Choosing the Best Caliber for Concealed Carry

    At last count, there were over 17 million concealed carry permits in the U.S. Add to those states where a permit isn’t required, and there are a lot of people carrying firearms for self-defense.  According to the Crime Prevention Research Center, this group is perhaps the most law-abiding and carefully vetted group of people when it comes to safety, and they work hard for the most part at being responsible firearms owners.

    Even experienced carriers have disagreements about the best caliber for the job. As the primary purpose for using a firearm in self-defense is to stop the attacker, there are videos, books, and tons of articles out there with kinetic energy and stopping power statistics. If the only variable in the stopping of an attacker is this stopping power number, it would be easy to identify the caliber that works best. The problem is that there are other variables that should be considered.

    Second shot accuracy

    Sure, you hope to be accurate enough to put a stop to an attack with the first shot. However, a second shot is often required, according to the owner of Bellevue gun range. If the really big bullet with power behind it results in severe recoil, how accurate will your second and subsequent shots be?  

    Firearm size and carry style

    A .45 caliber M1911 style firearm is a tried and true gun, but it is a little on the larger side. If you prefer pocket carry, you better have really big pockets.

    Overall weight of carry

    Even if you use an OWB, outside the waistband, holster and don’t mind the size and weight of the larger gun, you’re also going to be carrying extra ammunition. Bigger bullets are heavier too.

    Are you working with outdated information?

    A lot of the information used in decisions about firearms carry may not be based on the latest ballistics data available.

    For example, the 9mm round is quite popular around the world, and this popularity means lower per round prices due to how many are produced. For decades, the 9mm was considered the minimum safe caliber to carry by law enforcement for stopping power.

    In 1986, the FBI lost two agents and had five wounded in a Miami, FL shootout. The brass decided to go to a larger caliber firearm, and the .40 S&W round was ultimately adopted for greater stopping power. In 2018, the FBI, after around 28 years, decided to drop the .40 S&W for 9mm semi-automatic weapons. This was interesting, as that caliber had been dismissed as insufficient back in 1987.

    In this switch back to 9mm, the FBI issued a report, and there are a few points that illustrate their decision process:

    •  Law enforcement officers miss between 70% and 80% of shots fired in an incident.
    •  Stopping power is a myth. A far more reliable criterion is penetration depth, and the optimal penetration should be between 12″ and 18″.
    •  Current 9mm projectiles are outperforming many .40 S&W rounds in tests of penetration.

    As the FBI is considered the highest authority in ballistics testing, you could consider a 9mm the best weapon for you to carry as well. However, if it’s still a little large, or you are older, and the recoil is more of a problem, think about the .380 ACP. The bullets are the same diameter, but the 9mm is a longer cartridge with more powder behind the round.

    However, if you do some research, particularly YouTube videos on ballistics gelatin testing, you’ll find that there are some .380 rounds out there with consistent penetration between 12″ and 15″. Now you have a smaller pistol for pocket carry with enough power and lower recoil.

    Forget the data and other opinions. Decide what works best for you, do your research, and feed that firearm with the right ammunition for penetration.


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