Selecting a Defensive Pistol Caliber

Published by the Author on May 21, 2008 at 6:01 pm > How-To Guides and Other Info > Selecting a Defensive Pistol Caliber

Few topics are as hotly debated as the question of “which caliber”. This article addresses my thoughts on the topic for semi-automatic (autoloading) pistols, intended for self defense use.

While bullets of every caliber are deadly if placed correctly, some are more effective than others. For example, a .22 caliber bullet is a deadly thing worthy of respect, but I would not want to trust my life to a .22 bullet during a home invasion. Similarly, a .50 Action Express is a devastatingly effective round as far as handguns go – but the large size of the cartridge and significant recoil make it less effective overall, compared to other cartridges. Below is a list of commonly available pistol cartridges, and my opinion as to their desirability for self defense, in the order which I prefer them.

1. .40 S&W
The .40 Smith and Wesson is my favorite defensive pistol caliber. It is almost 2 decades old, yet has become very popular in the USA. With 140 grain bullets, it delivers energy levels matching or exceeding standard .45 ACP cartridges, but in a smaller form factor that allows for subcompact handguns. Fans of the .45 ACP will point out that the bullet diameter of the .40 S&W is 0.05 inches smaller, but given the excellent expansion performance that can be expected from modern hollow point bullets, I’m not concerned by this at all. The higher velocities of .40 S&W bullets (up to 1325 feet per second) compared to the velocities of .45 ACP (around 900 feet per second) also help ensure that the hollow point bullets will expand as they are designed to.
Recoil is brisk due to the higher velocity of the bullets, since the recoil energy is transferred to the shooter’s hands more abruptly than with lower velocity cartridges, but the recoil is not overwhelming. I have found the recoil in pistols chambered for .40 S&W to be subjectively slightly higher than that experienced in comparable pistols chambered for .45 ACP. I have also found that even those adverse to recoil can become accustomed to a Springfield XD chambered for .40 S&W after firing just a couple hundred rounds.

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2. .45 ACP
The .45 Automatic Colt Pistol cartridge has been around for nearly a century, and has proven itself an effective self defense caliber. That said, it is not a magic caliber that will banish a dozen home invaders from your house in a single bound. This cartridge fires a relatively heavy bullet at relatively low speeds, which is effective, but does not take advantage of the way a slightly lighter bullet at higher speeds can be more effective, carry more energy, and recoil more softly. Part of the reason for this is the lower chamber pressure, compared to more recently introduced cartridges. For that reason, this time tested and effective caliber is my number 2 choice for self defense.

3. .45 GAP
The .45 Glock Automatic Pistol cartridge is less than a decade old, and was introduced by Glock as a way to fit a .45 caliber bullet into the frame of a compact pistol, where the .45 ACP would not fit. The result is a cartridge that is shorter in length, and has a higher chamber pressure than the .45 ACP. Performance is similar to the .45 ACP as well, however the price tends to run about 10% – 15% higher than .45 ACP rounds. This cartridge is also less common, and its future is not as secure as that of the .45 ACP that has been around since before my grandparents were born (although I have yet to visit a gun store that didn’t have .45 GAP in stock).

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4. 9MM
The 9x19MM Parabellum cartridge, like the .45 ACP, has been around since before World War 1. It is a round that originated in Europe, for the Luger pistol, which is why it is measured in millimeters, rather than fractions of an inch. The bullet diameter is the equivalent to .35 caliber. It is about the minimum caliber I would recommend for self defense, except for people who are too recoil sensitive to handle even a 9MM pistol (which is rare, and can often be overcome with just a little practice).

5. .357 Sig
The .357 Sig is is a relatively new, and designed to match the performance of the well respected .357 magnum, but in a cartridge designed for semi-automatic pistols rather than revolvers. It almost lives up to this goal, packing more energy than a .40 S&W or .45 ACP, when 115 grain bullets are used, but falling short on heavier bullets. The 35 caliber bullets it fires can be effective, however I feel that for self defense, the .40 S&W and .45 ACP cartridges’ larger diameter bullets are more effective and less prone to over penetration. The 9MM is less prone to over penetration than the .357 Sig.

6. .32 ACP
The .32 Automatic Colt Pistol cartridge was introduced in 1899 for use in small, self defense pistols. While like all cartridges it can be deadly, I am reluctant to recommend it to anyone except those who really can’t handle the recoil from a 9MM or larger caliber pistol, which is very few people. Having a self defense handgun chambered for .32 ACP sure beats throwing rocks or brandishing a pointy stick, but its ability to stop attackers is considerably lower than the above calibers.

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In this article I don’t discuss a variety of cartridges. Not because they are bad, but because I don’t believe that they are generally ideal for self defense. For example, the .22 LR and .25 ACP are generally too small and too under powered to reliably stop an attacker. Other less common cartridges are not included either.

Other cartridges, such as the .50 Action Express, which the Desert Eagle fires, generate tremendous recoil that can reduce the speed and accuracy of follow up shots. Two well placed .40 S&W bullets will do better to stop an attacker than one poorly placed .50 AE bullet [Although the Desert Eagle is a fine firearm :) ]. Also, the large size of these cartridges means that the guns chambered for them will have a lower magazine capacity. Those extra bullets can be the difference between life and death.

It is also important to remember that few firearms issues are as contested as the “which pistol caliber” question. Some people swear by .45 ACP. Others, like me, prefer .40 S&W. Many people like 9MM, while others believe the .45 GAP is the best thing since sliced bread. Regardless of which caliber you choose, the most important thing is to get a gun that you like, and to shoot it often. An inexperienced shooter, with any caliber, will not be anywhere near as able to defend themselves as an experienced shooter with even a less-than-desirable caliber.

