The Best Handgun Caliber for Your Concealed Carry Weapon?

The Best Handgun Caliber for Your Concealed Carry Weapon?

The age-old question that most of us shooters face is what is the best caliber handgun to carry concealed for self-defense purposes. As you would imagine, there are as many opinions about this as orifices in our teeth and many “experts” disagree on a specific caliber answer. The question itself and the answer are controversial. Some say the question should not be asked because there are just too many possibilities and variables and caliber is not a primary variable. They say a gun is just a tool and equipment and not as important as the shooter variables, so it depends for any given point in time and situation what is the optimal weapon and caliber. Others say there is not much difference (even statistically) among the basic calibers, so focus on shot placement and your skills, not the gun or caliber. Training and practice for accuracy are much more important than caliber and equipment, so why even address it they say. Others say there haven’t been any in-depth, longitudinal, scientific studies done to properly respond with a statistically valid and reliable answer. Bottom line is that we individually must address this for practical purposes and for our very survival. When deciding on what ammo and caliber to carry, consider your personal factors and skills, do your own ballistics research, and don’t believe the hype from salespeople and others. Ammo manufacturers do gel testing shoots and several are designed primarily to highlight only the manufacturer’s product and their goals, with most not allowing head-to-head comparisons among competing products. So what are the many considerations, the terminal ballistics, and the factors involved so we can decide for ourselves?

Remember, we want to “stop” the threat and use deadly force ONLY as a last resort to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm. We should try to avoid deadly confrontations. But if we are in a life and death situation, we need to act quickly and appropriately. Exercise your brain! To begin with, here are some terms and factors we must understand to answer this caliber question for our self-defense.

Exercise Brain

  1. Bullet Penetration — the amount of body tissue (bones, muscles, organs, & fat) that a bullet passes through (the DEPTH) into tissue);
    1. Penetration is a key factor and many say it is the Number One factor for caliber decisions.
    2. Heavy grained and large bullets have more Penetration and create much tissue damage for optimal incapacitation to stop the bad guy/gal.
    3. After the infamous “Miami Shootout” of 1986, the FBI set a minimum Penetration requirement of 12 inches for their ammunition and this has become the industry standard.
  2. Permanent Cavity — the amount of empty space (the HOLE) left in the body behind the bullet. ALL bullets penetrate and leave behind a measurable Permanent Cavity, even the .22 LR;
    1. For self-defense purposes, a large Permanent Cavity with big HOLES enables more bleeding for quicker incapacitation.
  3. Temporary Cavity — the quick EXPANSION (WIDTH) of the Permanent Cavity stretching as the bullet’s Kinetic Energy is transferred to the surrounding tissue. ALL bullets create a Temporary Cavity, though it is difficult to measure;
    1. ALL bullets, even Hollowpoints and even the same brand from any manufacturer, expand differently with different Temporary Wound Cavities and diameters.
    2. Recognize “hydraulic shock” affects or the idea that tissue not actually touched by the bullet could still be damaged by the “energy dump” or “kinetic energy transfer” of the bullet’s velocity to the surrounding tissue.
    3. Usually, a bullet with much Expansion capability does not have as much Penetration and is generally preferred for concealed carry.
  4. Kinetic Energy (KE) — the energy of a bullet as it is expelled from the muzzle of a firearm’s barrel, due to its motion and acceleration. The bullet maintains its initial KE until its speed (velocity) changes, the further it travels. So, a bullet’s KE is greatly influenced by velocity and it decreases during flight. Generally, the heavier (grain) the bullet and the faster it moves (velocity), the higher its muzzle KE and the more damage it will do.
    1. KE is merely a number that indicates the potential ability of a moving bullet.
    2. The way a bullet actually Penetrates, Expands, and performs is most important and is indicated by its type, design, weight, energy, velocity, barrel length from which fired, distance, etc., as opposed to only its KE.
    3. In pistol calibers, there is usually not enough KE transferred to surrounding tissue (Expansion) to make any significant differences. So, Penetration and Permanent Wound Cavity (Hole) are two ways pistol calibers consistently damage tissue
  5. Fragmentation is the separation of the bullet into smaller chunks and pieces, which leave the Permanent Cavity and disperse in different directions. Fragmentation is dependent mainly on two factors; bullet design and velocity. Fragmenting bullets are designed to prevent over-Penetration & may not Penetrate adequately for self-defense concealed carry purposes, with Penetration being the priority;
  6. Personal knowledge and skills in the fundamentals & techniques of shooting for accuracy & safety;
    1. The author believes concealed carry shooters should focus on developing their fundamental shooting abilities and accuracy skills, rather than overly-focusing on their gun, calibers, and equipment. It is the shooter’s ability and skill at placing whatever caliber rounds (he/she chooses to carry in their handgun of choice) on target consistently that determines whether they will live or die in a deadly encounter.
  7. Gun Characteristics and Ammo Ballistics — cartridge type, gun type, bullet weight-grain, gun and ammo design, manufacturer, rated muzzle energy, rated muzzle velocity, barrel length, etc. Felt gun Recoil is important because it impacts accuracy and control and differs from small to large caliber rounds.

