Best Self-Defense Caliber Handguns

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Handguns are the go-to self-defense firearms of choice for millions of Americans. If you’re looking for a handgun, here are some tips to find the best self-defense caliber handguns.

In this article:

RELATED: How To Pick the Perfect Small Handgun for Self Defense

Choosing the Best Self-Defense Caliber Handgun

Which Handgun is Suitable For Each Situation

Not all handguns are alike, and many folks believe that bullet caliber plays a big role in how suitable a pistol is for a self-defense situation.

But before we get into choosing a handgun, here are some things to know first.

What Matters When Stopping an Assailant/Attacker?

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To really answer what handgun calibers are ideal for self-defense situations, you have to consider what factors actually matter in such a scenario. Picture the following event:

  • an attacker has broken into your home
  • it’s a man, and he’s 220 pounds or something similar – likely fairly tall as well
  • he is armed with a hand-to-hand weapon (i.e. a knife)

So, there are already a few things to consider if you were to try to stop this attacker or burglar.

Strictly speaking, three things will affect how fast a guy goes down:

  • shot placement
  • bullet stopping power
  • bullet penetration power

The last two aspects are similar but also a little different. Bullet stopping power is more accurately described in this case as destructive damage.

Bullets that spread or shatter on impact will produce more stopping power since they’ll do more immediate damage to the attacker’s flesh upon impact.

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They’re also more likely to stay inside your target’s body.

Bullet penetration power affects how well a bullet goes through your attacker.

This does play a role with initial stopping power as well, as bullets that can penetrate more easily might get through a tough leather jacket or other thick materials he might be wearing.

But which of these aspects matters the most? It’s definitely accuracy.

While bullet caliber and other bullet attributes can play a big role in a self-defense situation, accuracy (your shot placement) will matter more than any other factor.

If you can nail an attacker in the head from 20 yards away, it doesn’t matter what type of bullet you’re using – he’ll go down.

Master Your Handgun

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So our first piece of advice would be this: become an expert marksman with your chosen self-defense handgun.

This will almost guarantee you’ll be able to drop anyone who gets into your house no matter what cartridges you have loaded into the weapon.

A side note: shotguns and rifles are almost universally better for self-defense in terms of actually stopping attackers.

They carry heavier cartridges on average and produce more stopping power by virtue of their bullet velocities.

However, since we’re focusing on handguns, the emphasis on shot placement matters even more.

RELATED: 7 Tips To Improve Your Situational Awareness | Gun Carrier Self Defense

Learn the Caliber Differences

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A bullet’s caliber essentially describes its size and weight.

Larger calibers mean bigger bullets, which mean either more penetration power or more stopping power.

Such bullets may or may not be faster than smaller caliber bullets, depending on the powder loads contained in a given cartridge.

Caliber does matter for stopping attackers, certainly. For instance, if you have a high caliber pistol, even a glancing shot is likely to stop a burglar and send them running.

A small glancing bullet from a .22, on the other hand, might not even register in your attacker’s mind in the heat of the moment when adrenaline is coursing through their body.

Great Calibers for Self Defense

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All this is to say that you should generally stay away from small game or varmint hunting cartridges like .22 or .25 ACP cartridges. Larger cartridges are better for their stopping power and killing potential.

Great examples of handgun calibers for self-defense include:

  • 9 mm. These bullets are typically fast and relatively small but offer good penetrative power. Most importantly, these bullets don’t produce a ton of recoil, so maintaining excellent shot placement is easier.
  • .38 special. These rounds are ideal for use in revolvers and don’t affect your accuracy too much.
  • 10 mm. This is a great caliber if you can control the recoil of your handgun. The cartridges offer plenty of power and expansion (i.e. damage to your target).

Watch this video from First World Crusader to see their top 5 handguns perfect for beginners:

Ultimately, the best cartridge for your handgun is the one you’re most comfortable with because that’s, in theory, the cartridge you will be most accurate with.

Keep this in mind as you practice and remember to keep your aim sharp – it’s the number one factor determining whether you’ll be successful in a self-defense situation.

What self-defense caliber handgun do you have in mind? Let us know in the comments section!

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Disclaimer: All content on this site is for informational purposes only. Please read our full disclaimer here.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 24, 2020, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

15 Responses to :
Best Self-Defense Caliber Handguns

  1. AmericanIcon says:

    “If you can nail an attacker in the head from 20 yards away, it doesn’t matter what type of bullet you’re using – he’ll go down.” Really? A .22, .25, or .32 would more likely bounce off the skull. And there’s a reason, despite your disdain, .45 is still popular.

    1. Douglas Church says:

      Which one doesn’t work is the one located in the safe in the basement and the keys located in the safe in other room downstairs.

  2. Ric Parks says:

    12 gauge shotgun loaded with double ought buck should do the trick quite well!

  3. Bill says:

    I live II live in a townhouse with thin wall. I am concerned about to much penetration, I don’t want to shoot my neighbor. Would a 380 be enough stopping power while reducing the odds of shooting my neighbor?

    1. Glenn Van Acker says:

      Use a shotgun. Plenty of stopping power and should not penetrate a houses wall

  4. John Marston says:

    All this stuff about calibre and “tip” construction is just dandy, but there is a pistol on the market called “The Judge” that is a revolver (5 shot) and will accept either a heavy duty .45 cal. shell OR a 410 ga. shotgun shell (and I prefer the 410 that has not only the pellets in it but also two small serrated discs that will literally saw through cartilage and bone – to say nothing of veins and arteries) BAD??

    THAT is an understatement

    1. A. W. says:

      A revolverl that chambers a .410 shot shell seems very interesting but I’m curious how it treats the shooter. I usually shoot 9mm in a Glock 19 or a Sig 226. I know the only way to really know is to shoot one but can anyone give me some comparisons to help me decide?

      1. Frederick says:

        I too have the Judge as my nightstand 1st go to andwith backups of 12g 00buck and a 9mm Sig 226. And yes i practice as often as time permits.

  5. No reply today? Sorry???

  6. Thomas says:

    I’ve never used anything but a 25 Baretta and a 223 ar 15 the 25 because I had to have total concealment the 223 because a border patrol agent gave it to me after we were ambushed. The 25 killed the attacker with 2 hits and 3 pin down shots I don’t think the 223 killed any one but made me feel safer when I was shot at.

  7. FLOYD BURDETT says:

    While the .40 and .45 certainly hit with more impact… fewer users are going to be able to control them well, and get 2nd or 3rd hits on the target, if needed.
    The Other concern — not mentioned in the Article — is over-penetration…
    WHAT is BEHIND the person you are shooting..?? You can sometimes ‘control’ some of those things in your home — funneling, and clear knowledge of where your Family members would be, etc — but wall penetration AFTER the bullet passed thru the intruder, or if you Missed them. Is your child’s bed on the other side of that sheetrock wall? And in ‘street’ situations, is your Big Ole 44 Magnum or ,45 ACP going to go Thru the assailant and hit someone across the street waiting for the bus..?
    So the question becomes more ‘complicated’ than just what has Stopping Power.
    Sure… a .44 Magnum Hollow-Point, or even a .50 cal Desert Eagle, WILL knock an assailant down!
    But it may knock YOU down, too! and 5 or 6 More people behind the assailant… And good luck ‘concealing’ a hog leg like that at Wal~Mart or the grocery store.

  8. Cannabis says:

    what. about 22 long I think it will just piss a big guy off 9mm .I
    like I’m a short guy & in a wheelchair & marijuana smoker have class 6 feelony what can I do to carry a gun legal again?

    1. Chester Morgan says:

      Nothing I know of unless there’s some way of getting the Felony off your record? That by itself as far as I know will STOP you from ever purchasing any firearm legally. Better look into stun guns or a less lethal alternative? Maybe talk with an attorney about getting the Felony removed?

  9. Mike says:

    I am looking at the glock 19 or the Smith & Wesson .40 cal. I am in a cheep hair permanently. What would be my concerns with shooting one of those from a wheelchair?

  10. Mike says:

    I should have went back and read before I hit the post button. It should have read:

    I am looking at the glock 19 or the Smith & Wesson .40 cal. I am in a wheelchair permanently. What would be my concerns with shooting one of those from a wheelchair

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