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Sam’s thinking about carrying. So I brought a few potential carry pieces to The American Firearms School for her dining and dancing pleasure. To supplement the School’s wide range of handguns, I packed a MPA Protector 380, Ruger SP101, Smith & Wesson hammerless 642, Ruger LC9 and a Springfield XD 9. Oh, and Sam’s Smith & Wesson 686. The 686 is definitely last but not least; it’s morphed from my birthday present to “Sam’s gun.” To make a long story short, Sam wants to carry . . . her 686. Four inch barrel and 42 ounce heft be damned. She’s dead accurate with it and feels more comfortable (at least psychologically) with .357s on board. But she’s got a bad case of bullet envy . . .

On the way home, driving through the fattest snowflakes I’ve ever seen, I tried to tell Sam that six .357s were sufficient for self-defense. At least potentially.

“If you use your sights and hit the bad guy, you won’t even need that many.”

“What if there are two of them?”

“Even more reason to aim carefully and not shoot a single bullet more than necessary. Per perp.”

“If .357 revolvers are so great,” Sam asked, leaving no beat skipped, “why did cops switch to semis?”

“Because they need all those bullets,” I said. “Multiple bad guys, uncertain environments, God knows what. Besides, generally speaking, cops are lousy shots.”

[New York Times: In 2006, in cases where police officers intentionally fired a gun at a person, they discharged 364 bullets and hit their target 103 times, for a hit rate of 28.3 percent, according to the department’s Firearms Discharge Report.]

“So why do you carry 13 rounds of .45 in your Springfield?”

“To save your ass.”

“See? See? I need more bullets!”

“You need more training,” I replied.

“And more bullets.”

“But then they wouldn’t be .357s,” I countered.

“But I’d have more of them.”

“But then you’d be more tempted to spray and pray.”

“Like the cops?”

“Well they did at that Detroit police station invasion.”

“The bad guy better pray if he’s looking down the barrel of my 686,” Sam said, with characteristic timidity.

And that was that, really. Save for Sam’s newfound desire to learn how to speed load her Smith (knowing full well that it’s not bound to go well in combat conditions).

I thought about stopping power vs. capacity today. And psychology. I reckon a gun with fewer bullets would force some (though not all and maybe not even a majority) of self-defense shooters to shoot more carefully and, thus, successfully, than a gun with 16 rounds like the Springfield XD(m) 9. What’s your take?

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  1. My main carry is an SP101.

    Despite feeling comfortable with 5 rounds of .357 from an intellectual perspective (I live in a city, any situation in which I have to draw is likely to occur at very short distances, most attackers will be unlikely to expect the use of force, I know that the gun will fire when I pull the trigger, .357 has good stopping power and is loud), I still suffer from bullet envy.

  2. I practice with my M&P 9 almost every week and generally shoot 150 – 300 rounds during a practice session. I shoot drills at 7, 10, 15 & 25 yards but always end each session shooting two full magazines of 17 rounds at 7 yards as fast as possible and as close to center mass as possible at that speed. The range officer usually comes over to remind me that rapid-fire drills are not allowed and I explain politely that my last drill is ALWAYS going to mimic what I want to do in a real life, self defense scenarios. For me that means 17 rounds of 9mm JHP to center mass with a tactical reload and final threat scan at the end.

    If I ever have to defend myself or my family for real I want to be able to look the prosecutor, judge and jury in the eye when they ask me why I felt the need to fire my weapon so many times and say politely, “because that’s exactly how I trained if I ever had to stop someone from killing myself or my loved ones”.

    • I sympathize with your desire to practice a realistic scenario, but you’re telling me, at a slow fire range, every time you go in you rapidfire 34 rounds at the end of your session? Every time?

      1. As a slow fire range, every other person at that range is going to be startled at the very least, taking away from their practice time that they are paying for

      2. You freak out the range personnel who have to see what the hell is going on

      3. That’s just being a giant bag of dicks.

      • No,

        I shoot the full 17 and then do a tactical reload and scan. The range is outdoors with fifty lanes for pistol, rimfire rifle, shotgun and long gun. I’ve never had another shooter even comment.

