Recently, I posted an article about the fact that having a gun, any kind of gun, during a violent criminal attack was a good thing. Almost immediately, there were those who posted replies claiming that the .22 LR has killed more people than any other caliber. I suspect that is probably true. However, I would humbly suggest that the .22 rimfire is far from being an ideal caliber for personal defense.
While the .22 is certainly capable inflicting a fatal injury upon an attacker, it is far from being a good fight stopper. As armed citizens, we don’t shoot to kill an attacker. We shoot to stop him, and we want to stop him right now.
Imagine that your lawful response has stopped a criminal attack with the result that the attacker is dead. Imagine further that you are now on the witness stand, under oath, explaining your actions. “I drew my gun and was doing my best to kill him” might not be the best testimony for you to give. Might it not be better to be able to testify, “I shot to stop him and when he stopped, I quit shooting”? Don’t take my word for it, ask your friendly attorney about it.
When we are forced to reply with deadly force, what we really want is for the whole thing to stop before any of the good guys get hurt. Stopping it instantly is a good thing. To do this, our bullet has to incapacitate the attacker--fast. That can be accomplished with a hit to the central nervous system (usually a quick stop), for example. Now, it is certainly possible to inflict a grievous, even fatal wound that doesn't immediately incapacitate the attacker and stop the crime; a .22 rimfire bullet entering the thoracic cavity might just do so, but if he stays on his feet for another hour before succumbing to such a wound (or wounds), that is not very conducive to your good health or that of your family.
For this reason, we want to select a defensive cartridge that produces adequate penetration and expansion. This gives a better guarantee that we can impact the vitals and stop the fight. And there are a whole bunch of handgun calibers that will do this better than the .22 rimfire.
There is a place for the .22 LR in personal defense. It is perhaps a good choice for people who have some sort of physical impairment that prevents them from using anything more powerful, for example. It does, in fact, beat not having a gun. The thing to remember is that, when we have to shoot, it is to stop the fight and to stop it right now. A wise person would select his personal defense caliber accordingly.