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This book review is reprinted with express written consent from the Association of Firearm and Toolmark Examiners (AFTE) who originally published it in AFTE Journal, 24(4); 10/1992.

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Book Review

Handgun Stopping Power: The Definitive Study

Marshall EP and Sanow EJ. Boulder, Paladin Press, 1992

Gary K. Roberts
Naval Dental Center, San Francisco
Naval Station Treasure Island, BLDG 442-2
San Francisco, CA 94130-5030

Eugene J. Wolberg
San Diego Police Department
1401 Broadway, Mail Station 725
San Diego, CA 92101


Dr. Roberts is a U.S. Navy Dental Corps officer involved in wound ballistics research and combat casualty care training. Mr. Wolberg is the Senior Firearms Criminologist at the San Diego Police Department Crime Laboratory.

Rather than being the "Definitive Study" of handgun stopping power as the title self-proclaims, this confusing text provides the reader a schizophrenic mixture of material. The majority of this book is replete with contradictions, mistakes, and unsubstantiated speculation. There are so many gross errors and inconsistencies in the text that it is impossible to mention them all in this short review.

Neurogenic Shock

Dr. Mary Case, a board-certified neuropathologist and forensic pathologist with the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office and the St. Louis University School of Medicine, Dr. Michael Graham, a forensic pathologist with the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office and the St. Louis University School of Medicine, COL. Charles Van Way, a general surgeon with the U.S. Army 325th General Hospital, and Dr. Thomas Helling, the Director of Trauma Surgery at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, reviewed Chapter 2, "A Neurologist’s View of ‘Stopping Power’". These well qualified scientists are unanimous in their condemnation of this material.

The absurd claims made in this chapter, as well as the similar remarks on pages 6, 7, and 176, regarding the ability of a bullet to remotely stress and shock the central nervous system (CNS) are grossly inaccurate and completely unsupported by any accepted scientific evidence according to Dr. Case. This pseudoscientific speculation is presented as verified scientific fact, yet allusion to Göransson’s discredited data is the only scientific reference the authors cite to support their unjustified claims.1 Dr. Helling remarks that this material: "...relates to anecdotal experience and pure hypothesis," while Dr. Van Way states that it: "...would seem not only to be without supporting evidence, but to contradict common sense."

A thorough review of the scientific literature relating to wound ballistics has failed to identify any valid research papers which demonstrate that projectiles can exert a remote effect on the CNS.

Street Results/One-Shot-Stop Percentages

Throughout the text, Marshall and Sanow offer "street results" which purport to show the "stopping power" and percentage of "one-shot stops" that particular handgun bullets have produced in actual shootings. On page 47 they write: "These street results are the heart and soul of this book on stopping power." Accurate, documented field data of bullet performance in actual shootings is a crucial adjunct to laboratory test results; unfortunately, valid information is very difficult to acquire. Their "field data" appears to be based on anecdotal "war stories" which are incomplete and unverified, as illustrated by the example below.

On page 121, Marshall and Sanow state: "The following five Glaser shootings come from Gene Wolberg, Senior Criminologist, San Diego Police Crime Lab." Mr. Wolberg, an author of this review, testified that only the third and fifth incidents described are fully documented and verifiable cases. Mr. Wolberg states he is only casually aware of the fourth incident and emphasizes that his second-hand information is undocumented. Mr. Wolberg denies all knowledge of the first two shooting reports Marshall and Sanow attribute to him. On pages 43 and 44, Marshall and Sanow discuss their data collection methodology:

"4. In order to be included in this study, I insisted on either having or at least being able to review some of the following: police reports, evidence technician reports, statements by the victim (if he survived), homicide reports, autopsy results, and photos. Whenever possible, I also talked to the emergency room doctors and attending physicians.

5. Recovered bullets were either personally examined or photographed by me, or I was provided with photographs of the bullets."

Mr. Wolberg never provided Marshall or Sanow any of the reports, test results, photos or evidence which they insist the inspect prior to including a shooting in their data base. As a result, the veracity of their entire data base is questionable. The verisimilitude of the author’s "street result" data is also in doubt since they violate basic principles of scientific research by not publishing their original data and by claiming "secrecy" when asked to identify their source documentation so that independent researchers who investigate wound ballistics could inspect their original information and verify their results.