        My point was to indicate that the number of rounds I train to fire during a self defense scenario is the entire magazine. I shoot with a M&P 9mm so I’ll need more than a few hits to “stop” a perp. The tactical reload & scan is to ensure that I’m prepared for a second assailant.

        Any other questions?

        • Jeff, If you ever find yourself in the Charleston area you can come shoot with me as fast as you want. My range folks know I was Special Forces and never hassle me when I have the target “rush” at me as I unload!

        • Jeff,

          Some do in the Dallas indoor ranges. They really don’t like anyone doing ‘combat’. I was amazed how weenie the range officials were.

          Thankfully I have access to an outdoor range where I can just go nuts and no one gives it a second thought.

        • This is just my opinion, but here’s my take on it.
          I love rapid fire too, as well as realistic combat simulation scenarios. When I want to do that type of shooting, I go to a range that allows it and I have at it.

          What jumps out at me is the fact that you know the range you are shooting at doesn’t like rapid fire. You’re basically saying I don’t care. I’m going to do what I want, whenever I want.

          We’re all adults here, we understand choices and ramifications. I guess it just bugs me because, as a Californian, gun enthusiasts are already a small group under pretty intense fire (wakka wakka). As such, we usually go out of our way to be cool with other range customers (talk shop, offer to let others try out our guns etc).

          Even assuming the other shooters there high five you and one of them spontaneously bursts into a half man/half bald eagle of 2nd amendment approval, the range officer still has to hoof it over to your lane and tell you to cool it. Again. and hear your polite response about needing to do what you want to do. Again.

          Stop making Baby Jesus and Eagle Man cry.

    • “If I ever have to defend myself or my family for real I want to be able to look the prosecutor, judge and jury in the eye when they ask me why I felt the need to fire my weapon so many times and say politely, ‘because that’s exactly how I trained if I ever had to stop someone from killing myself or my loved ones’.”

      This is a bizarre theory. Have you had professional legal advice which might make you believe that this would work?

  3. If one believes the studies conducted by Evan Marshal the 125gr JHP from a .357 Magnum is about as good as it gets for a defensive handgun round. I still either carry a .357 Magnum 6-Shot revolver or a 1911 as a sidearm.

    If she really wants more firepower there’s always the S&W 8 shot Model 327 TRR8

  4. In a month or two those 42 ounces will probably change her perspective, not to mention the 1.5 inch width and 9.5 inch length. I tried concealing a full-size 9mm and gave it up – too bulky and too heavy.

    If and when she gets tired of lugging around the 686 and worrying about whether it’s printing or not, talk to her about the compact and subcompact semi-autos. With a fully loaded gun and two spare mags bullet envy will be a thing of the past.

  5. Tomorrow I’ll be picking up a new FNH P45 – 14+1 of .45ACP. Best of both the worlds of capacity and stopping power.

    Also, I chose a .45 because I have my eyes on Masterpiece Arms’ MPA10SST-X pistol and MPA1SST-X carbine, both chambered in .45 and with – wooga booga booga – interchangeable 30rd magazines.

    Three guns, two types of magazine, one caliber.

  6. I would rather have the most rounds I can reasonably carry. While I do practice fairly regularly, I don’t want to bet my life on beating the cop’s 30% average. That makes my 1911 only hold 2-3 rounds that will actually hit, and my M&P 9c hold 3-4. Still better than 1-2 from a revolver.

  7. In the history of gunfights nobody has ever said that they wished they had a smaller, less controllable gun with less bullets.

    When I carry a revolver as a primary firearm (which I rarely do) I always carry at least 2, most often 3. I don’t bother with speed strips or a speed loader because neither one is fast enough in a fight. I prefer spare guns.

    My typical primary weapon is a 14-shot , 45ACP semi with a spare mag.

    About half of violent encounters involve more than one attacker and that percentage is rising. Considering the speed that I shoot, I expect to shoot at least 4-5 shots per attacker so a 14 shooter is a approximately a 3 bad-guy gun.

  8. I’ve seen Sam shoot at the range and she’s a great shot, she won’t need more than one shot per bad guy.

    • Shooting one shot and expecting a positive result is bad juju. Keep shooting until the threat stops. While a stop can happen with one round it is rare, as handguns have very little stopping power.

