Friday, March 27, 2015

Ready or Prepare? Choose wisely...

Ready:  adjective \ˈre-dē\: prepared to do something, properly prepared or finished and available for use, almost about to do something

Prepare:  verb/ pre·pare \pri-ˈper\: to make (someone or something) ready for some activity, purpose, use, etc., to make yourself ready for something that you will be doing, something that you expect to happen, etc., to make or create (something) so that it is ready for use.

While ready and prepare appear to be similar, when it comes to the positioning of your combat handgun nothing could be further from the truth.  In true ready, the gun is oriented in a position in which it can be fired with minimal motion as nothing else will do in the tight time frame and distances of pistol combat.  In a preparatory position, the gun is out of the holster but held in a position that keeps persons around the shooter safe in the event of a negligent, involuntary or accidental discharge of a live round.  An important point: If the gun is not oriented in a position that would allow the “safe” discharge of a round then don’t use it! This includes both bystanders and the person holding the handgun.  

I have had the good fortune to attend courses held at the best shooting facilities and by travelling instructors and all had a signature ready position in which their doctrine is built around.  There is nothing wrong with this but it should also be understood that no single ready position will work for all situations!  How could it? Conflict is fluid by nature and the threat(s) will move and so should the orientation of the gun. We have known since the days of The Spartans that the person who will win in a fight is not the fastest or most accurate, but the one who can adapt the quickest to the rapidly changing situation and the ready position must be part of this change/adaptation.  

In my classes, I teach what I call “The Arc of Ready” which is a battery of three Ready Positions that can be adapted with minimal motion but change the forward orientation of the muzzle dramatically. They can also be used with one or two hands. While few students believe it at first, I make the point that one ready position is NOT faster than the next and then I demonstrate by shooting each position at 20 feet in to a heart sized target using an electronic timer as the start signal. I can usually deliver an accurate hit in the .6 to .7 second region and taking into account it takes between .22 and .27 to hear and react to the beep of the timer, this leaves around .4 second for a response and shot.  Considering the blink of an eye is .32 second, this is a minimal response time and I am quite satisfied with it.
It is essential for the reaction/response time from ready be as fast as possible for obvious reasons. Recently the Force Science Institute undertook a study looking at various trigger finger and ready positions to see if one was faster than another. Their results were interesting and reinforced my position on the speed of action for various ready positions. Here is their newsletter entry…

“I. New study: How much do finger placement & ready position matter?

In terms of reacting fast to a sudden deadly threat, does it matter how you carry an unholstered or unslung weapon or where you rest your trigger finger before making the decision to shoot?
In other words, does any one of the various ready positions commonly taught in police firearms training really give you a significant edge in response time?

Results of a two-part study by the Force Science Institute reported in the current issue of the peer-reviewed journal Law Enforcement Executive Forum provide some answers that may surprise you if you're a strong advocate for particular positioning.

"The findings have implications for training and can also be of critical use to investigators in certain officer-involved shootings," says Dr. Bill Lewinski, FSI's executive director and lead researcher in the study, believed to be the first of its kind in police circles.

The full study, including photographs of positions analyzed and detailed statistical tables, is scheduled to be published soon in the Law Enforcement Executive Forum. Their Web address is:
Here are the highlights:

PART 1: HANDGUN FINGER PLACEMENT. "The first, and seemingly most basic, position officers learn during their firearms training," the researchers write, "is where to index, or place, their finger outside of the trigger well when handling their gun to minimize the risk" of accidental or premature discharge while still allowing the fastest possible response to a deadly threat.
With 52 federal officer volunteers from the Dept. of Homeland Security, Lewinski's team tested four handgun finger-indexing positions "predominately taught and practiced" by LEOs and military personnel:

• The index finger points straight ahead, resting across the trigger guard
• Essentially the same position, but with the finger bent slightly so the tip rests against the vertical side of the trigger guard
• The pad of the straight index finger rests slightly above the trigger guard, on the pistol's frame
• The straight finger is angled more sharply upward, with the pad resting on the gun's slide.

