Monday, November 17, 2008

FAQ on Self-Defense Handguns & "Stopping Power"

Hello. I frequently receive numerous questions concerning the "right" handgun for self-protection as well as requests for information on the "best" loads/calibers for "stopping" someone who is bent upon doing one harm.

I thought that it might be interesting to compile the most commonly asked questions I receive and answer them in an article, but let me hasten to add that I am not an expert and have never claimed otherwise. I am a retired police officer, police firearm instructor, tactical team leader, and have been seriously interested in what handgun bullets actually do to human aggressors for decades. I have seen felons shot and in each instance was seriously unimpressed with the actual incapacitation times required to truly render the bad guy harmless, be that through unconsciousness or death. Calibers involved ranged from .38 Special, 9mm, and .357 magnum through .45 ACP. Of those incidents, only two involved nonexpanding ammunition. The rest were with hollow points.

Over the years, it has been my privilege to visit with law enforcement/military personnel who had been forced to use handguns to "stop" another human being. More officers than soldiers actually had this experience since most soldiers are not issued pistols. I have not and will not disclose the names of those persons. Some of these contacts are recent while others are decades old. One faction of the "stopping power community" will declare any such information as "anecdotal" and useless because it is not documented. I honestly could not care less. It is not my goal, aim, or intention to be published in the scientific literature surrounding this topic. I truly respect the scientific method and understand its precepts from my college days as a double major in physics and mathematics, but have enough common sense to listen to those who have actually been in the urine stench atmosphere of life-and-death shootouts and close quarter combat. The laboratory approach to terminal ballistics is a fine thing and that I have great respect for. At the same time, results from the street are hard to just discount. Discussions with coroners have also occurred but on a less frequent basis. I find it interesting that when our military's scientific personnel engineer a new weapon, all that can be done in the lab to assure its reliability, etc, is no doubt done. Still, the weapon finds its way to a proving ground. Might not the street's real life conflicts be a direct parallel to the military proving ground?

I also hunt with a handgun and have since the early '70's. The largest animals I've repeatedly killed cleanly with one shot have been Texas whitetail deer. Most critters I've killed have ranged in size from the cagey and sly coyote to the tough-as-nails javelina, raccoon and fox. On these, I have been singularly unimpressed with solids used in any caliber from .38 Special to .45 ACP. (With .45 Colt using the large 255-gr. CSWC having a very wide meplat, things are much better. The .41 and .44 magnums with their smaller CSWC meplats apparently have the speed to make up for their slightly smaller flat compared to the .45 Colt.)

Fired from a Browning Mk III at about 12 yards, I hit this Texas whitetail deer's heart with a Winchester 127-gr. Ranger JHP +P+. The animal was instantly decked, unable to get up but weakly kicking for about 15 seconds. This was done under handgun hunting conditions and the shot taken only with absolutely perfect conditions. The life-or-death scenario we might find ourselves having to use deadly force in will allow for neither perfect conditions or much time for steady and sure aim. A hit like this against a dangerous felon would surely be a good hit, but not necessarily an instantaneous stop. Always expect the unexpected and don't just assume that because you're using premium ammunition that your hits will do what you want as quickly as you want.

While the shooting of animals versus felons emphatically is not the same thing, I think that there are similarities involved in "stopping" or the mechanism of collapse. How pertinent these are will always be open to debate.

With regard to "proper" defensive handguns, I personally will not go lighter than a .38 snub using expanding +P ammunition for a hideout or backup gun. The belt gun should be 9mm, .38 Super, .40 S&W, .357 SIG, or .45 ACP in my opinion. Those opting for revolvers should not go lighter than .38 Special +P.

I have little tolerance or use for the dogma so often associated with either of these related topics. I have yet to see and much less understand how some people seem to believe that such discussion is license for rudeness and all around boorish behavior.

Hopefully, you see where I'm coming from and that I leave it entirely to the reader to decide how much of this is worthwhile, on the money, or just dead wrong. It is not my aim to try and sway a single soul to my beliefs, only to provide what I believe to be true and offer them more "food for thought" in making up their own minds on these topics.

