Friday, September 18, 2009

What's the best handgun? What's the most effective pistol caliber?

What's the most effective handgun for self-defense? What's the most effective handgun caliber? Those are two of the most-often asked questions by those considering purchase of a handgun or concealed carry of one.

There are almost as many different answers as there are different people. But as an NRA Basic Pistol instructor and a N.C. Concealed Carry Handgun instructor, I have to answer both those questions as succinctly as possible within a few minutes during an 8-hour class.

Exhibit one, the handgun penetration and expansion chart for various calibers at right, showing the results in ballistic gel tests, which is how the FBI judges effectivness of handgun cartridges. As you can see, there's precious little difference between 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 Sig and .45 ACP, the main choices for modern handgun calibers. They all penetrated a minimum of 12 inches in ballistic gel (the best comparison to human flesh) and they all expanded, creating quite similar wound tracks, the red areas.

And now exhibit 2, from noted self-defense expert John Holschen at InSights Training.
Get a gun/cartridge combination that goes bang every time you pull the trigger and which you can shoot quickly and accurately. No common defensive handgun cartridge will quickly and reliably stop a human being who is committed to causing serious bodily harm, unless the bullet from that cartridge is applied to the correct anatomy. When the bullet is applied to the correct anatomy ANY of the 3 will serve equally well (9mm, .40, .45).
Holschen is a genuine expert, whose experience has been tested on the battlefields of the world.
John Holschen is a frequent guest instructor with InSights. John served for over 20 years in the Special Operations and Intelligence branches of the U.S. Army. He is a former US Army Special Forces Weapons Sergeant and Special Forces Medic. John taught at the JFK Special Warfare School and was the Senior Hand to Hand Combat Instructor/Master Instructor for 1st Special Forces Group.
Or as I heard a retired cop said about his choice of a .32 pistol for off-duty and backup carry, "It don't matter what you shoot 'em with as long as you hit 'em between the shirt pockets."

Reliability and accuracy are numbers 1 and 2 concerns for an effective self-defense handgun. If you take care of those first, you can argue about 9mm vs. .45 vs. whatever to your heart's content. And if it don't go bang when you pull the trigger, or you don't hit what you're shooting at, and hit it in the right spot, it won't matter if you're carrying a .500 caliber wheel gun.

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