Handguns for self defense: Why choose what you choose?

Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.” Sun Tsu

Everyone has their individual preferences in life, what they touch, feel and most importantly what they want. Handguns are among the most widely diverse sets of defensive tools and yet with all the diversity they can be broken down into two basic types. The venerable revolver and just as venerable semi-automatic handgun.new cards

Understanding your individual needs is essential when looking at choices that exist. Many self defense instructors promote odd ideas, one of those is the terrible idea that a double action only, hammerless revolver is perfect for the average woman. This is a terrible fallacy based in illogical approaches promoted by individuals who base everything on their personal choices rather then the needs of the individual they are working with. The average female while quite capable of defending themselves and utilizing tools such as firearms with efficient ability is physically not generally as capable as a male when it comes to 8-12 pound trigger pulls and extended recoil that accompanies the average hammerless short barreled revolver. The result is that accuracy will suffer greatly and with extended use the wrists and hands will become sore, further generating a distaste for the firearm and practice with the tool needed to become truly proficient.liberty-shirt(1)

There are many other fallacies like this one, most promoted by individuals who, quite honestly, should not be teaching anyone and should likely go back to school starting with the basics. Here is the pure and honest truth, there is no one way to stand, no one firearm or caliber type and more importantly there is no perfect approach with firearms. Rather there is a multitude of varieties and approaches that to be able to teach a broad spectrum of individuals well should be learned, practiced and to some degree perfected. So lets get back to the things each individual should look at when selecting a firearm for self defense. Each of us has specific set of abilities both physically and mentally that should be taken into account when shopping for a firearm. Lets go over these items point by point.533224_10201086335734113_466050843_n

  • Physical ability, strength is one aspect of physical ability another is acuity or sharpness of thought, vision or hearing.
  • Mental ability, the ability to perceive what is around us within the realm of reality as most people understand it. Also included in this is the ability of the individual to make the decision to fight when there is no option and to do so without extreme hesitation.
  • Training, each of us has a different mindset regarding training, some of us like learning by watching others, some of us learn through hands on experience. What is more important is having the time needed to put into either hands on training with live ammunition or repetitive dry fire approaches.
  • Desire, each of us has that thing called desire, we all want what we want and most of us are willing to forgo all manner of need for that want.

Each of these is something that applies to the individual, now lets look at what is necessary when it comes to self defense with a handgun as a primary tool. Reliable, a handgun and the chosen ammunition that is fed into it must be absolutely reliable. Because all human made and designed items can and do fail, sometimes quite spectacularly, having a firearm and ammunition combination that will function through a minimum of 200 rounds without a failure is necessary. Accurate, again this is unfortunately reliant on the user themselves in large part. However, a handgun should be accurate when sand bagged. Accuracy is a variable in many cases, with handguns for self defense however, a handgun should be capable of producing a maximum of 4” groups at 25 yards with chosen ammunition.

Two hands thumbs relaxed and extended away from slide

Two hands thumbs relaxed and extended away from slide

Now lets look at the minor parts of choosing a handgun for self defense. Caliber, size of handgun and handgun type. Caliber is an often debated item of self defense tools, handguns specifically. There is no magic number as there is no such thing as stopping power and even a lowly .22 can and will penetrate adequately in most circumstances. What you want is to be able to accurately place rounds in locations where blood carrying arteries and organs can be perforated causing rapid exsanguination resulting in target termination. The idea of a one shot one kill with a handgun is rare to impossible. The approach that should be taken is putting rounds where they need to go to stop the threat. As a result caliber is the one truly variable thing. I will make a few minor suggestions based on experience and large amounts of testing.

Proper grip, all fingers under trigger guard wrapped firmly around strong hand.

Proper grip, all fingers under trigger guard wrapped firmly around strong hand.

Anything smaller then a 9×19 luger I would suggest using full metal jacket for two reasons. First penetration is a factor and I have found through extensive testing that full metal jacket in lower velocity rounds allows for better function and penetration. While this of course disallows the added benefit of expanded rounds doing additional damage to blood carrying vessels it enables one to use them regardless clothing layers. When using a .22 rimfire round I would suggest spending additional money to have more reliable ammunition. I have found that Ely primed .22 are exceptionally reliable, rating among the medium side of center-fire cartridges. These cost between .15 and .25 cents per round and though more expensive then big box ammunition will be reliable when necessary. I would then suggest that when running 9×19 you do not use rounds larger then 127 grains and standard velocities will function quite well. Rounds in 9×19 over 127 grains tend to be too slow to effectively function as defensive rounds. This was found out when several police departments in the early 90’s had multiple failures during real application.

Prone on Side

Prone on Side

Next is recoil and sound. Recoil and sound is a inevitable side effect of combustion in confined spaces. All firearms will recoil, some more so then others. Humans will instinctively attempt to avoid sound and abrupt movement in close proximity to themselves. This results in flinching and closing ones eyes. These are both natural reflexes and should be first understood and second trained out of. Size matters when it comes to this, larger calibers will recoil more then smaller calibers. Smaller handguns regardless caliber will tend to recoil more then larger handguns. So choose wisely, while a smaller handgun is easier to conceal they will be more likely to cause variations in aim as a result of increased recoil and due to shorter sight picture will be inherently harder to accurately place rounds on target. As a side note it is essential to remember that most confrontations will be at much reduced ranges, 3-7 yards is statistically the most likely to occur.

