A 9-Shot .22 Revolver for Self Defense? No thanks

Published by the LearnAboutGuns.com Author on November 17, 2015 at 10:08 am
LearnAboutGuns.com > How-To Guides and Other Info > A 9-Shot .22 Revolver for Self Defense? No thanks

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.

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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.

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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:

Make sure your gun fits you well

Selecting a defensive pistol caliber 


Unarmed Self Defense and Disaster Preparedness e-books:

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  • Dan

    I have read a book by a self-defense expert who recommends all beginners to first get a Ruger LCR in .22 WMR. Recoil is manageable, gun is light, and the operation is simple and reliable. I think his recommendation is more defensible.

    I myself carry a Ruger SR9c, but it takes some practice to be proficient with a semi-auto.

    • Chris Lubowski

      It takes quite a bit of practice to become proficient enough to shoot an aggressor on the move, and I’d wager a pretty outstanding amount of training that MOST shooters just will never achieve, to do the same but hit said aggressor in the eye or ear… Recoil management aside, there are a lot of detracting factors involved in a self defense shooting that make that kind of thing the stuff of movies.

  • Oneeye

    I can stop any man with a 22

    • Leslie Hoerwinkle

      Yes, and I can fly.

      • Jamie Hamster

        Can they move(fly) without their kneecap?

        • Rob

          Good one

  • Buddy

    I have shot thousands of .22 rounds in my life, I have NEVER had one not fire. Perhaps ammo selection or how you keep your rounds could be the cause and I am sure any round could fail, but I don’t see a problem with the reliability of a .22 round. I have two nine shot .22 and like them both and they have their good and bad. For a woman that does not like recoil, I say absolutely a .22 nine shot is a great gun, simple and reliable and requires little training.

    For the record, I like and carry .45 acp since I think bigger is better, but I have 30 years of law enforcement and military training so I don’t mind recoil. But I always have a SW Airlite .357 five shot revolver on my ankle, and it hurts when I fire .357 from it, but in a life or death the last thing I worry about is recoil.

    Not sure their is a one gun for all jobs just like not one tool for for jobs. All guns have pro and cons but a .22 to ear or eye socket will drop most things including humans, so the round is not necessarily the problem, the importance of target placement becomes more important with smaller less effective rounds.

    Personally I don’t have a problem with the other guys recommendation for the .22 revolver and don’t have a real problem with this article, Yin and Yang in all things. I am huge 1911 lover and have several, but as a cop and now I carry a Glock or small revolver.

    FYI my opinion comes from years of experience of carrying guns and training others and certified with many as a firearms instructor. My resume can found on my site and I have over 600 videos on my youtube channel Think Like A Cop – The rest of the story.

    Just my take and my opinion, take it for what it is worth. :)


    • Todd Smith

      Buddy, I’m afraid I’m going to have to call BS. ANYONE who has spent time at a range and has gone through a reasonable amount of 22 LR knows that there are duds. Why do you think the dud box at the range always has a handful of 22’s in it and nothing else.

      Also, you’re either not being truthful about being in law enforcement for 30 years or you weren’t paying attention during that time. Please don’t disgrace the fine men and women in LE buy spreading this kind of garbage.

      The first thing you find out when class is adjourned is that the best you can hope for during a stressful real life shooting scenario, is effectively hitting center-mass with more than one round. A motivated attacker can cover some major ground (15 feet) in about a 3 seconds. Considering the reaction time of the best trained operators in the world is about a second and a half after they’ve identified a threat, that leaves 1.5 seconds to draw and send the first round down range. Seriously…ear or eye socket? Dude, if you can accomplish that when a target is coming at you with intent to kill…that’s some damn fine shooting! When are you teaching that class because I have a lot friends that would pay top dollar for that instruction!

      Lastly, if a 22LR is sufficient, why carry a .45 ACP?

      • Rob

        Stick with tiddlywinks since you know Nothing about guns

  • http://www.plinkersclub.com Plinker’s Club

    In what world is a 22 not enough to stop a human? A bear? No. A human? Yes. Maybe if they are wearing a thick coat it could be less likely but a 22LR has the velocity and characteristics when it enters the body to kill. There is also much less risk with a 22LR for collateral damage. I carry a 9mm but I think a 22 would be a great ankle gun. I’m not sure what research you cited for this article but I would go back and do it again.

    • Chris Lubowski

      My next door neighbor was cleaning his .22LR and had an ND with what he believed to be high a velocity copper plated ball round… it went through two interior walls before exiting an exterior wall, crossing the front entrance to his house, entering the opposing exterior wall, passing through that, then lodging in a corner stud on the opposite end of the living room. I saw the holes. They were tiny, but pretty clean. All told, that little round zipped through at least four layers each of drywall, plywood, insulation, a layer of crown molding, and was only stopped by a 4×4 stud (corner post). I would feel pretty uncomfortable using any ball ammo for self defense, especially in a home, regardless of caliber.

  • Larry Hinze

    I can’t remember the last time I had a misfire in my revolver. Pretty sure, never. The writer obviously has a small dick with a complex. The Stingers in my 9 shot work great for the drawer at home. You can make it a science project to sell ads…or you can just get shot and die.

  • Frank Rice

    .22 is a lethal round if you hit the right place. The problem with my statement is if someone is shooting at you they don’t stand still like a paper target. Chances are if you hit body mass, even the heart a .22 isn’t going to cause enough trauma to put someone down on the spot unless you get a clean head shot. I highly suggest that if you do have a .22 for defensive reasons that you use hollow point rounds. As for me,yes I do have a .22 9 shot revolver. It’s fun to shoot and the ammo is cheap. For defensive purpose though I usually carry one of my 9 mil with hollow point rounds. I have a XD sub that holds 13 in the standard mag and 16 in the extended mag.I also have a Sig 2022 9 mil that holds 15 in each mag. I recently went big and bought a Glock 21. That’s a .45 acp that holds 13 in the mag. I like the Glock a lot even though it’s a little heavy and bulky. Here in Minnesota in the winter it’s easy to conceal. Come summer I will stay with my XD sub. As for misfiring .22 rounds, I’ve seen it occasionally. I’ve seen more problems with .22 having the back energy to cycle a semi auto. If you are carrying a .22 in a semi auto I HIGHLY recommend high velocity .22 rounds so they will be sure to cycle your pistol.

  • disqus_KxAHnCo4Tu

    i must disagree with this article…..FIRST….the 22 cal rimfire is not failure prone. If you go on the internet you will see many shooters complain that certain brands of ammunition are prone to misfire….DON”T BUY CHEAP AMMO…..for a defense gun!!….You buy cheap ammo for plinking and informal target shooting…but when your life depends upon it…YOU BUY THE BEST Quality..I won’t go into brands, here…but if you check YOU TUBE and the gun blogs…you will get advice on the BEST Quality 22 rim fire brands…SECOND…the writer poo-poos the revolver..REALLY?…WE have gone past the era where good shooting counts versus “spray and pray”…IF you read the older gun pundits, they stressed accurate shooting…Around the time of the Viet Nam war, the philosophy was ” spray and pray”…you fired your automatic weapon at the direction the enemy was and prayed that you hit him…such a waste of ammo is indicative of our throw away society. I won’t comment further but remember this…..a 22 cal bullet will kill you…period..You have just got to hit your target…Instead of relying on automatics with 15 shot clips, learn to shoot accurately and your six shooter revolver will defend you just as well…probably better than the auto.. Also , the author who favored the 9 shot revolver had some good points. In a double action revolver IF you come down on a bad shell that does not go off…you rotate the cylinder with the next trigger squeeze and you have another chance at a shot. If an automatic jams….thats it…YOU must clear it to try another shot..I personally like the idea of a 9 shot revolver because in a prolonged fire fight…you fire 6 shots but hold 3 in reserve and reload 6……this way if you are rushed while reloading your six…you have those 3 reserve rounds to take care of business…You can kill people and deer if you can accurately place your 22 cal shots…The Mossad, (Israels CIA), train their agents to innateness using two 22 cal bullets to the heart. They prefer the 22 as an assassination weapon because if makes less noise than larger power guns and it encourages the assassin to get in close and concentrate on placing those two shots to the heart…..I personally am sorry Harrington and Richardson no longer make their excellent 9 shot revolvers. I encourage any one considering a defense weapon to consider a good quality 22 revolver and use good quality 22 ammo and practice your shooting….,,,,

    • Hilton McConnell

      I do not carry a gun for self defense,and never will, but a 22lr is a deadly weapon, I like to plink and target shoot, and by keeping my guns clean and using good rounds I have only had 1 or 2 miss fires over the last 2 years, shooting over 1000 rounds, and bought of them went off on the second try.
      I do like a revolver over a auto loader,but mostly use rifles, I am glad I am in Canada where we do not have to carry. Hear guns are for hunting and target practice, and can only use rifles for hunting.

    • http://aliasbarackobama.blogspot.com/ Dr. Ron Polland

      I have a GSG drum filled with 110 rounds of CCI .22LR Stingers. My launching pad for them is a Ruger 10/;22 fitted with a 2.5 lb trigger that will allow me to dump the entire 110-round drum in 15 seconds or less by using the wagging trigger finger technique. That works out to a rate of fire of 400 rounds per minute. I’ve only had one FTF in four successive mag dumps, Having one FTF out of 440 rounds fired is not too shabby.

      I define “Stopping power” as the capacity to convince an attacker stop what is doing or intends to do. With this rig, I can have just as much “stopping power” as a shotgun but without the noise and mess, especially if I aim for his head.

  • Mike Mills

    A revolver is considered a pistol you dumbass. I can tell that you have no idea what you’re talking about and I can guarantee you that you have not fired very many 22 long rifle cartridges. I’ve had many Centerfire spell but only two long rifle failures out of thousands of rounds fired not only that you never want to just blank Italy kill someone to blow their freaking head off a 22 long rifle. I’m dead in their tracks especially if you put two or three of them yet it won’t kill them so that they could be prosecuted I don’t want to have a death on my conscience but if you’re trying to attack me I will fill you full of holes you sir are an idiot

    • Leslie Hoerwinkle

      You seem insecure.

      • Rob

        So do you

  • Havoc Dog

    There are some pretty nice loads for the 22lr these days and I wouldn’t want to be shot with any of them…having said that there are better self defense rounds…but an accurate 22 in the hands of a good shooter is nothing to be laughed off. Fact is more people are killed with the 22 than any other pistol round last time I checked…of course there are plenty who survive too. Bottom line a 22 is way better than nothing and will deter most criminals from their misdeeds…it may not do the job on a pcp hyped up attacker but again better than harsh words.

  • GustavoAragao

    here in Brazil the 22lr is a common round, or was before they take our gun rights, but with a murder rate of 65.000 people per year I can say that definitely the 22lr is a deadly round.

  • Rob Thompson

    In January of 2019, a 19-year old man named Wilber Ernesto Martinez-Guzman murdered four people over a period of roughly 10 days using a nine shot .22LR revolver – loaded with snake shot, no less. Further, these were face-to-face shootings – the victims were not shot from concealment or cover.

    While I agree with the writer in that I much prefer a heavier round for personal defense, like a 9mm or .357, or even better, a 12 gauge – do not discount the lethality of small ammunition, particularly if it is pointed at you.