One-Shot Stops and “Knock-Down” Stopping Power

Many believe there is no such thing as a “man stopper” or a handgun caliber for concealed carry that is capable of a “one-shot stop.” Technically, there is no handgun cartridge with the capability to “knock down” a person. This is a hotly-debated subject and there must be recognition that some who have been hit may fall down for a variety of reasons. Some studies attribute falling down or “knock down” to solely psychological reasons. This is why some say that there is really no such a thing as “Stopping Power” of a cartridge or caliber to be considered. Bullets and cartridges of the same weight or grain may perform very differently. For example, in the chart below compare two .45 ACP rounds from the same manufacturer. A 230-grain Federal Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) round with a muzzle velocity of 890 ft/sec will Penetrate more than 31 inches of 10-percent gelatin. By contrast, a 230-grain Federal Hydra-Shok round with a muzzle velocity of 900 ft/sec will only penetrate about 15 inches. Both bullets have almost the same Kinetic Energy of 404-414 ft.lbs. but perform very differently. Also, the same round fired from two semi-auto pistols, one from a 3-inch barrel and one from a 4-inch barrel, will perform differently. The 4-inch round will travel at about 1255 ft/sec velocity, while the round fired from a 3-inch barrel will travel at about 1135 ft/sec velocity. The 3-inch barrel does not produce enough energy or velocity to make the bullet perform like it does when fired from the 4-inch barrel. The bullet Expands less, so it almost always Penetrates deeper.

I compiled the following chart comparing various caliber rounds from the same manufacturer (Federal), so you can see the different types, weights/grains, energies, and velocities to help you with your decision.

Handgun Caliber Chart
Handgun Caliber Chart

Stop the ThreatSTOP the Threat

It is generally recognized that the two primary methods to Stop a bad threat or engage a target are disrupting the central nervous system and causing massive blood loss. Just ask a deer hunter. The Stop is usually caused more by Penetration and the larger size of the hole or Permanent Cavity created. The total disruption of the central nervous system by destroying the lower half of the brainstem, the medulla oblongata, will cause a complete shutdown of the bad guy/gal and is the most difficult to attain. The medulla deals with involuntary functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. Accurately placing a shot at the base of the bad guy/gal’s brain that penetrates the skull and destroys the medulla is extremely difficult to do with a handgun cartridge. Massive blood loss is a slow process and the threat can still be dangerously active during it if not quickly stopped. For example,
the FBI Miami Shootout where good and bad guys were shot several times but continued the long battle.

The “average” human body is about 10″ thick from front to back. The FBI believes that for optimal performance in flesh, a bullet should penetrate between 12″ and 18″ in gelatin. That penetration distance ensures that the bullet will reach the vital organs even if it must first penetrate another body part (like an arm or leg) before entering the chest cavity. When penetration gets beyond 18″ in gelatin, there seems to be a greater chance for the bullet to pass through the body and strike someone else.

Penetration is something that is rarely discussed in self-defense conversations, but I believe it is a key element for proper cartridge design for carry. FBI research also indicates that the total depth of PENETRATION is the greatest single predictor of a bullet’s “stopping power”. But, if Penetration were the main and sole consideration for our caliber decision, we would all be carrying Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) rounds as the military does. The military issues those FMJ rounds because, under our interpretation of the Hague Convention, Hollowpoints (HP) are inhumane and contrary to the laws of war. While the U.S. never signed the Hague convention, we follow it strictly. However, our modern technology has made the HP bullet available and we should use it appropriately only as necessary in self-defense deadly encounters. It is designed to Expand and flatten out as it penetrates soft tissue, staying in one piece but forming a “mushroom” shape with a wider diameter (EXPANSION). This usually means less Penetration (DEPTH) than FMJ, but a bigger Permanent Wound Cavity (WIDTH-HOLE). If Penetration still meets the FBI’s required 12 inches, with a HP you have both to damage tissue. Recognize that there is not much KE remaining for a HP bullet to penetrate another person after the bullet is slowed by the expansion process.

The goal of concealed-carry shooters in self-defense ONLY AS A LAST RESORT against bad guys/gals is to maximize chances of stopping the threat by directly damaging vital organs with hits of 12 inches of Penetration along with the largest Permanent Wound Cavity. This maximizes chances of directly damaging something vital and perhaps saving your life. Don’t forget I believe that your ability to maintain consistent and accurate shot placement is far more important than the “stopping power” of any particular caliber.

