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Over at the debate over shower carry, TTAG commentator Don made an excellent point about .22 as a defensive caliber. I think.

As a personal experiment, take a phone book or two and tape them together. Take an ice pick and drive it into the bundle with all of your strength. Really get your weight behind it. I’m saying drive that thing so hard you feel the shock through your bones of your arm and you nearly sprain your wrist. Measure how deep you got and think about how many more times you could do it before needing a wrist brace . . .

Now shoot it with a decent quality .22 LR. Measure how deep it went. Dig out the slug and look at it. Contemplate how easy that was compared to spraining your wrist.

Next shoot it with a decent quality .22 WMR. Make sure there is nothing of value behind your phone books.

I’m not saying .22 should be considered as an ideal defensive caliber, but people really seem to have a wrong idea about the power behind it. Numbers on paper don’t do it justice. An intuitive experiment such as this, comparing it to your own body strength, is elucidating.

Roger that?


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  1. Not to mention the little buggers bounce around inside leading to death more often than not.

  2. I’ll repost what I just posted on the shower carry thread…

    ‘I’ll say this… I am pretty accurate with my .40 XDm and my 9mm Kahr CW9 but I am deadly accurate with my Browning Buckmark… 10 rounds can be placed very rapidly inside of a very small space at a good distance. What the .22LR lacks in individual quality it makes up for in quantity.

    Not to mention that there is nothing more fun than shooting a .22LR pistol.’

  3. I agree 100% percent. The other thing to remember is that .22LR rounds and such bounce around once inside the body, more damage less chance of the target repeating the experience. When I am at the range I love it when the guy in the next line is firing a .44 magnum and can barely hit the paper much less the target. I personally think it is better to hit the target then scare them with the sound.

  4. If you can land multiple hits on target quickly, a. 22 is very likely to get the job done. 00 buckshot is basically a hail of small lead bullets hitting the target at the same time, and it surely gets the job done.

  5. The real question is WHY? Why carry a .22 when subcompact .380 and 9mms are soooooo tiny these days. My Kel-Tec PF9 weighs 15oz loaded with 7+1 9mm +p. At this point we are discussing the concept of diminishing returns. For a gun that is slightly lighter/smaller you will sacrafice massive amounts of stopping power. 9mm +p is around 385 ft/lbs at the muzzle and .22 is 150 ft/lbs. No contest.

    Sure if you compare an ice pick with a .22lr, I’ll choose the pistol, BUT who the hell has only the choice of a stabbing instrument and a .22lr pistol. If your going to choose to defend yourself choose a responsible chambering that will kill and disable your intended target.

    P.S. Icepick fights are no fun.

    • The real question is WHY? Why carry a .22 when subcompact .380 and 9mms are soooooo tiny these days.

      Well, my best friend’s wife suffers from a mild form of dystonia, and can’t walk by herself or lift much with her arms. She’s also home alone most of the day, and therefore got a pistol for self-defence.

      Anything with any recoil at all is right out for her, but a small, controllable pistol with a lot of ammunition to send downrange is perfect for her. I’ve seen her punch center-mass in a target at 20 feet with her MK111, then put her gun away and slowly walk away from the range on her walker.

      She’s frail and weak and all she has is a .22, but I pity the goblin who tries to mess with her.

      • .32 ACP is still twice as potent (with the added benefit of better expanding HPs) and has hardly any felt recoil… Especially in the heavier guns like the Berettas.

        Hey, .22lr puts down those 700 lb gators on Swamp People with one shot! 😀

        • Hey, .22lr puts down those 700 lb gators on Swamp People with one shot! 😀

          I am just amazed when I watch that being done over and over. I would think they’d all have 1911’s loaded with Cor-Bon’s to blast those ‘gators with. Not so though.

  6. It’s not that it won’t kill or critically injure, it’s that .22s have a history of NOT stopping a person from continuing their assault.

    Whereas larger calibers seem to do a better job of stopping the assailant from continuing their attack.

    Ultimately, how deep is the .22 penetrating and what is being perforated by it?

    Penetration + Shot Placement = Effectiveness

    • Ditto that. While a .22 can kill, it can take days to do so, from internal bleeding. This is the whole concept of “stopping power,” and why I carry a .45.

      • Don’t forget hydrostatic shock that a good .45 causes. Fire a .22 into a block of ballistic gel then do the same with a .45. The difference bigger than the whole in the target.

  7. Besides the lack of effectiveness, the biggest issue I have with the .22 as a defensive round is the lack of reliability regarding ignition inherent to rimfire rounds.

