The 22 Handgun for Self Defense

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Carrying or using a handgun for self-defense is a time-honored and Constitutionally protected right in this country. What you carry is also, as many other things in life are, totally up to you. While many argue that the minimum amount of gun to carry to protect themselves is in a caliber that "starts with a 4" there are also some inside the same community that go about half that size and carry... 22's for self-defense.

Come on, why a .22?

The 22 Handgun for Self Defense - christophereger - ruger-standard-807.jpg

First, let's look at this objectively. Some of the most accurate, inexpensive, and reliable handguns of all time are rimfire pistols and revolvers. A good used Ruger Standard or MkII can be bought for around $250, .It is almost impossible to break, accurate at the day is long, and 500 shots of practice run about $15. More modern versions of this handgun by other manufacturers, such as the Beretta Neo, Walther P22, and Browning Buckmark run slightly more but are no less dependable if using the right ammunition. For the same price, you are looking at buying a Kahr or Kel-tec pistol in 380/9mm. At the range 500 rounds of .380 is about $175, or about 11-times more than the same amount of .22LR rounds. This leads to more bang for the buck in the most literal sense, allowing both more frequent and more intensive training and practice.

The 22 Handgun for Self Defense - christophereger - naamini22-003-808.jpg

Furthermore, most .380s have a pretty good bark and resulting muzzle-flip that many shooters find uncomfortable and makes for slower aimed follow-up shots. Furthermore, if you need a very small handgun, there are no smaller than the Beretta 21 subcompact, NAA Mini-revolvers, and two barreled derringers made by several manufacturers-- and all are rimfire 22s.

Bonus Add Ons

Besides being a home defense or personal defense firearm, .22's are the penultimate target handgun for tin can plinking at the local gravel pit, and punching holes in paper at the range. Many states allow handgun hunting and the .22 handgun is a proven survival tool for rabbits, squirrel, and other critters. I know of one older Southern gentleman who very successfully hunts deer with a long barreled AMT .22 Automag pistol. That's a lot of multi-tasking for one handgun. With today's lean economic times, you may just be able to have one to cover target shooting, home/self-defense, and hunting.


Can a .22 be lethal? With thousands of people on both sides of the spectrum dead and buried over the years by rimfire rounds, you had better believe it. Is it a good choice for personal defense? It can be argued that almost every round that is larger than a rimfire .22 penetrates deeper and imparts more energy onto its target. It's a matter of simple physics. If you hit something with a 230-grain bullet going at 800 feet per second, it's going to cause more damage than if you hit something with a 40-grain bullet going at 1000 feet per second. The FBI recommends to law enforcement that a round penetrate 9-inches of more in ballistics gel to be considered 'combat effective.' In tests from a Taurus subcompact pistol by Golden Loki, no less than eight loadings of 22LR met or exceeded that benchmark.

See below gun test for a 22LR CCI Velocitor through a chicken and four layers of terry cloth.

When you talk .22WMR, the figures change up the board slightly. Manufacturers are even catering to personal protection ammunition for these chamberings. Hornady's Critical Defense Ammunition is loaded with a 45-grain Flex Tip Expanding bullet, which has a soft polymer insert that delivers superior controlled expansion and large, deep wound cavities over a wide range of velocities. Each round is loaded into a nickel case for increased visibility in low-light situations and premium low flash propellants that deliver proven performance, even in very short-barreled handguns that will not disrupt your vision.
The 22 Handgun for Self Defense - christophereger - 994134-806.jpg

They generate 100-ft/lbs of energy from a 2-inch barrel. Not an elephant gun by any means, but still more effective than bad breath and colorful language. Ballistically speaking the 22 in either LR or WMR flavors is capable of self-defense, but only just that.

Minuses of a 22

While a 22 may be lethal, it is still just 33-60 grains of bullet traveling at pretty low speed. They are well known for ricochet against hard flat objects, as any squirrel hunter shooting up into an oak tree will tell you. A .22LR can even ricochet off the surface of water at a low angle of aim. Bulk pack plain Jane rimfire rounds are cheap, but many of the better rimfire rounds like CCI Stingers for example, cost around $7 for 50-rounds. This is a price approaching that of bargain 9mm or .38SPL that would hit a heck of a lot harder by comparison.

The 22 Handgun for Self Defense - christophereger - dsc-0001-805.jpg

Overall, while it's generally recommended that you bring enough gun to the fight, by carrying the largest caliber handgun holding as many rounds as you can get away with that you are comfortable toting around, for some this choice is a 22. It's better than nothing, especially when the alternative is an empty hand.