On a hot range, each participant fired from each finger position three times with his or her duty handgun. Once a member of the research team gave a signal, the officers could shoot whenever they wanted. They were instructed to move their finger to the trigger as fast as they could and, after firing, to wait for at least five seconds between rounds to assure that the finger was repositioned properly before the next shot.  The shooting was captured by high-speed digital cameras that allowed for precise, frame-by-frame computer analysis later to measure the time in hundredths of a second from the initial movement of the finger to its contact with the trigger.

RESULTS. "Until this analysis was completed, it was unknown what time differences might exist between these various positions and whether any position had a significant benefit of speed," Lewinski told Force Science News.  What is now known?

“Contrary to what many officers are commonly taught," the researchers report, "there is no significant difference in contact time" between the various finger-indexing positions--with one exception: Positioning the finger to rest on the pistol slide is statistically significantly slower than the other options.

Starting from that position, the officers on average "were roughly 0.08 second slower in making contact with the trigger and over 0.10 second [slower] to fire than all other positions.... While many law enforcement officers argue that indexing the finger on the trigger guard, curved or straight, is faster than on the frame, the difference in mean time to trigger contact [among positions other than the slide position] is less than 0.04 second."

That difference, Lewinski says, "would likely be inconsequential in a gunfight."

PART 2: TACTICAL READY POSITIONS. Another area that "little to no research has examined" prior to the new study is the amount of time it takes officers to react to a threat and move their weapon from an unholstered ready position to a firing position. "Therefore," the researchers’ state, "it is unknown what positions may most benefit officers with the quickest responses during deadly use-of-force situations."

To fill that informational void, Lewinski's team tested 68 volunteers from the Los Angeles PD at the department's training facility. All were measured for how fast they could fire their duty handgun from various starting positions; nine were also checked for speed with a Remington 870 shotgun.

The drawn-handgun ready positions, commonly trained for use "when entering a threatening situation," included:

• The Bootleg, where the pistol is held one-handed, pointing down and slightly concealed behind the officer's leg
• The Belt Tuck, where the gun is held with two hands, pulled in close to the body at navel level
• The Close-Ready, with the gun pulled in somewhat higher than the beltline with the muzzle pointed slightly down
• The High-Ready, with the gun thrust forward in an isosceles grip at shoulder height, muzzle slightly depressed
• The Low-Ready, same grip but with the arms and gun pointing down at about a 45-degree angle
• The High-Guard, gun pointing up and held single-handed beside an officer's head, a position widely trained in England but not generally favored in the US (except in Hollywood entertainment productions!).

RESULTS: When officers took time to aim, they were fastest in firing a handgun when starting their movement from the High-Ready position, at an average of 0.83 second. This contrasted sharply, for example, with the Bootleg and High-Guard positions, where the respective averages were 1.32 and 1.13 seconds. "A suspect can fire several rounds into you in that amount of time, while you're just getting into position to defend yourself," Lewinski says.

"Without aiming," the researchers report, "officers moving from the Low-Ready position were fastest overall, firing in an average time of 0.64 second."
Overall," Lewinski says, "the handgun timings indicate that the closer the ready position is to a final firing position, the faster the officer is likely to be in getting off his first round."
IMPLICATIONS: "As with any skill, regular, high amounts of repetition in practice at high speeds will greatly benefit officers in reacting and moving as quickly as possible," the researchers write. Indeed, Lewinski estimates that with diligent practice, you can cut your times for getting your finger on the trigger and your weapon on target by at least 50%.

