WHICH PISTOL CALIBER FOR SELF DEFENSE?

Four different people come to four defensible conclusions
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Investigator J.R. Kesinger’s plainclothes duty gun is a full-size Glock 22, loaded with Speer .40 S&W Gold Dot. Springfield Armory’s EMP (below) is a petite, lightweight 10-shot 9mm.

One of the staple questions of gun magazine readers and Internet gun enthusiasts is, “What’s the best caliber for self-defense?” I found myself recently in a district attorney’s office, chatting with the DA and two of his investigators. The coats were off, and I noticed we were each wearing different caliber pistols.

District Attorney Matt Bingham was wearing Springfield Armory’s neat little EMP, in a Fobus paddle holster he could easily slip off his belt and lock in his desk. EMP stands for Enhanced Micro Pistol, a scientifically size-reduced 1911 from the fertile mind of Springfield’s chief gun designer, Dave Williams. It’s a sweet-shooting little thing, holds 10 rounds of 9mm Parabellum, and conceals remarkably well. That last element is important to someone like Matt, who has to keep his weapon discreetly concealed under a business suit. While most prosecutors around the country are authorized to carry guns, this fact is not widely known and armed prosecutors sometimes “frighten the horses.”

A gun-wise guy who has studied many shootings coming across his desk, Bingham appreciates a largecaliber handgun, but is also convinced a 9mm pistol with the right ammunition can be perfectly adequate for defensive needs. After all, 35,000 or so NYPD officers carry 9mm autos, and complaints are rarely heard about the caliber there since the department switched to 124-grain Speer Gold Dot +P Hollowpoints.

The 9mm is, however, generally recognized as being very “ammo specific” in terms of “stopping power.” Some 9mm rounds clearly work better than others. One tailors the tool to one’s needs. Aware his heavily populated office or a courthouse hallway could be in the background if he ever needed the pistol for real, Bingham chose to load his 9mm with RBCD ammunition. A 60-grain frangible bullet, designed by the late, famed modern gunfighter Jim Cirillo, the 9mm RBCD round is loaded to just over 2,000 feet per second velocity, delivering dynamic tissue damage with reduced penetration and ricochet risk.

Accurate and reliable, the SIG P220 chambers the reassuring .45 ACP round.

The .45 Ain’t No Jive

Like all the investigators in Bingham’s office, Todd Thoene was a street cop before. In both environments he learned to appreciate the accuracy and reliability of SIG-Sauer pistols, and the confidence-building power of the .45 ACP round. Accordingly, the pistol riding daily in his thumb-break hip holster is a Sig P220.

His .45 ACP carry load of choice is the 185- grain Winchester Silvertip. A mature design, the Silvertip has always worked well in this caliber. I know of an East Coast medical examiner who pulled 30 or so .45 Silvertips out of human bodies and claimed never to have found one that failed to expand. This load has a bit less penetration than a typical 230-grain JHP and much less than a ball round — a comforting thing in those crowded courtroom and courthouse hall environs.

J.R. Kesinger, street-wise lawman, began his career when detectives carried snubnose revolvers instead of service size sixguns. Then and now, he reasoned, a suit wouldn’t put him in any less danger than a uniform once the shooting started, and as a plainclothesman he prefers to carry a full-size service pistol. His choice is a Glock 22C, caliber .40 S&W, worn in a concealable SERPA holster from Blackhawk to combine quick draw with snatch-resistant security.

Springfield Armory’s EMP is a petite, lightweight 10-shot 9mm.

A .40 Can Be Sporty

Remembering when brother officers argued over which was better, a 16-shot 9mm or an 8-shot .45, J.R. figures a 16- shot .40 gives him the best of both worlds. An integral compensator (the “C” in “22C”) reduces muzzle jump, and a LaserMax sight under the barrel gives him one more edge in the unpredictable circumstances gunfights always bring. His carry gun’s magazines interchange with those of the standard model Glock 22 holstered on his tactical vest next to his department-issue Bushmaster AR-15.

J.R. is partial to Speer Gold Dot ammo. A 180-grain bonded Gold Dot HP in .40 travels at about 985 fps, comparable to the 1,000 fps Winchester claims for its 185-grain Silvertip .45. With a 165-grain bullet, .40 Gold Dot hits 1,140 fps, only about 50 ft-lbs of energy short of the standard 158-grain .357 Magnum revolver load at 1,240 fps. Either .40 Gold Dot load does well in the FBI gelatin testing protocols.

Mas likes this Maglio-customized Glock 33, and is impressed by its performance with Remington 125-grain Bonded Golden Saber .357 Sig ammo.

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My own carry gun was a baby Glock chambered for the .357 SIG round and tuned by David Maglio. These petite pistols disappear under tailored suits. The little Glock 33 holds nine cartridges in the standard maximum concealment magazine, a 10th in the firing chamber, and an 11th if you want to add a magazine extension. The most proven load in the caliber is a 125-grain JHP at 1,350 fps. It has proven to be a devastating “manstopper” over almost a decade and a half. Mine was loaded with Remington Bonded Golden Saber in this weight, which has proven especially accurate in my Glocks in this caliber. This Remington load averages 1,331 fps out of my stubby G33, and 1,433 fps from the full-size Glock 31. By comparison, 125-grain Gold Dot .357 Magnum recently averaged 1,376 fps from a 3″ barrel concealed-carry size S&W Model 66 revolver at my range.

I’ve known lawmen who carried the 10mm, a defense round with great potential, too. I know folks who are comfortable with a .380, though it’s a bit light for my taste. And we haven’t even touched on the various revolver calibers. While we’d probably all agree a .25 ACP is too feeble for the task, and a .50 Desert Eagle passes the point of diminishing returns in terms of size, weight, and recoil. I guess the lesson is different people with different needs will find different answers to the question: “What’s the best pistol caliber for self-defense?” The best answer to the question is probably, “The caliber best fitting your needs, in a reliable gun you shoot well and are likely to always have available when you need it .”

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