This article addresses home defense handgun accessories you may want to consider as well.

If you are unsure which type of gun to select for home defense, this article may help.

Join the NRA today and do your part to help preserve our gun rights (and save $10).

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  • tim

    A 9mm with proper ammunition is plenty for self defense. I have a Walther PPK with Federal Hydra Shoks. Stopping power, low recoil, doesnt go through walls, 8 bullet cap (one chamber, 7 in the mag) as fast as you can pull the trigger. Save the big stuff for target and fun shooting.



    Thanks for the comment.

    I would disagree with your statement that your 9mm rounds don’t go through walls. Those federal Hydra-shock bullets will go through the interior walls that make up an ordinary home. Unless your interior walls are made of some thick concrete, there is still the risk of overpenetration.

    I also think that 9mm is the very smallest caliber I would consider effective for self defense, and I would only use it if I were unable to handle a pistol chambered for .40 S&W or a larger caliber. A person should, of course, have a gun that they can handle… but if they can handle a larger caliber, then why go for a 9mm that will certainly be less effective than .40 or .45? If I have to fire a gun in self defense, then I want the best chance (not just a “good enough” chance) of stopping the attacker right away before they can harm me or a loved one, which means that I’ll stick with .40 S&W for my pistol.

    This article may be of interest to you too:

  • tim

    The concussion and flash from a larger calibur gun is also disorienting in confined spaces (especially if you are just waking up). Your opinion article (because it's not empirically or factually supported), mentions crunch time pressure. Why give the bad guy an advantage by temporarily blinding or deafening yourself.

    Learn to shoot your gun. Know why you own a gun and mentally prepare yourself for the freak chance you may need to kill some one. That will get you the chest and head shots.

    • clemoswhomp

      It is actually more disorienting to the person being shot at. If you don't believe me get some on who hates you to shoot at you in the dark.



    Glad to see you've commented again. I look forward to more comments from you.

    Larger caliber guns certainly do have more muzzle flash and a louder report. However I believe those disadvantages are outweighed by the additional stopping power, especially if we are comparing 9mm to .40 S&W or .45 ACP. Indeed, I prefer shotguns for home defense, even know the muzzle flash, report, and recoil are significantly greater than those from a pistol.

    It is also worth noting that barrel length can affect muzzle flash and report a great deal, so a 9mm pistol with a 3" barrel may have more than a .45 pistol with a 5" barrel.

    Either way, I think the most important thing is having the best gun for each individual. I can handle .40 S&W just fine, and will use it (although I still prefer shotguns). If 9mm works best for you, then stick with it :)

    Regarding your disparagement of my "opinion article," I would encourage you to note that I never stated that my thoughts on the matter are the only correct ones. Instead, I made clear in no fewer than 2 places that this is a hotly contested issue, and that each person needs to pick the gun/caliber that is right for them. The rankings I gave were also clearly stated to be "the order in which I prefer them. Indeed, there really isn't a single right answer, at the proper pistol for me (a 6'2" and rather muscular guy in his 20's) is not the right pistol for my grandma (an 80 year old woman with arthritis). Just as I can't possibly recommend any one caliber for everyone, neither can you.

  • Nick

    I think it’s odd that you would choose a .32 acp over the .380 acp for self defense. Is there any reason for this? Just curious.



    Thanks, and that is a very good observation. If I had to pick between only a .380 and a .32 I would go for the .380. However I don’t see any reason to pick the .380 over a 9mm (or the larger calibers). So I listed the .32 for those who are really recoil sensitive, and would be unable to handle a 9mm (or .380).

    • Rozyredtoes

      I have a problem with the recoil debate. If your life is in danger recoil is of no consequence. If the hormones are flowing and the fear has kicked in enough to contemplate taking a life I seriously doubt that recoil will even be noticed. I am talking about normal hand guns. The only important issue is do you have a gun and know how to pull the trigger. The other issue about the flash bang is that both parties suffer. The party on the receiving end may be the most disorientated because he also has to duck and he also knows that there are going to be a lot more flashes that will have to be viewed.

  • Shawn

    Thanks for the very interesting read. I found your article very informative and stimulating.

  • Al

    I agree that larger calibers will certainly have greater stopping power when connecting. However, people are more likely to hit a target when there is less recoil and more control. If someone can't control a .45 and hit anything with it, then technically they are better off shooting a bb pistol that they can hit an attacker in the eye with. Even if you are accurate with a .45, you will be more accurate with a 9mm, if all other things are equal (comparing the muzzle flashes of 3" barrel 9mm and 5" barrel .45 is an unsound argument, as your talking about apples and oranges).

    • Rozyredtoes

      I take it you have never been in a gun fight with your heart in your throat and your anal opening at a total loss as what to do.

  • Al

    Great site. I'm glad there are forums where we can discuss these matters freely. BTW, I like shotguns, but they're cumbersome and require two hands to properly operate. Handguns are better home defense weapons for me, as they leave me a free hand to operate flashlights or telephones.

    • Rozyredtoes

      Hand guns are also a lot harder to be wrested away from you. And if bad comes to worse and you end up with the barrel sticking up where the sun does not shine it will be easier to fill and clog the barrel of a pistol than a long barrel shotgun.



    Thanks for the comments, and I hope you'll come back and leave more in the future :)

    I'll have to respectfully disagree that it is unfair to compare a 5" .45 with a 3" 9mm, when it comes to home defense suitability. For concealed carry, the extra 2" of barrel length could be quite a liability. But in the home defense situation, those 2 extra inches really shouldn't be problem. Therefore, assuming for the sake of argument that the muzzle flash and report from the 3" 9mm and 5" .45 are the same, then I would recommend the .45, all things being equal.

