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Thread: Lethality of Handgun Calibers?

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    Lethality of Handgun Calibers?

    I read one time, somewhere on the internet, that the best way to understand the lethality of a caliber is to understand the energy it creates.

    I can't remember the formula, but it was explained that greater bullet mass creates more energy that can then be transferred once the bullet strikes an object. For example, a car and a baseball could be traveling at the same speed. But since a car has more mass, it transfers more energy when it hits an object, thus creating greater carnage.

    I see and hear debates all the time about 9mm versus 40. versus .45. I understand that a bigger bullet makes a bigger hole, etc. Many people argue, however, that a proper 9mm hollowpoint can be nearly as effective as a .45. But haven't we forgot about the energy a bullet creates. Doesn't a .45 transfer more energy because it has more mass? And doesn't more energy mean more lethality?

    Could someone tell me if all this is true or not? Also, why is this rarely brought up?

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    Handguns poke holes, rifles tear shit up.

    Best short explanation I was ever given.

    Try looking at the stickied threads the Doc has provided.
    Last edited by Heavy Metal; 07-01-11 at 11:32.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Leonidas77 View Post
    I read one time, somewhere on the internet, that the best way to understand the lethality of a caliber is to understand the energy it creates.

    I can't remember the formula, but it was explained that greater bullet mass creates more energy that can then be transferred once the bullet strikes an object. For example, a car and a baseball could be traveling at the same speed. But since a car has more mass, it transfers more energy when it hits an object, thus creating greater carnage.

    I see and hear debates all the time about 9mm versus 40. versus .45. I understand that a bigger bullet makes a bigger hole, etc. Many people argue, however, that a proper 9mm hollowpoint can be nearly as effective as a .45. But haven't we forgot about the energy a bullet creates. Doesn't a .45 transfer more energy because it has more mass? And doesn't more energy mean more lethality?

    Could someone tell me if all this is true or not? Also, why is this rarely brought up?
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    Mass of the bullet is not the all important factor in hurting people that many think it is. After all, a .308 which is smaller in diameter and mass than a .40 or .45, but which would you rather get shot with? id rather get shot with any handgun caliber over a rifle regardless of actual bullet size. Bullet shape and velocity are important as well. Im no ballistics expert but there is more to it then the size of the bullet.

    People say that bullets poke holes in people so pick a bullet that pokes the biggest hole. What they mean is the biggest diameter hole. What about the deepest hole? What about the most ragged? What about the one that makes it easier to get more then one hole? What about the one that pokes holes in the best spots?

    I don't have it all figured out but i think theres a lot more to the equation then your typical person thinks.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Leonidas77 View Post
    I read one time, somewhere on the internet,
    Is that not how all the best threads start?
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    Quote Originally Posted by NeoNeanderthal View Post
    Mass of the bullet is not the all important factor in hurting people that many think it is. After all, a .308 which is smaller in diameter and mass than a .40 or .45, but which would you rather get shot with? id rather get shot with any handgun caliber over a rifle regardless of actual bullet size. Bullet shape and velocity are important as well. Im no ballistics expert but there is more to it then the size of the bullet.

    People say that bullets poke holes in people so pick a bullet that pokes the biggest hole. What they mean is the biggest diameter hole. What about the deepest hole? What about the most ragged? What about the one that makes it easier to get more then one hole? What about the one that pokes holes in the best spots?

    I don't have it all figured out but i think theres a lot more to the equation then your typical person thinks.

    I understand what you're saying. I'm just trying to figure this out.

    When people talk about rifle calibers, the discussion usually leads to velocity. This is simply the other half of the equation because velocity creates energy as well.

    But it's not the same with pistol calibers. Usually they just talk about the diameter of the hole being created and I feel it's more complicated than that.

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    You're talking about the formula for kinetic energy=0.5Mass * Velocity^2.

    Kinetic energy doesn't equate to lethality though all other things being equal the more kinetic energy, the more damage.

    This is one of myriad factors that make up terminal performance. You have crush, you have tear, you have fragmentation, you have expansion and each of these impacts the other.

    Don't get wrapped around the axle the biggest factor involved in lethality is whether you can put the bullet where you should.

    A hit with a .22LR is a lot more "lethal" than a miss with a .50BMG.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Leonidas77 View Post
    . But haven't we forgot about the energy a bullet creates. Doesn't a .45 transfer more energy because it has more mass? And doesn't more energy mean more lethality?

    Could someone tell me if all this is true or not? Also, why is this rarely brought up?
    This information is from tests done in the 70's. There isn't a whole lot of difference in energy lost between the largest and the smallest of the non expanding test rounds.

    Comparison of the Wounding Effects of Commercially Available Handgun Ammunition Suitable for Police Use

    Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences
    Dallas Texas


    Energy lost when fired through 20% gelatin blocks 10 degrees C
    Blocks 16cm Height 16cm wwidth 15cm depth


    Service Automatics: muzzel vel energy lost

    9mm winchester 115fmj rn 1132 107
    9mm remington 124fmj rn 1108 110
    9mm s&w 115fmj-swc 1160 176
    9mm remington 115jhp 1196 330

    45acp remington 230fmj rn 812 117


    Service Revolver:

    38spec remingtom 158rnl 789 72
    38spec winchester 158swc 930 136
    38spec western 150mt 972 136


    Small Automatics:

    380acp winchester 95fmj 866 74
    32 acp remington 71fmj 912 66

    25 acp remington 50fmj 774 47
    22 lr winchester 40rnl 955 67

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    Quote Originally Posted by Leonidas77 View Post
    I read one time, somewhere on the internet, that the best way to understand the lethality of a caliber is to understand the energy it creates.

