Gunfight Realities When Choosing a Handgun

by Jim Higginbotham
jim outside f2.jpg

Gunfight Realities When Choosing a Handgun

Choose Your Weapon Part II

Last month in Part I of this series you may have been shocked to find that I didn’t instruct you to go out and buy my “pet” favorite carry pistol. I have one of course, but I have changed what I carry over the years as my preferences changed. The point was that there are a lot of factors, but the most measurable “correct” answer is to measure what you are shooting well, and weigh those choices against the standard “bigger is better” considerations when choosing a handgun for carry. No, I’m not going to tell you what to buy this month either, but we will get into some interesting details about aspects that many people just gloss over, but that are vitally important and will affect your ability to survive your gunfight.

Choices have consequences. People have died for the inability to stay in the fight until they prevailed. Just recently I had a student report that he won his second fight, immediately following his first, because of a technique we taught him for reloading in combat. An enemy fighter suddenly materialized after the first fight was over, presumably out of “nowhere.” He was able to choose the best option, and simply shot said bad guy, because his head, and his gun, were still in the fight! He did not “unload to reload”. He did not stick his muzzle into the air where it might take a lifetime to re-index or block his vision (or act as a flag to tell every bad guy in the vicinity that someone is going to be out of action for a brief period). Rather, he had kept up his guard up when his first attacker fell and, after a threat scan to insure there wasn’t another immediate threat, he started to execute a reload. When a threat did materialize without warning he was able to stop mid-stream and change gears. I could not, of course, be more pleased.

Within the same week we received a report (in the form of an excellent but sad magazine article) from a young Marine who is disabled for life because he did not know how to do this. That of course was not pleasing. Forward this article to your friends! Nobody wants to learn these lessons the hard way, whether carrying a gun as a CCW, as a Police Officer on duty or off, as a security guard, or in the sandbox so far away protecting our freedom.

Whether you went so far as to shoot at index cards with a shot timer or not last month, hopefully you have now gotten yourself thinking about what guns you shoot well. I intentionally steered clear of the factors we are going to talk about this month. Some things here you will take very seriously, others you will say “that isn’t a factor for me because… ” None of these are light issues. What balance you find will depend on your personal commitment and the threat level you feel you need to be prepared for.

Take the choices you considered last month and view them in the light of these factors:


Except for a job in one of the world’s really hot spots fighting terrorists, you will probably run out of time before you run out of bullets, unless you are a lousy shot! If you refuse to train hard the answer is not more bullets (though more ammo is not necessarily a bad thing) but to learn to stay out of trouble. But since these days trouble can find us in our home that may not be an option.

People obsess about caliber and the latest and greatest bullet technology but gloss over the fact that if you drop that bullet just 1″ off the upper spine you have likely increased the duration of this fight by factor of times 10! You can get killed during that time. The same is true if you select the latest “whiz bang” bullet that “transfers all its energy” and you put it right where it belongs but it fails to reach the spine! Will it lead to more rapid incapacitation with a hit to only to the heart or lung? Perhaps, or even probably, but giving up the ability to instantly stop the fight to increase the rapid stop – which can still be a lifetime – seems a poor compromise. On the other hand, your attacker may simply decide to quit (psst that does happen). Don’t bet your life on it.

Capacity benchmarks vary with effectiveness. I strongly feel a 6 shot .44 or .45 wheel gun is the equal or even superior of a 15 shot 9mm in effectiveness (IF you shoot both equally well). But you must decide, not me. The latter is however easier to keep running in a long fight. Tough choice! Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security! No one can tell you how long your gunfight will last. Through years of research I have discovered that most fights are short, no more than 2 to 3 seconds, but I have not found a guarantee that they would be that short either. You should be prepared for a longer fight regardless! But If you have a gun that holds 15 rounds then you had better also plan on doing a lot of dynamic movement and use cover to help you keep from getting shot during the time it takes to use those 15 rounds effectively.

6 Rounds of Effective .45 Auto that can be reloaded rapidly or 6 Rounds of even more effective .45 Colt at a slower reload – it’s your choice!

Recently I had a law enforcement student involved in a fight that evolved around his police cruiser. Eventually the bad guy even got into his cruiser. It was one of those unusually long gunfights that took more than 20 shots from his Glock 17 before he actually hit the bad guy. And no he was not a bad shot. Every bullet was well directed they just did not reach the subject (we saw most of it on film). Neither did the bad guy’s bullets reach him. This officer’s ability to reload under pressure was definitely a factor in the ending of this fight, he says. But based on what I saw and some experience shooting cars, and the result of the subject’s actions upon finally being hit, the fight most likely would have been over during the first two shots with a .45, or even a .40. The officer traded off his 9mm for a Glock .40 the next day!

