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  #1  
Old 11-22-2008, 12:52 PM
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Default The truth about handgun knockdown power

Interesting read from LBPD. Highlights in BOLD.

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P1 Exclusive: The truth about handgun knockdown power

By Commander Jeffry L. Johnson
Long Beach Police Dept., Detective Division
Special contributor to PoliceOne

There is undoubtedly no other myth more perpetuated and closely held (even now) by many law enforcement professionals than what I have previously referred to as the “Demonstrative Bullet Fallacy,” or in plainer terms, the idea that any handgun of any caliber has “knockdown power,” in that the sheer size and force of the bullet can knock a person down. Closely related is the myth that bullet size — rather than shot placement — can determine or ensure a “one shot stop.” Both are inaccurate, unscientific, and dangerous, and have no place in the training of law enforcement professionals.

Not that any of this is new information. This fact has been generally known for about six hundred years or so. Notable intellects such as DaVinci, Galileo, Newton, Francis Bacon, and Leonard Euler all studied physics and ballistics, as did many others. It was Newton’s research that led Benjamin Robbins to invent the ballistic pendulum in 1740 (the first device to measure bullet velocity).

There is no mystery here — the truth has been documented time and again. So how is it that we still don’t get it? One word: Hollywood.

Ever since Dirty Harry came along with his .44 Magnum hand-cannon, when someone gets shot in the movies or on TV (and don’t forget video games) two things happen: 1) the victim is thrown back convulsively, through windows, off balconies, etc. and 2) there will immediately emerge a geyser of blood spewing forth from the wound, leaving no doubt that this person has been shot, and pinpointing exactly where the bullet has struck.

Many firearm and shooting magazines picked up on the idea as well, discussing and propagating the pseudo-scientific idea of handgun “knockdown power” and “one shot stopping power.”

The Truth
The Federal Bureau of Investigation Firearms Training Unit published a concise yet insightful report that speaks directly to this issue of firearm wounding ballistics and the misconceptions that have surrounded this area.

These so called [knockdown power] studies are further promoted as being somehow better and more valid than the work being done by trained researchers, surgeons and forensic labs. They disparage laboratory stuff, claiming that the “street” is the real laboratory and their collection of results from the street is the real measure of caliber effectiveness, as interpreted by them, of course. Yet their data from the street is collected haphazardly, lacking scientific method and controls, with no noticeable attempt to verify the less than reliable accounts of the participants with actual investigative or forensic reports. Cases are subjectively selected (how many are not included because they do not fit the assumptions made?). The numbers of cases cited are statistically meaningless, and the underlying assumptions upon which the collection of information and its interpretation are based are themselves based on myths such as knockdown power, energy transfer, hydrostatic shock, or the temporary cavity methodology of flawed work such as RII. (1)

The truth is, the whole idea of handgun knockdown power is a myth. It simply doesn’t work that way. The FBI report further clarifies:

A bullet simply cannot knock a man down. If it had the energy to do so, then equal energy would be applied against the shooter and he too would be knocked down. This is simple physics, and has been known for hundreds of years. The amount of energy deposited in the body by a bullet is approximately equivalent to being hit with a baseball. Tissue damage is the only physical link to incapacitation within the desired time frame, i.e., instantaneously. (2)

The report cites previous studies that have calculated bullet velocities and impact power, concluding that the “stopping power” of a 9mm bullet at muzzle velocity is equal to a one-pound weight being dropped from the height of six feet. A .45 ACP (45 auto) bullet impact would equal that same object dropped from 11.4 feet. That is a far cry from what Hollywood would have us believe, and actually flies in the face of what even many in law enforcement have come to mistakenly believe.

The FBI report also emphasizes that unless the bullet destroys or damages the central nervous system (i.e., brain or upper spinal cord), incapacitation of the subject can take a long time, seemingly longer if one is engaged in a firefight.

Failing a hit to the central nervous system, massive bleeding from holes in the heart or major blood vessels of the torso, causing circulatory collapse is the only other way to force incapacitation upon an adversary, and this takes time. For example, there is sufficient oxygen within the brain to support full, voluntary action for 10-15 seconds after the heart has been destroyed. (3)

More often than not, an officer firing at a suspect will not immediately know if he or she has even struck the target. The physics are such that the body will rarely involuntarily move or jerk, and usually there is no noticeable spewing of blood or surface tearing of tissue. Often there is no blood whatsoever. (4) That is why military surgeons and emergency room physicians take great time and pains to carefully examine gunshot victims for any additional small holes. Often that is the only indication the person has been shot.

