Stoping Power and Ballistics Overview

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Handgun Stopping Power and Ballistics Testing


bullet testing




You’ve probably been asking yourself this question for a while. Why do you, as a handgun owner, need to care about ballistic testing and stopping power? The answer is simple. Because understanding ballistic test information and a weapon’s stopping power makes you a better gun owner and savvier consumer.


Comparing the stopping power of a number of handguns can help you decide to purchase a new firearm or It can lead you in the wrong direction altogether. It is of course also important to know what you intend to do with your firearm. But, most people purchase a handgun for self-defense. And, therefore stopping power does not really matter.


Likewise, researching the ballistics testing on your chosen handgun can tell you a lot of its functionality. Ballistics testing can help you choose between different products. Also, it can let you know about cons of your specific handgun. This information will tell you where you need to spend your time practicing. It can also indicate whether you need to consider purchasing a new handgun or not.


One of the worst ways to choose a great handgun is to base it on its stopping power or ballistics testing unless your purpose is very specific like penetrating a bear’s skull. It’s a good idea to know about stopping power, however, it’s a terrible idea to carry a gun based on testing alone.


What is ballistics testing?

Ballistics is a science that examines projectiles. There are many different types of projectiles. This category of objects includes rockets, rocks thrown by catapult, arrows shot from bows. Essentially, a projectile is anything flung from an object. However, one of the most commonly known projectiles is bullets.


Just because ballistics examines the motion and behavior of bullets, does not mean that there is only one type of ballistics. In fact, there are many different types of ballistics. For example, forensic ballistics analyze the use of firearms in crime scenes. On the other hand, external ballistic studies the way the projectile moves through the air.


When we talk about ballistic testing to determine a handgun’s power, we are talking about terminal ballistics. Terminal ballistics tests compare the way a projectile hit its target—human or other types of substance. Understanding the ballistics of a particular handgun or ammunition helps consumers compare products. Plus, it enables manufacturers to create better and more powerful weapons.

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For an in-depth resource on ballistic testing, we recommend luck gunner labs.

 Ballistic Gel Test Results: .38 Spl & .357 Mag

What is handgun stopping power?

You will likely encounter this concept in any handgun review. Stopping power refers to the speed with which you can incapacitate a human using a specific handgun. Incapacitate does not necessarily mean kill. What it indicates is that hostile, deadly force ceases. So, this could happen with a shot to the leg, arm, or torso. It is often said the better the stopping power, the more likely a threat will be disabled on the first or second shot. I would have to agree that this is a true statement, but very misleading. It is impossible to develop an accurate stopping power test for self-defense.  Too many factors are at play and buying a gun based on stopping power is basically like rolling the dice. Will you be lucky?


There are many different formulas that have been used to compare specific handgun’s stopping power. These formulas examine muzzle velocity, caliber, bullet weight, and energy. While all of the current formulas have disadvantages, the most reliable source of stopping power is the book Stopping Power: A Practical Analysis of the Latest Handgun Ammunition by Evan Marshall and Edwin Sanow. This book is the most comprehensive look at handgun stopping power on the market.


If your objective is to purchase a handgun based on stopping power alone than referring to the book listed is probably your best option.

Check out our Review on Concealed Carry Holsters

If instead, your purpose is to carry the best gun for you not someone else than the following tips should be helpful.


  • Carry a handgun that you are able to conceal, most comfortable with and most accurate.
    1. The reason is simple, if you can’t shoot the target it doesn’t matter how big your gun is. If it your not willing to carry it due to its size then what good is it.
  • Know your ammunition and what you want to achieve with it
    1. Different bullets will penetrate and expand at different rates. Its important to understand what will work best for your purpose.
  • Practice, practice, practice. The better shot you are, the easier it will be to stop a dangerous person with minimal shots. If you are new to firearms, you can also take a class that will help you improve your technique and aim.
    1. If you are not willing to practice and become competent you have no reason to be carrying a firearm.
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            Ballistic tests for Stopping power

Most commonly, someone running ballistic tests for stopping power will shoot their bullet into ballistic gelatin. This substance stimulates muscle tissue, so it can provide an accurate representation of the path a bullet will that in human and animal tissue.


Using ballistics gelatin is fairly easy. Once the gelatin has been set up and calibrated properly, you shoot into the substance. Most testers fire a number of shots into the gelatin from the same handgun and ammunition. Multiple test runs allow averages to be calculated accurately.


Another way to run a ballistic test on handguns is presented in Marshall and Sanow’s Stopping Power. Instead of relying on laboratory ballistic gelatin tests, they run their experiments “in the field.” Testing the power of handguns in the open air, with wind, weather, and other impediments around presents a much more realistic picture of the stopping power of a product.


Laboratory ballistics tests are highly accurate. But they do not test a handgun’s response in the “natural” elements. Laboratory ballistics tests are perfect for someone just starting out. If you are researching a handgun, laboratory tests will give you good information. When you are ready to take your knowledge to the next level, you should look for ballistics tests that have been performed outdoors.


Obviously, there is a lot of ballistic testing and stopping power of handguns. In fact, this subject is quite controversial in the firearm community. But, this does not mean that you shouldn’t pay attention to this information. Flawed or not, ballistic tests and formulas measuring a handgun’s stopping power tell you a lot about a specific product.