With this in mind, let's proceed to the questions.

1. What is your preferred number one defensive handgun?

For pocket, hideout, or BUG use, my preference remains the S&W J-frame snub in .38 Special and with +P expanding ammunition. Right now, the top choice for me is the Airweight S&W Model 642 or 442. I prefer it to the all-steel snubs and only carry "pre-lock" revolvers. I also choose the aluminum gun over the newer lighter scandium/titanium revolvers because I am not limited to jacketed ammo. Those revolvers lighter than the "Airweight" series cannot be used with lead bullets; they unseat themselves in recoil and lock up the gun. I have personally tried this and such has been the case in caliber .38, .357, and .44 Special. If the snub is to be worn on the belt, I'd go with a steel revolver with at least a 3" bbl, if there is a choice. With regard to semiautomatic handguns, I have no real desire for those lighter than 9x19mm nor having less than a 3" barrel…and much prefer longer barrels. My favorite all around 9mm pistol remains the lightly modified Browning Hi Power Mk III. From a strictly defensive viewpoint, I do favor the .45 ACP from a 5" 1911 pattern pistol. Using a two-hand hold, I note no real difference in handling ability, but when using one hand, I do slightly better with the Hi Power.

2. Why are you against the .380 and 9x18mm Makarov for self-defense?

This little Bersa Series 95 is a favorite of mine. I really like the gun's handling and concealment capabilities. I am not fond of the cartridge for self-protection but understand that more than a few folks find themselves able to more accurately shoot a .380 auto than a hot-loaded-but-lightweight-38-snub. Under some conditions, I have toted a .380 or 9mm Makarov for "serious purposes" but though I remained truly a staunch admirer of the guns, I never changed my belief that better defensive calibers can be had in similar size packages. I had rather face a poor shot, lousy tactician and undecided adversary who was armed with a .44 Magnum than a skilled shot, determined to survive and having but a .22! If you prefer the .380 or 9x18mm Makarov, use them; be competent, accurate and quick in their safe handling, but this is true for any caliber/gun combination to be used in the self-defense arena.

While I like and admire several of the handgun designs in these calibers, they are just a tad below what I trust to offer both expansion and sufficient penetration from any angle. Both are probably "OK" for straight on, unobstructed shots, but I have serious qualms about them if an arm, etc is struck by the bullet while on the way to the torso. I own several handguns in .380 ACP and 9mm Makarov, but they simply are not my first choices. I freely acknowledge that many folks find them easier to shoot well than the lightweight snub nose 38 revolver. At the same time, getting a good hit with a bullet that cannot get deep enough while expanding vs. one that can but has to remain 36-caliber just doesn't play well with me, particularly when either are almost below 1100 ft/sec and less than 100-grains in weight.

3. But if you HAD to go with a 380 or 9mm Mak, what would your choices be?

I would chose the traditional size pistol in these calibers. They offer enough sight radius to get the hit or hits and enough velocity to get bullet expansion using many JHP rounds. For carry guns, I would go with smaller than the Beretta double-stacks or the CZ-83. Right now, my first choice would be the Bersa Thunder, but only after testing it for reliability as well as POA vs. POI. If going with the Mak round, I would go with the Makarov handgun over all others in t his caliber. In the .380, my ammo choices would be Corbon DPX (Later runs of this ammo have reportedly had the Barnes X-bullet tweaked for slightly deeper penetration.), or Hornady XTP. With the 9mm Makarov, I'd go with either Hornady XTP or the Brown Bear 115-gr. JHP. The latter round can cause problems in some Makarov pistols as it has a slightly longer LOA than most JHP's in this caliber but it is my top pick. After I made a small correction at the bottom of my guns' feed ramps, it runs as slick as a gut in my three Mak pistols.

These expanded 115-gr. Brown Bear JHP's in 9x18mm expanded consistently for me when fired from a Makarov pistol into either super-saturated newsprint or water. Actual expansion/penetration tests when fired into calibrated 10% ballistic gelatin also show impressive expansion and penetration in the 11 to 12" range. Whether from Brown or Silver Bear, these loads are hard to find. Be sure that your pistol feeds them reliably before depending on them.