Choosing Your Handgun Caliber

Accepting that accuracy is primarily about YOU and not your gun and caliber, a shooter wants the simplest, easiest gun to shoot well that he/she will carry and is comfortable with. So get the proper, professional training and practice shot placement… with whatever gun and caliber you use. Accept that there is no magical caliber or gun that will always stop the attacker. But, choose the largest caliber, the heaviest bullet, and gun with the optimal recoil and trigger control that you can handle to deliver accurate shots. The one you are going to carry with you and not leave at home in the safe is YOUR best choice. This can be a .380, 9mm, .40, or .45; so just practice. It is my opinion (and many disagree) that for carry the .380 ACP should be the minimum caliber you choose. But we have heard over the years that the 9mm bullet is better than the .380. Recognize that the bullets are very similar in size and weight with the significant difference being the velocity of the bullet.

If you have decided that your carry gun is one of the smaller, lighter calibers that is OK. Generally, this means that you need to understand that you must train that much more with a short sight radius, pocket pistol to be able to deliver multiple rounds to your opponent’s head to Stop the threat, than you would if you were carrying a 1911 in .45, a Glock in .40 caliber, or a Smith & Wesson 9mm and delivering two or three shots to the center mass or the chest. But, remember it depends on you primarily. What about carrying a .44 Magnum, .50AE, 10mm, etc? Since these guns require bigger and wider frames due to greater chamber pressure generated and larger cartridge size, they tend to be very hard to conceal and weigh more. Trying carrying one of them around for just a few days and see how it feels. Width is more important than length for a carry gun. These large guns, although they have slightly better overall stopping power than the 9mm, .45, and .40, do so at the expense of portability, recoil control, accuracy, and practical use. Again, it depends mostly on you and your fundamentals, shot placement skills, and practice. Another consideration now is cost and availability of ammo. Can you afford to practice regularly with this caliber? Larger caliber ammunition is generally more expensive than smaller caliber ammunition. Also consider the availability and how easy it is to locate boxes of cartridges in that caliber. GENERALLY, calibers smaller than .38 Special/9mm do not penetrate as well to reach truly vital structures deep within the body. Once the threshold of adequate Penetration is reached, bigger caliber bullets seem to offer the advantages of larger diameter wounds, more profuse bleeding, and being more likely to break or glance off bones. Generally, the handguns literature overall doesn’t report much statistical difference in “stopping power” between 9mm and .45 ACP cartridges as along as quality HP ammo is used.

Consider carrying +P loads for self-defense for any firearms that are rated for that cartridge. The +P is a cross between a standard cartridge load and a magnum load. It gives increased projectile velocity, better cutting power, and penetration. CAUTION: Be sure to CHECK that your firearm is rated for a +P load before you use it in that firearm. Also recognize that if a court battle emerges, the +P load might work against you for self-defense and be considered too aggressive and an “overkill.” Choose your caliber wisely. Check the handgun itself, especially revolvers, and look for the cartridge rating. Check your owner’s manual for +P rating for your firearms. Generally, older firearms are not rated for +P ammunition. Also, +P+ ammunition is available. I do not recommend it for carry. Your call. This ammunition is generally used for pistol-caliber carbines, specifically machine guns. I strongly recommend you do NOT use +P+ ammunition in your handgun unless you are certain that the gun is rated specifically for +P+ ammunition. Be certain your firearm is rated for whatever ammunition you use.

Also, I do NOT recommend hand loading self-defense carry ammunition. There are liability concerns should you have to use the ammunition in self-defense. Modern manufacturing techniques are so good that buying ammunition from a respected manufacturer with high quality-control and consistent standards is a much better choice. The handgun you spend so much money on to buy and train with for concealed carry is absolutely useless without effective ammunition. Spend a few dollars more and get the best ammunition to keep yourself and the people you love safe.

I mostly carry a 9mm and I know the round leaves the muzzle at 1200 feet per second and has a 124-grain +P bullet. For me, the increased bullet weight and muzzle velocity make the 9mm effective in personal defense. Recent studies conclude that among the various calibers (9mm, .40, and .45) there is not much difference in stopping power. Spaulding did a 2012 study to support this, as did Ellifritz. The statistics showed that the three calibers were very close in the number of rounds needed for incapacitation, with all three requiring almost 3 shots. Spaulding also concluded that the depths of penetration from one of these three calibers to another were very similar. He believes that while the .45 is a bigger bullet than the 9mm and has more potential to do more damage, there is more felt recoil in the .45 which affects accuracy and target hits. It was summarized that there is only about 15-18% more damage (as measured in small MMS) for the .45 over the 9mm and .40 calibers, which is not enough difference to make up for its poor shot placement. Recognize that personal skill is important here. Ellifritz’s study looked at over 1800 shootings and concluded that the average number of rounds for incapacitation was 2.08 for the .45; 2.36 for the .40; and 2.45 for the 9mm. All very close. Again, your decision.


