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Ask a random sampling of citizens why they’re packing heat. Chances are someone will use the word “parachute.” It’s a lousy metaphor. Other than skydivers and the 101st Airborne, who wears a parachute in a modern airplane? You’re a lot more likely to need a concealed carry gun than a parachute. Second, a parachute is relatively passive device. A concealed carry gun’s effectiveness depends entirely on its owner’s judgement and ability. And third, a parachute doesn’t lose utility over time. A concealed carry gun is useless the moment you run out of ammunition. Which raises a life-or-death question: how much ammunition do you need when you’re carrying a concealed weapon?

That’s a bit like asking “How does Brad Pitt stay married to Angelina Jolie?” It’s both unknown and unknowable. The number of variables in any given gunfight—location and number of opponents, your shooting ability under stress, where you hit your attackers, their ability to withstand bullet wounds, etc.—-prevent anything other than a general conclusion. And that is . . .

A lot. You need a lot of bullets to stop an attack. Or not. While more than a few people have been killed by a single well-placed bullet, there are plenty of instances where attackers sustained an absurd number of bullet wounds without seriously affecting their ability to continue their assault.

I’m not about to get into a detailed discussion of the quasi-religious, pseudo-scientific concept known as stopping power. Small and fast? Big and slow? Hollow point? What’s the point? Here’s my favorite analysis of the subject from gun guru R.K. Campbell:

The 9mm isn’t ok. Tell the fellow who took four 9mm soft point bullets and still managed to inflict a nasty wound that remains with me to this day, and gives my face ‘character’.

The .38 isn’t enough. I once shot a fellow in the lower leg who debated with me whether he had been hit at all until the blood ran from his shoe – then he commenced whimpering and crying.

I once took not the traditional icepick but thank God a nutpicker in the leg. It didn’t go in very far but instantly floored me. The shock to my system completely locked up my knee and thigh muscles. Yet, I did not even require stitches.

I once fired a single .45 caliber hardball round on the move, quickly, and the effect on the target, struck in the ribs, was immediate. All motion ceased – and he fully recovered within a few weeks.

On another occasion I suffered a failure to stop with a much vaunted .45 ACP 200 grain JHP very much in the vogue in the early 1980s, the darling of gunwriters. It penetrated two inches and expanded to a full one inch. Nice but ineffective. The second round produced compliance.

I observed the effect of the .357 Magnum 125 grain JHP once over the top of my own sights. The effect was gruesome. A solid hit that produced a severe blood flow AND dramatic effect from the rear, including lung tissue thrown perhaps three feet.

As far as I’m concerned, there are only two answers to the question of stopping power: handgun or long gun. With a handgun, you need to be lucky. With a long gun, you start off lucky. With a concealed weapon, if you’re both good and lucky, then you’re really lucky. And more than a bit smart.

Where was I? Oh right: how much ammo do you need to keep on your person for a concealed carry gun? As the title of this pistoleros‘ polemic suggests, I’m thinking two spare magazines. Obviously, that recommendation yields a different total amount of bullets at your disposal depending on the weapon you schlep.

If you’re carrying a Wilson Combat X-TAC, two spare mags gives you 24 rounds of .45 ACP. If you’re toting a 9mm Springfield XD-M, two mags puts 57 rounds of 9mm within your grasp.

Let’s say you’re going up against three attackers. All other things being equal (and with any handgun caliber over 9mm they’re more equal than not), wouldn’t you rather have 19 bullets per aggressor or eight?

Let’s say there were only two scrotes, and you need 24 bullets to see off the threat, or 12 apiece. Given that the XD-M has 19 rounds in the gun, one magazine change (XD) or two (Wilson)? Lest we forget, if you had a revolver, that would be three reloads. And you’d be surprised how quickly you can blow through bullets.

When it comes to ammo capacity, concealed carry holders make calculated compromises. “I’m much better more confident shooting a 1911 than a 9mm and a .45 is a more bad ass bullet than the 9mm and if I know I only have eight shots I’ll be more focused on shot placement.”

It’s a perfectly understandable rationale: trading capacity for accuracy, comfort, confidence, concealability, etc. And one you should make. That needs making. Every gun has its pros and cons in all areas. Don’t let the perfect be the friend of your enemy. But bullet capacity should never be the red-headed step-child of carry gun selection.

I’m reviewing the Ruger SR9c, which has a 10-round magazine. For concealment purposes, the ten-round mag is ideal. If you carry the Ruger with two jumbo refills (17 bullets), you’re walking around with 34 rounds. That’s 23 bullets less than a fully-stocked XD-M owner, but 10 more than Mr. Fancy Schmancy 1911. G2g?

