Skip to comments.Ask Foghorn: Is .22lr The Best for Self Defense?
Posted on 06/04/2012 3:38:53 PM PDT by marktwain
Foghorn, my Dad is planning on getting his CCW license, and is already thinking about the handgun to use. But he says that he is going to get a .22lr or something similar, saying that accuracy is more important than force. He has hunted his entire life, and is an extremely good shot with both rifle and pistol, but I think he is too cocky when he says all you need to do is shoot someone in the head and the partys over. How can I convince him that he may not be able to hit what hes aiming at in a high-stress situation, and that he needs to look into a more versatile caliber?
Ive got some bad news your Dad isnt completely wrong. And, because I have nothing better to do today, were going to open up that whole can of worms . . .
Your dad is completely correct in that a properly placed .22lr round will take a man down for good. Despite the relative thickness of the human skull a typical .22lr round does have enough power to successfully penetrate and cause sufficient damage to kill a human from close range. And on the more fleshy bits of a human it is perfectly capable of inflicting some damage.
The issue we run into with the .22lr round, and one that you seem to have correctly identified, is that when you dont hit a particularly useful organ it doesnt do much immediate damage. The best example I can think of in this case is the wild hogs of Texas and the gulf coast, which have a nasty tendency to survive and escape if theyre not hit with a large enough caliber or in the right spot. Humans posess a similar ability to survive extreme punishment and damage without actually dying.
We could sit here all day long until were blue in the fingers discussing the relative merits of the different calibers, but the best solution is always the same: cold, hard data.
About a year ago Greg Ellifritz over at Buckeye Firearms concluded a pretty darn impressive analysis of gunfight data recorded over a 10 year period, the total count of incidents included in his analysis topping 1,800. It doesnt give us a statistically significant look at murders in the United States, but the data is sufficiently large and normal to give us the ability to use his results to compare the effectiveness of different calibers.
Admittedly 9mm does take up a disproportionate percentage of the observations and .32 data is a little skimpy, but its good enough for our purposes. So, using his data, lets take a look at how well the lowly .22 round does compared to other handgun calibers (and shotguns, just for comparison sake).
First things first, lets see what percentage of observed gunfights ended in a fatality for the person on the receiving end.
The graph is pretty clear on this: .22 caliber firearms are just as deadly in a gunfight as any other handgun caliber. In fact, it beat the average (far right). Surprisingly, every caliber that begins with a 4 (.40 S&W, .45, .44 Mag ) performed worse than the .22 caliber firearms in terms of putting the opponent in the dirt for good.
The next thing I thought was interesting was the metric about how many rounds it took to incapacitate the opponent.
In case you were wondering, the smaller the bar in this example the better the round performed. And, in terms of performance in putting the opponent down, only a shotgun beats the .22 round. I get the feeling that in reality you can chop a round off the 9mms numbers, as the double tap has been trained into almost every shooter these days and probably means the numbers are artificially high.
Greg also includes something about a one shot stop percentage, but I dont agree with his methodology on it and is not presented here. Go read up on it at the original site if youre interested.
Theres a small fly in the ointment: the percentage of incidents where the opponent was not incapacitated.
Another chart where large bars are bad, and here the mouseguns arent doing so hot compared to the big boys. However, I get the feeling that this chart is somewhat deceptive with its results. Newer shooters have a tendency to get the smaller guns with smaller calibers, and also have a tendency to not be as well trained as those carrying the larger rounds. So, instead of this chart being an argument against the lowly .22 round I see it as an argument against poor training. As we saw with the last chart, IF you can hit the guy theres a great chance hes going down. But the issue is hitting him, and incorporating some of the accuracy results from the original study seems to back up my suspicions.
So, in short, whats the answer? Is a .22 a good self defense round? According to the numbers, it looks to be among the best in terms of stopping the threat. Add in the fact that its lightweight, low recoil and uses firearms that are ridiculously easy to conceal and you can see where a .22 caliber firearm for concealed carry might be a winner.