4. Which is more important, velocity or bullet weight?

It depends on the particular caliber being discussed in my view. For example, in my own informal testing I remain convinced that from the 4 to 5" barrels, the .45 ACP continues to do best with the traditional 230-gr. bullet. They usually strike at or very near POA compared to lighter, faster bullets and many JHP's are available. FWIW, my choices are Winchester Ranger JHP, Remington Golden Saber, followed by Federal Classic JHP. The Speer Gold Dot is favored by many and if it runs reliably in your pistol, it is a very good choice as well. It feeds nicely in some of my .45's but not all. The others run slick as a gut in all of them and with all magazines. In .38 Special I cling to the Remington 158-gr. LSWCHP +P. It expands more reliably than the Winchester counterpart from the 1 7/8" bbl in my experience, but either work fine from 3 or 4" tubes. Unless the bad guy is wrapped up like a 4-layer-of-denim tamale, the bullet expands. The two that I've seen recovered from felons expanded nicely, though not as evenly as when fired into homogeneous test media. FWIW, two new loads offer decent penetration and expansion. These are the Corbon 110-gr. DPX +P and Speer's "Short Barrel" 135-gr. Gold Dot +P. Though I am extremely fond of the DPX line of ammo, in this caliber, my second choice would be the Speer. In .357 magnum, I prefer bullets weighing 140-gr. upward if being used in service type revolvers. In the J-frame snubs, I currently use Corbon 125-gr. DPX followed by Remington 125-gr. Golden Saber. Both of these are mid-range loads offering more "whammy" than .38 Special +P, but less than the full power magnums. In the smaller guns it has been my experience that these lighter loads are distinctly easier to handle at speed and for repeat shots. I have verified this for myself using a timer. In the K-frames and up, the heavier loads work fine in practiced hands. In 9mm, my personal choices remain Corbon 115-gr. DPX +P and Winchester 127-gr. Ranger +P+. Going to standard pressure, I am pretty impressed with Speer 124-gr. Gold Dot and Remington's Golden Saber in the same weight. In the 147-gr. weight, I like the Speer Gold Dot, Remington Golden Saber, and Winchester's Ranger. Unlike the 1911 pattern pistol, most of the 9mm's I've tried run quite reliably with the Gold Dot. I guess you could say that I usually want as much velocity as I can get so long as bullet weight and penetration are not negatively affected. In small case/high pressure calibers like the 9mm, I do favor the 115-gr. DXP and several 124-127-gr bullets over the 147-gr. The .38 Special has more case capacity to be sure, but its lower maximum cartridge pressure seems best suited to bullets from 135 or 140 grains to the 158-gr. standard.

5. Do you prefer single or double-action automatics?

I personally prefer the Browning Hi Power and 1911 pattern pistols to all others for personal protection. They are simply what I am most used to and their "feel" and operation are permanently imbedded in my brain. I also prefer their consistent and light trigger pulls for each shot, first to last. Internally, they are less complex than the DA/SA automatic and more easily lend themselves to detail stripping. If their cocked-and-locked appearance frightens some, others find their easy to disengage manual safeties comforting should a firearm-ignorant felon manage to wrest the gun from them. A point-and-pull pistol such as the Glock, SIG-Sauer, etc can be fired by anyone. Having said this, I am not nearly so adamantly opposed to the DA/SA automatic or DAO, as are some other folks. In fact, I am becoming quite a fan of SIG-Sauer's super-light DAK system and have it on two forty-five's.

