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"A hit with a .22 is better than a miss from a .45" - how true is that?


An interesting confluence occurred last week: I got an email from a fellow asking about the .380ACP as a defensive cartridge, and
this rather myopic article on the .22 Magnum rimfire came out in American Rifleman.

As a teacher of defensive shooting it's my job to make my students as efficient as I possibly can. Part of that job is helping them to pick a gun/cartridge which allows them to make the bad guy go away using the least amount of their resources (time, energy, ammunition, space.) However, there are sometimes external factors to consider: the student's physical limitations, if any, and perhaps even their lifestyle.

The article referenced is typical of those in the gun world: the .22WMR isn't as powerful as something bigger (we already know that) and it won't be as effective as a larger caliber (we already know that too). Sometimes, though, it's the right choice for certain people. Not frequently, and alternatives should always be explored before settling on it, but it's always a better choice than a rape whistle and hoping the cops show up in time. Think about the student, not the damn ballistics chart!

There are those people out there who simply cannot handle the recoil of 'service-grade' cartridges and guns. They're few and far between, such limitations often proving to be more psychological than physiological, but there are those few who do need much reduced recoil. A .22WMR, in the hands of a resolute defender who has proven to him/herself that they can wield it effectively, is far preferable to the .45ACP or .357 Magnum that they're afraid of and can't handle well (and won't practice with because it's too painful.)

Many people carry a .380ACP because it's available in small and easily concealable guns. Yes, I know (and I preach) that if someone can conceal a .380 then he or she can, with only minor adjustments in their wardrobe, conceal a slightly larger 9mm. The problem with that point of view? Not everyone is an enthusiast, as you and I are. I'd venture to say that just about everyone reading this blog is willing to make, and has made, changes in their lifestyle in order to be able to carry an efficient firearm. We're the exception!

There are a lot of people out there who simply want to make it possible to survive a deadly attack, recognize the rather rare nature of such incidents, and have concluded that a very small gun which they'll actually carry is better than a larger gun - even though it's not a whole lot larger - that will be left at home. While one can argue about their hardware pick, at least they've made the correct lifestyle choice: to actually carry!

The usual rejoinder is that there are now 9mm guns the size of .380ACP pistols, and they would "obviously" be the better choice and still fit into their wardrobe and activities. There's a huge issue with that assumption, however: the micro 9mm guns are brutally difficult to shoot! At least one of them I tested is simply uncontrollable in anything resembling a realistic string of defensive fire, and that's with a shooter (me) who's used to heavy recoiling handguns. For someone who's a novice and is unlikely to practice regularly no matter how much we preach to them? A dangerous, silly choice. For them, the .380 is a better compromise.

"Friends don't let friends shoot mouseguns" is a phrase I've heard bandied about for many years, and while it makes for a macho sound bite it simply doesn't fit everyone's reality. Would I prefer that people carry a gun in a caliber that is more likely to result in rapid incapacitation?
Yes. Am I so blinded/deluded as to believe that everyone can? No. Will I teach them about their choice, and why they might want to put in the time and effort to be able to choose something more effective? Yes. Will I refuse to teach them because I disagree with their choice? Hell no!

I'd rather focus on what I can do to make them more efficient in the context of defending their lives than bitch and moan because they picked a caliber which I disdain. Along the way I hope that I can convince them to at least consider more effective and efficient options, but I certainly wouldn't deprive them of the vital information and skill building they can use right now.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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Short memories.


One of the joys of having recently turned 50 (a figure I still write with a combination of bemusement and astonishment, having
not actually grown up yet) is that I can poke fun at the younger guys. 'Younger', of course, means anyone under about 48.

I say this because last week
The Firearm Blog had a piece about a 'new' multi-projectile load that was 'developed' by Constitution Arms. My first thought was "Steve must be a youngster!", because the load is a dead ringer for ammunition that I remember seeing back in the late '70s or early '80s.

