DISCUSSION: How Important is Stopping Power?


This is the first of a new series of Special Tactics on-line discussions. As always, there are no “right” answers since everything depends on mission requirements and individual preference. However, that doesn’t mean that it is not valuable to share your preferences with others and more importantly, explain why you hold those preferences.

It is particularly helpful for younger or less experienced tactical professionals/shooters to be able to hear the ideas, opinions and real-world combat experiences of more experienced veterans. So, for those of you with a lot of experience under your belt, the knowledge you pass on could help the next generation survive and achieve mission success. Finally, as always, be careful not to reveal any sensitive or dangerous information.


Some tactical professionals and units choose larger caliber, higher-powered weapons because smaller rounds have failed to neutralize the threat in a combat situation. However, such choices always involve tradeoffs regarding factors like magazine capacity, weight, recoil characteristics etc. The question to our readers and contributors is “how important is stopping power” based on your personal experience and preference? The following points are some interesting questions to consider but feel free to discuss any aspect of the subject…

1 – What are your personal opinions/experiences on the importance of stopping power? Are other factors like larger magazine capacity more important?

2 – How does the answer to the question change based on different mission sets and environments? What are the differences in requirements for law enforcement, military and home defense etc.?

3 – Are some weapons better suited to more novice shooters while others are more appropriate for more experienced shooters?


While most of our contributors post on Facebook, feel free to post on the blog below as well. After one week of posts, we will publish the complete discussion to this page so others can learn from it in the future. So, let us know if you would prefer to remain anonymous in the final article. We look forward to hearing your opinions and ideas.

Click HERE to go to our Facebook discussion page…


  1. XK1Gebirgsjaeger

    Accuracy is probably the most important principle. It doesn’t matter how many bullets your weapon can hold if you can’t utilize them effectively. The way you master accuracy is better using sound fundamentals and lots of time shooting on the range. Static shooting, shooting while moving, magazine reloads, etc.. Dry firing is also key. You don’t have to be on a range to dryfire. Work on the bringing your pistol out of your holster to a firing position and magazine reloads and clearing a malfunction. Won’ t Cost you anything but time. Last, have a good mentor or watch videos from guys like Jerry Barnhardt or Rob Leatham. They’ve all trained Elite Units bith Military and LE. They won’t teach you tactics, however they will absolutely show you how to be fast and accurate.

    1. ST Staff Post author

      Thank you for the outstanding comments Gebirgsjaeger. We agree that dry fire is one of the most effective and efficient ways to build shooting skills and combat proficiency. We particularly like your comment about not needing to be at the range to conduct dry fire. In our opinion, one of the biggest reasons people fail to master skills is because they fail to perform enough repetitions of a given movement or task under varying conditions. This is often because they think they need a facility or special resources to train effectively. We believe that wherever you are, even at home, it is possible come up with many highly-effective, creative dry-fire drills that build all sorts of physical and mental skills, even things like target discrimination and split-second judgement under stress or time constraints. We’d be interested to hear if you or any other members have specific dry fire drills they find particularly useful. Thank you again for the comments. We also agree that civilian professional/competition shooters can provide outstanding training for combat units.

  2. Elijah J. Henry

    1 – What are your personal opinions/experiences on the importance of stopping power? Are other factors like larger magazine capacity more important?