6. If you had to choose a traditional double-action auto, what would it be?

I get this one a lot and the reason is simple. Some shooters simply are not comfortable (yet) with Condition One Carry and others are not allowed to carrying other than a DA/SA or DAO autopistol for police duty. They may have some latitude in brands and calibers, but single-action is not one of them. I definitely do not see them as "the badge of the incompetent" as has been said by some. In .45 ACP, I'd go with the SIG-Sauer P-220. I have shot these quite a bit and found them to almost always be reliable and surprisingly accurate out of the box. While they do exhibit a bit more muzzle flip than the Commander-size 1911's, a timer has repeatedly proven to me that very nice "work" can be done with them in both slow and rapid-fire. For carry I prefer the standard version of the gun, which has the aluminum alloy frame. In 9mm, my choice is the CZ-75. This gun offers both DA/SA as well as cocked-and-locked capability. The gun points well for me and has proven reliable and accurate. I did not list the excellent SIG-Sauer P-226 simply because the gun does not "feel" that great to me, but it has proven an excellent weapon in my observation of many being used by officers over the years.

7. I shoot a 9mm better than a .45, but am afraid that it's not powerful enough for protection. What do you think?

In my book, "Defensive Handguns", I cover this and "stopping power" (as I see it & pretty extensively), but here are my thoughts, which are based on both personal observation and "anecdotal" accounts of shootings by the shooters. Though I do not believe that .45 ball is quite so grand a stopper as others, I do believe that it is better than 9mm FMJ. I have shot jackrabbits with both and neither stopped the stringy things unless hit in the forward third of the body and then death was several seconds in coming. When struck in the mid-section or guts and they ran several yards before collapsing…even with the legendary 45 FMJ. With its better loads, I believe that the .45 ACP offers an edge over the best 9mm loads, but I remain unconvinced that the differences are so day-and-night different as espoused by some. The deer I've shot with expanding bullets in 9mm, .38 Super, .357 magnum, .44 Special, and .45 ACP, exhibited no major differences in terminal effect. All dropped immediately and kicked a few seconds or jumped and ran a few yards before collapsing. (FWIW, I've seen the very same thing when using the moderately loaded .45 Colt and full-power .44 magnum. The main advantage I've seen with the heavy magnums is extended practical range over the calibers commonly associated with self-protection.) Using the better .45 ACP loads, I do believe that there is a ballistic advantage, but that does not mean that I think the 9mm with the better loads is ineffective. I use a 9mm as a primary house gun and often as my primary carry gun. I would not do this if I did not trust the capability of the 9mm loads already mentioned.

8. I've heard that a jacket hollow point going less than a thousand-feet-per second will not expand. Is this true or not?

It depends upon the bullet design and the velocity envelope it was designed to "work" within. A couple of decades ago, the 1000 ft/sec thing was generally true, but there are more than a few JHP bullets around today that emphatically do expand at less velocity. Examples include Speer Gold Dots in .45 ACP, .38 Special, as well as 147-gr. 9mm. Ditto Winchester Ranger and Remington Golden Sabers. Let's assume that a JHP weighs 125-grains and is intended for a full-power .357 Magnum commercial cartridge traveling at 1350 ft/sec from the muzzle. That same bullet may not expand if it impacts at say 800 ft/sec; the velocity may be below its minimal threshold velocity to begin expansion. A bullet designed to expand at 800 ft/sec will certainly expand at 1350 ft/sec, but may not hold together, but the old saw that a bullet must be traveling at least a thousand-feet-per-second is simply not true as a general statement with today's better expanding handgun bullets. If you hear this from someone, they are just not up to date on the realities of current expanding handgun ammunition.

9. I want a stainless steel pistol but am afraid of galling. Should I be?

In my experience, no. This "problem" stems from early stainless steel pistols introduced decades ago. With guns from quality manufacturers, today's stainless pistols use different alloys in the frame and slide to eliminate the problem…and have for years. I truly believe it to be a non-issue.

