The Best Caliber for Home Defense
The Best Caliber for Home Defense
by Craig Johnson
Selecting a good gun caliber is a tough decision for everyone, especially when it comes to home defense. The first step is to check and follow all the local, state and federal regulations appropriate to your area. While the day may come that these laws go out of the window, until then my advice is to obey the law!
When asking “the best” caliber for home defense, many factors are involved – so the best answer is “it depends.” We will look at several factors to help you choose the right caliber based on cost, capabilities, and of course round performance.
Let’s start off by listing the most popular handgun calibers out there. The 9mm is one of the most commonly used by law enforcement, the US military, and other countries around the world. The most common designation is called either 9mm Luger or 9X19. This is a low-cost caliber that also offers speed and good overall stopping power.
Another great caliber is the .40, an American version of the 10mm which was carried by the FBI briefly in the 1990s as a duty weapon. When the 10mm cartridge proved to be too much to handle, the .40 was developed and offers less recoil but higher performance and more stopping power than a 9mm. The rounds are more expensive than 9mm, but not overly so. The trade off is greater stopping power at the expense of heavier recoil and slightly less carrying capacity in your magazine, due to larger diameter of the round.
We certainly can’t mention 9mm and .40 without including the old standby .45. This caliber round is big and slow; and since it’s larger, you can’t fit as many into your magazine. The trade off is stopping power. For almost a century, the .45 was the standard sidearm of the US military – and for good reason. Not only does it penetrate the target, many times the target will be forced backward. The standard .38 sidearm was passing through the target and still allowing forward motion, therefore allowing bayonet stabs.
The 38 special was used with great success for many years by law enforcement and the military. It was replaced by the military in the early 20th century and also in law enforcement in the late 1980s and 1990s in favor of pistols that are semi-auto and allow the officer to carry more rounds in the magazine. However, the 38 special is a still a very capable round with low recoil, similar to the 9mm. In recent years, different round loadings have given the 38 special even more stopping power capabilities. Unfortunately, 38 special is usually fired through a revolver, limiting you to five or six shots before having to reload – which may be all you need to get your point across.
The .380 is also a nice choice and is gaining in popularity in the US. It has been a staple round for European law enforcement for many years. Most of the new guns coming out in .380 in the US now are geared toward very small and concealable “pocket pistols,” such as the Ruger LCP and the Keltec P3AT. Neither of these are bad guns and might be just what you need. These smaller pistols give you usually six rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber, so there’s slightly more firepower in the gun than a .38.
We should also mention the .357 magnum, which is basically a .38 special with a slightly longer case (.125 of inch to be exact). A revolver that shoots .357 can also fire .38 special, making it adaptable to the easier shooting in addition to the high power .357 rounds. The .357 magnum was created in the early 20th century as a law enforcement response to the higher firepower of the gangsters at the time of the great depression. Many officers were feeling underpowered against the bad guys, and the .357 magnum was the answer they were looking for. The recoil is certainly stronger than a .38 special or .380, but not overpowering. Some more recent adaptations include the .357 Sig, in which many semi-auto pistols are chambered.
There are several good choices to consider when choosing a good home defense caliber. I’d recommend you chose a full- or compact-size pistol, rather than something small enough to conceal and carry with you daily. A larger pistol, regardless of caliber, will allow you to manage the recoil better and is more accurate.
To determine the caliber and gun you feel most comfortable with, I recommend visiting a reputable gun shop that will let you try out their guns. You ultimately decide what gun fits you best and what you can handle the best. A huge 1911 shooting .45 can be great, but not if you can’t shoot it accurately due to recoil, hand size, or other factors. The whole point of having a firearm for home protection is to be able to use it.