Choice of Caliber
Bullets and Bull
Any gun, chambered for any caliber of bullet, is better than nothing in the horrific event that you are ever confronted by an assailant intent on inflicting bodily harm. The obvious thus stated, you will find that smaller, less effective calibers may not possess the capability of empowering their users with the means of taking control of a criminal encounter when the application of superior physical force is required. They may not provide the “stopping power” needed to deter a determined aggressor.
At worst, smaller caliber handguns may inspire a false sense of security in the mind of their owner, and let them down when most needed. At best, the same gun may defuse an attack because many criminals are thwarted by the mere presence of a firearm in the hands of the intended victim, often without a shot being fired.
Selection of a specific caliber for self defense is a function of a variety of factors, including ease of carry, portability, recoil tolerance of the shooter, and bullet performance.
Ideally, a caliber would be selected which is capable of penetrating deep into the core or vital area of an assailant’s body, without exiting. The benefit of this attribute is relatively easy to visualize. With too much penetration, a bullet will put a hole in the assailant, passing through the body. Still possessing considerable energy, the bullet will continue on its course until its energy is dissipated by collision with subsequent objects, or worse, with innocent bystanders. All the energy of the bullet, once it passes through the assailant’s body, is wasted.
Conversely, with not enough penetration potential, a bullet may get impeded by clothing and exterior tissue or bone, failing to disrupt the brain (computer) or the circulatory system (hydraulics). Such a shot might merely serve to further enrage one’s attacker.
In a manner similar to the fairy tale of the Three Bears, some rounds are “too hot”, some are “too cold” and some are “just right”. The ideal round for personal protection will dissipate all its energy within the core area of the assailant’s body. It will not exit to endanger others. Such a round will have the ability to penetrate from between ten and twelve to eighteen inches of human tissue.
When faced with an assailant, the purpose of your handgun and the cartridge it was chambered for is to protect you and your loved ones by “stopping” the aggression. A measurement of the cartridge’s ability to accomplish this is provided by real-world statistics which document actual street shootings, primarily by police in the line of duty.
The term “one shot stopping power” refers to a bullet’s ability to cause a criminal to immediately cease aggressive behavior when shot one time in the torso. It does not infer whether or not the criminal was instantly killed, was mortally wounded and died later, was wounded and recovered, or was psychologically as well as physiologically overcome and thus capitulated. It merely means threatening conduct ceased once the criminal was shot once.
To immediately stop an aggressor, it is necessary to disrupt the central nervous system, achievable by a shot into the brain, base of the skull, or upper spine in the neck area. Nervous system trauma will result in instantaneous loss of consciousness. Damaging the circulatory system of one’s attacker through a torso shot will result in gradual loss of consciousness, achieved by shock due to blood loss.
Effective wounding of an attacker, therefore, is a function of shot placement, which produces the path of the bullet through the body, and penetration, which determines which critical and non-critical tissues are disrupted. Critical tissues include the central nervous system and cardiovascular organs and vessels vital to the assailant’s immediate survival. Rapid hemorrhage deprives the brain of oxygenated blood required for consciousness.
Use of deadly force as a means of stopping aggression requires that, at a minimum, a person be in fear of losing their own life. Laws vary among states, so it is important for a person to ascertain what constitutes legal use of deadly force in their particular jurisdiction. This should be one of the initial activities conducted by a person who elects to purchase a firearm for self defense.
Some states expand the right of personal defense to include one’s family, and other states include strangers in danger as well. Be prudent. Remember, your objective is to cause the assailant to desist in their aggressive behavior by the effective application of superior force on your part. There is no legal justification for a “coup de grace”. Likewise, a shot into the back of a fleeing attacker will be frowned upon in a court of law. Don’t be a peasant. Do your legal and statutory research.
With either a revolver or an autoloader, sufficient ammunition is held in reserve to counter multiple threats, or to disable a criminal who, though wounded, continues their aggressive behavior. Keep shooting vital areas until you have dissipated or terminated the threat.
Conventional wisdom with regard to handgun selection suggests that an individual purchase the largest caliber that can be handled comfortably and accurately. Many advise that the minimum caliber for self protection be at least .38 Special in a revolver and 9 mm in an autoloader. These two calibers are currently the most popular rounds in the United States for self defense. Ballisticaly, they are somewhat similar, with the 9mm having the edge in terms of performance.