I run into the same arguments over and over on forums across the internet concerning the effectiveness of this caliber versus that caliber in one situation or another. The truth is that there are no easy answers for these arguments. For example, read this thread from the We The Armed forum on the ineffectiveness of the M4’s 5.56 round in Afghanistan and the resulting comments, mine included, and the varying schools of thought expounded on:
There are some varied opinions logically argued by their respective authors that can be agreed upon that are followed by equally as logically convincing opposing views. There is one poster who claims to have seen a Talibastard take a 5.56 round laterally through both distal chest walls going through both lungs who could take cover and fire back. This (unconfirmed) event would seem to fly in the face of conventional reason which states a wound such as the one described should have almost instantaneously incapacitated the target. Who is correct and who is wrong? The truth is nobody has it totally correct.
In another graphic example, here is a FBI analysis of a gunfight in which the assailant was shot multiple times by Speer 180 gr. Gold Dot .40 S&W rounds and 55 gr. 5.56 fired by AR carbines and was still able to resist arrest prior to his demise. As the pictures in the slideshow clearly show this assailant was hit several times, yet was still able to maneuver and continue to fire are police officers. WARNING VERY GRAPHIC CONTENT!!!! NSFW!!!
Sorry after further thought, I decided to delete the slideshow even though the graphic nature of the images would show how much damage a round can do and still not stop an attacker, the graphic image of it was not something I was willing to have this blog possibly linked too on the internet and associated with just to satisfy the cravings of some gore seeking individuals. I also did not like the fact that I felt compelled to list this blog as having adult content due to its nature. Sorry….
There is an old gunfighter’s adage that states to “bring the largest caliber you can carry to a gunfight”. This makes logical sense, but caliber and the so called “stopping power” factor imposed when comparing one to another is only part of the picture. Despite this there are definite advantages to having a .45 ACP over its smaller cousin the .380 ACP as your daily carry round.
There is another adage that states “a .22 in your pocket is better than a .45 in your safe”. This is also correct. The first cardinal rule of a gunfight is simple, have a gun. The vast majority of the time that I am legally able to carry a personal firearm for protection I do just that. Its not a “ego” or “power trip” thing, its just that I firmly believe that the one moment you will actually need to defend yourself will not be announced with a certified letter or a appointment reminder via email telling you when and where it will be. To always carry is to always be prepared, and the familiarity of having the weapon on you on a daily basis will bring a familiarity and allow you to conduct your normal day to day activities with minimal thought to having it on you. A smaller form factor firearm in a smaller cartridge size will certainly aid in this goal.
Somewhere in this matrix of size and portability versus caliber lies the “perfect” handgun and round combo for CCW use, although the truth to this holy grail of personal protection may never be revealed to us. The basic reason behind the mystery is simple, chaos theory. In most practical terms if I shoot 2 identical blocks of ballistic gelatin with the same round from the same weapon at the same distance I will get observable results reliable enough to base a generally correct conclusion on the effectiveness of that particular round in those parameters. This system is deterministic, that is the end effect is determined by the exact nature of the initial conditions of the event. However, by the use of an over-hyped concept called “the butterfly effect” we can explain why no 2 events with the same initial conditions are exactly the same and therefore predictable. I will attempt to simplify this concept in layman’s terms rather than expound on the mathematical reasoning of it (which I can’t really do anyway this far out of college level math and statistics); there are too many variables, no matter how minute, that effect the precise outcome of any event to say that they are predictable.
The most common method to explain this concept is the ball and water example. Take a perfectly round ball, say a polished pool queue ball and a dropper of water. Drop consecutive drops of water on it from the same height and position and observe the results. Assuming the water makes it to the ball (if the water just hangs there in mid air after leaving the dropper we have a whole new set of issues to deal with) you will most likely notice that the water will roll off the polished surface of the ball to the floor in a vast array of differing ways. It would be logical to assume that given the exact same starting position of each drop that the water would roll off in the same direction each time. This would be correct except for that myriad of micro variables that come into play. Height of the drop and starting position are easy enough to observe; but what about the other factors that come into play? The exact weight and shape of each drop, microscopic differences in the surface texture of the ball, slight and unperceivable gusts of wind or air around the experiment or even the rotation of the earth itself all play in the outcome. These micro variables are not easily determined or predictable at the outset yet all play a role in the outcome, no matter how small indeed.
So why we can be fairly certain that a 125 gr. JHP .38 special +P round fired at Johnny Scumbag assailant from 7 feet away from a S&W J-frame revolver should penetrate through a jacket and normal street clothes to a depth of 11” and expand to a nominal circumference of .59 inches based upon test data given to us by a particular manufacturer (and before anyone starts sharp shooting me on the ballistics data those are just rough numbers I threw together from several different rounds I Googled), the end result that it will actually do this is always in question.
