April 11, 2011

Me? Own A Gun? Article 5: Cartridges and Carrying

In this final installment of the five part series (the first four installments may be found here, here, here and here), I’ll explore the basics of cartridge and holster choice, and add a few interesting additional tidbits. I hope this series has been useful and informative.


Cartridge choices for handguns are relatively simple. For revolvers, the .38 special and .357 magnum predominate. One can also obtain revolvers in .44 special, .44 magnum and larger, specialized cartridges most commonly used for hunting, but for most people choosing a revolver, the choice is .38 special or .357 magnum. The .357 is nothing more than a .38 special with a slightly longer case which allows more powder, greater bullet velocity, and therefore, more power. Smaller revolvers like the Ruger LCR are chambered only in .38 special (there is a .357 model with a different model designation), and while any revolver chambered for .357 magnum will also fire .38 special ammunition, the opposite is not true. It would be wise to consider .38 special to be the smallest cartridge appropriate for self defense in revolvers. Smaller calibers are available, but there is no advantage in size or otherwise in such weapons. Revolvers chambered for .357 magnum and larger calibers are themselves larger and heavier, often much larger and heavier than smaller, short barreled revolvers chambered in .38 special.

Common cartridge choices for semiautos are somewhat more numerous: .380 ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP predominate. Again, there are a variety of other available cartridges, but these are the primary four. Of the four, the .40 S&W is the most recent, having been developed from the 10mm cartridge as a shorter cartridge with less brutal recoil characteristics. It does approximate the performance of some .45 ACP ammunition with lighter bullet weights, while being physically small enough to use the same frames and slides as guns chambered in 9mm. Generally speaking, none of these cartridges is interchangeable. With semiautos, one should load and fire only those cartridges for which a given handgun was designed. In this genre, the .380 is generally considered the smallest cartridge effective for self defense. Handguns chambered for it, such as the polymer Ruger LCP, can be very small and light indeed, but as with very small and light revolvers, tend to have mediocre sights and triggers and because of their very light weight and small size, tend to impart considerably more recoil energy to the shooter. This usually results in equally mediocre accuracy.

Cartridges are commonly named for their bore diameter and developer, or to clearly differentiate them from similar cartridges. The .357 magnum, for instance, fires a bullet whose diameter is 357/1000 of an inch, and the “magnum” designation is intended to denote a more powerful version of the .38 special, which fires a bullet of the same diameter. The .40 S&W fires a bullet of 400/1000 inch diameter, and major development work was done by Smith and Wesson. It is essentially a development of the 10mm cartridge, but the case is slightly shorter to allow smaller framed weapons to fire it with less recoil. Again, the .40 S&W designation clearly differentiates it from 10mm ammunition, though both fire bullets of essentially the same diameter. While it is possible to fire .40 S&W ammunition in a handgun chambered for 10mm, the opposite is not true, and it is always best to fire only that ammunition for which a gun is specifically chambered, particularly with semiautos.


For self defense, only jacketed hollow points should be used. Hollow points have the greatest likelihood of expending more of their energy within a target--thus having the maximum stopping effect--and the least likelihood of over-penetration and ricochet as they will tend to “mushroom” or fragment on impact with solid objects. Full metal jacket, or “hardball” ammunition--lead bullets fully encased with copper and with rounded noses--are military issue due to international treaties and because of the military need for greater penetration of cover. In the military context, it is often better to wound than to kill an enemy. A wounded enemy takes three people out of the fight: the wounded soldier and two of his comrades to carry him. This kind of ammunition is entirely appropriate--and much cheaper--for practice, but not for daily carry.

Practice ammunition, whether with lead bullets or jacketed bullets, is generally substantially cheaper than carry ammo, however, it is often of lower power and will therefore have different recoil, report and muzzle flash characteristics than carry ammo. In fact, some light-loaded practice/target ammunition may cause malfunctions in some semiautos. The lesson is to practice, upon occasion, with the ammunition you intend to carry.

Another significant issue is ammunition cost. If you’re going to be truly proficient, if you’re going to have the confidence that will help to ensure that you’ll likely be able to avoid using a handgun, which should be your preferred outcome, you must practice--and practice correctly--regularly. Anyone can learn to shoot, but shooting well under pressure is an acquired skill, and a skill that is degraded without consistent, correct practice.

