Shot placement, or where you put your bullets, will always be more important than the caliber or gun when it comes to self-defense.
Ol’ Joe was sitting at the bar, drinking. The year was 1930, and drinking was illegal. But this bar was in a speakeasy, and no one in there gave a damn about being legal. But one guy did give a damn about his wife, and it had come to his attention that Ol’ Joe had been giving some affection to her. An altercation ensued, and the jealous husband ended up pulling out a .25 Automatic and emptying it into Ol’ Joe’s gut.
Grandpa said that Ol’ Joe was a big ol’ boy, and after the shooting was over, he turned and walked out the door. Grandpa knew this because he was there when it happened. Though he never admitted it, I figure Grandpa had recently delivered the libations Ol’ Joe and everyone else had been drinking. Shortly, Ol’ Joe walked back inside with a shovel and a blood stain the size of a dinner plate oozing through his overalls. And then, with five .25 Auto slugs in his tummy, he took that shovel and beat the jealous man to death.
Lesson learned: If you don’t want to get beaten to death with a ditch digger, don’t shoot your adversary in the belly button.
Hardball Won’t Work
Most supposed experts will tell you that hardball—full metal jacket—handgun ammunition isn’t suitable for self-defense.
Well, one night while working the midnight shift, I got a call of “shots fired” at a local nightclub. As I crept my cruiser into the edge of the parking lot, I heard the unmistakable sound of handgun fire. The sirens wailing from my backup that was on the way quickly dispersed the crowd. Remaining on the parking lot before me was a dead man.
Long story short, the investigation revealed he’d taken a single 115-grain 9mm FMJ round to the chest at about 10 feet. The bullet had pierced his sternum and heart, exited his back and was found in the fender of a Toyota Camry that was parked just behind where he stood. The coroner said that had EMS been standing beside him when he was shot—waiting to render aid—he would’ve died anyway.
Does Good Shot Placement Make .380 Viable?
The .380 Auto is often considered the absolute minimum for personal protection. That seems like it suggests if you must shoot a bad guy with a .380, the outcome is questionable.
Well, on another midnight shift, we responded to a suspicious person call, which turned out to be a crippled man standing over a dead guy in the middle of the street.
It seems a proprietor of a local bar—are you seeing a trend here?—was headed home when the car following him began flashing its lights. The bar owner pulled over to see what was what. That’s when the driver of the trailing car got out, walked up to the nightclub owner’s car, opened the door, pulled the proprietor out, and began to beat the living daylights out of him.
The bar owner was physically disabled. (My teenage daughter could’ve whopped up on him). But he was smart, he kept a pistol—a compact .380—in his pocket. He shot his attacker once in the chest, and the man dropped in the street and that was the end of that.
What’s the Point?
The point here should be clear by now: It’s not the gun, the cartridge or the ammunition that’s most important. It’s shot placement. Those five rounds Ol’ Joe took to the gut undoubtedly hurt like hell. Maybe a lesser man would’ve crumpled from the pain. Had the jealous husband shoved that .25 into Ol’ Joe’s chest as opposed to his stomach; he’d have probably been around long enough to go to prison.
As for the 9mm hardball that dropped the drug dealer in the parking lot, it was well placed. It’s hard to recover from a .35-caliber hole through your heart. And look at it this way: Had the bullet been one of the expanding varieties, the hole would have at most been twice as large in diameter. The same thing is true of the final encounter with the bar owner and his .380: It fires the same diameter bullet as a 9mm at a much-reduced velocity. In both instances, both loads worked to perfection, because they hit the right spot.
So, the next time you’re sitting around wondering if your handgun is powerful enough to protect you—or, if you’re wondering if the ammunition you have is wicked enough to stop a bad guy—my advice would be to stop worrying about either. Take 50 or 100 rounds and head out to the range for some practice putting the bullets where they’re supposed to go. If that’s something you find hard to do on demand, with speed and rapidity, I’d suggest you seek out some defensive handgun training and learn how to shoot.
I’ll never forget a scene from the Western movie, Appaloosa. The two lead characters, played by Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen, are lying in the street along with some other fellows and they’re all shot to hell. Mortensen’s character says, “That happened quick,” and Harris’ character responds, “Everybody could shoot.”
If you’re serious about carrying a handgun every day for personal protection, learn how to shoot!
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the EDC 2021 special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
More On Self-Defense Training:
- 6 Defensive Handgun Drills to Master
- The Shot Timer And Defensive Handgun Training
- Dry Fire Training To Improve Defensive Handgun Skills
- Aiming A Defensive Handgun, Is There One Right Way?
- 7 Steps To Control Fear And Make Sound Decisions Under Stress
Subscribe to the Gun Digest email newsletter and we'll send your print-at-home target pack right away. Just enter your email address below.