Choosing the Appropriate Handgun for You and Yours, by Officer Tackleberry

There are many areas of debate, speculation, opinion and urban legends when it comes to anything involving guns and/or self-defense, with handguns probably being at the top of this list.  I will share my experience, training and research to try to help with this debate.

The first thing to consider is what caliber is right for you and your family.  When it comes to establishing a caliber for your family’s security, there seems to be a belief that the .45 is the only way to go, especially in the semi-auto platform.  I couldn’t disagree more with the reasoning for this thought process and I am about to ruffle more than few feathers by making a case for the 9mm to be your ammo and platform of choice.

One of the things brought up is “knock down power” and this is one of those urban legends that needs addressed first.  Yes, a .45 has a greater weight and therefore more impact inertia/potential if it hits something solid, like bone.  So, if my only choice was .45 ball or some other caliber ball, like the 9mm, then I would consider the .45. 

But, if one takes the time to study the plethora of data available, you will see that most of the time people are not instantly incapacitated after being shot with a pistol, no matter what the caliber is.  There is an old saying that some of you may have already heard…What does a person do after being shot with a pistol? The same thing he was doing before he was shot with a pistol!  This may sound foolish but that is the reality of pistol caliber ammo.  This is also why many police agencies and military units have started phasing out or limiting the use of pistol caliber long gun platforms, such as the MP5, in favor of the more compact rifle caliber platforms.

I believe that the type of pistol ammo is more important than what the actual caliber is.  Winchester, Hornady and Speer are just three of the quality manufacturers out there that make awesome hollow-point, self-defense ammo for 9mm that have significant ballistic capabilities that exceed that of .45 ball.  The hollow-point bullets flare out when they meet resistance, sometimes to more than twice original size.  This causes significant wound channels, thus incapacitating the attacker.  This is why law enforcement carries hollow-point ammo and it’s extremely foolish that we don’t allow military to do so.

So, with the quality ammo options available today, why pigeon-hole yourself with a caliber that’s so big that it severely limits the amount of ammo that you can carry at one time?  In all semi-auto pistol platforms, the .45 caliber pistol holds a significantly smaller number of cartridges than most 9mm pistols.

We need to remember why we carry pistols and what their true purpose is.  The true purpose of the pistol is to provide a concealable, compact firearms platform that we can use to defend ourselves at close quarters, to fight our way to cover, to escape and/or get to a long-gun platform.  I recently read what was supposed to be a story about a sheriff in Texas.  Whether or not the story is true, I do believe that it reflects the mindset we all should have when it comes to the use of firearms for self-defense.  The story states that the sheriff was attending some sort of social function when a woman approached him and asked him if he was “expecting trouble” since he was wearing his pistol.  The sheriff told her no, that if he was really expecting trouble, then he would have brought his rifle. 

It’s not my intention to state that pistol calibers are totally ineffective and/or should be ignored.  I believe that it is more of a perspective and awareness issue.  Since I know why I carry a pistol and what it’s intended purpose is (close quarters self-defense, fight our way to cover/long-gun platform, or escape as mentioned earlier), I would prefer the 17 rounds of quality 9mm ammo available in my Glock 17 over the 12 rounds or less available in most 45 semi-autos.  Even my sub-compact Glock 26 affords me 10 rounds per magazine in an easily concealable format.

One distinct advantage of the high-capacity of most 9mm platforms available over the .45s is that you have to perform fewer magazine changes.  Magazine changes, especially under stress, are something we all need to practice on a regular basis.  With that being said, someone with what is arguably the most popular .45 platform, the 1911, must perform two magazine changes before they meet/exceed the amount of ammo that I have in my Glock 17 before I am required to make a single magazine change.  You must keep in mind that every time you make a magazine change, you are temporarily out of the fight.  Also, how many of you carry one extra magazine when you conceal-carry your handgun, let alone two?

Now, before all of the hate mail comes in claiming that I am “disrespecting” the 1911, I want to clarify something.  I am a fan of the 1911 and its quality design, regardless of the manufacturer.  It’s one of the most pleasurable handguns I have ever shot, bar none.  But, in my humble opinion, why carry a gun that only gives 7 or 8 rounds per magazine when I carry one that is similar in size but has 15 rounds, like the Glock 19? 

We broached the area of “knock down power” power earlier in this discussion and now I want to delve into it a little deeper.  Based on my research and training, I believe the standard we need to evaluating is not the size and weight of a bullet (which are the biggest arguments in favor of the .45s) but the ability of the bullet, and most of all the shooter, to incapacitate an attacker.