For all of the ammunition that follows except the 9mm, the cost was derived by multiplying the per box (50 rounds) cost by 20. Revolver cartridges and the .380 can be sometimes difficult to find in 1000 round lots, but when purchased in that quantity, one can usually save $20 or so over the per-box price. The prices listed are quite close to those of other brands currently for sale on the discount ammo market. Hollow point ammunition suitable for concealed carry normally comes in 50 round boxes, but every manufacturer markets ammunition claimed to be nothing short of miraculous in 20 round boxes at much higher prices. As you can see, 9mm ammunition is generally substantially cheaper than any other popular caliber.

In revolvers, .38 special ammo is generally cheaper than .357 ammo of the same type. In semiautos, 9mm ammo is generally much cheaper than the other three types and is generally much more readily available. Checking prices at Midway USA (a popular supplier of ammunition and all things gun) in early April 2011 for roughly comparable practice FMJ (full metal jacketed) ammunition (per thousand rounds ), I find (bullet weights are expressed in “grains”):

Magtech .38 Special, 158 gr. lead round nose, 1000 rounds, $287.80

Sellier & Bellot .357 Magnum, 158 gr. FMJ, 1000 rounds, $459.80

Sellier & Bellot .380 ACP, 92 gr. FMJ, 1000 rounds, $339.80

CCI Blazer 9mm, 115 grain FMJ, 1000 rounds, $219.00

Magtech .40 S&W, 180 gr. FMJ, 1000 rounds, $323.80

Magtech .45 ACP, 230 gr. FMJ RN, 1000 rounds, $377.80

By way of comparison, 1000 rounds of .22LR ammunition--and there are many models chambered for this caliber in revolvers and semiautos--can be had for about $35.00. However, .22LR is not a good choice for a self defense arm, though for a backup gun meant to be used only at near contact range as a last resort if a primary arm is lost or out of ammunition, it is a reasonable choice. That said, the .22LR is a very versatile--and obviously inexpensive--cartridge and no shooter should be without at least one .22LR rifle, and arguably, a .22LR handgun, but more about that later. As the Texas Ranger suggested earlier, in ammunition, bigger is often better.

Consider the Moro uprising of 1899-1913. The Moros, Islamic revolutionaries in the Phillipines, fought a protracted jungle war with the US Army. This was America’s first real war against an Islamic enemy and its first jungle war. The Moros were small in stature, being only a bit over five feet tall on average, but were fierce, dedicated and prone to atrocities. Many would drug themselves prior to combat, lowering their resistance to pain and increasing their homicidal rage.

At the time, the US Army’s issued handgun and cartridge was a .38 special which was quickly discovered to be wanting. The round nosed lead bullets fired at slow velocities might inflict wounds on a charging, drug crazed Moro that would eventually result in his death, but proved to be exceptionally poor in stopping such charges, even with multiple hits in vital areas.

Desperate for a better gun/cartridge combination, the Army adopted what is perhaps authentic American genius John M. Browning’s most enduring design: The Colt 1911 pistol in .45 ACP. Large, heavy and reliable, the 1911 fired much heavier jacketed .45 caliber bullets that proved to be excellent man stoppers, often immediately dropping Moros with a single hit. The model 1911 in various configurations and the .45 ACP have been very popular since.

This brings up one of the classic shooter controversies: 9mm vs. .45ACP. The basic argument is which is best, a larger/heavier, slower bullet, or a smaller/lighter but faster bullet? Proponents on each side often engage in lengthy proofs in the popular gun press fraught with righteous anger and disdain, supported by scientifically derived (or not) ballistic tables and anecdotal evidence of horrendous failures of the cartridge they disfavor, but the truth is that any of the cartridges I mention here, properly placed, will be effective. Poorly placed, the most powerful handgun cartridge will have minimal effect.