      Also, expecting that you will have the same shooting accuracy in a life threatening situation as you do on the range, especially if you have not done extensive training under stress, is bad juju.

      Shooting at the range, from a low ready, standing still, with a non-moving target is nothing like real life.

      A gunfight is more like: Draw from concealment, while moving off the line off attack (hopefully to cover or concealment) while shooting at moving target that is trying to kill you.

  9. In a high stress situation I doubt that anyone thinks at all about how many rounds are in their gun. Once they make the decision to shoot they keep on shooting until the either the target(s) fall(s) or they run out of bullets. I suspect many people would even forget to reload under conditions like that. The possible exception might be someone like a special forces operator who has extensive training and experience in scenarios of that kind, they can probably keep track of how many rounds there are in the magazine.

    • You hardly have to be a black ops vet to be fairly good at controlled shooting under stress. It’s my experience that combat arms vets with an interest in hunting / shooting/ firearms are some of the coolest cats under pressure. Training helps – OODA and group shooting discipline within a squad or platoon size team.

      They tend to understand the limitations of handguns as tools in a firefight. Unless you’re a cop or soldier, CCW handgun use should be primarily defensive. If you must draw and shoot, shoot to end the threat and/or escape to safety. Or to a shotgun / carbine.

  10. To be fair, most situations are resolved with 0 bullets. Therefore, debating 6 versus 10 versus 15/18/30/etc. seems silly at first glance.

    However, there are a lot of scenarios where 6 bullets are not enough, and in those situations the revolver rapidly deteriorates. Speed loaders and a second gun make a dead duck into a lame duck, but they’re still an order of magnitude slower than an autoloader.

    Spray and pray is silly. I watched CSI:Miami last Sunday, and Frank ran 2 magazines out spraying and praying at the bad guys. He was only saved by the timely intervention of Horatio (who was tactically stupid and joined Frank, rather than going behind the idiots, but that’s another topic) and H’s extra magazine.

    Autoloader shooters should treat themselves as if they’re limited to revolver round counts, and not “waste” ammo. Even so, there are times when having a couple of rounds “to spare” for suppressive fire or a second set of double-taps isn’t that bad an idea.

    For the weight of that 686, she could carry a Sig P229 in .357SIG and an extra magazine and have 24 shots, or a SIG P250 Full-Size in .357SIG with 2 magazines and 36 shots, with similar sizes and stopping power per round. If Sam is willing to “drop” to the .40, then you can get into the smaller .40s with slightly lower per round performance and still more rounds available. Magazine reload time drops from minutes per reload to seconds.

    • Spray and pray is silly. I watched CSI:Miami last Sunday, and Frank ran 2 magazines out spraying and praying at the bad guys. He was only saved by the timely intervention of Horatio (who was tactically stupid and joined Frank, rather than going behind the idiots, but that’s another topic) and H’s extra magazine.
      And I just noticed: Frank shoots a P226, while Horatio shoots a p229. Unless Horatio carries P226 magazines as spares(*), Frank couldn’t use Horatio’s mags as they’re too short.

      (*) Horatio is like Chuck Norris. He always kills someone in one shot, unless he’s just toying with him (or the plot needs the person alive to come back later). By this measure, Horatio should carry Sam’s 686. 🙂

  11. There’s no finer SD round than the .357, and the manual of arms for a revolver is so simple that it’s hard to mess up, even under pressure. Since she likes the revolver, have that .357 cut for moon clips, or get a new one that’s already set up for clips, and Sam can carry as much ammo as she can heft. BTW, reloading with moon clips is at about as fast as slapping in a new magazine.

  12. I love handgun/caliber/cartridge count debates. Many a fine bucket of popcorn has been consumed watching people discuss which magic talisman works the best.

    Bottom line, though, it’s an irrelevant question. For every “what-if” that’s offered for grounds that Handgun X in Caliber Y is not going to work, there’s an equal and opposite scenario which will demonstrate that Handgun Y in Caliber X is insufficient.

