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Best Caliber Handgun for Self-Defense

July 20, 2010 Defensive Tactics, Firearm and Caliber Advice Comments Off

Question:  I am wondering what would be the most effective handgun to carry in an apocalyptic, doomsday type scenario. I’ve read the .45 has the best knockdown power, the .357 has the best metal penetrating ability, and the 9mm would be the most common ammunition around.  I’m fairly sure that each of the above calibers would find it’s place..it’s just that I can’t afford all three.  Which one might you choose in a doomsday situation?  I’ve read the Army in Iraq has gone to or is going to go from 9mm to .45.  This has stemmed from sometimes having to fire several shots to stop or kill the target.  The .357 would seem to be handy if one had to shoot a target through metal.  Can one find a load, (powder grains), or bullet configuration,(hollow point, etc.), in a .357 caliber that would give enhanced metal piercing ability along with the stopping power of a .45 caliber?  I’m just a little confused and would appreciate any advice to assist in my making a good choice.

Answer: In the scenario you describe, simply having a firearm and lots of ammo is the most essential thing.  I typically do not get into caliber discussions since they are mostly ‘religious’ in nature.  Some people have the opinion that the .45 caliber is the only way to go.  Others are more open minded about the effectiveness of calibers like the 9mm.

To specifically answer your questions, I’ll try and give you some background on the various calibers and what considerations are involved.  First, I would probably take the .357 off the table completely.  You did not say if you were thinking about .357 in a revolver or semi-auto, but the answer is still the same.  A semi-auto pistol chambered for a .357 SIG cartridge is a handful in terms of recoil.  Many people have a difficult time shooting the caliber accurately.  The bullet size and weight is roughly comparable to the 9mm.  The 9mm is approximately .354 caliber, so the bullet diameters are essentially the same.  The weight of both projectiles in terms of grains is approximately 124 gr.  The different is the pressure that the cartridges are loaded to.  A .357 SIG at 124 gr. has a muzzle velocity of approximately 1450 fps.  The 9mm with the same bullet weight travels approximately 1150 -1200 fps.  The additional velocity is what gives the .357 its greater penetrating power.

In my opinion, having fired both calibers extensively, you are better off with the 9mm as it is more controllable, ammunition is much more available and in a doomsday scenario such as the one you describe, 9mm ammo will be much easier to come by.

The .45 ACP also has a proven record of being effective against a human target.  Typically, the .45 uses a 230 gr. bullet and has a muzzle velocity of approximately 850 fps.  It is a bigger bullet, but it is traveling much more slowly.  What make it effective is that it makes a pretty large hole in whatever it hits.  Larger hole = more damage to tissue and more bleeding.

However, if you compare the relative energy delivered, the average 9mm 124 gr. bullet delivers about 382 ft/lbs of energy vs. 352 ft/lbs of energy for the .45 caliber 230 gr. bullet.  In terms of energy delivered, the difference between the two is pretty much a wash.  The penetration of the 9mm will likely be better since it has a higher velocity.  Better penetration=more damage to important organs that are deeper in the body.

The 9mm is very controllable as it does not have as much felt recoil as the .45 ACP.  For some people this is an issue.  In my view, the biggest factor in gunshot wound effectiveness is shot placement.  As you can see, as in so many other things, caliber selection is a series of trade-offs.  Each caliber has some advantages.  You need to decide which are more important to you.

In terms of the Army switching calibers in Iraq, think for a moment about the issue relative to the restrictions placed on the military.  Geneva Convention rules require that the military use ‘full metal jacket’ or ‘ball’ ammo.  They are not permitted to use “jacketed hollow points” or other defensive ammo.  This makes a big difference in the ability of the 9mm vs. .45 ACP to wound.  A 9mm JHP round typically expands to an average of .62 to .64 inches in diameter.  A typical .45 ACP JHP round expands to .74 inches in diameter.  The difference between the two is approximately .12 inches or about 1/8″.  If you look at the size of holes being punched by ball ammo, it is .354 inches for the 9mm vs .45 inches.  When penetration is not an issue, the bigger hole is better.

Honestly, I don’t think you would go wrong with either a .45 or a 9mm.  One other thing I like about the 9mm vs. the .45 is the magazine capacity.  For just about any semi-auto pistol, the 9mm has close to twice the capacity of the same gun in .45 caliber.  In the Glock 17 the ammo capacity is 17 rounds while the average full size 1911 only holds 9 rounds.  You can get a Glock 21 that will hold 13 rounds of .45 ACP though.