Corners standing

Corners standing

Lastly, trigger pull and reset are extremely important. This is where each individuals physical ability becomes very important. Revolvers that are double action only and semi-autos that have a double action first shot (the most important one) should be avoided if the individual does not plan on practicing regularly. While the desire for external safeties is nice, it is not essential, being able to utilize the firearm effectively and accurately, immediately when desired is most important. Remember, the finger should NEVER be on the trigger unless you are planning on USING the firearm IMMEDIATELY!

Added by a good friend and compatriot- “The only thing I felt was missing was the comfort of the firearm when held. It should fit the hand and be light enough to be held at arms length 5 minutes without significant wavering…” Comfort for the individual is extremely important! Thanks W!

So now you can choose a handgun for self defense, if you have additional questions or feedback please comment or drop me an email. I love feedback and have no problem answering questions. Thanks for reading and as always remember to check out the awesome agorist business’s on the right hand side.

Free the mind and the body will follow.


About Jesse Mathewson

Jesse Mathewson is the author of the popular blog, jessetalksback.com and provides commentary to many varied places based on a background that includes education in criminal justice, history, religion and even insurgency tactics and tactical training. His current role in his community is as an organizer of sorts and a preacher of community solidarity and agorism. He also runs Liberty Practical Training, a self defense school specializing in the practical applications of defensive approaches versus the theoretical. As an agorist, voluntaryist and atheist his life is seen as crazy and wild by many, though once they get to know him most realize he is a bluntly honest individual who will give you the shirt off his back if he believes it is necessary to help you. Very simple, "That which is voluntary between all individuals involved is always right, if it is not voluntary, it is always wrong."
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23 Responses to Handguns for self defense: Why choose what you choose?

  1. Pingback: Get training today, for a safer tomorrow! | Jesse Talks Back

  2. Pingback: Firearms safety made simple | Jesse Talks Back

  3. cavpatriot says:

    The best gun is the one you have on you. As you well know Jesse, I have a compact Glock. I would prefer a mid size since I mostly OC, but it’s what i have, so it’;s what i train with. lots of good info here though. Perhaps when I have the capital available, I will invest in a 23. For now, the 27 suffices 😉


  4. Pingback: Advanced Shooting Drills: Safe movement, drills and practice | Jesse Talks Back

  5. Having scooped a few people dead from a single wound and yet seen others walking round carrying a full clip center mass, I’m a great believer in the tactical reload.
    A revolver just doesn’t cut it in the heat of the moment reload.
    The “fun bit” as always is the law, the subsequent trial, and the definition of “reasonable force”.
    What the heck is that? IM (humble) O, a threat is still a threat if it can still hurt you so if that means a years worth of 9 mm gets spent, so be it!


    • Well said, as I said before I am a great believer in shoot until the threat stops, and statistics. One shot drop is rare at best, yes it occurs, case in point the 77 (sic) old man who used a .22 rifle and put down a threat with one too the chest earlier this year. 🙂


  6. H. A. Tucker says:

    Jesse, good article. Spot on about the double action only revolver. I love mine, but it is relegated to only a backup or a pocket pistol. The recoil and the heavy trigger pull are my reasons for this.

    My recommendation to people who are looking for a handgun for everyday carry is simple. Find a range (or a really good friend) with a variety of handguns in different sizes and calibers and try them out until you find what you’re comfortable with. And then…practice, practice , practice. That way, if you have to use your weapon, that muscle memory will hopefully kick in. In a stressful situation, everything happens in a matter of seconds and there is little time to think and process after the threat is presented.


  7. The Royal says:

    Jesse it would be hard to add much to what what you’ve already stated in this article. You touched on important issues while still opening it up to personal preference. There is nothing worse than the “my way is the proper proper way” instructor. I agree wholeheartedly when it comes to the revolver as a ladies gun not being the best choice. My first handgun was a .38 airweight. The trigger pull was a heavy 14 pounds which always caused me to pull tothe right. That in itself is reason enough to ditch as a first line of defense for me due to accuracy issues alone. I have my preference of handguns as well now that I have become proficient with many types of firearms. It doesn’t matter what firearm uou choose as much as it matters how much you train with it. Training is key to proficiency. Learning to draw quickly in stressful situations can save your life. So practice your draw. Learn to load quickly. There us more to shooting than pulling the trigger. So I guess in essence, pick the firearm that is right for you and learn it like your life depends on it (because it just might some day) and train often.


