People argue endlessly about what caliber is best. The fundamental fact is that all pistols, rifles and revolvers are lethal. The 380acp, 45acp, 12 gauge, 357, 7.62×39, 308 (7.62×54) and even the lowly 22LR are all lethal.
Is one better than the other? The simple answer is the best caliber is the one you can hit your target with.
What is caliber?
Caliber refers to the shape/size/weight of a bullet (ammunition) for a firearm. Ammunition is also referred to as “ammo”. The individual type of bullet can vary with the amount of lead, steel or other projectile and the amount of gunpowder. Ammo has variables like hollow point, full metal jacket (solid or round nose). We are focusing on which “type/caliber” of bullet might be the best.
Just the Facts.
Greg Ellifritz reviewed 1800 shootings and determined that there are some differences between the calibers. The facts prove that accuracy is far more importantthan caliber. The graph below shows a comparison of various types of ammunition.
The numbers prove that ALL these calibers can kill. Comparing the best to worst, shows there is not much difference between a 22LR and a 308 round. The lowly 22LR does kill people.
The numbers prove that rifles and shotguns are more likely to stop a bad guy but the numbers are not significantly different.
The pistol caliber with the best statistics is not much different than the worst pistol caliber. The exception is the 22 being roughly 2x as likely to NOT incapacitate the bad guy. But even the 22 isn’t a horrible choice, 154 people were shot 213 times in the data Elfritz found, and 31% were one shot stops.
Stopping Power Conclusions
The best one shot stop, are the shotgun at 1.22 shots and the rifle at 1.4 shots. All the the pistols vary from 1.3 to 2.45 rounds (bullets) to incapacitate. That means on average 2 to 3 rounds from ANY handgun.
The number of shots required to incapacitate is shown below this is the same information from Elfritz, but note it takes multiple shots for EVERY ammo type.
Round (Bullet) Ammo Type
Average Rounds to Incapacitate
Rifle (556, 7.62 etc)
Shotgun (90% 12gauge)
For many people it feels like 9mm or 45ACP or .40 is “better”. But the facts do not generally match our assumptions. Any firearm from a 22LR to a 7.62 (308) and up will kill.
Make your decision about the caliber of your weapon based on:
weight (how much can you comfortably carry and store)
standardization (do you want a rifle and pistol to use the same caliber ammo)
range (how far you need to shoot)
under or over penetration (going through walls in an apartment building is not good)
If you hit your target measurably better with a 22 pistol than a 9mm pistol or 380acp – you should probably pick the 22 (everything else being equal).
The arguments against 22LR
The lethality of a 22LR revolver is similar to a 357 revolver. So why wouldn’t we standardize on just 22LR? T
he arguments against 22LR are:
Rimfire: The 22LR (and 22short) ammunition is rimfire, meaning you clip the edge to fire the bullet. This process makes the bullet slightly less reliable.
There is a higher chance of a 22LR firearm fail to fire (FTF), Failure to Eject (FTE) or other malfunction.
The higher failure for “one shot stop”
Range: The ammo does not have a lot of powder and mass so it loses power over distance quickly.
The alternative is any centerfire ammo (380acp, 38special, 357, 9mm or 45acp). Centerfire ammo is more reliable, has longer range but weighs more.
You can “load your own” centerfire ammo – you cannot load your own 22LR.
For pistols, if you can hit consistently with 9mm use that. If not drop down to 380acp or 38special. If you are inconsistent with those try the 22lr. Use the one that you can HIT THE TARGET THE BEST WITH.
For a rifle and shotgun, try out the various calibers to find what you can fire accurately and go with that. If you get blown over by the 12gauge try a 20gauge or even the 410gauge.
If the 30-06 or 308 is too much, and even the 556 is trouble, consider a 9mm carbine.
“The one you can hit a target with and one you can and will carry ALL THE TIME.”
Before you buy a pistol
Visit a local range, or a friend and try firing different pistols. Try out a Glock, Sig Sauer, Ruger and any others you can get your hands on. Start with a 9mm Glock, Sig or other pistol. Focus on small size and light weight so you can carry it ALL THE TIME. If you can not hit your target with a 9mm, try 380acp, then if 380acp is too much drop to a 22LR.
