Size doesn’t matter, does it?
I’ve attended my fair share of conceal carry classes and one phenomenon that never fails to amaze me is the prevalence of anemic caliber guns that students show up with. Without fail, a handful of new shooters will show up with a Ruger Mk III or even more frightening, a Jennings J-22. While the price of ammo is always a factor, many of these students, when questioned, admitted that they were going to carry their little .22 LR pistols for self defense.
I can already hear some of the replies that shot placement is all that matters or people asking if I’d like to get shot with a .22. When I answer no, they respond with, “I guess it’ll do the job then,” which makes as much sense as a screen door on a submarine. Look, I don’t want to get shot by a pellet, a paintball or a bullet. That doesn’t make the Tippmann 98 the Army’s next generation weapon platform. Yes, any gun will work as a deterrent against anyone of sane mind, but CCW weapons aren’t just for deterrence. Hell, in some states, using your gun as a deterrent is illegal and referred to as brandishing.
Additionally, relying on either pain or fear of pain to stop an attacker relies on a very dangerous assumption: that your attacker can feel either. Whether the guy is coked up on stimulants or some strange concoction of bath salts and liqueur, your attacker may be in a different world and numb to his surroundings, regardless of the concealed carry ammo used.
Does that mean you should only draw your weapon to kill someone? No, it means you need to be prepared for that outcome and should feel confident in your weapon’s ability to bring your would-be assailant’s time on this Earth to an abrupt end. The FBI invented a test, creatively titled, “The FBI Penetration Report”, to determine a round’s effectiveness based on its ability to penetrate a t-shirt-wrapped ballistic gelatin block, representative of a human torso. The bullet must reach at least 12 inches to be considered effective. The logic behind this being, if a round can’t reach vital organs it can’t harm or stop the threat.
All this macabre imagery has a purpose. A standard .22 LR round fired from a handgun is less likely to penetrate enough to reach vital portions of an attacker’s body than larger, more powerful rounds such as .380 or 9x18mm. Old school gunners will harp that the only caliber worth shooting must be .45 caliber, citing the U.S. Military’s reason for adopting it in 1905. Due to the reported ineffectiveness of the .38 caliber revolvers in stopping determined attackers, in Gen. Leonard Wood’s 1904 “Report of Philippine Commission”.
The determined attackers mentioned in Wood’s report are the Moro Juramentado, a group of zealous Filipino warriors so committed to the cause, they would bind their testicles in copper wire overnight. The Juramentado inflicted such terrible agony to alter their minds and numb themselves to external pain. Additionally, many of them chewed the Betel nut for extra zeal. The Betel nut, now referred to as the Areca nut, is tantamount to a giant espresso bean dipped in caffeine powder. Does an amped-up, pain-numbed frenzied attacker sound familiar? It should, this warrior is a textbook example of a stimulant-fueled maniac, the worst case scenario in terms of both street opponents and home invaders.
After scouring through countless reports of the Philippine Commission from the Secretary of War, I was unable to find the famous passage concerning the stopping power of the .38 being insufficient. Nevertheless, I found no mention of additional .38 revolver orders in any of the reports. However, there were orders for .45 LC revolvers and 12-gauge Winchester shotguns in equally large quantities. (LINK, page 396) Allegedly, after Wood made his now famous conclusion on the superiority of the .45 caliber projectile, he wrote that no rifle or handgun could provide the same stopping ability as a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot. Which makes sense, seeing as modern defensive rounds were not yet invented. In terms of imparting energy into a target, a .45-caliber ball round does a better job than a .38-caliber ball round, but 12-gauge buckshot is superior to both.
Thankfully, modern ammunition helps bridge the gap between big bore and small, but that doesn’t negate every advantage of larger, more powerful rounds. A larger round has a greater chance of striking something vital just by its increased size. Though this size increase is negligible in most cases. Assuming identical velocities, a heavier round imparts more force. This increased force can more easily destroy bones and organs than a round with less force. Many folks subscribe to the school of thought that bigger is always better with defensive rounds. While this is true in terms of pure destruction, a .50 caliber miss is just as ineffective as a .22 LR miss. Matching the caliber to the shooter’s abilities is more important than raw power.
Nothing handheld will stop every attacker every time, you should find a balance between power and what you can quickly, accurately shoot. If these criteria limit you to .22 LR, you’re not completely out of luck. While there are infinitely more effective self-defense calibers available, a functioning pistol is better than nothing.