  8. Jeffrey C. Anthony says:

    A good friend of mine got for his wife an 8 round .22WMR revolver with a very reasonable trigger pull, not hammerless, and is using some form of self defense round that has faster burning powder for the shorter barrel usages.
    They tried a more traditional semi auto, and she lost all confidence when she got disconfuddled and ended up holding it wrong, and hurt her hand with the slide her first time out shooting. Now refuses to touch a semi auto.
    Everyone’s got a different set of circumstances and needs.

    Other note i’ve heard, no expert, is the FMJ variations in lower caliber with less penetration will end up dumping all their energy into the target as opposed to larger calibers. This a factor in your thought process?

    I’ve been very very against manual safety mechanisms simply because it’s one more thing to go wrong, keep it simple.

    What are your thoughts on carrying chambered?


  9. And by the way,…lI’m still a firm believer in training,…but I also believe in training for the training to fail,…if that makes sense. Ergo, my emphasis on pointability.


  10. This is a many-faceted topic that requires so much more time and space to write about it than you are allowing for here,…so obviously some things are going to not get covered.

    One thing you left out as a criteria for selecting a pistol is the manner it is anticipated it will be carried, if ever. (Purse, belt, concealed, open, glovebox, briefcase, etc…)

    For myself, I instruct people that the single most important criteria, above action type, caliber, capacity or even concealabilty is what I call “pointability”. Since we know that when experiencing the adrenaline dump of pure panicked terror, training often goes out the window and people tend to just point and crank on the trigger, neglecting sight alignment or discipline,…a weapon which naturally tends to index in your hand in such a manner as have the sights align almost without effort,…is ideal. To understand pointability, pick a fixed spot on the wall (such as a clock or light switch), look away from it, then point your index finger of your dominant hand at it. Now look down along the axis of your pointed finger. Your finger, even without looking, it pretty accurately pointing right at that “target”, isn’t it? The ideal handgun for you is one which points this naturally and accurately. With the candidate handgun unloaded (of course), try the drill I just described. Whichever design or brand or model points this well for you (or as close to it as you can achieve,…that’s the gun you want. All the other criteria, such as caliber and whatnot are not of small consequence. But they matter much less than pointability. Why? Because only hits count. (And misses will travel down the street and hit a bus full of nuns.) So if you have to shoot somebody with a small caliber like a .22 several times, but manage to do it well,…that is much better than getting off only a round or two of .44magnum that completely miss.


  11. Butch Augst says:

    Good read.
    I never thought about what firearm would be best for a female, between semi vs revolver. What you said makes sense in that regards. It seems proper considering the kick of the firearms.

    I also found it interesting that you stated to know what is around you. On the few occasions that I drew my firearm, My first thoughts were always my backdrop. If I miss, were does the round go? A terrible incident I responded to 30 years ago during a domestic, a man pulled a large revolver on my partner. While he was trying to talk him out of the firearm, I was drawn down on the man. His wife & two young sons walked in behind him through a door from another room. At point blank with ball ammunition, the round had a high probability of going through. They were off center, but if a bone was hit, which there would be at dead center mass, a possibility of hitting one of those three became a real probability. The only way I would fire was if he did shoot my partner and I had to move quick to the side to change where the exit may occur. All ended well, no shot fired, but that drove the point home to me at age 19 of knowing your backdrop.

    One shot, one kill. With that, I respectfully disagree. My handgun of choice is the 1911 model .45. I was trained on it and carried it on my hip for several years. The ammunition I now carry for that firearm is the hollow point. The FBI stats for the average gun fight set the distance at 21 feet. The .45 known for lobbing rounds in the general direction is very accurate at that range. A wound from the .45 with that type of ammo is pretty much fatal.
    In reality, a small female won’t want that .45. It does kick, and is heavy. The average smaller caliber semi-automatic is ample for what she would require, which is fear from the noise and pain from the hit. The reason I still run with the .45 is two fold. First: Properly trained and used for years. Second: Where I have to go, I don’t anticipate whoever I actually have to draw on being unarmed or alone, therefore, I want to limit the number of rounds coming back in my direction. I don’t believe this isn’t the case for standard defense.


    • Well said, and with the one shot approach, such is what it is. I tend to rely heavily on statistics and use those as a support. Obviously, this is a general approach, as you said with solid training and ability one shot can suffice, better with some and adequately with others. 🙂 thanks for the feedback.


    • jeffreycanthony says:

      One of the most interesting notes someone passed on to me on the one shot kill mentality, there’s not a lot of statistical data about smaller caliber one shot kill/stop because of timing. Usually people will automatically pull the trigger more than once before the person goes down because they can. No way to tell if the first round did the trick or not.


  12. Wayne Padgette says:

    The only thing I felt was missing was the comfort of the firearm when held. It should fit the hand and be light enough to be held at arms length 5 minutes without significant wavering. But the statements about one-shot-one-kill and double action revolvers are spot on. Combat situations very often boil down to how much lead can you send downrange in how quick a time, with what kind of accuracy. Very few will ever have the kind of familiarity to be able to rely on a single shot.


    • You are right, dammnit, I need you writing these! Arrrg- Mind if I add that as an excerpt from yourself? And yes I am asking as a courtesy cause it is already added… lol 🙂


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