To me, a gun and ammo are tools and equipment and not as important as the shooter’s ability to be consistently ACCURATE with whatever gun or round is chosen. Penetration and the Permanent wound Cavity or Hole made are very important factors in incapacitation. Both Penetration and Expansion are critical factors for self-defense and for carry purposes. For effectiveness, there should be a minimum Penetration of 12 inches for the ammunition chosen. For self-defense purposes, a large Permanent Cavity with big Holes enables more bleeding for quicker incapacitation. ALL bullets, even Hollowpoints and even the same brand from any manufacturer, Expand differently with different Temporary wound Cavities. Usually, a bullet with much Expansion capability does not have as much Penetration and is generally preferred for concealed carry, but be aware of legal liability and court interpretations. Fragmenting bullets are designed to prevent over-Penetration and may not Penetrate adequately for self-defense, concealed carry purposes. Bullets and cartridges of the same weight or grain may perform very differently. Generally, bullets that expand less almost always Penetrate deeper. Your ability to maintain consistent and accurate shot placement is far more important than the “stopping power” of any particular caliber. Handgun studies overall do not report a much statistical difference in “stopping power” between 9mm, .40, and .45 ACP cartridges, as long as quality HP ammo is used. Generally, I recommend the 9mm as the best all-around caliber for concealed carry licensees, but with HP ammo, +P load, and 124 grain weight. Again, your abilities, skills, accuracy and shot placement are more important than caliber chosen. There could be a legal liability court concern in the event of a carry self-defense situation and the ammo and caliber you choose. Consider the many variables presented above to make YOUR caliber decision logically and rationally for the sake of your life.

Continued Success!

© 2013 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at
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"Col Ben" is retired with 30 years service in the U.S. Air Force, with joint services Special Ops duty and training, and is Air Force qualified as "Expert" in small arms. He is a Vietnam-era Veteran. Ben is an experienced NRA-Certified Pistol Instructor, NRA Range Safety Officer, and FL Concealed Carry License Instructor. Ben recently wrote the book "Concealed Carry and Handgun Essentials for Personal Protection" (second printing) with 57 comprehensive Chapters about concealed carry and handgun principles, techniques, and tips for both experienced and new shooters. His reference book is endorsed by several organizations and is available on his website at Contact him at
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How about just a simple answer of what the best handgun and caliper would be without having to read a book for the answer. I’m sorry but I don’t have the time to read on forever and at the end still don’t have a clear answer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DesertLion (Mark Avery)

That’s because there is no simple, clear answer that is absolute and the same for everyone. You don’t have to like that fact, but it’s a fact nonetheless. You have to weigh the facts and choose what is best for you based on what it most important for you. A remarkable number of police departments are switching back to the venerable 9MM cartridge after following the FBI down their .40S&W path for several years. Why? Because having more rounds in the gun has more value than having larger rounds with no practical difference in effectiveness.

Bottom line – accuracy is more important than caliber. Carry what you will shoot enough to be accurate with when under stress.

This article does a pretty good job of laying out the facts, and references two other works that have even more detail you won’t be able to handle either. The Ellifritz article, “An Alternate Look At Handgun Stopping Power,” is perhaps the best long-term study done on the topic.

That means practicing under stress also. For most people, the problem is not the gun or the caliber, it’s their skill level. All nine victims of the shooter in New York City near the Empire State Building (other than the shooter and his primary target) were hit by rounds fired by the police who missed their target.

Of course, if you don’t have the time to read a reasonably short article addressing a complex subject like caliber selection, it seems unlikely you’ll have time to practice sufficiently with any caliber…for that, you’ll very likely have plenty of opportunity to be sorry should you ever need to use it.


Ouch! Well done! I hope he read your entire post, but then again…


personal choice…. what weight are you willing to carry around with the obvious differences in ‘stopping power’ … it was a good article, if you can find the time to read it in its entirity

DesertLion (Mark Avery)

The problem with “obvious differences in stopping power” is that there aren’t any between handgun calibers. Sure, larger, heavier, “more powerful” rounds are assumed to have more stopping power, but there is simply no such thing in the most common self-defense handgun calibers. That is precisely the point of the Ellifritz article the author references.


I disagree. If I had a choice between only a 5 shot .22 short revolver or a .44 magnum, then that choice becomes obvious to me.

DesertLion (Mark Avery)

Apparently, the only way to make your case is “reductio ad absurdum” – well played.

Kirk Fleming

You may have noticed over the years that any article having a title ending with a question mark seldom if ever answers the question asked. If you actually thought there would be an answer to any question that begins with “what’s the best…” or similar, you should know better.
This was a far better than average article on the topic. I think you have to get to the point where you don’t care what the ‘answer’ is before you can enjoy such articles. The author did a very nice job.

Mike Hinds

Simple answer: 45 for stopping power, 9 for penetrating, 40 to compromise between the two. 380 or smaller only if it’s the choice between a mouse gun or no gun. No experience with revolvers, so I won’t recommend. ( I personally dislike the harder pull since I haven’t learned not to flinch my aim.)