My personal handgun of choice is the Glock 23.  It is chambered for the .40 S&W cartridge.  While not nearly as popular as either 9mm or .45 ACP, the .40 S&W is a respectable compromise.  It pushes a 180 gr. bullet to a muzzle velocity of around 1100 fps delivering around 490 ft/lbs of energy.  That is a lot more energy than either the .45 ACP or 9mm.  It also punches a bigger hole than the 9mm, averaging about .68 inches.  It does have a hefty recoil, but if you can learn to control it, it is a powerful defensive round.  Interestingly, you can also purchase a .357 SIG barrel that will simply drop into the Glock 23 allowing you to shoot either caliber by swapping out the barrel.  Glock 23 magazines are interchangeable for both .40 and .357 SIG cartridges.

I hope I have given you some food for thought here…bottom line, if I had to choose one gun in a doomsday scenario, ammo will be the issue and for that reason I would probably go with the 9mm.  If you can plan ahead and acquire enough ammo to eliminate availability as an issue, I’d consider the .40 S&W…big bullet, higher velocity and greater energy delivered than either the 9mm or the .45 ACP.

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Defensive Handgun Selection – Glock, 1911 or H&K, Which One to Buy?

January 23, 2010 Equipment Reviews, Firearm and Caliber Advice Comments Off

Question:  I’m looking to purchase a new semi-automatic pistol.  In your CCW class, you mentioned how happy you were with your H&K.  I would appreciate your thoughts on the .45 USP Compact.  I would be using it primarily as a defensive, home protection weapon, with occasional range practice.  I have extensive experience with the Colt 1911 .45, and have also enjoyed the simplicity of the Glock, but have heard many good things about H&K’s. Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts.

Answer: I’m a pretty big fan of the H&K.  I carried both the Glock and the 1911 for a long time.  I carried a Glock 23 and Glock 26 for a couple of years.  I continue to be impressed by the Glock’s simplicity of operation, utter reliability and consistency of trigger pull.  The lack of an external safety except on the trigger dramatically simplifies the operation of the pistol and the training curve for the pistol is not steep at all.  On the downside, the grip was a little bit fat for me and I felt the trigger pull was a little heavy, so I decided to give the 1911 a try.

My Kimber TLE-II is very accurate and has been very reliable.  I feel that I was fortunate since many 1911 style pistols can be finicky about the ammo you need to use in them.  Some of the more expensive 1911s seem to have feed issues related to very close tolerances.  I did not experience that with my gun.   I liked the single action trigger of the 1911 but the weight of the gun was too much for daily concealed carry.  In addition, the reduced ammo capacity made carrying an extra magazine mandatory, adding further to the weight/bulk equation.  Finally, the effective operation of the pistol in a combat situation requires significant practice.  You must practice to insure that you get a firm firing grip to disengage the grip safety and you must train your muscle memory to disengage the thumb safety during the draw stroke.  Not a problem if you practice with your pistol, but if you don’t practice, disengaging the safety won’t come naturally and if you forget the safety during the draw, the consequences could be disastrous in a gunfight.

In the H&K I found a nice balance between the things I liked about both the Glock and the 1911.  My H&K fits my hand well, is relatively lightweight due to the polymer frame, had a reasonable ammo capacity, a thumb safety and can be fired in single or double action.  The first shot is double action which is nice due to the added margin of safety if I have to draw and prepare to fire in a violent encounter.  After the first shot, the H&K shoots in single action mode which allows for very fast, accurate follow up shots.  Finally, in nearly 4 years of shooting it, my H&K has probably malfunctioned a handful of times.  Please bear in mind how much shooting I do.  I must also confess that I am a little less than religious about cleaning it.  I would consider the gun “completely reliable”.  After shooting a 1911 for so long, disengaging the thumb safety on the H&K during the draw-stroke was a non-issue for me, but still will require some practice for a person new to the firearm so that they incorporate clicking the safety ‘off’ during the presentation of the pistol, just as it is in the 1911.

For me, for the reasons above, the H&K USP Compact has been and continues to be my choice for a personal firearm.  The only thing I might consider instead is the new H&K P30 that I saw at the Shot Show this week.  It is the ‘new and improved’ version of the USP Compact and has some nice features in terms of relocating the decocker to the back of the slide and adding what I think is an improved thumb safety that is more positive to release and that is ambidextrous.  The P30 also has a standard Picatinny rail vs. the proprietary rail on the USP, making it compatible with more weapon lights.  If I had the extra cash right now, the P30′s siren song might be nearly irresistible…

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Selecting a second handgun for use by the family…

Question:  I’d like to buy a second handgun and want to make a smart and efficient purchase for multi-use cases.  I am looking for something small enough for my two kids (ages 9 and 11) and wife to get familiar with.  I would also like a backup pistol for personal defense or something my wife would feel comfortable using if she needed if for protection.  I’m leaning towards a high quality .22LR semi-auto Sig, S&W or Ruger.  I’m I off base thinking this will serve all the functions I want?  I was hoping quality JHP in a .22 would be OK for personal protection in a pinch.  Or is a .22LR just a ‘plinking’ gun?

