In 1876, Thomas LaGarde was decorated for gallantry during the Powder River Expedition. His intellectual accomplishment and military acumen were much respected. Later, Dr. LaGarde became best known for a few months of research during his long career. The Thompson LaGarde test of handgun calibers has been brought into controversy by some but were the definitive word when conducted. Their biomechanical fidelity in the use of both cadavers and live animals must be respected. The test did not come from nowhere. It was built upon previous research.
Since the early 1800s, both French and German military had used cadavers and animals in testing. Dr. Theodore Kocker was a Swiss researcher that who at least a year in his research—much it on live animals and some on cadavers. The Number 3 Military and Medical College in China has done such work more recently, and Australia presented its studies at the 5th Symposium on Wound Ballistics. The primary difference between any test medium and humans remains is animals do not know they have been shot and will have no psychological response. Sometimes we wonder not why humans were not stopped by gunfire but why they are at all since it takes 10-12 seconds to lose consciousness and bleed out from wounds. We use processed bone chips and pig hide called gelatin to evaluate ammunition, but perhaps the answers will remain elusive.
One of my friends is an evangelical minister of some note. He is also interested in firearms and personal defense, and has taken responsibility for his safety and that of his parishioners. He is armed every day everywhere. Another friend and pastor isn’t of the type to have never had a problem and cannot relate to the rougher walk. He has had his share of fights and was wounded in Africa while fighting terrs. Each holds a PH.D, which I do not, but I have helped edit various publications and dissertations for these men.
I recently caught the term ‘inverted theology’ to describe the unfortunate turnaround of some churches. It seems that tradition and science are each taking hits these days and are not in harmony with modern thinking. There are certain truths that will be grasped only by the dead or moonstruck but what was true is still true.
I have taken some of the things that occur in my personal field of expertise to learned friends as a sounding board. They have learned to learn and are still learning. They are comfortable in their field. They may not be the wealthiest, but they are among the most respected at their jobs.
Another friend is an accomplished physician. Unlike the father of anatomy, Herohilus, she hasn’t dissected live criminals, but she has examined quite a few dead ones. After all, she lives and works in an area with one of the highest crime rates in the United States. She has served as a medical examiner and performed autopsies of those who met violent ends.
Some were accidents from car wrecks and falls and are important as well, as a homicide may be masked by the mundane. She performs the task with the necessary clinical resolve as coolly as Rachel Ray cutting poultry. Fat, muscle and fascia give way to surgical steel. I have outlined my concerns to her concerning imaginative writings, or perhaps I should say writings not completely accurate in their rendering.
It seems every month we see the phrase repeated, ‘A medical examiner will tell you that there is no way to tell the caliber of the handgun simply by the wound.’ The writer goes on to state that all handgun calibers are just fine for personal defense. It seems that the statement isn’t original or the product of research but rather a worn phrase that sounds good in a catchword salad. All this from journalists who—as far as I know—have never seen a fresh corpse, stiff, or sat in on an autopsy. Nor have they seen the smoke clear the V as they aim at another human being.
The best of fabrics have a dull spot, but just the same I respect my friend’s opinion. I felt that this physician is qualified to comment, and in any case, she is the only doctor in my circle of friends and acquaintances who is approachable on the subject. Her papers are clearly written and while not artistic they are economical but accurate. She replied that there is some truth to this opinion.
The .22 is hard to find as the wound closes. As an example, she stated, (in reference to an early case of mine and a dig) a .22 in the eyeball almost was undetected in one incident. .22s and .25s do not leave much of an imprint. From the .32 to the .38, the wound looks like a bee sting. The .45, and the less seen .44 Special, leave entrance wounds that are recognizable for their size. They are, in other words, larger than most especially if they hit underlying bone. Fat tends to close up but the elasticity of tissue is finite.
The .357 Magnum isn’t seen often, but the wounds are memorable. The doctor mentions horrible wounds. In one case, the victim had what seemed to be the edge of a white dinner plate protruding from the back but it was a piece of bone carried by a Magnum as it exited. The .357 Magnum disrupts a lot of tissue and bone. The damage is irreparable.
I am associated with a university program. As both instructor and interested student, I still attend a lab from time to time. My expertise is called upon when a bullet strikes a vehicle door or ricochet and the investigator asks whether the bullet could have traveled in such a manner and whether the report is realistic and accurate. Some time ago, I gifted a bright young investigator with my complete reference library including DiMaio; he still stops by from time to time to discuss some incident.
He notes, it is interesting how some individuals have a similar appearance yet are so psychologically different. By the same token, the humble cadaver, no longer a person but an object, is often individualistic in how it reflects the damage it has incurred. Many seem capable of taking a lot of damage. Other humans—and they were beings before they became cadavers—seem to be unable to withstand much punishment. Some succumb to minor wounds.
The final reality is that there are some wounds that will always have effect. These are wounds that occur in the arterial region and which cause immediate blood loss. A large enough hole in this vital tissue will produce blood loss leading to a shutdown. No amount of unconvincing writing will persuade me that a smaller diameter bullet, weighing half the weight of a larger bullet, will do the same amount of damage. No amount of poor science, secret sources, or modern perspective will disguise physics.
My doctor friend is not without introspection. She ponders at the chances of the intersection of two beings—herself and the cadaver—and how they came to be together in this manner. I added that an equally troubling question might be the intersection of the dead and the still living that inflicted death upon the cadaver. Although, in fairness, the end was well deserved in many incidents.
My friend was quite gifted in medical school and with successful focused dissections graduated to living subjects that actually benefit from her surgery. Contrary to myth, there is no joking or callous comment in the autopsy room—only respect and concentration. The hemisections dissected are studied with intent, and that intent is to find an answer. Another friend is an attorney that specializes in David versus Goliath. Defending children and the hopeless is his forte.
He has told me over lunch many times that he can make a good living taking cases that are without a shadow of a doubt the right thing to do, and has no need to take questionable cases. A skilled attorney is a man or woman who can right wrongs in a lot of cases, something that is sometimes lost on the personal defense writer. He loves the Single Action Army revolver but carries a SIG or 1911 most commonly.
I mentioned some of the so-called studies that have been discussed in the popular press. He laughed. Secret sources and unidentified individuals have no validity he says. An experiment that cannot be repeated has less validity. Neither would meet the test to be allowed in a small town traffic court much less a capital case. So much for the reports!
That is the learned counsel of a number of individuals that were surprised that statements without hard proof behind them are even accepted. On the other hand, military after-action reports have to be accurate, and our intelligence was accurate and won the war during World War II. Many accounts including the single greatest house clearing by one man were performed with the .45 ACP pistol loaded with 230-grain FMJ ammunition.
The Medal of Honor is awarded by congress, and a great deal of research goes into this action. Then, there is the personal experience of the hardest type. For those who feel the 9mm is their best choice, they are probably right. The 9mm is a powerful cartridge.
The advantages of high velocity ensure bullet expansion and modern bullets are very well designed with a good balance of expansion and penetration. The 9mm is easy to control well, and ammunition is economical. But it isn’t a .45 and there is no need to tear down one cartridge to build up the other. Until the laws of physic are changed, the .45 will be the more reliable stopper and the one that rides with me with the greatest confidence.