Personal Experience
But let’s be real here. I can cite numerous additional academic and scientific sources that support this article, but I know how cops think. We’re not always the most trustful of academics, especially when it comes to our street survival. So let me add my own personal experience to the data. Please allow me to go beyond the cold facts and share with you why I know what I’m telling you is the truth.

In the mid-1980s I was involved in my first shooting as a police officer. But to give the story context, I must go back to 1982 when I graduated from the Long Beach Police Academy. The first thing I was told by experienced training officers I trusted and looked up to, was to “get rid of that pea-shooter 38 they issued you and buy a real gun with some knockdown power!” Although we were issued .38 caliber revolvers, we were authorized to carry a number of different caliber weapons on duty, the largest of which was the 45 Long Colt.

The .45 Long Colt round next to the diminutive 9 millimeter.

Imagine my surprise when I was confronted by a suspect armed with a shotgun in a dark alley and my Long Colt didn’t live up to its billing. I fired five rounds at the suspect. It wasn’t until I fired my last shot — intentionally aimed at his head — that he went down. I can’t begin to relate to you the surprise and horror I felt when there was absolutely no outward indication I was hitting my target. It was the kind of situation cops have nightmares about.

What actually happened? I fired five rounds at a distance of about twelve feet. The first one missed completely. The second struck his upper leg and broke his femur. The third struck him in the shoulder/chest. The fourth round hit him dead center—in the heart. And of course, the fifth was a headshot. Three of the five rounds created fatal wounds, though only one had immediate results.

Needless to say, I was pretty shaken by the whole thing. Not by the morality of what I’d done; the suspect had already fired at a bystander and taken a hostage earlier. He was also high on PCP. That wasn’t my inner struggle. What shook me was how unprepared I felt; how totally off guard I was taken by what occurred. No one ever told me it would be like that. The reality was contrary to everything I thought I knew about deadly force.

That experience more than any research or study is the reason is why I am writing this article. Police officers risk getting into shootings every day; we need to know the dynamics of how a shooting incident may unfold. It will affect our equipment, tactics, and most important, our mindset. We need to know that rarely will one shot incapacitate an assailant. We further need to be able to explain this when our fellow officers are involved in shootings where multiple shots are fired. The public honestly believes it’s like the movies. Why would we ever need to fire twenty or thirty rounds to subdue an armed suspect? Problem is we can’t teach it or explain it until we understand it ourselves. (5)
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  #2  
Old 11-22-2008, 1:03 PM
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Interesting. When you look at the fact that most fatal shootings are done by .22s, it's shot placement that counts, not the caliber. Especially if the target is high on PCP (like the example talked about), he probably wouldn't feel anything that wasn't immediately incapacitating.
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Old 11-22-2008, 1:06 PM
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Amen.
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  #4  
Old 11-22-2008, 1:07 PM
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Wow, actually broke his femur?! His .38 wouldn't have done that.

Just the same, I think I'd have been a bit unnerved, too if I shot someone center-mass with a .45 Colt and had no visible effect.
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  #5  
Old 11-22-2008, 1:27 PM
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Finally, someone speaks the truth. An excellent and very accurate article.

But I'm sure that someone who has never been in a firefight will be along shortly to tell us how wrong this guy is, or that he was just using the wrong caliber or type of bullet.
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  #6  
Old 11-22-2008, 1:31 PM
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That's why I always say, "Handguns are for head shots".
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  #7  
Old 11-22-2008, 1:38 PM
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50BMG doesn't have knockdown power either.

-- Michael
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  #8  
Old 11-22-2008, 1:47 PM
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Finally?? Importance of shot placement and people not flying 10 feet when hit with a bullet, Not exactly a ground breaking article.

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Originally Posted by dustoff31 View Post
Finally, someone speaks the truth. An excellent and very accurate article.

