter a hill of beans!

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