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The Best Handgun and Ammo for Self Protection

The question of best handgun and ammo caliber is one of the most frequent that I’m asked.  The answer is simple. The best handgun and ammo is whatever you are carrying.  ANY gun and ammo is better than none. 

You may be surprised to learn that there is not a huge amount difference in “stopping power” between the commonly carried handgun calibers. All handguns are under powered and you should expect to fire multiple rounds to STOP an attacker.  Don’t stop firing when you think you have hit your attacker.  Stop firing when your assailant is totally incapacitated or you’re out of ammo. 

Greg Ellifrtize of Active Response Training  did a ten year study on handgun stopping power. Ellifritize don’t have any dog in the “best caliber” fight.  He’s a police officer and self defense trainer.  He doesn’t  sell ammo. He’s not paid by any firearm or ammunition manufacturer.  He carries a lot of different pistols for self defense. Within a two week period, he carried a .22 magnum, a .380 auto, a .38 spl revolver, 3 different 9mm autos and a .45 auto.

Some interesting findings:

I think the most interesting statistic is the percentage of people who stopped with one shot to the torso or head. There wasn’t much variation between calibers. Between the most common defensive calibers (.38, 9mm, .40, and .45) there was a spread of only eight percentage points. No matter what gun you are shooting, you can only expect a little more than half of the people you shoot to be immediately incapacitated by your first hit.

The average number of rounds until incapacitation was also remarkably similar between calibers. All the common defensive calibers required around 2 rounds on average to incapacitate. Something else to look at here is the question of how fast can the rounds be fired out of each gun. The .38 SPL probably has the slowest rate of fire (long double action revolver trigger pulls and stout recoil in small revolvers) and the fewest rounds fired to get an incapacitation (1.87). Conversely the 9mm can probably be fired fastest of the common calibers and it had the most rounds fired to get an incapacitation (2.45). The .40 (2.36) and the .45 (2.08) split the difference.

It is my personal belief that there really isn’t much difference between each of these calibers. It is only the fact that some guns can be fired faster than others that causes the perceived difference in stopping power. If a person takes an average of 5 seconds to stop after being hit, the defender who shoots a lighter recoiling gun can get more hits in that time period. It could be that fewer rounds would have stopped the attacker (given enough time) but the ability to fire more quickly resulted in more hits being put onto the attacker. It may not have anything to do with the stopping power of the round.

Another data piece that leads me to believe that the majority of commonly carried defensive rounds are similar in stopping power is the fact that all four have very similar failure rates. If you look at the percentage of shootings that did not result in incapacitation, the numbers are almost identical. The .38, 9mm, .40, and .45 all had failure rates of between 13% and 17%.

In a fairly high percentage of shootings, people stop their aggressive actions after being hit with one round regardless of caliber or shot placement. These people are NOT physically incapacitated by the bullet. They just don’t want to be shot anymore and give up! Call it a psychological stop if you will.

Any bullet or caliber combination will likely yield similar results in those cases. And fortunately for us, there are a lot of these “psychological stops” occurring. The problem we have is when we don’t get a psychological stop. If our attacker fights through the pain and continues to victimize us, we might want a round that causes the most damage possible.

In order to physically force someone to stop their violent actions we need to either hit him in the Central Nervous System (brain or upper spine) or cause enough bleeding that he becomes unconscious. The more powerful rounds are better at doing this.

If you can’t quickly and ACCURATELY shoot a high caliber pistol, you are better off with a smaller caliber pistol that holds ten or more rounds.

I don’t have an axe to grind. If you are happy with your 9mm, I’m happy for you. If you think that everyone should be carrying a .45 (because they don’t make a .46), I’m cool with that too.  The data indicates that it really doesn’t matter what gun and ammo you carry.  ANY gun is better than no gun and shot placement is more important than ammo caliber.

The bottom line: Get an everyday carry (EDC) handgun. Get a concealed handgun license. Never leave home without both. Carry where ever you legally can.  Get training.  Learn to shoot quickly and accurately.

If you do, you will have a better chance of disabling your attacker and surviving than the vast majority of the thousands of daily “victims” of violent attacks.

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Reader Comments (1)

Actually, .460 conversion kits are available. If the ammo was available locally/cheaply I would be tempted.
May 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAllyn Bauer

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