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  1. #1
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    Calibers For Self Defense - Suarez


    Invariably one of the things asked by a prospective gunman, right after he decides which type of pistol to buy and carry, is what caliber should he get. In fact, you would be hard pressed to pick up any gun-related magazine and not see at least one article relating to ammunition and caliber choices.

    Some instructors are also very caliber-focused, thinking that anyone who does not bring a 45 to class is unarmed. One student of mine, a serious operator, who carries a 9mm was recently told that his 9mm was simply a 45 set on "stun". (The commentator however, declined to be stunned.). So what should you do when trying to decide on calibers/loads, etc.? In a previous article we discussed the attribute of magazine capacity. Here we will discuss the characteristics of each caliber and give you some information so you can make up your own mind.

    Issue Number One - Shootability.

    I had a student come to class with a Glock 29 in 10mm, loaded with the most powerful loads he could stuff in the gun. My philosophy is that students should bring whatever they want to carry, and that was his choice. The only problem was this gent weighed about 125 pounds, and was arthritic in both wrists. To make matters worse, he'd bought 500 rounds of the heaviest most powerful T-Rex stopping loads he could find in the caliber. To make a long story short, he ended up shooting the rest of the class with my Glock 17. That caliber/weapon combination may have made a fine choice for a larger and stronger man, but for him it was totally unusable.

    The caliber choice must be first predicated on the reality of your physical condition. Can you shoot the thing? Can you train with it? If you wince in pain every time you fire that Dino-killer in training, you will never be able to use it well in a fight. Be honest with your self. Let your intellect and not your ego select your caliber.


    Issue Number Two - Delivery Envelope

    Some students in my classes live and work in certain social circles where the pistol must not only be concealed, it must be covert. This means that weapon selection is as important as anything else. For them, an HK USP may be a fine weapon, but they will never carry it. Selecting a smaller weapon that will always be there may be a better choice.

    There are small, large caliber weapons out there, but remember Issue Number One - how shootable is it for you. My friend with the super-charged Glock 29 was trying unsuccessfully to kill both issues with one choice. If you must carry a smaller weapon, and shootability issues are present, do not feel impotent because you had to decrease caliber size.

    Issue Number Three - Availability.

    We are entering a season again where the cost of ammo, and its availability may become problematict. Moreover, natural disasters and riots can occur at any time. We are assuming that you will have your CCW pistol at all times as a first line of defense until you can obtain something else. Now, in the event you cannot get to your survival stash, will you be able to resupply from regular sources?

    If you carry a .357 SIG, or a 45 GAP, or any other new, non-mainstream caliber, do you think you will find the ammo you need? When I travel, I carry a Glock 17 in 9mm. Why? Because if my ammo does not arrive with my luggage (the illusion of security at work again), I can always find 9mm...even in the jungles of central America. Perhaps not a huge issue for some of you but still something for consideration.

    Issue Number Four - Effects On Target

    Please take a few moments to peruse the photo at the beginning of this article. It was sent to me by a student. It is being discussed in this thread on warrior talk. Notice how similar all the handgun rounds perform?
    I remember hearing once that "one hit from a 1911 in 45 ACP will drop a man 19 times out of 20". Now, seriously guys - the street and the battlefield does not corroborate this. Maybe back int he 1950s when effective anti-personnel ammo was in as short supply as conservative values in the RNC, the 45 ACP may have been the choice. But this is 2009, and things have changed a bit.
    Listen folks - hundreds of thousands of people, both good guys and bad guys, have been killed with pistol shots in the last few decades. I will bet the majority of those have been shot with 9mm. Why do I say that? Because I travel all over the world to teach good guys how to prevail in gunfights and invariably the caliber of availability is 9mm.

    "How on earth do they get past the fact that the 9mm is anemic and will bounce off a leather jacket?", someone may ask. Truth be told, they shoot the bad guys until they either fall down or run away. Usually it is the former. Its only here in the USA that we are so fixated on this issue of one or two shots (the legendary "hammer" or "double tap"). Moreover, today, due to advances in ballistics science and bullet design, and traditionalists to the contrary, there is virtually no difference between pistol calibers. The only real choices are whether the pistol fits you, and how much ammo do you want to carry.

