WC...I would take exception with recommending a .38 as a guaranteed knock down. Very few police agencies use that particular round any longer because it does not have the ballistics with that profile. There have been numerous accounts of a .38 being deflected by a windshield of a car! A .357 is a much more potent round, though it is hard to beat a .45 for all around knock down power.
If you like the simplicity and reliability of revolvers but want more power than a .38, there are also .44 Specials (there are a few snub nosed models out there), and some revolvers use .45 ACP with moon clips....but none of the ones I am aware of are as light or compact as the .38s for a lady to carry about her person.....
....but anyone that expects a guaranteed knockdown with a pistol round is misinformed. It is simple physics: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. For a round to pack enough power to knock down an assailant, it would have to exert an equal amount of force on the shooter at the moment of firing.
Here is an email message written by Don Kates, who has been a very strong defender of our civil rights, from the 2nd Amendment, to helping draft the Civil Rights Act back in the '60s.
Stopping power is the term often used to describe the capacity of a
firearm to incapacitate an attacker when he is shot. For at least 40
years gun writers have been absorbed with the issue of which handgun has
stopping power or superior stopping power. My conclusion from
researching the subject and consulting physicians and other experts is
that no ordinary firearm has dependable stopping power.
Before proceeding to address this, it is important also to clarify
that I am talking about real physical stopping power not mere
psychological stopping power. Physical stopping power means that being
hit made the assailant physically incapable of continuing his attack.
Mere psychological stopping power is when the attacker says to himself,
"oh God, I’ve been shot" and lies down to die or be taken to a hospital.
Psychological stops are probably more likely if the hit was with a . 45
ACP than with a .22 short, but can happen with either or any caliber in
Massad Ayoob has autopsy photos of an offender who tried to outrun
two Illinois state officers who were armed with 15-shot 9 mms. The
photos show the offender having been hit 37 times between his head and
his crotch. But he only stopped running when he bled out.
Numerous comparable incidents may be cited. Of course advocates of
the . 45 ACP will dismiss them all as just proving the 9 mms.’
ineffectiveness. Well, I am aware of an incident in which an officer
survived being shot in the forehead with a .45 because the slug bounced
Or, consider the following case from my career as a lawyer. The
offender was a skinny man of ordinary height who was neither drunk nor
on drugs. But he was very, very angrily engaged in a neighborhood
dispute. When my client and other officers attempted to search him he
drew a Llama .380 which he picked up again after one officer knocked it
from his hand. Unbeknownst to anyone, when the Llama fell it struck a
rock which actuated its Colt-type magazine release, ejecting the slide
and rendering the weapon inoperative because of its magazine safety. My
client shot him eight times in the torso with a .45 ACP (1911A1). My
client then took cover because the offender was still standing, pointing
the Llama and vainly pulling its trigger. Eventually he lay down and
died, having bled out.
"Well," you say, "your client should have been using hollow points ."
Massad cites the following incident: NYPD, having reason to believe
that a certain store was going to be held up, planted a shotgun-armed
officer in a concealed position in the store. When a robber entered the
store and pointed a handgun at the proprietor, the officer appeared from
hiding and ordered him to drop the gun. Instead he turned thereby
pointing his gun at the officer from a sideways position. The officer
fired and the 12 gauge slug entered the robber's body through the arm
pit , transited his chest (missing the heart) and exited from his other
armpit breaking his arm. The robber got back up and ran two blocks,
stopping only when the pursuing officer tackled him from behind.
Incidentally, the robber survived.
An account of conduct for which the Congressional Medal of Honor was
awarded provides the ultimate refutation of the idea of physical
stopping power. A W.W.II soldier stepped on a mine which blew his feet
off. He nevertheless advanced on his stumps, killing Germans until he
WWII also provides an ultimate proof of the concept of psychological
stopping power. On autopsy, from one to three percent of deceased
soldiers were determined not to have been wounded at all. They had
apparently died just from the effects of psychological stress.
"Knock-down" power is a term also sometimes used to describe a
firearm’s capacity to incapacitate an attacker. But, we know that no
firearm has literal "knock down" power. Given Newton’s Law about "equal
and opposite reaction", if a firearm had power enough to knock someone
down, discharging it would generate a recoil which would knock down the
person firing it.
My conclusion that no handgun is powerful enough to physically stop
an assailant comes from Col. Martin Fackler , M.D., a battle surgeon and
world class expert who until his retirement headed the Armed Forces’ Wound Ballistics Laboratory . He cites an instance in which a victim shot
at short range with a shotgun had his heart shredded yet managed to run
60 feet before collapsing.
Now technically there is a place on the body where a bullet strike
may immediately physically stop an assailant. A bullet that penetrates
through the eye and into the brain will shut everything down
immediately. Note that that is ANY bullet. A .22 will do it just as
reliably as a .45. The problem is that no one is trained for that kind
of shooting because it just isn’t practical. The brain is a very small
and difficult target and people engaged in violent confrontations are
liable to be moving their heads around. If you strike the head area and
do not penetrate the brain, a terrible wound is likely, but not an
immediately incapacitating wound.
So defensive gun training emphasizes shooting for "the center of
mass ." i.e. the torso. Well, you may ask, a shot in the torso can strike
the heart and won’t that immediately incapacitate the attacker?
No, it will not! A person hit in the heart has as much as 30 seconds
to live which is enough time to get off multiple aimed shots – and there
are many incidents in which this has been done.
And, of course, many times shots to the torso miss the heart even
though penetrating the lungs or other vital areas. That means that the
shot inflicts a possibly mortal wound. Yet that may do you no good if he
retains the capacity to inflict a mortal wound on you.
