Feb 052012

Clint Eastwood’s character Dirty Harry was famous for his use of a .44 magnum revolver. While that is probably inconvenient overkill for most of us, how small can we go before we’ve gone too far?

We interact with gun owners all the time, and from time to time we encounter groupings of misapprehensions in some strange manner whereby a series of people who don’t know each other will separately each tell us the same thing.  For months, the issue might never be raised, then all of a sudden, we hear it from multiple people in the space of just a few days.

Over the last week or so, we’ve had a number of people all proudly show us their self-defense/carry pistol, and they have all been woefully under-powered.  They have been chambered for .22LR or .25ACP rounds (did you realize that the .25ACP round – even though it is ostensibly larger and is center fire, is actually less powerful than the .22LR rimfire round – size isn’t always the ultimate measure of effectiveness).

The people with such pistols generally justify them by saying something like

Well, yes, I know it isn’t a very powerful caliber, but it is convenient and small, and  I figure it is better than nothing.  Surely the size of the gun doesn’t matter as much as simply having any gun at all – just having a gun of any size will save you from an attack.  After all, what kind of crazy person wants to be shot by anything?  It would surely hurt like hell!

Hmmmm – where to start in an analysis and rebuttal of such a statement?  Perhaps one could point out that, almost by definition, people who choose to attack you are crazy, so when you say ‘what kind of crazy person’ the answer is ‘the kind that is staring you down on the street’ – in other words, the very sort of person you need to plan to encounter and to ensure you can respond positively to.

Can we all accept that a tiny pistol chambered for .22LR or .25ACP is indeed an inadequate type of gun for most situations, and focus in on the issue of whether such a pistol is better than nothing.

On the face of it, you’d probably agree that any pistol is better than no pistol.  The excellent Front Sight training school has a slogan ‘Any gun will do, if you will do’ which is very true (although I think the minimum caliber they allow people to train with is 9mm, which rather makes a nonsense of their slogan!).

You may have also heard the saying ‘It isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog’ and that too is very true.

But the problem with trying to answer a question such as ‘is any gun better than no gun at all’ is that we restrict our thinking by accepting the premise in the question, without examining the premise to start with.  In this case, the implied premise is that a person has only two choices – a tiny ‘mouse gun’ or no gun at all.  That’s not correct.  We all have multiple choices – we can choose to carry any size pistol we want, and for that matter, we can choose to carry two or three guns if we feel it prudent, too.

So we rather object to the question itself – it is a bit like the question ‘Have you stopped beating your wife yet?’.  We have never beaten our wives, and we have never had the situation where we had to choose between a woefully underpowered pistol or none at all.

As a senior instructor said when discussing this topic :

I see pocket guns as an extreme concession to concealment issues that may not be necessary or real.  Additionally, the kitschy value of such concealment makes some feel more prepared….this is absolutely lost upon me as EDC [Every Day Carry] of a handgun should call for a clothing compromise long before a caliber compromise.

In other words, if you feel you need to accept a tiny small pistol so as to have better concealment, change your dress style instead.  Or, for that matter, if there’s no way around size issues (maybe you need to wear a suit or formal wear to a wedding or some other special event) consider one of the amazing slim and small pistols in .380 that are out there these days such as the Ruger LCP.

We’d recommend you consider attending our How Best to Concealed Carry class to learn about all the different ways you can successfully and discreetly carry a pistol, most of the time allowing you to have a larger sized pistol with you, no matter what your clothing choices/requirements may be.

So, to more fully answer the opening question – is an underpowered pistol better than no pistol at all – the answer is ‘Of course it is, but you should try to avoid having to end up with only an underpowered pistol in the first place’.

Let’s also consider how helpful an underpowered pistol may actually be.

Guns can solve problems in one of two different ways.  Their most valuable service is when the simple presentation of a pistol is sufficient to cause a would-be attacker to break off their attack and to either surrender or run away.

When you show your pistol to a potential attacker, you should be conveying two messages.  The first message is that shown by the pistol itself – ‘I have the means to resist your attack and to cause you potentially lethal harm in the process’.  The second message is one conveyed by your body language – your posture and demeanor, and the way you are presenting the pistol and speaking to the attacker.  This message hopefully says ‘I have the ability and the will to use my pistol to successfully fight you off’.

For sure, a tiny little ‘mouse gun’ isn’t going to broadcast the same type of positive message that would be conveyed by pulling out a Dirty Harry style long-barreled .44 Magnum revolver.  Which makes the second part of your message all the more important – that conveyed by your attitude and bearing.

If you can maintain a confident non-victim posture, and if you can present your tiny gun authoritatively and assertively, your demeanor and bearing will magnify the perceived threat of a small pistol.  But if your body language betrays fear and incipient submission, even the biggest gun will struggle to compensate for the non-verbal messages of failure and defeat you are broadcasting to the other guy(s).

You need to practice shouting out verbal commands and warnings to a bad guy, and you need to be sure you can competently and quickly draw and present your pistol when the situation requires it.

However, the fact remains that your chances of avoiding the need to use your pistol are reduced if you have a smaller gun.  Let’s now consider just how effective a small gun may be in defending against a determined attacker.

You should read our recent article about Where to Aim and How Often to Shoot an Attacker.  This article was written with the assumption that you’d be using a pistol chambered for at least .38 SPL or 9mm.  But now you’re using a pistol with a bullet weighing little more than one-quarter the weight of the 9mm round, and traveling potentially the same speed or slower.  If it might take four rounds from a 9mm pistol to stop an attacker, how many more rounds will it take of .22LR or .25ACP?

Oh – related question – how many rounds does your little mouse gun hold?  Probably only five, six or seven rounds, and most likely with an inconvenient way of swapping magazines (or reloading a revolver cylinder).  In other words, you’ll probably have to win your fight with only the rounds loaded in your gun at the start of the fight.

Is that possible?  Don’t forget to allow for something over 50% of your shots being misses, and consider also what you’d need to do if you were facing multiple assailants.  All of a sudden, the 15 – 20 rounds in a full size 9mm pistol seem much more comforting than a handful of tiny bullets in your mouse gun, don’t they!

Let’s also consider what might happen if the bad guy has a gun too.  If you’re both staring at similar sized guns, you’ve a bit of a stalemate and either you start shooting or else neither of you shoot and you both back off.  But if he has a full size 9mm or .40S&W with maybe 15 or more rounds in his magazine, and you have a tiny .25ACP with six rounds in your magazine, who do you think is going to prevail in that encounter?  In other words, when he draws his gun, many people will then surrender (this is probably a mistake, but they’ll do it all the same).  All you’ve done is make the situation worse.

One last thought before our closing comment.  Underpowered pistols are more likely to malfunction than more generously powered ones.  There’s less recoil energy when you shoot them for the pistol to utilize to eject the fired cartridge case and to cycle in a new round.

This article has been full of questions already, but we will close with one final question for you :  Are you willing to bet your life that your teeny tiny little popgun will guarantee your winning a deadly encounter with one or multiple attackers?  Because, after all, that truly is what you’re doing, isn’t it.

We’re unwilling to take that bet, and we urge you not to do so either.  Carry the biggest pistol you can manage to carry/conceal, and if you have a problem, it is better to change your dress style rather than downgrade your gun.