Cutting Edge Training

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In Search of the “Magic Bullet?”

by George on October 4, 2011 06:14

A very informative PowerPoint by the FBI’s Defensive System’s Unit has been going around the Internet (again).  The subject is an OIS (Officer-Involved Shooting) involving three police officers from Pennsylvania ambushed by a single suspect.  The specifics of the shooting for this discussion, while interesting, are not too important:

  • The officers carried .40 caliber Glocks loaded with Speer 180 gr. Gold Dot ammo, and Hornady TAP 75 gr. .223 caliber (and SWAT employed 55 gr. TAP) from their AR15s.
  • The suspect carried a single .45 caliber handgun.
  • 107 .40 cal and .223 cal rounds were fired by two officers.  The third was wounded in the initial ambush.
  • The assailant fired 26 rounds, and reloaded his magazine from loose rounds during the firefight.
  • The suspect was hit 17 times, with 11 rounds exiting his body.
  • The suspect’s right arm (humerus) was broken by a .40 cal. bullet after all .223 ammo was expended.
  • The incident lasted approximately three-and-one-half minutes.
  • Even with all of his wounds, the officers were forced to fight the suspect into handcuffs before he expired.
  • The suspect had trace amounts of marijuana in his system. 

What is important are the conclusions the officers and agency came to as a result of the shooting:

  • The .40 caliber ammo “failed” and “did not cause incapacitation” which is the opposite conclusion the FBI came to:  the .40 caliber ammo was effective, and the .223 ammunition "failed" based on their gelatin "standards.'

The question was then asked by someone in the long line of forwards, “If the ammo did not fail why did they have to fight the (S) (Suspect) after he was hit 17 times?...Wonder what the real truth is…"

To answer this question, we must remember there are only four ways to stop a human being:

  1. Mechanically.  His bones are broken and he can no longer stand up.  If he continues to be motivated (see "Psychologically" below), though, he may continue to fight/shoot even though immobilized and on the ground.
  2. Electrically.  His CNS is disrupted (brain, spine, or motor nerves are disrupted).  Dr. Martin Fackler, M.D., stated that "any bullet entering the brain" immediately disrupts a human's ability to act.  Hits to the spine cut the body's ability to send motor nerve impulses to the hands and legs, causing the body to fall.  If the spine is severed high enough, the hands stop functioning. 
  3. Hydraulically.  He bleeds out sufficiently to cause unconsciousness.
  4. Psychologically.  He doesn’t want to be in a gunfight/fight any longer and quits.
  • NOTE:  This is not about "killing" the subject.  It is about stopping the "imminent threat" of the individual.  If he dies or does not is not relevant to the importance of stopping the threat by fire.

So, with the above in mind, there are only three requirements necessary to end a gunfight when the opponent doesn’t want to (and won’t) quit (psychological):

  1. Bullet placement.
  2. Bullet placement.
  3. Bullet placement.

What is the most reliable way to stop someone? Put a bullet through the brain or spine.  The problem with either or both of these targets?  They are small targets.  They are relatively easy to hit on the square range with rounds going in one direction only and with sufficient time.  However, when bullets are in the air (these being bi-directional during an exchange of fire) with a corresponding overwhelming perception of high threat to one’s self, those "easy" shots on the shooting range generally become very difficult.  The higher the perception of threat, the greater the difficulty. 

The easiest human target to hit?  Upper thorax and/or pelvis.  The problem?  These targets requires him to bleed out (unless the spine is hit through the thorax), which may take your lifetime before he can no longer fight.  

  • NOTE:  A pelvis hit with rifle fire is semi-reliable to fracture hip or pelvis (mechanical) and is likely to put him down as well as make him bleed out (hydraulic), whereas a pelvis shot with a handgun generally does not break the pelvis or hip, but is often fatal due to bleeding out (hydraulic). 

So you want to stop a bad guy from shooting you?  

  • Hit him in a place in his body that disrupts his ability to continue to be an imminent threat.  This wound affects the mechanical, electrical, or hydraulic function of the body.  Until that happens, he can keep going until he wants to stop. 
  • A "psychological stop" cannot be predicted or counted upon. 
  • A "hydraulic stop" can take a very long time (every tenth of a second that he continues to fire is "a very long time" when the bullets are coming at you).  During that time, he remains a threat to your life, and may kill you.
  • The only reliable stop is the "electrical stop," but it requires a bullet strike through very small, hard to hit targets.  
  • The concept of “accuracy” is context specific.  On the square range, tight groups on the target is the premium.  In shooting at an imminent threat, it is actually beneficial to have a three to five inch spread between rounds to maximize the wounding potential, resulting in injury to a wider range of organs. 
  • “Speed is fine; accuracy is final” (Wyatt Earp) is as true as anything can be.  Striving to be “first” is important, but what does that mean?  Getting the first shot off is impressive, and may be fatal to you.  Strive to be the first to hit the target in a vital area.  Hitting is the name of this game, as slow as you have to to hit and no faster.  
  • The more hits you have on important structures (brain, spine, upper thorax, femoral triangle, pelvis, etc.), the more quickly he will likely stop.
  • Discipline your training and slow your rate of fire to ensure sufficient hits with combat accuracy.  Forget "hammered pairs," "double-taps," and other "game" related activities.  Continuously fire on the Threat until he is no longer an "imminent threat to life." 

We hear in the question, “If the ammo did not fail, why…”, a question that everyone wants to resolve at some point in their shooting life:  what is the “best” ammo to use to save my life?”  One simple answer is, "The round you have in your chamber right now."  Even if you had a magical magazine that held an unlimited number of rounds, that would be a good of example of every blessing being a potential curse:  would that "unlimited" number of rounds result in an unlimited number of hits, or would it assure that you would get on that trigger like never before and hope that a wall of bullets would do the job?  The best strategy is to fight with the round in your chamber and put that one bullet through a target that disrupts his imminent threat. Then fight with the next.  And the next.  Strive to hit him with every round until he goes down and is no longer a threat.

We all want the “silver-life-snuffer-magic-bullet."  This isn’t going to happen with present technology (OK, .50 cal BMG round, but I’m not carrying a Barrett in my hip pocket—Dang!).  While some handgun bullets may be statistically better than others, most bullets are going to do the job sufficiently well to eventually kill an assailant (it should be remembered that the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office approved the use of hollow points because it was proven that hollow points stopped fights more quickly while full metal jackets were more  likely to eventually kill the suspect).  As Cutting Edge Training teaches in our firearms and knife classes, “All bullet wounds and knife wounds eventually stop bleeding.”  If you want to do it faster, there are the three requirements necessary to ending a gunfight that must occur (see the list above if you don’t remember).  

Stop blaming your ammo for any alleged failure to stop.  A .22LR in the right spot is an immediate fight stopper.  A .22Short pistol in the hands of a motivated and skilled shooter is a scary opponent.  If you have reliable ammo (it feeds every time, and goes “bang” when it should), forget about the ammo you are carrying.  9mm vs. .40 vs. .45?  Big holes are a little better than little holes.  However, we are talking about a difference of only 1/10 of an inch between the 9mm and .45.  The only difference in effectiveness is where that bullet is placed and what it passes through in the body.  A .45 through the outside of the thigh with no bone involvement will not stop the fight faster than a 9mm through the heart or the eye.  Bullet placement...Bullet placement...Bullet placement...  Forget “shooting” and begin “hitting.”

That my friend, is “what the real truth is.”