Caliber: The Unending Debate

Debates about caliber have a serious tendency to degrade into arguments, which have an even greater tendency to become out-and-out verbal brawls involving various insults to one’s manhood and overall intelligence. Gun owners tend to fall on one side of the spectrum or the other: those who believe the 9mm is a more than capable self-defense round, and those who do not. Yes, it’s true that there are sub-categories involved, such as those who passionately defend the .40 cal, those who refuse to believe in the efficacy of anything smaller than a .45, and those who think a gun chambered in .380 ACP will provide all the power needed to halt an assailant in his tracks. Today there are factors that didn’t exist even 10 years ago, let alone 15 or 20 years back, and the great caliber debate is alive and well as it more than likely always will be.

Many proponents of the 9mm like to state the obvious: ballistics have changed drastically over the years, making what was once a less-than-effective round far more capable of doing real damage. According to the FBI, the magic ballistic year falls somewhere around 2007, but there have been too many changes over the last couple decades to choose just one as The Moment It All Changed. Everything has changed from powders to casings to bullets – remember when hollow point rounds failed to expand reliably, earning them a fairly horrible reputation? And even when they did expand, it was often incomplete or such a large amount of mass was lost that they were all but useless? There may have been many, many failures in early expanding bullets, but they’ve improved a great deal over the years, and if ammunition manufacturers had given up in those early days rather than persevering, we wouldn’t have the truly awesome and totally capable defense rounds we do today.

There’s another common line when it comes to those staunchly defending the 9mm. The 9mm creates less felt recoil, they say, which is certainly true, but it also costs less money to keep a 9mm fed, and their magazines tend to hold a larger number of rounds. This is a large part of the logic used by the U.S. Army for arming soldiers with 9mms – they’re cheaper, and they hold more ammo. The FBI recently decided to return to the 9mm after having been the agency responsible for the creation of the .40, and one reason given was the simple fact that .40 caliber rounds cause more wear and tear on their guns, making maintenance more expensive. Of course there were other reasons, such as the aforementioned improved ballistics of recent years, but cost seems to be a recurring theme, and, in fact, I have more than a few friends who lean towards smaller handgun calibers based on cost.

The trend as of late has actually been towards an even smaller caliber: .380 ACP. The reason seems to be a combination of things from cost to some rather deeply ingrained new-gun-owner stereotypes. Because, you see, while it’s true that the gun industry is slowly beginning to warm more towards female shooters, it’s still extremely common for a woman to walk into a gun store and be steered towards tiny pistols chambered in .380 ACP. Here’s the thing about .380 ACP. It’s a caliber most well-suited for truly up-close-and-personal shooting; under 7 feet, to be exact. Popular gun author and former LEO Massad Ayoob once said of the .380 ACP “Some experts will say it’s barely adequate, and others will say it’s barely inadequate.”

9mmThanks to the surge in .380 ACP sales, firearms manufacturers responded by producing more pistols chambered in it, and ammunition manufacturers followed suit as well. Now, though, the caliber trend seems to be leaning another way – back to the 9mm. According to gun store owners and manufacturers in various locations across the country, the 9mm is making a comeback. The fact that this comeback coincides with the FBI switching back to 9mm from the .40 is more than likely not a coincidence at all.

Here’s the thing about handgun caliber. There are a lot of options out there, and no matter how firmly you may be attached to your caliber of choice you cannot deny that larger calibers make larger holes. They also travel at higher velocities and produce more energy, meaning they’re effective at greater distances and capable of doing more damage, which means an assailant is more likely to be taken down than with a smaller caliber bullet. This is the point at which the issue of shot placement tends to be brought up, and while it is absolutely true that shot placement is incredibly important, it’s also true a bigger bullet will do more damage no matter where it strikes.

That is not to say that placement doesn’t matter, because it certainly does. Training does, too. In the case of an attack, your body is flooded with adrenaline, with all the requisite side effects. Your heart races, respirations increase, hands shake, palms become slippery with sweat – it’s all normal, and it also comes with a major decrease in effectiveness with your gun. In these situations muscle memory isn’t just a factor, it’s a lifesaver, meaning you’d better have spent dedicated time training with your self-defense gun of choice. You should train like you may one day need to fight, and you should do it often. Proper training – and the resulting skill in shot placement – could one day save your life or the lives of those you love.

The bottom line when it comes to the great caliber debate is this: carry the gun you’ll use. It won’t do any good to carry a .45 if you’re only comfortable using a 9mm, or even a .380 ACP. A gun is useless if it won’t be used, and that means carrying the right gun for you. It’s absolutely worth honing your marksmanship so you’re able to skillfully handle a larger caliber gun, but in the meantime, you should carry the gun you’re comfortable using.

For those who have perused this article looking for a sign as to where I fall on the great caliber debate, here you go: I prefer larger calibers, and train with them.

Jeff Cooper once visited the FBI Academy, and while he was there he was told that his use of his preferred 1911 – chambered in .45, of course – was not fair, so he shouldn’t be using it while auditing their program. His response to this was to say, “maybe the first thing one should demand of his sidearm is that it be unfair.” Of course, he also said “remember the first rule of gunfighting…have a gun.” Do you?

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical. 

Katherine Ainsworth

Katherine Ainsworth

Katherine is a military and political journalist with a reputation for hard-hitting, no-holds-barred articles. Her career as a writer has immersed her in the military lifestyle and given her unique insights into the various branches of service. She is a firearms aficionado and has years of experience as a K9 SAR handler, and has volunteered with multiple support-our-troops charities for more than a decade. Katherine is passionate about military issues and feels supporting service members should be the top priority for all Americans. Her areas of expertise include the military, politics, history, firearms and canine issues.
Katherine Ainsworth
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