The pertinent question most often is not how many bullets your gun holds but how much damage you can do in the short time you have. It is failing to get good results at the outset that turns a short gunfight into an epic one. Caliber is always going to be a trade off with capacity. The same gun comes in three calibers and they are all the same size. One has 17 rounds of nine, one has 14 rounds of .40, and one has 10 rounds of .45acp. What you choose depends partly on what we covered last month, how you shoot and recover from shooting the gun. Capacity is just another factor.


I suggest that you plan to carry at least one reload for your weapon regardless of its initial capacity when full. A full gun is better than a half full gun at the start of any new fight or new part of the old fight! The wise man will reload every time he sees an opportunity, in anticipation of the next engagement. I consider 2 extra magazines or speed loaders the bare minimum. It does not matter if those magazines hold 7 rounds or 20, you need at least two! Three is better (or even better a spare gun). Remember the mantra: “Reload when you can, not when you have to.” (i.e. When the gun is empty) Also remember the military axiom: “two is one and one is none!”

You may find it extreme to carry extra magazines or speed loaders, but ask yourself why do we carry guns at all? It isn’t convenient to carry a gun. But we inconvenience ourselves because we think that we may find ourselves in a situation where a gun is required. And if a gun is required, do you want to find yourself waiting for the smoke to clear and new threats to appear with three rounds left in your nine?

Celebrate Diversity!
5 Rnds .38+P    17 Rnds of 10MM
18 Rnds of 9mm    9 Rnds of .45 +P
Name Your “Poison”

The rule is: never leave a place you have cleared with a partially empty weapon! Not my rule, it comes from Capt. Eric A. Sykes of “Shooting to Live” fame (as well as the famous knife he designed with his co-author William Fairbairn). His actual quote was “Never go through a door without a full magazine in your weapon.” It applies to back up guns too, everything gets topped off, but keep your head about you while doing it!

There is very little difference in the amount of time it takes to reload most common autoloaders, unless you have one of those with the European style “heel clip” magazine release in which it will take twice as long. This is also where revolvers come in last place. Not only do they take longer to reload, they have to be taken out of action to top them off, and unless your gun is empty, you will be flipping loaded rounds out into your hand to insert a full speed loader if you hope to reload without a long down time for the gun. This is a very good reason to carry two revolvers if your wheel gun is not already your backup gun.

A word here; do not measure your reload like the competition boys and girls do it. You may not be familiar with this. If you watch just about any pistol or revolver action shooting competition, at some point there will most likely be a “reload” where the shooter will drop the magazine, insert a new one (or speedloader in the case of revolvers) and keep firing. Timing is measured from one shot to the next. In a real gunfight, this would mean that you are trying to reload while being shot at, while presumably returning fire. Gunfighters, or at least those who have thought about this, don’t reload like that. They “stay in the fight”. Keep up your threat scan as you draw a magazine ( or a speed loader) and get it up to the gun which is held in the “workspace, ” not up in front of your face blocking your view of the environment. Practice this!!

In this case it does not matter much how fast you draw your spare ammo because at any time you can stop drawing it and engage a threat with what is left in the gun. That is why we don’t empty the gun if it can be helped. That spare might not be there! NOTE – IF YOU ARE IN THE OPEN AND THE THREAT IS STILL THERE THEN SHOOT DON’T RELOAD!

It does matter how fast you can draw the spare ammo or spare gun if you run out of bullets during an engagement and are standing still in the open – don’t do that!

If you reload, do it properly and intelligently, or transition to a backup gun. This is something that you can time and examine closely. Done right you will be out of the fight for .5 to 1.5 seconds. That is a time we can live with – literally! If you cannot produce your reload or backup gun in 1.5 seconds you may want to start carrying it somewhere else.

Just a note about backup guns, because many many people reading this are probably just now considering carrying one gun, let alone two, or have recently made the jump to finally carrying a gun after years of putting it off. It isn’t that I’m not sensitive to the absurdity of carrying several pounds of steel on your person every day because of a remote possibility that you may need it. I personally have seen the worst of gunfights and the best of gunfights, and I am just reporting what I have seen. A spare gun in a handy place (not buried somewhere you cannot get to it quickly) can go a long way toward making reload speed irrelevant. A serious spare gun that is!

Size Matters

This is not just about the caliber of your handgun. It is rather the physical size of the weapon and how you carry it. Size and weight effects should be apparent from the tests we covered in Part I. Caliber is going to be a part of size, but within the reasonable caliber effectiveness of a firearm there are a lot of weights and sizes.

The popular excuse for carrying an inadequate weapon is represented by the line: “The .380 I carry is better for me than the .44 I leave at home on the night stand.” OK, maybe, and maybe not! I personally know (or knew) four people who used a .380 in a close range gunfight. Even though all shot really well (hitting the high chest multiple times in every case) none were successful in winning the fight. All the .380 users received grievous wounds.

This is not to say it has never worked for others. It obviously has. I just don’t know anyone who has done it. It may be well worth your effort to find a way to carry something more effective. A .380 does not always beat a rock or a sharp stick. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. You will shoot a larger gun better, as you should have discovered in Part 1 last month. If you must carry a .380, your best bet is to avoid trouble at all cost rather than rely on a gun that may be worse to pull out than to keep in your pocket.