Allen Benge

Bob, with all due respect, you ask for the impossible. There is no simple answer because it is, by nature, not a simple matter. Caliber is the last thing to consider when selecting a carry gun. First, can you hit your target consistently with it? Will you carry it ALL of the time? When the SHTF, will you have the ability to use it? My lieutenant used to say that a hit with a .22 was far more efffective than a miss with a .44 magnum. Carry what you are comfortable with is the simplest answer available. Stay Strong, Stay Safe.


ABQ NM 1970’s elderly tourists in W Central Motel room. Awakened to door being broken in. Husband on floor grappling with young assailant…and loosing. Wife entered the fray, 11 rapid fire shots from Her .22 stopped the attack…dead. She Hit assailant with all 11. 2nd assailant fled scene of what was said to be recurring attacks along the old Rt 66 motels. For some, size does Not matter.

Lynn Kent

I have been told, and believe, that more people die each year from 22 lr than any other caliber.


Recently 3 Oklahoma teens shot a .22 revolver at a passing runner, an Australian baseball player. He is dead from the .22, and they are now in jail with no bond.

ABQ NM PD officer off duty working in his family small business. Robbed, gave chase. Young robber swung knife at officer. Officer pulled a tiny .22 caliber ‘short’, four shot derringer, from behind his buckle. Warning he would shoot if grappling continued. Attacker laughed at little gun, advanced in to engage officer, as one shot fired. Assailant angrily said to off duty officer, “You shot me”, died within seconds as his surprised driver fled the scene.

ABQ NM liquor store armed robbery thwarted by customer with tiny .22 revolver. One shot… armed robber lasted only seconds with bullet breastbone fragment in heart, 2nd assailant fled after seeing the immediate, one shot drop. Exactly as you noted, graveyards have unimaginable numbers of people that assumed a .22 is a toy. A magazine load of .22’s right on target, beats a solid miss with a.45.

Jamie Boo

and it was a .22 that also killed Robert Kennedy. A well placed shot will kill anyone.

James Van Valkenburg

Interesting that the smallest caliber was a 380? Much has been written about the surprising performance of the little 32 ACP.


Buffalo Bore has useful info on solid-bullet .380 and .32 penetration. A harder, flat nose aids in punching thru bone and gristle without deflection. After due consideration, I chose the .32 with Buffalo Bore solid ammo, and pocket carry, plus laser sights. I give up two seconds in the draw but gain in quick and accurate shooting. Penetration is reliably 10 inches. But most important, the small KelTek is ALWAYS in my pocket with no inconvenience. Works for me.


Very interesting – appreciate a similar comparison with the .410/.45 long Judge close range damage assessment

William Williams

22magnum Hornaday critical defense penetrates as deep as 380 its been said, without the kick.

It’s also a rimfire cartridge which is inherently less reliable than centerfire cartridges. It’s certainly better than nothing if the smaller gun is what you will carry.

William Williams

Its better than a knife or nothing at all.

Maybe. Assuming you have the right one, the knife is more reliable than either rimfire or centerfire. Fortunately, we don’t have to choose just one…

allison k

i enjoyed the article. thank you for your research.


Excellent presentation of the salient facts, without the “mine’s bigger than yours” attitude and dubious claims about .32s, .25s, and .22 magnums. Everything relates to the many factors you review; if we have to shoot, we can’t know in advance exactly the situation and so must prepare for the likely one. I came to the same conclusion you did, and carry a 9mm +P 90% of the time, with a .38SPL +P when I need a smaller gun.


OK Bob – simple summary of the article: carry the largest caliber you can – that you can, AND WILL, practice with regularly to maximize your capability. Weapon? One that you can – AND WILL – carry ALL THE TIME.

As an NRA Instructor & CWP Instructor, this is the advise I offer when asked. There are far too many variables to address here. When pressed, I usually reply Glock G-19, HP +P. I also carry a Taurus 605,
5-shot, 2″, no hammer spur, in .357, with .38 +P. 2 speed strips in .357… in my pocket.


Howard-I read your response after I posted my own reply, and I probably wouldn’t have bothered, as your response is spot on. IF you WON’T carry your carry gun, for whatever reason, its like leaving your spare tire in the garage.

Bow To Your Sensei

I’d go even further and say it’s like not wearing a seatbelt. No one dies if you forget your spare tire in the garage.