Be safe out there.

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October 10, 2012  •  07:03 PM
I just got a Taurus Ply 22. It has been perfect through over 300 rounds of assorted ammo. Everything from CCI Stingers and Velocitors to Federal bulk pack. I carry a 9mm Kahr or a 38 special Colt Agent as a primary. I have started to put the Taurus in my jacket pocket since the weather has changed. Is it my first choice for carry? No. But it is very small and light and I it makes a pretty good bug.
October 12, 2012  •  06:52 PM
I carry the Phoenix Arms Semi-Auto .22 for my backup and it loves the CCI Stinger food. Nice little .22 for a hundred bucks. My primary is the .45 XDm.
October 20, 2012  •  01:27 AM
I admit to being a fan of .22's since it is what I learned to shoot back in the early 1950's. I've used it for hunting varmints on the farm and have seen what plain-old lead round-nosed .22 Longs can do to a ground hog from 30-yards away.
Your article and the video just prove my long-held assumptions about .22-caliber lethality; that it is a round that can be used for defense in the right weapon and with the right technique. I'll still carry a S&W Bodyguard .380 for personal protection and rely on my Glock G22C(.40S&W)and Mossy 12-gauge for home defense, but a good .22 with good ammo is never too far away. Lotsa little bullets can be just as good a deterrent as one big one.
October 20, 2012  •  06:19 PM
I really think that reliability has to be talked about in any carry round. While the more expensive .22 rounds may have better penetration they are still rimfire rounds.
October 24, 2012  •  08:55 PM
I believe in using deadly force only when I have no other choice, like when being confronted an armed opponent. My goal would then be to get an INSTANT kill to avoid return fire.

Maybe that's just my Marine Corps training, but I would prefer a .45ACP before any other caliber - especially a .22 rimfire.
October 24, 2012  •  09:16 PM
I usually carry a .357 mag, but if Im just wearing shorts and a tee, I'll stick my walther P22 in my pocket instead. Yes, its MUCH less bang, but its better than nothing until I get around to upgrading to something bigger.
October 24, 2012  •  09:36 PM
Any firearm is better than none. Same calibers, I have seen one shot kills, and multiple hits not anchor the bad guy..Either way if he doesn't get attention, they will die!
October 24, 2012  •  10:08 PM
I carry an LCR in 357. It's lighter but not as accurate as my two Brownings. Head shots from a 22, how else? Bobby Kennedy was killed with a 22 head shot.
October 24, 2012  •  10:11 PM
Addendum to prev. Buckmarks
October 24, 2012  •  10:14 PM
I want reliability when I need it. I have honestly put about a thousand rounds through my Ruger SR9C without any hang up. I think maybe you go with what you are comfortable carrying, but reliability is the number one in my book and I still have not found a .22 that can do that. Maybe its the ammo? Maybe its the maker? Maybe its rim-fire? I don't know. All I know is that in a stressful scenario you better have reliability. Although I believe the .45 ACP is the best " instant down round " I get the most confidence, speed and accuracy on follow ups with my 9mm. Choose a firearm that you are completely CONFIDENT with and I do believe you will have the upper hand. That will help if you are shooting a .22 cal because I do believe you will need it. MOST IMPORTANT, shoot with confidence.
October 24, 2012  •  10:52 PM
Having been shot with .22, I can't recomend them for self defence.

Unless you get a good brain or spine shot, you will have a fight on your hands untill they bleed out.
October 24, 2012  •  11:43 PM
Ive had a few .22s over the years, one ive kept, a 4.5 inch bull barrel MkI, and one I sought for many years.. a Smith .22 "kit gun" with a snub bbl. The kit gun performs a lot of less than pleasant tasks around the homestead... Such wouldnt be my choice for home defense but if I had to use it the transgressor would need a kevlar helmet.
I was gonna bob the bull bbl on the Ruger MKI and make it more handy, but was told by a collector who knows his stuff that it would be a mistake to do ANYTHING to that pistol as it is something of a collectable as time goes on.
Next buy if it presents itself will be onna them .22mag semis with the 30 rnd mags.
October 25, 2012  •  12:46 AM
A 22 in your pocket trumps a 9mm in your closet.
October 25, 2012  •  01:10 AM
You skipped over one of the most critical points.

While you mention control in passing, the fact is that a segment of the population, particularly the older folks, have difficulty controlling the recoil of higher caliber handguns and shorter barrel mid-calibers.

