A common misconception for new concealed carriers is that a smaller gun is always the better option. While there are some advantages of carrying a smaller gun, micro-compact single-stack handguns have some significant limitations. Diminished capacity is one drawback. So how small is too small, or rather how many rounds should you carry?
The old cliche “if you can’t do it in 6, you can’t do it at all” is just that, a cliche that does not necessarily represent the most current information on how best to approach self-defense.
Contrast that with this statement from Massad Ayoob prefacing his research into the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies’ switch from 5-6 round revolvers to 15-18 or 20 round semi-automatics;
5-6 rounds was usually enough… but usually isn’t always
I don’t usually carry a gun.
I always carry a gun. I carry a gun that I trust will always work. Not a gun that usually works, or I hope it will work.
I choose to carry a firearm with as much capacity as I can comfortably accommodate and at least one additional magazine. I alternate between the HK P30L and the FNX 45 Tactical and an extra magazine or two.
Counting rounds in this video is tricky, but I approach it in this manner, the bad guy has 40 rounds in his AK47. So, count off the first 37 rounds and attribute those to the criminal.
Then start the counting over and attribute all the remaining rounds to the officer, and I ask the question, “how many rounds does this guy take before he is no longer a threat to those officers?”
The two police officers fire a total of 54 rounds. Is the bad guy still a threat when he is on his knees trying to lift the gun and put more rounds downrange? Absolutely.
By my count, he takes about 30 rounds of the 54 total that officers fire before he is not a threat. The remaining rounds fired as the assailant lays on his side are likely because the officer is terrified for his life. He and his partner are injured and cannot afford to allow this guy to get back up and finish that 40 round mag.
I want to mention that there is a difference between the “typical” law enforcement self-defense shooting and the “typical” shooting a citizen defender finds themselves in. However, I choose to determine my load based on how the human body reacts to gunshot wounds rather than solely on the specific mission.
You Train A Lot, and so Every Shot is going to “Count,” Right?
One of the biggest mistakes we make is to think we will replicate the same speed, accuracy, and fluidity during a deadly attack as we do on the range.
Dave Grossman, in his book “On Combat,” discusses many of the physiological and psychological pitfalls naturally programmed into our bodies. Some of the side effects of being in a deadly force situation include; loss of bowel and bladder control, tunnel vision or fog of war, loss of fine motor control, auditory exclusion, loss of depth perception, and more.
In life or death situations that happen at lightning speed and come with debilitating physical reactions from our bodies, we cannot expect to target every one of our shots perfectly.
In fact, according to several studies about police and law enforcement shootings conducted by the NYPD, the LAPD, and FBI, we find that the percentage of rounds fired that hit the threat, on average less than 20%.
To do some quick math, 20% of 8 is 1.6, so if in a gunfight you are better than average because you train weekly or bi-weekly and you carry 8 rounds in your gun, you can expect to be in slide lock and have only put 2 good, effective hits into the target.
Apply this to the above video. Out of the 54 shots fired by the officers, it’s possible only 10 of the rounds actually hit the assailant. The actual number of gunshot wounds the assailant in the video suffered is unknown.
So then, if 5-6 shots were “usually enough but not always,” we would need 25-32 rounds on our person. This number accounts for the average number of missed shots in typical gunfights while still getting the 5-6 good hits prescribed in the cliche.
Having Less Capacity is Ok if You Have a Larger Caliber, Right?
Well, he had to use so many rounds because he was using a 9mm. If he was carrying a .45 he could have gotten it done in less rounds
I have created this table using Hornady’s ballistic chart PDF available on their website. Therefore this is only looking at the rounds that Hornady manufactures and their energy in foot-pounds at the muzzle.
Because most defensive shootings occur between 5 and 21 feet, the foot-pound measurement at 50yds is negligible.
Foot pounds is an energy measurement for the amount of work an object can do. For example, 1 foot-pound is the amount of energy needed to move a 1 pound object one foot off the ground at a certain altitude. We use JHP or jacketed hollow point rounds in our EDC gun because the “work” destroys vital organs, which effectively stops the attacker by disrupting the connection where the brain tells the finger to pull the trigger.