But I'm sure that someone who has never been in a firefight will be along shortly to tell us how wrong this guy is, or that he was just using the wrong caliber or type of bullet.
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  #9  
Old 11-22-2008, 1:59 PM
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I don't know about that. Look at the "I want a .40 or .45 because 9mm is too wimpy" posts on here. This is one that'll live on, no matter how many times it's proven to be BS.
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  #10  
Old 11-22-2008, 2:02 PM
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Well one could argue that just because one thing is most important, doesn't make all the other things unimportant
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Old 11-22-2008, 2:24 PM
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I hope this doesn't get wide distribution.

One of the most entertaining things to listen to is some (never been, never went) guy mouthing off about terminal ballistic effect.

It never ceases to amuse me when when I hear some chairborne expert start in about "K-D" and bullet effects in general.
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Old 11-22-2008, 2:27 PM
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I recently read Teddy Roosevelt's writings about the Spanish American War. He described the men that were shot in the charge, saying that they just crumpled. Anyone who has seen some actual footage of the D-Day invasions has seen this for themselves.

The bottom line of the LBPD article is, "The first well placed shot wins."

Gary
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Old 11-22-2008, 2:43 PM
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What? Come on. . this has got to be FUD! I mean, we all know that cops get into Matrix style shootouts all the time!

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Old 11-22-2008, 2:44 PM
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"The report cites previous studies that have calculated bullet velocities and impact power, concluding that the “stopping power” of a 9mm bullet at muzzle velocity is equal to a one-pound weight being dropped from the height of six feet. A .45 ACP (45 auto) bullet impact would equal that same object dropped from 11.4 feet. "

I dont understand the point they are making here? If you drop a 1lb weight 6 feet onto a person wearing a vest, will it break ribs like a 9mm can? Or are they using it as a force over the total surface of impact, in an effort to dispel Hollywood myths? Thats like saying getting your hand stepped on by a slipper has the same stopping force as a stiletto?
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Old 11-22-2008, 4:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by caldude View Post
Interesting. When you look at the fact that most fatal shootings are done by .22s, it's shot placement that counts, not the caliber. Especially if the target is high on PCP (like the example talked about), he probably wouldn't feel anything that wasn't immediately incapacitating.

.22s are also used much more.but i dont disagree about shot placement
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Old 11-22-2008, 5:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Splinter View Post
"The report cites previous studies that have calculated bullet velocities and impact power, concluding that the “stopping power” of a 9mm bullet at muzzle velocity is equal to a one-pound weight being dropped from the height of six feet. A .45 ACP (45 auto) bullet impact would equal that same object dropped from 11.4 feet. "

I dont understand the point they are making here? If you drop a 1lb weight 6 feet onto a person wearing a vest, will it break ribs like a 9mm can? Or are they using it as a force over the total surface of impact, in an effort to dispel Hollywood myths? Thats like saying getting your hand stepped on by a slipper has the same stopping force as a stiletto?
I think what they are trying to do is correlate something we are more familiar with to demonstrate the energy in the bullet. Most people don't understand bullet ballistics so if you tell them a .44 magnum will send you sailing if you get shot with it; they can believe it. You tell them it has the same energy as lobbing a 3 pound fish over the counter to someone in the kitchen and all of a sudden they start to realize how foolish it was to think that little bullet could throw someone back. They weren't trying to say that it would do the same damage, but that it has the same energy.

A pound of feathers traveling at 100 mph may cut you up, but won't do much else. A half pound of steel at 50 mph could seriously **** you up. Damage and eregy are two seperate issues and they are just correlating the energy into objects and velocities we are more familiar and comfortable with.

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Originally Posted by Kokopelli View Post
I recently read Teddy Roosevelt's writings about the Spanish American War. He described the men that were shot in the charge, saying that they just crumpled. Anyone who has seen some actual footage of the D-Day invasions has seen this for themselves.

The bottom line of the LBPD article is, "The first well placed shot wins."

Gary
Not to mention that the article addresses an instance where the attacker was on PCP. That's not exactly a controlled encounter that can be looked to as hard evidence to the nature of the way the human body responds to gunshot wounds. Besides, a severed lower spine will force someone to lose control and drop to the floor; it may not stop them entirely but it will drop them and I think the writer of that article knows that.

