Personal Defence Handguns
Many years ago the following piece of information was quite widely circulated:-
"75% of gunfights take place at under 6.4m, with average range being 2.1m. Lighting is usually poor. Average time of duration is 2.8secs and average total number of rounds fired by both sides is 2.8."
This statement has been partially discredited - the sample group was limited to Police shootings when the officer survived.
The basic trend of the above statement does seem to make sense, however. Away from the battlefield gunfights are going to take place at relatively short range and the person that lands the first solid hit will usually win the confrontation.
The main requirements of a defensive weapon for a civilian are therefore somewhat different than those of the military or police. Protracted shoot outs are not that likely when the scenario is a civilian defending themselves against criminals. Either one side will be dropped within a few shots or one side will withdraw. Most crimes are for profit and/or ego and getting shot serves neither. Facing strong, possibly lethal resistance will cause most criminals to seek easier prey some other time. Likewise an attacked citizen should retreat if he can. Discretion is the better part of valour, and you are more use to your family alive than as a dead hero.
In civilian self-defence applications the ability to deliver several decisive hits is more important than a very large magazine capacity. Having a good reserve of ammo is nice, but is secondary to having an effective round. That statement shouldn't be taken to mean that I approve of the recent legislation to limit magazine capacities however. Given the choice of lots of rounds or fewer more effective rounds the latter is probably the wiser choice, though a greater number of more effective rounds is obviously better still.
When you select a gun for personal defence you are in fact performing a sort of balancing act. You are balancing the perceived likelihood of needing the weapon against the size and bulk of the weapon. The criteria for doing this will vary between individuals, and include such things as self-discipline, physique and dress.
The most effective defensive pistol rounds are large bore cartridges such as the .45 ACP, .45 Long Colt and .44 Spl. These have plenty of momentum so use the energy that they have very effectively. Unlike rounds such as the .44 Magnum and .454 Casul they have a reasonable level of recoil so are capable of a quick second shot. If such rounds fail to expand/mushroom they still make a bigger hole than many medium calibre rounds that have expanded do.
King of the defensive rounds has to be the .45 ACP. Nowadays there are numerous models of compact .45 automatics that are modest in size and weight and have such welcome features as double action mechanisms and large capacity magazines. How light some of these weapons are may be a surprise if you still think of 45s as M1911A1s. The Glock 30 weighs 26½ oz and holds ten rounds of .45. The six shot Glock 36 Slimline model weighs 22½oz. The alloy framed Para Ordinance P10-45 is listed at 19oz.
The .45 ACP is also a useful revolver round. Companies such as Taurus offer 5-shot medium frame weapons of only 23oz weight. Similar revolvers may be found in .45 Long Colt and .44 Spl too.
A recent addition to the large bore family is the .45 GAP. This is of comparable power to many .45 ACP loads but uses a shorter case, giving grip dimensions more like that of a 9x19mm weapon. As far as I'm aware the slide dimensions are still .45 sized.
While many large bore weapons are lighter and smaller than once was the case there is still a finite limit to how low this can go. In certain situations the shooter may feel that the likelihood of threat is low enough to allow the carrying of a smaller calibre weapon.
Many medium bore weapons can be effective defensive weapons but don't let anyone kid you that they are as good as a large bore. They are a compromise, so accept this and plan accordingly. Obviously there is not much point using a medium calibre if the weapon using it is not smaller, lighter and/or flatter than a compact large bore. For our purposes medium calibre carry guns therefore divide into two groups: small frame revolvers and compact/subcompact automatics.
Revolvers have the virtue of simplicity. They are simpler to operate and you can tell at a glance if the weapon is loaded. Revolvers are also less effected by ammunition failures such as misfires. Medium calibre revolvers can use more effective bullet types than are available for medium calibre automatics. Bullets are available in heavier weights and in more effective forms. Some models of revolver are pocket tolerant, lacking any slide or hammer than can become entangled in the lining.
Small frame revolvers basically means J-frames in .38spl, .357 Magnum and 9x19mm. I see little point in having a 6-shot medium frame .357 when you can have a five shot 44spl for the same size and weight. True, you can get 7 and 8 shot 357s now, but if you think it likely you need more shots, carry a compact .45 instead. Similar reasoning goes with not considering smaller calibre J-frames. Five rounds of heavy .38 hollowpoints are more use than six .32s or eight 22s.