Answer: The .22 sounds like a good call if you are thinking of something for your wife and kids to use for practice and familiarization.  All of the brand you mention are good quality.  The Ruger and S&W are more suited to target shooting.  A SIG Mosquito could be used for either target or carry, however it would probably not be a good choice for a backup gun.  The .22 caliber round just doesn’t have the ballistic characteristics to do much good in a real gunfight.  Don’t get me wrong, it is definitely better than no gun at all, but I’d probably look for a pistol in .32 caliber or .380 at a minimum for a secondary pistol.  Kel-Tec makes a pretty nice semi-auto for a backup.  I have gotten good results with the Kel-Tec P-3AT in .380 ACP.  It is very concealable and the .380 caliber has reasonable ballistic characteristics.   You could also get a snub nosed revolver for a backup.  My personal preference in a revolver is the S&W Model 649 Undercover in .38 special.  Overall, it is really more about the right tool for the job.  For target shooting and getting your kids and wife familiar with shooting, the .22 is a great choice.  For a secondary pistol, you really need something more than a .22 caliber in my opinion.

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Using a .22 caliber handgun for self defense…

December 29, 2009 AZ CCW Laws, Firearm and Caliber Advice Comments Off

Question: I have a 9 mm handgun, but due to its size and weight i prefer to carry my Walther P22 all the time…..I want to know how effective a .22 gun can be in stopping an attack…..

Answer: Your seemingly simple question could generate a fairly lengthy answer if I covered all the details.  In the interest of being concise I will say the following:

1.  Generally the person that lands the first gunshot in a gunfight wins.
2.  Accuracy in many cases is the key to lethality.
3.  A well placed shot in a vital area with a small caliber can be more lethal that a poorly placed shot from a much larger caliber gun.
4.  Having any gun with you will improve your chances in a fight versus having no gun at all.

In general, larger calibers such as the 9mm will do more damage to the human body than a .22 if the shot placement is the same.  This is why most people prefer larger calibers as they have greater ‘stopping power’.  What I mean by that is more energy is delivered and more damage is done by a single shot from a larger caliber if the accuracy is the same.

Unfortunately, many people cannot shoot a larger caliber gun as accurately as they can shoot a .22 caliber gun.  I see this all the time in the handgun courses I teach.  Students that can’t hit the target with a 9mm or .40 caliber might have no difficulty at all with a .22 caliber pistol.

My conclusion would be this.  A well placed .22 caliber round can do lethal damage, but it will not do it as quickly nor will it give you the margin of error in terms of accuracy that a larger caliber gun will against a human adversary.  You will have to land more shots to do the same damage and the efficacy of peripheral hits (non-vital areas) will be questionable.  Still having any gun is better than no gun at all.

If you can shoot a 9mm accurately, I would suggest you adapt to carrying the 9mm.  It will give you a much greater advantage against an attacker.  If size and weight are the primary issue, I might consider purchasing a 9mm that is more in line with the size and weight of your Walther P22.  Kahr, Glock and Kel-Tec all make small, lightweight pistols in 9mm that would fit the bill.

Certainly the Walther is a great pistol for target shooting and practice.  It is inexpensive to shoot and will help you practice and improve your marksmanship fundamentals.  I would just suggest that .22 caliber has some pretty serious limitations when used for personal defense.

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Shotguns in Apartments for Home Defense…

November 10, 2009 Firearm and Caliber Advice, State Firearms Laws Comments Off

Question:  Is it legal for my 20-year-old son who is married to have a shotgun in his apartment? I have his 16-gauge and double-barreled shotguns. He asked me to give him the 16-gauge for home protection (they live in Tucson, AZ). My husband wants to let him have it but I need answers to a few questions before I’ll give it to him. 1) Would it be legal for him to have it in his apartment? 2) Does he need a permit?  3) Does the weapon have to beregistered? 4) Is there an age restriction?

Thank you!