What I mean by the ability of the bullet has already been mentioned previously in regards to hollow-point ammo.  But, the ability of the shooter is directly tied to shot placement, especially under stress.  Can you repeatedly hit different vital areas, such as the head, with your current handgun?  Can you do so while moving forward, backward and/or sideways? Can you do so one handed, especially with your “off-hand”?
Now, take you out of this equation and insert your family members.  Can your spouse and/or children, especially teenagers, adequately perform the above listed tasks with the handguns that you have selected for the family self-defense arsenal?  Can the smaller stature members of your family or preparedness group handle training with .45 or even a .40 caliber handgun?

We need to keep in mind a key factor we know about individual performance during the stress of a combat situation.  This “factor” that I am speaking of is that a person drops to about 50% of their ability under the stress of combat.  Since this is the case, we know that we all must have quality training and practice on a regular basis.  How much practice/training is a person going to be willing to put in with a hand gun that beats them up?

When I was in the police academy, I saw two videos that really opened my eyes in regards to shot placement.  The first video was from the cruiser of a state trooper who was in a fight with a man who ended up shooting the trooper with a .22 caliber pistol.  The .22 caliber bullet went through the trooper’s side and pierced his aorta.  I watched this large, muscular trooper who was a former professional football player bleed out internally and die.  Lucky shot? Yes.  But, the small caliber bullet still killed him.

The second video I watched involved a domestic violence incident in which a female was shot point blank in the forehead with a .357 revolver.  When the police and EMTs arrived, she was still conscious and sitting on the couch.  The bullet had glanced off the skull plate of her forehead and traveled under the skin of her scalp all the way to the back of her head before becoming lodged in the muscle of her neck. 
Now, prior to viewing these two videos, I was of the opinion that being shot with a .357 revolver meant certain death.  But, not only did the female in video #2 survive, so did the man who shot the trooper in video #1.  You see, the trooper in video #1 had shot his attacker five times center mass with his issued .357 handgun.  Yet, his attacker still shot him and still alive to this day (R.I.P. Trooper Coates).  I guess the old adage of “I’d rather have a hit with a .22 than a miss with a 5” artillery shell” still applies.

Another factor that must be considered by most, if not all us, is the cost associated with achieving and maintaining confidence and proficiency with your chosen firearm’s platforms, especially hand guns.  To maintain necessary proficiency, we must live-fire practice and train with the chosen hand gun on regular basis.  As of right now, 9mm ball practice ammo sells for about $165 per 600 round case while .45 ball practice ammo sells for about $290 per 600 round case.  Quality Speer Gold Dot Hollow Point 9mm self-defense ammo sells for about $23 per 20 round box, while the .45 sells for about $28 per 20 round box.  As you can see, it is much more cost effective to train with and properly equip the 9mm platform as opposed to the. 45.  Then you can use the money saved to obtain other necessary preparedness items.
As you can tell, I am a fan of the Glock family of pistols.  But, I want to clarify the fact that I favor the 9mm family only, which includes the Models 17, 19 and 26.  There are several reasons as to why and I will try to name a few of them in short order.

First, Glock’s have no external safeties or de-cock levers and their safety features are internal.  There are some that would try to argue that this makes the Glock an unsafe platform.  If that was the case, then thousands of police officers wouldn’t be carrying them because their respective departments wouldn’t want the liability.  The primary safety on all firearms has always been, and always will be, keeping the trigger area free of obstructions, especially your finger!  I have also read of several instances where officer’s have forgotten to reset their de-cock lever or to take their gun off of safe and thus the gun didn’t fire when they deployed it in self-defense.  Several of these officers were shot and unfortunately some were killed.  Is it a training issue? Yes.  But it has happened more that what most people think and it has happened to me while training with a Smith and Wesson 4506.

Secondly, the 9mm Glock family has many interchangeable parts, including magazines.  The full-size magazine for the model 17 will work in the both the 19 and the 26 and the 19’s magazine will fit in the 26.

Next, most full sized .45 caliber models are physically way too big for smaller-statured people and both the .40 and .45 caliber platforms have way too much bark/recoil for many people. 

I think a serious consideration needs to be the availability of ammo and spare parts in a TEOTWAWKI environment.  Since 9mm is common the world over, I believe ammo will be available to at least barter for, which also means it’s probably a good item to barter with.  Also, since Glocks are very common in the U.S. and worldwide, then I believe spare parts will be somewhat easier to come by.

Lastly, the 9mm Glock family has repeatability of use no matter what the size.  In a self-defense situation, my wife, who is not very familiar with a multitude of handguns, can pick up any of my Glocks and know exactly how it functions.  To me and my way of thinking, this is a huge home security bonus.

I challenge you to take the time to seriously research the 9mm ammo and platforms available with an open mind.  I did and I am happy with the results of my research.  I also stake my life my life on the results every day. I believe you will see that there are simple, effective and cost-efficient options out there, with Glocks being at the top of that list.