Automatics generally carry more rounds than a revolver and are easier to reload. For a given calibre an automatic is flatter than a revolver and therefore slightly easier to conceal. Medium calibre automatics means weapons such as .380, 9x18 Makarov and the smaller models of 9x19mm and .40 S&W. No point carrying a .32 if you can get a .380 in the same size weapon. Guns such as the Glock Model 26 and 27 hold nine or ten rounds of 9mm or .40 and weigh 20oz.
The best system of comparing rounds I've come across is the Taylor Formula, which I discuss in more detail here. TKO values are not Gospel, but they do give us a useful means of comparison. Playing with this a little we can see that four rounds of modest velocity .45 (230gr at 850fps TKO=12.56) hitting an attacker has at least 60%more likely stopping power than four of 9x19mm (124gr at 1200fps TKO=7.55).
7.55 x 4 = 30.2
12.56 x 4= 50.24
For comparison, a 158gr .38 at 890fps has a TKO of 7.17, a .38 158gr at 1020fps has a TKO of 8.22 and a 125gr .357 at 1450fps has a TKO of 9.24, all giving less than a .45. The above doesn't take into account mushrooming performance. With correct loads I'd expect the revolver rounds to be more effective than the 9mm. A 135gr .40 S&W at 1300fps has a TKO of 10.02. 44Spl loads vary a lot, but a 240gr at 750fps or a 180gr at 1000fps gives a TKO of 11.31. Faster, heavier loads give even larger values. Using the Taylor formulae we can also see that a .45 with seven rounds is a lot more potential stopping power than a 9mm with ten. In a self-defence situation it is unlikely that you'd land all ten rounds anyway. The encounter is more likely to be decided by a couple of sound hits or one side retreating.
You don't really want to consider a defensive weapon smaller than those listed above. However, you may not have a choice. If the climate is very hot or you are in a situation where you can't wear that much you may have to resort to even smaller weapons. Such small weapons are sometimes referred to as Deep cover guns. These can be divided into Derringers, Baby-Autos and Mini-revolvers.
The weight of a derringer is sometimes a surprise. At 15oz many are heavier than J-frame revolvers. Many 9x19mm automatics are also of similar weight. Where the derringer is ahead is its small size. Lightweight models of about 7.5oz are also available in some chamberings. You only get two shots with a derringer, and if this is the case you want them to be good ones. Derringers are available in much more powerful chamberings than other Deep Cover weapons, including .44 Magnum and .45-70. A more practical choice is .45ACP, .45 Long Colt or .44 Spl. While these have plenty of "Stopping power" this is only of use if you hit the target. The anticipation of firing such rounds from a lightweight gun may effect practical accuracy.
A popular choice of calibre in derringers is .38 Spl. This is available in heavier bullet weights than 9mm automatic rounds and these are often in more effective bullet designs that could not be used in an automatic. Another chambering of interest is .32 H&R Magnum. Bullet weight, momentum and TKO are all close to .380 ACP, but with a bullet of a slightly higher velocity and sectional density. TKO for most loadings of both rounds is around the 4.25 value. Potentially the .32 magnum weapons could be thinner than the .38s. My first choice in a derringer would be .38 Spl, but I'd look at .32 Magnum or .380 should this prove difficult to shoot from a derringer. Russian undercover police make use of a .380 derringer since this can be concealed by female police officers who may have to wear skimpy clothing. Choice of the .380 may suggest the 9mm Makarov round is too much to handle in such a light weapon.
.410 shotshells using 5 balls of buckshot are offered for .45 Colt derringers. Work needs to be done on the performance of such rounds from these weapons. Slug loaded .410 are often likened to .38 Spl in power. These may prove a gentler loading for .45 derringers. Again, experiments need to be conducted.
In the Baby Automatic field the most common round is still the .25 ACP. This is the least effective handgun cartridge in common use for defense. Small calibre, light bullet, low power- any way you look at it, not very much potential. Some say it is better than nothing, others that if shooting someone with a .25 you may annoy them further. Like any round, with good placement it can be effective. The only valid target for the .25 is the CNS, and to reach this you need a round with sufficient penetration. For this reason expanding ammo is to be avoided in this chambering. There is at least one round offered with controlled expansion for more penetration but you are probably better off with cheaper and more certain FMJs. A pointed solid brass bullet would probably perform even better.
Baby automatics can also be found in .22 LR. This is a shade more powerful than the .25, but advice is the same. Load solids and shoot for the spine or brain. Some discussion on 22 defensive rounds is on this page.
