A handgun is not a shotgun. A handgun doesn’t fire as much lead as a shotgun. A handgun is harder to aim than a shotgun. Provided the shotgun in question is loaded with double ought buck and fired from a relatively close distance, the disparity in lethality is so great that many security experts pose the following question: what’s the main purpose of a home defense handgun? To fight your way to your shotgun. This much is true: if you’re trying to stop someone from killing yourself or your loved ones using a handgun, you’re going to need to pull the trigger more than once. So you’ll need more than one bullet. But how many?
Common wisdom says not many. In the course of investigating this article, I’ve been told time and time again that most gunfights follow the three-three-three rule. Three shots, three seconds, three yards.
Yes, well, that’s an average. For the police. Who have a fairly lengthy lead-in time before the bullets starts flying. The FBI’s most recent Officer Killed Summary reveals that just six out of 41 officers “feloniously killed” in 2008 were ambushed.
Remember: these FBI stats crunch unsuccessful gunfights. So, while 19 of the 41 officers killed were murdered within five feet of their attacker, there’s considerable evidence to suggest that successful gunfights occur over longer distances. At least for law enforcement.
Writing for handgunsmag.com, Dave Spaulding rogers that.
While the FBI statistics show [gunfighting] distances as being around ten feet, the [1992 Police Marksmen Association] study showed the average distance being more like twenty. This makes sense, as distance will favor the person with the most training. This relates directly back to awareness as the sooner you see trouble coming, the more time you have to prepare for war.
And that’s why most defensive shooting experts—including Mr. Spaulding—insist that shot placement is the most important variable.
The PMA study also shows that the hit ratio per encounter was closer to 62 percent instead of the often-reported 18 percent. The history of gun fighting for more than a century has shown that the person that lands the first solid hit will usually win the confrontation. Hitting is hard to do without preparation and relying on luck is an invitation to disaster.
On the face of it, duh. Sever the spinal cord and you shut down the brain. Shoot the brain and it’s game over. Destroy the heart muscle or sever a major artery and death comes galloping.
It’s easy to see why so many gun gurus say accuracy trumps caliber when discussing “stopping power.” By the same token, it’s easy to undertand why so many home defenders place so much emphasis on marksmanship.
But that doesn’t answer our question: how many shots does an average shooter need to achieve the shot placement necessary to stop a threat? How many bullets?
Obviously, that depends on the shooter and the situation. Let’s start with the situation.
In this case, we’re focusing on home defense. How many areas in your home are twenty feet across? What are the odds you’ll be at the far end of a twenty foot or more space during a home invasion? I’m thinking . . . low.
When push comes to shove in your castle, you’re going to have to shoot fast and shoot well. Only you won’t be able to shoot well because you’ll be shooting fast. And you’ll be shitting bricks.
It’s best to fire as much lead at the target as possible and hope—yes hope—you stop the threat. As for Mr. Suarez’ warning about relying on Lady Luck, I’ve found that the more bullets I fire, the luckier I get. To which my father would have added “It’s better to be lucky than smart.”
Again, no matter how lucky you are, if bad things go down, it’s best to shoot a lot of bullets. It increases the odds that one will do the job.
Lucky for you, shooting a lot of bullets is instinctive. Here’s gun guru Gabriel Suarez’s take on the subject, with lessons learned from simulated shooting:
Defenders will fire their weapons until the threat disappears. That means that until the role player falls down (simulating effective hits delivered), or runs away (removing the target), the good guy will keep firing. The concept of school solutions, controlled pairs, or otherwise artificially limiting the number of shots (as one does in a firing string on the range) does not hold up even in guys who’ve been extensively trained to do it.
It appears that the total number of available bullets is critical. Hey! Maybe you should carry an extra magazine. But that’s not the question posed by the headline of this post: how many bullets do you need IN your home defense handgun?
Suarez’s account reveals that the total number of bullets in the initial magazine is critical, thanks to reloading/stress issues.
When a training gun stops firing (due to running out of pellets), the shooter is still in the fight and still trying to shoot his enemy as well as trying to not be hit by him. We see them continue to try to work the trigger for one or two times before there is a realization that there has been a stoppage (malfunction or empty gun). This is followed by a visual examination of the gun, and only then is remedial action taken.
This can take upwards of a second and a half before anything is even attempted to fix the gun, and then the additional time needed to reload. Thus the idea that one can read the gun’s feel and immediately realize a need to speed load simply does not hold up. Running out of ammo is usually a fight ender if there has been a failure to stop, or there are multiple adversaries at hand.
Reloading is fraught with danger. You might not have a “spare” magazine. You might blow it: dropping the magazine, sticking it in the wrong way, not inserting it forcefully enough. You might lose situational awareness (i.e. look away from the threat). Etc.
All this while someone is shooting at you. When you’re not shooting at them. Long reload times—and seconds last an eternity in a gunfight—aren’t good. Tactically, ideally, you should end the gunfight before you need to reload.
Again, how likely is that?
“Multiple adversaries.” Now there’s a monkey wrench. It’s not just theory, either. In the early hours of Wednesday morning, three masked men invaded the home of NBA B-baller Stephen Jackson. Home burglaries usually involve at least two perps. It’s bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do?
[NOTE: if there’d been a gun battle between the Mrs. Jackson and the invaders, and the deal had gone down in Massachusetts (or other jurisdictions where ten rounds mags are the legal limit), she would have had 3.3 bullets per perp before she had to reload.]
All the evidence points to the fact that you’ll shoot plenty of bullets in a battle. It follows that more bullets in your home defense handgun is mo’ better. Larger capacity magazines/handguns are more likely to be more effective for home defence than smaller capacity magazines/handguns.
While the inherent advantages of a large capacity home defense handgun are clear, if you can’t hit squat with a high-capacity 9mm or better Glock, SIG, Springfield, Smith or suchlike, disregard this advice. A revolver firing a half-dozen .38s could be a better option.
That doesn’t change the basic conclusion: if you’re a crack shot who’s fully prepared for a gun battle and cool under pressure, you’ll need less bullets than someone who isn’t. Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing how you’ll perform in combat.
In all cases, reloading practice and magazine placement (spares around the house?) increase the chances of success. As does moving to cover while shooting. It’ll help you conserve ammo, give you time to reload, and decrease your opponents’ accuracy.
If your initial handgun salvo doesn’t finish the job, if you’re in danger of being overwhelmed by adversaries or running out of ammo, plan B your butt to your home defense shotgun. An 12 or 20 gauge shotgun with size-appropriate shot shell is what I call a conversation stopper.
If there are two of you, one person could provide cover (i.e. shoot at the bad guys) and shepherd children (if needs be) with a handgun, while the other gets the shotgun.
But the answer to the headline is this: as many bullets as you can carry in a gun that you can shoot with as much accuracy as you can muster when mustering’s required. In the video above, David Kenik fires nineteen shots. It doesn’t seem like a lot, does it?