Today let’s talk about caliber for your concealed carry handgun and your home defense handguns.
What is the Best Caliber for Concealed Carry?
It helps us to understand how it is thatÂ ammunitionÂ works toÂ physiologicallyÂ stop our threat. Â Grant Cunningham has an extensive set of posts that talks about this topic that you can read here
It really boils down to two things bullets need to do:
- The bullets need to penetrate deep enough into the body to get to something the body finds important to survival
- The bullets need to do damage when they get to those important parts.
Many people fail to consider theÂ multidimensionalÂ approach we need to take to achieve these two goals as efficiently as possible and of course because of the stakes involved we must do the work to select the best caliber for concealed carry.
Much of the debate that surrounds caliber selection is ill logical and frustrating to me. People base their choices on a single attribute of ammunition or maybe worse what their uncle who was in the war thinks or what their local police department carries. Â While your favorite uncle might have some valid experience from combat and your local PD certainly should have valid reasons for the round selection they have made. We must understand that our context as a concealed carry holder is different than the military and law enforcement aspect would lead us to believe.
Unlike the military or the police, The law abiding citizen. Typically carries a firearm concealed. This means that a balance must be struck between the ability to conceal and recoil management of the handgun and we talked about this in detail in episode 331.
In addition when it comes to law-enforcement it must be taken into consideration that the context of police work isÂ differentÂ than that ofÂ concealedÂ carry. Â For example, LE officers have a much higherÂ likelihoodÂ for the need to shoot through intermediate barriers. Although certainly a possibility, this is not typical for those involved in concealed carry. Â Shooting through intermediate barriers can have a profound effect on terminal ballistics. Â For this reason we can’t simply assume that what our local PD carries is what we should carry.
The military comparison doesn’t work well either. Those that carry handgun in the military are typically required to carry full metal jacket ammunition. Â On the contrary, if you carry concealed, you should be looking for modern bonded hollow point bullets. The terminal performance of full metal jacket compared to modern bonded hollow points is like night and day. Â Expansion is the big difference. Â This means that military personnel may have some very valid reasons for carrying a caliber your average citizen might want to avoid. Â Remember when selecting the best concealed carry ammunition bonded hollow points are better than full metal jacketed rounds regardless of caliber.
Instead of looking at a single area of performance the savvy defensive shooter will seek to balance out a group of characteristics to achieve the most efficient results.
The information I am presenting today is similar in many ways to the concepts that are being taught by Defensive Firearms Coaches around the country. Â You can find these instructors by taking a look at Combat Focus Shooting or doing a quick search for Introduction for Home Defense Handgun or Intro to Concealed Carry Courses in your area.
So letâ€™s get down to the meat of it. Â Why is 9mm a better caliber choice for a defensive or concealed carry handgun than other common defensive calibers such as .40 Smith & Wesson or .45ACP.
The first important point deals with the terminal performance of modern bonded hollow point ammunition.
When we look at the terminal performance of handgun calibers from .38 special through .45 ACP and limit the results to modern bonded hollow points, we notice something very interesting.
The physical damage caused by a single bullet of any caliber in that range has a negligible difference. Â We don’t see a massive difference between 38 special 9mm, .40 S&W or .45ACP wound channel. Â Now, don’t think for a second that I’m arguing that there isn’t a difference between a 9mm wound channel and a .45ACP wound channel. Â There is. Â What I am arguing is that in the majority of circumstances that difference is irrelevant.Â A 9mm makes a big enough hole that goes deep enough to reliably stop a threat.
If you were to ask the doctor treating a gunshot victim what they were shot with the answer would probably be something like “a handgun.” if you were to press Â for more details you probably wouldn’t get much additional information until the projectile was measured with a set of calipers.
Certainly there are some .45 wound channels that are massive compared to 9mm channels but there are also massive 9mm wound channels and less devastating .45 wounds. Â When we compare modern bonded hollow points the damage done is more likely a function of where the individual was shot and other factors such as bullet path, clothing worn and intermediate barriers than the caliber of the round itself.
