Shooting to Stop: Caliber Considerations for Self-Defense

posted on February 8, 2019
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Almost every time we see a discussion on social media about handgun-cartridge selection for personal defense, we see responses from people who feel the need to share with us that people have been killed with such cartridges as the .22 LR, .22 WMR and other small calibers. Sadly, these folks appear to not understand the purpose of defensive shooting.

The purpose of a firearm in the hands of a defensive shooter is not to kill an attacker. The purpose of the defensive handgun is to stop an attack and to stop it as soon as is humanly possible. What they seem to not understand is that these small calibers, while perfectly capable of causing death, may cause death hours, sometimes days, after the person has been shot.

Armed citizens do not deploy their defensive firearms unless they are justified in using deadly force. But our goal is stopping, not killing. We want to stop the attack as quickly as possible. Sub-caliber projectiles may well stop an attacker and cause death, but it will likely take some time for this to occur. To put it in perspective, one might realize that the gunfight at the OK Corral occurred in about 30 seconds and some 30 shots were fired during that time. How many shots can criminals get off and how many people can they injure in just a few minutes before they succumb to their wounds?

Bullets stop a person because they damage the human body. Deep penetration and the width of the wound channel in the vital zone are what bring an attack to an end quickly and with the least amount of danger to innocents.

For this reason, knowledgeable defensive shooters nearly always select a defensive handgun that is at least in the .38 Spl./9 mm power range. Further, they load with a dependable expanding bullet that is also powerful enough to get to the vitals.

In short, we shoot to the vital zone with an adequate defensive caliber in order to stop the attack right now. If, during a criminal attack, crooks lose their life, this is a by-product of their foolish choices. But killing them is not, and should not, be our goal. We want them to stop their attack. We want them to stop their attacks as soon as possible. It takes a good deal of power to accomplish this task. The rimfires, and other light calibers, simply can’t be expected to do this on a regular basis.

Obviously, if all you have is a mouse gun, it is better than no gun. However, all things being equal, a centerfire caliber of increased power is a far-better choice for self-defense.


two rifles facing right
two rifles facing right

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