Hi, I have been listening to and reading about this argument for nearly 60 years. For over 40 of those years, I have carried on duty as a law enforcement officer, a wide variety of issue sidearms, .357, .45 Auto, 9mm, and .40SW. Twice I have had to use my sidearm in the “grave extreme”. One time a .357 S&W Model 28, the other, a .22 LR Ruger MKII. In both instances all six and eleven available rounds were expended and the threats stopped, dead on scene. Regardless of all the training, conversation, weapon and ammunition choice,the real question is, and has always been, ARE YOU WILLING?


like Jacqueline implied I’m impressed that a single mom can get paid $9747 in 1 month on the internet. have you seen this site w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m


I say carry the one you are the best with, the most confident of shooting, The one you can use a double tap with the best. these are the things I ask myself. I prefer a 45ACP myself but thats me, you may feel better with something else.theres no one answer to this question. Plus I like the Frangible type ammo also, it would be the first bullet out,
than a corbon power ball behind that. theres so many thing you can do. Find what you feel the best with. I know people that load up with a HP-FMJ-HP-FMJ-so on .


In my fairly extensive experience, both as an instructor, and one who ALWAYS carries a firearm, “the” gun that’s best for you is the one you’ll carry with confidence. I recently schooled a couple in their late 60’s who had bought S&W Bodyguard revolvers with lasers. After the requisite classroom time, where I warned them that those lightweight guns are absolutely no fun to shoot, we hit the range. I got their confidence up with a Ruger .22 target pistol, and then a GP-100 6″. I let them fire a full size, all steel, .45 ACP 1911 platform gun, too. By now, they were absolutely confident in their new found marksmanship skills. THEN they shot there own guns. He was uncomfortable, and also surprised to find out that bright sunlight washes out a red laser. She ran off 5 rounds, was visibly shaken by the recoil, and sat out the session for about a half hour. To her credit, she did send several strings of fire downrange, but when I called the next day to followup on their progress, she thanked me for bringing my own guns, told me her hand hurt, and said she thinks her gun is O.K. for a bedstand gun, but likely she won’t carry the Bodyguard. That’s no slap at S&W, but folks need to think about ultrlight revolvers and pistols.
Personally, I carry a LCP in my weak side front pocket, and a 1911 on my strong side hip, with two extra mags for each. If its too hot too wear enough clothing to conceal the big cannon, I make do with the .380. Its not especially fun to practice with, but it sure beats a stick or a brick.

Zebra Dun

That’s true, I have a Ruger LCP II in .380 that gives the same impression of recoil and blast as my Colt 1911A1.
The 1911 is fun to shoot but the Ruger is shot just to get practice rounds in.


.36 navy. but then i like BP. use the pellet powder. with some .44s

Allen Benge

A concise, accurate opinion, and one I agree with wholeheartedly. I carry .40 S&W, specifically, the Hornady Critical Defense ammo. In my opinion, it does a superior job of getting to the target without loading up in clothing, yet expanding well. I agree that one should not handload defense ammo. It gives the lawyers ammunition (no pun intended) to attack you on the stand about not thinking ammo was lethal enough. Manufacturers, like anyone else can make mistakes. The department I used to work for issued W/W Sulvertip, and I found one of the rounds I was issued to be too light. I took it to the department armorer, and we discovered the aluminum shell had no lead in it. Stay strong, stay safe.


Dr. Ben,
A great article. Nothing substantial I would disagree with, except the hand loaded ammo thing. What case was ever decided by the fact that the shooter used hand loads? The Fish case comes to mind because the prosecutor was able to convince the jury that the 10mm loads Mr. Fish carried were “designed to kill” ( duh!), but that one was late over turned for a lot of reasons. The prosecutors were grasping at a lot more straws than the power of the 10mm.
I used to carry a 44 magnum, and it wasn’t much of a problem, but I have been self employed all my adult life and have never had a “dress code”. If you have some limitations like small stature, an expected way of dressing, etc. then it might be good to consider the size of the handgun you carry, but for most of us the holster is the real limiting factor. I caution my students about “micro” or ” subcompact” pistols because they are harder to hit accurately with, they are harder to manipulate, and they are so tempting to carry in a ” deep concealment” manner that might cost you precious seconds in a crisis. If you can’t get the darn thing out and into play, it is worse than being un armed.
The rest of your article I am in complete agreement with. Keep up the good work.


A great informative article as always from Col. Ben. I think the bottom line is the firearm that’s best for concealed carry is the largest caliber you can effectively carry concealed and shoot well. There is no definitive one answer and never will be.


This is outstanding background information and technical data for somebody who has never had to “stop” anybody else using a gun of any caliber. That’s me. I appreciate you laying this out so I can decide for myself what caliber is best for me even if it’s just for planning a “what if”. I’d rather have this information and then read the anecdotal information of people with actual experience. The latter my be helpful but, for me, not without the data you presented. Thank you.


Laughable, and typical of 9mm lovers. Read Dr. Fackler’s research…..real scientific research. His data refutes much of this. Further if your claim is true about the parity of performance in 9mm, 40cal, and 45acp, I wonder why special forces, who can have any sidearm they want, choose other than the reg military duty issue, 9mm? Or how the 9mm is similar in performance to the .38 special and how that performed in history against the Moros. The Moros would not stop being shot by the .38 but the .45acp stopped them in their tracks.

