Florida Concealed Carry banner

The "Center Mass" Myth (Merged)

43563 Views 78 Replies 46 Participants Last post by  Scouse
I found this while surfing, a search revealed that it has not been posted here yet and I thought that it was an interesting read.

The "Center Mass" Myth and Ending a Gunfight
By Jim Higginbotham

Surviving a gunfight isn't what you think it is. Don’t let conventional wisdom get you killed. A well place round to "center mass" in your attacker may not take him out of the fight. Lots of people stay in the fight after "center mass" hits, and some even win it. If you expect to win your gunfight, you have to make sure that you have effectively ended the threat of your attacker. One, two or even several well placed "center mass" shots may not do what you think it will, and learning to recognize this before you gunfight may save your life.

There is a self styled self defense “expert” under every rock, and perhaps two behind every bush, these days. If you have a pet theory on what might work on the street then you can probably find a champion for that idea who actually charges people to teach them that skill. But few of the experts out there have ever been in gunfights, and even fewer have studied real gunfights to see how things really work out when the bullets really fly for blood.

There are more misconceptions out there than I can cover in one article but the one that probably gets to me the most, even over all the caliber wars that rage interminably in the print and cyber media, is the nearly universal acceptance that shooting a miscreant “center mass” with ________(fill in your favorite make, model and caliber) shooting _________ (fill in your favorite ammunition) hyper speed truck killer is practically guaranteed to get the job done.

Having studied in this field from a number of decades, I have run into plenty of cases where bullets did not do what folks would have assumed. And I have now collected enough of these that I think that rather than being anomalies, they are actually closer to the norm. Center mass hits in a gunfight do not in most cases end the fight. Erroneous assumptions can get you killed!

There is a well known video in training circles in which a Highway Patrol officer shoots an armed subject 5 times “center mass” (this is not my assessment but the statement of his immediate supervisors which are interviewed on the full version of the hour long tape) with his 4” .357 Magnum revolver firing hollow point ammunition. All 5 hits failed to do the job and the subject was able to fire one round which struck the officer in the armpit. That round wondered around in the chest cavity and found his heart. The officer unfortunately died at the scene and his attacker is alive today.

In a class I conduct under the title "Fire For Effect" I start out by showing a video of standoff in which a hostage taker is fired on by police with .223 rifles and .40 caliber handguns. Throughout the whole disturbing sequence, which lasts about 10 seconds, the bad guy is hit multiple times in the torso with both rifle and pistol rounds. You can see him place his non-firing hand to his chest, clearly a lung is hit. However he is able to shoot his hostage 3 times, not rapidly. The hostage, a trim female, is active throughout the scene but later died from her wounds. In this case both the attacker and the victim had “center mass” hits that had no immediate effect.

I have accumulated confirmed incidents in which people have been shot “center mass” up to 55 times with 9mm JHP ammunition (the subject was hit 106 times, but 55 of those hits were ruled by the coroner to be each lethal in and of themselves) before he went down. During training at the FBI Academy we were told of a case in which agents shot a bank robber 65 times with 9mm, .223 and 00 buckshot – he survived! These are not rare cases. The happen quite often.

If a gunfight ever comes your way, your attacker may fall to a hit to the liver and he may not. He may fall to two or three hits to the kidneys, intestines or spleen, but he may not. He will certainly be in bad health. He likely will not survive, but what he does for the next several seconds to a few minutes is not guaranteed because you hit him "center mass."

Heart and lung hits don't statistically fare much better. I have three students and three other acquaintances who were all shot in a lung at the outset of gunfights. The students came to me after their fights to learn how to keep from getting shot again. Last time I checked all of those people were still alive and the people who shot them are still dead. Every one of them was able to respond effectively after being shot “center mass”, one might even say they were shot in the “A-zone”. And they were shot with .38 Special (three of them), 9mm, .357 Magnum and 8mm Mauser, so it's not all about caliber. One of those was a Chicom 12.7 mm round! He lived next door to me for many years.

So, what’s a person to do? First off, realize that one shot, even a fairly well placed shot may not do the job so don’t set there and admire your handiwork or wait for it to take effect. But even two hits may not get the job done!

After years of trying to get a grasp on this I have come to look at the results of shooting a living breathing target – be it a human attacker or a game animal – as falling into 3 or 4 categories. They are :

1.Instant Collapse – this takes place 1 to 2 seconds from the shot being fired
2.Rapid Collapse – this can take from 3 to 15 seconds and is quite common.
3.Marginal Effect – this can even be a lethal hit but it takes from 15 to 300 (yes 300!) or even more seconds.
4.The 4th is simply unacceptable and is a total failure.
The last category we don’t like to discuss but happens too often . We saw it recently in Washington with a Center Mass hit from an officer’s pistol and the subject was still walking around the next day.