The bottom line: whatever caliber or gun you choose for concealed carry, make sure carrying capacity is a high priority in your final calculations. And whatever you choose to carry, carry extra ammo.

Common sense says that the more bullets is better than less bullets. If you need them, you’ll have them. If you don’t, you won’t. Can you imagine yourself at the end of a self-defense shooting saying “I guess I didn’t need all these bullets after all. I knew I should have left them at home.” I don’t think so.

And yet roughly half of the people I know who carry a concealed weapon don’t carry spare magazines. They’re stuck in the “a gun is better than no gun” mindset. Again, not enough bullets is not as good as too many. To underscore that point, a cautionary tale from the comments section of re: their review of the Kel-Tec P11 9mm:

Comment by: jwash111 | September 3, 2010

I am very pleased with both the physical weight of this handgun AND the trigger pull weight, since it is a DAO pistol. I purchased several extra 12-shot (yes, TWELVE-shot) magazines to carry in the gun, on my belt, for the glove boxes of all our cars, and for the home (we have other loaded guns available also). I also added a Pachmayr rubber grip sleeve to the gun AND a finger-extension floorplate from Kel-Tec for every magazine we own. This made the pistol very easy to take a firm grip with ALL fingers seated well.

I am a retired police detective sergeant, and fully understand the importance of being armed at all times. This is a gun I can carry in a pocket holster if necessary, but I virtually always carry it in a leather thumb-break belt holster with a vest to conceal it. I have vests for every season, from deep winter to hot summer days. A little similar to Semper Fidelis is my personal advice: (1) Always Be Armed; (2) Always carry a spare magazine or speedloader. I have seen too many cases where extra ammo was needed.

In one case, a citizen unloaded his handgun on his robber, killing him. He carried NO spare ammo. As he waited for police to arrive, a friend of the robber walked up, asked who shot his buddy, was told the citizen standing by, and then the friend promptly shot the citizen to death, as he stood with his empty gun and NO SPARE AMMO to reload for protection against just such events.

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  1. If you’re attacked by a single or multiple individuals, their motive is most likely robbery. Your typical robber/mugger is looking for an easy target (women, older people). If you draw a weapon, they are most likely to take a hike and live to rob an easier target. Do you honestly think a single robber or multiple robbers are going to get into a multiple-round gunfight with you just to take your wallet or car? No. They’ll flee and look for an easier target. You hear of robberies, muggings, etc. every day on the news. How many times have you heard of someone getting involved in a shootout requiring multiple rounds being shot? Answer: Police, military, gangsters, drug dealers, etc. Your average Joe Six-Pack who conceal carries will never need to draw their weapon, has an even less chance of having to fire the weapon in self-defense, and most certainly won’t ever be involved in a gunfight requiring multiple rounds.

    • It’s important not to overlook malfunctions and the general Murphy’s law related shenanigans that tend to occur during close quarters deadly force encounters as being the real number one reason for carrying spare magazines and backup guns. When everything around you is going horribly wrong all at that same moment, rarely is round count on your person or some statistics about round usage you might have read in a magazine somewhere the sole variable affecting your survival or lack-thereof. In the real world, far removed from the recreational shooting range, guns malfunction, magazines get ejected without your expressed written consent, and taking a round or several to the shooting hand/arm/pistol happens quite often. Those that are serious about surviving such an encounter carry reloads and extra tricks up their sleeves. Best of luck to those who don’t.

      • That’s my point: Outside of the military or law enforcement, your average person is never going to be involved in a “…close quarters deadly force encounter”. Those of you who have visions of being involved in a “firefight” requiring multiple magazines are simply fantasizing about living in a world where those with guns, ammo, survival skills, etc. are the ones with the power, rather than those with MBAs and stock options. You WANT the world to go to crap so the balance of power will shift to your side. Dream on.