10. Does it hurt to leave pistol magazines fully loaded? Do I need to let them "rest"?

In my experience, the answer is no… so long as they are not compressed to a shorter length than they were engineered for. Mr. Wolff of the gun spring company bearing his name advises that it is the repeated compressing and decompressing of springs that causes them to weaken. In other words, a magazine that is loaded and unloaded many times will weaken before one that is simply loaded to capacity. I have experimented with this over the years leaving a couple of magazines from different make handguns fully loaded. These included the Browning Hi Power, the Glock 26/17, various 1911 magazines, as well as the CZ-75 and Walther PP in both 380 and .32 ACP. Ditto all Beretta handguns from .25 ACP to 9mm. In all of these cases the magazines being used were from the maker or were made by quality manufacturers such as MecGar, Wilson, McCormick, etc. I definitely have seen spring weakening to the point of unreliability with some aftermarket magazine makers. Most of these were with the nameless "high capacity" magazines that flooded the market before the "high capacity feeding device" ban enacted in the dark days of 1994. The only quality magazines I've ever seen weaken when left fully loaded for approximately two years were one for the HK MP5 submachine gun and one Colt-marked 30-shot magazine for the AR/15-M16 type rifles. Others from the same makers left loaded for the same time-period worked fine.

11. I do not trust automatics and prefer a revolver for a house gun. What would you choose?

I do use revolvers for such purposes and am happy with .38 Special, .357 magnum, .44 Special, and .45 Colt. The magnum is loaded with the mid-power Corbon 125-gr. DPX. My mid-size .44 Special Taurus Model 431 is loaded with CCI/Speer 200-gr. Gold Dots while I would choose Corbon's DPX load for an N-frame S&W.

I honestly believe that the 3 or 4" 38 Special remains a very viable choice for both new as well as seasoned shooters. I am not ashamed in the least to admit that one of my most trusted defense revolvers remains a 4" .38 Special loaded with Remington 158-gr. LHP +P.

12. I know that you use the lightweight 38 snub as a carry gun. My wife wants a simple handgun for home protection when I am away. Would this be a good choice?

In my opinion, no. The very characteristics that work for the snub as a carry gun work against its being comfortable to shoot or relatively easy to shoot accurately. Despite some gun store salesmen saying otherwise, I truly believe that the relatively inexperienced shooter (male or female) is better served by a mid-size, all-steel handgun for home defense. It does not need to be super small for this purpose and will reduce felt recoil and offer better practical accuracy as well. My wife is not a shooter. What works best for her is an S&W 3" K-frame loaded with Remington 38 Special 158-gr. LSWCHP +P. By the same token, a 5" all-steel 1911 will have less felt recoil and should at least point better for many than the super compact, lightweight pistols of that breed.

In my opinion, the 3 or 4" service size revolver makes much more sense for use as a house or car gun than the lightweight snub nose revolver in the same caliber. This Model 64 was bought used at a reasonable price. It has proven dependable in the extreme and can serve very well in the area of self-protection. It is also loads of fun at the range. Its size and weight make it just about "right" for many shooters and felt recoil is way less than with the lighter, more compact snubs, which also usually sacrifice one round.

13. I want a match barrel for my defense gun. Which do you recommend?

Unless the existing barrel is defective, I have very seldom seen a quality handgun that was inaccurate enough not to be used for self-defense in the private-citizen-versus-the-bad-guy type scenario. For us, distances involved are usually going to be marked by single digits with the unit of measurement being feet, not yards, but to answer the question, in the 1911 I'd go with Kart. In the Hi Power and others, BarSto.

14. What do you think is the very most important characteristic of the defensive handgun?

Reliability is first by a wide margin in my book followed by caliber/load and practical accuracy. (This refers to how easy it is for the individual user to competently shoot a particular handgun.)

15. Which defense caliber do you trust the most and why don't you just use weapons in that caliber?

I don't "trust" any of them. Compared to most rifle rounds and shotgun loads (at close range), handguns offer a ballistically weak payload in my observation. I do not trust any commonly accepted defensive handgun caliber to deliver the all elusive "one shot stop" against a human aggressor unless it destroys the brain or cuts the spinal column above the heart. It is true that many folks drop to a single shot but keep in mind that people fall down for a couple of reasons: They have to due to physical damage or because they want to for psychological reasons. The choice of the "right" defense handgun should be based on several factors in my opinion. These include the gun's "shootability" for the individual for one. Caliber and load are but one part of the equation. In whatever caliber I use, it is my view that we're better served by picking an effective load and then practicing rather than worry so much about the ne plus ultra stopping power caliber. (I begin to believe that a cartridge has sufficient "stopping power" with .223 and certain expanding rounds and am happy as a clam with .308 using expanding ammo…but understand that even these can fail to deck the bad guy…just less often it seems. I carry a defensive handgun or handguns because they are portable and with me 24/7 for the unexpected.

