Personal Protection

Self Defense

Gun Selection: Self Defense

Ammunition: Self Defense

Gun Selection: Hunting

Ammunition: Hunting

Gun Safes

Knives

Safety

Books

Fun Stuff

Second Amendment

Tech Tips

War on Terrorism

Contact Information

Home

SELECTION OF CALIBER

 

Any gun, chambered for any caliber of bullet, is better than nothing in the horrific event that  you are ever confronted by an assailant intent on inflicting bodily harm.  The obvious thus stated, you will find that smaller, less effective calibers may not enable you to quickly and decisively take control of a criminal encounter when the application of superior physical force on your part is required.  They may not provide the "stopping power" needed to deter a determined aggressor.  

At worst, smaller caliber handguns may inspire a false sense of security in the mind of their owner.  They can let them down when needed most.  At best, the same gun may defuse an attack because nobody likes being shot.  A criminal may be thwarted by the mere presence of a firearm in the hands of the intended victim, often without a shot being fired.

Larger, more effective calibers add a correspondingly greater degree of certainty toward achieving a favorable outcome in a self defense situation.          

Selection of a specific caliber for self defense is a function of a variety of factors, including size and weight of the associated gun,  recoil tolerance of the shooter and bullet performance.  

Ideally, a caliber would be selected which is capable of penetrating deep into the core or vital area of an assailant's body, without exiting.  The benefit of this attribute is relatively easy to visualize.  With too much penetration, a bullet will put a hole in the assailant, passing through the body.  Still possessing considerable energy, the bullet will continue on its course until its energy is dissipated by collision with subsequent objects, or worse, with innocent bystanders.  All the energy of the bullet, once it passes through the assailant's body, is wasted.  

Conversely, with not enough penetration potential, a bullet may get impeded by clothing and exterior tissue or bone, failing to disrupt the brain (computer) or the circulatory system (hydraulics).  Such a shot might merely serve to further enrage one's attacker.

In a manner similar to the fairy tale of the Three Bears, some rounds are "too hot", some are "too cold" and some are "just right".  The ideal round for personal protection will dissipate all its energy within the core area of the assailant's body.  It will not exit to endanger others.  Such a round will have the ability to penetrate from between ten and twelve to fifteen inches of human tissue.

When faced with an assailant, the purpose of your handgun and the cartridge it was chambered for is to protect you and your loved ones by "stopping" the aggression.  A measurement of the cartridge's ability to accomplish this is provided by real-world statistics which document actual street shootings, primarily by police in the line of duty.  

The term "one shot stopping power" refers to a bullet's ability to cause a criminal to immediately cease aggressive behavior when shot one time in the torso.  It does not infer whether or not the criminal was instantly killed, was mortally wounded and died later,  was wounded and recovered, or was psychologically as well as physiologically overcome and thus capitulated.  It merely means threatening conduct ceased once the criminal was shot once.

"One shot stopping power" for various cartridges and calibers are provided for handgun, carbine and rifle, and shotgun ammunition in links from the Armory munitions room "Ammunition: Self Defense".  Use these data to establish for yourself an appreciation of the "relative" effectiveness of various rounds for personal protection. 

It should be noted that within the American gun community, the performance of various bullet calibers, weights and types in terms of terminating aggression is the subject of considerable discussion and debate, oftentimes contentious and heated.  Therefore, use the information provided at the Armory as a guide to further your own knowledge, and form your own opinions.  As a minimum, you will be able to access material with which you can assess the merits of various rounds when compared to one another.  

Ammunition manufacturers have expended considerable research in devising ways for their bullets to perform optimally in self defense situations.  Many forms of the jacketed hollow point have been created, with the objective of promoting bullet expansion, an effect conducive to the creation of maximum disruption of an attacker's vital functions.  A jacketed hollow point tends to mushroom as it deforms upon entering and traveling through the assailant's body.  

Bullet technology may enable some smaller caliber bullets, after expanding, to approach or exceed the physical diameter of some of their larger caliber, unexpanded counterparts.  The ability to penetrate, as always, becomes a critical issue.  This is particularly important with regard to smaller caliber cartridges, which may not possess enough power to reliably and consistently put a quick end to a criminal assault.

When a bullet expands, its increased diameter and blunt shape slow and stop it as it passes through soft tissue.  Smaller caliber cartridges such as .22LR, .25ACP and .32ACP may not be powerful enough to cause expanding bullets to mushroom properly as intended.  This may be a benefit in disguise, because penetration will tend to increase to desired performance levels when bullets in these calibers don't overly expand.  

To immediately stop an aggressor, it is necessary to disrupt  the central nervous system, achievable by a shot into the brain, base of the skull, or upper spine in the neck area.  Nervous system trauma will result in  instantaneous loss of consciousness.  Damaging  the circulatory system of one's attacker through a torso shot will result in gradual loss of consciousness, achieved by shock due to blood loss.  

