A recent article from the Bradenton Herald suggests that readers purchase a 9-shot .22 long rifle revolver for self defense purposes. While I applaud any newspaper running an article supporting armed self defense, that advice is misguided.
The advice from John Howell in the Bradenton Herald
My choice for a gun for self-defense is a nine-shot .22-caliber revolver. If you get a misfire in a revolver, just pull the trigger again to bring a good bullet under the firing pin. . . . Demand a nine-shot .22 revolver, or take you business someplace else.
Why a 9-shot .22 LR revolver is not ideal for self defense
The first problem with relying upon a firearm that shoots .22 long rifle for self defense is that rimfire cartridges (like .22 LR) are inherently less reliable than centerfire cartridges (which are the type used for just about everything other than .22 LR). In rimfire cartridges, the primer is spun around the rim of the cartridge, and the firing pin strikes the rim and (hopefully) ignites the primer, in turn causing the gunpowder in the cartridge to burn and propel the bullet down the barrel. Centerfire cartridges, like .38, .380, 9mm, .40, .45, etc., have the primer located in the center of the cartridge (at the rear) and are much more reliable. While it is difficult to provide exact numbers, I can anecdotally say that I have had dozens of .22 LR cartridges fail to fire on the first try due to defects in the cartridge, while I cannot think of a single centerfire cartridge that I have had fail to fire due to such a defect – and I have fired thousands more centerfire cartridges in my life than I have fired rimfire cartridges. For that reason alone, I would not want to trust my safety to a rimfire cartridge.
The second problem with the advice from Mr. Howell is that .22 LR is woefully under-sized for stopping a human. .22 LR is a fine cartridge for shooting squirrel and rabbit sized game, but not humans. Indeed, if a person were to say that they intended to go hunt a 100 lb deer with a .22 LR, there is a good chance that they would be labeled as inhumane, as the .22 LR is not likely to cleanly kill a deer. While it is true that many people have been killed by .22 LR in the course of human history, that doesn’t make it a good self-defense cartridge, as a .22 LR round is unlikely to penetrate deeply enough to reliably and promptly stop an attacker. Remember, the goal of a self defense gun is to quickly stop an attacker before that attacker can commit more harm. If an attacker is shot with a .22 LR and is able to complete their attack, only to die 3 days later in a hospital, then the .22 LR has failed.
The third problem is that a revolver is likely not the best self defense firearm; or at least the statements about a semi-automatic pistol being unreliable are unfounded. Revolvers are more mechanically simple, yet they have their own failure modes too. Revolvers tend to be heavier, bulkier, and carry fewer rounds than a pistol. Pistols have undergone over a hundred years of design improvements and testing, and are quite reliable these days. To suggest that a semi-automatic pistol is unreliable is simply wrong.
What I would recommend for a self defense gun
The right self defense gun for each person will be different, so there is no one-size-fits-all answer. As far as me personally, I carry a Springfield XD 40. My Springfield XD holds 12+1 rounds of .40 S&W and weighs just a bit more than many common 9-shot .22 LR revolvers, yet is easier to conceal, utterly reliable, and fires rounds that are much more likely to stop an attacker. I have no problem with the recoil from that pistol, and neither does my wife or many other people (male and female) who I have taken shooting.
My advice for someone looking to purchase a self defense handgun is to go to a gun store/range and rent several different centerfire semi-automatic pistols, and see which feels best to shoot.
Some articles that may be of use: