Most Practical Caliber for Self-Defense?

Written by Fred Mastison
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Most Practical Caliber for Self-Defense?

April 21st, 2019

3 minute read

There are few debates in the firearms realm as passionate as those centered around ammo. Asking “what is the best defense ammo” is akin to asking who the best baseball player of all time is. Opinions fly freely yet in the end, we have data to help us make the call as to which handgun caliber is most practical for self-defense.

First off, we need to address a term that is thrown about in the handgun world that simply needs to be taken out of the equation. This term is “stopping power.” As a rule, handgun rounds lack sufficient power to merit a measurement in the stopping power category. Law enforcement data tells us that adversaries generally have to be shot multiple times before they back down from the fight or become incapacitated. While rifle and shotgun rounds generate large wound channels, general defensive carry handguns do not provide enough power to knock a person out of a fight quickly unless it is a head shot or spinal shot.

With that out of the way we are ready to unveil what I believe is the most practical round. Drum roll please…it is the 9mm hollow point round. Yes, I know there are some .45 ACP fans screaming right now, but science is a part of this statement. The FBI has now gone back to the 9mm round after what seems like a circus tour of various calibers. From their initial use of 9mm to 10mm and .40 S&W they have come full circle back to the 9mm. The reason the 9mm reigns supreme is because it provides penetration to a scientifically valid depth. A projectile must penetrate deeply enough into the body to reach the large vital organs, namely heart, lungs, aorta, vena cava and to a lesser extent liver and spleen, in order to cause rapid blood loss. It has long been established by expert medical professionals, experienced in evaluating gunshot wounds that this equates to a range of penetration of 12 to 18 inches, depending on the size of the individual and the angle of the bullet.

This is the case because as the FBI states “contemporary projectiles (since 2007) have dramatically increased the terminal effectiveness of many premium line law enforcement projectiles.” The 9mm now outperforms most of the premium line .40 S&W and .45 ACP projectiles tested by the FBI. The big part of this is wound channels. This is also where myth and science start to separate things. .45 ACP does indeed make bigger holes in paper than the 9mm, but flesh is not paper and wound channels close around bullet tracks. Surgeons have been asked and they report that there is little to no noticeable difference in the wound tracks between premium line law enforcement projectiles from 9mm and the .45 ACP.

On a more logistical side, people are able to run a 9mm faster and more accurately than other larger calibers. They also offer higher magazine capacity, lower recoil and more affordable ammunition for the average shooter. This translates to an easier shooting gun that in turn will make the shooter more inclined to shoot more often. This is always a win because time on trigger is critical to developing good defensive marksmanship skills. While it probably breaks some people’s hearts, the 9mm round is the carry king regardless of what the social media memes might say.

Springfield Armory® recommends you seek qualified and competent training from a certified instructor prior to handling any firearm and be sure to read your owner’s manual. These articles are considered to be suggestions and not recommendations from Springfield Armory. The views and opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Springfield Armory.

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Fred Mastison

Fred Mastison

Fred Mastison is a national magazine contributor, professional firearms & combatives instructor and executive protection provider and trainer. He is also the host of the weekly firearms podcast Center Mass. He has written over 600 articles for 27 different magazines. He is a reserve police officer and has been training in firearms & close quarter combatives for over three decades. Additionally he has almost 40 years in the martial arts and holds advanced degrees in multiple arts. He currently holds 17 separate law enforcement POST course certifications around the U.S. and is a certifying instructor for law enforcement firearms instructors in handgun, patrol rifle, shotgun and sub machine gun. In addition to training in the US, Mr. Mastison has divisions in Germany, Ireland and Mexico.

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