Mighty roar of the mousy .22
Why the .22 can be a good choice for self defense
Heresy! No gun writer is allowed to advocate for the .22 LR as a self defense caliber, right? Well, I suppose I didn’t get that memo. Maybe it is in the spam filter of my e-mail account.
Don’t worry – It is not my intention to start a holy war over which caliber is better than another. I think we can all agree that given a center mass shot, any of the major calibers, such as the .357 Magnum and .45 ACP, are superior to the .22 LR in terms of stopping bad people from doing bad things.
But that is not to say the little rimfire cannot be an adequate self-defense caliber. I hope to illustrate that the .22 might be a viable option for self defense in certain situations.
I’ve never walked out of the house carrying a .22 as a self defense gun. I hope I never have to. But, I can foresee certain circumstances under which I would. What if I was struck by an illness that simply left me so weak that I couldn’t tame the relatively mild recoil of a 9mm?
I know there are thousands of people in the US who rely on the little cartridge to defend themselves and their loved ones. Many of them do so because of the low recoil the .22 LR generates. For shooters with various disabilities, illnesses or injuries, something with very low recoil is a requirement.
Consider the elderly woman with osteoporosis, or the young man with a neuromuscular disease that confines him to a wheelchair. There are any number of situations and ailments that can make the .22 LR a better, or perhaps the only, choice for self defense.
The unfortunate reality is criminals prey upon the weak. You rarely read “Bodybuilder mugged” in the newspaper. Criminals are looking for the easy targets. If the target is “easy” due to age or infirmity, better they be armed with a rimfire that a harsh word alone. The .22 can be the difference between having some control of your fate in a violent encounter and just being a victim.
Shooting .22 LR ammo is a lot easier on the wallet than shooting any centerfire cartridge. For about the price of a box of 50 .45 ACP rounds, you can get a 500 round brick of the .22. So for the same price, you can get about 10 times the range practice.
With any defensive shooting, shot placement is the most important consideration. We’ve all heard the old saying that a hit with a .22 is better than a miss with a .44. Although self-evident, there is truth in that bit of wisdom.
If ammunition costs are prohibitively expensive on your budget, the .22 LR can make a lot of sense. One brick of ammo can give a new shooter enough time to become very familiar with the workings of the gun, plus have plenty left over to work on trigger control, accuracy and speed.
Revolver or Semi-Auto?
If you do pick a .22 as a concealed carry gun, what options are available?
In a self defense handgun, I prize reliability above all else. If the gun doesn’t go bang when I stroke the trigger, I am in a very bad place. Many of the current generation semi-automatic pistols have proved themselves reliable in even very harsh conditions. So, for a centerfire cartridge, I am comfortable with carrying one.
For rimfire handguns, especially small ones for concealed carry, I am much less confident of the semi-auto pistol. Based on my experience, the .22 LR can be a finicky cartridge in a semi-auto, requiring careful matching of ammunition to the gun. Even then, 100% reliability is not a given. That makes me a bit leery of them.
Revolvers, to my mind, are the way to go when toting a concealed handgun chambered for the little rimfire rounds. For example, revolvers do not depend on slide velocity to cycle properly. Also, should one of the rounds misfire, simply pull the trigger again instead of going through the “tap, rack, bang” drill.
Since the .22 operates at a relatively low pressure and has a diameter much smaller than a .38 Special, revolvers chambered for the rimfire cartridge often hold eight or more rounds. In a small-framed gun, that is a nice step up from the five rounds normally held in a .38 or .357 Magnum revolver.
For carry, I’d suggest looking at the Smith & Wesson 43 C or the Ruger LCR-22. Both of the guns are hammerless revolvers that hold eight rounds. Both guns are small and compact with barrels just under 2”. The S&W is a little lighter and a little more expensive (11 ounces, $689 MSRP) than the Ruger (14.9 ounces, $525 MSRP). For that extra money, the Smith comes standard with the XS Sights white dot front sight.
There are a few alternatives, including the Charter Arms Pathfinder and the NAA mini revolvers. Each offers its own advantages, but for my money I’d stick with the Smith & Wesson or Ruger.
At the end of the day, I’d rather have a .38 snub in my pocket or a 1911 on my hip. But there are circumstances that can make a .22 a better choice. When it comes to self defense, nothing is a guarantee and our choices in handguns are generally a compromise to begin with.
But the important thing to keep in mind is that the .22 you can use is far better than any gun you cannot. Its like Al Capone supposedly said: You can go a long way with a smile, but you can go a lot farther with a smile and a gun.