So far as finger placement is concerned, given the study finding of negligible differences, he suggests that you pick whatever indexing position is most comfortable for you and practice improving your movement speed from there. Lewinski believes, however, that more important than improving the mechanics of weaponcraft is teaching officers to read potentially hazard scenarios early on, so they can detect threat cues quicker and better anticipate an adversary's actions, thereby getting ahead of the reactionary curve before the crisis point. "Without that skill," he says, "they're likely to end up so far behind the action that things like the most desirable finger indexing and ready positioning won't really matter."   (Spaulding Comment:  AWARENESS IS THE KEY TO YOUR PERSONAL SECURITY!!!) 

For investigators, he says that consulting some of the time measurements revealed in this study can help determine the dynamics of certain officer-involved shootings.
For example, "we now know the average times it takes for an officer to move from a finger position or from a ready posture once he or she has made a decision to shoot. In that time before the officer can actually fire, a suspect's position can change substantially, causing the officer's rounds to impact in unanticipated places, like the suspect's back, for instance. “   END NEWSLETTER

As always, Force Science has done a thorough job but some of their Ready Positions are a bit befuddling and do not differentiate between a Ready and Preparatory position which is of critical importance.  What they call The Boot Leg (something I have never taught but seems to occur with many officers) is certainly a preparatory position and if I am reading it correctly so is The Belt Tuck which is better known as SUL.  Their Close Ready I call a Compressed Low Ready while The High Ready is better known as The Guard Position as made popular by Col. Jeff Cooper.  Their Low Ready is aptly named and understood while The High Guard I have always known as The Temple Index and is also considered a preparatory position.  The reason The Boot Leg, SUL and the Temple Index are considered Preparatory Positions is due to the orientation of the muzzle off the threat zone/battle space for safety purposes while the various Ready Positions orient the gun in a fast fighting posture.  As Dr. Lewinsky stated, the further away from a fighting posture the gun is, the slower it will be into action which is certainly a matter of common sense, though common sense isn’t always “common”… 

I do not teach any of the Preparatory Positions listed in this study, though I have seen them used in my programs, as I feel they are not as efficient as what I do teach.  I teach what I call A Ribcage Index in which the gun is held in the shooting hand only with the thumb flagged and the wrist locked (see photo) orienting the muzzle down.  In this position, the gun can easily be defended and is oriented in a position in which I would be willing to discharge a round into the ground.  As a matter of fact, I have done this on multiple occasions demonstrating where the round will strike which is in a two to three foot circle around my feet.  Are you willing to do this with the gun held in SUL, Boot Leg or Temple Index? If not, don’t use it!  Another thing I like about the Ribcage Index is it is consistent with other movements I make. The position is nothing more than stopping along the arc of the draw stroke, meaning I can easily re-holster, go into a weapon retention firing position or a full extension of the arms in the same practiced manner as if I hadn’t paused at the rib cage.  It also keeps my support hand free to fend, fight or just push someone out of the way…something that cannot be done when the hand is buried under the gun. Continuity of action/motion is important when building skills!  

It is also from this position that I teach my students to “Check 360” instead of just turning their heads and seeing nothing…

As far as trigger finger placement goes, I have known for a LONG TIME that none of the commonly used positions will resist a true hard, convulsive grip of the whole hand. When the hand clenches, the fingers will fall into alignment and curl up, meaning the trigger finger will land on the trigger.  I have found bending the trigger finger and applying inward pressure with the pad to be the best with a straight finger the worst.  Bending the finger and making contact with the take down lever or slide stop button seems to offer no advantage over merely bending the finger and pushing inward.  What about placing the finger up on the slide or in the ejection port?  Well, besides being quite slow (as FSI revealed) it is also clumsy and uncomfortable when held for a time or the gun starts to get hot.
Understand the difference between a Ready and Preparatory Position and use them wisely. Make the motions when moving from one to another smooth, minimal and efficient and you will find you place yourself at a minimal disadvantage in a high threat zone.  Adaptation is the key and the proper use of Ready and Preparatory Positions will help you PREVAIL!!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Movement with Purpose

Before I proceed let me be clear . . . movement in a fight of any type is beneficial and will help you prevail! I say this as I do not want to be misunderstood by people wanting to raise their own profile on the internet by picking apart sections of this rant and not looking at its totality. This is intended to create critical thought …something I’m finding to be as rare as common sense on a topic that is too important to self- protection.