    We will agree that everyone should have the right gun for them, and if all they can handle is a pea shooter then so be it. However, absent physical disability or other similar circumstances, I've found that most people can handle a .45 or .40 with some practice.

  • Keith

    Folks, I have been reading your comments and have read many articles on which caliber is the best for self defence. I have found that most conversations end up back to a 9mm versus a .40 or .45. What about using a 10mm? What would you say are the Pros and Cons versus the other calibers? Thanks.

    • Rozyredtoes

      The only important thing is to make sure you are equipped with some kind of caliber.



    I like 10mm quite a bit. Unfortunatly, many of my favorite guns (such as the Springfield XD) are not chambered for it, so I use .40 S&W instead.

    • teamme2k

      10mm is my carry weapon (glock 29sf)…Enough velocity to stop a bear…Ask me how I know this…lol

  • http://taurus Randall Denton

    How about a 44 super redhawk for home protection

    • Rozyredtoes

      That would be an excellent caliber if your home was attacked by another home.

  • Michelle

    I am planning on purchasing my first handgun to be kept as a home defense weapon. I plan to go to the shooting range to see what fits best for me (and my small hands) and what I am comfortable with. I do have concerns with recoil and also with the ease of loading and unloading a handgun. I have been getting lots of different opinions on what type – .38 revolver vs .40 pistol. I will be trying out both at the shooting range, I hope, but practice shooting will not really tell me which would be best in an emergency defensive situation. Any suggestions? Keep in mind that I have only fired a handgun just a couple times in my life.

    • David

      Smith and Wesson Airweight in 38 special. Always works, good performance, and no safety to fumble with.

  • Nate


    Definitely try out a few different guns to find a good fit for you.

    You seem to have picked the .40S&W and the .38 revolver so I will mainly offer sugestions related to those, without boring you with ballistics or many of the arguements you probably aready have heard.

    The .38 has been around a long time, its tried and true. Revolvers have smaller grips for your small hands. For home defence you do not need a compact gun, go for a medim or large frame. Here is why. One it makes a very effective club, something the semi-auto is not as useful for. Second the added weight of the larger frame cuts down on the recoil you feel. Another advantage to a revolver is that you can pull it and fire. You dont have to chamber a round. You can safely store it with all but one cylinder loaded. There is no question if a revolver is “hot” (loaded and goes off if you pull the trigger)
    Ask questions at the range, there really are no stupid ones and people at ranges are more than happy to give information. Take a gun safety class, there is alot of information given in some of those classes that surprise even those of us who have been shooting all our lives.
    One thing to keep in mind is that the LAST thing you want to have to do in your own home is shoot some one. This is am argument for the semi-auto. The sound of you chambering a round would be a deterrent to many bad guys. But then, the sight of a large frame revolver can have the same effect.
    Over all I have to agree that the 12 gauge shot gun is a great home defence tool. Its size makes for a great club. The unmistakable sound of a round being chambered is a deterrent in its self, and that is a BIG hole the bad guy is looking at. Have both, there is no ideal home defence gun.
    Make a friend who reloads. Or learn to do it yourself. Its a great hobby and home loads can be taylor made for you, and what you want to do. A .357 mag. can be loaded lighter than a factory .38sp (.38 special ammo can be used in a .357)or a .38 loaded to low end .357 specs. I use the .357/.38 thought now because of the effect. The shear bulk of a large frame magnum. Again, you dont need a compact pistol for home defence. Sight and sound are great deterrents. Look into a self defence course that includes fire arms training.
    I hope this helps. I wish I could tell you get this or get that, but a gun is a tool and you need to find the one YOU need for the job you need it for.(even if the job turns out to be recreation 😉 )

    • David J

      Ok, the empty chamber thing is a little outdated. Keep all chambers in a revolver loaded. This came from older wheelguns that could discharge if dropped. Not the case with modern firearms.

  • John

    Greetings from Alaska…it is refreshing to read a discussion about defense calibers that does not include folks calling each other stupid or inexperienced etc., etc. Thank you all…
    I am currently shopping for a semi-auto and am trying to decide on caliber and make/model. Today I looked at an XD in .45 acp. I think the 13 round magazine is remarkable…but it does make the grip a bit wide. From Tim’s review it sounds like the XD’s quality and reliability is great.

    • teamme2k

      Try the xdm 45

  • EK

    just me, I’d say 10mm over the 357 sig. and 38 special over .32. Bigger is better and I’ve never had anybody with recoil sensitivity have issues with the 38 special in airweight revolvers. the 10mm in a glock is very tame for a “magnum” round and has everything the 357 sig gots going for it but with a larger diameter. :-)

  • Arturo Mtz

    It was a surprise for me that you listed the 32 ACP. I realy like it, It has the minimum power to be lethal fron any angle with ball ammo, is able to be shoot acurately very fast, Is the cartridge that I prefer to shoot indoors because is less noisy than other center fire ones. And from good to better: is legal in my country.

    The british Commandos used it in the IIWW. not bad at all

  • ChrisCP

    I'm not going to get into a "this caliber's better than that caliber" debate. Just a comment on how many comments an article on self defense calibers gets. It seems to be one of the more controversial gun topics among gun folks. Always amuses me. :)

    • Rozyredtoes

      Chris I have to agree. The human body was not designed for extra holes. The more holes you put in it the better no matter what the caliber.