We want the round to penetrate the assailant, to transfer all of its energy into the target doing as much damage as possible in the form of expanding the projectile, creating heat energy, and transitioning raw, violent force to the vital organs. Foot-pounds are not the “end all be all” way to discuss the lethality of a particular round. Still, it remains our most scientific way to discuss something that inherently combines many different factors that are all needed to stop an assailant effectively.
However, at a most basic level, we can use this to see what capacity each of these rounds has to do “work.”
The 9mm averages around 332-foot pounds, where the .40 S&W and the .45 ACP average around 409 foot-pounds. For a real difference of 77-foot pounds or about ¾ the energy in a .22.
Many states have laws defining minimum foot-pounds needed in a projectile to humanely (effectively) take a deer or an Elk. Most have pinned that number around 1,000-foot-pounds. So to stop a strong, healthy 150-pound animal requires at least 1,000-foot-pounds of energy. And we know that even still, many of these animals can run and evade or survive after being shot, even if the shot damages vital organs.
If your 150lb animal is another human bent on killing you, the scary fact is that alone, none of these handgun rounds has even half that capacity to do work.
Assuming that all factors remain the same and we switch out the officer’s 9mm for .45ACP, a compelling case cannot be made for the .45 ACP doing a substantially better job at stopping this bad guy faster. So we can make a case that .45 ACP might do a better job some of the time but not ALL of the time.
Indeed, it cannot do 2x or 3x the damage of the other rounds as it is so often reported.
That still leaves us with the issue that a handgun capable of holding 15/18 rounds of 9, .40, or .45 even still wasn’t enough to stop this guy. At 1:10, we hear the officer do a magazine change and then empty his second magazine into the attacker to stop him eventually.
I think too often we think, “well, if I need a second magazine, then I must be in a much worse situation than is reasonable to anticipate.” EJ Owens talks about this in his video about whether to carry a round in the chamber or not. He says something like, “If I need an extra magazine, then that guy is REALLY in trouble.”
Again, to me, this video illustrates the point that having an extra magazine and needing to reload in the middle of a gunfight is a little more prevalent of a concern than maybe we are all willing to confront mentally. Even though the vast majority of citizen defensive gun uses don’t involve magazine changes, it is scary to think you would have to reload in the middle of a gunfight.
When was the last time you practiced a tactical reload? Did you move to cover, or were you standing in a lane at a gun range? If we don’t develop the necessary skills, they won’t be there on demand.
Don’t Forget the Physiology of being stopped by gunshots
In a deadly force situation, your objective is to stop the threat as quickly as possible.
Shoot to kill, shoot to maim, shoot to injure does not exist in real life.
Hollywood has led many of us to believe in the essence of a “kill shot” or one-shot kill. It is portrayed as a clean, sanitized ‘easy’ thing to do with one bullet—the Villain and the Hero circle each other with guns drawn, well-aimed, and fingers on triggers. The hero shoots, and the other dramatically dies in a few seconds, gripping and pointing their gun, gasping for breath, a look of shock on their face, and for some unknown reason, the inability to squeeze the trigger on their still aimed gun and respond to the hero… Roll Credits.
The truth is that one or three well-placed shots are unlikely to immediately stop the threat because of the way the brain, the nervous system, and the muscles work. For example, the brain can continue to tell the finger to squeeze that trigger up to 2-3 minutes after the heart and lungs have been damaged due to several shots to center mass and no longer pump blood to the brain.
We either need to cause MASSIVE trauma like the officer in the video did by putting shot after shot into the assailant. The assailant’s body eventually shut down and gave up in around 1 minute.
Or we shoot a target area that is difficult to hit (ocular occipital), and hopefully, we are just really super accurate. Or we find a place to hide while we wait for the bad guy to succumb to their injuries.
READ MORE: The Physiology of Stopping The Threat
Are Your Assumptions About Criminals Accurate?
Dave Grossman in “On Combat” tells us that are three things that we want to be prepared for so that we can effectively win a defensive shooting.