Movement in combat is considered an "advanced" technique by many trainers and institutions, but if you watch videos of people involved in combat...both participants and innocent bystanders's something that seems to happen automatically. People comprehend bullets are flying you don't want to be there! That said the concept of combatant movement in a gunfight is not a new concept. Wyatt Earp discussed it during a newspaper interview late in his life..." I was a Deputy U.S. Marshal at the O.K. Corral fight, so I was coming forward and they was usually going back. You shoot straighter coming forward!" Earp is right and those who have been trained in shooting on the move know it works best when moving straight ahead. You can shoot both fast and accurate, something that is not the case when moving back or laterally. In order to hit with a level of accuracy that will stop a threat in any direction other than straight ahead, the movement becomes so slow that using it to avoid being shot is just wishful thinking. Don't think so? Just watch the nation's best shooters…both gifted AND skilled in the craft… use the technique during a match and ask yourself "would I be moving at a speed that would allow me to save my own life?"  Keep in mind you will probably be moving slower than these top tier shooters!

Such wishful thinking can also be applied to other forms of "tactical" movement. A recent example would be a female police officer I had in one of my classes. She had been taught that anytime she was not shooting she was to be moving. Since she had been trained to do this on a crowded firing line her movement while she drew her gun, reloaded or cleared a malfunction looked more like a tree swaying in the wind. This minimal motion also slowed her manipulations...something like 4 seconds to do a simple magazine exchange or 10 seconds to clear a stoppage. When I called this to her attention her response was "movement will keep you from getting shot, thus I continue to move!" I guess it comes down to what is considered useful movement.

The more I have considered shooting while moving, the more I have come down on the side of shooting then moving/moving then shooting. I have been studying armed conflict my entire adult life, interviewing many people who have been involved as well as relating my few experiences to what I have heard and I have come to the conclusion with the exception of a forward attack, we should probably be shooting accurately or moving quickly if we want to prevail. Such movement needs to be aggressive, rapid or speedy...which ever word helps anchor the concept in your just moving back and forth or in a circle will not work and teaching such movement while leading shooters to believe they will avoid incoming fire is a deadly training scar. While movement in combat is situationally dependent I have come to believe there are three primary reasons for doing so:

 1. Moving quickly until you are prepared to deliver accurate outgoing fire of the quality that will incapacitate the person trying to kill you…”cover by outbound fire” as it were.
 2. Move to a location where you cannot be seen. While true cover would be the best option, but being hidden from your attacker's field of view is certainly useful.
3. Remove ourselves from the kill zone completely.

This said, reality sucks as you might be standing in a location that will not allow movement...a cop standing in a crowded living room, an armed citizen between two cars in a parking lot (FYI...I had a mugger once tell me this was his favorite position for his victims) or a member of an entry team moving down a hallway. These situations would require stand and fight, run away or attack in the classic shooting on the move forward technique. There is no way to know what the correct choice is until it is taken.  Observe, orient, decide and act? Might be kinda’ slow, don’t you think?

Rapid, aggressive movement is both a technique and a tactic and must be used without hesitation to work. What we have known since the days of the Spartans is the person who can adapt to the unfolding situation fastest is the one who will likely prevail! Quick, meaningful movement is part of this adaptation as it gives additional time and time is life! Is there a place for the minimal movement, like single lateral steps, I described earlier? Yes, it is a training tool to begin the process of learning how to move while running your gun. Lateral side steps while drawing, moving back and forth on the line while reloading and other related skills are the initial stages of teaching movement in conflict but they are not the end technique. For this technique to become a tactic, movement must accomplish an end goal, not just be something that makes you feel "tactical".