I think what he is trying to say is that you can NOT rely on anything to stop a conflict outside of absolute destruction of the nervous system, which can be done with anything, even a little 22. Then again I've talked with people who were morticians and EMT personel who would see time and time again that a .45 would cause much more fatal tissue damage than a 9mm. I've heard of people getting shot through the heart with some calibers and surviving. I've heard of people being shot in the brain and surviving, even being concious enough to take themselves to the hospital afterwards (not realizing the severity of their wound).

This article is just further demonstration that there is NO fight stopper. Period. Doesn't matter if it's a 22 or a .50 BMG. Doesn't matter if it's one or a hundred. Doesn't matter where, how big, or how fast. NOTHING will stop a fight flat out every time.

So what can we do?

We can study the human body and understand where it's most vulnerable. We can maximize our potential by careful selection and aiming of these points. We can pick a caliber that is adequate enough to penetrate to these weak and/or vulnerable points and still maintain enough energy to do significant damage. And most importantly, we can train and train some more until it becomes second nature and we fall back on it even when adrenaline, panic, terror, etc takes over.

These will NOT stop the fight; these just increase our chances of stopping the fight and that is ALL we can do.

ETA: And caliber IS important. Even a .22 can penetrate to the centeral nervous system and kill someone. Knowing that, then a .22 semi-auto with it's low recoil and small size would be the perfect carry gun. Then again, someone wearing a couple thick layers of winter clothing could become inviniclble at that point. You might have someone who is VERY fat where the bullet would stop before reaching vital organs. You might have someone in a car trying to shoot you. If everyone was the same size, we walked around naked, and crimes happened in the same place and the same manner then caliber wouldn't be that big of an issue. The problem is there are billions upon billions of variables were a larger caliber can perform where a smaller one can not.

The best caliber is the most powerful caliber that you are comfortable and efficient with.
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Last edited by NeoWeird; 11-22-2008 at 5:27 PM..
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Old 11-22-2008, 6:05 PM
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Originally Posted by NeoWeird View Post
I
The best caliber is the most powerful caliber that you are comfortable and efficient with.
...and afford. Beautifully put. I like a bullet that is going to sprawl.


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Old 11-22-2008, 6:10 PM
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simply put, every time you fire a bullet if it doesn't knock you down, it won't knock them down the force is the same
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Old 11-22-2008, 6:22 PM
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Originally Posted by hawk84 View Post
simply put, every time you fire a bullet if it doesn't knock you down, it won't knock them down the force is the same
Newton's Third Law always wins.
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Old 11-22-2008, 6:40 PM
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I'll still take a .45 over a 9mm.
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Old 11-22-2008, 7:20 PM
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Seriously, this is a good article that reminds us what is the most important. The discussion about bullets and how they are is good, but when the moment comes, it's the user, not just the equipment.
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Old 11-22-2008, 8:17 PM
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train like you are fighting. because you will fight how you train.
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Old 11-22-2008, 8:34 PM
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Originally Posted by hawk84 View Post
simply put, every time you fire a bullet if it doesn't knock you down, it won't knock them down the force is the same
The force is similar, not the same. So far as to being able to fire/propel with something that will knock someone down without knocking the projector/shooter down. Its seems as simple as force equals force. Except the shooter is losing energy through heat, the mass of the gun, and a larger surface area taking place over a greater amount of time. Also, the shooter is actively countering the force. Shoot a heavy caliber and the gun recoils, moves the shooter. Take that same energy and expend it in less time and blamo, knock down. Well almost, except the energy usually is disipated in tissue. With a vest on the target you very well could cause a knockdown. Similar to this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_kv4p65q3s
The formula you need is force = mass x (velocity / time)
There are different velocities and times. The bullet accelerates down the barrel. Its accelleration upon impact is much quicker. Think of it as trying to catch the same round back in the gun that fired it.
PS: gotta love my drinking and typing and trying to remember college physics.
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Old 11-23-2008, 7:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Splinter View Post
Thats like saying getting your hand stepped on by a slipper has the same stopping force as a stiletto?
Actually, it does. That is kind of the point. A stiletto does NOT stop you at all, it punctures right into you.

Of course, the problem with your analogy is one pictures the slipper bending and giving (smooshing) while the stiletto (with proper follow through anyways) goes until bone, hilt, or user stops it.
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Old 11-23-2008, 7:30 PM
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Originally Posted by NeoWeird View Post
The best caliber is the most powerful caliber that you are comfortable and efficient with.
+1, hence the Mozambique drill - two to pause em long enough to place the shot that puts em out.

