A 16-year veteran police officer who has spent the last few years as a crime scene investigator offers up his observations from actual shootings:
I’m not a researcher, nor an authority on anything. I have, however, investigated conservatively hundreds of shooting scenes where no one was hit, at least one person was hit, and/or at least one person was killed as a result of being shot. Another duty of my position is to observe, document, and collect physical evidence at autopsies — of which I have also participated in hundreds.
My observations are not revolutionary, and in fact have confirmed what many other legitimate studies have stated. I have become concerned, however, with some internet postings that I have seen (not on [Glock Talk] so far) from others who claim to be in the same or similar field but report very different observations. While I do not claim to be an expert, my observations have been consistent enough to make me suspicious of reports so markedly outside of what I have observed.
Nearly all of our shootings are what could be called “criminal vs. criminal”.
Also let me state that this will be a fairly limited in calibers discussed. Where I am employed, shootings are common but calibers seem to be fairly limited. While some claim to regularly observe shootings in every caliber available, the miscreants in my locale seem to be less diversified. The overwhelming majority of handgun rounds I see used are .40 S&W, 9 mm Luger (9×19 mm), and .45 ACP — in that order. .22 LR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .380 ACP (9X17 mm), .38 SPL, .357 MAG, 10 mm, etc. do pop up with some regularity, but the first three probably constitute 80%+ of handgun rounds observed.
I do not have the numbers, but I would guess that more than 25% of our shootings also involve rifles of either .223 Rem (5.56 mm) [e.g. AR-15] or 7.62×39 mm [e.g. AK-47], with the 7.62 mm being the more popular of the two. 12-gauge shotguns also come into play with varying frequency. The only times I have observed the use of “high-power” hunting rifles has been in suicide investigations, perhaps 5 or 6; all were contact wounds and all were, I’m sure, instantly incapacitating — to say the least.
First off, as a crime scene investigator, I investigate shootings where those individuals struck survive their wounds, something I rarely see discussed in these topics. Perhaps my area is just fortunate, but far more people survive being shot than die from their wounds — this includes rifle rounds.
It seems that when people discuss these topics they assume that a hit from a rifle round is assuredly fatal. I’m sure that many of our returning service men who have had the misfortune of experiencing this could point out the error of this belief. Perhaps unfortunately so could many of the “legality-challenged” that roam America’s streets.
What I have observed is that a miss with a .22 short is just as effective as a miss with a .30-06, or rather, a miss with a .30-06 is no more effective than a miss with a .22 short.
Only hits count.
I learned to shoot pistols with my father’s .45 ACP Colt 1911A1 when I could barely hold it up by myself. By my mid-teens I was competing with custom 1911′s and believed that this was the only “real” handgun and caliber. I also became acquainted with the writings of Col.Jeff Cooper, who further reinforced this belief.
In my mid-twenties, when I went nuts and left a very good white-collar desk job to answer the call of the wild and became a police officer, I was appalled to learn that the department issued 9 mm handguns. I was given the option of providing my own handgun if it was from a short list of quality makes in 9 mm, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP — at which I began to carry my beloved late ’80′s vintage SigSauer P220.
Over the next few years I would see many, many shootings that would begin to challenge my belief about terminal ballistics in the real world. Most of the shootings that occur in my jurisdiction do not involve anyone actually being struck. We joke about how high our homicide rate would be if the miscreants could actual hit anything!
The vast majority of “hits” we see are superficial and usually to the extremities. I don’t know how common this is, but here many, if not most of our “shooting victims” are struck in the feet, legs, and/or buttocks — especially the buttocks. This goes for both fatal and non-fatal shootings.
Contrary to what I have seen posted elsewhere, there is no difference in effect between 9 mm, 40 S&W, and .45 ACP in these strikes. All do equal soft tissue damage and all break struck bones (including the femur) with equal ease.
I read a posting where it was said that 9 mm will glance off of, or be deflected by, bones. Certainly it will, as will .40 S&W, .45 ACP, and 7 mm Remington Magnum if they hit at the right angle. I have never seen 9mm fail to penetrate or break bones where either .40 S&W or .45 ACP would not have.
Also, soft tissue damage in these areas with both .223 and 7.62×39 mm is indistinguishable from 9 mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP, except that the .223 hole is noticeably smaller. (No magical “hydrostatic shock” has been observed.)
When the rifle rounds hit bone, however, it is a different story. Even the puny .223 striking a leg or arm bone can be quiet dramatic — sending sharp bone fragments at high velocity through surrounding tissue. I have on more than one occasion observed such bone fragments deeply embedded into nearby auto body panels, sheet-rock, etc.
As a rule, at anything beyond contact range, bullets cause (more or less) only simple laceration, either directly, or by secondary projectiles.
Proximal or immediately associated death/incapacitation is caused by either physical destruction of or “disconnecting” the Central Nervous System, or rapid drop in blood pressure in the circulatory system.
Every proximal shooting death (as in “now”, not “later” due to complications) I have ever observed was a result of what was actually hit by either the bullet, a bullet fragment, or a secondary projectile such as a bone fragment. The effective hits are either to a major vein or artery, lungs, heart, liver, kidneys, spleen, brain, or spinal cord.
I’ve never seen a miss with a 9mm of one of these structures that would have been a hit with a .45 ACP.
.223 and 7.62 mm have a higher probability of causing bone fragments, but misses with these rounds prove no more effective than with the handgun rounds (again, no magical “hydrostatic-shock” observed to compensate for a near miss).
Side note: While bullet fragmentation and bone fragments can prove fatal, they are also erratic and unpredictable. To say the least, you can not count on a fragment making up for poor shot placement.
In general, lacerating, severing, tearing, puncturing, etc. major veins or arteries, lungs, hearts, livers, kidneys, spleens, brains, or spinal cords with cause a very rapid incapacitation.
Humans, however, can vary quite a bit. I have read in various academic journals and case studies of individuals surviving what are widely medically considered to be “Non-Survivable Wounds” (commonly NSWs). And certainly there are many, many records of people doing great damage and even killing others after they themselves had suffered a mortal wound (the famous FBI “Miami Shoot-out” comes to mind).
I have seen people who were DRT (Dead Right There — instantly killed) with a single hit to the lungs, kidneys, or spleen by a 9 mm, and others all but seemingly unaffected by the same hits with everything up to 7.62 mm.
I have personally worked two cases where individuals were not incapacitated by bullet strikes through the brain. One was a man who was walking around cussing and clutching his forehead where he had been struck by a 7.62×39 mm round — the bullet exiting through the back of his skull. At the hospital it was determined that the bullet had in fact pierced and traveled through the length of the left hemisphere of the man’s brain — yet he appeared to be unaffected. Several hours later he developed complications from this injury and subsequently died as a result. None the less, for several hours after this injury, he was able to “be in the fight”.
The second individual was struck in the side of the head just above and behind the ear by a 9 mm round that exited above and behind the ear on the opposite side. This man also never lost consciousness and was released from the hospital the following day. As far as I know he is still alive today.