Gun Digest

CCW: Best Calibers for Self-Defense?

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Author’s choice in defensive calibers: 9mm and .38 Special.

Your goal, should you ever need to shoot, is to get your attacker to stop. Grant Cunningham reveals what he thinks are the best calibers for self-defense to make sure that happens.

Now you’d think that with about 150 years of defensive handgunning history at our fingertips we’d have an absolute, ironclad, incontrovertible picture as to what works best to stop a bad guy. You’d be wrong. The reason is because a lot of things work and every shooting is different.

There just isn’t one good, standard way of looking at each individual shooting and decide what happened, because every bullet wound is different and every bad guy is different. Add in different calibers and bullet types and distances and number of shots and… well, you get the idea. There are just too many variables to come up with precise answers.

Over the years, however, researchers like Greg Ellifritz at Active Response Training have come up with a pretty good set of data that helps us to see what generally works and what generally doesn’t.

As it happens, when you look at the most common defensive calibers – 9mm, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W and .45ACP – there isn’t a whole lot of statistical difference between them in terms of their ability to stop an attacker.

This runs counter to a lot of gun store gossip, and you’ll find lots of people who just “feel” that their favorite caliber is head and shoulders above everyone else’s, but the best data we have says there just isn’t a huge difference.

I like to say that there is a floor of effectiveness, and once you’ve risen above that floor, caliber is no longer a deciding factor in effectiveness. At least, it shouldn’t be.

Rapid, Multiple Shots

One of the interesting things that came out of Ellifritz’s data is that it’s not caliber which reliably predicts whether an attacker is stopped; it’s the number of rounds fired that actually hit a vital area of the target that stops people. In other words, two rounds of a “lesser” caliber beats a single round of a “better” caliber. More rounds on target as quickly as possible is what ends fights, not the “power” of the round – as long as it reaches the “floor” I alluded to earlier.

For this reason I recommend that you consider a 9mm handgun (aka 9mm Parabellum, 9mm Luger, 9x19mm). The 9mm, loaded with just about any modern defensive hollowpoint ammunition, is effective and most importantly is easy to shoot well. No matter how well you shoot a “bigger” caliber, you’ll shoot a 9mm better – faster at any given level of precision.

Since it’s the number of rounds on target which really determines effectiveness, and the faster you can get those rounds on target the faster the bad guy is going to stop, the 9mm simply makes sense. Many of the top defensive shooting trainers in the country have moved to and endorse the 9mm for this very reason. For those who decide on a revolver, the equivalent is the .38 Special.

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