  • WillieBoy

    I'm going to throw out .45 Super as my favored SD round. I know it's a bit tough to find and loading yourself is usually the way to go, but it's very worth it in the end. Very powerful round with LOTS of size to go with it. I prefer it over 10mm, .45 ACP, and .40S&W. If you haven't heard of it, go check it out and see if it's something that will fit you. I use it for hikes in the woods as well as my CCW.

  • http://Retired John

    I don't want anyone to think that my intent in leaving a comment is to spread or create ill will. It's not. I can't believe however, that some people who blow off a .22lr for a self defence offering shouldn't be towing their .45 acp's on an axle and two wheels behing their redneck pick-ups. Having been a police officer in Orlando, FL (many years ago), I frequently cradled the head or held the hand of a human being who had minutes earlier been shot with a .22. They wern't smiling and having a social smoke with me. They were in pain and peaking emotionally over their fear of death. So let me make this my closing statement. If you really think that large caliber, 4.5 pound pistols are the only way to go, then why not just buy yourself a surplus 105 howitzer, and get Galco to build you a holster for it. And yes, I'm licenced to carry and never leave home without my trusty .22 pistol. I just don't frequent places where I'm going to run into 300 pound gorillas on PCP. Think about it. been



    Thanks for the comment.

    I think your statement about people being shot with a .22 *minutes* earlier still having the ability to get emotional as they think about death actually bolsters the point that .22 is not suitable for self defense.

    Should a crime victim need to shoot a violent criminal, the goal is to stop that criminal right away, before they can harm the victim. A .22 may stop and/or kill the criminal eventually, but why not carry a larger caliber that is more likely to stop them right away?

    • JohnBrown'sBody

      Because occasionally the person you stopped might be a family member.
      And if by stop you really mean kill every time then yes use my fav the .45 ACP which has just about as much knock down/stop you'll ever need.
      And this bedroom, flash crap. If you are COMPETENT & FAMILIAR with your weapon you will not have any trouble with it when needed.
      But that means having fired several 100, perhaps a 1000+, rounds and are at ease with safety, cocking, loading and reloading of it.

  • http://Retired John

    I think you misunderstood. The victims in these cases, were not carrying a weapon and had no means of self defence. They were simply victims of violent crime. If you turn the table, it would have been the assailants hand I was holding. We could debate this all day. I guess the point is, carry what you feel confident with. My experience on the street and at the range, tells me that a .22 is sufficient for me. Please don't assume arrogance on my part. Rather, trust my ability to be aware of my surroundings and proficient with a weapon. I don't feel that I have to blow someone apart to change his attitude and in most cases, direct eye contact and a move to your belt will do that. Eight or nine in a four inch circle at six or seven feet is my goal. I have achieved that goal and my prior experience taught me to maintain my cool. Please have a good and safe life.

    • Rozyredtoes

      A NAA arms 22 jammed under a chin or into a throat and the hammer dropped will immediately end all hostilities.



    My point was that your first-hand experience shows that a person shot with a .22 (whether victim or criminal) is still functioning *minutes* later. In a self defense situation, the goal is to make it physically impossible for the aggressor to continue their attack, not just to try and persuade them to break off the attack. Note that a drug-using criminal may be virtually impossible to stop by persuasion or infliction of pain. Given that fact, it seems prudent to carry a weapon that is best able to accomplish that goal, and a .22 doesn't seem to be that weapon, when more effective ones are readily available.

    • Rozyredtoes

      Its late at night and you are out for a relaxing stroll and you are enjoying your solitude and are at peace with the world. Do you know where your gun is? Any gun is better than no gun. In all but the most exceptional cases the attacker will with draw when confronted with a gun. If they don't fill them full of holes. I can assure you that it will get their attention .

  • http://Retired John

    I give credit to and support your right to your opinion. I simply choose not to kill someone in the name of self defence. "physically impossible to continue their attack", seems to lean in that direction. On the other hand, I may just enjoy seeing the increase of pain and suffering on the assailants face, each time one of my inadequate little .224's enters his body. Your right though. I may consider taking my 9mm, .38, or .357 next time and try to stay the hell off these forums. Please forgive my sarcasm sir. PTSD.

    • Rozyredtoes

      John, you are the only one on this forum that I concur with. I and my wife both carry a NAA arms mag and a Judge ultra lite public defender loaded with PDX1. We have both been shot and our main concern for taking a life is not moral factors but the penalties, cost and hassle factors that come into play.



    I would rather not injure or kill any human being. Indeed, I'm a staunch opponent of capital punishment. However I have no problem with the use of deadly force to stop a violent criminal. You may wish to read the following articles to better understand my points:

    I'm not sure why you seem to take disagreement with your viewpoint so personally. I hope that you'll realize that the entire point of this website is to exchange ideas and advance our shared knowledge. You're certainly welcome to "stay the hell off these forums," but I would prefer to have you share your viewpoint and not become offended just because I or others may disagree.

  • Kermit Derren

    Great article. There’s a lot of good data here, though I did want to let you know something – I am running Fedora with the circulating beta of Firefox, and the design of your blog is kind of bizarre for me. I can read the articles, but the navigation doesn’t function so good.

  • robert washburn

    i have a ruger lcr 38spl+P. and it's good for me. what bullet weight with jhp should i use for self defense. at present i have federal hydra shok 110gr. low recoil in non +P. in your opinion what would be the best bullet for +P and or non+P. the more i read the more confused i get. i am new at this & a senior

    • David

      38+p has a bit more recoil, so try some out at the range to be sure you can manage them. Hydrashok 38+p is an excellent choice,is what I keep in my 357 concealed carry weapon and is used by many Law Enforcement professionals. Also make sure that your firearm is rated for +p ammunition.