      • So what malfunction occurs that only a spare mag can correct? If it’s a FTF, rack it and carry on. If it’s so bad that you need to drop the mag and do a combat load it’s probably the pistol and no amount of mags will correct it. In 40+ years of shooting (plinking, hunting, military [SOF], Law Enforcement, USPSA, 3 Gun and PRS I’ve never experienced a malfunction that a mag change fixed. Keep in mind this was during combat operations during multiple tours, officer fatal shooting, 3 Gun and multiple firearms courses . So let me ask….Do you two an spare vehicle just in case your primary vehicle malfunctions? Do you carry spare cell phone batteries in case your phone malfunctions? No, you don’t do these things because it would be silly and a pain in the arse. Extra mags are no different than the examples I given. As posted previously: As a individual who’s actually been in firefights military and as a LEO. I can honestly say when it comes to firearms, a spare in the civilian world just isn’t truly needed. Of all my engagements involving a sidearm 8 shots were all that was needed. We’re talking war zones and an officer shooting. In the past 5 years the most shots fired by a civilian in a shooting was 12. That was lion that got loose and was shot with a .32 revolver. 3-5 shots were the norm. The other reloads,5 total were revolvers and 5 shot autos. Face it civilian shootings are over before they happen and if someone begins to return fire they are over sooner. The industry has worked up scare tactics to get people to buy more ammo, mags and mag holders/carriers. I get amused when I see “THAT GUY” walking around with a G17/19 and 3 spare mags. WHY?!? Why would anyone need 45-60 rounds??? If you are preparing for the worst, carry an AR. OR why not two a vehicle behind the one you’re driving, just in case it breaks down during a firefight. People don’t do these things because they k ow it’s silly and not needed. Same applies to spare mags. If it makes you feel better carry one, but the fact of the matter is it just not required and certainly not 2 or more.

  2. If 5 or 6 shots isn’t enough I honestly doubt 24 will be. If you can’t or haven’t resolved the threat after one magazine I just doubt 3 or 4 or even 6 more are going to help you.
    A revolver with 6 shots. So far in 35 yrs and 20 something US states, I’ve witnessed a whopping zero gun fights. So 6 is 6 more than I’ve needed this far. But I’ve read that most “gun battles” end in 3.
    Everything else is that tactical BS. Might as well carry iodine tablets and all sorts of other crap for you what if crap.
    What if 3 men…. Yea well what if a meteor falls. It’s happened right? There are documented cases. You have the same probability of you needing more than 1 magazine.

  3. Here’s what has not been mentioned….what if you don’t have an AR in your car, and you suddenly get caught in a light riot situation ?

    It would be a hell of a lot more comforting knowing that you have 2 extra mags of ammo on your person.

    Noirmalcy bias is a dangerous thing. Prepare for the worse, better to have it and never need it, than to need it, and regret your bad decision as you wife and daughters are gang raped in front of your eyes before having their throats slit, all because there was ” no need” to carry extra ammo, or the “chances” of a scenario like that happening are “slim to none”

    • Riot…. bwhahaha!!!! Obviously you need to watch Blackhawk Down. Swarming such as in riots and in the movie are a lose lose situation. Extra mags are only a band-aid.

      • Guys like you who repeatably feel like they have to say they’ve done this and that… Honestly probably never done anything except play Call of Duty. Why does it matter if someone carries or doesn’t carry a spare. If someone carries a spare tire are you going to make fun of them too?

        • Retired SOF soldier with multiple deployments . When people give stupid comments I’m going to correct them. Situation dictates, but to carry a spare 24/7 is paranoia and just silly and to attempt to justify it by saying that in case of riots, is moronic.

          • What JS said. Typ people who worry about riots don’t even live in places where they’d likely occur (LA, Chicago, NY).
            I have worked in the Chicago Loop since 2008 and have “survived” with multiple G8 summits, marches, protest etc going on blocks from my office. So how do we “survive” these protest? We listen to the radio or go on Twitter and avoid the areas specified.
            Only once has a protest broke out somewhere not pre-designated (as permits are required), there were at least 6 news helicopters buzzing around like vultures, traffic came to a temp stand still, and my phone immediately re-routed me around the entire mess. This isn’t the 1990’s.

            And no, the only time I carry a spare mag is when I’m headed to the range.

  4. I can see both sides of the coin here. I wouldn’t normally carry extra, except for on Sundays when I’m pastoring 50 kids in a separate church building. It is interesting that the Sutherland Springs church shooting happened between the dates of these comments. The chances of this happening to you are slim, but that is also part of the reason we CC anyway. We hope to never have to pull the trigger – outside of a gun range. That shooter got off 450 shots with an AR. I realize a handgun is not what you would want to have in that situation, but I can’t exactly get away with hanging my AR behind the drum set on stage. So, I carry extra on Sundays. Unfortunately, that gun battle did not end with only a few shots. Again, statistics are in my favor that this will never happen to me, but I feel the need to be more cautious because of my circumstances. The rest of the week – I don’t take such precautions. The bottom line is to know your situation and make the wisest decision that you can.

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