In truth, I have carried both cartridges and have never felt under-armed with either. There are indeed instances where people have been shot multiple times with either cartridge and have barely been affected, only to more or less fully recover later. On the other hand, there are many instances of attackers being completely and immediately stopped by single rounds. Generally, the. 45ACP has a well-deserved reputation as a man-stopper and will, in objective, scientific measurements tend to outperform smaller, lighter calibers. However, there are many other factors to consider.

A full-sized model 1911 has a seven-round magazine of .45ACP. It is an excellent, but large and heavy handgun and while some people do commonly carry it, it is hardly an optimal concealed carry choice for most people. Because the focus of this article is on concealed carry, following are the specifications of three Glock subcompact models and the Ruger LCR.

Keep in mind that it was the decade-long Clinton gun ban that gave birth to the Glock 26 and a great many other similarly sized handguns by other manufacturers. Under the ban, new magazines were limited to 10 rounds, so Glock, whose smallest gun at the time was the G19 with a 15 round magazine, designed the G26 for ten round magazines, making a much more concealable weapon that still carried an impressive amount of ammunition. It certainly gave the gun banners fits. Irony can, upon occasion, be particularly satisfying.


G26: 9mm, Barrel: 3.46”, L: 6.29”, W:1.18”, H: 4.17”, Weight: 19.75/26.1 (unloaded/loaded), 10 Round magazine capacity.

G27: .40 S&W, Barrel: 3.46”, L: 6.29”, W:1.18”, H: 4.17”, Weight: 19.75/26.98, 9 Round magazine capacity.

G36: .45ACP, Barrel: 3.78”, L: 6.77”, W:1.13”, H: 4.76”, Weight:20.11/26.96, 9 Round magazine capacity.

LCR: .38 Special, Barrel: 1.875”, L: 6.5”, W: 1.283”, H: 4.5”, Weight: 13.5 unloaded, 5 round capacity.

Notice that the .45 model is larger and heavier than its 9mm and .40 S&W cousins, but not by much, which is a testament to Glock design and engineering. the largest difference is in magazine capacity. With one round in the chamber and a spare magazine, carrying a Glock 26 yields 21 rounds. For the Glock 27 it’s 19, and for the 36, 13. A Ruger LCR with a speedloader yields 10.


What should guide one’s choice of a holster? What will be comfortable, concealable, and most importantly, what you will actually wear every day. A holster that looks great but just doesn’t fit your body or life will be of little use. There are several primary categories of holsters useful for concealed carry, but much depends on the individual, their lifestyle, the climate, and their weapon. Generally, those living in predominantly hot climates have fewer choices than those who live in cold climates as coats and jackets can effectively cover a wider variety of weapon/holster combinations than a shirt. Shoulder holsters, for example, while looking sexy on James Bond, are generally not a great choice in hot climates. As it is best to carry only one gun, it is best to always carry it in the same holster. Here are the primary options:

BELT HOLSTERS: These come in a variety of materials--primarily polymer or leather--and styles, and attach to a belt by means of various clips, slots or paddles. Among them, the widely used “pancake” holsters hold the weapon close to the body, but are marginally slower to draw than holsters that are not so body-hugging. Fobus makes a line of inexpensive but effective polymer holsters that allow easy adjustment of the angle of the holster on the hip.

INSIDE THE BELT/WAISTBAND HOLSTERS: Made of leather, Cordura and nylon or polymer, these are among the most effective concealment holsters as they minimize the appearance of a handgun and hold it as close to the body as possible, between the waistband of the pants and the body. They are slightly slower to draw that pancake holsters, but for most people, drawing speed is not the primary concern. Most require a belt for proper support and to keep the pants from constantly sliding downward under the weight of a handgun.

SHOULDER HOLSTERS: Made of leather, Cordura and nylon, polymer or combinations of these, shoulder holsters are generally comfortable, particularly if balanced by two magazines on the opposite side of the body. However, they do require loose-fitting overgarments to properly conceal them and generally cost much more than other types of holsters. In addition, one cannot take off the outer garments without revealing the handgun. They come primarily with vertical or horizontal holster orientations.

