Using .22 Magnum for Self-Defense

posted on August 23, 2018

Nobody wants to get shot, and just getting shot might be enough to convince an attacker you’re not worth the trouble. Actually, the mere introduction of a gun into a confrontation is generally enough to change the game. If you don’t believe this, consider how successful criminals are at getting what they want just by pointing a gun at someone. Let’s also acknowledge that in some instances, extremely compact pocket handguns chambered in calibers like .22 Magnum (also known as .22 WMR) can be a good idea, if not the only answer.

Defensive handguns could be broken into a variety of categories based on their size and weight. On the large-and-heavy end of the spectrum are the duty guns, like a full-size 1911, which weighs more than 2 pounds. On the small end, we have the derringers and pocket revolvers like the Pug or the Ranger II from North American Arms (NAA), which can weigh less than 7 ounces. This is extremely light for a handgun; only 2 ounces more than an iPhone and even less than some cell phones.

These itty-bitty handguns—or mouse guns as some call them—are chambered for the .22 Short, .22 LR or the .22 Magnum. There’s no question in anyone’s mind the .22 Magnum is the most powerful of this .22-caliber rimfire family. The real question is if the .22 Magnum has any potential as a self-defense cartridge when fired from these highly concealable, easy-to-carry handguns.

To sort this out, I tested six .22 Magnum loads in 10-percent ordnance gelatin. Each was fired into the gelatin from a distance of 2 feet. My grandfather called guns like this, “two-hand guns.” He did not mean you fired these little gizmos with two hands, he meant for you to grab hold of the bad guy with one hand and shoot him with the other. So, taking his advice, that’s how I tested these loads.

Penetration ranged from 8 to almost 14 inches and it was immediately clear, out of the 1-inch barrel, velocities were too slow to ensure maximum expansion. For example, Hornady claims that from a 1.875-inch barrel, the company’s 45-grain FTX Critical Defense load will generate in excess of 900 fps, will expand to at least 1.5 times its original diameter and penetrate about 9.5 inches. Speer claims its 40-grain, .22 Magnum Gold Dot load will yield similar performance. I do not doubt these claims. Regardless of what anyone tells you about terminal performance, velocity always matters. The NAA Pug tested had a 1-inch barrel, which amounted to a velocity reduction of almost 200 fps, or 22 percent, when compared with a 1.875-inch barrel.

As we have observed before, few bad guys run around naked. That being said, I assume if you were mobbed by homicidal strippers, you would not have to worry about shooting through thick clothing. Additional tests through four layers of denim were conducted with the three .22 Magnum loads that showed expansion in bare gelatin. The CCI 30-grain TNT load was the only one to show any deformation after passing through the denim.

With the proliferation of new sub-compact .380 ACPs and 9 mm pistols, one might wonder why anyone would consider a cell-phone size .22 Magnum for personal protection. My first job in law enforcement was working as a correctional officer. When on the floor, we were not allowed to be armed. However, one day an old hand I worked with showed me what he kept in his pocket—it was a .22 Magnum derringer. The veteran jailer told me, “None of the fools in here are going to take me out without getting a hole or two poked in them.” I questioned his logic at the time, but the bottom line was that little gun in his pocket made him feel better.

To a large extent, carrying a handgun for personal protection is all about making us feel better or at least more secure. It could be equated to a backpacker carrying a snakebite kit or the spare tire in your trunk. Additionally, there are times when we are out in public and scantily clothed, like at the beach. Instances like these can make it nearly impossible to be armed with anything other than one of these mouse guns.

From a terminal-performance standpoint, any .22 Magnum load fired from a 1-inch barrel will cause substantially less wounding than even the worst-performing .380-ACP load. On the other hand, it’s darn near impossible for most normal humans to conceal a .380 ACP in their bra or Speedo.



Hornady AR Gunlocker
Hornady AR Gunlocker

First Look: Hornady RAPiD Safe AR Gunlocker

Keep your tactical long guns nearby and secure.

Drills for the B-8 Target

Is the venerable B-8 the best target for defensive pistol training?

I Carry: FN America Five-seveN 5.7 mm Pistol in an ANR Design Holster

In this week's episode of "I Carry," we have an FN America Five-seveN 5.7x28 mm pistol carried in an ANR Design Standard Outside the Waistband holster and new FN GUNR and DFNS 5.7x28 mm ammunition.

First Look: Real Avid Armorer's Hammer

Available either by itself or with a punch set.

First Look: Full Forge Gear Extreme Lite Plates

NIJ Level IIIA protection in an easy to wear configuration.

Roundup: Five Low Power Variable Optics (LPVOs)

Having one scope on your rifle for near and far distances can be very handy.


Get the best of Shooting Illustrated delivered to your inbox.