The Trace sallies into the caliber war with confusing article

The Trace, a magazine that was last year at the instigation of Everytown for Gun Safety and provided start-up money by Michael Bloomberg has wandered into the battlefield that is the caliber debate and promptly managed to find the one cow pie to step in.  An article by Alex Yablon, titled, “America’s Obsession with Powerful Handguns Is Giving Criminals Deadlier Tools,” commits some of the most egregious errors and declarations of cluelessness that I’ve seen in a while.

Yablon starts in by noticing that 9mm, .40, and .45 are more common on the street these days, a change from several decades ago when so-called Saturday Night Specials were the type of handgun more likely to be recovered.  And revolvers, well, those went out of style like hats at presidential inaugurations.

This should come as no surprise.  Police departments adopted Wonder Nines during the 80s, and the military picked a shiny new Italian pistol to replace the classic M1911 A1.  Ordinary Americans who buy handguns get their cues from government purchasing, which makes a measure of sense.  If someone wants a sidearm for protection, but isn’t a gun enthusiast, why not go with what the professionals use?  And since cops these days are carrying Nines and Forties, that also means those calibers will be produced by ammunition manufacturers more often, making rounds cheaper and easier to find.

I can imagine the pages of invective that Jeff Cooper would have written about Yablon’s labeling of the 9 x19 cartridge as large caliber.  Yablon tries a discussion about physics and anatomy, comparing the effects of various rounds on the human body.  Yes, he does wade into the dense subject of hydrostatic shock, knockdown power, and other such topics that will inspire flame wars in gun discussion boards.  What he doesn’t seem to recognize is that the only safe statement about these magical terms is that we don’t know for a certainty what characteristics of a bullet’s behavior in tissue are the essential ones.  Fairbairn and Sykes, reporting on their experiences and observations in Shanghai in the first half of the twentieth century, told stories of police officers emptying their Webley .455 revolvers into a suspect to no effect, while stating that the 7.63 Mauser was an object of fear, thanks to its round’s ability to smash bone.  What we can say is that under 2,000 feet per second, hydrostatic shock isn’t something to rely on, and modern handgun rounds do depend on one factor more than others to get the job done—where the shooter sends them.

Speaking of .30 inches, Yablon calls 7.62mm a large caliber weapon.  Unless there have been a large number of Tokarevs and similar guns, I assume that he means the 7.62 x 39 cartridge.  He calls the .357 large caliber—SIG or Magnum not specified—while a .38 Special apparently isn’t.  A 9mm is, but a .380 isn’t, and I wonder if he knows that all five of those rounds have the same diameter.  Of course, according to Yablon, a twelve gauge isn’t high caliber, so at this point, I have no idea what’s going on.

All of this reminds me of the story told about the cowboy asked why he carried a .45 Single Action Army revolver.  His answer?  Because Col. Colt doesn’t make a .46.  In the black-powder days, if you wanted to get work done, you needed a big bullet, and stepping up the power meant increases in mass.  Today, we have lots of choices, driven by developments in technology and by, at least in part, the actions of gun control advocates who gave increased popularity to higher calibers and smaller guns by trying to limit magazine capacity.  Yablon is a fine example of the dangers of a little knowledge.  What I can’t say is whether he even realizes how much he doesn’t know.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

Latest Reviews