Effective wounding of an attacker, therefore, is a function of shot placement, which produces the path of the bullet through the body, and penetration, which determines which critical and non-critical tissues are disrupted.  Critical tissues include the central nervous system and cardiovascular organs and vessels vital to the assailant's immediate survival.  Rapid hemorrhage deprives the brain of oxygenated blood required for consciousness.  Consider visiting the Armory munitions room "Self Defense"  to ascertain the physical and psychological mechanisms required to incapacitate an aggressor with a bullet.

Practice what some term the "double tap": the rapid fire of two successive shots.  Ideally, the double tap would consist of two quick shots to the assailant's chest, followed, if needed, by a shot to the head.  With either a revolver or an autoloader, sufficient ammunition is held in reserve to counter multiple threats, or to disable a criminal who, though wounded, continues their aggressive behavior.  Keep shooting vital areas until you have dissipated or terminated the threat.

Firearms manufacturers and ammunition companies are responding to the public and private sector demand for smaller handguns chambered for the most powerful cartridges.  Recall, however, the physical principle behind recoil.  A cartridge which produces more energy will also produce more blast and recoil.  This may become uncomfortable in a lighter, smaller gun.  If recoil interferes with the shooter's ability to deliver accurate hits to an assailant's vital areas, then the advantage of firing a more powerful cartridge is lost.

Shot placement is always paramount.  Practice until you become proficient and keep practicing to maintain acquired skills.

Simulate shooting at home by "dry firing" your gun: pulling the trigger on an empty chamber.  It is perfectly acceptable to dry fire most modern, high quality firearms.  In fact, the practice is encouraged to acquire familiarity with handling and aiming.  However, dry firing an older, inexpensive or poorly made firearm is not a good idea, and could cause damage.

Be sure to check with your gun manufacturer's recommendations regarding dry firing.  When in doubt, use "snap caps".  These commercially available devices are similar in size to a variety of standard cartridges, but contain no primer, no propellant and no projectile.  They are "fake" bullets that have a spring-dampened false primer that absorbs the force of the firing pin, thereby protecting the internal components of the gun.  

With any firearm, but especially with a smaller caliber handgun, proper shot placement on an assailant is crucial.  This is no time to "spray and pray".  A diminutive .22 caliber handgun, or "mouse gun" as some term it, is certainly better than nothing.  If a handgun is small enough, there is a good chance that the intended victim may have had the foresight to have it handy in a variety of settings.  

R evolvers chambered in .22 tend to be more reliable than .22 autoloaders.  

Although an assailant may be shot with a .22, they may not be deterred from their immediate aggression.  There is no question that a .22 is capable of inflecting a mortal wound.  Whether or not the wound, mortal or otherwise, is sufficiently great to terminate aggression before one is physically subject to attack becomes the concern of the shooter.  With a .22, or any other caliber handgun for that matter, keep shooting until hostilities focused on you or your loved ones cease.

Always shoot .22LR, rather than .22 Short or .22 Long.

For a .22 caliber revolver with a barrel length between 3- and 6-inches, there exist better alternatives than the traditional round nose bullet.  Consider using a high or hyper velocity round with a truncated, non-expanding projectile.  This type of bullet will produce a more devastating wound on an assailant.  

An autoloader chambered in .22 will also benefit from using high or hyper velocity ammunition.  To facilitate feeding, the bullet nose should be round or hollow point instead of truncated or flat.  Although a short barrel is not conducive to producing velocities sufficient to guarantee reliable expansion of a hollow point bullet, failure to mushroom equates to greater penetration, a desired effect from a .22 in any self defense situation.

For packing, use CCI "Stingers", "Velocitors" or similarly hot, round nose or hollow point bullets in an autoloader and the Remington "Viper" or other high or hyper velocity truncated nose, non-expanding bullets in a revolver. 

Don't purchase a .25ACP caliber pistol.  This notoriously poor performer is likely to generate a false sense of confidence in its owner.  The .25ACP was originally developed to offer a more reliable center-fired alternative to the rim-fired .22.  Bullets of .25ACP caliber have been known to "bounce off" a human skull.  

You are better off purchasing a .22, particularly a revolver with an eight to ten shot cylinder capacity.  With a .22, the availability of cheap ammunition will be an inducement to practice shot placement. 

The .32ACP and the .380ACP, if armed with modern ammunition designed for penetration and expansion, may be marginally acceptable for self defense.  The advantage of these smaller pistol calibers is that they are often chambered in guns of relatively diminutive size. Firearms that are easy to conceal are more likely to be on hand to thwart a criminal attack when lawful carry is permitted outside of the home.

A wide variety of .32ACP autoloaders are available from various manufacturers.  Their unobtrusive size means that you will likely have a gun with you when you need it.  Popular in Europe, the .32ACP is acquiring a following in America, particularly as a backup or deep carry gun.

Autoloaders chambered for .380ACP tend to be larger than their counterparts in .32ACP, but smaller than 9mm pistols.  In recent years, manufacturers have introduced newer model .380ACP pistols that are surprisingly compact and concealable.