  8. Any 22 can eventually kill you, but I want a bullet that will take you out instantly. I keep my 500 snubbie with 385 grain hollow points from Ballistic Supply on my night stand, and I don’t care how big the bad guy is cuz he’s going down.

  9. Any firearm is better than none. My last ditch hideaway is a NAA .22Lr mini revolver. The icepick analogy is very good, but to expand, I carry wider defensive blades for a reason also. My favorites, hands down, are Fred Perrin’s Street Bowie and his Military Bowie. They are wider blades that will cause a greater and wider wound channel-and greater shock. This is why my lowest end carry,normally, is .38 special and 9mm (+P+ of course) in a pistol. Nothing against .380, it’s just that I haven’t invested time and money on one and a new stockpile of yet another caliber. My main reason of wanting a larger caliber is if I have to fire on say, an attacking animal or a car windshield-hopefully never, but exes are crazy!

  10. There’s a reason you hear about stabbing victims with 20-30 wounds. It’s hard to kill a person by poking tiny holes in ’em.

    On the other hand, I’ll take a .22 over no gun at all. If you know someone of limited means or recoil tolerance, .22 might be just the thing. Not everybody has the time, money, or inclination to go to the range regularly to learn to handle a centerfire cartridge. I’m in favor of anything that increases the chances that a bad guy will look down the bad end of a firearm. Even if the hole is only .22″ in diameter. I’d rather live in a world where 90% of the population had .22s than one in which 10% of the population had .45s. It might not be as effective on a case-by-case basis, but it increases the chances that the bad guys will experience a case of armed self defense.

    Any firearm we can get decent people to carry and use is a win for civilization. Old, cheap, underpowered, whatever. Let’s get ’em on the street where they can do some good. Once people get used to the idea of carrying, maybe we can help ’em upgrade to something more powerful. And if not, they’re still contributing. Let’s take every inch – or .22″ – we can get.

    • “Jason says:

      May 17, 2011 at 12:21 PM

      There’s a reason you hear about stabbing victims with 20-30 wounds. It’s hard to kill a person by poking tiny holes in ‘em”

      I would hazard to say that is because the people normally doing the stabbing are insane with rage. To put it simply, there are people out there with knife training that are far more effective with any knife in close quarters then anyone out there with a gun in those same quarters. My sensei was crazy with a knife and he could frighten you with his speed and precision with a wooden prop because you could imagine what would happen if the knife were real.

      More to your point though, most people don’t know how to use that weapon correctly. Wound channel applies to knives as well. Straight in and out is nothing. I agree.

  11. A .22 beats screaming for a cop.

    A lunatic armed with a .22 revolver almost killed President Reagan and 3 other people, and that was with ineffective ammunition.

    If it’s what you’ve got, use it, and more importantly, learn to use it well.

  12. I’ve been reading this blog and the comments for quite a while. This thread struck a chord with me…I’m not a big proponent of a .22lr for self defense. That said, my mother in law recently asked my opinion for a self defense gun. She’s in her 70’s and I don’t think she has the hand or wrist strength to handle a 9mm, and I’ve never fired a .380 so I don’t have an opinion formed for that caliber. I think she can handle a .22lr pistol and it wouldn’t be too uncomfortable for her to spend some range time with it. Would you guys mind weighing in on this?

    • If her wrist strength is in question, will a pistol be best? If her wrist is limp on the shot, the pistol very well may jam. How about checking into revolvers in .32 H&R Magnum, .38 Special, etc. The best way is spend some time renting handguns at the range, let her get the confidence and feel of her choice. My mother, Momma CUJO, is 68, has one Charter Arms Undercover .38 Special, a Taurus model 85 .38 Special, a 4” .357 magnum Ruger Police Service Six and a tacticool Stoeger 20 ga. over under shotgun with a streamlight rail light.

      • Awesome, thanks! Hadn’t thought about revolvers, she has a little .22lr auto but I don’t think she’s ever even fired it.

      • I think trigger pull would probably be too heavy without a trigger job… If its going to be a carry gun, try the Beretta in .32 ACP (easy tip up barrel too)

        • Or a good used smooth trigger Colt or Smith & Wesson-the older ones always got good and slick with use. I neglected to also mention the Kimber Pepper Blaster II. My mom, my fiance and I carry one. Pistol shaped, 2 shots of OC coming out at 90mph. It gives me my less than lethal option. It goes in one shirt pocket and my Fenix PD30 flashlight goes into the other pocket. Both weigh very little.

    • I have nerve damage that affects how and what I choose to shoot, so maybe my experience can prove helpful.