FANNY PACKS: Usually made of Cordura, nylon or some combination, these devices are normally worn with the pack on the front of the body or on the hip. Depending on their release/opening mechanism, they may afford a rapid draw. Obviously, they allow the convenient carrying of a handgun, magazines and other common items with little concern for wardrobe. These are a particularly good choice for hot climates, but avoid units that place the belt release buckle on or near the back. It’s far too easy for a bad guy to make off with the pack, thinking he’s getting a billfold, only to find an entirely unexpected windfall.

Fanny packs can be a very good choice for women, whose clothing options tend not to be as numerous or carry-friendly as those of men. Many belt holsters require a substantial leather or nylon belt to work properly, and that, in turn, requires wide, substantial belt loops (to say nothing of pants), something many women’s pants simply do not have. On the other hand, an unobtrusive fanny pack accessorizes well with pants and skirts alike, as long as they’re not too formal, and can double as a small purse.

There are a variety of other specialty holsters for a wide variety of weapons. Some manufacturers make purses with easily accessible holsters, but this presents a unique problem. You must keep your concealed weapon with you and in your direct control at all times. If it’s in a purse, it can easily be forgotten, or stolen without the owner’s knowledge. It’s not an impossible choice, but anyone carrying one has to be extra careful to keep it within her immediate grasp at all times. A quick trip to the internet/Google will reveal the profusion of holsters available. Expect to spend from $25-$100 on a good holster.

ONE ILLUMINATING ACCESSORY: Laser sights. Lasers are now available for most popular handguns in two types (red and green) and three primary mounting methods: Incorporated in the the handgun grip, attaching to an under-frame rail, or incorporated into the rear sight. Some manufacturers also make models that replace the guide rods of semiautos, though this limits the models for which the laser is available and they cannot be finely adjusted for precise accuracy. Quality laser sights run just a bit over $100 to as much as $500 and are now quite small.

Red lasers are more common and less expensive than green lasers. The only real advantage green lasers have over red is that the laser dot is more visible in a wider range of situations over greater distances. Red laser dots might be hard for some people to see in bright sunlight, particularly over ranges greater than 15 yards, while green will commonly be more visible. However, since virtually all handgun engagements take place at ranges under 15 yards--commonly a great deal under 15 yards--this is not as significant an issue as it might seem. For most people, a red laser will be quite sufficient, and this problem is reasonably effectively addressed with a pulsing laser dot which is much more easily seen than a solid beam. Pulse mode lasers are offered by many manufacturers.

Lasers are a real solution to the generally poor, non-adjustable “iron” sights standard on most small revolvers and many .380 semiautos. In addition, they are an excellent training tool, giving shooters an immediate visual representation of the effects of their trigger techniques, an important issue for any shooter, but particularly for beginners. For any shooter, they can improve speed and accuracy, and for shooters whose eyesight is not as sharp as it once was, are an obvious benefit. Some may ask “but what happens when the battery fails?” Simple: just use the sights that came with the handgun; they don’t require batteries. I change batteries yearly, and despite relatively frequent use, I’m always replacing batteries that still have useful life remaining.

Some of the best-known laser companies are: Crimson Trace, Laser Lyte, LaserMax and Veridian. I have used lasers from the first three companies and have found them to be high quality and reasonably priced. Veridian specializes in green lasers, so their offerings tend to be more expensive than average.


Please keep in mind that I am not paid to endorse any product, so my suggestions are based entirely on decades of experience in carrying weapons, in the military, civilian police work, and as a citizen rather than motivated by financial self-interest.

That said, I have carried a Glock 26, and only a Glock 26, for about 15 years. For the last nine years, I have carried it in a fanny pack. This makes a great deal of sense as I live in the southern US where it is commonly very hot. As I was raised in the north, cold bothers me little, and in a common southern (what passes for) winter might wear a jacket two to three times at most. A fanny pack, which I wear on the right front portion of my body, allows me to carry not only my handgun and spare magazines, but other items like a checkbook and keys. One of the advantages of this method of carry is that when I have no choice but to enter a place that prohibits legal concealed weapons, it’s easy to put the weapon in the truck of my car without making it obvious to anyone that I’m storing a handgun there. I’ve used several different models, including one by Uncle Mike’s, but these days, I’m carrying a UTG model that cost only about $15.00. With a bit of easily done sewing modification, this one works are well as several I’ve carried at three and more times the cost.