    1A – No personal experiences — I’ve never shot anyone. Neither have most other people, so I’ll go ahead and discuss my understanding of the issue as I’ve come to it from years of studying it privately and professionally. First, “stopping power” is a nebulous term that is probably less helpful than not. Penetration, expansion, energy transfer, permanent wound channel, bullet diameter, and probably others I can’t think of right now, are all factors that are either generally referred to as stopping power, or that make up the concept. The widely referenced FBI standard for their ammunition — presumably adopted with some concept of stopping power in mind — is twelve inches of penetration. Most modern defensive ammunition meets this standard, but many shooters consider other factors, such as bullet diameter (cue the .45 vs. 9mm debate), to be at least as important as the 12 inches of penetration.
    There are generally two camps in the discussion about stopping power: those who think stopping power — by whatever definition — is the most important consideration when shooting someone, and those who think shot placement is most important. Both sides, of course, have valid points. If your shot placement isn’t even on the target, then your stopping power is irrelevant. On the other hand, if your weapon of choice has a bore diameter of .50 caliber or larger and the bullet itself can be measured in ounces instead of grains, you can probably hit a few inches away from the heart or a major artery and still do the job just fine.
    Regarding stopping power and its relative importance compared to magazine capacity: either one is more important than the other, to an extent, and situation dependent. For a daily carry gun, I’d rather carry a 7 shot .380 than a 9 shot .22. For combat, I’d sooner carry an AR-15 with a standard loadout of 210 rounds of 5.56 than an AR-10 with perhaps 140 rounds of .308. Of course, I’d rather use an AR in .300 AAC Blackout, so I can have better “stopping power” without severely limiting the ammo loadout I can take. But then, maybe I wouldn’t have the range I’d want in a firefight outside of CQB ranges.

    2 – How does the answer to the question change based on different mission sets and environments? What are the differences in requirements for law enforcement, military, and home defense etc.?

    2A – I guess I’ve already touched on this a bit. The first difference that comes to mind between the mentioned categories of shooters, is the importance of non-over-penetration. The home defense shooter probably has the most to worry about from over-penetration, followed by the LEO, and finally the soldier in combat. No one wants unintentional casualties, but the liability differences between the three categories are stark. Over-penetration for the homeowner might injure or kill the very people he seeks to protect, or a litigious, anti-gun neighbor. The LEO likely has innocents on the other side of the bad guy, but he’s insulated in most cases from lawsuits if his bullets end up somewhere tragic. The soldier can get in a lot of trouble if he kills a civilian intentionally, but a civilian death from over-penetration of an enemy would likely be chalked up as collateral damage. Conversely, a soldier is more likely to require more penetration (to defeat body armor) than is a LEO, and likewise, a LEO is more likely to face an armored adversary than is a civilian defending his home.
    Other aspects of “stopping power” requirements would differ much less from one shooter to another: whether you think bullet expansion, or energy transfer, or permanent wound channel is the key to stopping power, anyone who’s shooting a human being with intent to kill/stop the threat is going to have similar requirements.

    3 – Are some weapons better suited to more novice shooters while others are more appropriate for more experienced shooters?

    3A – Of course — to a degree — but I’m not sure how directly this relates to stopping power. Professional shooters — and responsible amateurs — are horrified at videos of brand new shooters being handed a .500 Magnum or 10 gauge shotgun, without proper instruction, for the irresponsible and juvenile amusement of their “instructors.” It’s usually a good idea to start a new shooter on a lighter caliber: .22 LR, .410 bore, or .223. Some shooters might stick with a lighter round, and some will experiment with heavier stuff as they grow more comfortable.
    I’ve focused on recoil and it’s management in this answer because I’m unaware of any firearms that are too complicated for a brand new shooter to learn to handle in a short period of instruction. I can’t think of any other factors that might automatically separate novice shooters from experienced ones in regard to their weapon selection.

    1. ST Staff Post author

      Elijah, thank you for the detailed and extensive comments. There is a lot of great value here and it will be a benefit to anyone who reads it. As we stated in the beginning, there is no right or wrong answer in the discussion so the key is weighing the various pros and cons of each option or perspective. So, we appreciate you taking the time to discuss a number of different factors and your personal preferences for finding the appropriate balance. As for your comment on recoil management, yes, that was the main factor we were referencing in our question about novice shooters. In our experience, a weapon with a massive recoil (either pistol or shotgun) can be difficult to handle for someone with minimal shooting experience, especially in a stressful situation.