The new Tri-Plex load uses three stacked lead disks, each of which has a button on the forward side that mates with a similarly shaped recess on the back side. The projectiles are stacked in their case like coffee cups and separate in flight. The idea is to increase the size of the wound cavity and enhance the incapacitation capability of the round. The disks weigh roughly 50 grains each and are of .38 caliber (nominal.)

I'll dispense with my critique of the maker's claims regarding the supposed performance of this 'new' development, and simply point out that not much has changed with regards to either ballistics or human anatomy in the last two decades or so. You'll note that the original wasn't on the market for a very long time, and that it took a while to be rediscovered. Things that work generally stick around, or are at least remembered fondly. The triple-projectile load was neither, which should tell you all you need to know about its performance.

At the risk of repeating myself,
there is no such thing as a magic bullet. Even if you stuff three of them into the same case.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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Feedback from the Stopping Power series.


I continue to get email from last year's
"Self defense, stopping power, and caliber" series. It remains the second-most visited page on the site, behind only my article on lubrication, and appears to be well received by the majority of readers. Thank you!

As you might imagine, such popularity generates feedback, and some questions pop up more than once. While not exactly a FAQ, here are some of the common emails I've received.

Email: You didn't cover the difference between crush and temporary cavities, which I think is very important.
My answer: No, I didn't - because I don't consider it critical to the discussion. You see, I really don't care what the wounding mechanism is, as long as one exists. Going back to the article, as long as the bullet a) reaches something that the body finds immediately important, and b) does rapid and significant damage to that thing when it arrives, then I'm really unconcerned about how it actually does so.


Email: Can you comment on ammo from [a smaller maker], whose stuff is just as good but doesn't waste money on advertising?
My answer: In general, I recommend that one avoid "boutique ammunition." The majority (if not all) of such ammo purveyors are simply loading bullets made by someone else, but without the knowledge of how to make those bullets perform their best. Why should I risk unknown quality control to get a product that, at best, can only be as good as what I can get from a producer that has actual design and test budgets? My advice is to stick with known quantities: Winchester, Speer, Federal, Remington.


Email: What's your opinion of the book "Handgun Stopping Power" (aka "Street Stoppers", aka 'Marshall & Sanow')?
My answer: There are a number of solid, critical analyses of their work online; I suggest that you read some of them, as the problems with their "research" are both serious and numerous. In case I was too subtle in the articles, I consider stopping power ratings in general to be complete hogwash, and theirs are particularly so.

You'd be further ahead to take the money you would have spent on their book, and practice until you can shoot to a high standard of accuracy under stress. Couple that with a quality hollowpoint from a major manufacturer, and you'll be much better prepared than any ten people who swear by their scribblings.

(This should not be construed to mean that I am a follower of their chief antagonist, Dr. Martin Fackler, either. He concocted his ratings from a different sort of nonsense than Marshall & Sanow, and came to different conclusions - which were just as useless. Again, there is criticism of his work that can be found on the 'net, if one is so inclined.)


Email: Is there any reliable source of information on bullet performance?
My answer: Because of the huge number of variables in any shooting, and the relatively low number of incidents, the idea of hard statistical data is meaningless. What we're left with is anecdotal evidence which, while not valid in a scientific sense, does give us some rough feeling for what is and is not working. That's the best we can do under the circumstances.

One of the more prolific collectors of such information is Massad Ayoob. He is in a unique position: since he travels all over the country both as a trainer and an expert witness, he's thrown into contact with large numbers of police trainers and shooting survivors. He elicits their opinions of their issue ammunition, based on shootings in their departments. He gets some great feedback, which he doesn't try to disguise or characterize as anything other than raw opinion from people who have actual results to talk about.

If you want to hear some of Ayoob's findings direct from the man himself, listen to
this episode of the ProArms podcast.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 7


(For convenience, you can access all the installments
at this link.)

There Is No Such Thing as a Magic Bullet

What does that mean, you ask?

