An Overview of Handgun Calibers, Ballistics, and Stopping Power
Trying to put an end to the endless confusion
The subject of Handgun Calibers, Ballistics, and Stopping Power has been a topic of discussion – and often, heated arguments – among firearms enthusiasts for as long as there have been firearms and enthusiasts themselves.
The moment we begin the discussion of caliber and caliber choices, you can hear the age-old rumblings of the ongoing debate between 9mm vs 45, vs 10mm vs 357, etc etc ad nauseum.
We are not going to delve into that discussion; not now anyway. Hopefully, not ever.
In preparation for the day when we do, it's important to first understand the terminology, and second, to have a rudimentary grasp of the physics behind it all: ballistics.
People have devoted entire careers to understanding ballistics. Whole industries are built around the development and production of guns and ammunition that perform to maximum effectiveness for particular situations, and often utilize new handgun calibers. The science behind all this is astoundingly complex, utterly fascinating, and often quite incomprehensible to those of us who are not MIT graduates.
Pistol Caliber Ballistics Data
Pistol Caliber Is Not All It's Cracked Up to Be.
As you can see in the chart below, there's not a tremendous difference among the major pistol calibers listed. None of the pistol calibers approach the capacity of a rifle. Period.
Note the bottom entry: a .22 caliber rifle. This bullet is one half the weight of any of the pistol calibers, yet it produces three and four and five times the amount of energy. The reason: its velocity is triple that of any of the pistols. The reason for the increased velocity: lightweight bullet in a long barrel.
It's clear that the weight of the bullet matters, but velocity has more influence than weight on the energy produced. Weight and velocity work together in the formula of 'stopping power,' and they have an influence on each other.
Lighter bullets travel faster, while heavier bullets need more powder to reach adequate speed, which makes the gun produce more felt recoil (kick) when fired, which makes follow up shots more difficult. So you can see that the ongoing debates of perfect caliber will go on forever. Ultimately, your choice of caliber will come down to a matter of personal preference.