This is not the advice you are going to find everywhere I admit. It is a very strong argument that the casual CCW permit person will just elect to leave the gun home when dressing lightly, or for comfort if he feels that he is not entering a “threat likely” environment. This is extremely common actually. But my argument is that if someone is going to leave the gun home they are going to leave the gun home. It is an internal commitment level that governs the decision to leave a gun home. It is not just confort.

And as for comfort, for the last couple of decades I have carried two full sized .45 autos (or .44 Magnums or .45 Colts), and two J-frame revolvers (one a .357 Magnum) plus flashlights(2), handcuffs, knives and spare ammo every day! I am “heavy” but not uncomfortable, and it is a very easy load to get used to.

By no means do I think everyone needs to emulate me (and to many of you I probably seem a little nutty), but the likelihood of threat is extremely high for me in much of my life, and I don’t find it uncomfortable or inconveniencing. I wear those in casual clothes or dressy clothes, Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. I have worn them to church. Churches can be dangerous places!

It may not be an option for you. Depending on where you live, what your permit says on it, or even where you work, you may not be able to carry a gun that could be discernable by a passerby, and you may not have the ability to carry something bigger than a .22 mag mini revolver even. Just don’t get killed for comfort or convenience. To quote Clint Smith: “A handgun should be comforting, not comfortable.” Repeat after me: There are NO powerful handguns! Shoot a watermelon with a hunting rifle and a .44 mag. and you will see the difference. But handguns are also not at all equal.

If you are not into belt holsters, that is OK, you can find much more effective guns than the .32s and .380s that will fit in a suit pants pocket.

Aside from that, comfort is often a function of the type of accouterments you choose. I am not discomforted at all by my choice of carry, witnessed by the fact that I do not take all those guns off until I am ready for bed. I wear them around the house. It is all “mind over matter”; if you don’t mind it doesn’t matter!

The String Method

Simply measuring the length and height of a handgun can result in a figure that might not be informative enough for a good comparison. A 1 7/8″ barreled J-Frame .38 is approximately 6″ long and 4.5″ tall. That is very close to the dimensions of a Colt .45 Officers Model. But if you stick it on your ankle or in your pocket you quickly find that the little J-frame is a much more comfortable package than the Colt. Even though it is also thicker, the revolver is “rounder”.

To be sure, there are big pockets that you can carry a sub compact high cap autoloader in, and they do have their advantages! The problem is that you can’t judge relative pocketability by simple length, height and width. Instead I chose to use the “String” measure or what I call “The Boone and Crocket” measure since it resembles the way we score trophy racks on antlered animals. Simply put you take a long string and wrap it around the outline of the gun and keep track of the end point then start with that and wrap it around the midpoint of the grip and the around the horizontal midpoint including the trigger guard. Now measure the total length of your string. Some common guns, when measured by this method compare like this:

  • S&W M-36 2″-              29″
  • Browning P-35 9mm-   35″
  • Glock 22 .40 S&W-       39″
  • Colt 1911 .45-              38.5″


Simple, look in the catalog right? WRONG! By all means, look in the catalogs if you intend to pack your “heat” without ammo, in which case it has become an impact weapon and heavier will be better. I suppose manufacturers do this because it is simpler but it can be very misleading. If you have followed along so far, you really need not only a fully loaded firearm but also a couple of extra reloads. To be sure, your choice of ammunition might make a slight difference in the total weight so by all means use your own preference here. But just for example let’s look at a few popular choices and compare them in their street ready conditions with two extra reloads:

The real weight is with all the ammunition you plan to carry.
  • S&W M36 2″ .38 Spl. – 1lb. 14 ounces
  • S&W M15 2″ .38 Spl.-  2lb. 10 ounces
  • Glock 22 .40 S&W – 3lb. 7 ounces
  • Browning P-35 9mm – 3lb. 5 ounces
  • Colt 1911 .45 Auto 3lb. 13 ounces

As you can see, actually carrying ammunition can change the picture drastically. Weigh your choices and choose wisely, pardon the pun.


This is more about what you carry than what you carry, but what you carry effects how you are able to carry. If you find yourself in a situation that requires a gunfight there is going to be that moment that there is no longer any doubt that deadly force is warranted and required.

The quicker you are able to draw your weapon and fire effectively, the less chance there will be that you will be hit before you are able to fire, or return fire. Not all situations, and I would say not even most, require a lightning draw. You may not be the primary target and you may have time to get a gun out of deep concealment. You may have cover, or be able to avoid the gunfight completely, which is something you should always consider.

