The dumbest ballistic argument ever

If you’ve ever engaged in a discussion of terminal ballistics online, I guarantee you’ve read some variation of this argument: “Oh yeah, well if .45 doesn’t have any knockdown power, why don’t you let me shoot you with mah trusty forty-five!” Other variations are similar, but it basically boils down to “well if you don’t think it’s effective, let someone shoot you with it.” It’s also the stupidest possible thing you could say during a discussion of terminal ballistics. It is the argument of an idiot who doesn’t understand terminal ballistics.

I have a newsflash. No one wants to get shot with anything, not even a .22. Seriously, can you imagine trying that in the real world? “I need volunteers to get shot in the chest with a .22” would probably have a pretty poor turnout, even if you offered free Krispy Kreme for all the volunteers. Getting shot isn’t some sliding scale of do not want – I don’t think “well, I don’t want to get shot with a .22, but I really really don’t want to get shot with a .45-70.” I just don’t want to get shot period.

double tap 9mm

Let’s have some real talk for a second about terminal ballistics. There are plenty of anecdotal stories out there to support basically any ballistic position. Want to “prove” that .22 is enough? You can find some story about a guy dropping DRT from a single hit. Want to prove that .45 is ineffective? There are stories of guys taking a .45 to the head and it glancing off the forehead. The problem that most internet ballisticians don’t understand is that these are anecdotes, and that just because situation x produced result y in this particular shooting does not mean it’s a typical scenario.

This is why we have ballistic testing in the first place. Proper ballistic testing has produced service caliber rounds that are designed to work in the majority of situations. We have a problem of imagining that a self-defense situation is going to be a certain way, and for some reason that imaginary fight that everyone is planning for involves an unobstructed frontal thoracic cavity shot. Yes, birdshot can incapacitate an attacker, and yes a .22 can penetrate deep enough to hit vital organs. No, there is no major terminal ballistic difference between a 9mm, a .45, or a .40; pick whatever you like most and shoot it.

The reason professionals use the rounds they use is because they’re designed to offer the best possible performance assuming the worst possible set of circumstances. That’s why cops don’t use birdshot in their shotguns, and it’s why by and large most SWAT teams use 5.56 carbines now. I hate to drift into the “appeal to authority” territory here, but there are times when it pays to look at the gear the pros use. The elite LE units generally pick their gear for a reason, and you won’t see birdshot in a SWAT team shotgun; you don’t see Marines forward deployed with .22 pistols either. Gunfights are all unique events. The best defense rounds are designed to work in the worst conditions of those events and still produce the best results on target.


  1. In my late teens I was working the reloading department of a very large gun store. Young & dumb, of course, and very much enamored with the Beretta 92FS – it hadn’t become the M9 yet, but was apparently on its way. I got to shoot it quite a bit over several years and got pretty good with it. My mentor was a salty old guy who as I know now really, really knew his stuff – back then, I simply hung on his every word because I didn’t know better. If he was still around, I’d be he’d be blogging some very good stuff. And I’d still be hanging on his every (infrequent) word.

    I was trying to have the discussion (that you very nicely illustrated) with a chunky Cleti, who loudly proclaimed, “Oh yeah? Well, let’s go down to the football field then, you with your 9 at one end and me with my 44 at t’other and we’ll see who’s still standing when it’s over.” My mentor grinned a little grin, took one of my better 25-yard targets out from beneath the counter, held it out for Cletus and said, “I’ll bet on that. As long as you let the young one shoot first.” Lots of bluster followed, but I will never forget the look in the challenger’s eyes.

    Old Harry didn’t outwardly support many people, but that day that he did personally for me has always been a fond memory. I don’t shoot a 92 anymore, don’t think I’ve gotten too much better since those days, but understand now that much of what I heard at the store was bunk – but much of what Harry had to say, when he occasionally had something to say, was very much well worth listening to. Kind of like your blog. Thanks for the memories.

    1. The number of gunfights a person has been in has zero to do with this thread. I have never been in a CCW/home defense/civilian shooting. I have shot a lot of coyotes though.

      One time I burned my tongue on a hot pocket, that was pretty dynamic.

      1. Ya me neither, but I don’t claim to be some Evan Marshall type who refutes the conventional wisdom about “stopping power”

        1. what “conventional wisdom” is that? Because a lot of conventional wisdom has been proven through objective testing to be outdated or never right in the first place.

          1. Plus, one can find multiple accounts of people that were shot by high power battle rifle bullets, some more than once, who were able to keep on fighting.

      2. Great web site though, I’ll stay tuned, mainly because you can take some shit, that’s a rare commodity on the web, where butt hurt reigns.

  2. Saw a good comment today that the mere shock wave from a 50 BMG going by (missing!) would take your whole arm off. They must have gotten better since I was in because back then they at least had to hit your thumb to take your whole arm off.

    1. Look for the Demolition Ranch video of him shooting a .50 just inches above a glassy stream. Not a of shockwave in sight, just the barest hint of a ripple.

  3. Just to clarify, I was being sarcastic. An awful lot of folks just regurgitate stories with no vetting or even really thinking about it. That’s just a more extreme example of some of the foolishness that’s part of the caliber wars. Science tends to tell a different story than repeated anecdotes, for some odd reason. 🙂

  4. When I was young the 9mm was a losing proposition, most 9’s would not feed HPs having been designed ‘Para Bellum’ The same was true for 1911’s. Bullet design for autos sucked most PPL carried revolvers w/it’s improved stopping power and reliability (no jams). My point is that not all Lore is false Lore, just out dated.

    1. VERY fair point.

      I had a Walther P5 that came highly recommended to me. Shot it twice, it jammed up on hollowpoints. Sold it. At the time when that pistol was new or even more readily available, I’m sure even if you could also find hollowpoints you’d already know to avoid them with that gun. That scenario makes 45acp look a lot better.

      Today, it’s no question. I’ll take 15-18 rounds of 9mm over 7-10 rounds of 45acp any day of the week. I do exactly that come to think of it.

  5. Let’s say someone’s survived and won ten gunfights. That’s still a really tiny sample size, although I’m sure he or she will have some pretty strongly held opinions on them.

  6. Or, as the old saying goes:
    The plural of the word “anecdote” is not “data”.

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