If I could get a dime every time I heard that… AND a $100 every time someone answered with the words… “You SHOULD get blah blah blah because it is the best handgun in the world and there is nothing better and nothing smells better, looks better or shoots better and it should be the only gun anyone ever ever EVER buys because there is none other like it and it is the greatest of all time hands down, bar none, no joke, I’m not kidding and you better believe it! So get this one!!!” WHEW!!!! I’m EXHAUSTED listening to this line of common sense reasoning!!!
All my friends in the industry… Matt, Whitney, Nathan, Daniel, myself.. we have all experienced it more times than we can count. Look, EVERYONE has their favorite. Just like everyone has their favorite car, truck or food. Just because you like it does not mean someone else will, or has to! So PLESAE STOP with that!!!!
So… let’s just talk about this a little. Let’s talk bullets/calibers for handguns and why we need to teach our students, friends and family about the differences. Caliber may make more of a difference with some people than the actual gun itself. I’ll explain shortly. But, of course the barrel length, width and the mechanical components of the gun will assist in making that difference as well. There are many cailbers (or sizes of bullets) for handguns out there, but for the discussion we are having I am just going to talk about the 5 most popular.
Let’s discuss calibers, or bullet sizes.
Above are the most popular calibers in the industry. The .38, the .380 (or 9mm short), the 9mm, the .40 caliber and the .45 ACP. The .38 is specifically designed for revolvers (a revolver is a handgun that holds its bullets in a round cylinder), the rest of these calibers are designed specifically for semiautomatic pistols (semiautomatic pistols hold their bullets in what is called a magazine).
The .38 was developed by Smith & Wesson and was the standard service cartridge/bullet/caliber of most police departments in the United States from the 1920s to the early 1990s. Noted for its fine accuracy and manageable recoil (Recoil ~often called knockback, kickback or simply kick~ is the backward momentum of a gun when it is discharged, or fired), it remains the most popular revolver cartridge in the world more than a century after its introduction. It is used for target shooting, formal target competition, personal defense, and for hunting small game. As you can see in the photo of the revolvers above there are different sizes. The little one is great for “pocket protection” and the larger one is better suited for home or vehicle protection. Here is where size does matter. The little revolver shoots the same exact .38 bullet as the the larger one, but the recoil, or kick, is considerably stronger. The reason being is that the energy has much less distance to be expelled once the bullet is fired. The shorter the distance the greater the recoil. The larger revolver with the longer barrel is easier to manage in terms of its recoil, but of course it is a much heavier gun than the smaller sister. So, just to clarify, since my firearm aficionado friends will surely make comments… The larger gun in the photo above is called a S&W 686 357. This particular gun can shoot either a .357 cartridge or a .38 cartridge. But, since we are focusing on the 5 most popular cartridges/bullets, I just wanted to emphasize that a specific caliber, or size of bullet, is not necissarily confined to a specific size of gun. Make sense? Let’s move on. If you have questions, post them and I will respond.
The .380s are popular concealed carry guns, generally due to their size and the bullets are fairly effective for self defense purposes. A .380 is a lighter bullet than a 9 mm but only marginally. Sometimes called a “9 mm short” .380s are the same diameter as a 9 mm but are 17 mm versus 19 mm (so they are referred to as 9×17 versus the 9×19 rounds described below.) In larger or heavier .380 handguns (such as the Bersa Thunder .380 or the Walther PK380) this bullet is very comfortable to shoot. As with the .38 previously discussed, the .380 has several guns with varying sizes that are manufactured specifically around the .380 bullet. In the photo above we compare the S&W Bodyguard .380, the smaller gun, with the Walther PK380. Once again, the same principal applies… shorter barrel length, compact design equals greater, but manageable recoil. Longer the barrel, larger the design of the gun, less recoil and possible better overall comfort in handling. The .380 is a well proven leader in law enforcement “backup” guns as well as personal protection carry guns for many females.
Above is the Glock 19 9mm handgun. Unfortunately I personally do not have two different sizes of the 9mm. But, The Glock 19 has a baby sister called the Glock 26, which is smaller and a bit more compact than the 19. You can see the comparison below.
The 9mm is the most commonly used pistol caliber in the world. Its relatively low recoil allows for quick, accurate follow-up shots. The magazine capacity is usually much greater than other larger calibers (consider the Springfield XDM which holds 19 rounds/bullets in its full-sized model). The cost of ammunition is (well, was) very reasonable and the availability is (um, was) excellent, making the 9mm an attractive choice for proficiency and pleasure shooting. As with the .38 handguns and the .380 handguns the 9mm has a multitude of designs surrounding the caliber. Anything from what is refered to as a full-size gun to a sub-compact or ultra carry gun. And again, the same principal applies. Longer the barrel, larger the design of the gun, less recoil and possible better overall comfort in handling. The 9mm took the spotlight from the .38 beginning in the 1990s. The 9mm, although shorter, is more powerful than the .38 and a semiautomatic 9mm pistol can hold up to 19 bullets in some standard gun magazines. A standard revolver can only hold 5 bullets in the cylinder. This makes it a no-brainer for many. Plus, it is much easier to control the recoil of this caliber bullet than let’s say the .40 caliber and the .45ACP.