      For me, a lot of it comes down to grip strength, or more precisely, my lack of it. Maybe your mother in law is in a similar situation. I’ve found that the easiest thing for me to shoot in a handgun is a full sized, single action revolver, with the Ruger Blackhawk being my favorite. It’s hard for me to rack the slide on my autos because my grip, the revolver eliminates this issue. The trigger pull is also short, crisp, and easy to control, unlike some automatic triggers, which can be long and heavy. The Blackhawk will also soak up recoil like a sponge, mine is in .45 Colt and it’s an absolute pussycat. I would bet that she could handle the .45, probably the .357, and absolutely the .327.

      Of course, guns like that are a little hard to carry around all day, but you could probably find an Uberti Cattleman (the bird’s head model) with a short barrel chambered in .357, and then use .38 Specials in it.

      I won’t claim that these are the ideal firearms to get into a gunfight with, but my experience has been that they are readily usable by people with physical limitations that might prevent them from effectively utilizing a centerfire autoloader.

      • Good alternative as well! It’s what works for you and what you’re comfortable (and confident) with…

  13. Like several people have said, a .22 is better than no gun at all, especially loaded with CCI Stingers or some such round. But if it’s possible I’ll always go with a major caliber because .22 just doesn’t have that “instant end to the fight” power behind it.

  14. I stab and shoot thick books all the time, it is one of the favorite pastimes at our range. The 22LR from my experience typically makes it to around 250 pages of penetration. At that point you typically find the round intact and just sitting there, with most of the pages before it barely showing any damage at all.

    Hit the book with a 9mm or .40 and it is a different storry. The round goes much deeper, and the damage to all the pages before it is clearly visable. Shooting with FMJ and HP rounds also gives you a good indication of what HP rounds do.

    The 22LR is better than nothing, but it is far less than ideal. I do more damage to the books with my longbow using field tips than the 22 does, and field tips are designed not to penetrate far.

    But if you hit someone with a 22 round, you will at least avenge your death, weeks after you are dead. As it turns out 22LR are actually very dangerious because most people when they get hit by one don’t even know and/or don’t choose to seek medical help because they figure they will survive since it is a small wound. The wound usually heals, then the person starts to get sick and after a week to two weeks they become seriously ill. Then they recover and feal fine for 2 to 4 days. Then they drop dead from lead poisoning.

    But since I would rather survive or at least be in the same line at the pearly gates as my attacker, I prefer the slightly larger calibers.

    • I read the same thing about the post-shooting pathological effects of the .22LR in a Massad Ayoob book… I can’t remember which though.

  15. For the record guys, I carry a full size SW 1911.

    I was more making a point that the little .22 buggers are more powerful than people give them credit for.

    I was recommending an experiment which I did that really proved this viscerally to myself. The reason I used an ice pick instead of a combat-worthy knife is that it was roughly the same diameter as the .22 at its widest (though still pointy). I am not a proponent of ice picks as defensive weapons. It was a tool to get an idea of the force imparted by a .22 LR and .22 WMR.

    As stated in the original post, I don’t recommend small calibers as an ideal defensive tool. My point is that the whole scale we think of ballistics power of cartridges on needs to be shifted up. Using your own strength in comparison makes a suitable reference.

  16. I think some posters on this thread lost sight of the fact that this wasn’t another caliber war… about .380’s, .45’s or .500’s vs. the diminutive .22LR.

    It is a given that bullet for bullet, the .22LR is no match. But for small women/men, senior citizens and the recoil averse it might just be (and was for the lady from Gwinnet, GA) the thin line that separates them from being victims.

    Personally, I think everyone who is serious about handguns and shooting should be the owner of a .22LR pistol. There is no cheaper way to train on an actual handgun. Plus, the .22LR pistol is a proven tool for showing the ‘gun-averse’ that shooting can be a lot of fun… just saying.

  17. What about cover? I don’t think a .22 will do much if the BG is behind a wall or something. Whereas a larger caliber has a better chance of penetration and still doing enough damage to the BG hiding behind it.

    • Not really applicable to 99% of defensive shootings or to the real world needs of concealed carry holders… we are not talking about carry guns for LEOs here.

  18. How many police departmetns issue or authorize the use of .22 long rifle as a defensive sidearm. In law enforcement this is considered a ‘clue.’

  19. If my weak-wristed opponent attacks me with an ice pick then a .22 rimfire may suffice, but what if you are facing a muscular assailant armed with an ax or machete? Doesn’t a .45 ACP look to be a little more promising in the second scenario?

    Is the little .22 good enough? Yes, sometimes.