One of the last bastions of the snake oil salesman is in the field of ammunition promotion. Claims that would make Professor Harold Hill blush are the norm, and are repeated in gunstores, shooting ranges, and deer camps across the country. They sometimes even make their way into magazines and the internet - though the latter's instant exchange of information has helped to quell the worst of the hyperbole.

Still, many hold on to their belief in "magic bullets" hoping that there really exists something that will transform their .25ACP into an elephant killer. (I exaggerate, of course, but one ammo maker used to claim that their product for the little .25 had the same "one shot stop" percentage as a .45. That, my friends, is a true belief in magic.)

Like many fables, the legend of the Magic Bullet has its roots in reality. As Arthur C. Clarke said, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." In the bullet world, that advanced technology is the hollowpoint bullet.

The hollowpoint, as we've learned, is a good mechanism to control the penetration and wound profile of any given cartridge. Sometimes, it can work what seems like a miracle - transforming an otherwise unremarkable cartridge into a respectable "stopper."

One of the best examples of this is the .30 M1 Carbine cartridge. Many servicemen had experience with the little Carbine in World War II and Korea, and they either loved it or hated it. Those that hated it often complained about a lack of "stopping power" - enemies who were hit often didn't go down with alacrity. (Some even claimed that the rounds "bounced off" the heavy wool coats worn by the opposition. That wasn't true, and was easily shown as such, but when someone is running toward you screaming his head off a lack of convincing ballistic effect makes the distinction unimportant.)

The .30 Carbine, as it turns out, is a penetrator. Its sleek bullet usually went straight through the target, making a quick-closing wound and doing little damage along the way. (Sound familiar?) After the war, one of the ammo makers got the bright idea of stuffing a semi-jacketed hollowpoint into the casing. When they did that, the entire complexion of the carbine changed.

The penetration was now more controlled, and the expanded bullet had a much larger frontal area that did more damage along its path. So changed was the round that Jim Cirillo, the famous member of the New York Stakeout Squad, proclaimed it one of the two most effective weapons in their entire arsenal - the other being the formidable 12 gauge shotgun. High praise indeed!

He wasn't the only one who made note of the "enhanced" Carbine. The late Gene Wolburg, wound ballistics expert and one of the most knowledgeable people in the field, once said that his home defense weapon of choice was the M1 Carbine loaded with that semi-jacketed hollowpoint.

It may have seemed like magic to the servicemen who had bad experiences with the round, but the effect of the hollowpoint loading was simple physics. It did its job better - it just happened to be a lot better.

A "magic bullet", in contrast, appears to violate the laws of physics, or so skews its sales copy that you think it does. For instance, magic bullet purveyors play up the "energy" of their load, to the exclusion of everything else.

Energy is the result of multiplying the mass of the projectile by the square of it's velocity. Without boring you with the math, what that means is that a small change in velocity makes a big change in the energy of the projectile. In other words, if you drop the projectile weight you can up the velocity, which will make a big increase in energy figures. Sounds great, right?

As we've already studied, energy isn't everything. A light projectile might be moving very quickly, but when it contacts solid matter it loses velocity quickly. That translates into shallow wounds. (Remember the last installment, where we looked at the .357 Magnum? Same thing, only worse.) A projectile needs weight as well as velocity in order to penetrate well, and if you sacrifice enough weight for more speed, you'll fail at the First Task: reaching something important.

Exotic bullets that claim to do something others can't should set off your B.S. detector. Any cartridge that proclaims a "massive energy dump" as the wounding mechanism or pushes velocity over everything else is probably vying for a magic bullet award. Personally, I'm not going to trust my life to that kind of ammo!

What I'm getting at (and have been for this entire series) is that there is nothing mysterious, nothing magical about the way a bullet works. It has to get to something important, and it has to do rapid and significant damage when it gets there. That's it. Any claims that seem to skate around the topic should be looked at with great skepticism, for there is truly no such thing as a "magic bullet."

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-=[ Grant ]=-
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