    We may hear all manner of arguments about the one caliber or another being the only true choice, but I will tell you that no single caliber will be the best choice for everyone. Heck, some people are better served with a caliber like 22 LR due to physical limits from advanced age or injury!

    All calibers can fail, and have failed. When you look at the issues scientifically a 9mm or a .38 Special is approximately .357. A 40 S&W is 10mm. And a 45 ACP is 11mm. So could it be that we have basically one or two little millimeters separating "T-Rex Stopper" from "Merely Adequate", or "Anemically Inadequate"? Yes that is exactly right.

    Let me put it in a different perspective. A student of mine who works for a narcotics Unit in the south recently reported in. He told me that he and his guys had gotten in a gunfight with a violent drug dealer. Our student shot the bad guy once with a shotgun loaded with Federal Tactical Slugs. (Slugs incidentally are about .72 caliber and are suggested as anti-bear insurance in Alaska). The shotgun slug entered the right side of the bad guy's chest from about the 2:00 and exited through the back at about the 8:00.

    Nice shot. However, the bad guy not only kept fighting, but stole a car and evaded the pursuing police officers into a wooded area. A week later, the bad guy's attorney arranged for him to turn himself in. He was alive and well, albeit injured. Does anyone want to tell me how deadly their pistol round is now?

    So select the size of your pistol first and foremost. Base it on what you need to carry it 24-7-365. That means all the time. Select a caliber and loading that is easily obtained, and shootable for you. And finally, train to hit and keep hitting until the threat has gone away (one way or the other). A hit with a 9mm is far better than a marginal hit or a miss with a caliber you cannot control. And in the end - the effect will probably be the same.

    What do I carry? I carry a Glock 17 with 17 rounds of Corbon DPX ammo in 9mm.

    Gabe Suarez

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  2. #2
    Expert JByer323's Avatar

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    Good post, sir.

  3. #3
    Certified Glock Nut shooter521's Avatar

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    As much as I want to *not* like Gabe Suarez, he sure seems to say a lot of stuff that makes sense.

  4. #4

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    But... but what are we going to argue endlessly on the internet about now?

  5. #5
    Grandmaster Scutter01's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by antsi View Post
    But... but what are we going to argue endlessly on the internet about now?
    I imagine something will present itself.


  6. #6
    Expert jsgolfman's Avatar

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    Good post. I've always operated under the premise that you should carry whatever you can accurately get to your target under duress. If that means .380, then so be it.
    A man is no less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new master once in a term of years.

    Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.

    Originally Posted by badwolf.usmc
    Be a man and stand up for what you believe, if not then sit down and STFU.

  7. #7
    Da PinkFather jedi's Avatar

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    Oh so true and while we (90% of INGO readers) may never be in a war zone I think I will take the .45 over any other caliber and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE and if need be build the muscles in the arms/hands/fingers of those that may be with me if they will be carrying this type of weapons as well.

    The M1911 Pistols Organization Forums Site - M1911A1 vs. Beretta 9mm in Iraq. An option?

    The US Amry moved to the 9mm for political/logistical reasons to keep NATO happy. Yes both rounds just like any other round and even a little rock flung from a sling shot can kill. However, bigger is always better in this type of situation.

    So "Gabe" can blab all he wants. If I was the DI you be doing PT till I'm blue in the face to get your muscles trained to handle the 1911 end of story!

  8. #8

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    Very good read. I will be getting a 9mm soon hopefully, but not becausf of the article but because ammo is about 60% cheaper than 45.

  9. #9
    Expert JByer323's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by antsi View Post
    But... but what are we going to argue endlessly on the internet about now?
    Glocks suck.

  10. #10
    Plinker Pull Trigger, Goes Bang's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by jsgolfman View Post
    Good post. I've always operated under the premise that you should carry whatever you can accurately get to your target under duress. If that means .380, then so be it.
    I can put .380 bullets pretty close to where I want them just about every time, at least on the range. 9mm ... not so much, although I continue to shoot and work on my technique. And yet I carry a 9mm pistol because I'm told that's the minimum acceptable self-defense round.

    I think I need to rethink something here.

    (Btw, I shot .40 S&W for the first time this weekend and did much better than my usual 9mm score. Go figure.)

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