The .22 rimfire cartridge is the oldest self-contained round still in use today. It was introduced in 1856, and you would be hard-pressed to find a shooter who didn’t learn to shoot with a .22 caliber firearm. Even many non-gun people have a .22 somewhere in the family, and I’d hazard to say a home is not properly kept if there isn’t a .22 rimfire pistol or rifle available. It is considered by many to be the optimum round to have in a long term survival situation, and is perhaps the most useful cartridge one can have.
That being said, there isn’t a self defense instructor out there that will recommend the .22 as the optimum defensive round. Most will recommend something along the lines of a .380 ACP or larger for that job. However, there are a number of individuals who simply don’t have the hand strength to handle anything larger, whether it is due to limited hand strength, arthritis, injury, or a sensitivity to recoil or noise. Does that mean that they are just out of luck when it comes to defending themselves? Absolutely not.
A common misconception is to equip a new shooter with a small handgun because, the thinking is, it will be easier for them to shoot. This is actually the furthest thing from the truth. Recoil has more to do with the size of the gun, as opposed to the size of the cartridge. The .22 Long Rifle cartridge, in a moderate-sized firearm, is comfortable for almost everybody to shoot, once a new shooter gets past the muzzle blast and noise. For those of you who think that someone is worse than defenseless if they have a .22, or they should “just get used to something bigger,” I have a message for you: stay away from new shooters, you’re not helpful. Get out of your bubble, and actually talk to people, maybe get out and learn something new that might not conform to your world view. Those who have severe arthritis, permanent hand or wrist injuries, or conditions like fibromyalgia, are some of the folks who will benefit from using the .22 semi-automatic pistol. Even Col. Jeff Cooper, the Guru, was a believer in the .22 for self defense, if one wasn’t able to handle anything larger. The good Colonel wanted to people to be armed and trained, even if that meant using something other than his beloved 1911 in .45ACP.
So, what are some of the better choices in the field of .22s for defensive use? They are definitely not all the same. As far as handguns go, one of the better choices is the Ruger SR22 semi-auto. It follows the Ruger tradition of being rugged and reliable. I’ve had several examples that have gone through many hundreds of rounds, without cleaning and without malfunction. This is not something I recommend, but it gives you an idea of the reliability factor, which is the most important element in a defensive firearm.
Another excellent choice is the Browning 1911-22, either the standard version or the Black Label version, which has many of the extras that come on custom 1911s, such as a beavertail grip safety, extended ambidextrous thumb safety, high visibility sights and other features. Like the standard 1911, it is designed to be carried cocked and locked, meaning with a round in the chamber, hammer back and the safety on. Once the safety comes off, the short trigger pull makes for easy shooting.
But wait, doesn’t recommending a semi-auto fly in the face of the common advice, “just get a revolver, that way you don’t have to mess with pulling back the slide, or using a magazine, or taking off a safety, because you’re too stupid to learn how to use those things?” I added that last part, because that’s what you’re really saying when you tell someone to “just get a revolver.” Absolutely it does. Because I’ve had several students in their older years who just could not manage the trigger on a double-action revolver, but could still manipulate the slide on one of the above mentioned .22 semi-autos, I’ve learned this advice is not always right or good. The recoil springs on these two semi-autos are very light, and therefore much easier to manipulate than on a centerfire semi-auto, especially one of the small, compact ones made for concealment.
For example, I have an older student, who came to me very nervous around firearms, and during our beginner handgun class, she was very happy with my Ruger SR-22, so much so that she has one as her carry gun, qualified for her concealed carry permit with it, and shoots anywhere from 250-300 rounds each week, using both hands, right hand only and left hand only. How many of you shoot that much or train that much with each hand?
As far as long guns, the Ruger 10-22 .22 rifle is as common as snow in Alaska. They are available everywhere, and parts and accessories can make it into any style you could desire. The standard 10-22 comes with a 10 round magazine, but higher capacity magazines have been available for many years, such as the Butler Creek 25 round magazines. Recently, Ruger began offering their own 25 round magazines, as well. Both styles of magazines clip together, giving the shooter 50 rounds available. It is perhaps the most rugged .22 rifle made, and will outlast anything else out there.
One of the accessories that was useful for one of my students is the barrel band laser made by Lasermax for Ruger. It replaces the barrel band, and also has a short Picatinny rail section for attaching a light or similar gear. My student could only move in a wheelchair pushed by her husband, and had little strength in her wrists and hands. She couldn’t hold the pistol up, or shoulder the rifle. Her husband was an over the road truck driver, and wanted her to be able to protect herself. The laser allowed her to see where the muzzle was pointed, even while laying in the bed. It was not a solution I would recommend to everyone, but in this situation, it was the best we could come up with.
A small, veteran-owned company called Mason Leather makes a very neat butt cuff that will hold two ten round magazines. While not ‘high capacity,’ it does give one the ability to have ammo on the gun without having to search for somewhere to carry it.
TRAINING WITH THE .22
Using the .22 for personal defense requires that one strive for accuracy, as much as possible. Being able to place your rounds where they will do the most good is always important, but it is even more so with a .22. Placing multiple shots in the upper part of the chest, into the throat and face, will make up for the lack of power in the .22 cartridge. I would recommend using some of the full color scenario targets that are available, to give you an idea of where your rounds need to go.
It amazes me the number of people who say, “If anyone shoots me with a .22 and I find out about it, I’m gonna be mad!” Yet, if you read the ‘Armed Citizen’ column of the NRAs publication American Rifleman, you’d be surprised at the number of people who use a .22 caliber firearm to protect themselves successfully each year. Noted trainer Claude Werner probably has more experience with teaching the .22 for defensive purposes than anyone out there, and I urge those who are interested in learning more check out his blog: The Tactical Professor. One item of note that he has done is modify the old FBI qualification for the Thompson submachine gun for the .22 rifle. It’s an easy course to set up, and can be run at an indoor range, as well.
One point that must be brought up is the quality of .22 ammunition available. The primary argument to using the .22 for personal protection is the reliability factor. It is common to have failure to fire with much of the bulk .22, such as the Remington Golden Bullet. Bulk ammo is typically not of the same quality as match ammunition or hunting ammunition. If using a .22 handgun or rifle to protect yourself with is in your future, ensure that you use high-quality ammunition, such as the CCI Stinger or Velocitor, or some of the higher end match ammunition, such as Federal or Eley. These brands generally exhibit greater reliability than the less expensive brands. The redeeming factor is that .22 ammo is usually inexpensive enough that you can buy a large quantity of it for practice and carry. Be sure to test your ammo in your gun, .22s are notorious for being more picky about ammo they like and don’t like than anything else.
The guns I mentioned here are not the only choices available by any means, but they are ones that I have found to be reliable, affordable and easy for anyone to operate. Don’t listen to the naysayers about the ineffectiveness of the .22. Attitude and skill are more important anything else. There are no ineffective calibers, only ineffective shooters. A .22 in the tear duct beats a .45ACP to the toe any day of the week!