Your situational awareness and your mental attitude will probably have more effect on how quickly you can respond to a threat than how you are carrying the gun, but it is still a good idea to time your ability to get into action with your weapon. It is good to remember the “Tueller Drill”, which recognizes that the average miscreant can cover 21 feet and slit your through in about 1.5 seconds. This is a good time to try to reach, but don’t forget, if you miss the spine (and again, most of us cannot guarantee every round will hit that) then it might take from 5 to 10 seconds to stop the threat even if you are shooting a 4″ .357 Magnum, and that is under the best case scenario. So tactics must play a part, and the first part of tactics is getting your gun out and ready. Be sure you can draw on the move with your mode of carry!

Real Gunfights Happen Every Day

Many of us walk around with a gun in our pocket or on our belt for the majority of our lives and never see a gunfight. It is a blessing. But real gunfights do happen, and not just to military and police. You don’t hear about them because it isn’t politically correct for the mainstream media to tell you about the crime that didn’t happen because Joe crack head got shot when he tried to rob the 7-11. The NRA reports on it, and of course we have the great work of John Lott who has effectively crunched the numbers on defensive use of firearms. But day to day we don’t live with the reality of a real gunfight in our face. Don’t get killed for lack of shooting back – effectively! It isn’t like you think! When I was attending a course at the F.B.I. Academy some time back one of my favorite sessions was by an excellent instructor, who happened to be from my home state, and who had a lot to do with the way we look at firearms training today. One thing I took away in my copious notes was his “4 Rules to a Gunfight”:

  • Rule 1 – Bring a Gun!
  • Rule 2 – Bring a BIG Gun!
  • Rule 3 – Bigger is ALWAYS Better and More is ALWAYS more.
  • Rule 4 – Pretty is not important.

I could not agree more but after a few years of reviewing shootouts I had to add Rule 1a – make sure it’s loaded.

As I said at the beginning of part one, I cannot advise you one what is best for your situation. Neither can anyone else. You must work out your own salvation!

Press on!


{ 39 comments… add one }
  • Tom July 28, 2016, 9:24 am

    This article was written by an individual who has openly admitted to never once having been in a physical altercation, nor ever had to draw his weapon on anyone out of aggression. His information is biased based on his own personal opinions, and not based in relegated facts. His attempt to stay relevant in modern times has driven him to tout bad shooting tactics and techniques while rallying against updated concepts that have been developed and proven in blood over the last 17 years of conflict. This guy will be responsible for the death of many a law enforcement officer and civilian based on his inside the box mentality, dated techniques, and zero real world application or experience with gunfighting or armed self defense.

    • Bill June 12, 2017, 6:56 pm

      You said exactly what I was thinking.

  • dennis February 12, 2016, 8:54 pm

    I carry a Colt single action 45 peace maker with a 4 3/4” barrel and shoot the 255gn.cast round nose bullets at around 950 fps and i can guarantee that load wont stop short of guy’s the spinal column,maybe the second guys spine but not the first guy’s.The 45LC blows a big hole in and a bigger one out,two holes bleed out better than one and the bigger the hole the more sunshine it lets in.

  • Wolf June 4, 2015, 5:43 pm

    Carrying a loaded gun brings along a whole lot of risks and responsibilities. It’s not always the shooting part, it can be something like leaving your gun in a public restroom. Think about it. Who will find it? Maybe a young kid? The consequences can be devastating. And that’s just the public bathroom issue. What’s the story if you’re being pulled over by a cop? Etc.

    Another factor is you and your gun. Do you know your gun? I mean really know it? Does the safety have to be up or down to shoot? My advice for newbies is this: Make sure your gun is empty, magazine and barrel. Put them on your table, so you can see them. Then practice everything, from using the safety (is safe up, or is it down?) I wish all gun manufacturers would agree on “Up for shooting”, “Down for rest” or safe. It just makes sense to me. I own several guns and with some it’s up, with others it’s down. Stupid!

    Practice drawing your gun from your concealed holster. Do it slowly at first, until you can grab your gun with absolute certainty and have it in your hand ready to shoot, then increase the speed of the draw, until you can get the gun safely in your hand every time. Now pick a target in the room and draw your gun with the intent to aim it at the target. A painting on the wall, a clock, anything. Remember, you’ll have to have your gun pointed at the ‘attacker’ with your gun’s safety off, in order to shoot the gun. Hint: you could be attacked from any angle, not just from the front… Draw and dry-shoot your gun every day when you’re alone. Do it while standing, sitting, or even laying down. You never know in what situation you might end up defending your life!

    My last advise would be to go to a shooting range as often as you can. Never rush at the shooting range, take it easy and be aware of everything you’re doing. Make sure your guns arrive at the shooting range unloaded (empty barrel and the magazine out). Beware of empty cases on the floor, you could slip and pull the trigger Inadvertently. NEVER put your finger on the trigger, unless you are looking at the target and your gun is pointed the same way – and you’re mentally ready to shoot. For self-defense training, I suggest a silhouette target (showing a stylized head & upper part of a person). Don’t go for bulls eyes, just hit the silhouette every time. Later, when you’re getting routine, you can try to hit specific parts of the silhouette, such as the head, for example.