Col. Fackler cites the experience of hunters that often animals shot
through the heart nevertheless remain able to run for hundreds of feet.
Attesting to his own experience he writes: "I live on a 90 acre farm. I
lease 75 acres to a farmer who has about 30 breeding beef cows and one
bull. Two years ago, coyotes killed two of his newborn calves. So I put
my 6PPC benchrest rifle on a sandbag just inside the glass door of my
glassed-in back porch. Happened to spot a coyote walking across the
pasture, I opened the door and she stopped long enough for me to get off
a shot. She ran for about 30 yards and then collapsed. It was a 35 lb
female, shot in the heart at 230 yds.
"Some years ago I hit a deer just forward of its heart with a .30-06
165 gr. This is 4-5 times the energy of a potent handgun round. It
severed all the blood vessels from heart to brain, and left about a 2"
exit hole. The deer still ran about 30-40 yds before collapsing.
"I was told some years ago that FBI had a training program of some
manner, one focus of which was ‘just because you're shot doesn't mean
you're dead.’ It was an effort to counteract by training the natural
response to being hit, which is to collapse regardless of whether the
wound is physically incapacitating or not."
In late 2009 wrote I an essay supporting an heretical (to many gun
owners) theme: "My conclusion from researching the subject and
consulting physicians and other experts is that no ordinary firearm has
dependable stopping power."
[NOTE: This does not mean that handguns are useless for self-defense.
Criminals are looking for the vulnerable and the helpless. In the great
majority of cases when a victim pulls a gun, criminals flee. They have
no interest in a gunfight. It puts them at two terrific disadvantages:
1) gunfire brings police attention; 2) if criminals are wounded they
either forego medical attention or go to a hospital and then to jail.]
My negative conclusion about stopping power and many of my facts
came from the research of retired Col. Martin Fackler, MD, an
experienced combat surgeon who after Vietnam went on to found and head
the Armed Forces Wound Ballistics Laboratory. He has now written me
correcting some of my statements. Here is his letter:
First, your 12th paragraph (ANY bullet in the head will
incapacitate, etc): If you write "most center-fire rifle bullets that
enter the central area of cranium, at a range under 100 yards, will
immediately incapacitate"; you come a lot closer to the truth. If you
wish, I can possibly find the reference, in the medical literature, to
collected head shots -- as I recall it was from a source in Europe, in
the past two decades I think --in which more than a few shots, from
handgun bullets, that penetrated the cranium did not cause immediate
Recounting instances of multiple-shot-outcomes misses the point:
which is what structures were disrupted by the shots? Go to an anatomy
text and find a view of the human body from the front -- in which all
the organs, bones, blood vessels, etc. are shown. Then note how much of
the body's frontal area a bullet could hit and pass through without
hitting any significant blood vessels (the heart is a modified blood
vessel), the brain, or the spinal cord (or bone of the spine within an
inch of the cord). Certainly it is more than 75%. All those shots
through loops of bowel, lungs, the liver, kidneys, spleen, various
muscles, etc. can't be counted on to cause the determined assailant to
stop his aggression in the next few minutes. Even shots hitting big
blood vessels, with the possible exception of putting a large hole (at
least half the diameter of the vessel) through the aorta in the chest
are unlikely to stop aggression in less than a minute.
I would add to the FBI doctrine: "if he still has a gun when he hits
the ground you might want to continue firing; and certainly if he points
it at you while on the ground - fire!
Better than Newton, simply ask how many deer get knocked down by
rifle bullet hits? In my meager experience of shooting six of the small
German Reh deer through the big blood vessels just north of the heart
(German hunters sell the meat -- and the heart is meat) with a .243
Winchester --all just ran off giving no indication of being hit --to be
found dead within 100 yards. In no case was a deer's body displaced
noticeably by the bullet.
Suggest any doubters prove it to themselves by filling a large sack with
160 lb of dirt, hanging it from a tree limb, noting how easy it is to
move with a shove from your hand, steadying it, and shooting it. They
will observe the lack of significant movement.
Pete Kasler shows photos of shots into a 170 lb free swinging bag
shot with a 10mm handgun bullet at a distance of a few feet: the max
rearward deflection was "about 3/4 inch." (Kasler PA, Business Partners, Paladin Press , 1991, pp 12-13).
The Am Rifleman demonstrated this lack of movement, as I recall, in
1906. They cut out two frontal outlines of a human body from plywood;
spaced them about 8 inches apart, and put in some side walls; filled it
with sand, and glued it to a small platform which had roller skates on
its undersurface. Hits from a 30-06 moved it about two inches.
Here are some stories that I collected from the former Chief of the
CA Narcotic Bureau.
In one shoot-out, a .38 special round passed through the offender’s
neck w/o harming the offender; he was also shot in the chest and through
the mouth knocking 5-6 teeth out. When the chief arrived some minutes
later the offender was standing up conversing with the cops.
One narcotics officer managed to shoot himself in shin w/ a .45. The
bullet broke his shin but did not immediately disable him and caused no
In another incident an offender drew a gun and fired at an officer
in the front seat, hitting him in the back but not stopping him. Another
officer managed to shoot the offender through the eye w/ a .45. This did
not stop the offender who had to be subdued. He lived to go back to prison.
Two incidents w/ my friend: In 1970 two offenders who belatedly
realized he was a cop shot him four times, twice w/ a .45 and twice w/ a
.38. None of the shots stopped him and he noticed no difference between
the .45 and .38 wounds.
In 1974 he and several officers shot it out w/ three offenders. None
of the .45 wounds the officers inflicted stopped the offenders. One of
the offenders did not even realize he had been hit until he saw blood –
at which point he collapsed. (Psychological stopping power.)