Do not buy any pistol or rifle unless you plan to practice using it!
Using a pistol requires knowledge. It requires that you learn to use and maintain it properly. You MUST practice. A lack of knowledge and practice is extremely dangerous. It can result in killing yourself or someone else unintentionally. Having a pistol without knowledge is more likely to get YOU killed than protect you.
Only buy a handgun you can accurately shoot
You need to be comfortable firing the weapon and must be able to consistently use it in a stressful situation, whether its a knife, pistol or rifle. A weapon you can’t or won’t use is a liability. The rifle or pistol is a tool for hunting or defense. A larger caliber (that you can control) is better than a smaller caliber.
Plan to pay at least 3 times the cost of the pistol
The pistol plus locks, cases, holsters, sights, magazines, ammo and cleaning gear is going to cost a lot. And training with a pistol can be expensive, especially for range time and even more ammo. The real cost is more like $2000 plus the cost of the pistol.
What matters when buying a pistol?
Size. The physical size of the pistol is CRITICAL. A pistol needs to be small enough to go in a pocket or belly/belt holster. The size of the ammo impacts the conceal-ability also. The 45acp, 357 and other larger rounds, will limit the number of rounds you can carry every day. Smaller is generally better.
Weight. If you want to conceal carry every day, the weight of the pistol AND the weight of the ammo will impact your ability to carry it every single day. Ounces are pounds when you carry all day. Lighter is better.
Accuracy. I might fire a Glock 43 well and you might not. You might fire a Sig P365 or a Ruger LCP well and I might not. Personal preference, hand size, grip, posture and style are all things to consider when buying. Accuracy is what stops bad guys.
Caliber. The type of ammo, 380acp, 38 special, 9mm, 357, .40 S&W, 45acp or even the lowly 22LR. The larger the round the bigger the kick and the fewer you can carry in a concealable handgun.
Ok, so I listed a bunch of pistols. The bad news, is, it does not matter what pistols I like. It ONLY matters if you fire it well.
Example: As a family we tried firing a dozen pistols. We were very accurate with the Glock 26 Gen2, but every single one of us got pinched by it. No one wanted to fire it because of the pinch – even though we fired it well. I could not buy a pistol that our entire family was unsure of firing.
Selecting a Pistol
How does the pistol fit in your hand? Do the sights line up naturally? Some people like the angle of the Glock others like the Sig or Springfield. If there was a one size fits all there would not be so many pistols in the market.
Some guys in WWII were horrible with the Springfield rifle but great with TommyGun. You need to try out weapons to know what will fit you personally.
What about the 22LR?
Many people don’t recommend the 22LR. However, a 22 is still better than no defense at all. It is lethal but has a 31% one stop shot failurerate compared to 13% to 17% with all other centerfire ammo types. This means you are 2x as likely to NOT stop someone with a single shot with a 22LR.
There are multiple downsides to the 22LR. It is it is a small round. It does not penetrate through glass or barriers well. It is limited in stopping range. It is rim fire not center fire which leads to miss fires and fail to fire. On the positive side it is very small and inexpensive.
The Ruger SR22 22LR pistol is a great little semi-auto pistol. It is a 10 round, 17.5oz 3.5” Barrel with overall length of 6.5”. In a TEOTWAWKI situation the SR22 might be a real alternative because 10/22 is so cheap and lightweight. 22LR is the most plentiful ammo in made in the USA followed by 9mm then shotgun then 556.
The Walther P22 QD, Smith & Wesson M&P22C and Ruger LCP 22lr are decent small to mid-sized semi auto pistols. Some other 22lr pistols include the: Heritage Rough Rider revolver, a number of NAA 22LR revolvers, and Glock 44.
Ammo standardization means you try to get all your pistols and possibly even rifles in the same ammo. The two most common pistol options are 9mm and 22LR. There are carbine rifles that fire 9mm and even the popular KelTec Sub 2000 9mm with a magazine matching Glock, Beretta or Sig.