16. What do you consider the minimal acceptable penetration depth for a protection handgun round?

I pretty well believe the often-quoted 12" is fine. Some prefer more penetration, but I think that this depth should work on most full-grown men from about any angle. That said, it should be noted that I've received several reports of aggressive-expanding ammunition that repeatedly makes the bad guys drop with decent hits. Most of these penetrate around 9 to 10" in calibrated 10% ballistic gelatin. Two examples are Corbon's 9mm 115-gr. JHP +P and the same company's .45 ACP 185-gr. JHP +P. Go figure. One of my best friends used this load against a human aggressor with very dramatic and instantaneous results.

17. I have seen the 148-grain .38 Special wadcutter recommended as a top standard pressure load for the .38 snub. Do you agree?

I do not. Most of the commercially loaded rounds I've chronographed have been well under 600 ft/sec when fired from a snub! As I understand it, the recommendation comes because most of the .38 +P loads fired from a snub do not reliably expand in gelatin after passing through intermediate barriers such as denim. So, why put up with the extra recoil and wear on the gun? As others have said, there is no free lunch with handgun calibers. What if the target is not wearing denim? The expanding bullet will probably be more effective than the slow wadcutter, assuming equal hits. Even when the often-used LSWCHP +P doesn’t expand, it frequently flattens or deforms to mimic the wadcutter and smacks at 800 ft/sec or so. As I've mentioned in the past, I spoke with a man who had been shot through the heart with a .38 wadcutter. He was sitting on a curb and didn't feel very good to be sure, but he could talk and could've used a gun. That he died 4 minutes later is not the point; the load was simply not effective in that statistically insignificant incident. Unless a person has physical limitations or simply cannot handle recoil, I would not go with the .38 wadcutter at target velocities. Were I personally faced with having to do so, I'd prefer a .380 or 9mm Makarov with ball in this power range; I have more shots in an easier to shoot handgun. If using the .38 snub, it is my belief that the top loads are required and these simply have more recoil than the much more lightly loaded wadcutter. When I opted to go with the snub 38 as an "always" gun for the pocket, I did so understanding that this breed of revolver required frequent practice. I still believe that. With its limited 5-shot capacity (in most cases) and what I believe to be minimal power for protection, being able to get the hit(s) requires some dedication and serious practice.

18. I want a small automatic for carry and prefer 9mm. What would you choose?

The super compact 9mm's don't interest me all that much so as a result, I've tried only three extensively. These were the Kahr K9, the Kahr P9, and the Glock 26. The K9 was reliable and accurate. I had trouble with the P9. If using +P 9mm ammo, the slide would frequently lock to the rear with ammo still in the magazine. In all fairness I must admit that mine was an early production P9 and the problem may have been solved by now. Both of the Kahr pistols gnawed holes at the base of my shooting hand thumb. This was due to the way my hand fit the gun and may not be a problem for others. For me, the Glock 26 has worked reliably, is easy to shoot, and continues to prove itself durable. I continue to be surprised with how easy it is to get good defense-type hits at speed with the thing considering that I do not find it particularly comfortable. At this moment, I'd cast my lot with the Glock 26, but remind you that I've not tried this genre of compact 9mm's very much. It is the only one I can recommend based on personal observation.

19. I've been told to use ball ammo only in my self-protection pistols because it is more reliable. Is this true?

Maybe, but I've seen autos that would feed certain JHP's and not ball! In my opinion, unless one lives where round nose FMJ is mandated by law or personal choice, the defensive handgun should be reliable with most JHP's. If I have a handgun that is only reliable with ball, it usually goes the way of the goose or is not used for self-protection, usually the former.