DesertLion (Mark Avery)

The main reason is because Special Forces are subject to the terms of the Geneva Convention which bans the use of hollow point ammunition. This article applies to the non-military use of personal defense and police ammunition which is far more effective at stopping threats than the full metal jacket ammunition used on today’s battlefield. If you read Col. (Dr.) Fackler’s study on wound ballistics, you would have noted that his point was that slower lead bullets were more effective than higher energy jacketed bullets because they don’t expand like the older lead bullets (and modern self-defense ammunition) do. Parity of performance for 9mm, .40S&W, and .45ACP is based on 10 years of data from actual shootings. The .38 Special revolver, even though it is has a much larger case, has significantly less energy than the 9mm pistol because of the pressure lost at the gap between the cylinder and barrel. What is laughable is how some people simply refuse to let go of their widely-held myths when presented with data that refutes it.
However, feel free to practice with and carry of those more expensive rounds in your gun since you’re so certain that the only reason many law enforcement agencies are abandoning them in favor of larger capacities because they are “9mm lovers,” not based on actual performance.

Kevin Keller

Moros were shot with 38 Colt not Special…Entirely different power level…


Glock Model 31 chambered for .357 Sig

Aaron S.

I load all my own carry ammunition, I have had the so called good stuff fail. Mine doesnt, I quality control my own, I know what I have and I trust my self, just like I trust my firearm to function when I demand it too. I am less worried about the liability, I dont overload because that is just hype, I dont go for over-weight bullets either, I carry good dependable ammunition in good dependable firearms. But the best thing I carry with me is the confidence that I have in my ability to stand in the situation and place my bullets where they need to go, if I go down so be it, I know where I am going. If you carry because your afraid your going to fail anyway. Some overcome their fear with good training, some are born with it.


In the summer, .380 is nice. But not .380 hollow point. In my personal opinion, .380 hollow point is horrid.


Yep, this debate shall not ever satisfy everyone; some want a definitive answer, but there is none to give. If we were allowed to carry any weapon we so desired (that is legal to own without special permit & tax fee), I’d probably carry a short barreled (18 1/2″) 20 gauge pump with alternating #2 or #3 buckshot and slugs and my Bond Arms 410/45LC Snake Slayer IV for close up. Seriously though, I usually carry something in the 40 S&W or 45ACP and as some mentioned, a Ruger LCP 380 in really light clothing weather.


I carry a 45 3.25″ S&W 945 which has the best stopping power! If you can’t shoot a 45 than you should either train better or pick a pistol or caliber with less recoil. if recoil is an issue than buy an all steel pistol and even with a built in compensator, I have a all steel Kimber which shoots like a 22. Don’t try to justify a 9mm as almost as good.


I have carried various calibers, including.38 special, 9mm and 45 ACP. Personally I have grown to like the 45 ACP the best of all of them. I can depend upon it to do the job a concealed carry weapon should be able to do. But it depends upon the individual who is carrying the weapon. Some people need a smaller caliber because that is what they can handle. A ninety pound girl is a lot less likely to want to face the recoil of a .45, and might prefer a .38 ,or even a .32 caliber. It is all in which one the individual person is most comfortable with.

Joseph kay

I carry a Kahr K40 and find it more then ataquit

Paul Echols

I have been shooting for over 50 years, form the 1960’s as an Army Training Officer, in these later years as an NRA Instructor and a North Carolina Concealed Carry Handgun Instructor. I have a basic thought on the proper handgun for concealed carry. First you need to consider that the gun will not be for use other than concealed carry.
Carry the smallest firearm in the largest caliber that you can shoot well enough for concealed carry defense.


Use a caliber you can efficiently handle in a properly sized firearm for ‘you’. Practice with what you have…get training as much as possible and carry properly in the same way as much as possible.


Very well written article, and I like the statistical data that backs up the findings.

Kyle Jacob

There are only two consistencies with a particular caliber’s ability to stop a human by the force and damage it imparts upon said human. The hole the round makes and the ‘permanent cavity’ that round makes. This is regardless of design of the round. Per an FBI report, the most reasonable caliber to carry will generally be a .45 ACP.
In my experience, law enforcement generally carry 9mm due to price…it’s cheaper.
The old adage still applies though, the best gun and caliber to thwart a threat, are the ones your are carrying at the time you need them…

Bubba Smith

Biggest you can handle . The End


As Kathy responded I’m alarmed with the purpose of a person can walk paid $9726 in solitary
Month on the internet. Read go through, BIG44.­c­o­m


Well I see that this site is use LESS!!! they rated a 10mm hydro/FMJ at 425…..someone had no 10mm DATA LOL. The 10mm is between a 357 and 41 mag ballistics! this site has shown it self to be a bit unreliable.

Dan Michlig

If you look at the bottom of the chart he cites his source. The data is accurate. I checked it against Federal’s web site. I carry a 10mm Colt Delta Elite, just not with that weak ass ammo.