What is “effective” shooting? Sad to say, it is demanding. It is also, I think, variable depending on the conditions. For example, the robber armed with a scattergun who is standing 10 feet away must be stopped “right now!” If you do not bring about Instant Collapse someone may very well die…that someone may be you!

On the other hand, if there is a gang banger launching bullets in your general direction using un-aimed fire about 20 yards away then a hit that brings about Rapid Collapse might do the job.

I cannot imagine a Marginally Effective result being very desirable in any case, but it does buy you some time in some cases.

How does this relate to hits? In order to achieve Instant Collapse you must scramble the “circuitry” that keeps the bad guy on the attack. That means the brain or spinal cord.

The head is not only a fairly difficult target to hit in the real world – because it moves a lot – but it is also difficult to penetrate and get a pistol bullet into the place it must be to be effective. For normal purposes we might write off the head, keeping it in reserve for very special circumstances.

The spine is not that easy to hit either. It isn't large, and to be effective the hit needs to be in the upper 1/3 of the spine or at a point about level with the tip of the sternum. I think that is around T11. But of course the huge problem is that it is hidden by the rest of the body. We are the good guys, we don’t go around shooting people in the back. So the exact location is something that can only be learned through lots of practice on 3D targets. Your point of aim on the surface changes with the angle at which the target is facing.

The bottom of the spine isn't much use. I know of several people shot in the pelvis. It did not break them down as many theorize. I am not saying it doesn’t happen but in the only case I know of in which it did the person who was “anchored” with a .357 magnum to the pelvis killed the person that shot him – you can shoot just fine from prone.

A shot, or preferably multiple shots to the heart and major arteries above the heart (not below!) may achieve Rapid Collapse, but not always. Officer Stacy Lim was shot in the heart at contact distance with a .357 Magnum and is still alive and her attacker is still dead! Score one for the good guys…or in this case gals!

So now what constitutes Marginal Effectiveness? A hit to the lungs! Even multiple hits to the lungs. Unfortunately though, most often lung hits are effective in ending the fight because the subject decides to quit the fight, not because he MUST. A famous Colonel Louis LeGarde once wrote what is considered "the" book on gunshot wounds. 65% of his patients shot through the lungs – with rifles! – survived with the predominant treatment being only bed rest!

Effective Practice and "Dynamic Response"
The goal of practice, one would think, is to make correct, effective shooting techniques a matter of reflex, so that you don't have to think about what you are doing in a gunfight.

Most people will perform under stress at about 50 to 60% as well as they do on the range…and that is if they practice a lot! If they only go to the range once every other month that performance level decreases dramatically. Shooting and weapons handling are very perishable skills. Also folks tend to practice the wrong stuff inadvertently. I put this in the classification of “practicing getting killed” but that too is a topic for another day.

Movement and Variation doesen't mean
innacurate shooting. In a real gunfight you and
your adversary will most likely
be moving. Click here if you can't see the video.

Let’s talks about a basic response, what I call "Dynamic Response." Situations vary and this is not meant to be a universal answer, just one that will work for about 80% of scenarios.

It is pointless to stand still on the range and shoot a stationary target, unless you simply want to polish up some marksmanship fundamentals. That is a necessary part of learning to shoot. But if you are practicing for a fight, then fight!

Some rules.

1.Don’t go to the range without a covering garment – unless of course you always carry your gun exposed (no comment).
2.Don’t practice drawing your gun fast – ever! – while standing still.
Part of the Dynamic Response is to step off the line of attack (or on rare occasions that are dependent on circumstances backwards or forwards) and present the weapon with as much alacrity as you can muster and engage the target with overwhelming and accurate fire! By the way, never assume a fight is completely over just because you canceled one threat. Don’t practice “standing down” too quickly. We have a video attached which will hopefully give you the right idea.

I wish there was a formula of how to stand and how to hold you gun but there really isn't. We don’t do “Weaver vs. Isosceles vs. Modern Iso vs. whatever”. We don’t do “Thumbs Crossed vs. Thumbs Forward vs. Thumb Up…never mind.” Those are things for you to work out on your own. You use what makes YOU effective not what works for a guy who practices 50,000 rounds the week before a big match (that is not an exaggeration). Competitive shooters will throw out advice on what works for them. It may not work for you.

There is also not “one true gun”. Your skill is far more important that what you carry, within reason. We are not really talking about “stopping power”, whatever that is, here but rather effectiveness.

I can find no real measure – referred to by some as a mathematical model – of stopping power or effectiveness. And I have looked for 44 years now! Generally speaking I do see that bigger holes (in the right place) are more effective than smaller holes but the easy answer to that is just to shoot your smaller gun more – “a big shot is just a little shot that kept shooting”. True, I carry a .45 but that is because I am lazy and want to shoot less. A good bullet in 9mm in the right place (the spine!) will get the job done. If you hit the heart, 3 or 4 expanded 9mms will do about what a .45 expanding bullet will do or one might equal .45 ball….IF (note the big if) it penetrates. That is not based on any formula, it is based on what I have found to happen – sometimes real life does not make sense.

Practicing Dynamic Response means practicing with an open mind. Circumstances in a real gunfight are unpredictable and the more unpredictability you mix up into your practice the more your brain will be preparing itself for a possible real gunfight.

In real life, your gunfight may be dark, cold, rainy, etc. The subject may be anorexic (a lot of bad guys are not very healthy) or he may be obese (effective penetration and stopping power of your weapon). There are dozens of modifiers which change the circumstance, most not under your control. My only advice on this is what I learned from an old tanker: “Shoot until the target changes shape or catches fire!” Vertical to horizontal is a shape change, and putting that one more round into his chest at point blank range may catch his clothes on fire, even without using black powder.

We tell our military folks to be prepared to hit an enemy fighter from 3-7 times with 5.56 ball, traveling at over 3,000 feet per second. This approach sometimes worked, but I know of several cases where it has not, even "center mass."

With handguns, and with expanding bullets, it is even more unpredictable, but through years of study I have developed a general formula, subject to the above mentioned unpredictable circumstances.

•2-3 hits with a .45
•4-6 with a .40
•5-8 with a 9mm
With a revolver, the rounds are not necessarily more effective but I would practice shooting 3 in a .38 or .357 merely because I want 3 left for other threats. Not that those next three won’t follow quickly if the target hasn’t changed shape around my front sight blade. A .41, .44 or .45 Colt I would probably drop to two. Once again, they are not that much more effective than a .45 Auto but I don’t have the bullets to waste.

In any case, I want to stress the part that it is more about how you shoot than what you shoot, within reason. It is also more about the mindset and condition of the subject you are shooting which is not under your control. Take control – buy good bullets and put them where they count the most! And remember “anyone worth shooting once is worth shooting a whole lot!” (but please stop when the threat is cancelled, we don’t advocate “finishing shots”).

Gunfights are ugly things. I don't like to talk about the blood and guts aspects of defending life any more than the next guy. But it is our lives we are talking about here. By researching how gunfights are fought, and more importantly, how gunfights are won, it may give both of us the edge if a gunfight ever comes our way. I hope to cover many of the points I have learned and learned to train others in over the coming months. It isn't as easy to write about it as it is to teach it in person, but you can only succeed if you are willing to try.

I hope you enjoy the ride.

Press on!

See less See more
1 - 11 of 79 Posts
I'd tend to agree with the majority of his assessments, but several points are clearly misspoken based on historic records as well.
There's no argument, 9mm is for women and .45 is for men!!!! :rolf
Even little tiny, scrawny pencil neck geeks that weigh 95 pounds soaking wet?, I doubt that very much :rolf
1. Its not that complicated....put as many rounds .22 - 44mag on target with (COM being you POA), as quickly as possible until the fight is over.....

2. Brits STILL train 2 X COM and if no result move to head shots...:D

3. :eek:I guess I went through a sex change without knowing it!, as I have carried and continue to carry a 9mm for most of my life. POI and tactics always out ways size of projectile.

4. Nice article though, even with some of miss-information.

5. My 3 rules or a gunfight:
Have a gun that works.
I must have gone to the same doctor you did Will :drinks
There are 4 factors to a projectile (bullet) wound. They are Penetration, Permanent Cavity, Temporary Cavity, and Fragmentation.

Because of the speed of handgun ammunition, only penetration and permanent cavity are a factor. Pistol rounds move too slowly to achieve consistent fragmentation or to cause damage through the temporary wound cavity.

In order to achieve incapacitation, the central nervous system (CNS) must be destroyed. The CNS is the brain and upper spinal column. In order to destroy the CNS, a projectile must pass through the area (not just reach it). Hits to the heart-even multiple hits-will not quickly incapacitate your attacker. Even if the heart is severely damaged, your attacker will have approximately 15 seconds of full voluntary function before bleeding out.

The bottom line is that you want a defensive round that will penetrate 12-18 inches. The bigger the permanent wound cavity the better. Determining how much better a .45 is than a 9mm is extremely difficult and subjective. As long as the penetration is there, the only thing that matters is placement.

I wrote a paper on this awhile back with more detail about the factors of wounding, etc. You can download it if you're interested:here.


See you did stints with the 5th group. Ever meet a guy named Ayman Taha in the 5th group?
I knew Ayman very well. He was in my company. He was a good soldier and hell on wheels with a pistol.

Hell on wheels with a pistol -- :thumsup

He trained with me for two days out here privately in Quick Kill pistol training and the M4 before deploying.

My wife considered him a son, he stayed as our guest for three days in my home while here. I made the funeral at Arlington and met his family. I'm still in touch with his wife on occasion.

Here's something I wrote about him on my own site years ago.


Stay sharp out there.
See less See more
I had a firearms instructor in the police academy who had a very good point. He taught us while advancing on the target to put 2 rounds COM, 2 rounds in the head, and 2 rounds in the groin region ( more towards the inside part of the leg.) If the threat hasn't been neutralized repeat the process until it has.

His explanation was pretty simple, and made a lot of sense. He told us, "you just put 2 rounds in his chest, but he was wearing body armor, and that's why you put 2 in his head. You realized 1 bullet to the head just grazed him and the other one didn't penetrate." Now were all wondering why he had us put 2 to the groin region. He reminds us that your femoral artery runs through that region of your leg, and we may have a chance of hitting it with those 2 rounds and incapacitating the target.

So if I am in a close quarter combat situation, I am putting 2 in the chest, 2 in the head, and 2 in the groin, repeat.
That's an interesting hypothesis but it makes one move the gun from mid range to high range and then all the way to low range. Lots of movement on the gun with all the inherent errant shots created by that amount of movement of the firearm.

How about 2 upper COM and go to head and stay there till they are down. Graze someone in the head with a bullet, put one on the skull that doesn't penetrate, you're ringing his bell and he's not likely very viable though he may still be upright.
FBI Miami Shootout
April 11, 1986: Pinecrest, Fla.
A close-quarters gun battle involving eight FBI agents and two heavily armed suspects during a felony stop in southern Miami, this incident led FBI Firearms Training Unit Director John Hall to conclude that the carnage was primarily "an ammo failure."
The FBI's after-action report solidified Hall's belief, because it showed that Michael Platt and William Matix—an Army Ranger and Army MP of the 101st Airborne, respectively—sustained fatal wounds yet continued to bring the fight to the agents. The agents had fired .38 Special and 9mm rounds from revolvers and semi-auto pistols, which lacked adequate stopping power, FBI officials said afterward. Only Special Agent Edmundo Mireles deployed a long gun—his Remington 870 pump-action shotgun.
One bullet, in particular, was singled out as the "shot that failed." Fired by Special Agent Jerry Dove, this 9mm bullet struck Platt's right forearm, entered his right ribcage, and stopped an inch from his heart. Platt survived to fight for four more minutes, eventually killing agents Dove and Benjamin Grogan.
Matix had also apparently been taken out of the fight early with a .38 Special +P round fired by Special Agent Gordon McNeill from his S&W Model 19 that struck Matix in the face and contused his brain. According to Dr. French Anderson's "Forensic Analysis of the April 11, 1986, FBI Firefight," the wound "must have been devastating." After he lay unconscious for more than a minute, Matix became alert, left his car, and joined Platt in agent Grogan's and agent Dove's vehicle.
Following the tragedy, the FBI phased out revolvers and .38 Special ammunition. Agents were also eventually issued H&K MP5 submachine guns for high-risk encounters.
"The FBI went looking for a pistol round with deeper penetration," says Dave Spaulding, a retired Ohio police lieutenant and pistol instructor. "It's not important that you hit something, it's important that you hit something important."
The FBI's adoption of 10mm Auto to attain greater stopping power popularized the then-obscure round. The FBI later switched to a subsonic load (the "10mm FBI") to better tame the full-powered 10mm that delivered about 38,000 pounds psi, says Ayoob, who's written extensively about the incident.
Later, the FBI switched to the .40-caliber S&W that is now the most prevalent duty ammo in law enforcement. The .40-caliber provides similar ballistics to a 10mm in a shorter casing.