I chose the Glock 26 because of its small size and weight while still keeping substantial magazine capacity. With two spare magazines, I have 31 rounds handy, and keep fifty in my vehicle. Because I have relatively large hands, I’ve equipped each of my magazines with a Pearce Grip floor plate/finger rest. This is a simple plastic device that replaces the floor plate of a Glock magazine (a simple and quick change) while providing a secure place to perch the little finger. This helps in controlling recoil, which with the 9mm in a pistol of this size is relatively mild in the first place. These neat little bits of plastic cost only about $7.00 each and are available for a wide variety of makes and models. Many women and men with smaller hands might find that the G26 grip is just fine without the addition of a finger rest. My wife could probably do without them, but likes the feel.

While I’m on the topic of magazines, it is a good idea to have a complete replacement set of magazines. If you normally carry two spares, buy a total of six magazines. On a regular basis, say every two-three months, switch magazines. This allows the magazine springs to relax and lessens the chance of a magazine failure. Is this absolutely necessary? Possibly not. Will you experience magazine failures if you don’t? Eventually. Any spring will eventually weaken, but it may well take many years. For relatively little extra cost--spare Glock magazines are usually about $25.00--the potential problem is probably eliminated.

I also chose a Glock because I have long experience with them, in law enforcement and out. They are faultlessly rugged, reliable, accurate and work the way they should right out of the box. In transition training from .357 S&W model 686 revolvers to Glocks, we were told that if we lost our grip to simply let the Glocks fly. A great many were flung down our concrete-floored range, and aside from some slight scuffing on some sights, showed or sustained no other damage. Doing the same with our .357s would have resulted in a great many non-functional, badly dinged revolvers. Glocks are also very easy to take down, clean, and reassemble, breaking down into only four parts: Slide, frame, barrel and spring. This is a happy consequence of Glocks having been designed as military pistols.

Glocks are also among the simplest semiautos, having no manual safety devices, but three separate internal and trigger safety mechanisms incorporated into the design. I recently traded a G26 for a new G26. The only wear on my old handgun was some paint worn off the painted slide release, and this in a gun regularly carried for a decade. In every field of endeavor, some manufacturers do it right from the beginning. Glock was the first to market a pistol with a polymer frame and many polymer parts, and everyone else has followed suit. The Glocks I have owned and/or carried have easily been the most reliable handguns I have ever used.

Another advantage of Glocks is that if you know know the manual of arms for one Glock, you know them all. They share the same general configuration, triggers, and in every way that matters, work identically, making it very easy to transition from, say, a G26 with a 10 round magazine, to a full-sized G17 with a 17 round magazine.

My old G26 was equipped with a Crimson Trace grip laser, which I found to be an effective, though expensive unit. My newest G26 has a Laser Lyte rear sight laser, which is a brilliantly miniaturized unit which is actually a part of the rear sight. As such, it does not widen the grip and does not interfere with any type of holster. It also has two significant red laser advantages: It’s quite inexpensive (no more than $150) and has a pulse mode which is not only easier to see but doubles battery life to about ten hours.

Third generation G26s are going for $500 or a bit less (circa early April 2011), while the 4th generation models are about $50 more, and if gun media accounts are accurate, seem to be having some initial teething problems, i.e.: more malfunctions than one expects with Glocks. This might be two to three malfunctions in 500 rounds, which illustrates the general reliability standards one expects of Glocks.

The part of this situation that is ideal, at least for me, is the Walther P22, which is a neat little double action .22LR handgun that sells for around $380. My wife and I each have one of these, which we use about twice as often as we use our Glocks for practice. While not identical, the feel of the weapons is similar and the trigger, even though double action, are not greatly different than our Glocks. The manual of arms is also very similar. The greatest advantage, however, is the cost of ammunition. A thousand rounds of 9mm, again, can be found for about $220, while a thousand rounds of .22LR will fetch about $35.00. All of the principles of marksmanship apply as well to the Walther as they do to the Glock.