The .40 caliber:
I like the .40 caliber. It is kind of a hybred, a bit larger but more powerful than the 9mm but not quite as large nor powerful as the .45 ACP. I used my Glock 23 in IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) competition and loved the weight and overal feel of the gun and I feel the recoil, at least for me, is plenty manageable. Compared to the 9mm, it does have considerably more recoil. Many of my students will shoot the 9mm and then try out the .40 caliber and decide they like the 9mm. The .40 caliber has been gaining popularity among law enforcement for years. It is a more powerful round/bullet than the 9mm and a magazine can hold almost as many bullets as that of a 9mm. A larger bullet, greater velocity, increased damage equals a hard hitting winner among many, including myself. Most law enforcement agencies have made the switch from 9mm to the .40 caliber just for these reasons. Above we compare the Glock 23, the smaller .40 caliber to the Glock 22. Yes, the .40 caliber can come in many different sizes as well.
The .45 ACP:
The .45 ACP (which stands for Automatic Colt Pistol) was designed by John Browning in 1904. To use this cartridge John designed a prototype semiautomatic handgun that eventually became the wildly popular Colt 1911. The .45 ACP uses heavier, wider bullets than the 9mm which travels at somewhat lower velocity. The U.S. Military, all branches, officially adopted the Beretta 92 9mm 25 years ago. The majority of Marine units adopted the gun as well. But, the U.S. Marines had been using the Colt M1911 pistols for almost 100 years and did not want to completely give them up. And, based off the data collected from combat missions conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan the Marines felt it was abundently clear that the 9mm cartridge was woefully under-effective in combat. In fact, there are many accounts of soldiers in hand to hand combat would empty an entire 16 round magazine into an enemy that was doped up with adrenaline or opium without any effect whatsoever from the 9mm. In 2012 The U.S. Marines officially decommissioned the Beretta 92 9mm and placed an order with Colt Manufacturing for several thousand brand new Colt M1911 .45 ACP handguns! The permanent cavity (on ballistics gel) created by a jacketed hollow point (JHP) .45 is about 40% larger than JHP 9mm. Recoil is more severe than the 9mm, and magazine capacity tends to be much lower. Most law enforcement officers will say (referring to a point-blank gun fight), if you don’t hit them in the first three bullets, you aren’t going to hit them. So, large capacity magazines mean less than you may think.
Many law enforcement agencies have not only converted from the 9mm but have gone far up the ballistic food chain by requiring their officers to carry .45 ACP caliber sidearms. It is mandatory for LA Special Crimes units use the full size Glock 21 .45 ACP and they encourage the officers to use the Glock 30 (a small sub-compact .45) as their back up gun. The uniqueness about this is the fact that the Glock 30 will accept the Glock 21s 10 round or 30 round magazine! But, keep in mind, the .45 ACP is a large, hard hitting caliber desinged to inflict the most amount of damage with the least amount of ammunition used. The drawback to the .45 is the massive recoil and the size of the majority of the .45 ACP caliber guns on the market. In the photo above you see a comparison between the Glock 36 (compact .45 ACP) and a Kimber full size 1911.
That was a lot of information but hopefully it was geared in a manner that makes more sense. So the crux of this entire conversation is that what someone tells you what you should shoot is NOT necessarily the best gun for you. Several critical components come into play. The caliber, or bullet size can make or break one’s desire to shoot and/or carry a specific handgun. You have small hands, then a large framed heavy caliber bullet like the .45 ACP or even maybe the .40 caliber may not only fit your hand but even more critical, may not be enjoyable to shoot. You have large hands, then a small, compact framed gun may not be for you either. Your fingers have to wrap comfortably around the grip of the handgun and you want to use the tip of your index finger as much as possible when pulling the trigger. There are so many makes and models available. You may be more comfortable and more confident with a revolver. You need to consider what you will be wearing, how you will conceal your gun (for those of you with coneal permits)… once again size matters. Comfort, reliability, performance, practice, safety should all be components factored into your handgun making decisions. If it hurts to shoot or is not comfortable to manage, then I guarantee you that you will not shoot it! You practice with what you carry all the time.
On a personal note I carry the Glock 36, which is a compact .45 ACP. I have it on me almost all the time, where I can lawfully carry it. I do have a backup gun. It is the S&W Bodyguard .380. Slides down into my front pocket without being noticed or I carry it in a holster in the small of my back. And yes, I sometimes carry both of them at the same time! The element of surprise may save my life! Any of you who are reading this and have taken one of my classes understand already that we cover much of this in our beginners class. The table has a variety of handguns to try out and see what works for you. I highly recommend that if you have not made a daily carry purchase yet that you get with your instructor and have him or her assist you with that process. You will be glad you did.
Be careful of the “expert” who wants to tell you what you should carry… it may not be good for you! Do you have any experience dealing with this topic? I would love to hear/see what you have encountered, taught or experienced.
Stay focused! Stay in control!