A revolution happened in the Baby auto world a few years back with the introduction of the Seecamp .32. This was a .25 sized automatic firing the .32 ACP. The appearance of this weapon occurred at about the same time as Winchester's .32 Silvertip ammo which would expand at .32 velocities. The Seecamp was much sought after, which caused the price to rocket. Companies such as Beretta and Kel-tec soon begin producing more reasonably priced alternatives. Both the Beretta Tomcat and Kel-tec P32 seem to be perfectly good weapons. The Kel-tec has a useful frame mounted belt clip as an option and the only complaint I've found on websites is about the magazine release. This is positioned near the trigger guard as is common on most larger automatics. When the gun is carried in a tight pocket this can become depressed. This is the reason that many other small automatics use a heel magazine release instead. I'm sure some clever soul could design a replacement button that can be rotated to lock it in position.
The .32 ACP round poses a bit of a dilemma. Do you use FMJ to ensure sufficient penetration, as detailed for the .25, or do you use hollowpoints? On some of these short barreled baby autos you don't have a choice. FMJs are too long to work properly in the magazine and the manufactures only recommend silvertip ammo -although other JHPs may also work. Other weapons are more catholic in their diet. Work needs to be done on the terminal performance of .32 JHP and FMJ ammo, particularly from short barrels. This useful page has gel tests of both JHP and FMJ fired by a P32. Which you shoot depends on how much penetration you consider sufficient. TKO of .32ACP averages around 2.6.
.32 ACP is not the only chambering for .32 Baby Autos. American Derringer are offering a Baby Auto in .32 Magnum. The NAA Guardian uses the .32 NAA, a 60gr .32 bullet in a .380 case. This looks good on paper if you want high velocity and lots of theoretical energy, but my feeling is if you have a frame that will handle .380 sized rounds, offer it in .380. TKO of the .32 NAA works out as 3.24 and 5.45 if the round expands, although penetration is shallow. A .380 Winchester Silvertip gives 4.14-7.59 and greater penetration. On that topic, a Seecamp .380 has been built which is the same size and weight as the .32, but is only rated for a limited firing life. This is a gun that you shoot enough to familiarize your
, then don't fire again until you really need it.
Not quite in the baby auto class is the .45ACP LM4 Simmerling. This looks like an automatic but the slide must be worked manually between each shot.
The final major class of Deep Cover guns are the Mini-revolvers, offered by Freedom Arms, North American Arms and Charter Arms. These are simple, single action revolvers of .22 Short, .22LR or .22 Magnum. The four or five shot cylinder is removed for reloading and weight is from 4 to 6 oz. Mini-revolvers are VERY small. There used to be offered a belt buckle that could carry one, and unless you were familiar with such weapons you'd assume that it was a decoration rather than a functional weapon.
In some respects the mini-revolvers remind me of James Reid's My Friend, also marketed as The Fisticuff in the 19th century. Some examples were fitted with extra length barrels, increasing the resemblance. The My Friend was available in .22, .32 and .41. A bird's head hammer and a finger ring for the second finger would certainly be useful features on modern weapons, making the grip more compact and the shape less likely to snag. Perversely the capability to use this as a striking weapon will probably cause the most objection. To some peoples minds having a less-lethal option on a lethal weapon is a bad thing, regardless of the fact that any gun butt can be used to strike.
A .32 magnum version of the mini-revolver might prove to be a very useful weapon, offering more shots than a derringer and more power than a baby auto with only a modest increase in bulk over the .22s. Such guns will likely resemble the New Line Remingtons in appearance. Size would be similar to that of many Baby Autos but the weapon would be far simpler to manufacture and operate.
There is a very interesting document circulating on the internet that claims to review an Al Qaeda training video. It's worth a read but at the end the comment has been added in that due to the risk of terrorist attack armed citizens should carry high capacity 9mms and specifically warns against carrying large bore weapons.
Firstly, the most likely threat to a citizen is still a mugger, rapist, burglar or car-jacker. If you are caught by a terrorist attack as described you are likely to be outnumbered and out-gunned by SMGs, Assault rifles, grenades and possibly RPGs. Unless you are Dirty Harry or Robocop you are unlikely to take them all out no matter how many rounds you are carrying. Being found with a weapon will cause you to be killed out of hand, so co-operation or non-aggression are not options. Realistically, your options are to take a few with you or attempt to escape, shooting down any in your way. In both cases a solid hit from a large bore weapon that is more likely to drop a terrorist without him returning fire will be preferable.