When it comes to firearms, everyone has their favorite and “expert” opinion on why it is the best and better than your choice for the job of self-defense. Again it extends to calibers and what they're used in.
I'm going to point out right now, that no one round of ammunition will be perfect for every application or everyone's need and ability. Just not going to happen.
First you have to decide on what kind of “Self Defense” you're looking to address. What does that mean, you may ask? Self defense is self defense, right?
Self defense is the ability to defend yourself against a threat or attack by an assailant or assailant. One person, two people, several people.
Is it someone trying to rob you, someone breaking into your home, carjacking your vehicle, home invasion by multiple threats, an attack by an animal, dog, bear, or mountain lion?
Mobile self defense, static self defense, daytime, nighttime? It's enough to think about without just saying to hell with it, I'm going to use my cell phone and call 911 and let the police handle it.
Well folks, the plain hard facts are, the police have no duty to respond to your emergency according to the US Supreme Court. It's up to you to protect yourself and your loved ones.
The Best Calibers for Self Defense
You have to take in the factors of your age, physical ability, and experience along with training. As you become older, folks are not able to handle recoil, or even pull the slide back to charge their pistol or pull the trigger of a revolver.
So we're going to talk about a few different calibers of rifle, shotgun, and pistol for self defense.
At home, you can pretty much have any firearm you choose for personal self defense and your loved ones. If you are young and fit, you can't beat a 12 gauge loaded with Double 00 buckshot, 9-12 .32 caliber pellets.
Definitely a one shot threat stopper. What you have to consider is can your wife handle the recoil? Can you keep it out of the hands of children?
If you're older and can't handle the recoil of the 12 Gauge you may want to try a 20 gauge loaded with double 00 buck which will have 6 .32 caliber pellets. Kicks less, and is more manageable for the elderly and the ladies than the 12 gauge.
Still a one shot threat stopper.
Despite what you may have seen on television, you still have to aim these to hit your attacker. You also have to consider penetration and who else is inside the home, like loved ones.
The pattern on average for these loads will open about 9″ at 14′. Some people will say birdshot is better, but that is very debatable as birdshot may not penetrate clothing or pass though an obstacle needed to engage a threat/attacker.
Limitations on the shotgun are the number of rounds available in the magazine tube.
Yes, you do fire multiple projectiles, but a miss is still a miss and most shotguns will have normally only four to six rounds in the magazine tube. If you are unfortunate enough to suffer a home invasion with four or five bad guys, you can't afford to miss and home invasions are on the increase.
Criminals learn from their mistakes too and adjust their acts accordingly. The shotgun is best used in a static defense, rather than attempting to clear your residence as it is not an easily maneuvered firearm in a residence.
Same with rifles. Depending on your situation, you may not have a choice to wait for help but may need to move to another part of the home to protect family members. Know your limitations and train, train, and more training.
The 5.56×45/.223, 5.45×39, and 7.62×39 rifles and rounds are a choice for residential self defense made by many. One thing to remember is you are not bound by the rules of warfare when dealing with assailants.
You can use frangible rounds, hollow points, and soft points, loaded in a high-capacity magazine as another good choice for self defense. I often hear people say, “My revolver with six shots is good enough against one person–if you don't miss.”
If revolvers with six shots were still the best choice, police would still be using them instead of his capacity semi-auto with spare magazines.
When it comes to leaving the home, out on your own, or if you have little ones at home and cannot leave a shotgun or rifle available and ready, then the handgun may need to be your choice.
Obviously, when out in the public eye you're not going to carry a long gun unless you're like me and have one in your mode of transportation if the need arises.
So you're left with the option of a handgun instead. A handgun also can be secured in the home in instant-ready safes that keep it out of reach of unauthorized persons, but loaded and readily accessible should you need to defend your domain and family. Again no one round is the best for an all-around defensive caliber.
A lot of people favor the .45 ACP, some the 9mm, while the .380 is back in vogue and some still carry a revolver in .38 or .357. The important point to make here is to be armed and defensible.
The .45 has always been a man stopper with a 230 grain full metal jacket bullet. But it is not a good penetration round and may be stopped by things like window glass, doors, notebooks, things a 9mm may very well penetrate.
I carried a Sig P220 .45 as a Highway Patrolman until they made us switch over to .40. I didn't like giving up my man stopper to the new US Police caliber of choice.
Matter of fact, recently the FBI said the 9mm is now the better round. Taken into consideration, the .45 has been proven to be a good choice since its inception in 1911.
Let's talk about today's world. I would say modern engineering of handgun rounds has leaped above what was available during the last several years so much it's like comparing an old Model A to a new car today.
Both take you where you need to go, but today's bullets have breakthrough designs that now work like they're supposed to. Similar to frangible ammunition but better.
Bullets like the Hornady Critical Defense and Critical Duty have a polymer tip that will expand the projectile almost 100% of the time.
Think of what happens when you press down on a rubber ball. It flattens out. This is what the polymer tip does to expand the hollow cavity of the bullet it is added to, whether it is .32, .380, 9mm, or .45.
The Critical Defense round is not as powerful as the Critical Duty round and is intended for the civilian market. The Critical Duty round passes the FBI penetration standards and is intended to reach through and hit an assailant who may be hiding behind a car door.
The Hornady isn't the only round out there now, and there are several companies who have engineered great leaps and bounds in pistol bullet designs for reliable expansion and transfer of energy to the threat. It really is up to you to decide which will fit your needs.
The new designs are making rounds like the 9mm, .380, and even the .32 more acceptable as a defensive round, as well as the old reliable .45.
You have to remember, not everyone can handle the recoil of the higher powered rounds, and the elderly and ladies often choose the .380 or even the .32 as they can handle the kick.
You should use the most powerful pistol round you can handle and fire accurately and safely. Myself, I still have that P220 but carry a P228 9mm using the Hornady Critical Duty Ammunition.
My wife has a P228 too but she carries a Walther PPKS in .380, using the Critical Defense rounds for both 9mm and .380.
She does like my P220 and even shoots better with it, but it is not an easy pistol for her to conceal and that's where you have to settle and compromise what you can carry.
There is not one round or firearm that addresses all issues of self defense. You should consider what the round is intended for, where you intend to use it, and how you're going to use it.
While most folks laugh at the idea of a .25 auto as a defensive pistol round, I would often point out, which would bother you more? Being punched or shot?
Which would be more intimidating to the bad guy? Your fist or an obvious firearm?
In conclusion, regardless of what your caliber and firearm of choice may be, it is better than no choice at all. Just stick with modern, engineered, and proven bullet designs.
Lots of information out there about which ones work and which ones are gimmicks. Read up and learn, but most importantly stay safe and ready.
For those of you interested in receiving a solid foundation of shooting skills and training, go to nrainstructors.org for availability in your area. I am located in Oro Valley, Arizona, should you like to attend training through our instruction: Murray's Firearms and Ammunition.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on April 7, 2015, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.