    The “best” handgun is one that is accurate, reliable, and that you are comfortable carrying and using (in this case, it sounds like the 686). It doesn’t matter whether it’s a 2 shot Hi-Standard .22LR, or a wossname – Spectre, with 50 round mag. Caliber is also not much of an issue, though there is a BIT to be said for at least trying to become comfortable and competent with something in at least a .38 Spl. Always keep in mind, though, that attitude, skill, and training will get you through times of crappy tools better than outstanding quality tools will get you through a lack of attitude, skill, or training.

    Me? Personally? In a gunfight I think the ideal is a good pair of running shoes and a 2 mile head start.

    Okay, go back to your debate – I’ve got plenty more popcorn in the microwave.

    • “I think the ideal is a good pair of running shoes and a 2 mile head start.”

      I’d prefer a fast car, but track shoes and a 2 mile head start works okay in a pinch.

  13. I think you can never be over prepared. Even if you’re the best shot in the world, extra bullets are always useful. Why not get her a speedloader? Small and easy enough to carry.

    Personally I can reload a revolver with moonclips faster than a semi with a double stack magazine. Just not twice as fast.

  14. 6 rounds of .357 is still a hell of a lot better than 6 or 7 .380s that most people are betting their lives on these days.

  15. My at work gun (.32NAA, the best I can conceal at work) only holds 6 +1. I am much happier once I open the car-gun-safe and put my 14 rnd .40 back in the IWB holster with a spare mag on the other side. I REALLY don’t like only having 7 rounds. When you add my antipathy to revolvers (Gas and debris flying out of the sides?!!? Abusive trigger!? Much fatter and harder to conceal? Why?) If I could carry something bigger at work I would. But until the corporate office changes it’s mind (never) I’ll do the best I can.

  16. Real-world stats aside, I would mentally feel undergunned with only a six-shooter. And while I think shooting someone fewer times with a bigger caliber looks better to a jury than more times with a smaller caliber, it’d be really hard to carry six .357 when I could have 8 or 10 or 12+ in something else. Especially when the reload mag is a full-size one. Now you’re talking 6 + 6 vs. 10 + 14 or whatever. That’s a big difference.

    Also, while a .357 is formidable, if I can choose to survive a gunfight with my hearing still intact, that’s a bonus. (Not to mention having it intact During the gunfight.) I’ve shot a .357 without hearing protection before and have no plans on ever doing it again.

  17. Perhaps one is not enough…gun, that is. Maybe Sam should look into a double-stack .45 (if she can handle a .357 Magnum, a .45 would present no problem) and a .45 revolver with half-moon clips. She’d have the best of both worlds – plenty of ammo, only one caliber of ammo to deal with, the reliability of a revolver and the capacity of a semi. Carry the semi on her belt and the revolver in her purse.

    I’d pity the fool(s) who’d tangle with her.

  18. With the 686 you are getting a gun that will fire 6 times, every time. Unless you’ve hit that day that your S&W completely fails or you have ammo from hell that is …

    You give up some rounds, but get the peace of mind that you’re not lugging around a single shot like you would with an autoloader that’s limp wristed when firing with one hand, goes out of battery when pressed against your attacker, or jams loading and/or ejecting.

    There’s no free lunch when it comes to firearms or anything else. You have to weigh the tradeoffs.

    • “With the 686 you are getting a gun that will fire 6 times, every time.”

      Perhaps people don’t take reliability seriously enough. I didn’t either until something mysterious happened – my old Tokarev, up until then as reliable as the tide, froze up solid after chambering a round. I had to take the gun home and disassemble it (not field-strip – this was a job for tools) to get the unfired cartridge out. The cartridge measured completely normal in all respects. The gun has functioned perfectly ever since, so I can’t even duplicate the problem. I still have the cartridge – maybe some day I’ll be able to figure out what happened. If the failure had happened when I was using the gun for real, it would have been a real show-stopper.

      But I have plenty of other autos which have never failed. Yet.

  19. Maybe ammo is like prunes. According to some of us, six may not be enough. But according to some politicians, more than ten is too many.

  20. Robert,

    Now I pack a Glock 27 most of the time with a J .38 five shooter as either a backup or an ‘aways’ gun. The Glock holds 10 rounds and either a spare mag or the J .38 (and that way the J IS the spare mag.)