We have to understand that when we level the playing field with modern bonded hollow points and all other things kept equal,Â most handgun calibers do about the same amount of medical damage as most other handgun calibers. Â Once we get to a cartridge larger than the .380, the bullets are getting deep enough and expanding big enough to do the kind of damage we need to do to stop our threat.
So at this point it might seem to youÂ that I made a case that all handgun calibers are about equal. Â If terminal ballistics were the only factor maybe that would be so, however it’s not.Â Letâ€™s look at the rest of the picture and why I believe that the 9mm is the best defensive caliber.
9 mm is smaller than the other acceptable Defensive cartridges. Â Size has several advantages to it.First of all because the diameter of the bullet is smaller or larger number of cartridges will fit into the magazine then in other calibers. Â If we take into account clocks full-sized Handguns and make a comparison we know that the clock 21 carries 13 45 ACP cartridges in this magazine the Glock 22 carries 15 40 caliber Smith & Wesson cartridges and the clock 17 carries 17 9 mm Luger cartridges.
So simply put 9 mm Handguns can either be a smaller package, a higher capacity or better yet, both.
Even in today’s world of inflated ammunition prices 9mm is less expensive than 40 Smith & Wesson, .45 ACP or other defensive handgun cartridges. Â If we only bought ammunition once the cost issue may not play as much of a factor however I encourage you to train with your home defense or concealed carry handgun.Â Less expensive ammunition means more training.Â In addition, from time to time you should train with your concealed carryÂ ammunition. Â The lower the cost of ammunition the more training you can afford to do with your defensive handgun. Â The more training you do with your handgun the more efficiently you will operate it.
The 9 mm cartridge tends to have very manageable recoil especially in compact and larger handguns. Â When it comes to using a handgun for defensive purposes, recoil management is an important attribute. Â We are looking for rapid follow up shots as we expect that it is going to take more than a single shot to stop our attacker. Â This means that the ability to control the recoil of the 9mm is a great aid inÂ gettingÂ the gunÂ toÂ settle back onto the threat quickly so that we can take rapid follow up shots when required.
Wounding Capacity is really the deciding factor when it comes to caliber choice for concealed carry and home defense. Â It is the deciding factor because it logically ties together the factors that most people rely on independently to justify their choice. Â We cannot rely on a single attribute of our self-defense ammunition. Â Instead, we have to look at the whole picture. Â That whole picture is wounding capacity. Â Letâ€™s look at the factors that determine wounding capacity and what they mean when they work together.
- Single wound channels from modern bonded hollow points from .38 special through .45 tend to have a negligible difference in the physical damage they cause
- The higher ammunition capacity of the 9mm allows for more rounds to be carried in the gun
- The lower cost of 9mm allows for more training andÂ thereforeÂ improvedÂ recoil management
- The recoilÂ managementÂ of 9mm allows more rounds to beÂ firedÂ with the required precision in a given amount of time
These three factors give us the whole picture which is that the 9mm allows us to put a larger number of rounds on target in a shorter period of time compared to other calibers. Â Since all the holes have about the same value as far as tissue damage goes, more slightly smaller holes is better than less slightly larger holes. Â Since the 9mm can cause more holes in a given amount of time it has a greaterÂ likelihoodÂ ofÂ achievingÂ the physiological effect on our threat that Grant Cunningham talks about by driving deep enough to hit something important and doing damage when it gets there.
The concept is fairly simple. Â The slightly bigger hole that the .45 makes over the 9mm has little effect on the outcome, but the fact that 9mm can make more holes does have a significant effect.
The wounding capacity of the 9mm allows us to make more holes. Â Make sure that you take wounding capacity into account as you search for the best caliber for concealed carry.
If you were intrigued by the SSA Podcast, remember to: