Posted 18 July 2012 - 15:30
Hydrostatic shock requires the bullet to hit tissue. It's based on the peak pressure wave each bullet generates, and largely the remote damage this causes the central nervous system.
This happens because the pressure wave can propogate very efficiently through the circulatory system, causing a water hammer like effect. This transmitted pressure wave can burst small vessels in the brain, or even cause a cerebral hemorrhage (stroke.)
The rule of thumb is that a pressure wave of 1,000 PSI virtually assures a neurological effect, though it can still happen at 500-1,000 PSI but with a lower odds.
The common semi-auto calibers most likely to cause a neurological effect (>1,000 PSI) are the FN 5.7mm, .357 SIG, .40 S&W, .45 .ACP, 10mm, .500 S&W, .50AE etc. 9mm is borderline, with its PPW ranging from 800-1,100 PSI depending on the specific ammo.
Of the really common semi-autos .357 SIG & FN 5.7mm (1300+ PSI, .40 S&W (1600+ PSI) and .45 ACP (1,800+ PSI) are favored. FN 5.7 is used by the Secret Service, .357 SIG is used by the Federal Air Marshall's, .40 S&W is used by most other Federal agencies and a lot of law enforcement (DHS just ordered 450 million rounds), and the .45 is still very popular, including with Special Forces.