We’ve discussed the capacity question in terms of speed and in terms of attempting to keep track of what’s happening under extreme stress. There are, however, still other factors at play that need to be addressed.
First among them is this simple fact: We do not know what it will take to actually stop a violent attacker. People often make the mistake of believing that somehow a gunfight or a shooting is going to happen on their terms. Think logically about that for a second: We’re talking about a situation which has spun so far out of control that your last option to resolve it without ending up in a wheelchair or a body bag is to aim a firearm at another human being and shoot them. If you’re at this point, fate isn’t smiling on you…she’s spitting right in your face. It is somewhat silly, then, to believe that suddenly things are going to go your way once you clear leather.
We’ve discussed terminal ballistics at length in some previous posts, so I won’t attempt to rehash the whole shebang here. Nevertheless, when we’re thinking about capacity it would behoove us to think carefully about what we can glean from the study of terminal ballistics and what actual gunfights tell us about human behavior when they’ve taken a bullet. Earlier this week I wrote a little bit about the 1986 Miami shootout, inspired by noted Miami shootout researcher John Hearne’s appearance on Ballistic Radio. The interview was very informative, and I found the sections where Mr. Hearne discussed the shooting problems faced by the FBI agents in the fight particularly useful. He notes that the agents were left trying to thread shots through very tight openings between bits of car as the primary aggressor, Platt, maneuvered with his rifle.
When I see discussions of what is “needed” in a gunfight, be it a discussion about accuracy or capacity, I get the feeling that most of the people having the conversation are picturing things in terms of silhouette targets. Not people. Human beings do not stand broad-side with squared shoulders when bullets are flying. They do not stand still and let you take your time to shoot at them. Once again we’ll turn to the bounty of Youtube for some gunfight footage that illustrates the point:
Note how people move when the bullets are going both ways. Note how even dead-enders holding up a stop-n-rob don’t require any special training to try and present as small a target as possible when there are bullets coming at them. In a real fight, opportunities to actually hit are fleeting. Generally speaking, you’ll only be shooting at a sliver of bad guy that’s only there for a very brief period of time (perhaps even a fraction of a second) and even with the highest skill level you can present it’s possible for a person to actually move enough under those circumstances to turn what was a solid hit into a minor wound or even a narrow miss between the time the trigger is pulled and when the bullet gets there.
Even if you manage to make a good hit, there’s no guarantee it’s going to stop the bad guy. It certainly didn’t stop Platt. In the aftermath of the FBI shootout coroners found that Platt was dealt what would prove to be a mortal wound in the very early moments of the fight, but he went on to kill two FBI agents and wound five more. Mattix was hit in the head in the early moments of the fight and was knocked unconscious, but came to later on and continued to function and move. It took another head shot from FBI agent Ed Morales dealt to Platt and Mattix at relatively close range to knock both of them out long enough to bleed out from the multiple gunshot wounds they’d sustained during the fight.
A couple of officers from a police department in Pennsylvania ended up in a hellacious fight where they fired over 100 rounds in an effort to stop one thug armed with just a .45 ACP semi-auto pistol using a pickup truck as cover. The man sustained multiple fatal wounds but kept fighting until a 180 grain hollowpoint from one of the officer’s handguns hit him in the arm holding the gun, breaking it and causing him to drop the weapon. Even having been shot 16 times, even having been mortally wounded, the officers still had to fight to cuff him. Shortly after, of course, he expired.
We’ve discussed expressing capacity as time, but here it’s important that we also see capacity as opportunity. More opportunity to make a tough shot against a hostile moving and using cover. More opportunity to get a fight-stopping round on target, ending the bad guy’s hostile actions. More opportunity to win. When the bullets are going both ways, more opportunities to fire at the threat is always superior to fewer ones. If you’ve got ample time, a wide open target, and nobody’s trying to kill you it’s pretty easy to hit what you intend to hit…but that’s not a description of an event where you’re pulling the trigger to save your life.
Even if you’re a superb shot. Even if you’re the best shot with a handgun in the world…you might need that capacity to get the job done.