Many times you will read about somebody that was shot at close range but survived because “the bullet missed the aorta by a fraction of an inch” or similar. Many times these people are shot by somebody using a “capable” round such as a 9mm or .45 ACP yet seemingly miraculously survive their wounds. Well, why did that bullet miss by a fraction of an inch? Micro variable seem a good enough reason to me. Maybe the victim had decided to wear a heavier jacket that day because they were feeling a bit ill and the heavier material altered the trajectory of the round enough to miss that aorta by a “fraction” of an inch. There are numerous examples of soldiers being saved in battle by a Bible in their pocket that saved them from an enemy’s bullet, it was even fashionable at one time to carry a “bullet proof” Bible with a metal cover on it into battle in the First World War and even earlier…
Conversely, I once had a talk with a retired Columbus (OH) Police Officer (the father-in-law of a friend) who told me a couple of stories about shootings. One he shot a suspect who was pointing a gun at him from a few feet away with an issue S&W .38 revolver, far from being dropped on the spot the suspect took a step back, looked at his chest, looked at my friend’s father-in-law, sat down and basically gave up the ghost and laid down to die. All the while he would probably would have had the ability to shoot back if he had desired (I don’t know any other details that what I was told so please don’t ask). He contrasted this tale with one of an officer that died in the line of duty from taking a .22 pistol round to the chest from some distance away and the round managed to find its way around clothing, a vest, ribs, muscle, cartilage and all else to end up in his heart and drop him on the spot.
So basically, chaos theory and the butterfly affect throw many common assumptions about caliber selection to the wind. You can NEVER be certain that the round you choose will have the desired affects on your assailant 100% of the time.
So What to carry??
Going back to the adage to “bring the largest caliber you can carry to a gunfight” we need to look at the work “can”. Bring the largest caliber you CAN carry to a gunfight. With the emphasis on the word “can” this statement now makes a lot more sense. Personally, if I knew for a fact that I was going to be in a gun battle, I would show up for it looking something like the following guy…
but, hey that’s just me, I tend to over react sometimes….
Normally, though, you will find me in possession of one of the two following weapons as my CCW choice on any given day…
1. GLOCK G23 .40 S&W
2. Ruger LCP .380 ACP
Now while neither of these are the largest caliber available, they are about the largest I can carry for their intended purpose. The Glock is my general purpose pistol these days (see my previous post on it here) and I have found it to be a wonderful compromise between a large duty sized pistol and a compact CCW piece. It can fulfill both roles if the weather is cool enough to allow me to wear sufficient clothing to cover it. Not that it is overly bulky, but wearing a pair of shorts and a t-shirt may leave it exposed in certain circumstances. In these times I choose to utilize the Ruger LCP in .380, not the most powerful round by a large margin, but its compactness allows me to carry it concealed almost anywhere it is legal to do so discretely with total comfort. That in itself assures that I will be in compliance with the first rule of gun fighting, bring a gun..this solves the alternative of this scenario, either carry a bigger gun and get “made” and lose the element of surprise if needed, or <gasp!> not to carry at all**…
here is a picture I took of it in my front pocket a few minutes ago in a Uncle Mikes #2 pocket holster I bought for it…Yes it will print more if I sit or otherwise pull material against it, but it looks square and could be a iPhone, BlackBerry or any other device carried today in pockets all across the globe.
So where does this put us in context to the original reason for this post? As far as the 5.56 versus “larger” argument of the post on We The Armed, I am in favor of our forces carrying a larger round if all possible (and it should be considering the ranges of engagement that they are finding and the mechanized nature of the war at this point) with the understanding that a “magic bullet” will not fix the problem overnight unless it is mated with other factors to limit the “micro variables” that will also come into play, mainly training in its capabilities and employment. It is one thing to give a new toy to the troops and let them find out about it on their own, another all together to give them correct and proper instruction on its use. You only need to look at the disastrous beginning the M16 had in Vietnam (not only was the powder changed, but some troops were even instructed NOT to clean the rifle!) to see this lesson once, we do not need a repeat today.
So while choas theory will show us that a round is never 100% predictable on what it will do, we sure can carry a bigger bang to give us every edge when we can to even the odds…
**note, as not to be hypocritical, I will freely admit that I do not CCW all the time. While I will normally always have a weapon in my vehicle (locked and secured) I will sometimes choose not to carry based upon my own individual threat assessment of the AO I will be in. This is a choice each of must make based upon our own evaluations, ethics, personal values and legal constraints in our respective localities. Please carry responsibly.