Movement must be undertaken with purpose, with an end goal to gain advantage in mind. To just move for the sake of moving might just slow you down or affect your ability to shoot well.  Shooting with a rapid stop and then moving again quickly is a taught technique, something that was be instructed, earned and anchored. If you don’t know how, then you are seriously short-changed in your combative skills…

Stay safe, alert and “check your 360” often! 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Get a Grip: Proper combative pistol control

Years back, while attending an international  law enforcement training conference, I sat with a number of firearms trainers and listened to them debate the correct grip for the semi-automatic pistol. One advocated thumbs locked down while another pushed for thumbs up. One even made the case for the thumbs being held away from the frame, so they wouldn’t apply undue pressure on the side of the gun, pushing the muzzle off target. I sat quietly and didn’t get involved for several reasons. One, if I’m talking I’m not listening and it’s through listening that I learn. Two, I don’t really think the thumbs matter when it comes to applying a proper firing grip to a pistol and I am going to tell you why.

What the thumbs do…

Try something for me. Make a tight fist with your dominate hand and hold it. While retaining the fist, straighten the thumb forward and then up. Did the position of the thumb affect how tightly you could hold your fingers? Probably not…

The truth is, your shooting-hand thumb could be half gone and you’d still be able to grip a pistol, as the shooting hand applies inward pressure from front to back as if you’re squeezing a pair of pliers. The front and back straps of the pistol are what the shooting hand engages, leaving the side-to-side pressure to the support hand. This front-to-back pressure is both good and bad: It’s consistent with the rearward travel of the trigger, thus the index finger can efficiently depress the trigger.  It also allows the three lower fingers to cam the muzzle down which will help control recoil, i.e. muzzle flip by applying rearward pressure to the front strap. This is the same reason that it’s bad. Because the hand is a sympathetic mechanism, it’s very hard to separate the trigger finger from the rest of the hand, and, as we all know, a convulsive grip of the entire hand will take the muzzle off target. Depending on the distance, this could cause us to miss our attacker completely. The shooting hand must be as high in the tang as possible as any gap will give recoil a path to travel.  In addition, getting the shooting hand high and as close to the bore line as possible will also help control muzzle flip while aiding the hand and arm’s ability to point the gun to the target naturally.

The support hand applies side-to-side pressure, as if it’s squeezing a rubber ball.  The fingers are applying pressure toward the heel of the hand which is on the open side of the pistol grip and, once again, the thumb doesn’t come into play. If the support hand is going to make maximum contact with the grip, the heel of the hand needs to make as much contact as possible with the available grip surface. Thus, it’s a good idea to vacate that area, allowing the hand to be seated. This means the shooting-hand thumb must be flagged or at least moved out of the way, which a thumbs-down grip doesn’t provide.  If the thumb is locked down and the support hand attempts to apply inward pressure, the thumb creates a gap in the grip that provides recoil a travel path. 

By removing the thumb from the exposed grip panel, the heel of the support hand can fill the space left by the shooting hand with the support fingers wrapping around same. The support hand then squeezes inward on the grip and shooting hand, creating a 360° wrap on the gun’s grip. The support hand should be high up in the grip and not be permitted to slide down. If the hand slides below the grip and inward pressure is applied, it can take the muzzle off target, something that happens quite often with short grip concealment pistols.  This high grip also cams the support hand fingers down which, when wrapped around the shooting hand fingers on the front strap, will aid in controlling recoil, especially in rapid fire.

The 360° Wrap…

Why is a 360° wrap on the pistol’s grip important? Because it helps keep the gun on target through the firing cycle and the recoil that results. When the gun fires, it sends a bullet down the barrel and the slide assembly moves to the rear. Recoil actually travels backward, but the shooting hand applying forward pressure makes the muzzle rise as it seeks the path of least resistance. By applying a continuous 360° wrap around the gun’s grip, which includes backward pressure to the gun’s front strap by the shooting and support hand fingers, and applying a forward lean by the upper body and arms into the gun, muzzle rise is greatly reduced or eliminated depending on the weapon/caliber being used. If a gap in the grip is evident, the gun will torque in that direction making it more difficult (read slower) to get back on target quickly for fast follow-up shots. Why are fast follow-up shots important? No one ever misses with their first rounds, right?  IMHO the best indicator of whether or not you have a good grip and body position is the gun returning right where it started before it was fired.

How tight should the two hands be? After all, we’ve all heard of applying 60/40 (some say 70/30) pressure to the grip, meaning that 40% of the grip is applied by the shooting hand while 60% is applied by the support hand. Is this necessary? I think not…as a matter of fact I think it makes it harder to control the gun. Try making a fist with your shooting hand, and hold it as tight as possible. Now release just your index finger and move it as if it were pressing the trigger on your pistol. Notice how the other fingers loosen up a bit? It’s something that just happens, so don’t worry about how tight to grip the gun. Just apply as much pressure as you can and your shooting hand will compensate for the movement of the index finger. Just focus on proper trigger control, and the rest will fall in place. Also consider this; if part of the problem with trigger control is tightening and loosening the whole hand (milking the grip like milking the teat on a cow) then does having a loose hand to start with make sense? Keep in mind when bullets fly in your direction EVERYTHING will tighten up …been there, done that…

Now, back to the thumbs…are the thumbs important for combative shooting? I think so, but it has nothing to do with applying the grip. I like the thumbs forward, as they offer a secondary sighting device when trying to get the gun on target during the pandemonium of armed conflict as well as help lock the wrists to, again, control recoil (that recoil thing seems to be a continual theme, doesn’t it?). Locked wrists and an aggressive upper body will keep the gun on target even when shooting quickly.

Another Experiment…

Make a fist and point it at a friend, now have the friend grip your hand and work it back and forth flexing the wrist. Now do the same thing except point the thumb forward…note how the wrist is locked and is much harder to “break”?  Now, take your empty hand, and hold it as if you’re gripping a pistol with your thumb straight forward. Separate your index finger, as if it were on the trigger face. Look at an item on the wall 15–30 feet away, and point your thumb at it, as if you were extending a pistol to shoot. Notice how the gun comes naturally into your eye/target line? The felt aspects of shooting are grossly under-rated.

What do I mean by this? All too often, shooting is made into a visual exercise with instructions such as, “look at the front sight before pressing the trigger” or “you won’t be able to see the front sight due to stress; you’ll focus on the threat.” The problem is that the eyes have nothing to do with shooting the gun. Shooting is a kinesthetic exercise and it should be thought of as such. When does the front sight come into play when shooting a handgun? At the last moment before the trigger is pressed once the gun gets to the eye/target line. What got the gun to this point in the process? That’s right, body manipulation, thus the front sight is just an aid to alignment, not the whole thing.

Proper Body Manipulation…

Does anyone really think they can thrust their pistol out in front of their body, chase down the front sight and get a quick and accurate shot by relying on the front sight alone? Even the father of front-sight use, Jeff Cooper, stated, “The body aims, the sights confirm.” Col. Cooper advocated a “flash sight picture” which is NOT a hard sight focus but a quick reference of the front sight through the rear.  In reality, its practiced body movement and manipulation that gets the gun to the eye/target line quickly and accurately. By using the felt index of the thumbs-forward grip…like stabbing a spear… the accuracy of this movement is merely enhanced.

Am I advocating point shooting? Not really, as I don’t see a big difference between the two techniques. If a person practices using their front sight to confirm proper body manipulation to weapon alignment when delivering their pistol to target, but then during the actual event they focus on the threat, does it really matter as long as the gun arrives where it’s needed? The truth is it’s more likely that the shot will be missed due to improper trigger control than to sight alignment!