    Just like with everything else, practice is the key to a good and safe gun handling. And remember: Try everything else first, before you shoot somebody or even an animal. It can turn into a horrible nightmare for you!

    • Mark Robinson August 5, 2016, 5:55 pm

      Don’t know why you would even bring up leaving your gun in a restroom. Anyone who does that is not responsible enough to even own a gun, much less carry.

      And, sure, maybe there should be standardization for safeties, but don’t you think it’s a little late to call the present diversity “stupid”? This makes no difference whatsoever as long as you train and are fully competent with YOUR gun. I would suggest that someone like you purchase only guns that have the safety the way you like it, if that’s the sort of issue that gets you upset.

      And practice drawing from a holster? What holster? I have an LC9 with a belt clip on it that negates the need for a bulky, one-location-only holster, allowing MANY more options (pocket, front or back, left or right – without falling down in the pocket, inside or outside the belt, small of the back, cross draw, inside a jacket) when I carry. Doesn’t work for every gun, and that’s a big reason I carry the LC9. When I look at more potent carry choices, whether or not it will accept the belt clip is a deal breaker.

      I agree with your range procedure, but I transport my autos with no mag AND the slide LOCKED BACK. And novices (competent gun owners don’t need to be told this) should put the pistol down with the muzzle pointed downrange at ALL TIMES. Same goes for reloading, clearing a jam – anything. I have shot at a range in downtown LA, and I noticed in each booth there were strikes in the booth itself, the ceiling above it, and the floor as well. When I saw a man with gang tats reload his AK at the bench behind and outside of the booths obliviously sweeping the muzzle across numerous bystanders, including me, I never went back.

  • James C. Rooze September 8, 2014, 8:48 am

    I love your article. My wife carries but refuses to keep cocked and one in the chamber. I was beaten and robbed while working on a rental house. My pocket 380 was in my truck. There were 2 of them and hit me from behind. Never leave your door unlocked and keep your gun with you. As for my wife I wish I can convince her that her 32 needs to be ready to go, there will more than likley be 2 and she will not have time to draw and cock

  • gypsy August 11, 2014, 7:01 pm

    Like the gist. I like a pair of 1911 style 45’s.Two inside the belt on my back or one front one back.extra mags are easy to conceal and carry. I agree there is no substitute for training. Training training. Muscle memory is the direct Victor over stress. I get that expert gunfighters get shot and killed by dellitantes. But however how many bad guys etc get shot by people trained and READY to use the weapons they worked to master?
    Regardless your physical training if 6ou can’t mentally engage and let your muscle memory ” dictate you don’t win

  • Jones September 29, 2012, 10:01 am

    An interesting article. As a combat veteran and later a consultant working in conflict areas, I have engaged enemies using multiple weapons systems in a wide variety of circumstances. Many of my friends have done the same. In my humble opinion, the capacity to act smartly and decisively while engaging a target is really very important. If your are tangling with a bad guy that is more experienced in killing than you are and who will not hesitate or if you are just fatigued, and not in the game. You may be fast, have a bigger gun and more bullets and even better trained, but still lose the gunfight. To put it frankly, all of the big gun b.s. in the world is not going to save you.

    I would also suggest that where you are and who and what your threat is likely to be is as big a determining factor in what tool you bring to work that day as anything else. Since there is no way to precisely determine that in advance, we simply cost average it. What, on average, threat will I face.

    By and large in the United States, the average civilian will never (thankfully) have to engage in a gun fight. As is true of most police officers.

    So battling complacency becomes the real threat. A great example is the recent shooting in NYC near the Empire State Building. The bad guy put five rounds into the head of his target. The police sprayed and prayed and were responsible for hitting all of the bystanders.

    Shoot what you are comfortable with, what you are accurate with is what I say for what that is worth.

    Anyway, interesting article leading to an interesting debate. I look forward to reading all of the comments and learning more from you and your website.

    Thanks for taking the time.

  • tgun March 29, 2012, 3:36 pm

    Great article Jim. You made me aware of many impotant points regarding CCW that I have been neglecting especially carrying extra ammo. I wanted to add what I tell everyone considering CCW, that the most important for me was the required training. I am less likely to draw my weapon now than before the classes. I don’t see any reason for mentally stable folks not to carry.

  • Hbon February 18, 2012, 8:43 pm

    Hello Jim,

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience. It help a lot for those men and women who carry a firearms like me.

    What I can say to all the people who read these articles and comments is: Invest more time to familiarize your firearms. May be join a shooting club like USPSA, IDPA, CQB training and at the same time you gain confidence, have fun and meet good people. Thank you

    By the way, I have fun reading all the comments too.