Additionally, Marshall’s and Sanow’s "street results" and "one-shot stop" statistics fail to address what anatomic structures are disrupted and damaged by the bullet. They also ignore the crucial fact that many adversaries are incapacitated due to psychological rather than physiological reasons: they decide to stop, but are not forced to stop. While the degree and rapidity of any physiological incapacitation produced by a given bullet is predictable based on what anatomic structures the bullet disrupts and the severity of the tissue damage, psychological incapacitation is an extremely erratic, highly variable, and completely unpredictable individual human response which is independent of any inherent characteristics of the bullet. An eloquent critique analyzing the flaws of these "street results" and "one-shot stop" statistics is presented by Patrick.2

A typical example of the contradictions in this book is the following quotation from page 161, which indicates the authors are fully aware of the meaningless nature of these irrelevant and misleading "street results" and "one-shot stop" statistics:

"To make matters worse, all shooting results are anomalies, or single cases, unique to themselves. The data is strictly anecdotal. As such they blatantly defy direct comparison to one another. Each case is filled with variables almost beyond number. Some of these variables are real. Some are only perceived.

The real fact-based variables include, but are not limited to, the victim’s state of mind, the presence of alcohol or other behavior-modifying chemicals such as PCP, and the physical size and stamina of the victim. Other variables include the barrel length and bullet impact velocity, the generation and condition of ammo used, and the presence of obstacles that the bullet passed through to reach the intended target.

The largest variable in any gunfight is the exact path the bullet takes from entry until exit and the exact tissue the bullet engages. Two bullet paths can be identical from entry to exit. If one happens to nick something like a major artery or chip a bone in the spine, the results can be wildly different, even if the rest of the scenario is identical."

Predicting Stopping Power

The pseudoscientific formulas purported to predict "stopping power" which are presented in Chapter 17 are unsupported by any scientific evidence. These formulas appear to be completely meaningless since they are based on the irrelevant and misleading "street results" and since the gelatin tests used by the authors appear to be flawed and inaccurate.

The penetration depths of test shots into ordnance gelatin listed by Marshall and Sanow in Table 17-1 are considerably deeper than those reported by other wound ballistic research facilities throughout the United States, as illustrated by the following examples: Table 17-1 lists the penetration of the Winchester 147gr JHP as 15.9 inches, while data from the Southeast Missouri Regional Crime Laboratory indicates only a 13 inch average penetration; with the Federal .357 Magnum 125gr JHP, Table 17-1 lists a penetration depth of 13.3 inches, while the FBI reports only a 10.6 inch average penetration; and Table 17-1 gives a penetration depth of 17.1 inches for the Remington .45 ACP 185gr JHP, while Letterman Army Institute of Research data shows only a 10.9 inch average penetration.3,4,5

Penetration Depth

Numerous articles have discussed the poor performance of shallow penetrating, lightweight, high-velocity JHP and pre-fragmented handgun bullets and how this ammunition jeopardizes law enforcement officer’s lives.6,7,8,9,10,11,12 These articles strongly urge law enforcement agencies to choose more effective ammunition to prevent officer fatalities due to inadequate bullet performance. Besides increasing officer safety, changing to more effective ammunition would also reduce law enforcement agency liability. If an officer were killed or wounded while using issue ammunition which legitimate law enforcement publications and scientifically accepted wound ballistics literature had reported to be ineffective, the agency would be considered negligent during any civil litigation. Marshall and Sanow seem to agree with these recommendation when they state on page 23:

"Now, instead of 6 to 8 inches of penetration being acceptable, the bullet needs to penetrate 12 to 15 inches. The same deep penetration is needed against a crouched or prone assailant, a felon seated in a car, a shooter seeking cover and exposing only nonvital parts, or a person who shoots with his body at a quarter angle."

Yet they completely contradict their previous statements by writing the following on page 188:

"Is 12 inches a realistic minimum, as some experts claim? No, not according to actual results. The three loads that not meet the 12 inch minimum on the average are extremely interesting. Most significant is the Winchester 9mm +P+ 115-grain JHP Q4147 used by Illinois State Police (ISP). The +P+ bullet penetrates as little as 7.9 inches of gelatin, yet produces one-shot stops 88.23 percent of the time. This is an extremely effective round."

