Capacity Counts

When discussing magazine capacity, it seems to be impossible to avoid oft repeated (and rarely thought about) statements like “If I need more than X number of rounds, I haven’t done my job” or “Large capacity magazines make you ‘spray and pray’ instead of making each shot count.” Who hasn’t heard that “The typical gun fight is over in 1 (or 2, or 3, or 4) shot anyway, so I don’t need anything other than this [insert low capacity handgun here].” All three of these statements are probably repeated in guns shops and on internet forums every hour (usually by someone who is justifying their particular choice in handgun). Saying something often doesn’t make it true and it certainly doesn’t make it any less absurd. Logic has no place where ego and machismo reign.

“If I need more than X number of rounds, I haven’t done my job.” I’ll assume that the job that is being referred to is stopping a threat from harming or killing you or a loved one. This statement might be reasonable if there was a set number of rounds that would incapacitate someone intent on doing you harm. The reality is that one shot stops are nearly mythical (especially with handguns) and that determined attackers can and have soaked up 10 or more rounds of just about every caliber before ceasing their attack. A prudent man plans to shoot accurately and often until the threat is stopped whether that take 1 round or 15.

“Large capacity magazines make you ‘spray and pray’ instead of making each shot count.” This is perhaps the most absurd of the above mentioned gun counter philosophies. Magazine capacity is no more responsible for inaccurate, volume fire than large gas tanks are responsible for people accidentally driving past their destinations or than large refrigerators are responsible for people over eating. Those who miss with all 15 rounds in their magazine under stress, would have also missed with all 5 in their revolver’s cylinder. Should we then take this to its logical end and only carry single shot firearms? After all, wouldn’t we then really make our only shot count? That is, of course, absurd. People miss because of a lapse in training, stress, and lots of reasons other than having too many cartridges in their magazine.

“The typical gun fight is over in 1 (or 2, or 3, or 4) shot anyway, so I don’t need anything other than this [insert low capacity handgun here].” All gunfights are typical except for the ones that aren’t. We have seen groups of terrorists, gangs of home invaders, and “flash mobs” become the norm. These things are not rare and they aren’t always confined to any one part of town. Today’s responsible shooter may face any number of situations that can not be solved without plenty of ammunition.

Capacity counts. I become more convinced of this every day. I see evidence of this when I watch the news and when I learn about natural stress responses. Even a cursory study of modern terminal ballistics confronts me with the fact that capacity counts. I can’t tell you how many rounds are enough any more than you can tell me when or where you will need to use a handgun in defense of your life. I can tell you that having a reload (spare magazine, speed loader, etc) for what ever you carry is a good idea. Practicing your reloads until they are second nature is an even better idea. Taking an honest look at the capacity of the firearm that you carry wouldn’t hurt either.

I am not saying that more ammunition can make up for less skill. I am not saying that all problems can or should be solved by the liberal application of ammo. I am saying that the old “wisdom” deserves to be rethought and that you, as a responsible shooter, should take a long and honest look at your gear and training to determine whether it is sufficient for the situations that you are likely to face.

Just think about it.

10 Responses to Capacity Counts

  1. Gary Griffin July 19, 2011 at 16:50 #

    If you lose a firefight because you ran out of ammo first, Darwin’s theory is correct for you.

    • Matt July 19, 2011 at 17:17 #

      Thanks for your thoughts Gary. Darwin’s theory is correct because I should have had the brains to carry more ammo or Darwin’s theory is correct because I used up all my ammo without ending the fight?

  2. Skeeter July 19, 2011 at 18:00 #

    Never forget that shot placement is the number one factor in neutralizing the threat. While capacity may be a more valid issue than caliber, both pale in comparison to shot placement.

    • Matt July 19, 2011 at 18:16 #

      Good thought Skeeter. Like I said in the post “I am not saying that more ammunition can make up for less skill.” Being able to place shots accurately and sufficiently quickly is key.

  3. Dann in Ohio July 19, 2011 at 21:51 #

    I always chuckle when this topic comes up among shooters because I have a friend who constantly hammers that magazine capacity is king with AR15s – he has two 100-round drums, and a dozen ways to connect together multiple 30-rounders, but has no use or good words for any semi-auto handgun beyond his eight-shot .45…

    I’m not pickin’ sides, I’m just chuckling at the paradox…

    Dann in Ohio

  4. Dan July 19, 2011 at 23:32 #

    Matt this strikes me as a very well reasoned argument and I totally agree. Sometimes it can be difficult to carry a high capacity handgun (especially down here where it almost never dips below freezing), but that doesn’t make the decision to carry higher capacity options any less prudent.

  5. Dann in Ohio July 20, 2011 at 00:44 #

    As I thought about this, I pondered… many talk about stopping power and ballistic energy retention and transfer PER CARTRIDGE. Maybe one should calculate that PER MAGAZINE?

    124g 9mm x 18 rounds x energy = ??
    230g .45 ACP x 8 rounds x energy = ??

    I’m just thinking out loud to try and give a semi-quantitative solution to this emotional… er… qualitative subject.

    Dann in Ohio

    • Matt July 20, 2011 at 19:33 #

      Good idea. The only problem with that theory is that modern terminal ballistics has shown that energy is a really poor predictor of performance.

  6. Gary Griffin July 21, 2011 at 19:58 #

    I can see your confusion from my post. As a shooting enthusiast and hunter I always assume all other shooters know that placement is first. I’m sure you agree. Shot placement should end the fight with a single assailant using no more than 3 shots. But he might have a friend who takes exception to the defenders actions. He might have a lot of friends. More bullets well placed = me not hurt. My only criteria for a fair fight.

    • Matt July 22, 2011 at 14:04 #

      Agreed. Placement is definitely key. I am just not sure that placing shots will be as easy as we sometimes think and the places that most people train to shoot do not guarantee instant incapacitation.

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