I think this should help on the subject of ballistics. This gunfight alone, was studied by more law enforcement agencies than any other. Writings have been made by M. Ayoob, Dr. Anderson and many others.......This is one of 5 gunfights that changed Law Enforcement thoughts on gunfights forever. Please read this link to Police Magazine......http://www.policemag.com/Channel/Pa...5-Gunfights-That-Changed-Law-Enforcement.aspx

No matter what, its shot placement and hard hits that drop badguys.

Just my .02

At Judgment Training Institute in Vero Beach, it is stunning how many first-time virtual-reality scenario students engage a threat with only two rounds. Range practice is a hard habit to break. Our computer is set to have any scenario end with a bad-guy collapse with a random number of COM strikes--rarely one.
That isn't surprising at all. Sometimes two's enough, other times it's not. What your statement tells me is that most think two rds was/is enough. It may or may not be, and if the scenarios demanded more than 2, there's lessons there which is exactly why we train to begin with, to learn lessons from mistakes/errors in judgement that we then may not have to make on the street in real time.
Uncle Sam was kind enough to train me, train me and then train me some more. We practiced 2 to "center mass", 1 to the head. In a military situation this is an acceptable way to engage a target. In the civilian world, you have to think before that type of engagement. The aftermath of any shooting is the problem. And no, I am not advocating that anyone disengage before the threat is removed. I practice 2 to center mass and then keep my weapon on target for immediate follow up shot. If needed, that becomes the 1 to the head. The moral of the story, keep your weapon downrange and on target until the threat has been eliminated. Obviously each scenario is different. Multiple threats would require immediate termination of each threat in succession. (you don't want to have to re-engage)
With multiples, boarding house rules apply IMO. You don't want to be putting 2-3 in the first two only to have the 3rd tap you before you can get to them for spending too much time on the first two. You may not have to re-engage either or may have to engage each again, but I'm not wasting time to get lead on each and damage them all thereby reducing my chances of getting hit to begin with.

And instead of two and assess for one perp as an SOP response, shoot them to the ground and shoot em some more if they are still a viable threat in any way [ moving ].

Uncle sam? If I only knew what uncle taught me in the Corps, I'd be dead now several times over.
Brownie, a buddy and I did a lot of training, looking for the best way to shoot multiple bad guys (Man sized cardboard targets, 3 of)

Swinging left to right, right to left. Targets 7m away, 1m apart.

For whatever reason, single hits on each target! Had lots of misses, and/or poor, peripheral hits! Swinging to fast?

The best combination, two on each! Holding still for first shot, because you know you are going to fire more shots?

I don't know? Try it. Against the clock.
Got a really great friend who's a field investigator/agent with ICE/EPA in Ohio. He likes two on each as well. Here's the problem I see with that. As fast as he is, and likely you are, his splits run .20 seconds. That's .40 seconds added before the 3rd guy gets a helping of his own lead injection. It allows that 3rd person more time than necessary. Even a .17 split turns into a little over a third of a second to get a round on me while I'm working on the first two. Any of them may need more, or not, but they've been damaged if they need a second helping and thus aren't as likely to be as viable at putting lead into me thus decreasing the odds of being hit further.

We used to run a 3-3-3 drill at 12 feet with bg's 3 feet apart for time [ from the buzzer, open carried sidearm on the belt ]. In the two on each, best times were averaging about 2.1 seconds from the draw, yet I could put on each on those same three bg's averaging 1.4-1.6 seconds. Transitions were actually faster than splits most of the time. When time is of the essence, I'll take the reduced times to respond and then deal with anyone who needs seconds, but that's just me. There's NO way the fed friend could match the times with two on each. He still preferred two on each though.
See less See more
Why I like the two on each, much better hits! The closest hits in a people situation, not targets equal distance apart, as in one guy in the center of the room, closest, then two more at the doorway. As in one at say, 3 yards, then two next to each other, off to one side, 7 yards away.

So a blinding fast double tap, looking over sights, the transition to full sights for the other two. What say you?
All my hits are COM [ inside an 8" circle ] and that's all I look for with speed on multiples. If you find you don't have to shoot one or more twice [ which is probable based on odds ] you've decreased your time to the 3rd guy. If you have to go back to one and give him more lead, he's already been damaged and that increases your chances of errant rounds from him on yourself to boot.

Now, if they are spread out at different distances, I might be starting with the closest with 1/2 hip as it's faster than bringing the gun to eye level and unnecessary and then going to point shoulder while transitioning to another and may finish with qk pistol for the furthest perp.
1 - 11 of 79 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.