Seriously though, interesting article. Thanks for sharing to the OP. And thanks to Neo too, it is always interesting to read your contributions on these matters.

-Pete
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Old 11-23-2008, 8:05 PM
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I had an instructor that used to say, "Keep pulling the trigger until you hear click, click, click."
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Old 11-23-2008, 8:07 PM
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Seriously, this is a good article that reminds us what is the most important. The discussion about bullets and how they are is good, but when the moment comes, it's the user, not just the equipment.
lol i never seen a mushroom cloud like that in a gel test. im sold on 10mm now
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Old 11-23-2008, 8:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Splinter View Post
The force is similar, not the same. So far as to being able to fire/propel with something that will knock someone down without knocking the projector/shooter down. Its seems as simple as force equals force. Except the shooter is losing energy through heat, the mass of the gun, and a larger surface area taking place over a greater amount of time. Also, the shooter is actively countering the force.
The energy lost to heat doesn't reappear downrange. That energy is gone, gone, gone.

As far as a handgun, do you suppose the sender who is generally using a 4" barrel to accelerate the bullet vs the receiver who is generally using 10" of meat and bone to (usually) only partially decelerate it is going to get more energy transfer?

The weight of the gun? How about the simple weight difference between two people, like in a lighter person shooting a heavier one? Weight of the gun matters in how much pain the shooter perceives. A gun's weight reduces felt recoil by decelerating the gun, the same amount of recoil force is still there, or very close to it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Splinter View Post
Shoot a heavy caliber and the gun recoils, moves the shooter. Take that same energy and expend it in less time and blamo, knock down. Well almost, except the energy usually is disipated in tissue. With a vest on the target you very well could cause a knockdown. Similar to this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_kv4p65q3s
The formula you need is force = mass x (velocity / time)
There are different velocities and times. The bullet accelerates down the barrel. Its accelleration upon impact is much quicker. Think of it as trying to catch the same round back in the gun that fired it.
PS: gotta love my drinking and typing and trying to remember college physics.
Did you not see the Mythbusters where they shot "Buster" with a .50 BMG rifle at 22 feet? The bullet went through two 1/4" steel plates and lodged in Buster's armature; nearly total energy transfer. It only knocked the dummy back about three inches off a rig that one of the crew knocked it off with a thrown baseball.

A hit with a bullet might knock a person off balance, but the energy transferred is probably not going to knock them down The shock of being shot might, though.
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  #29  
Old 11-23-2008, 8:59 PM
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CSACANNONEER CSACANNONEER is offline
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Why does law enforcement still insist on using handguns as their primary weapon?

Handguns should only be used to fight your way back to your battle rifle which, you never should have left in the first place!

Yea, handguns are more convienent but.........
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Old 11-23-2008, 9:01 PM
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Originally Posted by CSACANNONEER View Post
Why does law enforcement still insist on using handguns as their primary weapon?

Handguns should only be used to fight your way back to your battle rifle which, you never should have left in the first place!

Yea, handguns are more convienent but.........
Hard to conduct crimminal investigations...as well as run, jump, wrestle, and handcuff people when you are holding a rifle.
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  #31  
Old 11-23-2008, 9:21 PM
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savasyn savasyn is offline
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Originally Posted by CSACANNONEER View Post
Why does law enforcement still insist on using handguns as their primary weapon?

Handguns should only be used to fight your way back to your battle rifle which, you never should have left in the first place!

Yea, handguns are more convienent but.........
Cops are NOT combat troops. In the normal course of their duties, they shouldn't be needing a battle rifle.

Last edited by savasyn; 11-24-2008 at 7:49 AM.. Reason: Had to add the NOT, that should have been there!!!
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Old 11-23-2008, 9:34 PM
CSDGuy CSDGuy is offline
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Cops use handguns because they make good defensive weapons. I agree that a handgun should be what you use to fight your way to a long gun in a battle/combat environment. Given a choice, though, I'd choose a handgun for defensive use. If I know I'm going to have be in a firefight, or if I know I have to go on the offensive, I'd rather have a rifle or shotgun (depending upon the circumstances) as my primary weapon and the pistol as a backup.
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