Answer: To answer your question directly, it is legal for your son to have a shotgun in his apartment.  He does not need a permit.  He is over the age restriction which is 18.  Arizona does not have any type of gun registration.  I would also tell him that my recommendation is that he use #8 birdshot in his shotgun if he intends to use it for personal defense and home protection while in his apartment.  The birdshot will create a fist sized hole in any person he would shoot at ranges of 20 feet or less.  It will also not penetrate multiple interior walls like buckshot or slugs would.  This will help him avoid any liability issues that might result from overpenetration of buckshot or slugs into other apartments that might be adjacent to his.

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Question about the reliability of Hi-Point Pistols

May 4, 2009 Equipment Reviews, Firearm and Caliber Advice Comments Off

Question:   I have a Hi-Point .45acp and the Hi-Point 9mm. When I initially purchased them I knew nothing of them, save for the fact that I couldn’t beat the price. I was looking for a car gun as well as a home defense gun as I already had a Bersa as my main carry gun. When I mention the Hi-Point everyone slams them saying they are junk and worthless. The .45acp has NEVER jammed and I’ve put close to 1000 rounds through it. The 9mm jammed in its first few magazines and has not since. Yes they are heavy/bulky. This actually aids me in controlling the recoil. So what is the real verdict on the Hi-Point firearms?

Answer: Unfortunately, some people do not believe there is such a thing as a ‘reliable and inexpensive’ handgun.  When they see a price tag that is pretty low they automatically think ‘junk’.  Fortunately this is not the case with Hi-Point.  This gun was designed specifically as a low cost, reliable handgun for people on a budget.

Now I will be the first to say that these guns are not pretty.  They are bulky, basic and lack some features that more expensive guns might have.  But, having said that, in my experience which is supported by others I know, these guns are very reliable.  They are also as accurate as other handguns in the $500-$600 price range.  The felt recoil is generally less because of the weight of the gun which makes accurate shooting a little easier, particularly in a .45 caliber.

In short, the Hi Point is a great gun at a great price.  It will not win any beauty contests and it is heavy, but I would give it high marks for accuracy and reliability, particularly for a gun of this price.

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Does the Use of Hollow Point Ammunition Increase Legal Liability in a Justified Shooting?

Question: During my CCW class the instructor was adamant about when to use deadly force to stop a life threatening event, however he made it clear not to hesitate when no other option is available.

This brings me to my question about Harold Fish and the use of hollow point bullets for self defense. On Dateline NBC and in an article on MSNBC details Mr. Fish and his trial here in Arizona. One of the points in finding him guilty was that he was using ammo that was hollow point (Hydro-Shok).

One of the points the CCW instructor made was that FMJ ammo (not hollow point) would be more dangerous to shoot in a self defense situation in that it would more than likely go through the bad guy and possibly injure or kill someone innocent.

What is the correct line of thinking where the law is concerned? Should we use JHP or FMJ ammo for personal protection? Are we at risk for a prosecutor arguing that we too used what is considered a deadlier round by using a JHP for self defense?
Answer: It sounds like you had a pretty good CCW instructor.  His observation on the use of lethal force to stop a life threatening event sounded like it was pretty much on target.  You reference the Harold Fish case and the issue raised with his use of hollow point ammunition.  From the way your question was phrased, I got the impression that you felt the fact that he used ‘hollow points’ was one of the major factors in his conviction.  In my view after reviewing the particulars of the case, it appeared to be a minor issue raised by the prosecution in a ‘piling on’ of issues designed to show that Fish was not justified in the use of lethal force.

To quickly review the major points of that case, at the time Fish was being tried, he had to mount an ‘affirmative defense’ having to prove he was justified in using lethal force.  This was a flaw in the law regarding lethal force and self-defense which was corrected by the AZ Legislature at the urging of many, including the AZ Citizen’s Defense League.  The change in law now places the burden of proof on the prosecuting attorney to prove that the defendant’s use of lethal force is NOT justified.  This change correctly placed the burden of proof back where it should have been all along.

This was not the case in Harold Fish’s situation.  Since he needed to prove that he was ‘justified’ at the time of the court case, the prosecutor pretty much tore him apart, largely on the basis that Kuenzli was unarmed.  I remember commenting to my wife at the time of the shooting that Mr. Fish was probably ‘toast’ because of the existing law and the circumstances surrounding the case.  Since your question did not really address the particulars of the Fish case, but simply the effect of the ‘hollow points’, I won’t comment further except to say that I think there has been a serious miscarriage of justice and that Mr. Fish should be granted a new trial as he has requested.

According to the MSNBC article the firearms investigator in the case is supposed to have testified “that Fish’s gun, a 10mm, is more powerful that what police officers use and is typically not used for personal protection”  He also stated that the ammunition Fish used was called a ‘hollow point bullet’ and is made to expand when it enters the body.