The Armory is aware of two real world occurrences in which a .32ACP round was inadvertently fed to a .380ACP pistol.  These cartridges are somewhat similar in size, and the smaller round will fit into the larger magazine.  In each case, the initial round fired, but was incapable of cycling the slide.  One incident caused no gun damage.  The other broke the recoil spring.  Second hand sources have reported a comparable instance in which a 9mm cartridge was fired from a .45ACP pistol.  Proper attention to ammunition separation and selection would have prevented these mistakes.  

The .380ACP autoloader offers one the ability to shoot quickly and accurately, without attendant blast and recoil.  The ballistics of the .380ACP compare favorably to the .38 Special when the latter is chambered in a short barreled revolver, such as a snubby.  Recall that a 2-inch barrel does not develop the full potential of a cartridge.  The .380ACP fills a niche where gun choice is based upon adequate power in a compact package.

Larger model pistols in .380ACP are often  nearly comparable in size to scaled down versions of autoloaders available in 9mm.  Unless recoil is a concern, avoid the larger .380ACP models and select a 9mm.  The more potent 9mm represents the better choice for personal protection.

Conventional wisdom with regard to handgun selection suggests that an individual purchase the largest caliber that can be handled comfortably and accurately.  Many advise that the minimum caliber for self protection be at least .38 Special in a revolver and 9mm in an autoloader.  These two calibers are currently the most popular rounds in the United States for self defense.  From a ballistics standpoint, they are somewhat similar, with the 9mm having the edge in terms of performance.

The .38 Special and the 9mm cartridges are often "hopped up" by various ammunition manufacturers to provide additional stopping power.  This is accomplished by adding extra propellant or by varying the type of propellant to increase pressure (+P) from that of the standard round.  Cartridges that are really hopped-up compared to standard pressure are designated (+P+).  Not all firearms can handle (+P) or (+P+) ammunition without incurring damage, so be sure to check the firearm manufacturer's guidelines regarding use of these performance-oriented cartridges.

The 9mm NATO military cartridge is loaded to a higher pressure than its civilian cousin, the 9mm Luger, and should be considered to be a +P round.

The 10mm pistol cartridge was initially envisioned by federal authorities as the ultimate man stopper.  It was found to be too potent, however, since it tended to pass through the human target.  This is undesirable because not only is energy of the bullet diverted from its intended purpose of stopping a criminal, it also becomes a threat to bystanders.

The .40 Smith & Wesson  pistol cartridge was developed to fill the void between the 9mm and the 10mm.  It has proven itself to be an extremely popular, effective round.

A note should be made concerning two revolver calibers:  the .357 Magnum and the .44 Magnum.  These calibers are somewhat unique in the sense that revolvers chambered for these rounds will also fire the .38 Special and the .44 Special, respectively.  This versatility enables the shooter to fire the less potent Special ammunition for practice and the more potent Magnum ammunition for business.  

As a handgun cartridge for personal defense, the .357 Magnum in 125 grain jacketed hollow point has demonstrated itself to be the very best handgun round in existence for achieving the desired "one shot stop":  nearly 96 percent.  The .44 Magnum, while able to "blow your head clean off" as Dirty Harry proclaimed, is overpowered for personal defense due to its propensity to over penetrate.

Perhaps the greatest drawback of Magnum revolvers, to some, is the blast and recoil experienced by the shooter.  The perception of recoil can range from moderate to punishing, depending upon the size and weight of the gun and the heaviness of the bullet in the cartridge.  A heavy gun with a long barrel will tend to take the edge off, or otherwise "soak up", felt recoil.  Shooting a lighter grained bullet will also make shooting more pleasant.  Recoil will be greatest in small, light weight guns.  

One additional attraction of .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum rounds is the fact that carbines and rifles are available in these calibers.  These long guns are extremely popular because they produce greater accuracy and energy compared to that of a handgun, while enabling the shooter to carry only one caliber of ammunition.  

Chambered in a carbine or rifle, the .357 Magnum and the .44 Magnum are capable of bringing down both deer and black bear, with the .44 Magnum being the preferred handgun round for such hunting  applications.  These are not traditional hunting cartridges, however, and their use for this purpose may be restricted by law in some states.  Nevertheless, these combination handgun/rifle rounds represent a very attractive package for personal defense and sporting purposes.

The .45ACP is an excellent pistol cartridge for self defense.  This is the favorite round of many in the American gun community, and it possesses a proud and rich history.  Because of its blast and recoil,  and the fact that most of the autoloaders chambered for this cartridge are single action,  the .45ACP is a round that is best handled by the experienced shooter.  Through the use of moon clips, a number of newer model revolvers have been designed to accommodate the rimless .45ACP cartridge.

Generations of American servicemen relied on the .45ACP up until the mid-1980's, when it was replaced by the 9mm NATO.

The pistol calibers 9mm, .40 S&W and .45ACP are the favorites of the law enforcement community.  The revolver is not commonly found anymore in police work, unless it is a snubby in a backup, concealed role.      

 

Top of Page

Choosing a Handgun

Revolver vs. Autoloader

 

Type of Action