There was a lot of discussion recently on a previous thread re: the 9mm / .40S&W / .45ACP debate over pistol caliber vs. capacity for carry.
The following is a recent article from Gabe's newsletter that addresses this dilemma and brings up some good points and observations.
You may not agree...and the text is long...but it is worth time to read.
Magazine Capacity An Asset In A Gunfight
I suppose this will be yet another highly controversial issue, but what the heck. Controversy makes for interesting discussion, no? The issue is to look at whether high magazine capacity gives you a tactical advantage, or if we are better served by carrying an equally sized weapon with a smaller capacity of bigger bullets. Before I answer my own question, let me put forth some facts as seen both in force on force training and on the street.
Point One - Pistol bullets, regardless of caliber are all, what one colleague calls, "iffy". None can be guaranteed to drop an adversary in his tracks reliably. The notion of a one shot stop is an urban myth dreamed up by those with a vested interest in such things. I have seen 45s work and fail, and I have seen 9mm both work and fail. For the record, the only one shot drop (excluding head shots) I have ever seen with a pistol was fired by a good friend as we entered a crack house during a SWAT raid. He shot the bad guy squarely in the heart with 9mm +P+ out of a SIG P-226. He only fired once because the bad guy fell before my friend could reset his trigger for the next shot!
If we look at the three most prevalent calibers we see that there is very little difference between them. A 9mm (also .38/.357) is only one little millimeter smaller than the 10mm (aka .40 S&W), and that is only one little millimeter less than the vaunted 11mm (aka .45 ACP). And before we get into the high speed light bullet versus the heavy slow bullet argument, lets remember that you can only drive a pistol bullet so fast without drastically affecting its integrity. Moreover, since penetration is affected by weight, sacrificing weight for speed will not yield good results. Finally, you can only make a bullet so light or so heavy. There are limits to what you can shoot out of a pistol.
I have seen every one of these calibers fail at one time or another. There are those who disdain the 9mm as unsuitable for anything larger than squirrels. With modern ammunition, this is simply not true. There is also a myth and a cult grown up around the .45 ACP in this country. Sadly, it is not the deadly hammer of god its proponents suggest. This is not new. Read Fairbairn's Shoot To Live. He writes of two separate times when the .45 failed to work any better than anything else. Although one millimeter may give you a slight edge in a less than optimum body hit, under most circumstances, there will be very little difference between the effectiveness of the various calibers when modern anti-personnel ammo is used. Trauma injury doctors and reputable terminal ballistics experts tend to agree with this statement.
Point Two - Private Citizen CCW Operators do not go looking for trouble. If they are called to fight it is either because they have inadvertently crossed paths with bad guys while they are doing bad guy stuff (walking in on a robbery in progress as an example), or because they have been specifically targeted and stalked (such as a carjack, or home invasion event). They will have to use extreme violence to fight off the surprise attackers. When we translate the conversion of fright and startle into a firearm application we wee that definition is high volume of fire. You will shoot a lot, and until the threat is no longer there.
While these events share slightly different dynamics, the common thread often seen is that of multiple adversaries. The lone criminal or terrorist is an urban myth. If your fight only involves one, consider yourself lucky. More often than not you will be outnumbered.
Another point is the time frames in which these events take place. Think three seconds. After this, either you will be dead, or your adversaries will be dead. Urban gunfights do not go for hours. Unexpected, short duration, high intensity, extreme violence, multiple adversaries. That is the back drop.
Point Three - Our staff has collectively been in a large number of gunfights ranging from police, citizen, and military events. We draw on those experiences to set up mock gunfights in dynamic, unscripted force on force training drills. Although the surprise factor is missing (you generally don t know you will be in a gunfight until it is upon you), the dynamics of its evolution do not change much. Here are some other observations from watching hundreds of those drills.
