In the handgun forums and magazines, a new narrative holds that .45 and 9mm are virtually the same in “stopping power,” so we should all carry the 9mm for its (relatively) lighter recoil and larger cartridge capacity. While lighter recoil and more ammo are certainly good reasons to go to a 9mm instead of something larger, are smaller bullets really as good as bigger bullets?
The answer, of course, is “it depends on the bullets.” Historically, it takes superior bullet design and/or higher velocity for the smaller bullet to do as much damage as the larger. The smaller round is much more demanding of careful ammo selection, in my experience. Any deer hunter will tell you that you have to carefully select .243 loads for quick, humane kills on deer, while there is a broader spectrum of .308 loads that will do the job. Any soldier with a specialty in small arms will tell you that much more money and research has gone into making effective anti-personnel ammo in 5.56mm NATO than was ever needed for effective 7.62mm NATO. In the same vein, while I’m usually perfectly comfortable carrying a 9mm for personal protection, I’ve found myself having to be MUCH more picky to find street proven ammo for that chambering than for my old favorite .45.
I’m not alone in that. A fellow writer, Charlie Petty, wrote 25 years ago in American Rifleman magazine of FBI’s research at the time, “As the testing progressed, another factor became obvious. No 9mm loads came close to the 10 mm and .45. ‘We expected that there would be a gap,’ said (FBI’s Urey) Patrick, ‘but we didn’t expect it to be so large.’ In the first series of tests, the best a 9 mm could do was 67.5%. The .38 Spl. fared just as poorly, and the standard FBI-issue .38 Spl. (158-gr. lead hollow-point +P) also achieved a 67.5% success rate. Among the initial rounds tested, only the 10 -mm, .45 ACP and a single .357 Mag. round were able to score consistently above 90%.”
Time went on. Ammo got better, and the new designs probably benefitted the 9mm proportionally more than the bigger calibers, but all were made better. A famous wound ballistics specialist whose work was pivotal to the FBI’s testing protocols was Dr. Martin Fackler, who died last month. In a 2012 interview Dr. Fackler said, “The size of the hole the bullet makes, the .45 is bigger than a nine-mill. But how much bigger, by diameter, it really doesn’t give you the measure of how much tissue it disrupts. What does is the area of a circle. Area of a circle, it was pi-r-squared. It’s the radius squared. So, if you take your .45, your point four-five-one and your nine-millimeter as your point three-five-five, take half, take the radius, square that, and what you’ll find is that the volume, or the area, of damaged tissue made by the .45 is about sixty percent more than made by the nine.”
Another recognized authority, Dick Fairburn, recently wrote in Police One.com, “I will always carry the largest drill I can, so my choice for open/duty carry is either a .45 for social work or a full-power 10mm in the boondocks. When I need a small pistol for concealment, a 9mm with high-tech ammo will do.”
Bearing in mind that where the bullet strikes is probably more important than anything else, and there is a wide range of experience and ability to control rapid pistol fire, I’d be curious to hear what all y’all think about this. Since this tends to be a very contentious topic on the gun related internet, I’ll remind everyone that informed opinion, experience, and facts are welcome here, and ad hominem argument is not.
Recently got to see a man I’ve been out of touch with for 17 years. I first met Bryant Kolner in 1998, when he had to shoot a man. He was an off-duty policeman on his way to work when he stopped to do a good deed, and the next thing he knew a guy was trying to club him to death with a baseball bat. Bryant drew his department issue S&W .45 and spun the guy to the ground with three 230 grain Gold Dot bullets. The shooting went before a grand jury. I was contacted by deputy Kolner’s defense attorney, the very capable Fred Rench, and was allowed to address that grand jury by a fair-minded district attorney, Jim Murphy. The outcome was that the grand jury cleared the officer, and indicted his attacker for felonious assault, to which he pled guilty. An account of the shooting and its aftermath later appeared in the Ayoob Files section at American Handgunner magazine.