  20. For most self defense encounters a 22lr will suffice not because of its lethality (or lack thereof) but because most perps will take off at the sound of the first shot. Crime is a business and like any other businessman (or woman) a gun means increased cost of doing business and so they rapidly depart the scene to steal another day. If you are facing a drug crazed loon who isn’t deterred by getting shot then a 22 isn’t going to materially help you. He will probably kill you before he dies unless you hit him squarly in the heart or the eye.

  21. Again… the point was to put the power of a .22 in perspective by comparing it with a person’s own physical strength… not to argue that it is a good self defense round compared to other calibers…


    • Well,.. for me it goes like this. People mostly make comparisons based on the biggest and baddest thing they can think of. I’ll make this comparison. The Chevy Chevette. As I’ve heard before “it ain’t no Corvette”, but I’ve never seen a Chevette with out 150k+ miles on the clock. But still it gets a rep as a shitty car.

      Well, a .22 ain’t no .45, but I think it has gotten the same “shitty Chevette” reputation. Now, I’ve seen a man get shot with a .22. Granted he wasn’t some crack addled criminal all hyped up on goof balls and what not. My uncle (6′ 3″ and around 250lbs, monster of a dude) shot himself in the leg with his pocket pistol. There was a big “OH FUCK!” and he hit the floor. It didn’t hit bone or arteries and he didn’t cry or scream or lose his leg. But he didn’t get up. Took 2 of us to get him in the truck and back out again. Also, that bullet nearly made it through his leg. Meat, especially fat meat, isn’t a phone book. It pretty soft stuff.

      That pretty well cinched up the issue for me. .22lr is good enough. Any man says otherwise I would invite to take one in the leg for the sake of science. That way we get all the what ifs out of the way.

  22. As medical ballistic experts know (not the guy nursing his beer and telling war stories from the second stool down in the bar), there are essentially three ways a bullet will stop an attack. Psychological (fear), neurogenic (central nervous system trauma), hemodynamic (loss of blood). A .22 is effective for the first two, but probably less so in the second (smaller hole); how much less effective is not easy to determine. For “up close work” (say, on a city street) a .22 is probably adequate if you can shoot through the skull. If not, you may be far enough from the action to run away. From a legal standpoint, it is always better to run away, if you can.

    Those who think a .45 caliber pistol bullet causes more “trauma” than lesser size pistol bullets (say, 38 caliber) are mostly mistaken. Pathologists often express an inability to gauge the size of the bullet simply from a trauma wound. Also, those arguing for “stopping power” in a handgun (i.e., explosive knockdown force) are simply fooling themselves. Finally, the temporary wound channel of a handgun round has never been proven to be a significant factor in killing anyone. Those initial ballistic gel deformations look very evil, but mean very little, trauma-wise.

    For best results, use a higher powered rifle or shotgun.

  23. If the question is whether I’d rather have an ice pick than a .22LR revolver, I’d pick the revolver every time. Everyone knows that it takes all day to make shaved ice with an ice pick, but a .22 makes instant little ice chips that are perfect in Margueritas. And in a pinch, you can shoot a BG up to ten times with a .22 revolver, which you can’t do with an ice pick.

    Sometimes I just don’t understand you people. 🙂

  24. A .22 is better than fingernails or a barbecue fork, sure. I suppose for some people, with relatively little hand strength and upper body strength, it might be the optimum solution.

    And–nobody wants to get shot. We keep hearing that the display of a firearm wards off would-be attackers more often than not, and of those who aren’t deterred, they’re probably not asking for a bore gauge to stick in the muzzle of their intended victims’ guns when they make the decision. A .22 through the eye socket into the brain just might ruin your whole afternoon.

    A visit to any big city emergency room on a Saturday night will reveal that lots of people die as a result of getting holes poked in them with .22 caliber bullets, though they quite frequently beat the person who shot them to death before they fall on top of them and bleed out, which is the problem with .22s.

    Me, if I’m going to be in a duel to the death in a phone booth, I’ll pick a nice big Bowie knife, or a nice sharp e-tool, over any handgun. But then I’m a big ugly SOB who’s had some training with edged weapons. Women, the elderly, and men under six feet and under 240 pounds may prefer to bring a .22 to the fight.

    More seriously, anyone who’s contemplating using any firearm, .22 or otherwise, for self defense would be well advised to get proficient with it. Bullet placement is everything when it comes to “stopping power,” and the smaller the caliber becomes, the more important bullet placement becomes. .22 LR ammo is cheap, so practice, practice, practice.

  25. If I were to carry .22 for self-defense, I’d definitely carry a revolver. I just don’t trust rimfire to reliably cycle in a autoloader.

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