Why NOT .22 LR For Self-Defense?

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The most abundant of the sub-calibers is .22 LR, but instead of the obvious question of “.22 LR for self-defense,”…the question is more like, why NOT? 

It isn’t the solution for everyone because nothing is, but it can be a good choice for someone, and arguably for far more people in the continental US than you might think. 

However, it isn’t without some pitfalls, which we’ll go over as well. 

.22 LR Ballistics Can Satisfy Most Defensive Needs

Obviously, .22 LR is not an appropriate caliber for law enforcement or military use. Let us also take it for granted that it’s probably not a good choice against large predators… although it’s worth mentioning that a world record grizzly was killed with a .22 Short

The typical American lives in an urban or suburban environment. Large predators are not really a concern, and most civilian-involved shootings occur within 3 to 10 yards. Outliers exist but are not commonplace.

What are the realistic terminal ballistic needs of a person in that context? Reliable ignition, reliable cycling, enough penetration to cause vital injury without overpenetration, and ideally, a POI that corresponds to the sighting system. 

Dr. Martin Fackler (who helped develop the FBI’s ballistic testing protocol) published in the International Wound Ballistics Association review Vol 5., No. 2 in 2001 that standard velocity 40-grain round nose .22 LR bullets would penetrate 36.5cm (14.6 inches) into 10 percent ballistic gelatin with a muzzle velocity of 1122 feet per second, roughly what you could expect of standard-velocity .22 LR from a 16-inch carbine like a Ruger 10/22. 

Lucky Gunner’s pocket pistol caliber gel test results published in 2020 showed a number of .22 LR loads were either on the bubble or met the 12-inch penetration standard, with Aguila Interceptor, CCI Velocitor, and Winchester Varmint HE being the most notable examples. 

Federal Punch, a 29-grain high-velocity lead flat-nose bullet designed for use in pistols, has been repeatedly found to satisfy the 12- to 18-inch penetration standard, even at distances up to 40 yards. 

Ergo, it would be fair to say that – with the right load in the right gun – a .22 LR can do what you need a bullet to do in a defensive role within the typical civilian context. 

More Practice At Less Cost And Almost No Recoil

Obviously, for a person to be capably armed rather than merely equipped, they need to have a certain level of skill. What are the barriers to attaining that skill? 

Money, access, and time. 

Barriers to access and time are personal. A person may not have much available time for training and practice for their reasons; a family, a career, and trying to keep up a home don’t leave you with a lot. 

Access to ranges, training, and so on have a lot to do with where you live. Opportunities are ridiculously available if you live in or around Dallas or Houston; it’s a different story if you live in New Jersey. 

.22 helps in terms of money. A 100-round pack of decent range ammo you’d find in most box stores will run you $30 to $40 for Winchester white box or something like that, but $10 to $12 for a 100-round box of CCI Mini Mag. Do the math. 

Then, you have a near absence of recoil and minimal muzzle rise. While certain aspects of shooting skill are caliber-blind (sights, trigger press, etc.), learning to control recoil isn’t, and a novice shooter is going to have to work harder to learn to run a .45 than a 9mm… but not nearly as hard to learn to run a .22. 

That also makes a .22 carbine or handgun a more practical choice of pool weapon. 

So… cheaper and easier to shoot. And if we, as a supposed community of responsible gun owners, want everyone in our ranks to have a certain base level of marksmanship and shooting skill…one way to get there is .22 LR. 

.22 Pistols And .22 Rifles Are 50-State Legal

Several states have an assault weapon ban… but every “assault weapon ban” law specifies centerfire. A .22 carbine is one of the few semi-auto long guns you can buy in all 50 states. 

You can buy a Ruger 10/22 in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, and Washington. 

.22 caliber handguns, including semi-autos and revolvers, are on every state roster of the states that have handgun rosters. That includes popular carry-sized rimfire handguns like the Ruger LCP II and LCR, the S&W 317 and 43C, and Taurus 942 revolvers. 

So… we have an entire class of firearms that are A.) capable of satisfying the ballistic needs of the typical armed citizen, B.) drastically cheaper and easier to shoot and therefore gain competence with, and C.) legal in all 50 states. 

That’s an awful lot of upside. 

But .22 LR For Concealed Carry Or Defense Does Come With Some Caveats

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, including and especially with .22 LR for concealed carry or home defense. 

First, ammunition selection goes from being fairly important to critically important. .22 semi-autos have classically been picky with ammunition, handguns most of all. Some .22 LR loads have been shown to be capable of sufficient penetration to cause vital injury, but not all. 

Second, .22 semi-auto handguns are also known to be a little more finicky. You may have to make some tweaks to get yours to run reliably. This is why some believe snubby revolvers are the best choice for a handgun in this caliber. 

Ergo, you have to choose a proven quality ammunition and vet it in your choice of firearm as well as the firearm itself.  

Lastly, .22 LR and the pistols and rifles that chamber it have limitations, as does the individual shooter. You have to be aware of what those limitations are and adjust around them. 

Snubbie revolvers in .22 LR and .22 WMR typically have 6- or 8-shot cylinders; subcompact .22 LR semi-auto pistols typically have a capacity of 10+1 or less. Rhett Neumayer can make 40-yard shots with a snub, but most people can’t. It’s not a gun you confront trouble with. It’s a gun you escape from trouble with. 

Ergo, know your limits and plan to live within them until/unless you’re able to grow beyond them. 

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