Mr. Larry Fletcher, of the Dallas County Institute of Forensic Sciences (formerly the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences), feels that Chapter 5 misrepresents his organization’s findings. He emphatically disagrees with Marshall’s and Sanow’s recommendation of lightweight, high-velocity projectiles such as the 9mm 115gr and 115gr +P+ JHP, .357 Magnum 110gr and 125gr JHP bullets, and .45 ACP 185gr +P JHP bullets. The Dallas County Institute of Forensic Sciences finds the overexpansion and excessive fragmentation exhibited by these bullets results in stretch and crush cavities at too shallow a depth. Mr. Fletcher strongly emphasizes that all of these loads offer inadequate performance for law enforcement use since they exhibit insufficient penetration to consistently reach the major organs and blood vessels in the torso, especially from the transverse and oblique angles commonly encountered in law enforcement shootings. The Dallas County Institute of Forensic Sciences recommends cartridges which offer reasonable penetration and reliable expansion without fragmentation, such as the 9mm 147gr JHP, .40 S&W 180gr JHP, and .45 ACP 230gr JHP.

Bullet Performance Misconceptions

On page 35, Marshall and Sanow state: "The Winchester 9mm 147-grain OSM was designed for maximum accuracy from carbine weapons in military roles. It is not suitable for maximum stopping power from handguns in a police or defensive role." On the next page, they add that the 9mm 147gr JHP: "...could not be a worse round for police use, according to actual police shooting results." On page 188, the authors state: "The lackluster street performance from the heavy 9mm 147-grain bullets can be traced directly to too much penetration and too little expansion." Marshall and Sanow write on page 62: "Ballistic gelatin results clearly predict the 115-grain jacket hollowpoint to be the top load in 9mm." They offer no justification to support their assertions. In fact, the actual published data on 9mm JHP ammunition shows their comments to be utterly false and inaccurate.

After extensive testing to determine the best 9mm JHP ammunition for personal defense use in the XM-11 9mm compact pistol designated for military criminal investigators, military police, Department of Defense security personnel, and military intelligence agencies, ordnance engineers selected the 9mm 147gr JHP, citing its "outstanding performance" compared to 9mm 124gr and 115gr ammunition.13 The test report makes special note that the various 9mm 115gr +P+ and 124gr +P+ JHP cartridges offered the worst performance of any ammunition tested. The 9mm 147gr JHP is also in current operational use by some U.S. military special operations forces and, despite Marshall’s and Sanow’s opinion, it has proven quite effective when fired from pistols such as the SIG P226 and Beretta M9/10 (92F/92FS).

Mr. Eugene Wolberg, of the San Diego Police Department, reviewed the performance of the department’s issue 9mm 147gr JHP ammunition by measuring bullet penetration and expansion after each shooting incident.14 The 9mm 147gr bullet produced a 13 inch average penetration in human tissue and reliably expanded in the 27 shootings to the human torso reported in the study. Since the study was published, an additional 17 documented shootings have exhibited nearly identical results. Mr. Wolberg’s study of San Diego Police Department shootings also compared bullet performance in human tissue with the performance of bullets fired into properly prepared and calibrated 10 percent ordnance gelatin. Average bullet penetration in both tissue and gelatin was 13 inches.

Mr. Wolberg’s study proves that the average penetration of bullets in the human torso is nearly the same as that in properly prepared and calibrated 10 percent ordnance gelatin. This analysis refutes another of Marshall’s and Sanow’s unsubstantiated claims which they make on page 171 of their text: "Penetration distances in 10 percent gelatin consistently will be 15 to 20 percent shallower, on average, compared to penetration in a living human being." Documented scientific research has proven that properly prepared 10 percent ordnance gelatin not only duplicates the bullet deformation and fragmentation seen in living tissue, but that the penetration results in 10 percent gelatin are within 3 percent of those measured in living tissue.15 Contrary to Marshall’s and Sanow’s incorrect statements, the penetration depths of expanded bullets in living tissue are frequently less than those exhibited in properly prepared and calibrated 10 percent ordnance gelatin, due to the tough, resilient characteristics of the skin on the exit side of the body. This strong, flexible skin can have the same resistance to bullet passage as 4 inches of muscle and often causes bullets to end their path just under the skin at the anticipated exit point rather than exiting, as would be expected based on the deeper penetration results seen in ordnance gelatin.16

On page 189, Marshall and Sanow state: "The average penetration distance for the best street loads is only 13.0 inches." Since this is exactly what the 9mm 147gr JHP has produced in actual shootings and in laboratory testing, it is surprising that Marshall and Sanow continue to recommend 9mm 115gr and 115gr +P+ bullets which fail to meet the penetration 12 to 15 inch guidelines they themselves recommend on page 23.