One major difference is that the Walther comes with differing backstraps to allow the user some adjustability. But the most significant--and potentially useful--difference is that the Walther has virtually no recoil or muzzle flash, and a mild report. It’s an excellent weapon for the first-time shooter and for training beginning shooters. In practice, malfunctions drills are identical with the Walther and the Glock, but you’ll likely have to rig them as both weapons have been virtually malfunction free, at least in my experience. Having a Glock in .22LR would be ideal, but alas, such is not to be, and the Walther is a reasonably close substitute.

The .22LR cartridge is not a good choice, as I’ve mentioned before, in a weapon on which you’re going to bet your life, but for training, it’s a very inexpensive choice. If you can afford the expense, this would be an excellent combination of firearms for a beginning shooter.


If you cannot afford two weapons, or if you’d simply prefer to work with one, the same weapon you’ll carry, by all means, do that, but for the first year or so, try to shoot at least 50, or better, 100 rounds a month. With 9mm, that’s a bit over $20 a month, and at the end of that year, you’ll be completely comfortable with shooting, taking down, cleaning and reassembling your weapon. It is that kind of confidence that makes all the difference. As I mentioned in the past portions of this series, the man to fear is not the man with a great many different guns, but the man who owns and carries only one.

Obviously, I prefer and recommend Glocks, for the reasons I’ve mentioned. However, there are a great many fine handguns on the market, and no single make or model is an ideal choice for everyone. Some people think Glocks are ugly and expect a certain elegance in their firearms, while I find them to be efficiently designed and perfectly functional. Shopping for guns is part of the fun. Be careful, however, of gun shop salesmen who are pushing a given gun or caliber. Some gun shops do their best to push whatever isn’t selling well, and as I’ve pointed out here, it’s wise to look into a wide variety of factors before making a final decision. A handgun chambered for a cartridge that is so pricey that you’ll seldom be able to shoot it will be of far less use than one that may have less impressive ballistic performance on paper, but which you can afford to regularly shoot.


I have not spent much time delving into the specifics of training. There are a great many books and professional, private training academies out there that can provide what is not possible for me to do in a few articles. And of course, please feel free to contact me if you have questions. My contact information is available on the site in the “About The Authors/Contact” link on the right hand side of the page. I do, however, have several suggestions:

(1) Always wear hearing protectors and eye protection. Amplified hearing protectors are very neat and will allow you to hear conversation and instructions, but immediately mute when damaging sounds--like gunshots--occur. They’re available for as little as $30.00. It used to be thought unmanly to wear hearing protection. As a result, there are a lot of very manly deaf folks of an earlier shooting generation still walking about saying things like: “Eh? What’s that?”

(2) Use the Weaver Stance to the exclusion of all others. Information is widely available. Some may argue this point, but trust me on this one. It is a foundational issue.

(3) Be purposeful, focus your attention and be firm, but always work to be, above all else, relaxed and smooth. Smooth is truly fast. Yes, you can be relaxed and firm simultaneously.

(4) Train the same way consistently. As I’ve said before, train the way you want to fight, because you will fight as you’ve trained.

(5) Above all, train yourself to be so aware of your surroundings that you’ll likely never have to use your shooting skills.

INTERESTING PS: Federal law requires that you buy firearms only in your state of residence. There is no such thing as direct sales from out of state suppliers to customers. All sales of new weapons must be done through federally licensed dealers and you will have to fill out federal paperwork swearing that you are not a convicted felon, haven’t been judged mentally ill, etc. If you already have a concealed carry license issued by your state of residence, this will speed up the process in most states. If not, various delays or waiting periods might apply.


As I close this series, I leave you with a wonderful story from Japan, a people with a longer martial history and tradition than ours. There was a master of the tea ceremony who was traveling. As he came to a crossroads near a town, he met a Ronin, a masterless samurai. The Ronan was ready to take offense at anything, and taking offense at the inoffensive man, challenged him to a duel.

The master of the tea ceremony didn’t own a sword and had no skill as a fencer, but could not honorably refuse. However, he was able to convince the Ronin to meet him at the crossroads the following day at the same time so that he could find a sword.

The master of the tea ceremony hastened into the town and found a fencing master. He begged the Sensei (teacher) to loan him a sword and to teach him something so that he could die with honor. Learning of the man’s skills, he asked him to perform the tea ceremony.