Remember – Buy the pistol, ammo and rifles that fit your need or “mission”, that you can hit the target with.
More About Ammo: Try out ammo on targets before you buy a lot. You might be way more accurate with a particular type of ammo in a particular rifle or pistol. Stockpile ammo when it is on sale. Store it in a cool DRY space. Old military ammo cans are cheap to store bulk ammo and have seals.
So how many pistols should you own? If you ask most preppers the answer is “YES” or “LOTS” or “ALL OF THEM” or “As many as you can afford”. I recommend a pocket pistol for every family member, preferably two. And even more if you are worried about TEOTWAWKI.
I strongly recommend buying the pistols in sets of two or more. Buying the same pistols at the same time ensures parts can be shared between them. Almost any prepper will tell you, two is one and one is none.
Consider a couple of backup revolvers chambered in your primary pistol ammo. A revolver has much fewer moving parts so less to break in SHTF and TEOTWAWKI. Be warned they are not as fast to reload even with moon clips.
Why Pick a 9mm Pistol?
I recommend a 9mm because it is widely available and is a good balance of power and size. Choose a compact 6 to 11 round semi-auto pistol -Sig P365, Sig P932, Ruger LC9S, Glock43, Glock26, S&W Shield and numerous others. (see list Best Pistol Recommendations above)
You might also consider the: 380acp, 38 special, 357 or 45acp. I know i am a broken records but ONLY purchase a pistol you can consistently hit the target with. Find a friend who has guns or go to a range and try each type of weapon. The largest caliber you can consistently hit the bullseye with is the one you should get (possibly downsizing to the 9mm or at least 45acp if you can handle a Desert Eagle).
Why Consider a Revolver?
It is a good choice depending on the situation. It is somewhat harder to conceal and for most people a magazine is easier to reload quickly than a moon clip/speed loader.
If I had to pick just one revolver… I am not sure what I would pick. Maybe would go with Ruger LCR22 or LCR9 because of the widely available ammo or the Ruger LCR357 because it gives you the option of 357 and 38 special ammo.
If I wanted a 22LR revolver, I would consider the Ruger LCR22, Ruger Single Six or Ruger Single 10. The larger ones will likely last multiple lifetimes. The big advantage is even if the round doesn’t fire, just pull the trigger again. Note: the trigger pull on most revolvers is harder than a semi-auto pistol.
Before you chose a pistol, consider its use.
Best open carry pistol? An open carry pistol is one that is in a belt holster or shoulder holster. Consider the Glock 19 – 17round 9mm pistol. 9mm is available everywhere and it is 2 to 3 shots to stop someone. Others to consider include: Sig Sauer, S&W, Springfield, FN, and Ruger. Remember if you fire a pistol better BUY THAT ONE.
Primary Conceal Carry / Every Day Carry (EDC): The 10rnd Sig Sauer P365 and 11rnd Springfield Hellcat are good for a primary Conceal Carry Weapon (CCW). Popular alternatives are the Ruger LCP, Glock 43 and the S&W Bodyguard. If you are ok with a physically larger pistol consider other pistols such as the FN, Beretta, Ruger, Walther, H&K and 120 other manufacturers.
Backup gun? We recommend the Ruger LCP II for deep conceal or backup gun or “BUG”. Note the LCP II doesn’t support +P ammo. I prefer +P but will take the LCP II anyway (a gun is better than NO gun). Others include the tiny NAA revolvers.
Why Smaller Pistols? I recommend the Bug or EDC small to mid sized pistols. A smaller pistol can go in a pocket and weighs less. You are more likely to carry something that is not huge. A military phrase is “Ounces are Pounds” meaning carrying something all the time makes it seem MUCH heavier than it is. So smaller is good (assuming you shoot it well).
Ammo standardization? I said it already but I am saying it again, consider picking a primary pistol, shotgun and rifle ammo.
If you are getting a single type of pistol for the entire family, you can share parts and expertise. The LCP 380, Glock 43 or 9mm Sig P365 is good for deeper conceal. For a larger pistol, the 9mm Glock 17 or 19 is a good pick because there are a LOT of those around.