So, in the immortal words of HAL, Im sorry Wade, I cant do that. According to the best numbers I could find, I cant come up with a valid reason to convince your Dad to move to a higher caliber. Not only is it an effective round, but its size and weight means that your Dad is more likely to actually carry the gun instead of leaving it at home because it was too inconvenient to bring along. And, as we all know, its often the mere presence of a firearm that can save ones life.
Does that mean Ill be swapping out my Wilson Combat 45ACP 1911 for a Derringer? Hell no. But it doesnt stop me from looking at some of those mouseguns for the hot Texas summer
I’d rather have a .22 than no gun, but given the choice, my carry gun would start with a 4.
I guess the low recoil and the ability to unload 3/4 rounds in quick succession makes it work.
I’d like to see the ratio of hits vs. misses to draw a final conclusion.
My thought has always been, if the caliber prevents the perp from getting off even one more shot than he would have with a lesser caliber, then I, my family members, my friends, my associates, or my fellow community members will have to dodge one less projectile to survive.
That’s my bottom line.
Mrs. Slim is recoil adverse, and dislikes heavy guns. I got her a S&W 351PD. Seven shot .22 Magnum that is 12 ounces loaded. 45 grain Hornady Critical Defense ammo exits the barrel at over 1000 FPS, and penetrates 9-11 inches in ballistic gelatin with good weight retention.
It's a gun she will carry and can handle.
FYI: Bill Jordan in "No Second Place Winner" opined that a J-frame 2 inch Airweight .22 Magnum would be a great backup gun in 1965.
The 9mm Sig P6, loaded with 147gr hollow points is of course the very best weapon anyone could possibly carry.
OK, I just wanted to get that in before my .45ACP friends arrived.
Most people don't like getting shot. The ones who are crazy or drugged enough to not care, will also need a lot of putting down.
One rule: although bigger is better, a .22 in the hand beats a .45 left home in the gun safe.
When you do manage to shoot them (without getting shot first) it's all physics. Variables like how close you are to a vital organ, how fast the bullet is travelling, how big/heavy the round is all come into play. Also how big the attacker is, how much clothing he's wearing etc.
Of course there are very specific scenarios where a .22 could be considered (close range quiet kills etc.), but anyone who advocates a .22 as a general purpose self defense round is nothing less than an abject moron.
The killing percentage is meaningless. Incapacitation is what you are looking for in a SD round.
I found this stat the most interesting in that it is a metric of the most important factor in self defence: the percentage of incidents where the opponent was not incapacitated. In that regard, .357 mag is king (but we all knew that, didn’t we?)
The results need to be weighted by the shooting distance. I doubt that the shooting distance data are available. A novice shooter with a .22 pistol at point blank range is going to be more effective at getting a kill than shooting the same gun at 15 feet. It would also be useful to know the point of entry of the bullet because this will also influence the kill statistic.
A 22LR will not even phase a drugged up intruder. My vote is for 357 Magnum or larger.
You ought to get the mrs. a set of Crimson Trace grips for that AirLite. Put the dot on the bad guy.
A scoped rifle chambered in .22 lr is an excellent choice for hunting small game like birds and rodents, and the ammo is dirt cheap. That said, .22 lr was never intended as a defensive round. That’s like asking if tennis rackets make good snowshoes.
I can’t put my hands on the reference source but I did read once of a favorable comparison between .22 magnum and 9mm, barrel length and all else being equal
Interesting topic. Thanks.
Correct the dumbest recognize that sound, however the smarter of those will hear it and know where you are. If they are also armed it may not end as planned.
22LR is actually not too shabby out of a rifle. out of a palm sized handgun it is kinda lame.
Since most of her “risky time” is hiking in the wilderness, the Hi-Viz is probably better.
I am not a fan of laser grips for several reasons. The biggest one is a tendency to “chase the dot” because it moves a fair bit, and I’ve seen many people at the range, try to snap off a shot as it swings across the target.
If it’s dark, I have a 500 lumen strobing light and a 16 gauge Winchester M12 full of #1 buck.
I prefer to carry my 3 inch .45 ACP, but it is not alway practical, so then I carry a Ruger LCP .380 loaded with Corbon ammo that is about 200 fps faster than normal .380 ammo. It fits nicely in my pocket.
Of course shot placement is important, but I don’t believe that one will have the opportunity in every self defense situation to make a head shot. Like for instance the perp has you on the ground beating you head on the concrete and you are struggling for the gun. I want something that is going to do more damage than a .22.
I’m sure a comparison could be made, but it’s probably pretty tortured.
The new high performance 9mm bullets have a good record compared to the old ball ammo.
And frontal area of the bullet makes a difference too, that’s my my preferred revolver round is a .44 Special SWC.
Bad guys don’t stand around at close range waiting to be shot. They flail, hide behind things and often shoot back with large caliber rounds.
The most popular caliber carried by criminals is .380 auto. In really poor neighborhoods they prefer even smaller.
Good to have a gun. And be quick on the draw.
“The most popular caliber carried by criminals is .380 auto.”
I really doubt that. That caliber was nearly impossible to buy the last two years. I had to get on waiting lists just to get a box of 20.
Then don't give them any time to react to the sound. BOOM, game over!
Good to know. I've been thinking about getting some for my Taurus 85. I thought I was a good shot until I started using that snubbie. I found that instead to focusing and concentrating hard on sighting in the target, I do better if I just casually squeeze the trigger when I see the target is lined up in the sight. It's hard to explain, but it's different shooting it than shooting a Colt Python or a rifle or something. You have to stay really relaxed if you want to shoot a tight group.
I have a serious problem with this article.
The typical death caused by a .22LR is via sepsis 3 days later. it makes a tiny hole that doesn’t bleed much. The person shot typically does not feel any pain. They go home and decide to ignore it rather than face questions when they get to the hospital. 3 days later their health goes downhill fast and they rush to the ER and die.
These deaths do not count, imo. THerefore I think the analysis in this article is of no value.
I wouldn’t mind having a .22 magnum revolver.
I will second the .22 for some good reasons. To start with, a 10 round magazine and a high number of RPM out of the barrel with good accuracy. Negligible barrel jump.
With higher calibers, the tendency is, for novices, one shot and look; for more skilled users, “two and done”. With a .22, you are under far less illusions about how effective your rounds *might* me, so you draw a capital letter “U” on their torso before you even consider pausing.
The second is a big secret of the .22 round. It has the damndest ability to just nick internal organs, which means that even if they get away and get to a hospital, they will seem to be doing okay, then out of the blue get a sky high fever and peritonitis, a severe and deadly abdominal infection that will likely take them out.
No other common round will typically do that. If they make it to the hospital, unless they lost an organ, they will often survive. But .22’s give you a “second chance” to take out the baddy.
This is not to say that a .22 is the end all, be all, because it certainly isn’t. But backed up with a short serrated or tanto knife, if they close the gap too quickly, and you are looking at pretty much a honey badger defense from 0 to 50 feet.
Doubt all you want. I read it in a study done by people who conducted a survey in federal and state prisons.
380 was the most popular
they don’t practice. ever.
they don’t care about stopping power
Most criminals are killed/wounded by other criminals, not by cops or CCW citizens.
These were the main points I remember.
And 20 years earlier, Julian Hatcher thought that the Colt "Banker's Special" in .22LR would qualify as a self-defense piece. In the Iowa of my childhood, a lot of people did keep a .22 or .32 revolver around "just in case," and some of them were not strangers to more strident handguns.
When the Israelis were implicated in an assassination scandal that targeted PLO leaders hiding in Europe and ended up with an innocent man getting killed the weapons they used were .22’s and they aimed for multiple shots to the abdomen. I don’t know if it was because they were hoping the leader died an agonizing death or it was considered the best target to aim for. In either case they obviously weren’t worried that the .22 wasn’t going to be powerful enough for the job.
If you want to get smooth with a DA revolver, use an old trick of exhibition shooter Ed McGivern from the 1930’s (he shot 5 shots from a .38 Smith in 9/20th’s of a second into a playing card sized group). Put a dot of paint on a full length mirror, and put the muzzle on it. Dry fire repeatedly, trying to keep the muzzle on the dot. You can see what your trigger pull is doing to the aim. Get smoother and quicker over time. That trains the muscles.