Marshall and Sanow write on page 35: "The 9mm Silvertip has an excellent street record. The single instance of underpenetration in the FBI/Miami shootout is not grounds for withdrawal from service."

This statement is incorrect. Numerous failures due to insufficient penetration have been documented with the 9mm Winchester Silvertip 115gr JHP. One infamous incident occurred on Easter Sunday in 1989, when San Diego Sheriff’s Department Tactical Unit officers were forced to shoot a criminal 27 times over several minutes because their 9mm Silvertips failed to penetrate deeply enough to damage any vital organs and cause physiologic incapacitation, despite solid torso hits. A bullet finally severed the relatively superficially placed carotid artery and jugular vein in the neck, resulting in fatal hemorrhage which ended the encounter. The San Diego Police Department switched to the 9mm Winchester 147gr JHP after several documented underpenetration failures with the 9mm Winchester Silvertip 115gr JHP.


It is unfortunate that the authors did not take the time to adequately research and document their material and that the book’s editors did not demand correction of the confusing mistakes in evidence throughout the book. As a result, this text has far too many errors, inconsistencies, and a blatant disregard for scientific truth to be recommended as a wound ballistics reference book. The reader is asked to believe, on faith alone, a field "data base" derived from unpublished "secret sources." No clear thinking person should fall prey to this nonsense, but some individuals with no background in science or those too indolent or busy to do their own thinking could be misled. This book is a bad joke, a joke which may get law enforcement officers killed.


  1. Göransson AM, Ingvar DH, Kutyna F: "Remote Cerebral Effects on EEG in High-energy Missile Trauma." JTrauma, 28(1) Supplement: S204-S205; 1/1988.
  2. Patrick UW: "Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness." FBI Academy Firearms Training Unit, Quantico, VA. 7/1989.
  3. Wagoner A: "10% Ordnance Gelatin Test Results." Southeast Missouri Regional Crime Laboratory. 3/1991.
  4. FBI Academy Firearms Training Unit. 1990 Ammunition Tests. Quantico, VA. U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation. 1/1991.
  5. Letterman Army Institute of Research, Division of Military Trauma Research. Laboratory Logs Wound Ballistic Testing. 11/1986 to 5/1991.
  6. Fackler ML: "The Ideal Police Bullet." Internal Security and Co-In Supplement to International Defense Review, 11(2) Supplement: 45-46; 1990.
  7. Fackler ML: "Handgun Bullet Performance." International Defense Review, 9(5): 555-557; 1988.
  8. Fackler ML: "Letter to the Editor: Bullet Performance Misconceptions." International Defense Review, 8(3): 369-370; 1987.
  9. FBI Academy Firearms Training Unit. 1990 Ammunition Tests. Quantico, VA. U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation. 1/1991.
  10. FBI Academy Firearms Training Unit. 1989 Ammunition Tests. Quantico, VA. U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation. 1/1990.
  11. FBI Academy Firearms Training Unit: "9mm vs. .45 Auto." FBI Wound Ballistics Workshop. Quantico, VA: 15-17; 1987.
  12. Patrick UW: "Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness." FBI Academy Firearms Training Unit, Quantico, VA. 7/1989.
  13. Karcher SK: "TR/2024/C91/586 -- Test and Evaluation Report of 9mm Jacketed Hollow-Point (JHP) Cartridges for Naval Investigative Service (NIS) Use in the XM11 9mm Compact Pistol." Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane, IN: 10/1991.
  14. Wolberg EJ: "Performance of the Winchester 9mm 147 Grain Subsonic Jacketed Hollow Point Bullet in Human Tissue and Tissue Simulant." Wound Ballistics Review, 1(1); 1991.
  15. Fackler ML , Malinowski JA: "The Wound Profile: A Visual Method for Quantifying Gunshot Wound Components." JTrauma, 25(6): 522-529; 1985
  16. Fackler ML: "Letter to the Editor: Bullet Performance Misconceptions." International Defense Review, 8(3): 369-370; 1987.

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