The Capacity Question – Part 3

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.



  1. ” People often make the mistake of believing that somehow a gunfight or a shooting is going to happen on their terms…once you clear leather.” This wins the internet for today. All those guys on forums who claim that they’ll just calmly make a head shot in ‘their gunfight’ because they can do it on the range should spend a little more time reading stuff like this…and accounts by some really good marksmen who ended up needing more than the 2 shots they think they’ll need.

  2. What real lessons are there from the Miami Massacre for the citizen CHL? Eight FBI agents at great cost barely got the job done. The citizen is usually alone in a self defense situation, I don’t think a ton of rounds would help you if in that situation alone. Thankfully the chance of getting into that firefight as a ordinary Joe are extremely thin.

    A big lesson is that a semi auto rifle with 30 rounds carried by someone who trains and on a mission has a helluva an advantage over pistols. We can’t possibly be prepared for any possible situation, the guy who sleeps in his body armor and three handguns notwithstanding.. But we can prepare ourselves for the most likely. We should put more thought into what conditions allow us to lawfully use deadly force and build from there.

    1. “What real lessons are there from the Miami Massacre for the citizen CHL?”

      Here’s a few:
      1. If you like shooting out in the country by yourself keep a loaded gun at all times.
      2. A backup gun isn’t a bad idea.
      3. Head shots are not a sure thing.
      4. Mindset is a real thing that has a MAJOR effect on the outcome of a fight and survival in general.
      5. Handguns suck.
      6. You cannot ever be TOO accurate.
      7. Cover is only good until someone decides they are willing and able to take it away from you.
      8. Less rounds is never a good thing.
      9. Penetration is a major consideration when selecting a self defense round.

      There’s more, especially when you start getting deep into the details and back stories. This is just what I came up with after a couple of beers while watching the Bengals play…

    2. During WW2, during the 1943 Warsaw Getto Uprising, it was quickly realized that handguns, any handguns, were almost useless against men armed with rifles (even bolt guns).

  3. Sounds like one could never have enough rounds based on this. What is the solution, grenade or flame thrower?

  4. Among other things, this fight was a demonstration of the reality that some people just take a lot of killing. Rasputin, Blackbeard and Cole Younger (who got on his horse and rode away after being shot many, many times) come to mind.

  5. The FBI screwed up that day. Platt was known to have a Ruger Ranch rifle, as he had used it in several prior bank robberies. One of the cars patrolling for them that day had a swat team member with an AR, but that car wasn’t with the others when they decided to make the stop. So now you have four cars with agents armed with one 9mm semi auto, the rest with .38 specials and one shotgun in a trunk. Doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how that might pan out.

  6. The mag limiters seem to think that 5 rounds (N.Y.City) 6rounds (N.J.) 7 rounds (N.Y.State) means 5,6,7, bad guys shot and stopped. Maybe thats true for the 460 S&W/500 S&W. But for the rounds people actually carry, it can take several solid hits to stop a druged up baddy. Or even someony high on adrenalin. The police have recogmized this. Thats why almost all of them use hi cap mags. And in New Jersey, unless you are ex military/law enforcement, you are resticted to a 6 shot 38SPCL revolver. And no hollo points.

    1. This is a critical point. I “budget” 5 rounds per assailant not counting misses, because I’m a firm believer in the doctrine “shoot them at least 5 times before they hit the ground”. I try to reinforce this through practice, in particular through drills shot in 5-shot strings. This does not leave a lot of margin for error with one assailant, much less two, given the capacity of my preferred handguns and the annoying tendency of bad guys to try to avoid getting shot.

  7. 1) Because he may be moving…
    2) Because the shot may have hit to no appearant effect…
    3) Because your classic shooters stance is making you a nice, stationary target…
    4) Because, ouch, you just got hit on your strong side arm and got to switch hands…
    5) Because, hey, no fair, he brough a couple of friends and the J frame is now making a “click click” noise…

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