Risner Kenneth

the larger caliber a weapon a person requires, the less faith they have in their own ability

Eduard Spencer

I don’t carry the same gun for CC that I do for carrying in my car. I carry an LCP .38 in my jeans pocket as it leaves little to no imprint. In my car I have a S&W 500 which I assume would stop a car jacking.

James P Mullin

The listed loads are tailored to deceive.I noticed no mention of the 357 Sig and 10mm loads were anemic.The 9mm is currently being touted as the all you need defensive cartridge by worshippers of the FBI,shooting experts who are getting old,frail and are afraid of a little recoil AND cheap people who don’t want to pay a little bit more for 40 or 45.The best self defense cartridge for semi auto pistols is whatever the f**k you want it to be.If SHTF i’d say a Glock model 20 in 10mm auto with Underwood ammo loads.135 gr @ 1600 fps mv for humans and 200 gr hardcast lead @ 1300 fps mv for dangerous animals.Compare those powerful 10mm loads to the weak 10mm loads provided by the article.My second choice 357 Sig,then 40 S&W or 45ACP.All with Underwoodammo,CorBon,Buffalobore,Doubletap or Grizzlyammo.

Ronnie URuzzo

It does not matter what gun you have if you can’t hit the target with both eyes open at at least 30 feet.
Practice with point and shoot at 30 to 40 feet and learn to stay calm is your best option if your going to carry any gun.
Trying to aim or shooting wildly is not the thing you want to do in a panic fast acting situation.


One thing that Ben didn’t go into is that when the balloon goes up , and I speak from the experience of several confrontations , fine motor control is the first thing to go . That’s why we train to double tap to Center mass.As for gun and caliber , I advise to carry the largest service caliber (.380-45,.38-.44 in revolvers) and gun that you can shoot well and that you’ll carry every day with the most effective ammo that shoots accurately for you.

David Douglass

An old thread….but allow me to offer New News. Today 7-15-2017 there has been on the market a new bullet technology called, Fluid Transfer Monolithic. Lehigh Defense is now my self-defense ammo of choice. A .380 cal. to a 44 mag. cal. all causes the same penetration, same wound channel….with only the ‘felt recoil and muzzle flip’ being the difference. (see Xtreme Defense line in all calibers for complete info)
Since then, ammo is the ‘thing that stops a lethal threat’ it should be your first consideration. Second is your ability with that ammo to…operate the pistol with complete proficiency under high stress. Third consideration would be the capacity of your pistol.
With all that said…..a .380 provides with Xtreme Defense Ammo, 14″ of penetration, a 2.5″ wound cavity, travels at 1150 fps and is NOT affected by layers of clothes and expands only when moisture is present–the human body. BUT,…..capacity is lacking with 8 shots being the max—could be enough for one or two threats if you’re a very good shot under high stress.
The 9mm is the first caliber pistol with the maximum capacity available. Xtreme Defense ammo performs, 15-17.5″ of penetration, a 2.5″ wound cavity, travels at 1400-1450 fps, with the lowest felt recoil of any ammo on the market. At twice the capacity of the .380s it’s the best choice all factors considered.
The 40 cal. is virtually the same as the 9mm with this ammo with two exceptions, greater wound cavity of 3 inches and 19 inches of penetration at a speed of 1350 fps. But it’s capacity diminishes by about 2 rounds on average in most pistol configurations.
All 45 and larger calibers’ data numbers are no better than the 9mm and 40 cal. and they have much less capacity.
The muzzle flip and felt recoil in all calibers is significantly less than other ammo companies’ products. For instance the 40 call is a 115 gr bullet and a 45 cal. a 120 gr bullet. A 9mm is a 90 gr and a 380 a 65 gr. So this round gives far greater pistol control and thus greater ability under high stress events.
I have tested all these rounds extensively, do not have any connection with Lehigh Defense other than buying their incredible product. It’s expensive at around 2 bucks per round, but…you’re worth it.

Zebra Dun

Follow the basic truth, I am the weapon, the firearm is only a tool.
I carry three different weapons according to use, Normal everyday carry is Ruger LCP II .380 acp JHP Hydra shock, Normal winter is S&W M-640 .38 Spl 110 gr JHP and while horseback I carry open on belt holster a Colt 1911A1 Gov. Series 70 Mk IV in .45 acp.
I have or had several other caliber handguns ranging from.22/.25 up to .44 Magnum. and .45 Colt.
At defensive range I can reliably place all shots in the K-zone of a silhouette target, 30 yds to 25 yds.
Let me snap in and fam fire and I can carry any weapon that is reliable and use it to defend myself.
Bullet Placement not caliber is the key.


Thanks for the article.

You can tell who has had the misfortune of taking a life and who hasn’t. It’s not about charts and statistics. How asinine.

It’s about training, God’s mercy, and a lot of luck.

I owe my life to my buddies, my training, and my .45.