.22LR guns and cartridges are fun and easy to shoot. But, despite the recent advances in manufacturing processes and materials, rimfire cartridges fail to fire more frequently than center-fire cartridges. It’s simply a less reliable cartridge design that has been abandoned in favor of other more reliable rounds with larger weights and improved ballistics. Here are some other facts and criteria to consider.
Of the two popular handguns shown above (which the author owns and shoots), the Walther P22 in .22LR and the Sig Sauer 365 XL in 9mm, here are just a few comparative specifications and ballistics.
|SIG SAUER 9mm
|17 oz unloaded
|20.7 oz unloaded
|Avg. Muzzle Energy
|Avg. Muzzle Velocity
|1,060-1,600 fps (1,060)
|1,150-1,335 fps (1,172)
|Bullet Diameter Size
|(5 HP Rounds)
|Note: F.B.I Minimum
A Fun Cartridge to Shoot at the Range
Please recognize that it is a very enjoyable, lightweight, and pleasant round to shoot and so much fun at the range for plinking. We use it as the primary, if not sole, cartridge in our introductory handgun training classes for new and less-experienced shooters. It builds confidence in the shooter and lessens negative feelings and stress when qualifying by live-fire shooting, as required by Florida law to get your Concealed Carry License. Uncomfortable and heavy or even moderate felt recoil is not an issue with .22LR rounds. We use new, long-barreled, soft-shooting, heavy steel, and long sight radius .22LR pistols for the qualifications. Here are my ideas about the .22LR cartridge’s disadvantages, especially for concealed carry and personal protection.
TIP: .22LR rounds are called rimfire cartridges because the priming compound that ignites the powder is manufactured to be included inside the round’s hollow rim. A small part of the rim containing the priming compound is then hit and compressed by the firing pin which ignites the priming compound.
.22LR Cartridges Disadvantages for Self-Defense
In my Management: Processes and Paradigms textbook I first published in 1999, I developed my “Elements of Effectiveness” used when teaching university and industrial-organizational management. Four of these elements are applicable for self-defense effectiveness with .22LR handgun and ammo.
Briefly, efficiency is using the best and minimum resources to get the best and highest level of output, i.e. best ammo, caliber, and hits on target. With most .22LR ammo, when the firing pin hits, inconsistencies, or gaps, in the primer compound prevent the powder from efficiently igniting. After shooting many common practice rounds in a 500-round brick bulk box of .22LR ammunition, I usually find about two percent bad rounds that do not fire.
Briefly, reliability is consistent productivity, performance, or output over time that you can count on time after time to be trustworthy. While about eight to ten or more duds in a brick, about two percent bad rounds, does not seem much. It can bring devastating life and death and very serious injuries and results. This is a very critical decision to use .22LR rounds for self-defense and concealed carry. Do not make it quickly or lightly. One of your major daily goals may be like mine. For myself and my loved ones, I want all to arrive alive at the end of every day, even during deadly-force encounters. While two percent does not seem to be too many failures, it only takes one in a deadly-force encounter to make a difference, perhaps killing you or causing great bodily injury to you and/or your loved ones or another. While there are more expensive, high-quality loads that tend to be more reliable than practice-grade loads, the increased likelihood of malfunctions and stoppages, like a failure to fire or jam remains. Selecting a quality and reliable .22LR handgun to use is also a factor to consider, like the Ruger LCR .22LR revolver.
TIP: Rimfire cartridges have more malfunctions, and stoppages, and fail to fire more frequently than center-fire cartridges. This is true of even top-level .22LR rounds.
The next criteria is being flexible and competent so that the performance will be flexible to adapt to situations, or for the specific goal to be accomplished and the results you want to be achieved. An understanding of the characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses of each option is certainly prudent.
.22LR Muzzle Velocity
. 22LR muzzle velocity is the speed with which a bullet leaves the barrel measured in feet per second (FPS). As a rule the faster the muzzle velocity the shorter the bullet’s time in flight and there for a flatter trajectory and less drop. For example, compare the muzzle velocity of the CCI Stinger Ammo 32 grain bullet at 1,640 fps (191 ft/lbs of muzzle energy), compared to the 1,280 fps of the Remington Golden Bullet 36 grain. The .22LR muzzle velocity has a lot to do with the weight of the bullet measured in grains, which is why hypervelocity bullets usually weigh in at between 30 and 32 grain weight.
.22LR Muzzle Energy
. 22LR muzzle energy is measured in foot pounds to determine the destructive potential of the bullet. The .22LR muzzle energy is the kinetic energy of the bullet as it leaves the muzzle. For example, the CCI Stinger Ammo 32 grain has a higher initial muzzle energy (191 muzzle energy-1,640 muzzle velocity), but at 200 yards the Remington Golden Bullet 36 grain (1,280 muzzle velocity) has a much higher kinetic energy and more killing power at that distance.
TIP: Generally, the larger, heavier, and faster bullet traveling at higher velocities will do more damage to the intended target than smaller, lighter bullets moving at lower velocities.
Note: Both the .22LR and 9mm loads have low felt recoil to help accuracy, but the 9mm has greater muzzle energy for stopping power.
.22LR Bullet Drop
Rifles and handguns differ in bullet drop at various distances and grains. There are very many factors to consider in drop. Here are some various bullet grains and .22LR bullet drops at distances of 75, 100, and 150 yards.
