(This originally ran in June, 2008. It has been updated somewhat since then.)
Chapter 9. Best gun, best load.
Those who follow the gun press will know that there is a never-ending supply of arguments on this subject. For the longest time it was .45 vs 9 mm. Then the .40 cal and .357 auto got thrown into the mix. New high tech bullets and new low-flash high-velocity powders also make news in the field. Changes, in my humble opinion, in the last 25 years or so, since the development of synthetic pistol frames, have been evolutionary rather than revolutionary, although bullet designers are working real hard to find the “magic bullet”. (A new Hornaday bullet may be real darn close.)
The fact of the matter is there is no best gun or best load. It doesn't exist and probably never will. There are admittedly specialized areas where one particular technology might emerge as a clear number one, at least for a time, but concealed carry self-defense is something of a generalist field. How much weight can you deal with? How much size? How sensitive to recoil are you? How much money are you willing to spend? How big are your hands? What sort of clothing do you routinely wear? All of this will make a difference, and it is different for everybody. There are, however, a few generally recognized and acknowledged truths in the field.
There is a power minimum that is desirable. Nobody wants to get shot, not even with a .22. In reality a .22 has some advantages in that it is cheap to shoot. You can afford to get good with it, and you will need to be if that's what you use. A .22 does not penetrate auto bodies or safety glass well, and during the winter, when the trolls wear more clothing, it may penetrate their bodies poorly after going through clothes. It will not reliably stop a determined attacker, two legged or four, without a CNS (central nervous system) hit. It will kill to be sure, but what you want from a defense weapon is to stop the bad guy from killing you. There is a difference.
Generally speaking, .380 or 9mm Makarov is the bottom line, although the .32 Silvertip has a decent reputation in actual use against people. Many knowledgeable gun people will tell you that the .38 Special is minimum, and the .38 Special +P is even more desirable. Larger diameter bullets may have the advantage in that they are already larger and do not need to expand to do the job. The .40 caliber was developed just for that purpose, to split the difference between large-slow bullets, like the .45, and light-fast bullets, like the 9mm. It does the job pretty well and the .40 cal has taken over the police market almost to where the .38 Special was in days gone by, at least in this country.
I am not even going to get into the argument about the best gun type, at least any deeper than the light pass I have made in previous chapters. The fact of the matter is that any reliable firearm in any decent caliber will do the job, if you can hit with it. If a high capacity 9mm is, in your mind, better for your purposes than a single-stack .45 auto, that is a perfectly valid decision. If you want to go with a .40 or .357 auto, that's cool too. If the simplicity of a revolver appeals to you and you are aware of and willing to put up with the limitations of a revolver, that is also a valid decision. (Most of the year I carry a revolver myself.)
The very best gun and the very best load are, quite simply, what you have with you when you need it. The small caliber belly gun in your pocket is better than the cannon at home in the safe. Remember, shot placement is #1. Adequate penetration is #2. Everything else is an almost academic #3. (I have carried a gun on an almost daily basis for half my life. I have needed one twice. Once it was a snub-nose .38. Once it was a full-size Glock 10mm.. Both did the job with one shot.)
Get some training if you are going to carry a gun for personal protection. It cost money, and takes time, but it is available (and is almost certainly tax deductible for most of Paco's readership). If you are fortunate enough to have the right days off I recommend doing some competition, if there is a club available to you. Both IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation) and IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) have their adherents. I am a member of both, and have shot both competitively. My own opinion, for what that may be worth, is that IPSC has morphed (degenerated?) into track-and-field with a handgun and IDPA is a much more realistic operation for serious self-defense practice. (Both are games, with rules. Real gunfights have only one rule. Win.) Both have websites, both have publications, both have reasonable dues which are deductible to a working peace officer.
Get a gun, Get some training. Get some practice. Find something that you are comfortable with, that you can use well, and stick with it for a while, until you are reasonably comfortable and confident with your weapon and mode of carry. You are responsible for your own safety, and that of your family. There are bad guys out there who might target you specifically, and there are plenty of generic criminals and dangerous crazies that you might run into by accident. People are also killed by dog attacks in this country on a regular basis. (The two times I have needed a gun it was for dog attacks.)
Remember, when seconds count the police are only minutes away.