    Now I also own a passle of revolvers from K frames to N and GP100 to Security Six (and a nifty Dick special.)

    If I was to carry a revolver as primary gun it would be a six shooter AND I would DEFINATLEY pack either a J .38 or bigger as the ‘reload’/left hand gun. 11 to 12 shots of .357s or +p .38s are fine. They will do the deed. But just one revolver and a speed loader? No.

    So have her get an airweight .38 as her reload and pack the L frame (I’d get a 2 1/2 686 if I was to pack a 686!)

  21. I’m of the mind that prefers numbers. More bullets 6 just isn’t my favorite number. 40s&w 12+1 in comparison to 357 the 40 is light on recoil and has double the ammo. I’ve said it before, nobody wants to get shot even with a 22, but, if she or anyone for that matter, is goood and happy with what they got practice can only make it better.

  22. Just buy Sam a snubnose S&W 500, if she hits the badguy he’s a goner for sure and if she misses the shock and awe of this gun will scare the sh!t out of him. Sam’s already shot my three 500’s and she did a great job.

  23. Here’s a different perspective. I’m new to the self-defence arena, so take my $0.02 for what it’s worth.

    My gun is a S&W 317. That’s a 8-shot .22 LR revolver. Very light at 12oz — I suspect it does duty as an ankle gun for law enforcement. My logic in choosing it: very easy to shoot, almost no recoil; more reliable than a semi-automatic. Does not have the stopping power of a larger caliber, so I need to be accurate. OTOH, if I’m accurate, why do I need a larger gun? Oh yes, I also have three speed loaders, stored with the gun.//

    • Please, I beg you, use it as a back up! Get a good, lightweight if you need, .38 or .357. Feel free to to talk to me anytime!

  24. In our rather small city last week there was a shootout at 3am between a police officer and a perp riding a bike. The police officer had a Glock 22 and the perp had a six shot detective special. After being stopped for no lights on a bike at 3am, the perp fired six shots from the Colt hitting the officer 5 times killing him. The officer had time to fire back at the perp 12 times hitting him twice in the arm. Of course the officer was fatally wouned as he returned fire. That was only 1 perp, so if you have more and add stress and being yourself wounded, who would opp for less rounds.

  25. First a correction. The XD(m) 9mm holds 19+1. The XD 9mm holds 16+1.

    Me, I would rather have more rounds. If you follow a failure drill for each attacker, 2 to the chest and one to the head, that is 6 perfectly placed shots when someone is dealing with a surge of adreline. I have never been put in this position, but from what I read, I will not shoot as good as I do in practice. Having a few extra rounds, that I don’t have to attempt to reload, seems like a good plan to me.

  26. Use powerful and effective rounds for the caliber and you probably won’t need many-given shot placement is good. My minimum is a S&W snubbie and 4 speedloaders-extreme shock ammo and solid copper .357’s from magtech. Also, 3 tactical folding knives-1 for utility use only. (plus safety toe boots)

  27. I used to carry a Kimber .45 in a fanny pack. Despite being a big gun, carrying it all day didn’t bother me, even though my 80th birthday is coming up soon. However, I was bothered by the fact that I had only 7+1 rounds. So I switched to a Paraordnance P12. Almost doubled the number of rounds. Put me down in favor of more bullets. I’d carry a P14 if I could find a fanny pack that would hold it.

  28. I switch between my Taurus Magnum Judge with 5 PDX-1, my Springfield Armory XD-45 with JHP, and my Walther PK-380 with JHP, depending on my conceal carry needs.

    Don’t know who said it first… “A hit with a smaller caliber is better than a miss with a large caliber.”

  29. On the one hand, we talk about “fingers to flippers” in high-stress encounters, and then we talk about fewer rounds making people more deliberate shooters. Like some others here, I don’t buy it. When bullets start flying, marksmanship can go out the window even for the most skilled shooters. Your first priority in a gunfight is surviving, and if that means taking action to lay down “suppressive fire” so you can break contact over well-placed incapacitating shots, then that’s what you’re going to do. If you’re attacked, you win by surviving and ensuring your loved ones survive. There are no bonus points for killing your attacker.


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