1). Defenders will fire their weapons until the threat disappears. That means that until the role player falls down (simulating effective hits delivered), or runs away (removing the target), the good guy will keep firing. The concept of school solutions, controlled pairs, or otherwise artificially limiting the number of shots (as one does in a firing string on the range) does not hold up even in guys who've been extensively trained to do it.
2). When a training gun stops firing (due to running out of pellets), the shooter is still in the fight and still trying to shoot his enemy as well as trying to not be hit by him. We see them continue to try to work the trigger for one or two times before there is a realization that there has been a stoppage (malfunction or empty gun). This is followed by a visual examination of the gun, and only then is remedial action taken.
This can take upwards f a second and a half before anything is even attempted to fix the gun, and then the additional time needed to reload. Thus the idea that one can read the gun s feel and immediately realize a need to speed load simply does not hold up. Running out of ammo is usually a fight ender if there has been a failure to stop, or there are multiple adversaries at hand.
3). Participants in these reactive mock gunfights are debriefed immediately to get a clear picture of what happened before any rationalization takes place. Besides a shoot them to the ground firing process, most shooters do not remember seeing the crystal clear sight pictures they learned on the shooting range.
We see a great deal of point shooting, and gun index shooting. I have yet to see anyone strike a classic shooting posture and press off a carefully sighted pair in these room distance drills.
The point to remember is that in a fight such as what are likely for the private citizen, one can easily develop Bullet Deficit Disorder , and that this can have deleterious effects on the outcome of that fight.
The idea that a pair or trio of quality rounds carefully delivered onto a high scoring target zone will stop the action fails both the terminal ballistics test as well as the applications test.
A truth of gunfighting - Having more ammo immediately on board lessens the likelihood of ever needing to reload. Not needing to reload translates into more time delivering lead and less time manipulating the weapon. More trigger time increases likelihood of hitting, which increases survivability.
So the question is this. Given that there is a limit to the size pistol one can carry, do I want that pistol to hold more rounds? My answer is a strong YES!
Consider the similarly sized Glock 36 in .45 ACP, and the Glock 23 in .40 S&W. The latter holds nearly twice the ammo of the former in an almost identical package. The Glock 19 is an even more drastic comparison with 15 shots available. Of course there are also high capacity 45 pistols for those so inclined and for those who can wield them. I would argue that if your choice is a 45, a gun holding 13 would be better than a gun holding 6. And if your hand is too small for the 13 shooter, rather than decrease capacity, I d decrease caliber.
I have a colleague is South America who has been in High Risk Police Service for close to three decades. He has been in over three dozen verified gunfight . His weapon was originally a Browning Hi-Power and later a Glock 17.
I was very interested in hearing more so I asked him about the load he used. He said he had always used military ball full metal jacket. Astounded I asked him why he chose that. That is all we can get here. Hollow points are illegal .
I shook my head and told him that there was a belief in the USA that 9mm was an anemic caliber, especially in the load he d chosen. He shrugged and said that his adversaries must not have gotten the word. He said he fired a burst at the chest and if they didn't fall fast enough, he fired a burst at the face. He never needed to reload and had enough on board so if he missed a shot or two he could catch up in the fight. And before we hear the careful shooter versus the spraying prayer, this man is one of the best shots I have seen and competes on an international level. Even so, he knows the chaos in a gunfight can play havoc with even the most gifted marksman. Perhaps we need to take a lesson from him.
Me? I split the difference and carry a Glock 23 in .40 S&W. But I feel just as comfortable with a 15 shot 9mm.
While on the subject of Calibers
In variably 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 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. 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.
By now we are entering the Hurricane season again and the memory of Katrina lies lightly on the minds of those who live in the Southeast. Natural disasters and riots can occur at any time. We are assuming that you will have your CCW pistol as a first line of defense until you can obtain something else. In the event you cannot get to your survival stash, you may need 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), I can always find 9mm. Perhaps not a huge issue but still something for consideration.
Issue Number Four - Effects On Target
This is where all the bullet salesmen come out and discuss amateur terminal ballistics. 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.
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 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.