    I can't remember the formula, but it was explained that greater bullet mass creates more energy that can then be transferred once the bullet strikes an object. For example, a car and a baseball could be traveling at the same speed. But since a car has more mass, it transfers more energy when it hits an object, thus creating greater carnage.

    I see and hear debates all the time about 9mm versus 40. versus .45. I understand that a bigger bullet makes a bigger hole, etc. Many people argue, however, that a proper 9mm hollowpoint can be nearly as effective as a .45. But haven't we forgot about the energy a bullet creates. Doesn't a .45 transfer more energy because it has more mass? And doesn't more energy mean more lethality?

    Could someone tell me if all this is true or not? Also, why is this rarely brought up?
    1. Energy is not "created". Energy is a byproduct of mass and velocity.

    2. Energy isn't "transferred" by the bullet because it doesn't "strike" an object the way a car would hit a brick wall. Tissue is elastic in nature, and a bullet striking it is akin to a person doing a cannon ball into a pool.

    What this means is that energy is not transferred in one sudden shock on impact. It is bled off slowly as the kinetic energy in the bullet is expended overcoming the resistance value of the tissue it is passing through. It takes X amount of energy to pass through 1cm of flesh, and the bullet loses that amount of energy after passing through said 1cm.

    3. No, more energy does not mean more lethality. A pistol does not generate significant enough velocity and thus temporary cavitation in tissue to overcome the tissue's inherent elasticity. A rifle is capable of doing massive damage in tissue because it is traveling at a great enough speed that the shock wave overcomes the elastic capabilities of tissue and damages it.

    In handguns, the ONLY mechanisms that count with regards to "lethality" are their ability to penetrate deeply enough to reach vital organs, and to leave a large enough wound channel behind to allow quick loss of blood. Going back to the elastic nature of tissue, a handgun bullet does not leave a permanent cavity that is caliber sized. The tissue closes in on itself after the bullet has passed. Ball ammunition, because of the fact that it stretches tissue to a maximum amount before piercing leaves behind a smaller permanent cavity than a flat-faced wadcutter or expanded hollowpoint which tears, crushes, and punches through tissue more like a blunt object at a much earlier point in the elastic stretch cycle, thus leaving a larger comparative permanent cavity.

    9mm Hollowpoints are as effective as the .45 ACP bullet because they will equally crush and leave behind a bleeding temporary cavity. In the real world, the damage done by each of the major calibers is close enough to equal that there is no huge divide in effectiveness and each will do the job.

    4. It's not brought up because it's irrelevant, has been argued more times than copies of the bibles in the world, and is based on an incomplete understanding of the way the bullets work against tissue and what actually does the damage.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DeltaKilo View Post
    1. Energy is not "created". Energy is a byproduct of mass and velocity.

    2. Energy isn't "transferred" by the bullet because it doesn't "strike" an object the way a car would hit a brick wall. Tissue is elastic in nature, and a bullet striking it is akin to a person doing a cannon ball into a pool.

    What this means is that energy is not transferred in one sudden shock on impact. It is bled off slowly as the kinetic energy in the bullet is expended overcoming the resistance value of the tissue it is passing through. It takes X amount of energy to pass through 1cm of flesh, and the bullet loses that amount of energy after passing through said 1cm.

    3. No, more energy does not mean more lethality. A pistol does not generate significant enough velocity and thus temporary cavitation in tissue to overcome the tissue's inherent elasticity. A rifle is capable of doing massive damage in tissue because it is traveling at a great enough speed that the shock wave overcomes the elastic capabilities of tissue and damages it.

    In handguns, the ONLY mechanisms that count with regards to "lethality" are their ability to penetrate deeply enough to reach vital organs, and to leave a large enough wound channel behind to allow quick loss of blood. Going back to the elastic nature of tissue, a handgun bullet does not leave a permanent cavity that is caliber sized. The tissue closes in on itself after the bullet has passed. Ball ammunition, because of the fact that it stretches tissue to a maximum amount before piercing leaves behind a smaller permanent cavity than a flat-faced wadcutter or expanded hollowpoint which tears, crushes, and punches through tissue more like a blunt object at a much earlier point in the elastic stretch cycle, thus leaving a larger comparative permanent cavity.

    9mm Hollowpoints are as effective as the .45 ACP bullet because they will equally crush and leave behind a bleeding temporary cavity. In the real world, the damage done by each of the major calibers is close enough to equal that there is no huge divide in effectiveness and each will do the job.

    4. It's not brought up because it's irrelevant, has been argued more times than copies of the bibles in the world, and is based on an incomplete understanding of the way the bullets work against tissue and what actually does the damage.
    Thank you. That's the answer I needed. I appreciate all the help.

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