Personally, I’d like to take issue with the investigator on a couple of counts.  First, the 10mm is a more powerful cartridge that most police officers carry.  It is interesting to note that the FBI actually selected the cartridge for field use in the mid 1980s, but then decided against it due to the excessive recoil and the physical size of the pistols of that caliber.  The recoil was deemed to be excessive for the average agent and the guns too large for some small handed persons.  The FBI and later the entire DOJ adopted the .40 Smith & Wesson caliber as the standard.

Now, consider for a moment the following:  10mm is exactly .40 inches in diameter.  The only difference between a .40 and a 10mm is the length of the cartridge.  On average, the difference in muzzle velocity between a 10mm and a .40 caliber round is only about 200 fps.  (1300 for a 180 gr. 10mm, 1100 for a 180 gr. .40 caliber).  So, while the investigator is ‘technically’ correct, his testimony was misleading.  The diameter of the bullet expansion would be almost exactly the same for both calibers.  In short, the diameter of the holes punched in the victim by the two different calibers would be almost exactly the same.  It is also misleading that he didn’t mention that ALL police officers carry ‘hollow point bullets’ and that they are the standard ammunition for personal defense.

In my professional opinion, jacketed hollow point ammo is the ONLY ammo I would carry for personal defense.  I don’t feel that it is a legal liability in a justified shooting.  Any criminal defense attorney worth his fee would have made that very clear.  It may have been clear in the courtroom and MSNBC (read ‘liberal, anti gun media outlet’) was using a little editorial license in their account to scare those not firearms knowledgable and make Mr. Fish seem more culpable.

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Minimum caliber for range qualification for AZ CCW Permit

Question:  Is there a minimum caliber requirement for the Arizona CCW Permit?

Answer: In terms of the range qualification, there is no minimum caliber requirement for the AZ CCW Permit.  You can use any caliber as long as the firearm is shooting live ammunition.  Many people will use a .22 caliber handgun for their qualification.  There is also no requirement to qualify with the handgun you intend to carry.  Many states require that you qualify with the gun you intend to carry and that gun is actually listed on the permit.  Arizona is not one of those states.  You can qualify with any firearm and after qualification and issuance of your AZ CCW Permit, carry any firearm you wish.

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What caliber of ammunition should I use for self defense?

Question:  I just recently bought a Smith & Wesson M&P in 45 ACP and was curious as to what weight grain to carry for personal defense.  I’ve carried a gun for 29 years now, and after doing some research on the computer, I’m no closer to a real definitive answer than I was when I started.  Most everyone seems to swear that the 230 grain bullet is the only way to go, but in my honest opinion, I can’t possibly see how a 185 grain bullet wouldn’t ruin a bad guy’s day.  I’m currently carrying the 185 CorBon DPX and as soon as the ammunition arrives, the Remington Golden Saber in 185 +P.  Like I said, I can’t imagine these rounds not working just fine, but I’m sure you gentleman have more resources available to you and I would truly appreciate your input.

Answer:  I generally don’t like to answer ‘caliber questions’ as I seem to always ignite a firestorm of discussion.  As you said, there are lots of folks out there that feel like .45 ACP in 230 gr. is the only way to go.  Sometimes that is because of research, but most of the time I fear it is because the ‘bigger must be better’ syndrome.  Unfortunately that is not always the case.  Don’t get me wrong, I am an advocate of shooting the largest caliber that you can shoot well.  But it is about more than just bullet size.

In most gunfights, winning the fight has more to do with is the ability to get precise shots on target quickly vs. the caliber of the projectile.  Winning a gunfight without getting shot also has a lot to do with your ability to get off the bad guy’s intended point of impact.  So the two most important factors are a) not getting shot and b) making sure that you are getting good hits on the bad guy.

In my opinion, your 185 gr. carry ammo, if fired accurately, will definitely ruin a bad guy’s day.  There are a few factors to consider in your ammo selection. Will you need to penetrate lots of clothing (this comes into play in colder climates during the winter), would you likely need to penetrate some other object (wallboard, glass) or would you be shooting into a vehicle (penetration of steel or windshield glass).  Depending on your most likely scenario, you may want to look at links to the two ballistics studies below.  They are quite informative.

For general personal protection, don’t let the caliber bigots get you down.  Your 185 gr. .45 ACP ammo will be quite effective…

http://www.firearmstactical.com/test_data/45acp/rem45-185gs+p-g30.htm

http://shootingmessengers.blogspot.com/2006/05/wound-ballistic-workshop.html

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