  • OCA February 10, 2012, 3:43 am

    I’ve lived 48 years in the biggest sprawling metropolis in this country. Work in a high profile, interactive, public intensive job(news camera op.). I Drive and work all over the city every day, and visit some of the most “dangerous” parts on a regular basis. Only once have I felt the need to carry and that was during the ’91 riots(an extreme example that has happened only once in my adult life) and even then, I was able to THINK my way out and away from a potentially dangerous situation. THE most important device you posses is that thing between your ears! If aware of your surroundings and able to assess a possibly dangerous situation, 99.99 times out of a hundred, you will be able to keep yourself out of a situation where you feel the need to have a gun on your hip.

    I live 30 miles down wind from a nuclear power plant. Should I take iodine every day just because of the remote possibility of a tsunami will flood the plant and cause a melt down…NO. Do I keep iodine pills handy in the incredibly remote possibility it can happen…YES. The analogy to hand gun ownership is apropos.

  • yeng February 6, 2012, 1:30 pm

    …. its how you well you know how to operate your FA (some just carry it without proper training), with your anticipation for anything that might happen including your tactics, quick and right decision…. this will you the advantage of winning a gunfight….. my gun is an ARMSCOR1911 .45 cal MS PS and i agree that the higher the caliber, the better,,,, but its your disadvantage if your opponent holds a .22 magnum but a deadly shooter…..

  • Lou Danes February 6, 2012, 10:10 am

    Wow that is a great article. Many thanks. Be Safe!

  • Frank February 3, 2012, 6:04 pm

    Jim , I’m a first time reader of your articles and will be looking for more of them. I appreciate the information you put out and it makes me think some more about what I carry. I did get a few chuckles along the way while reading too. Thanks, Frank

  • CSM Charles Edlin December 29, 2011, 5:48 pm

    Hello Jim, good to see some more of your work. Just got back from Iraq with a Batallion of Soldiers that you helped train. Nobody gets better weapons training than Ky Soldiers get, thank YOU very much for heading up that fine program. We all came back in good health, some of them are a little off in the head but I think they were anyway. Hope to see you one of these days.


  • Scotty November 20, 2011, 7:24 pm

    Great article. The real world can be mighty tough and unforgiving. Train and practice, repeat many times over. Regardless of what you carry or have on hand, constant quality training and practice will do you more good than a newer, larger caliber hand cannon. Even though it has turned cold and wintry up here on the high north plains it’ll be trigger time at the range and reloading time at the bench, repeated as often as necessary.

    Keep the sensible advice coming.

  • Bill November 17, 2011, 1:49 pm

    Very good article, but you must feel comfortable with the firearm(s) you carry. A heavy semi-auto will do nothing for someone who cannot handle the recoil or the slide, 8 or 9 on-target .22 rounds from a revolver are much better than a 10mm slug in the ceiling and a jammed handgun.

    To Mr. Freeman, please check your spelling and grammar on future comments. I have yet to determine your stance on anything and have some doubt on your validity. You are chastising CWP holders; but, apparently, you only feel safe in your home (.40), car (9mm), boat, cabin, at work (where weapons are forbidden…and disgruntled employees never appear armed???), and buildings (do bad guys only attack outside?). If you live in a state where conceal-carry is allowed AND you can qualify, you have the right to choose whether or not you get your license. That is freedom. Since you have reservations about drawing and firing a concealed weapon in a timely, accurate manner, the answer is very simple: Practice & Awareness. Practice drawing and firing…practice, practice, practice! Be aware of your surroundings. More often than not, this will keep you out of a situation where you utilize what you have practiced.

  • J.D. November 16, 2011, 6:06 pm

    I also own a ruger .357, 5 shot revolver and really see it as a great revolver. However, while a great round, the .357 magnum is not ideal for humans- for humans- you’d want to load your .357 with 38 special +P+, hollowpoints (which expand) or similiar. The .357 is so powerful it will likely go right through the human you shot at, plus maybe through whatever else is beyond that- and you’re of course responsible for where ever that round goes and any further damage it does.
    As for a .44 – if you use a .44 special (not .44 magnum) it is a great round for human use since it makes a big hole, but doesnt tend to punch right through like the magnum would. Even so, for human use, my compromise choice is the .40 S&W, considered much better than 9mm, but you get more rounds than a .44 or .45. (I dont have mine yet- my wife promised I can get whatever the Army chooses for it’s next sidearm- as long as it is .40 S&W.) For me, most versatile all around weapon- easily the .357: load with .38 buckshot for fishing when around dangerous snakes; load with .38 special or +P for humans; load with .357 if punching out a door lock or breaching a door. I just love the tough little Ruger for doing it too!

  • RORY November 15, 2011, 12:38 pm

    the trouble with all this “Sidewalk Commando” talk, is, that it is just that. Buy a relatively powerful , reliable handgun, 9mm or above, preferably, practice with it frequently, maintain it, and pray that you will never need it. End of Story.

