In mid-2019, I posted a piece called “The Caliber Wars,” which pointed out that being able to shoot well and properly place the bullet was more important than the particular cartridge that a person chose to use. A few of the responses suggested that the .22 LR has killed more people than any other round. While this may well be true—I haven’t adequately researched it—it brings up an important point about personal defense. As lawful gun owners, we shoot to stop the threat, not to kill someone.
Now, this may seem like I’m splitting hairs, but let me explain. Our purpose in using our firearms against a violent criminal attack is to stop the attack before innocents get hurt. If our response to a brutal attack causes the death of the attacker, that is too bad, but that should not be our goal.
Defensive bullets take effect due to tissue damage. Depending upon where they impact, shots can cause a severe drop in blood pressure that causes the attacker to be unable to function, or they affect the central nervous system, which turns everything off like flipping a light switch. The more a bullet expands, the more tissue it damages or, the better chance it has of impacting the central nervous system.
The .22 LR, due to its size, causes very little tissue damage by comparison. It may indeed cause attackers to cease to function, and it can certainly kill them. However, it may take quite a while for this to occur. Examining shooting incidents involving the .22 LR shows that this may take minutes, hours, and in some cases, days. During this time, the attacker may still be a serious threat to others. For this reason, I continue to suggest that the minimum cartridges that should be used for personal defense are the .38 Special and the 9 mm.
In my opinion, smaller, lighter calibers should only be used for personal defense when people have some physical issue that does not allow them to use a more powerful cartridge. Deep penetration and adequate expansion cannot be relied upon from the smaller calibers.
The .22 rimfire was one of the original metallic cartridges, with origins dating back to the 1850s. Naturally, it has been used in a large number of shooting situations. But the fact is that we have much better choices today. As I mentioned in my original article, defensive shooters are smart to use the most powerful cartridge that they can handle quickly and accurately. A defensive handgun should be loaded with the best quality defensive ammunition available. This is the best recipe for stopping the threat as soon as possible.
If an attacker dies in a defensive shooting, that’s unfortunate, but it isn’t the goal of an armed citizen to kill an attacker. What we should be focused on is stopping the threat—and stopping it right now.