- CCI STINGER, 32 grain: 75 Drop:1.1″; 100 Drop: 3.8″; 150 Drop: 15.2″
- GOLDEN BULLET, 40 grain: 75 Drop: 1.8″; 100 Drop: 5.5″; 150 Drop: 19.5″
- SUBSONIC, 38 grain: 75 Drop: 2.7″; 100 Drop: 7.8″; 150 Drop: 26.4″
TIP: A 9mm Bullet Drop, 115 grain, PMC with more muzzle energy for stopping power at 100 yards is 7.3 inches, according to AmmunitionToGo.com, June 2021.
Other Adaptability Considerations
Generally, lead-free priming compounds with tactical superiority for .22 rimfire rounds are not available. And to help ignition, .22 rimfire bullets must be heavily crimped into the case mouth to increase shot-start forces, which often deforms the bullet. Usually, only about half or so of the propellant in a .22 rimfire round burns completely. On the other hand, .22LR rimfire ammo is adaptable for various uses, e.g. range instruction, training, practice, qualification, informal competition, plinking, pest elimination, small-game hunting, and some time for self-defense. Few other rounds are this versatile and so .22LR rimfire ammo remains in the shooting community.
Do not underestimate the .22LR as a potentially lethal round and it should be taken seriously and treated with the same respect as any other cartridge. However, it launches small lightweight bullets with powder charges designed almost entirely for 16″ to 20″ rifle barrels. As a result, the already small bullets lose a good deal of energy when fired from 2″ to 4″ barrel handguns. Hollow point bullets which expand when fired from a rifle usually don’t expand on impact when fired from a handgun.
There’s a lot of ballistic analysis and research that goes into understanding how bullets work and the effects they produce. Several .22 Magnum loads have been given serious consideration for self-defense and some like it for personal protection, but there are several pros and cons to consider. The lack of recoil, noise, over-pressure, quick follow-up hits, relatively low-cost per round, and even its limited performance advantages from a compact handgun are advantages to consider, but this author still believes it is an inferior round for self-defense. But there are exceptions to think about for recoil-sensitive shooters because of medical limitations, injury, inexperience, and lack of training time, and age. But keep in mind your primary goal of self-defense and what it takes to avoid death and great bodily harm from a usually well-armed criminal that has a surprise advantage on you.
TIP: One of several parameters used to measure bullet performance is how hard they hit the target. This impact energy is measured in foot-pounds (ft.-lbs.)
The quietness of the .22LR cartridge when suppressed was recognized during World War II, when it was used by several intelligence agencies, like the U.S. Office of Strategic Services. U-2 pilots carried a suppressed High Standard .22 caliber pistol in the 1970s.
Quick hits on target at self-defense distances are what primarily matters, regardless of the gun, calibers, velocities, energies, ballistics, and ammo used. So practice, practice, practice! Five .22LR rounds hitting center-mass on target always beat one 10mm or .45 ACP round that completely misses the target. Recoil is a major factor that hinders accuracy. Even rounds at the lower end of the power range, like the .380 ACP, can give a lot of recoil when shot out of current ultra-light, micro-compact, short-barreled handguns. The .22LR caliber has the main advantage for accurate shooting. Of course, this contribution varies a lot by individual and their characteristics, skills, uses, and experiences. It MAY be the best option for certain shooters for certain applications with medical conditions and physical impairments, although again not a recommended caliber for self-defense. Selecting the optimal, current ammunition and handgun is one factor for accuracy.
The 9mm Luger is a larger combat cartridge with heavier bullets that travels at a speed similar to or faster than the .22LR. The differences in energies are a main reason the 9mm Luger is a popular choice for personal defense and concealed carry and why I strongly recommend it for these uses, especially over the .22LR round. Recognize the disadvantages and advantages of the .22LR round and handgun.
Studies show that the .22LR rounds penetrate through cloth barriers, but usually only give about 7-10″ of penetration. On the other hand on average, the 9mm round penetrates much farther, going about 17-18″ through the cloth barrier and gel. Recognize that the FBI looks for 12-18″ of penetration from the rounds its agents use for best stopping power and performance.
Choosing the .22LR or the 9mm Luger might be a difficult choice for some shooters. For others, it’s an easy choice. So it depends a considerable amount on the use of the round and handgun caliber.
If you want a cartridge for basic target shooting and fun range plinking, either caliber will do just fine. However, if you want a lower cost-per-shot, or if you want to fire the round through a rifle, the .22LR might be your preference. The .22LR may also be better for general hunting if you are using it for small game like squirrels, rabbits, and prairie dogs. Some property owners also keep a .22LR firearm, often a revolver, on hand for pest control, as it’s perfect for getting rid of rats, raccoons, opossums, and other small pests.
On the other hand, the 9mm round is for me the clear choice for concealed carry, personal defense, and home defense, since it has the overwhelming muzzle energy and large-size ballistics advantages as compared to the .22LR, stopping power and strength you need during critical life-or-death deadly-force situations. Some say the .22LR caliber may be underrated as a self-defense tool, but in my opinion, the 9mm Luger is, for many good reasons, the most reliable, effective, and all-around tool for self-defense. And, for me, if I also want an enjoyable and fun pistol for range plinking, in addition to a reliable concealed carry self-defense tool, the 9mm Luger is an excellent choice. What is your choice and why?
Be Safe and Practice, Practice, Practice!
Main Photo by USA Carry LLC. Other Photos by Author.
* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense, and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.
© 2022 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 ColBFF@gmail.com.