The Yankee Marshal Says .45 ACP Sucks

Oh, boy here we go again. The Great Caliber DebateTM.

If there is one thing I hate it’s The Great Caliber DebateTM. To me it’s a pointless exercise that tends to fall into a debate where a proponent of a certain caliber that wants to reinforce his or her choice of carry caliber. Honestly I don’t have much of a dog in this fight. I’ve carried .38 Special, 9mm, .40 S&W, as well as .45 ACP over the years and I tend to lean towards not just a caliber that I’m comfortable with but a firearm, loading, and magazines, that I’ve found to be reliable and that I’m accurate with. I prefer short, light triggers in hammer fired guns over longer striker fired ones. I like sightly heavier firearms to help control recoil, I favor rounds that have passed the FBI ballistics testing and I prefer full-sized handguns. However, I’m skinny, good a hiding a full-sized handgun, and I live in a state where I’m unlikely to have someone, officer or civilian, freak out on me over having a firearm and printing. I’m not everyone so what works for me may not, and probably won’t, work for you. For me having something that I’m a good shot with is more important than deep concealment.

To me whatever you feel comfortable carrying is the best, however The Yankee Marshal makes some salient points about the .45 ACP. While I generally like his tongue in cheek videos I believe that this is one of his more serious ones, and I’m going to treat this as more than just clickbait. So today I thought I’d take a look at his video and give some rebuttal to them with not only critique but some hard data as well.

But before we begin, let’s let the speaker negating the resolution speak first and then I shall give the rebuttal.

Yankee, the floor is yours.

 

Knock down power

Ah “knock down power”. In handguns this is a myth, the energy imparted from getting hit from a handgun will never have enough force to knock down someone, as anyone with some decent level of experience with firearms will tell you. Even a rifle or shotgun round will not send people flying hollywood style. Yankee is correct about this and let’s look at some raw data and compare apples to apples for a few popular choices for self-defense ammo. For the sake of brevity we will be looking at muzzle velocity since, as the old adage goes, “Gunfights happen in three feet, three seconds, and three shots” and looking at extreme distances would be outside the scope of the article since we are talking about defensive handgun use.

Let’s compare some muzzle velocities and foot pounds of force.

Winchester PDX1

Caliber Weight (Grains) Velocity (FPS) Energy (Ft/lbs)
380 Auto 95 1000 211
9mm 147 954* 326
9mm +P 124 1095* 396
.357 SIG 125 1332 506
.40 S&W 180 968* 420
.40 S&W 165 1049* 476
.45 ACP 230 882* 432

*Some muzzle velocity information is missing on Winchester’s website and has been replaced with the closest distance velocity provided

Federal HST

Caliber Weight (Grains) Velocity (FPS) Force (Ft/lbs)
380 Auto 99 1030 233
9mm 124 1150 364
9mm 150 900 270
.40 S&W 180 1010 408
.45 ACP 230 890 404

Hornady Critical Duty

Caliber Weight (Grains) Velocity (FPS) Force (Ft/lbs)
9mm 135 1010 306
9mm +P 135 1110 369
.357 SIG 135 1225 450
.40 S&W 175 1010 396
10mm 175 1160 523
.45 ACP +P 220 975 464
So what can we see? No the .45 ACP does not have the most “knock down power” across the board when comparing the same loadings from the same manufacturer. However we are looking at a relatively small difference. As I’ve said before when it comes to “knock down power” no handgun has enough force to guarantee that someone will stop unless there is a central nervous system hit that immediately shuts down some critical function. The same goes for rifle rounds as well, shot placement is king.

Depth Of Penetration

One issue brought up by the Yankee Marshal is penetration with the .45 ACP. Since the FBI established testing protocols of minimum penetration through barriers such as thick denim clothing and other barriers just about all acceptable defensive loadings have been designed around this minimum standard of performance. This has made handgun caliber selection of defensive loadings a largely academic exercise if we are talking about depth of penetration. Admittedly the human body is a very different thing to a gel block and will cause a bullet to behave very differently. However if we are talking about a .45 ACP loading that has met the penetration depth requirements, through heavy denim, and still expands reliably to the desired depths, why would we assume that replacing that round with a 9mm would have any difference? If a .45 ACP failed, why assume that a 9mm would be any better in that situation?