      • Harry J Reeves

        Bullet weight doesn't matter, hitting them where it really really hurts is all that counts. Pain is the greatest detractor that God ever created.

  • robert washburn


    i met a guy who reloads and we looked in his book and the difference in fps between the non +P and +P in a 38spl is only 60 fps. that to me doesn't seem to be very much. i wound up having him reload me a box of 38spl with 125gr bullets jhp. according to him there is hardly any difference in the two. that doesn't sound like it makes sense. why would the maker make a +P if it were not much more powerful.

    • Harry J Reeves

      Robert you would most likely do better to fill your peanut revolver with bird shot and aim for the face. Killing them is not where it is at, distracting them from their misadventure is critical. Think face full of # 9 bird shot. Eyes,nose tongue,cheeks on fire, return fire, I doubt it. Trade that toy in and get a judge and the court will always rule in your favor.

    • David

      Short barrel? There is quite a difference depending upon manufacturer as well. Try out some cor-bons. I think they are in the 1000+ fps.

  • Josey

    All of the calibers listed in the article are essentially for semi-auto pistols. What is your opinion of revolver calibers, specifically 38 Special and 357 Magnum?

  • Matt

    One reason people often opt for smaller calibers is because in semi-automatics a larger cartridge requires a larger grip which can be awkward for people with smaller hands. This is the main reason the .45 GAP round was invented.

    Also a smaller cartridge means that the overall size and weight of a pistol can be reduced making it more comfortable to carry. This is why ultra light .380s such as the Kel Tec P3AT and Ruger LCP are so popular.

  • Tom

    Looking to go backpacking in heavy bear country this spring where mama bears can be very aggressive. What size pistol would be best to have at my side justin case? Thanx

    • David

      500 magnum.

    • rozyredtoes

      About 3 or 4 giant cans of bear spray and some extra pairs of clean under wear.

  • http://n'a tracy

    It's all about the agenda…BS.

    …With you, being a .40 cal person, i'm not suprised, in the least of your down playing of the real life effectiveness of the 357sig round. Could you at least try to print the facts/truth, as, they are though? It is not the 115 gr. bullet, that has more energy than both the .40 and, .45, it is in fact,the "125" gr. in which it WAS designed AROUND, and for. Did you "mis-print" the fact's on purpose..or, not?

    Also…the "actual street results" of the 357sig, have proven to not be the over-penetrater,as…you have falsley stated it is.

    You are just spreading, more of the typical "internet backed agenda" lies, that have fooled alot of (newbie's) to the gun world, yet…that is the/your goal…right?

    I am tired of reading all of the lies and, accidental..misprints, etc…

    I say…you are in fact, flat out lying, and, it is not little mistakes/fudges here and, there. Back up your…BS, and/or correct it.

    As…I can.

    Tracy in okc

    • The LearnAboutGuns.c

      You're entitled to your opinion, but that is all your post seems to consist of: unsubstantiated opinion (with a heap of unexplained anger too).

    • Rozyredtoes

      Tracy, the only way you could back up your BS is with a case of toilet paper.

  • bob washburn

    i am an 80 yr. old male. in good shape.. i have a ruger 38spl lcr and use 38spl+p jhp ammo. and have a ccw. i have never fired anything larger. i carry the gun when necessary. don't think i would ever need it around the house but i do go on car trips. i am just looking for thoughts & opinions from experienced shooters. thanks

    • Herrbags

      Where ever you think you won't need it is undoubtedly where you will need it. Bob forget the experienced shooters concentrate on the people with the most common sense.

    • security

      Some say the Buffalo Bore Heavy .38 Special +P Ammo – 158 gr. L.S.W.C.H.P. –G.C. (1,000fps/M.E. 351 ft.lbs.) is a good choice of ammunition.

  • Sandy Taylor

    I've carried concealed for 30 years, twice having it diffuse life threatening situations. I've been a law enforcement officer, vietnam vet and have carried a 38, 45 and now carry a 9mm with +p ammo.
    All of the opinions come down to your own needs (like carry safety slugs at home, in a condo, in state's where you won't be penalized for carrying specialized ammo. With anything, research your needs and equip accordingly.

  • rew

    I" m a 45 acp fan [like bullets lake me -big old & slow ]–owe a dozen + pistol –always seem to go back to .45 cal for EDC—owe 5 -9mm's —wife carries g 19—i like g-21/-30 for EDC OR A 1911–the key is find what you like & shoot it—beware the man who owes only one gun because he knows how to shoot it

  • Cory

    I seem to have come to that table really late in this discussion, but I want to point something out. I have a Mossberg 500A 12Ga for home protection, but I also keep a secondary gun as backup should my shotgun fail to cycle, or misfire, or run out of shells before the threat is stopped. To this end, I keep a .357 Taurus revolver loaded, ready but hidden. .357 magnum does not appear on your list!
    I must respectfully object to it's omission. Here's why: A super majority of revolvers are chambered for this cartridge. It is available in any gun store, it is easily hand-loaded, and has a lighter cousin for training .38Special. Revolvers can be kept loaded indefinitely without fear of wearing out magazine springs. Even if they misfire, a second round is only a trigger pull away. No tap-rack drills to clear a faulty bullet. .357 has a lot of available hollow point and soft point options. Shooters can learn battery of operation faster for a revolver than a semi-auto.
    Please extrapolate on the omission of this very useful round.

    • Herrbags

      Cory just get a Taurus judge and forget all the other nonsense. A judge with a three inch chamber will fire 25 .380's in about 3 seconds. If they are still standing you are screwed and they came from another planet.