20. If choosing a gun for the all-important task of self-survival, shouldn't I go with the best or most expensive?

This can be argued from either viewpoint, but in my experience a decent quality handgun, not necessarily the most expensive, offers about all of the qualities one can ask for in a protection handgun. It doesn't have to be the particular company's flagship model; it does have to be reliable.

21. I think I want a 1911 in .45, but it seems that this design is not reliable. Are they?

In my experience, the design is reliable, but its cutthroat competition production rate sometimes is not. The result is a sound design that is poorly executed in the finished product. The 1911 pattern pistol remains a most popular gun today and everybody and their dog seem to cranking them out to meet demand. I've seen some "entry level" 1911's that worked great and others that choked repeatedly. Sadly, I've seen this not only at the lower end of the price range, but at the middle and top as well. Based on my own experiences, if the gun is in spec, it will run reliably. Many times, if you know what to do, correcting problem guns is a snap and they become examples of reliability in the extreme. Though this is a very favored type of handgun for me and countless others, the rapid production pace and methods seen today can result in a less than stellar 1911. That said, I believe that the reliable 1911 can be found without spending thousands as some claim. I've "built" two from the ground up and they are reliable and accurate, but I paid extremely close attention to detail and dimension. If a layman such as myself can do this, I'd think the major manufacturers could too.

22. I much prefer the revolver in .357 Magnum for protection but am concerned with its only holding six shots. Should I go with the high-capacity automatic?

In the man vs. bad guy or two or three, I think the revolver can hold its own IF and ONLY IF the shooter can. There is no ammo to waste and if the dudes are determined not to stop unless forced to, every single shot is important. In general, I believe that we run out of time before ammunition and that our first shots are probably the most important ones. It's my view that the revolver shooter should really practice reloading as well as the use of cover, concealment, etc…which we all should. If one has reason to fear dedicated gang assaults, but still doesn't feel comfortable with the automatic, I'd carry at least one more revolver, ideally one chambered for the same cartridge as the primary and one that would use the same speed loaders.

23. I've been told that a .22 makes a good defense round because the little bullet bounces around within the body and does a lot of damage. Is this true?

I don't know. It could happen I suppose but most of the people I have seen shot with .22lr handguns were not stopped; they were injured and some seriously, but they didn't have to stop from immediate physical damage. The majority did opt to leave the scene rather quickly but one didn't and severely injured the man who shot him by beating him nearly to death with his own revolver. I personally do not consider the .22 a viable defense caliber. That it has been used successfully as a quiet killer in suppressed firearms doesn't translate to effective stopper. Its use in assassinations by certain military personnel or criminal contract killers is done with stealth surprise and head shots. Any handgun caliber can kill with a torso shot, but it simply may not stop the individual for several minutes vs. seconds with a more appropriate caliber.

24. What about Glocks? Are they safe? I've heard that they can explode.

The Glock pistols, particularly those in their original 9mm seem to be about as reliable as a pistol can be in my experience. I find them reasonably accurate in the G17, 19, and 26 out to about twenty or twenty-five yards. I do admit to not being able to shoot these pistols as well at extended distances, but for most of us, extended distances are not a significant concern in self-defense scenarios. I have seen 3 Glocks in which cases from factory ammo let go and the often-discussed "kaboom" occurred. These were in the Glock 22 40-caliber in each instance that I saw. It should also be noted that this was shortly after the forty hit the market. Such incidents seem to have declined and I'm not convinced that it is an issue anymore. Still, I personally prefer the 9mm Glocks to the rest. My Glock 17 sees "duty" as a house gun and is sometimes carried concealed as a belt gun. Glocks have near fanatical devotees and equally adamant detractors. I fall in the middle; to me they are decent pistols that have a well-deserved reputation for reliability right out of the (plastic) box in most instances. For me, the grip angle is not the greatest, but I've learned it and the gun should serve well as a protection piece if I do my part. Mine is loaded with Winchester 127-gr. +P+. Because of their polygonal rifling, Glock warns against the use of lead or cast bullets. Leading can build up and pressures can be increased it seems. I've shot lead reloads in my Glocks, but no more than 200 before I thoroughly cleaned the barrel. For folks interested in shooting lead, match grade barrels with conventional rifling are available from more than one manufacturer. The Glock can serve well in my view, but it is very unforgiving of poor gun handling: Especially with the Glock, keep the trigger finger off of the trigger until ready to shoot. Also make sure that if the holster has a retaining strap or device that it cannot inadvertently get into the trigger guard. If it can or does, the pistol can fire when being reholstered.

