The Importance of Ammunition Capacity: Law Enforcement versus Civilian Trends

The Importance of Ammunition Capacity: Law Enforcement versus Civilian Trends

It is simply human nature; more is better. I would suggest that this is especially true when talking about gear that may be used to save a life during the worst possible circumstance. For many years now, the firearms industry has worked to pack more ammunition capacity into small and concealable handguns. Where the five-shot snubby revolver once reigned supreme, we now have the more popular trend of small autos chambered in 9mm, which brings as twice that capacity or more to the table.

As anyone who has studied the dynamics of deadly encounters knows, there have been many incidents in which violent criminals have absorbed a startling amount of gunfire and continued to be mobile. Such incidents illustrate the preference for more ammo capacity in the gun. This concern is further motivated by the trend of multiple attackers, as criminals often work in packs. Therefore, more is better. Is it not?

For a uniformed police officer, anything less than a full-size service pistol is not optimal. And many incidents prove the onboard ammunition capacity may not be enough, even in service size guns. With that said, much of our obsession with ammunition capacity is rooted in the experience of law enforcement. There have been encounters in which police officers have dumped many rounds into assailants that would not stop fighting. These incidents are scary, and they lead many of us to prioritize capacity as we realize that under such circumstances landing a stopping shot is much easier said than done, and the more opportunities available to make that shot, the better.

Despite the acknowledgment that more ammo is better, most people who carry a concealed handgun and are not uniformed law enforcement officers face certain social or environmental constraints that lead them to compromise on “how much gun” they can carry. Certainly, a service sized pistol with fifteen rounds of ammunition or more is preferred. But the sub compact single-stack pistol with six to ten rounds in the magazine certainly carries much easier. Therefore, how much does ammunition capacity actually matter for the civilian concealed carrier? Should it matter at all? Should the experience of law enforcement factor in?

The Difference in Criminal Mentality

The only possible way to even begin to address this concern is to survey the many incidents that have transpired in the real world. In doing so, we can see that there is a vast difference in what happens among law enforcement versus concealed carriers. At the crux of the difference is the mentality of the criminal actor himself. When we see the most vicious of gunfights play out between police officers and criminals, we find that most often, the violent offender is determined not to go back to jail. Or they are simply determined to never end up in jail in the first place.

When going into an armed conflict against police, the criminal realizes that there are three possible outcomes:

  1. he gets apprehended and goes to jail (which might be the worst outcome in his mind, even worse than getting killed)
  2. he might get killed himself
  3. or he can do his best to kill the cop(s) and escapes to live free another day

When the decision is made to fight, the violent criminal actor might fight with everything he has, and he will not voluntarily stop as the inevitable result of prison may be worse than the possibility of dying on the spot. This is what often leads to these instances in which the bad guy absorbs enough ordinance to kill a cape buffalo, yet still keeps fighting.

When we look at the many fights between criminals and armed citizens, we most often see a vastly different dynamic. Again, to understand this, consider the criminal’s point of view: he has just picked a victim, and rather than complying with commands, the victim has produced a gun and begun shooting. So, the criminal still has the same fears; he does not want to go to jail, and he may not want to die either. The difference, however, is that the civilian he has just accosted does not intend to subdue and arrest him. Therefore, every second that the criminal stays in the vicinity to fight with the civilian makes him more likely to die, or perhaps worse, get injured and end up in prison.

Therefore, while fighting to the last against the cop may be the violent criminal’s best recourse to stay out of prison at that moment, the opposite is true when fighting an armed citizen. The surest way to avoid jail time or death when dealing with a citizen that is fighting back is to flee the vicinity immediately. Hence, the most common reaction of the criminal in a civilian defensive shooting is to beat feet and escape as quickly as possible. This is why capacity is so rarely an issue in civilian self-defense, yet has often been an issue in law enforcement.

The Bottom Line

So, capacity is rarely an issue for the civilian defender. However, rarely does not mean always. There is a breed of criminal actor that, rather than run, will switch to full-attack mode and choose to fight to the death, even against a civilian. Seeing such a reaction in civilian self-defense proves very rare compared to law enforcement experience, but the possibility remains. So, as in all things, we do what we can under the circumstances. I believe in carrying a reload for any gun that I am carrying. Most likely, the reload will never be needed. Still, I consider having at least one reload on my person part of my every day carry.

If able, I also like to carry a double-stack pistol so that I bring service size capacity with me. However, this is often not possible, and I sometimes rely only on a deeply concealed snubby revolver. More is better, but as citizen self-defenders, statistics are on our side even if we must compromise and carry smaller and lower capacity guns.

The outlier events are always possible, but a small gun with limited capacity that you can always carry will be enough gun the vast majority of the time for the armed citizen. I am all for carrying double-stack autos, but if that is too much to swing on any given occasion, I don’t feel unarmed with my small deep concealment option. While we may not be well-equipped for every possibility, the experience of law enforcement rarely correlates with the experience of the armed citizen, and that distinction should factor into our decisions.

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Salvatore is a firearms instructor, competitive shooter, and life-long practitioner of the concealed carry lifestyle. He strives to serve as a conduit of reliable information for the ever-growing community of armed citizens and concealed carriers. You can contact him at his website Reflex Handgun.
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