  • markvi November 15, 2011, 12:24 pm

    The way you address each situation is understanable and certainly makes good sense. However, I understand that a 357 Magnum will do about as much damage as a 44 cal. I feel safer with a revolver(not known to jam as is the case with a semi-auto). I have a Ruger 357 3-inch revolver that carries nicely as a ccw. I believe that you should have fast reloaders as my revolver is a 5-shot. I may purchase a Taurus 357 Magnum, Model 627, 7-shot tracker revolver with a 4-inch barrel. If I would need more than 7 shots I would probably realize its all over anyway. There is a new commercial area near my residence where a gun battle ensued between police and thugs. To my surprise no one was hit, and I know that the police carry semi-automatic pistols. Much ammo is not always the answer, but accuracy is. The problem with all of this is that when you are really scared for your life it is very difficult to be deadly accurate.

  • James T. Wilbert November 15, 2011, 1:40 am

    Pretty good advice! Esspecially about “spare” ammo.
    When asked about “carry guns”, i say, “carry the largest caliber weapon You can shoot well”.
    Thanks for the advice

  • James Madsen November 15, 2011, 1:35 am

    I agree that bigger is better. A 40, 44, or 45 has real stopping power. If you go down on caliber you must compensate by going up exponentiallt in accuracy. Although accuracy is important even for the larger calibers, the difference of a half inch or so could mean your life in a shootout with the smaller calibers. I worked with a man who killed 3 attackers with his 45 and took home (or rather to the hospital, 5 25 slugs and 2 380 slugs. He lived – they didn’t.

  • Greg November 15, 2011, 1:14 am

    Amd I thought I was paranoid !!! 🙂 Bet you even wear your guns in the shower. But seriously let’s take REAL LIFE and not hypotheticals. If your not a drug dealer, a jewler, an oil company or bank CEO or live in a gang infested nieghborhood the MOST important consideration in self protection is hitting your attacker and ONLY your attacker. Caliber has little to do with it if you can’t handle the recoil and aim instantaniously !!! There’s plenty of articles in gun magazines how people kept coming after getting hit 10 times with a 45 round. There’s also plenty of articles about people dying from a flesh wound by a 22 !!! My family doctor saw this himself many times while interning in an ER in Pittsburg.

    Unless you always have your gun in your hand you’ll NEVER react in time if some is just too close or already has you in thier sights. And Cancelled Carry, get real are you really gonna be able to pull a gun out in a store before the guy holding the gun shoots you, and let’s say you do manage to,are you, now all hyped up on adreniline (which you didn’t have at the range practicing) gonna shoot and chance hitting an innocent person, maybe even a child, by a missed, richoceted, or shot that went through the gunman ????

    Let’s face it, unless your a trained spy operative the only place a ccw would be practical is at work and almost all companies forbid employees from having weapons at work.

    Lets not forget the bullets. There’s no magic one round fits all. Are you gonna have loaded FMJ, hollowpoint, fragmentable, safety slugs, shotshells ???? All have thier pros and cons depending on the situation, ie: crowded store, sparse crowd in a store, clothing the attackers wearing, do you have to shoot through a medium (wall, window, car door, etc). There are good reasons to have different calibers in different situations. At home I have a 40 cal with FMJ and 185 gr bullet, in my car I have a 9mm with several clips. One clip has FMJ, another hollowpoint another safety slugs and always a FMJ chambered so I have that less step to take. And I can go on for my boat, my lake cabin, etc.

    And no I don’t have a CHP/CWL whatever it’s called in your state. I don’t carry into buildings.

    Maybe that seems stupid to most of you but I enjoy my freedom and in a free society we always have the chance a person will do wrong. If you want to feel perfectly safe go live in Cuba, North Koreas or China, No one there even knows what a door lock is, they have no need for them,If you need 4 guns for cancelled cxarry and 4 doorlocks on steel doors at home and bars on your windows and doors……… is that really freedom ??????

    Not for me, but to each his own. Long happy life to all reading this and thank you for having read and thought about it.

    Greg Freeman (yes that’s my real name)

    • Frank May 28, 2013, 9:18 pm

      Having followed Jim’s work for a while and corresponded with him in the past about some things, I have great respect for him. I was lucky enough to meet him on Evan Marshall’s internet forum. As Jim has pointed out before, in many years of studying this issue, it is hard to find many cases of people needing to be shot 10 times with a .45 ACP. There may be an occasional incident, but it’s just not as common as with other calibers.

      And it is silly to dismiss decades of historical use and the reports from the people who actually used the weapon in combat. The people who really have a lot of experience tend to prefer a .45. Many of the people who tell you that a .45 isn’t really any better than a 9mm FMJ, for instance, have never shot ANYONE with ANYTHING, certainly not with .45 hardball. So how would they know? I personally prefer to listen to people who can reasonably be expected to know something from their own experience. When someone has spent a lifetime shooting people and a large variety of animals, they at least have something useful to contribute to the discussion.

