Letter Re: Is a .22 Rimfire Better than Nothing for Home Defense?

Mr. Rawles,

I am a junior college student on a quite limited budget. Right now, my only guns are a Daisy Model 881 pellet [.177 caliber air] rifle and a Ruger 10/22 [.22 Long Rifle semi-auto rifle.] I hope to buy an [M1] Garand [semi-auto rifle] that belongs to my uncle, but for now my “battery” is limited. (LOL!) Here’s my question: Will a .22 [LR rimfire] actually be sufficient, if I put enough rounds into a bad guy, to stop him? Thanks, – G.H.

JWR Replies: If circumstances dictate that you must use a .22 for self defense, then aim for neck and head shots. Because of the high volume of fire required to achieve a good stopping hit, I recommend that you buy at least one reliable 30 round magazine–and preferably several, if you can afford them. I particularly like the robust machined aluminum Ruger magazines made by Tactical, Inc., up in northern Idaho.

The following, quoted by Snopes.com, is a news article from 1988 that illustrates that with well-aimed shots, the puny .22 Long Rifle can, with good fortune, stop and even kill an attacker:

Switzer, S.C. – An 11-year-old boy who had been left alone after school shot and killed two men as they tried to steal a videocassette recorder from his family’s home, police said.

William Todd Knight, the son of Billy and Ann Knight, “acted very wisely,” said Spartanburg County Coroner Jim Burnett. “His life was in danger, he looked for an escape and could not find one … he was a very brave young man.”

Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Department Capt. John Blackwood said the boy was watching cartoons in his parents’ bedroom Monday afternoon when he heard noises at the front door of the family’s brick, ranch-style home.

Todd told officers he was scared, so he went to his room for the .22-caliber rifle his father had given him for Christmas and loaded four rounds.

He then went to the front door and saw a man he described as “rough” pounding on the door. The man finally left in a white Datsun.

Todd said he resumed watching cartoons and about 10 minutes later heard banging, this time at a dining room window.

He saw two men climbing through the dining room window. The boy said he went into the bathroom to climb out the window, but saw the white Datsun was parked in the back yard.

Todd told police he went back to the hallway, peeked around the corner into the den and was spotted by one of the intruders as they were taking the VCR.

Todd then fired three rounds at the men, who dropped the VCR and fled.

When police arrived, one of the dead men was found face down next to a woodpile in the back yard, approximately 50 to 75 feet from the house, while the second man was in the driver’s seat of the white two-door Datsun.

It has been said apocryphally that the .22 Long Rifle has killed nearly as many deer in America as the .30-30. That might be true.

If you don’t get that M1 Garand, then at least buy yourself an inexpensive military surplus bolt action rifle, such as a Mauser, Enfield, Mosin-Nagant, or a Schmidt-Rubin. (The latter is a novel straight pull design that I’ve always liked.) These are often available for $90 to $250 at guns shows and at some sporting goods stores. (Major sporting goods chains that sell guns include: Big 5 Sporting Goods–in the western US, or Bass Pro Shops–mainly in the Eastern US, or Cabela’s–throughout the US). OBTW, some of these guns are available from 1898 or earlier production runs, which makes them Federally “antique” and hence exempt from paperwork requirements in most states. (See my Pre-1899 Antique Guns FAQ for details.)