      • Matt

        a) You didn't answer his question.
        b) A .357 magnum Taurus isn't exactly an airsoft gun.

    • Matt

      This page lists the auther's favorite cartriges for semi-automatics, his prefered revolver cartriges are listed here;

      • hicusdicus

        From what I have read about the authors comments, he knows about as much about guns and self defense as know about the law.

  • Wilsonsez

    Great debate people & I have enjoyed reading it and weighing the valuable data! Many good points to consider and I see merit to most too. Sandy Taylor has posted some very good comments but mainly I like to be comfortable when I carry and I try to be so familiar with the handgun I can reload it by feel and operate it safely in the dark. Much to be said about capacity bullet size and foot pounds but also carrying on a hot day with few clothes vs. Winter and overcoats. There are so many variables it would be hard to say this gun & this caliber is the best & I can't say that either. SKILL probably is the biggest factor in determining your primary carry piece. I like a 9mm Hi-Power
    with 13 rnds because it is comfortable under my waist band and comfortable in my hand too. I can make a follow up shot with speed & good accuracy due to the minimal recoil and the natural point of the Browning. I like my little .38 +P S&W air weight in the heat but it will demand much more concentration if the need to fire it at an assailant ever arises. Even the smaller Kel- Tec .380 is a pleasure to carry in a shirt pocket holster but it is best to load it with the Hornady personal defense ammunition that it was tested with by Kel-Tec. It is especially designed for short barrels with little burn time but maximum penetration with sufficient expansion. Don't under estimate this .380 ammo if you are hard pressed to carry a very small pistol in some conditions. In my bedroom is a .40 Glock with a barrel laser on it & a 12 ga. pump too with all calibers of ammo readily available. My safe room or my last stand. You see I have favorites but the situation and conditions dictate what I carry. One other light weight comfortable carry gun is a 9×18 Makerov with copper clad reloaded hollow points. I love this gun & it has more punch than a .380 and is almost compact. I carry this one a lot & recommend it if one get very proficient with it and practice the two shot technique. Just my feelings folks & thanks again for the testaments and opinions. JD

    • Herrbags

      If you have a .380 check out buffalo bore. I have several .380 pistols it is not my favorite caliber but it is convenient to carry. You can load your magazine with a variety of different brands of ammo. When the buffalo bore gets capped you will know it and so will anything in front of it.

  • Jay Brown

    Hi Everyone, Thanks for some great reading. Hopefully you never have to use your self defense weapon against any other human. Reading about how people will argue their favorite caliber is quite amusing. I have always been a fan of target shooting and only hunt for food. Being the owner of various caliber handguns and rifles, I can see various sides of the discussion. My main defense weapon is my Springfield Armory XD-M .40 caliber that holds 16+1 rounds. I am a better than average shot but I figure it is good to be prepared incase there is more than one agressor. I do enjoy going out in the desert prospecting and exploring so I just like being prepared. The XD-M.40 holds more rounds than the XD-M .45 and has better stopping power than the XD-M 9mm, at least in my opinion. But I must admit, the XD-M does not look as intimidating as my nickle plated S&W .41 magnum revolver with the 6-inch barrel. I do agree that each person should use the weapon that best meets his or her needs or capabilities.

    Stay safe,

  • PaulH

    Great reading here and lots of useful information. I'd like to make a couple f comments.

    First, I'd like to second the comment many of you made about home defense — the first thing I'm reaching for in the case of home intrusion is my Winchester Defender 12 GA which is loaded with .00 buck. Like many have said, just the sound of my chambering it might cause a sane intruder to haul ass and relieve me of relieving him of his soul. But, I'll always have a pistol as my backup.

    I'd also like to second the opinion of the gentleman who mentioned a .22. As a life long hunter and shooter, I've seen the damage a well-placed .22 hollow point can do. I certainly wouldn't want to catch a round from one. Even moreso with a .22 magnum. I wouldn't necessarily discount it.

    I can't disagree with the original poster's opinion that the .40 S&W is probably the best compromise for a self defense caliber. It's a bigger slug than a 9 mm but has a higher velocity, and most typically, a higher magazine capacity than a .45 ACP, so a 40 S&W is the best of both worlds. My wife carries a 9mm S&W because she likes the higher magazine capacity and lighter recoil. With the high velocity cartridges available with hollow point rounds, a 9mm has plenty of stopping power.

    But for me, I just can't give up my .45 ACP. Lower velocity than a 9mm or a .40 S&W, maybe so. But it's hard to argue with a 200 grain HP slug at 1080 fps..that will stop any intruder like a bad check. And, with any center shot, he's not getting back up. I hope to God I never have to shoot anybody, but if I do, I will mean business. I figure a .45 ACP is the best tool for the job.

    • hicusdicus

      Paul;Your stop any intruder like a bad check is right out of gun fantasy land. Bullets miss and are seldom instantly lethal. The only load that will stop any body instantly is a load of buck shot directly in the face. I am not talking dead or on the ground. I am talking blind and in terrible pain an completely disorientated. If you should get hit directly in the face with a load of # 6 shot do you really think you could return fire with any effectiveness. For civilian personal self defense the whole caliber issue and gun size and magazine capacity is just fire side chit chat. The incident will hit like a bolt of lightening with no warning and target acquisition and shot placement are just more fantasy chit chat. You will at best get one trigger pull to try and survive.Only a face full of blinding and extremely pain full buck shot will give you any hope of sleeping in your bed that night. Every guy thinks he is dead eye dick and boasts of his prowess to punch holes in paper targets that aren't desperately trying to kill him. Blind luck is what usually rules the day. Will it be your day or the attackers day to have the blind luck. The attacker will have the split second or more advantage. So start blasting away with you .45 and you just might bag an innocent bystander or two and get to stay in a small room with a group of amateur proctologists all named Bubba.