While I don’t like playing the game of hypotheticals, my point with this section is that there are plenty of .45 ACP loadings that meet FBI standards and assuming that they will fail to penetrate when a 9mm, or a .40 S&W would not, seems like an incorrect assumption. Thick clothing is not going to stop a well made .45 ACP loading, it’s a non sequitur.

Capacity

For me capacity is not a huge issue. If my magazine capacity is lower, I simply carry a couple of extra mags. Especially with single stack firearms this does not add much weight or bulk. However there are other reasons why capacity is something I look at as more of a luxury than a must have. Handgun calibers across the board have a fairly comparable rate of accuracy and “stopping power”, be it from a small .22 LR or a large-caliber .44 Magnum. Again accuracy and shot placement are king. If you can’t hit the broadside of a barn with a pocket .380 what’s the point? Furthermore, the average number of rounds to incapacitation is roughly two rounds for all handgun calibers.

Below is a comparison of various handgun calibers and their real world effectiveness. Greg Ellifritz did a comparison of almost 1800 different shootings and published his results on Buckeye Firearms.org. I highly recommend taking a look at his findings as they demonstrate a few very important things.

Handgun calibers suck across the board.

If possible get a long gun that will more reliably stop the threat. This is why I have the mindset that my handgun, if possible, will get me to my long gun.

Some notes on his methodology and what Ellifritz looked at in his study.

Number of people shot

– Number of rounds that hit

– On average, how many rounds did it take for the person to stop his violent action or be incapacitated? For this number, I included hits anywhere on the body. To be considered an immediate incapacitation, I used criteria similar to Marshall’s. If the attacker was striking or shooting the victim, the round needed to immediately stop the attack without another blow being thrown or shot being fired. If the person shot was in the act of running (either towards or away from the shooter), he must have fallen to the ground within five feet.

I also excluded all cases of accidental shootings or suicides. Every shot in this study took place during a military battle or an altercation with a criminal.

– What percentage of shooting incidents resulted in fatalities. For this, I included only hits to the head or torso.

– What percentage of people were not incapacitated no matter how many rounds hit them

– Accuracy. What percentage of hits was in the head or torso. I tracked this to check if variations could affect stopping power. For example, if one caliber had a huge percentage of shootings resulting in arm hits, we may expect that the stopping power of that round wouldn’t look as good as a caliber where the majority of rounds hit the head.

– One shot stop percentage – number of incapacitations divided by the number of hits the person took. Like Marshall’s number, I only included hits to the torso or head in this number.

– Percentage of people who were immediately stopped with one hit to the head or torso

Caliber # of People Shot # of Hits % Of Fatal Hits Avg. # Of Rounds to Incapacitate % Not Incapacitated % One Shot Stop Accuracy* % Incapacitated By One Shot**
.25 ACP 68 150 25% 2.2 35% 30% 62% 49%
.22 Short, Long, & Long Rifle 154 213 34% 1.38 31% 31% 76% 60%
.32 ACP / .32 Long 25 38 21% 1.52 40% 40% 78% 72%
.380 ACP 85 150 29% 1.76 16% 44% 76% 62%
.38 Special 199 373 29% 1.87 17% 39% 76% 55%
9mm Luger 456 1121 24% 2.45 13% 34% 74% 47%
.357 Magnum / .357 SIG 105 179 34% 1.7 9% 44% 81% 61%
.40 S&W 188 443 25% 2.63 13% 45% 76% 52%
.45 ACP 209 436 29% 2.08 14% 39% 85% 51%
.44 Magnum 24 41 26% 1.71 13% 59% 88% 53%
Rifle (All Centerfire) 126 176 68% 1.4 9% 58% 81% 80%
Shotgun*** 146 178 65% 1.22 12% 58% 84% 86%
* Hits to the head or torso
** Incapacitation by one shot to the head or torso 
*** 90% of all shotgun shootings were with 12 gauge ammo of undetermined variety 

As we can see there are no real distinct differences in how these rounds perform across the board. It’s not that .45 ACP sucks, it’s that all handgun calibers kind of suck. It takes an average of 2 rounds to stop someone with a handgun of any caliber and anything less than a .380 will have an average of a 35% complete failure to incapacitate. The other handgun rounds are all around the same percentage of complete failure to incapacitate. If one caliber is not going to stop someone then it’s highly unlikely that a different one will.

