Selecting a gun for self-defense is a very personal decision. If you start going around and asking people what to buy, you’ll get as many different answers as there are people you ask. Everyone has their own idea of the “perfect gun” and some want to impose that idea on everyone else. But in reality, what’s perfect for one person, may not be perfect for another. Each of us has different needs, abilities and budgets to contend with.
To start with, there’s the question of whether you’re carrying concealed, thinking of a gun to keep in your car or thinking of a gun to keep at home. Generally speaking, the larger the pistol and the longer the barrel, the more accurate and the less recoil it has. But a larger pistol is harder to conceal. So you might carry a different pistol concealed, than you would carry if you could carry openly.
While there may be a temptation to have more than one self-defense pistol, you’re really better off only having one and carrying it the same way all the time. That should be the gun you train with the most, so that when the time comes that you have to use it, you’re able to use it well.
There are some people who are revolver fans and others who prefer semi-automatic. Personally, I prefer semi-auto. My main reason for that, is the same reason that police departments everywhere are switching over from revolvers to semi-autos; capacity. A semi-automatic pistol will usually hold more rounds than a revolver will (except for really compact semi-autos) and reloading consists of merely popping out the magazine and slapping in a new one.
This gives a semi-automatic pistol a huge advantage in firepower, if you’re every caught in a prolonged shootout. On the other hand, most situations where someone with a concealed carry license holder is forced to use their gun, it’s three shots in three seconds. That’s it. So there’s no need to reload. But then, none of us know if we’re going to be in a short shootout or a long one.
The “ideal” caliber is as much of a point of contention as the revolver or semi-automatic question. Here again, there are a lot of pros and cons on all sides of the argument. Generally speaking, the larger the caliber, the bigger a hole it will make. Manufacturers have tried to make up for this by coming up with a wide range of hollow-point self-defense rounds, which expand on contact, giving the smaller calibers a larger diameter and supposedly leveling this playing field. But there are hollow points for larger calibers too.
There are two things you’re looking for when you hit someone. The first is to create damage to their body. You want as big a hole as possible, both so that it bleeds more and more tissue damage is caused under the skin. The other is to transfer energy into the person’s body, what is referred to as “knockdown power.”
The .45 ACP cartridge, used in the Army model 1911 pistol was designed specifically for this knockdown power. The Army’s sidearm before that time was a .38 revolver, much like the police. But this proved ineffective against the Moro tribesmen who would attack them high on drugs. They needed a pistol round that would knock the Moro tribesmen down when hit. The .45 ACP does this better than any other round, due to the blunt nose and wide diameter of the bullet.
On the other hand, the 9mm cartridge was designed for penetration power. I was amazed at the difference between the .45 ACP and the 9mm when I did my own ballistic testing. The .45 hardly penetrated the various materials I was shooting at, while an off-the-shelf 9mm went deeper than even a .44 magnum did.
There really is no perfect answer to this question. On one hand, there’s a fairly high probability that any criminal who attacks you will be at least somewhat high on drugs. In that case, the .45 ACP seems the way to go. But you can load less .45 rounds into a pistol than you can 9mm or .357 magnum. So a lot depends on the type of threat you expect to encounter and whether or not you’ll have to be in a prolonged shootout.
Ultimately, you need to select what you’re comfortable shooting. I carry a Springfield XDS – .45 caliber, because that’s what I learned to shoot with. But I also have a Glock 17 – 9mm, which is my favorite gun, as well as the gun I shoot the best with. My wife, on the other hand, can’t shoot either my .45 or my 9mm, because her hands aren’t strong enough to rack the slide, so she carries a SigSauer P250, chambered in .380 caliber.
I chose the SigSauer for my wife, because of the ease of racking the slide. For her, that’s ideal. But I wouldn’t carry it myself, because the .380 round is not as powerful as either the 9mm or the .45 ACP. So you see, each person’s needs are different and the gun you select has to take that into account.
The pistol, any pistol, is a defensive weapon; that’s all. Unless you are an amazing shot, you really can’t shoot accurately very far with a pistol. So you should plan on having at least one long gun around as well for home defense; either a shotgun or rifle. Of course, which one you have is another whole discussion. We’ll leave that for another day.
In the mean time, keep your powder dry and your survival gear close at hand.