Saturday, July 17, 2010


One of the most cherished and ever-popular points of contention among "gun people" is "what caliber for x purpose"?  There are some obvious points--.22 Long Rifle is Not A Good Idea for Kodiak Bear1--but it often comes down to rather esoteric claims, theories, and outright myths.

For instance, the 5.56mm round (military version of the .223 Remington; .223 will "work" in a 5.56mm rifle, but a 5.56mm may not work in a .2232) has been a constant point of contention since it's adoption, for many reasons that are based on ignorance.  ("Tumbling", "exploding", "goes in the foot and comes out the head"...)

When it comes to calibers for self-defense pistols, the situations is at least as murky; the 9mm is probably the most common caliber for auto-loading pistols, but "gun people" will almost always recite like a mantra or holy writ that "any caliber is acceptable for self-defense. as long as it starts with a '4' and ends in a '4' or a '5'."  Which is fine, as long as they are speaking for themselves, but is snobbery, at least, when it comes to making recommendations for others.

I often recite that myself when someone asks me what caliber pistol they should get, but then tell them that they
should not take it as gospel, but rather as my personal preference, and by the way, I happen to be packing a .38 Special revolver right now.
As for you, I suggest you try a variety of handgun makes, models, and calibers, to determine which will serve your purposes best.  Generally speaking, the caliber should be the most powerful you can manage, i.e., accurate, safe, etc.
When I was first certified as an NRA instructor, we generally advised people that the .380 ACP (AKA 9mm Kurz/Corto or 9mm x17) was the smallest caliber anyone should consider for self-defense.  Then I ran into a lady who's self-defense piece was the Walther PPK her father had brought home from WWII.  a .32 ACP pistol, it was small enough to carry concealed, she could shoot it well, and, of course, it was free.

And, of course, anyone who sneers at any caliber less than .44 Special will sneer at a .40 S&W, let alone 9mm or .38 Special.  Snobbery, ignorance, prejudice...  It used to be considered gospel among some that the .45 ACP was unmanageable; now it is considered the Gold Standard for auto-loading pistols.  The 1911 used to be sneered at, now it is considered proof that John Moses Browning (pbuh) was the recipient of heavenly inspiration.

While it is sometimes found in "full size" pistols, the .380ACP comes into it's own as a backup or pocket pistol, when it can be carried under circumstances that preclude a larger carry piece.  Keltec's P3AT is an excellent example of a reliable and easily concealed  pistol; Smith & Wesson recently released their Bodyguard .380, indicating that this market has not yet been saturated.

So it would delight me to win the Lucky Gunner .380 ACP Ammunition Giveaway, as described at the Firearms Blog.

Lucky Gunner, BTW, came to the rescue last year when PayPal decided that they would not process purchases of raffle tickets for the Gun Bloggers Rendezvous, so they are doubly Good Guys.

1.  Although someone will invariably point out that there are documented cases of Grizzly and Kodiak Bears, and even elephants, being taken with a .22. 
2.  Grossly simplified to the point where I expect to be flooded with comments calling me an idiot and explaining the difference in technical terms.  I'm trying to keep this accessible to, say, my mother, who isn't interested in that kind of detail, to say the least.


Anthony said...


I carry a Glock 19 or 17. I love the defensive +p 9mm round in 124 grain.

My philosophy is: carry what you train with. Caliber Wars are for people who don't have anything better to do.

Anonymous said...

It is true that the more powerful loadings can impart more energy into a larger area on the target...which equates (in general) to more damage and more "stopping power"...but a miss with the most powerful handgun in the world is less effective than a hit with a .22 lr. And a .32acp in the pocket beats a .45acp in the gun safe every time.

Therefore, use what is best for you...what is the most comfortable and practical for your situation, and that you can accurately shoot. Any other advice than that is just blathering.

I would like to point out that the part about using 5.56 Nato ammo in a .223 remington chambered rifle is not a myth, it is true, however it has nothing to do with tumbling or what happens to the bullet after it leaves the gun.

It has to do with the difference between NATO and SAAMI chamber specs.

I could explain it in technical terms if you want, but you don't seem too interested in that. The bottom line is that it may be unsafe to shoot 5.56 Nato ammo in a rifle chambered for .223 Remington...depending on the rifle.

DirtCrashr said...

Since I'm in CA I don't carry, but the House Gun is a .38Spl loaded with the FBI load. My wife can shoot it very-very accurately and there's not much but sheetrock and sound-deadener separating us from the neighbors, so overpenetration is a big issue. I like my Sig P220 in .45ACP with JHP's - or the Old '43 Colt - but that one's more of a museum piece and I'd hate to lose it, thus the Sig with caliber equivalent.
My AR's have 1.) a Wylde chamber in the Match Rifle, and 2.) the Noveske "Mod O" chamber in the carbine - more freebore for enhanced reliability (extraction).
Both work pretty well with 5.56 Nato. I don't seat .223 out to the lands like some long range guys.

D.W. Drang said...

SailorCurt: Actually, I know the details about why 5.56mm does not necessarily chamber in a .223, I just didn't want to get into the technical details. Maybe I was being too cautious--you summed it up in far fewer words than I would have. Looking back, I was already being fairly verbose... ;-)

Larry said...

Completed my NRA pistol instructor course this weekend- now to "pay the fee and file the paperwork" as they say...

D.W. Drang said...