WHICH CARTRIDGE (handgun) SHOULD I CHOOSE?
As the Texas Ranger suggested in part 1, with ammunition, bigger is sometimes better. Consider the Moro uprising of 1899-1913 (PDF). The Moros, Islamic revolutionaries in the Phillipines, fought a protracted jungle war with the US Army. This was America’s first real war against an Islamic enemy (save the Barbary Pirates in Jefferson’s time) and its first jungle war. The Moros were small in stature, being only a bit over five feet tall on average, but were fierce and fearless, willing to sacrifice themselves in mass ambush attacks. Many would drug themselves prior to combat, lowering their resistance to pain and increasing their homicidal rage.
At the time, the US Army’s issued revolver was a .38 caliber, which was quickly discovered to be wanting. The round nosed lead bullets fired at slow velocities might inflict wounds on a charging, drug crazed Moro that would eventually result in his death, but proved to be exceptionally poor in stopping such charges, even with multiple torso hits.
Desperate for a better gun/cartridge combination, the Army first tried several thousand German Lugers in 9mm. They were beautifully designed and made pistols, but they were complex and prone to malfunction in a jungle environment, and the FMJ 9mm rounds were no more effective at stopping the Moro. These were soon replaced with Colt revolvers in .45 caliber, and though less technologically advanced than the Luger and 9mm, the heavy, relatively slow bullets were effective in stopping Moro warriors.
In 1911 the Army adopted what is authentic American genius John M. Browning’s most enduring handgun design: The Colt 1911 semiautomatic pistol in .45 ACP. Large, heavy and reliable, the 1911 fired much heavier jacketed .45 caliber bullets that proved to be excellent man stoppers, however they did not see service until after the end of the Moro conflict. The preference for semiautos over revolvers as general issue weapons in the American military gained its first foothold. The model 1911 in various configurations and the .45 ACP have been very popular since and the 1911 is still used by elite U.S. forces. The Beretta M9 (military version of the 92F) 9mm pistol was adopted for general military issue in 1985, though circa 2015, the military is looking for a replacement.
Consider too the experience of Chuck Taylor, founder of the American Small Arms Academy the school from which I am proud to hold instructor’s certification. Many years ago when Taylor was the editor of SWAT Magazine, he conducted an experiment that remains controversial to this day. To better gauge the energy imparted to a human being by the various popular calibers, he donned a high threat level bullet resistant vest and was shot—at near point blank range–by a variety of weapons and bullets to gather data on the strength of bullet impact as felt by a human target.
Taylor wore metal trauma plates over the thick Kevlar of the vest, and it was on the trauma plates—they were frequently replaced to avoid the possibility of unintended penetration–that all rounds were stopped. Unfortunately, that test is not, to my knowledge, available on the Internet. However, I recall that of all the rounds tested, up to and including a .7.62 (.308) fired from a battle rifle, no round imparted greater felt impact energy, and by a considerable margin, than the pistol caliber .44 Magnum fired from—if memory serves—a revolver with a 6″ barrel.
So are we to conclude that a heavy handgun bullet (app. 240 grains) in .44 caliber is more effective than a heavy rifle bullet (app. 168 grains) in .30 caliber traveling essentially twice as fast? If bullet diameter and weight and velocity were all that mattered, that might be a reasonable assumption. However, there is no question that the .308 is a far more deadly round in actual combat where body armor is not the rule and where greater distance is common.
Taylor’s article on handgun choice at the ASAA website is certainly worthy of your time. His article on handgun ammunition stopping power is also valuable for its rational, informed, and entirely sensible approach to the issue.
This brings up one of the classic shooter controversies: 9mm vs. .45 ACP. The basic argument is which is best, a larger/heavier, slower bullet, or a smaller/lighter but faster bullet? Proponents on each side often engage in lengthy proofs in the print and Internet gun community fraught with righteous anger and disdain and broad swipes at the lack of manhood of opponents supported by scientifically derived (or not) ballistic tables and anecdotal evidence of horrendous failures of the cartridge they disfavor. The truth is any of the cartridges I mention here, properly placed, will be effective. Poorly placed, the most powerful handgun cartridge will have minimal effect.
Keep in mind that by “effective,” I mean capable of stopping a deadly threat within a reasonable span of time. There is no such thing as a Star Trek phaser that instantly incapacitates an attacker with a single energy strike on the torso. Human physiology and psychology are so complex that people receiving mortal wounds from a single bullet may well continue to move, run, jump and carry out an attack even though they will collapse and die within seconds to minutes. People who also receive non-fatal, single bullet wounds have been known to instantly collapse and cease all hostile actions. It is reasonable to train to deliver multiple shots to the center of mass, particularly when using handguns, as a means of having the best chance of ensuring a rapid stopping effect. As our military has discovered, it’s wise to do this with 5.56mm rifle bullets as well.
In truth, I have carried 9mm and .45 ACP cartridges–and the .40 S&W and .357 Magnum–and have never felt under-armed with either. In fact, I’ve been carrying the 9mm almost exclusively for the last seventeen years. There are indeed instances where people have been shot multiple times with either cartridge and have barely been affected, only to more or less fully recover later. On the other hand, there are many instances of attackers being completely and immediately stopped by single rounds. Generally, the .45ACP has a well-deserved reputation as a man-stopper and will, in objective, “scientific” measurements tend to outperform smaller, lighter calibers. Interestingly, the .357 125 grain JHP, when scientific measures are applied, often bests both. However, there are many other factors to consider.
A full-sized model 1911 has a standard seven-round magazine of .45ACP. It is an excellent, but large and heavy handgun and while some people do commonly carry it, it is hardly an optimal concealed carry choice for most people. In recognition of this reality, a number of companies produce many models of the 1911 with smaller proportions. Because the focus of this article is on concealed carry, following are the specifications of three Glock handguns, all subcompact models, and the Ruger LCR.
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