If we actually look at capacity across the board we see that moving to .45 ACP in the same type of handgun will at most, sacrifice 2 to 4 rounds. A Glock 17 will hold 17 rounds, a Glock 22 will hold 15 rounds, a Glock 21 will hold 13 rounds. However with other options this starts becoming a non-issue. The FNX 45 holds 15 rounds, PARA’s Pro Custom 14.45 will hold 14 rounds, the capacity of a full-sized .45 ACP handgun is not really an issue. This equates to at most, one, maybe two less bad guys in a group that you could incapacitate, and that is assuming two very unlikely things. One, you are accosted by multiple attackers, and two, they don’t all run when the first guy gets shot. Furthermore in restricted capacity states the issues of capacity become moot. If that is an issue, why not move to the biggest caliber that you can control and be accurate with? The number of holes you will be making will be the same.

“No Advantages”

Not to argue semantics, however I believe that what Yankee is getting at is not so much the caliber but the platform that he is talking about. We do have highly concealable firearms such as the Glock G36 that are very small and easy to conceal. Will a .45 ACP handgun ever be as small as a .380? No, but that’s not the issue, we are talking about different platforms with different goals in mind. Simply saying a that the .45 ACP sucks because it does not have the advantage of being the most optimized for a deep concealment handgun is silly. Furthermore he continues by saying that revolvers are more reliable. This is a complete misnomer. Today’s semi-auto firearms are much more reliable than what came before and when a revolver malfunctions it’s probably because something broke and you need to conduct repairs or serious maintenance on the firearms itself to get it back into action. The vast majority of semi-auto malfunctions can be cleared quickly and easily. The only and only place where a revolver will outshine a semi-auto is in close contact use and when fired from inside something and the issue of close contact has been solved by Honor Defense and their FIST frame.

I personally have found that a 1911 using .45 ACP was more accurate for me than a striker fired handgun. The recoil of a .45 ACP was more controllable and it was easier to put rounds in smaller groups with the shorter trigger and more heft to mitigate the recoil. I believe that Yankee errors here by equating the purpose of a specific platform, deep concealment vs. higher capacity, with the effectiveness and advantages of the round itself instead of looking at the firearm and cartridge as a complete system.

Conclusion

While I’ll admit that The Yankee Marshal has brought up some salient points I find that at the end of the day he has found what works for him and the .45 ACP does not work for him. However that is not to say that the .45 ACP will not work for others. When used in a firearm with a cartridge that will meet FBI ballistics standards out of the barrel length of that firearm I see no reason why the .45 ACP is worse than any other caliber out there. Furthermore assuming that the .45 ACP will fail due to heavy clothing is incorrect and he confuses the purpose of the firearm with the effectiveness of the cartridge. The only meaningful argument presented is the reduced capacity, which, in practical terms is minimal when the number of rounds fired before incapacitation and complete failure to incapacitate are all roughly the same. All in all this is a lot of bluster about not much of anything and Yankee I respectfully disagree with your assessment. Like much around the The Great Caliber DebateTM regarding handgun calibers the differences are minimal. Pick what you are accurate with and will actually carry, for me that’s a full-sized handgun in .45 ACP, .40 S&W, or 9mm, preferably something along the lines of a 1911 or a CZ-75. So long as I can accurately and reliably put rounds on target, and my choice of ammo passes FBI ballistics testing out of the barrel length I am using, I feel confidant in my choice and you should too.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Sound off in the comments below.