Greg Ellifritz, a full-time firearms and defensive tactics training officer for a central Ohio police department and the president of Active Response Training, recently conducted an extensive self-study of cartridge and shotshell stops. He graciously allowed the CTD Chronicles to excerpt some of his findings—which challenge conventional wisdom about which cartridges are best for self defense.
Conclusion: Ellifritz writes, “The results I got from the study lead me to believe that there really isn’t that much difference between most defensive handgun rounds and calibers. None is a death ray, but most work adequately…even the lowly .22s. I’ve stopped worrying about trying to find the ‘ultimate’ bullet. There isn’t one. And I’ve stopped feeling the need to strap on my .45 every time I leave the house out of fear that my 9mm doesn’t have enough ‘stopping power.’ Folks, carry what you want. Caliber really isn’t all that important.”
Earlier in the piece he writes, “I’ve been interested in firearm stopping power for a very long time. I remember reading Handguns magazine back in the late 1980s when Evan Marshall was writing articles about his stopping power studies. When Marshall’s first book came out in 1992, I ordered it immediately, despite the fact that I was a college student and really couldn’t afford its $39 price tag. Over the years I bought all of the rest of Marshall’s books as well as anything else I could find on the subject. I even have a first edition of Gunshot Injuries by Louis Lagarde published in 1915.
“Every source I read has different recommendations. Some say Marshall’s data is genius. Some say it is statistically impossible. Some like big heavy bullets. Some like lighter, faster bullets. There isn’t any consensus. The more I read, the more confused I get.” Ellifritz continues, “One thing I remember reading that made a lot of sense to me was an article by Massad Ayoob. He came out with his own stopping power data around the time Marshall published Handgun Stopping Power. In the article, Ayoob took his critics to task. He suggested that if people didn’t believe his data, they should collect their own and do their own analysis. That made sense to me. So that’s just what I did. I always had a slight problem with the methodology of Marshall and Sanow’s work. For consistency purposes, they ONLY included hits to the torso and ONLY included cases where the person was hit with just a single round. Multiple hits screwed up their data, so they excluded them. This lead to an unrealistically high stopping power percentage, because it factored out many of the cases where a person didn’t stop! I wanted to look at hits anywhere on the body and get a realistic idea of actual stopping power, no matter how many hits it took to get it. So I started collecting data.” “Over a 10-year period,” Ellifritz said, “I kept track of stopping power results from every shooting I could find. I talked to the participants of gunfights, read police reports, attended autopsies, and scoured the newspapers, magazines, and Internet for any reliable accounts of what happened to the human body when it was shot. I documented all of the data I could; tracking caliber, type of bullet (if known), where the bullet hit and whether or not the person was incapacitated. I also tracked fatalities, noting which bullets were more likely to kill and which were not. It was an exhaustive project, but I’m glad I did it and I’m happy to report the results of my study here. … I don’t have any dog in this fight! I don’t sell ammo. I’m not being paid by any firearm or ammunition manufacturer. I carry a lot of different pistols for self defense. Within the last 2 weeks, I’ve carried a .22 magnum, a .380 auto, a .38 spl revolver, 3 different 9mm autos and a .45 auto. I don’t have an axe to grind. If you are happy with your 9mm, I’m happy for you. If you think that everyone should be carrying a .45 (because they don’t make a .46), I’m cool with that too. I’m just reporting the data. If you don’t like it, take Mr. Ayoob’s advice…do a study of your own.
.22 (short, long and long rifle)
- # of people shot – 154
- # of hits – 213
- % of hits that were fatal – 34%
- Average number of rounds until incapacitation – 1.38
- % of people who were not incapacitated – 31%
- One-shot-stop % – 31%
- Accuracy (head and torso hits) – 76%
- % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit) – 60%
- # of people shot – 456
- # of hits – 1121
- % of hits that were fatal – 24%
- Average number of rounds until incapacitation – 2.45
- % of people who were not incapacitated – 13%
- One-shot-stop % – 34%
- Accuracy (head and torso hits) – 74%
- % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit) – 47%
Shotgun (All, but 90% of results were 12 gauge)
- # of people shot – 146
- # of hits – 178
- % of hits that were fatal – 65%
- Average number of rounds until incapacitation – 1.22
- % of people who were not incapacitated – 12%
- One-shot-stop % – 58%
- Accuracy (head and torso hits) – 84%
- % actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit) – 86%
Ellifritz writes, “I think the most interesting statistic is the percentage of people who stopped with one shot to the torso or head. There wasn’t much variation between calibers. Between the most common defensive calibers (.38, 9mm, .40, and .45) there was a spread of only eight percentage points. No matter what gun you are shooting, you can only expect a little more than half of the people you shoot to be immediately incapacitated by your first hit.” He concluded, “In a certain (fairly high) percentage of shootings, people stop their aggressive actions after being hit with one round regardless of caliber or shot placement. These people are likely NOT physically incapacitated by the bullet. They just don’t want to be shot anymore and give up! Call it a psychological stop if you will. Any bullet or caliber combination will likely yield similar results in those cases. And fortunately for us, there are a lot of these ‘psychological stops’ occurring.” Greg Ellifritz is the full time firearms and defensive tactics training officer for a central Ohio police department and the president of Active Response Training. He holds instructor or master instructor certifications in more than 75 different weapon systems, defensive tactics programs and police specialty areas. Greg has a master’s degree in Public Policy and Management and has been an instructor for both the Ohio Peace Officer’s Training Academy and the Tactical Defense Institute. He can be reached through his website at www.activeresponsetraining.net. The full version of the study is available on the Buckeye Firearms website.