- We automatically assume that EVERY violent attacker is going to be under the influence of some narcotic. In the 1996 National Institute of Justice report “Adult Patterns of Criminal Behavior” (this is a preview or overview only), it states that “Use of illegal drugs was related to all four measures of offending. For example, during months of drug use, the odds of committing a property crime increased by 54 percent; the odds of committing an assault increased by over 100 percent. Overall, illegal drug use increased the odds of committing any crime sixfold.” It stands to reason that if doing drugs increases the odds of committing a crime sixfold, the assailant is likely under the influence if you are the victim of a crime. It took 25ish rounds to stop a guy that is only determined. How many rounds will it take to stop a guy who is determined and under the influence of narcotics? Whose body may not respond to massive trauma and may keep going until his brain runs out of oxygen? One word, Nightmare.
- We automatically assume that EVERY violent attacker is heavily armed. Unfortunately, some psychopaths want to make a name for themselves as villains. So they show up with a desire to kill as many people before he gives up, is killed, or subdued. This phenomenon started with the North Hollywood shootout where three bank robbers wore body armor and were better armed than the police. And even though instances of this type of violence are statistically on the decline, the media makes it seem like they are getting more and more prevalent.
- We automatically assume EVERY criminal will not be alone but committing crimes with friends or accomplices. These days the instance of criminals committing petty crimes with friends or accomplices makes a ton of sense. In my neighborhood a few months ago, we had a group of 3-5 thugs walking around checking the locks on front doors and cars and, in some cases walking into homes and bedrooms while people were sleeping. In one case, they brazenly stole a wallet out of a man’s pants in his bedroom while he was asleep just a few feet away. Or even worse, the video below shows multiple prepared criminals enter a home heavily armed. This incident happened in a neighborhood of upper-middle-class homes in a tight-knit community where people feel so safe they don’t even lock their doors at night.
The Easiest Way to Increase Capacity Is to Carry A Spare Magazine
The gun you carry aside, the best way to double your ammunition capacity is to carry a spare magazine. I started carrying an extra magazine in my left front pocket because I hate carrying things on my belt. There are products such as Neo Mag or Snag Mag, which hold a spare mag in the pocket.
The Pitbull mag pouch is a fantastic option if you like carrying a spare mag pouch on your belt.
These elastic pouches from Stealthgear are an innovative way to carry a spare mag on your belt.
Holsters That Have Mag Carriers Built In
Often referred to as “sidecar” holsters, this style has a magazine pouch connected to the holster. There are various methods and designs for these types of holsters.
While sidecar style holsters have the advantage of providing a spot for a spare mag, they also can cause concealment issues, as described in this post.
Here is one holster that doesn’t seem to have this concealment issue from Stealthgear.
I decided to design a holster that provided me the ability to carry a spare magazine. The holster is somewhat of a bellyband style, and while this is not everyone’s cup of tea, the design is exceptionally comfortable.
While designing the Brave Response Holster, I wanted to eliminate the worries about carrying a larger gun.
First, we put the mag in front of the gun. During our three years of product development, we found that by placing mags in front of the gun, the whole thing actually took up less total room under the waistband than having mag pouches on the weak side. As the waistband leaves your waist to accommodate your gun, there is a gap in front of and behind the gun that is left open. We found that if we positioned the magazine in that gap, the magazine only added about 25% gun width to the total, making it easier to fit the magazine in the same size pants you are carrying with your gun.
We believe this will encourage more folks to carry an extra mag because it makes it much more comfortable to do so.
The adjustment I had to make was practicing drawing the magazine from my weak side by reaching across my body to draw it out, which quickly became second nature, and now my reload speeds are the same as they were drawing from the support side.
All of that said, in the end, I mostly just want folks to carry a gun so that they can effectively defend themselves. A happy coincidence of creating a holster that makes it comfortable to carry a large gun means that the same holster will also improve the comfort of carrying a smaller one. If that’s the case, then the Brave Response Holster will conveniently make it easier and more comfortable to carry a few extra mags just in case. If you cannot find a gun that is comfortable in your hand that also has a higher magazine capacity, don’t buy a gun that does not work for you. Just do whatever it takes to make it so that carrying is an “everyday everywhere” habit.
*This post has been updated and edited, and was originally published in 2016*