As the man displayed his skill, won over many years, he was transformed before the Sensei’s eyes from a frightened shell of a man to a calm, graceful, confident man, at peace with the world and with himself. When the ceremony was done, the Sensei agreed to loan him a sword, but told him that it was impossible to teach him anything of value in such a short time.

The master of the tea ceremony was crestfallen. He asked how he could possibly die honorably. The Sensei told him that when he went to the Ronin, to approach him with the peaceful confidence and grace he had just displayed and that when he did, he would surely personally return the borrowed sword.

The next day at the appointed time, the Ronin was at the crossroads, impatiently waiting. He saw a man approaching, a man wearing a sword, but it did not appear to be the same man he challenged. As the man drew near, the Ronin saw that it was the same man, yet not the same man, and certainly not a man he wanted to fight. He quickly made his apologies and left.

Be the master of the tea ceremony, but back up his tranquility and attitude with an effective handgun, and with consistent, correct practice. It is the man or woman carrying the gun that is truly dangerous; the gun is merely a tool. Good luck, and welcome to the ranks of those who fully accept their responsibility to take care of themselves and those they love.

Posted by MikeM at April 11, 2011 06:36 PM

"At the time, the US Army’s issued handgun and cartridge was a .38 special"

Actually it was the .38 Long Colt, in the M1892 Army & Navy.

As an emergency measure the Army pulled a bunch of M1873 single-action and M1878 double-action .45 Long Colts out of storage. In 1909 the Colt New Service in .45 LC became the standard sidearm; it took a while before it was completely replaced by St John Browning's newfangled shootin' iron.

Posted by: Bohemond at April 12, 2011 02:59 AM

I dunno. All this talk of "personal responsibility." It's so 19th Century.

Posted by: Tango Juliet at April 12, 2011 07:44 AM

Thanks for the reminders.

BTW, the US Army does not subscribe to the policy that wounding is preferable to killing. American arms, ammunition and training are designed to take the enemy out of the fight quickly and efficiently. This normally results in death. As you mention, shot placement is the key. An enemy that is only wounded is still caopable of fighting and thus of killing one of us. We find that exchange unacceptable. If we go to all the trounble to shoot someone, we prefer that he stay shot.

For one thing, the US Army tends to not fight civilized nation who care a lot about tending to their wounded companions. Professional armies from civilized countries focus on accomplishing the mission before tending to wounded. We believe that we take fewer casualties if the combat effective people focus on ending the battle then if they all start abandoning their fighting to tend to wounded.

I am not really sure the origen of this myth, but I have not found any historical evidence of a trainied army practicing it.

Annecdote: US Army doctors in Somalia would, as a matter of policy, treat Somalis that had been shot by American soldiers. They did this for humanitarian reasons and for the practice dealing with gunshot wounds, which at the time were rare in American medical circles. They were particularly peeved at the sniper teams because none of their targets were surviving long enough to get to the hospital.

Posted by: Professor Hale at April 12, 2011 07:56 AM

Jim Cirillo (of the NYPD Stakeout Squad) famously said, "Stopping power begins at 12 gauge."

Posted by: guffaw at April 12, 2011 01:08 PM

I understand you are limiting your discusison here to revolvers, but I have to disagree with the statement that the smallest caliber that one should consider is a .38. I'll disagree for two primary reasons:

A pistol that you are actually carrying is a lot more effective than one you have in your dresser drawer. I have found that it is socially easier to carry a pocket gun than lug around a larger weapon. I carry a .32 cal semiautomatic that is light and very inconspicuous. The small size and lightness make it easy to carry, and that convenience makes it *more likely* that I will carry it. Sure, a small, light semiauto is less accurate, but the bottom line is that self protection is usually not an issue of shooting at a distance.

Second, there are lots of people who have been killed with smaller caliber weapons. No weapon is a guaranteed kill, and all will kill or disable if the bullet hits the right thing. So, as a corollary to my first point, just as a firearm in hand is better than one in a drawer, a small hole in the chest it better than no hole at all.

