The Ultimate Man-NOT-Stopper

Word Games We Shouldn’t Play
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It happened again today: I saw the term “Ultimate Manstopper” and my head exploded. Fortunately, I was able to get all the gray matter stuffed back inside my cranium before it got cold. It was close.

The incident occurred during a humorous series of text messages among the GUNS staffers when somebody used the aforementioned phrase in a sarcastic way. This is the only time the term is allowed to be uttered around here because it has otherwise been banished except for ironic purposes. Let me explain.



You might remember back in the early Mesozoic era, when feathered lizards were learning to fly and gun magazines still ruled the earth, the term “Ultimate Manstopper” was first coined by some forgotten editor. It was the natural result of two related but monumental events.

First was renewed research efforts into “terminal ballistics,” the field of science dealing with what happens when bullet hits quivering flesh. This became a topic of extreme interest following the 1986 FBI Miami Shootout where two bad guys suffered non-survivable wounds but inconveniently forgot to die as they killed and wounded several agents. The research eventually led to the “FBI Ammunition Protocol,” one of the first modern science-backed ammunition specifications for law enforcement.

When the FBI — the 900-lb. gorilla in the cop world — sets standards for things like ammo, the industry pays attention. Rushing to meet the standards, ammunition companies used the data and specifications to design bullets that punched above their weight class when applied to people who were doing very bad things. This started a major revolution in handgun ammunition and began the ascendancy of the 9mm from “almost good enough” to “no major statistical difference.”

Predictably then came the now-trite series of “9mm versus .45: The Ultimate Shootout” articles in every firearms publication. Sadly, Your Faithful Correspondent might even have written one or two back in the day. As new ammunition technology made its way to market, soon all sorts of bullets, calibers and cartridges were being heralded in the popular press as “The Ultimate Manstopper” — apparently female felons require a different sort of bullet — and soon the term was emblazoned across the covers of countless publications in 300-point neon font accompanied by six exclamation points.

Every gun writer worth his or her salt, even those who had been officially declared dead for several years, were producing stories in this regard and I’m fairly sure every commercial cartridge manufactured after 1870 has, at some point, been claimed to be “The Ultimate Manstopper” (TUM). It was, and still is, a bit over-the-top and wholly ridiculous.


The Big Reveal

Before we go any further and without the slightest hesitation or indecisiveness, I’m going to tell you here and now what is truly the ultimate manstopper. I very rarely declare myself as the ultimate authority in such cases but this information is based upon my direct observation and is not open to debate or argument. Thus, without further discussion or dragging this out longer for dramatic effect, I declare The Ultimate Manstopper to be — the 1998 Kenworth semi-tractor pulling a 52-foot reefer carrying 55,000 lbs. of frozen chicken hearts. You get smacked by one of those babies at highway speed and the fire department doesn’t even try to collect the remains, they just hose you off the road. I’ve seen it.

I’ll also accept high-explosives, asteroids, lightning and Wrath of the Almighty as nominations for best-in-class. Most everything else, including all handgun cartridges, are members of the “almost, nearly, but-not-quite” manstopper category.


Failures Happen

Let’s examine this. First off, anyone with more brain cells than a Kardashian realizes there is virtually no “ultimate” anything. Everything is subject to failure in certain circumstances, which is why we have Viagra, spare tires and military-grade underwire brassieres. Likewise, a betting person takes the “under” on whether a tiny piece of high-speed metal is capable of stopping a rampaging 350-lb. machete-armed man who believes himself to be the reincarnation of Vigo the Carpathian.

So, assuming we intuitively understand a mere handgun bullet cannot fix all life-threatening problems instantly, what is the key to stopping these nasty men or women or the non-binary they/them/thee version? This question is far easier to answer: bullet placement.
At extreme over-simplification, it’s been noted a .50 caliber round to the pinky would merely aggravate while a .22 Long Rifle to the brainstem does a pretty good job of cancelling your lifetime subscriptions. This demonstrates the fact bullet placement is the key to personal safety rather than magic Magnums or some other voodoo cartridge.

Thus, our question is no longer, “What is the biggest/best-est gun we can carry?” but “What can I use most effectively to put a bullet into a physiologically important spot on a bad guy under intense stress in sub-optimal conditions?” Once you answer this question, you’re ready to face the mean streets of Main Street USA.

Unfortunately, this is one of those “simple but not easy” situations. In “real life” it’s nighttime, cold, raining, you need to use the bathroom, you’re carrying a bag of groceries, your kids or grandkids are underfoot and you were badly surprised. Your pistol got hung up in the holster, you missed the safety catch the first time and now there are odd, strange snapping noises you recognize to be bullets whizzing past. Things might be factually simple but definitely not easy.


Nine Is Fine

This idea of getting hits is why the 9x19mm Parabellum has achieved such popularity after being considered a black sheep until the 1980s. Back when I started pointing guns at bad people, the 9mm was considered European and even vaguely communistic. Nobody packed a nine except that one weird detective you knew who carried a Hi-Power or maybe an S&W Model 39.

This was the status quo because at the time all the “serious” gunfighters were using, at minimum, a wheelgun in .357 Magnum, a .41, a .44 Special or maybe even the vaunted .44 Mag. On the other side, the esoteric crowd was carrying a 1911 in .45 ACP. At the time, the 9mm, especially in the 115-grain FMJ, really did tend to poke holes rather than stop people. Agencies like the Illinois State Police, that adopted the 9mm in 1968, discovered it didn’t really carry the mail where it counted — downrange.

Fortunately, the situation has reversed. The 9mm, with bullets of modern design, is on terminal performance on par with rounds such as the .45 ACP, the former gold standard. Where it isn’t equal is ease of shooting, carry and capacity. This is where the 9mm shines — it’s easier to shoot and you can carry more rounds in a smaller gun. If there is no difference in the end results, why carry a heavier caliber?

I’m not saying all this to disparage the .45 ACP. I carry both calibers regularly, have seen people dead or dying from each and therefore don’t feel over- or under-gunned with either. My meta-point is the fact both are a good choice — and there are others, if your shooting is up to par. Heck, nowadays there are semi-adequate self-defense rounds in .380 and even .22 LR. One of my backup pistols is one of the micro-revolvers from North American Arms in .22 Magnum.

Would I carry this cute baby gun intentionally into a gunfight? Heck no! But if things have gone horribly wrong, my other bigger guns don’t work or were lost and all I’ve got is the nearly microscopic revolver in my shaking mitt, you’d bet I’d put it up to somebody’s eye socket and pull the trigger if the situation warranted. Mouse gun or major caliber, it’s all about the hit rather than the miss.



This column is my roundabout way of telling you anybody who claims a specific caliber, bullet design — or firearm or shooting technique — is the one true Holy Grail to solve all your lethal problems, while making your whites whiter and your teeth brighter, is completely and utterly full of (expletive deleted). Sorry, but they are, which is why I sometimes get a little jaded and cynical about this whole gun media business.

After all — never forget we’re the guys who brought you the whole “Ultimate Manstopper” nonsense in the first place.

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You never know who you’ll run into at SHOT. Outside the Convention Center, waiting for a ride, Brent ran into famed gunfighter Jim Cirillo.
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