This Glock 17 has proven to be both reliable as homemade sin and plenty accurate enough for any self-defense role one is likely to envision. These guns, like single-action autos are not very tolerant of improper handling. In competent hands, these things are capable of surprisingly good performances.

25. Some say that we should use only one type of handgun if we carry a handgun for defense. Do you think this is right?

I do not think it is wrong, but neither do I think it is universally right, either. Let me explain. When firing under calm "range conditions" we are under no stress. Firing in competition adds some, but nothing like what can and does occur in an in-your-face-do-or-die-right-now situation where some dude is determined to kill you. This is when a person can completely forget about accuracy or disengaging a thumb safety, etc. For this reason some advise using a single type action so that with repeated use, its operation is second nature and can be done instantly without having to consciously think about it. If a person shoots only for self-protection and is not really into shooting all that much, this is probably a pretty good idea. In my own case, I am a certifiable firearm enthusiast and shoot all types of handguns, but the ones I shoot most are single-action automatics. This has been true over 3 decades and manipulating the thumb safety just "happens" and has never been an issue on the street. Often times when shooting at speed but using a revolver or a Glock, etc, I still find myself disengaging a thumb safety that is not there! It hurts nothing, but the reverse might very well not be true. In other words, let's say that my primary handgun used for years is a point-and-pull handgun like a revolver, Glock, SIG-Sauer, etc and I decided to start toting a Browning Hi Power after but a few weeks familiarization. If the balloon went up, it might very well be that I'd revert to just point-and-pull rather than disengaging the thumb safety on the way to the target and such an error could be fatal. I cannot speak for everyone on this issue, but this is the way I see it. I do think that if one opts to use two different types of automatics having external safeties they should both operate the same way. In other words I wouldn't suggest carrying a 1911 with which "off safety" requires a downward push one day and an S&W 9mm requiring an upward push to disengage the safety, the next.

26. Do you use 7 or 8-round .45 magazines in your 1911's?

I prefer the 7-shot magazines. The reason is simple. They are reliable all of the time in all of my 1911 pattern guns. The 8-round magazines I've used are reliable most of the time in some of my pistols, but not all. For me, the problem usually occurs with the last shot failing to feed or holding the slide back. That said, I've had the best luck with McCormick and Wilson 8-shot magazines, but am in the process of converting all of my magazines to seven-shooters using the Tripp CobraMag upgrade kit. In 8-shot magazines other than Tripp's, capacity goes to 7 shots. If used in any 7-shot magazine, capacity remains seven. This inexpensive upgrade has made even problem magazines paragons of virtue in several different makes of 1911 pattern pistols.

Hopefully, the preceding has been of some interest and use to the reader. Some will agree with all or some of it while others will not. As I mentioned at the beginning, it is not my aim to sway anyone's point of view. Each of us bases reality on what some call individual "life filters" but what I've written here is the truth as I see it.

Believe it or not, my primary interest in handguns doesn't focus on self-defense. I see them as interesting works of art and am drawn to shooting them like the proverbial moth to a flame. At the same time, I realized long ago that the handgun can be a lifesaver and that self-protection aspects should be considered by those willing to take on the responsibility for their own well being. It is an unfortunate reality that in today's world, it is necessary (in my opinion) to be able to defend one's self and loved ones against unprovoked criminal attack both at home and elsewhere. For that reason I remain armed 24/7 whenever possible and am distinctly uncomfortable when I am not.