Posted by: billo at April 12, 2011 10:45 PM

im gonna agree wholeheartedly with billo. the whole debate about what is a "real gun" or an effective caliber ammounts to ivory tower gun politics to me.

and ive easily carried my ruger sp101 357 snubby, I think just as easily as my old man caries his slightly smaller 38cal smith&wesson snubby

as for caliber plenty of times ive found my self in the situation billo describes, somethin is better than nuttin, so becuase I had a t-shirt flip flopps and shorts I grabbed a little 380 pocket auto.

my other pet peave is gun snobs who think if a gun didnt cost you an arm and a leg and have the right name your gun should be tossed in the ocean as a joke. I ran into those smug clowns all the time when I shot trap and they had 3000 dollar over and unders from italy and all I had was an 870 remington. still beat thier pants off.

lastly are performance perfectionist snobs, I read a whole review from one guy on a big website where he TRASHED the taurus judge, he called it junk said it couldnt shoot straight, out to, get this,! 75yards!!!! so dont buy it becuase any self respecting gun should be a good shot out to 75yards??!! fer crying out loud! most people feilding a tuarus judge dont expect to be trying frantically to terminate a threat more than 2-5 yards away!!! maybe only 1 or 2 foot away as the bad guy is trying to carjack you!!! who the hell is trying to stop a maniac with a judge from a football field away?

Posted by: rumcrook at April 13, 2011 11:17 PM

Dear Behemond:

Thanks for the historical update. Good information, but a bit more than was my goal in writing a basic article. Still, thanks!

Dear Billo and Rumcrook:

Thanks for your comments. Certainly, many people have been killed by .22LR bullets, but as a writer making recommendations for the general public, I have to establish certain baselines, and it's generally accepted that the .38 special and the .380 are the lower end of the effectiveness equation. There are, as you have pointed out, other cartridges, but considering all of the other factors such as cost, availability, recoil, ease of shooting, accuracy, sights, etc. larger is better--to a point. And you'll recall that I did not rule out smaller calibers.

I agree that something is better than nothing, but the difference in size between the smallest weapons chambered for .32 and .380, for example, is generally so small that its probably wiser to go for the larger caliber and more powerful cartridge. Please keep in mind that because I have not said, with righteous indignation, that anything less than the .45 ACP is useless, I'm almost certainly considered a heretic by some proportion of the shooting community.

As to the cost of weapons, I've found that one generally gets what one pays for, in firearms and everything else. In handguns, though, this is only true up to a point. An $800 Walther will not be any more reliable or accurate than a $450 Glock, for example. And it is true that I've found some $200 guns to be reasonably reliable and functional, but certainly not of the same quality and longevity of the more expensive weapons. First class design, materials and manufacturing processes simply cost a certain amount of money. Again, I provided some basic cost figures for those who have little or no idea of common market prices.

Your point about a writer who denigrated the Taurus Judge because it was inaccurate at 75 yards is well taken. A revolver designed to primarily fire that .410 shotgun cartridge will certainly never be accurate at that range. Shotguns in that caliber aren't accurate at such ranges either. All weapons must be judged on their performance within the parameters of their designed use.

Posted by: mikemc at April 16, 2011 11:33 AM

Dear Professor Hale:

Thanks for your observations. I agree that our current enemies are not organized militaries that tend to care for their wounded in anything like the way we do. I also agree that our weapons designers design ammunition for its lethality, not in the hope that it will merely wound enemies.

As you no doubt know, there has been a long standing debate about the relative effectiveness of our current 5.56 cartridge, though we will likely be using it well into the foreseeable future for logistics reasons.

My observations were intended to convey the (possibly unintended) effect of treaties that prevent the use of, for example, hollowpoint ammunition. Full metal jacketed ammunition, particularly in pistol calibers, as I noted, will often tend to wound rather than outright kill opponents, and this does, when fighting an organized military--as we have done in past wars--cause that military to expend personnel and resources to care for their wounded.

It has been many years indeed since I served in our military, but if I was on the battlefield today, I'd be happy with nothing less than a disintegrator that would, with a single hit, dissolve my enemy into his constituent atoms. Oh well. One can dream.

Posted by: mikemc at April 16, 2011 11:43 AM