Physical issues, particularly arthritis, MS, rheumatism, swelling joints and weaker muscles/tendons affect more Americans each year as the population ages. Although an avid shooter in his prime, my 87-year old father today could get off one shot with a standard 9 or .40 (assuming his hands/fingers could quickly fit the trigger guards on a bad day) but would then drop it due to physical pain from his arthritic hands. Similarly, if he doesn't carry one in the pipe for an SA, racking a round is problematic. On the other hand, my Buckmark .22 is accurate, controllable and gives him 11 rounds (one chambered with the safety on next to his bedside) for SD.

Then there are children and lighter-framed individuals who either need lower calibers or perceive they cannot control higher calibers. While they could be trained there is the need to remember that forcing anyone to learn anything is more difficult and leads to lack of passion, understanding and respect for the discipline. I would rather my children use their preferred .22 or .17 for SD than be forced to pick up a .308 rifle or one of my .40 handguns. Training cycles are longer, more difficult and the average person is simply not going to be as comfortable as with a weapon they believe is better for them.

Remember, we're talking civilians, casual shooters, family members, people who may prefer cooking or reading over IDPA matches and range time. Shooter confidence, control factors and focus are more important than knock-down power and trigger pull in the majority of self-defense situations, it's not fluid combat with tactical movement most of the time.
October 25, 2012  •  04:03 AM
With a .22rimfire semiauto I'd add practice shooting is important to find the right ammo in order to avoid stoppages at an embarrassing moment.
October 25, 2012  •  07:55 AM
A .22 can kill, dependent upon shot placement. It is also capable of stopping a fight via relatively minor injury due to pain and/or intimidation. However, the primary objective in using a handgun for self defense is to stop the fight as quickly as possible. A .22 can kill, but much more slowly than is necessary to stop the BG from doing more harm to you. A bigger bullet can cause immediate loss of blood pressure, render the BG unconscious more quickly. There are .38's, .380's, .40's, and even .45's that are easy on recoil, as well. So my preference is the ".4" in the caliber.
October 25, 2012  •  08:02 AM
I have a 22/45 bull barrel and can put 10 rounds in a half dollar space as fast as I pull the trigger. I prefer a 45 but this is all I have so it will have to do.
October 25, 2012  •  11:34 AM
Have been carrying a Walther PP in 22lr for years. Havn't had to use it but am confident in my ability to stop anyone who attacks me. 8 22lr on a playing card at 10 feet in a very short period of time is good enough for me. You say shooting at a playing card and shooting at a human are two different things, only if you havn't done both, I have. As always the old firstsoldier.
October 25, 2012  •  07:54 PM
@Innovative- I agree with you also being a retired Jarhead. The 1911 is my carry of choice but I use it in .38 Super. Little less weight but a lot more speed since I handload my own ammo and my rnds travel in excess of 1300 fps. The recoil is lighter for quicker follow-ups and I carry 9 in the mag + 1 in the chamber in a Condition One configuration, plus I have an extra clip w/9 rnds on my belt. I figure if I get into a firefight and run out of rounds, I'm in the wrong place at the wrong time and am screwed anyway. I doubt a .22 would be much help in that case.
October 25, 2012  •  09:45 PM
I 2nd your opinion. I own and love 22's just as much as the next guy however, if confronted with an armed threat, I would prefer to deliver the shock of a very hard hitting round to incapacitate my attacker, which stops his firing at me. During a high stress gun fight; I can imagine being shot with a 22 and unless, being hit in a vital aerea, not even feeling it. I'm certain with enough rounds delivered, the 22 is lethal but I'm just as sure, it would be after my death, that the attacker would die.
October 26, 2012  •  01:23 PM
You could always drill the nose of the .22 round and pack it with cyanide if you were really serious about killing the BG.

But you'd have to take care not to drop one in your coffee while you were filling the mag!
October 27, 2012  •  08:29 AM
Beautiful picture of the Ruger! Mine looks just like it only it is the short barrel version. It is not quite as old as I am but it works quite a bit better than I do. I would not call it a good home protection weapon but possibly a backup to my shotgun. (See shotgun discussion item) I believe that nine rounds between the ears makes you dead.
October 27, 2012  •  03:11 PM

Thats why you keep the 9 in your pocket and the 22 in the closet.
October 27, 2012  •  03:15 PM

Most definitely!
October 30, 2012  •  07:03 PM
It's kind of a hard choice to make. I'm an avid M1911 fan. However, I do have a great deal of respect for the .22LR round. An uncle of mine (a tall, large man) nearly died from 2 chest hits from a .22LR rifle.

If push comes to shove, I'd settle for a .22 if necessary.