Taurus Ultralite .38SP +P
Blackhawk Pocket Holster
Another reason that a .22 is so destructive is the fact that it tumbles as it goes through a soft mass, thereby doing great harm. A large bore simply goes straight through the mass.
My wife carries the same.
Where is that study? I think you are misinterpreting the results.
Ding ding ding! we have a winner.
Just a few observations on the grand old .22
A 300lb sow can be put down with a .22 short when placed in right section of the X you imagine on her head. (Grew up on a hog farm, know the routine.)
The mafia preferred (prefers?) the grand old .22. In their thinking, you weren’t worth the extra money for a “premium” round. The supreme insult, you got offed by a pi$$ant round. (Don’t know myself, but I’ve been told.)
According to what has been written, a lot of black and wet ops guys used the .22 for assassination work. The books The KGB and The CIA both mention it. The movie, Gideon’s Sword (based on a true story) made a point of referring to the Israeli preference for the round in their line of work. Easily concealed, relatively quiet, universally available. (Again, I don’t know, but I been told...)
What I do know for a fact is that once upon a different lifetime I knew folks who owned those small Beretta “flip top” .22s. (Never owned one myself, true beans.)
Those little suckers would spit 8 inches of flame, bark like a banshee, and scare the pi$$ out of everybody, even the guy shooting it. The street thugs with their big bad 9s would run and hide like rabbits. You didn’t need to hit a thing and you could always find the bad guys by following the pee trail.
Finally, I read an article saying that the number of people killed by the humble .22 is way high on the charts. (Now don’t some one of you go asking where I got that, I did NOT pull it out my butt, I remember reading something in Shotgun News [I think] about 15 years ago. They had a chart on the number of people known to have been killed by the different calibers in street crime.)
I like the .22. Versatile, light, easily controlled, [and that’s really, really important] deadly, and the best part, its usually under the anti gunner’s radar.
Wrong! Why would anyone use heavy bullets in the 9mm Luger cartridge, making it behave more like a 38 Special? The optimum 9mm Luger loading is the SPEER +P version using 124 grain Gold Dot bullets. In addition, almost any 40 S&W loading is terminal performance superior to the 9mm Luger cartridges.Why do you thing that most law enforcement agencies (including the FBI) have upgraded from 9mm Luger to 40 S&W?
"OK, I just wanted to get that in before my .45ACP friends arrived." Anyone still using that obsolete cartridge designation is too out of date to bring anything meaningful to the conversation. Read the headstamp, stupid!
Aye, that’s the rub. The metric isn’t eventual death, it’s stopping the threat RIGHT NOW.
It doesn’t do me any good if the guy who battered my brains out with my empty gun dies three days later of septic shock.
You: false. The most popular caliber carried by criminals is .380 auto. In really poor neighborhoods they prefer even smaller.
Keyword: OFTEN, Not "most" or "majority."
Also for many of us, the bad guys encountered aren't cookie-cutter statistical work-a-day criminals in poor neighborhoods you imagine.
Bad guys could be a jealous ex with a 12 gauge, a redneck with a nice collection or a real-world Hadji with an AK.
That said, I've also seen folks who simply can't manage anything bigger than a .22lr -- step 'em up to a .38 special or 9mm and the blast and recoil have them all over the target. For those folks, a .22lr is a fine choice, particularly those 8-shot revolvers with some CCI Stingers or Velicitors.
And don't even get me started on the .22WMR -- that 30-round pistol that Kel-tec sells would be hell on wheels. That's a lot of kbang for one magazine. $:-)
So we know there are at least two ladies with excellent taste in firearms and men out there. ;)
Agree. And with tiny packages like the LCP and LC9 available there just isn't any need. Another problem with the .22 is that it is rimfire which simply will not cycle as reliably as centerfire. All things being equal bigger is better. That said I frequently carry my LCP in the summer time.
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