The handgun is controlled by two things: a proper grip applied to the pistol in a 360° full-contact fashion and the straight rearward travel of the trigger. Sights are nice to confirm that the body did what it should’ve done, but they’re not critical in a close-quarters gunfight.

Should you use them if you can? Hell yes! But if you can’t, proper body motion will likely get it there for you if you’ve taken the time to note how it feels to properly deliver the gun to the target. Recreating that feel is worth practicing and, if front-sight focus/confirmation helps anchor this, then what’s the harm? Obtaining a proper grip on the gun including locked wrists, proper trigger control and forward body position are all kinesthetic exercises and must be practiced correctly or they’ll do you no good when you need them. These are basic skills—the fundamentals. Remember: As Bruce Lee so eloquently said, “Advanced skills are the basics mastered. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A 9mm Journey: Hard to believe I have been wrong!

I hate to bring it up again, but I recently read a posting on the internet about this and I could not help but scratch my head. The author made an impassioned plea for the superiority of the .45 ACP cartridge over all others claiming “ball .45 will stop a man 9 out of 10 times with a well-placed hit.” He based his assertion on testing that took place 100 years ago and was by no means scientific by today’s standards. It was quite clear the author was not stating fact, but was trying to shape other’s thoughts based on his opinion. Alarmingly, less informed individuals were thanking this writer for his “timely information”. There was a time when I would have wanted to choke this guy because he was not offering useful information, just rhetoric based on his beliefs. The sad thing is people were accepting his words as gospel for no other reason than they read them on the internet which led me to think about the car insurance commercial where a young woman exclaims, “You can’t put anything on the internet that is not true!” Yeah…ok…the tooth fairy lives!

For many years I was deeply involved in the stopping power debate. I read everything I could, talked with trauma surgeons, coroner investigators, medical examiners and even collected my own shooting reports. In 1987 I wrote my Master’s Thesis on the topic entitled The Incapacitation Effectiveness of Police Handgun Ammunition and based my conclusions on shooting data that was supplied by law enforcement agencies across the country. My agency allowed me to use agency letterhead to reach out and solicit shooting reports and I was very pleased at the response I received. By the time I finished, I had a kitchen table stacked with reports from all over the United States with so much data I could hardly process it. One thing did stand out, however…for every shooting in which a particular caliber and bullet style performed well I also received one in which it failed! In truth, I could not really draw a conclusion based on the shooting data I received! I decided to bolster my thesis by testing popular police ammunition in duct sealant, water soaked “undertaker’s” cotton and ballistic gelatin as all three were commonly used in the gun magazines of the time. The three test mediums resulted in different performance which I should not have surprised me thinking back, considering the three mediums were really nothing alike. Duh…

I became fascinated with the FBI’s 1987 Wound Ballistic Panel report, a group that was formed after the tragic April 1986 shootout involving a team of FBI Agents and two hard core armored car robbers in Miami, Florida. While the robbers were killed during the confrontation, so were several FBI Agents and an extensive study resulted with ballistic experts from across the country being brought together to try and determine what went wrong and what could be done to ensure such a tragedy never happened again. It was determined the FBI’s issue 9mm load, the Winchester 115 grain Silvertip hollow point, did not have sufficient penetration power and that a bullet that could push deeper, especially when shooting through other objects to get into the torso, would be the right formula. I poured over this report when it was issued as it made so much sense and I lobbied my agency HARD to get them to adopt the new Winchester 147 grain OSM hollow point, even though law enforcement had received good performance (a friend of mine who served in the intelligence community told me they were VERY pleased with the Silvertip!) from the 115 grain Silvertip in the long run. Hey, science was science and could not be disputed…until it proved to be wrong then it sucked!