Time went on. Bryant changed departments. He led his agency in number of arrests. The time came when, running up an icy driveway to the aid of a battered woman, his feet went out from under him and he suffered a severe line-of-duty injury later exacerbated by medical malpractice. In the end, he wound up having to leave the job he loved, based on the physical disability.
But, you can’t keep a good man down. Today his job is representing the interests of retired safety personnel. Working for the benefit of good people is just part of some folks’ nature.
It’s good to be able to touch the lives of people like Bryant Kolner.
“We were lucky enough to avoid most of the rain,” said Mas, dryly.
“Mas, that joke just sucks,” replied Tom, swiftly.
On this end, we’ve had remarkable good luck dodging bad weather so far this year. This past weekend, rain had been predicted for both shooting days. We got through Day One with nary a raindrop, though. Quarter-inch hailstones and monster rain and lightning storms had been predicted for Day Two. We ended up shooting in light rain some, and went indoors when the thunder rolled, but still finished only a few minutes later than scheduled. Shooting in the rain presents some degree of safety hazard – loaded guns in wet, slippery hands, and vision somewhat impaired by rain on the shooting glasses – but that can be compensated for. Lightning, however, is non-negotiable. When you’re responsible for people’s safety, you don’t send them out in a lightning storm to stand in an open field holding metal objects. Minutes after the last student had departed the graduation ceremony, the skies opened with sheets of rain and an impressive light show of natural electricity.
In mid-May, we had been teaching a MAG-40 class at Karl Rehn’s outstanding KR Training center near Austin, Texas. We got rained on throughout, but thanks to KR staffer Rich Worthey’s masterful navigation of weather apps, we were able to get folks inside before any lightning hit the scene. That heavy rain hasn’t stopped since. Rich told me later that he and his neighbors were beginning to understand why Noah felt such urgency in building the Ark. That whole area has suffered severe flooding since, and now. Indeed, flooding of late has been horrible from Houston to Hoboken. Condolences to all who are going through such brutal weather.
My “Ayoob Files” continuing series in American Handgunnermagazine covers in the current issue the legendary 1884 siege in which Elfego Baca holed up with a pair of revolvers and held off a vengeful gang of cowboys who pumped some 4,000 bullets into the shack where he had taken refuge. Unlikely as it sounds, history shows that’s pretty much how the thing went down.
In researching the shootout, I followed up on Baca’s later life, which included time as an elected county sheriff, and as an attorney. (And a few more gunfights.) It turns out that Baca was an innovative fellow.
In one case, as sheriff he was conducting a murder investigation. Fresh human feces were found near the death scene. He instructed a deputy to collect it and put it in a tin can. Before long, he came upon a likely suspect, who became so nervous during Baca’s interrogation that he felt a sudden urge to relieve himself. Baca allowed him to do so, and then once again ordered a deputy to “can it,” so to speak.
An unusual pattern of chili seeds was present in both fecal samples. There was no DNA testing in those days, of course, but by the standards of the time, Baca’s thinking was positively Sherlockian. Today, it would be seen as crappy evidence in more ways than one and might not meet the standard of a “reasonable degree of scientific certainty,” but back then it was enough to convict the suspect of murder.
Forgive a crude reference from common parlance, but one could say that Sheriff Elfego Baca was certainly a lawman who knew his shit.
On this somber day of observance, our friends at Galco remind us of a quote from General George S. Patton: “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men that died. Rather that we should thank God that such men lived.”
And my colleagues at Second Amendment Foundation remind us of the seminal moment “the Revolutionary War was ignited by the battles of Lexington and Concord, when British troops under General Thomas Gage were dispatched to seize arms and ammunition belonging to the colonial militia, and destroy it.”
Exercising the rights our forebears died to preserve seems an appropriate way to celebrate Memorial Day. Before the day is over I’ll join a “shooting party” at the range of Herman Gunter, III. I hope you, too, can get some meaningful time in to honor those who died to preserve the American way of life.