      • PaulH

        Don't know why the need for the aggression, but hey, whatever makes you happy. Please reread my post, and you'll see that I wrote that the first thing I would reach for would be my Winchester Defender loaded with .00 buckshot. My .45 is a back up weapon.

        • hicusdicus

          There is no aggression. I was just trying to explain what really happens, not what you see in the movies. Bullets are seldom instantly lethal and most often miss with the possibility of hitting a bystander. In civilian personal defense if you need a backup weapon you are probably in more trouble than you can handle. I own 6 judges and i have shot them a lot. The most devastating weapon on the market is a 3" chambered hand held sawed off shot gun loaded with 3" Winchester XPD. I am talking you have 1 to 2 seconds to "stop" somebody from hurting you [ 25 rounds of .380 moving at 850 fps ] and aiming is not part of the scenario.

          • paul

            I don't disagree. I think the best weapon of choice is a shotgun, as I wrote above.

  • Sam V

    I also agree with the .40 and .45 being the better HD handgun. However, I use a 9mm because of a wrist problem. Let me reflect a story from my first CCW class about 17years ago.
    This was the first of the CCW classes held in AZ after CCW was approved. One of the participants was as crack a shot as you have ever seem. One of the activities in the class was to project pictures of an armed man onto a card board box in various stages of agression. Our job was to stop the intruder verbally or with our weapon depending upon the pictures. The crack shot was up first and when it was appearent by the pictures that were flashed that the man approching had a hidden knife, Mr Crack Shot fired. He placed all five shots within a 1" circle with his custom 1911. However, every shot was on the knife. The moral of the story, doesn't matter what you shot if you don't have it burned in your head "CENTER MASS". And practice, practice, practice.

    • rozyredtoes

      Just more meaningless gun games that have no real bearing on the average citizens ability to defend themselves. Most average people have more to do with their lives than play combat commando. The size of a gun or the caliber fall into the tool category. The real weapon is the persons mind and a good working knowledge of the the law. the ramifications of the aftermath of a shooting lethal or not can often be much worse than if one had not pulled the trigger. It seems like most gun people are fixated on the bang bang part of gun ownership. I am going to repeat, the homicide detectives and the prosecuting attorney are not interested in a persons blathering after they have just murdered someone. If your ducks are not in a row you are going to need a lot of Vaseline.

  • Sam

    I will soon be making my first firearm purchase, and I'm looking for a pistol that will be suitable for home defense and also a good gun to carry. I went to the range for the first time yesterday and shot a 22, a 9mm, and a 45. I was the most comfortable and accurate with the 22. But a lot of people seem to think a 22 is not a large enough caliber. Any suggestions for what would be the best gun for my situation? I really like the 22 and even though it doesn't have the stopping power of say a 9mm or 45, I would think that if I ever did need to use it to stop someone, a few shots to the chest must do some real damage right?

    • Paul

      As I wrote above, I sure wouldn't want to be shot with a .22, but I'd have some concerns about stopping power. A few shots to the chest would definitely do damage, but in such a situation, I suspect you want to impart maximum damage within your ability to feel comfortable handling the handgun. If you feel more comfortable with a smaller caliber handgun, I'd consider a 380. That seems to be a popular choice for those who want a smaller caliber with good stopping power. At a minimum, I'd look into a .22 magnum. Please let us know which way you decide to go. I'm interested to hear your conclusion.

  • ComradePie

    Great article! I currently use a 380 for home defense, because at the time of purchase, that was the largest I was comfortable with. I could easily handle a larger caliber now, but, in spite of reduced stopping power, I am extraordinarily comfortable with this firearm. I can field strip it in the dark in about 45 seconds, and I think that comfort with the firearm is important, especially as we are discussing what MUST be one of life's most terrifying moments.

  • t3raposa

    I use 380 Hydra Shok as well, and I'm starting to feel a bit inadequate right about now. For me, comfort is important, but even more limiting is the fact that as a public school teacher, I can't afford the handgun I want right now… :-(

    • Lloyd Booth

      The handgun is only the machine that delivers the bullet. The bullet is the object that inflicts the damage. the 380 ACP, Hydra-Shok JHP, 90 GR, 1000/200 is a good cartridge, the Buffalo Bore, 380 ACP +P 95 grain 1125/267 JHP is much better.

      • t3raposa

        I'm not sure if my CZ83 is +P rated or not. I should know… That's what I'm headed to research next. Thanks for the info!

        • Lloyd Booth

          There are many older firearms that cannot handle the increase pressure. I shoot a 380 ACP, Hi-Point that is +P rated and it works great. Here is a site that discusses +P ammunition:

          • t3raposa

            I just got the Hi Point .40 carbine and I LOVE IT! Obviously that won't work for concealed carry… haha! How is the .380 for CC? I know the .45 ACP won't fit the carry bill…

            • Lloyd Booth

              All the Hi-Point pistols are large frame, but they have to be to handle the +P cartridge. The Hi-Point .380 is larger than most .380's but I am comfortable having it as a belt or shoulder carry due to the higher pressure capability. Can be a challenge to hide at times depending on the dress and holster; however, for the price and capabilities, it is going to play the tune when the criminal wants to dance.

              • t3raposa

                "It's going to play the tune when the criminal wants to dance". Fantastic! I will look into one, since the CZ is a bit unwieldy for CC anyway. How much larger is the 9mm than the .380? I could look online, but it sounds as though you may have some personal experience, and I don't always appreciate the answers (rhetoric) I get when I ask a Hi Point question. Thanks for all your help!