As it turned out, my former agency had one of the first shootings in the nation with the Winchester 147 grain load and it failed miserably in a scenario that would seem to be perfect for its “enhanced” penetration capability. One of our deputies responded to a report of a child kidnapping. This was not a domestic situation or a child custody battle, but a real pervert snatched a kid off the street with who knows what intent and our deputy was able to stop and confront him in a parking lot. The deputy was about ten feet from the suspect when he confronted him, pointing his Smith & Wesson Model 669 semi-auto through the open passenger window of the suspect’s vehicle. The child was sitting in the passenger seat while the suspect sat in the driver’s seat with his hands on the steering wheel. When the suspect tried to flee, the deputy fired one round of Winchester 147 OSM grain hollow point ammo at him, hitting him in the right arm which blocked the bullet’s path to his chest cavity. This should have been no problem as this was a penetrating round, so it should have passed through the arm and entered the suspect’s chest! Too bad it did nothing of the kind. It stuck in the suspect’s elbow allowing him to flee, resulting in a high speed chase involving multiple agencies and several crashed cars. Yippee for me!

Once the suspect was in custody, he was taken to the hospital where it was determined the bullet did not do sufficient damage to the arm to warrant removal. To the best of my knowledge, this suspect still has the bullet in his arm to this day. The remaining rounds in the gun were chronographed at the crime lab from the 669 and determined to have an average velocity of 630 feet per second! The ammo…that I lobbied so hard for…was immediately removed from service and the Silvertip load was re-issued at a not unsubstantial cost to my former department. It look a long time for me to recover any credibility within my agency and I became an outspoken critic of the 147 grain load…is it hard to understand why?! To be fair, the current generation 147 grain 9mm loads have proven to be quite good with the Federal 147 grain +P HST leading the pack, but I consider ballistic gelatin tests to be an indicator of potential performance and not what a bullet will do once it enters the human body.

Gelatin testing does give us some ability to measure one bullet against another and see what its wounding potential might be, however. In this “apples to apples” environment one will note the best .45 bullet will create a 15 to 18 percent larger wound cavity than the best 9mm. This is certainly encouraging and would lead one to believe a bigger bullet is a better bullet and I think that would be a fair statement. Now for the harsh reality…that 15 to 18 percent is measured in millimeters meaning it is not enough to make up for poor shot placement! To stop someone with a handgun bullet you need to either hit an important organ (brain, spinal column, heart, etc.) or create rapid blood loss by severing a major artery and any of the commonly used law enforcement/defensive rounds, regardless of caliber, will do this. It might take multiple hits as a drugged or determined adversary can be tough to stop with any small arm. In my classes I have a drill each student shoots to see if the gun/caliber they carry is compatible with their level of skill.  I call it the “Two Second Drill” and it is merely four rounds fired at twenty feet into an eight inch square. The square represents the high chest region where many vital organs are located, twenty feet is the length of a common living room and four rounds fired in two seconds a reasonable time limit based on the history of armed conflict. Broken down, the drill is the first round hits in one second from a ready position with the final three spread over an additional second or in splits of .33 seconds. To me, this shows the student can control the recoil of their chosen pistol and caliber. It is amazing how many people cannot accomplish this simple drill because they are shooting “too much gun” for their individual skill level.

These days I pay little attention to the stopping power debate unless I happen to stumble across something really stupid like I did here. While confidence in a particular gun and caliber is important, it is more important that you be able to control the gun and caliber in ACCURATE rapid fire as multiple, accurate shots will be what likely ends a pistol fight. Oh yeah, and you might have to do this while moving RAPIDLY, not merely taking a single side step! After all these years, I have come to understand that the secret to handgun stopping power is where you shoot your adversary and how many times you can shoot them! This requires training, practice; skill and a level of ruthlessness that permits to you stand up and exchange deadly rounds with another human being. Some old west gunfighters called it “deliberation”. No amount of new gear or “wonder” gun will change this. In the end, what will a person being doing after you shoot them? Probably the same thing they were doing before you shot them…harsh reality indeed.

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