                • Lloyd Booth

                  I have both the Hi-Point .380 ACP and the 9mm C9. I see no difference in size, weight, or form. The 9mm C9 will load, seat, and fire the .380 cartridge, but the .380 ACP will not completely load nor seat the 9mm cartridge. There is a headspace difference because the 9mm cartridge is a little longer than the .380 cartridge. Actually, the magazines are identical and will seat in either gun. One must use caution if deployed together.

                • Lloyd Booth

                  There is no difference in barrel length, both have a 3.5" barrel.

    • hicusdicus

      Buffalo bore 380 in 100 grain and you will have all you need.

  • Lloyd Booth

    I have four pistols for self defense, 380 ACP, C9 9mm. 40 ACP, and 45 ACP. Each are loaded with its heavest bullet having a +P+ rating. Good or bad; fast or slow; +P+ ammunition is the way to go.

  • Security

    Here are four good self defense cartridges to chose from:

    .380 ACP +P 95 grain 1125/267 JHP
    9mm Luger 147 grain +P+ 1300/451 JHP
    .40 Heavy ACP +P 180 grain 1100/484 JHP
    .45 ACP Super 230 grain 1100/618 JHP

  • carlos

    this is a great source of information! keep the good work!

  • Self Defense Ammo

    When choosing a weapon for self defense, the choice of bullet becomes an important factor. This information may have been shared earlier, but a research of ammunition has discovered some very interesting data concerning types of bullets. The author, of this finding, vannrox, has explained in detail the various types of bullets and their deployment considerations. Vannrox states: “Choosing your ammo is as important as choosing your weapon. Choose wisely, these descriptions should help.”

  • squeezebox boom

    Good post there. I would never recommend somebody carrying a gun for self defense, a pepper spray can do a decent job for defending yourself.

  • Bert

    You guys are funny.

    A hit with a .22 is better than a miss with a .45. Always use what you can reliably hit with.

    The lighter the gun is, the more likely it will be on you if you need it. Heavy guns stay home.

    The 12.5 oz. Smith AirLite 38 spl. is hard to beat. Revolvers always work and this one is so light you don't even know you're carrying it.

  • Strictly Business

    My gun for today is the Hi-Point 9mm C9 loaded with the Buffalo Bore, 9mm Luger, 147 grain +P+ 1300/451 JHP #24C/20 cartridge. "If you are frightened, hurt, or need a safe place to hide, stand behind me … because this is far as the bastards are gonna get." Buffalo Bore: Strictly big bore. Strictly Business.

  • Mike

    The thing about self defense is that in that split second when the pressure is on, you are not going to react at peak performance. You are going to pull your gun and operate on muscle memory and instict in accordance with your training. For most people, range level precision probably won't happen – instead, most people will fire wildly with notably lower accuracy – go to the range and practice rushing your shots and shooting when you are not prepared to do so, the results are hard to deny. As caliber goes up, your chance to hit goes down, depending on the person, and their training. Rapidly pouring 10+rds of 22lr into the torso and cranium of an assailant is pretty effective, but consider what the odds are that you will be that accurate when the pressure is on. For this reason (and others), I would suggest a higher caliber round such as the 40s&w – a solid intermediary round offering a good mix between high power and decent penetration that doesn't require as precise of a hit to be effective.

    I carry a beretta 96 in 40s&w using 180grain PDX1 – love it.

    • Security

      The Winchester Supreme Elite 40 S&W 180 grain PDX1 1010/408 JHP #USA40JHP is a very good choice.

    • .22 Caliber

      A female clerk at a Days Inn received permission from her employer to carry a .22 caliber gun. The woman pulled the gun from under her shirt, turned and fired one shot into a man's chest at point blank range. When deputies got to the scene they found the suspect unresponsive on the floor.

  • Airsoft .357 Magnum

    Really informative tips, thanks for sharing them here.

  • Blueronin

    I disagree about the stopping power of the 40 S&W. In my former department, we tested many different calibers and loads. We were looking to trade in our 9mm Berettas for something else. After testing we came to the conclusion that the 40 did no better than the 9mm in most cases, and worse in some, with snappier recoil. Female officers that had good qualification scores with the 9mm or the 45 ACP, had problems handling the recoil from the 40, causing their scores to fall with some not being able to qualify. We found the 9mm in +P or +P+ loadings to be equal to the best 40 rounds without the snappy recoil.

    • Security

      What did your former department do to come to a conclusion that the .40 S&W was no better than the 9mm? I go to bet nobody in that department was ever shot by a 9mm or .40 S&W. If you're looking at recoil only then maybe someone should be looking at an exercise program to strengthen limp wristed shooters. John Browning did a lot of tests with the .45 caliber. After shooting everything he could think of, he handed the US Army the .45 cartridge and told them, this is the caliber necessary to do the job. One may walk away from a 9mm or .40 S&W hit, but not many survive a torso hit from a .45 caliber.

  • Raul E. Petallo

    I want to learn about guns and i really appreciate your page

  • holidays in Europe

    This is really great. I am happy because I have been searching for a long time all these details.

  • John

    Not a lot of encouraging replies/remarks on the .38 spcl snubnose. I for one feel perfectly confident in my abilities with my j-frame. I have practiced enough with it,(2500+ rds), that if 4 to the chest won't do it, the last one to the face will. ( Yes, I can hit a face size target at 5 yds).

  • Dan

    Any thoughts about a 1911 being used for self-defense?

  • Lionel

    Can anyone tell me if Glock makes .38 calibre pistols?