      • Bill June 12, 2017, 6:53 pm

        Frank since you value the opinions of those who have actually fired their guns in a deadly force situation, perhaps you should rethink your decision to blindly accept what the author has to say about this subject, since he has admitted that he has never been in any kind of fight, much less one that involves firearms…

        I can think of three men off the top of my head who have served in the nations’ premier special missions unit; they’ve killed more people than cancer, and they all regularly work with a gun that is neither a 1911 nor chambered in .45 ACP.

    • Dale July 3, 2013, 1:45 am

      Ok Greg, seems like you’ve made up your mind that concealed carry is a waste of time, and that NO ONE could EVER react in time to effectively utilize their firearm. Try reading the “Armed citizen” page of the NRA magazine. Those true life accounts are replete with stories of people doing just that!

      Oh, and by the way – I have had to draw from concealment, just as many other people have. Did I end up having to shoot? No. The hoodlum quickly decided that discretion was the better part of valor that day and left in a hasty retreat, leaving a significant wet spot on the ground. Does it always turn out like that? No. Am I glad I had my CCW that day? YUP! And I thank my Maker that it did end up like that, without having to fire my weapon.

  • Niell November 14, 2011, 11:20 pm

    I originally bought a sweet shooting Walther 380, but just didn’t feel adequate. Went back and bought
    Springfield .45 Concell Carry.
    Your well written article is spot on and very objective.

    Bigger is always better when it comes to caliber!

    Best regards,


  • bill November 14, 2011, 11:05 pm

    carry, train, respect, for you never know when it is time to draw..

  • Richard November 14, 2011, 10:25 pm

    I enjoyed your article but there is one issue I don’t remember reading about. I have a friend who owned a jewery store that was held up by a customer. My friend got his weapon out and leveled at his attacker first but couldn’t get the safety off. Even as he was shot with a 9mm 4 times he was still trying to get the safety off (I saw this on TV). Now I can’t consider a weapon with a safety. I would like to know what an expert thinks about this.

    • Soldier November 17, 2011, 9:18 am

      Safeties suck. My Sig is my primary defense pistol. No safety. My XD is my alternate primary. No safety. Don’t like Glocks but you can’t argue with their design. No safety. All the premier combat pistols don’t have safeties. My M4 does but we train and train and train to be able to operate it reflexively. But on patrol, the rifle is in your hands with your thumb on the safety ready to go. Safeties have no place on a defensive handgun. One of my major beefs with the M9 pistol is the safety.

  • Bill Farrell November 14, 2011, 8:52 pm

    You are spot on with your recommendations. And the 4 rules are indispensable ! and !a should be incorporated into one rule. I usually try to remember something I read (I don’t remember where), “The best place to be armed is where no one is supposed to have a weapon”. It really does apply even if you only carry a stick and know how to use it. Much better than an “Oh Sh–“.
    Thanks for your time and info.

  • Ron Litton November 14, 2011, 8:23 am

    I would add another rule of gunfights: the best place to be when a gunfight breaks out is – – – ELSEWHERE! Unfortunately, that’s not always possible. Train, train, train in getting your weapon out and into position. But train even harder in situational awareness, and how to spot developing “serious social situations” and avoiding or defusing them before they get to critical mass.

  • Steve November 14, 2011, 8:04 am

    Jim is spot on… I like the 4 rules to a gunfight.

    • Carl Jacobs December 19, 2011, 5:26 pm

      Slight modification to the rules given in an excellent article.
      1. Bring a BIG gun with no empty rounds and the safety off.
      2. A loaded gun with the Safety unknowingly “Safed” is as good as an empty gun.
      2. Bring a lot of your friends in front of you and even more beside you.
      3. Pretty is important when it means “Friendly blue blood changing from blue to red to blue.”

  • jay persiani November 14, 2011, 7:21 am

    When i carry, I use a Colt LW Commander 45……the 1911’s are the best to shoot
    and 45 will stop an intruder or attacker. I have 2 x 8 rounds available with additional
    ammo which would have to be re-loaded.

  • Juan October 16, 2011, 2:10 pm

    Jim, A most excellant article. Thanks for all the useful info.

  • Dale Neumann July 13, 2011, 4:48 pm

    Recently purchased my first gun, a Ruger LC9. I plan to apply for my CC permit before the end of the year. I found your article very practical and informative. My main motivation for deciding on the LC9 was for protection while in my home, and I wanted a gun that my wife also felt comfortable with.

  • Dana Feagans (Mr) April 20, 2011, 2:56 pm

    THANK YOU!! I came across your absolutely, incredible writings inadvertantly while researching another subject. Just amazing how much useful knowledge you have shared here. No stereotyped crap….just direct, real life, sensible knowledge backed by research and personal experience.

    Well done Sir. I will now continue to search out all and any additional writings from you……

    Absolutely thankful,


    • Bob Evans June 25, 2012, 10:49 pm

      I have to agree with Dana! Great information. Real life is always the best teacher and the no BS information you provided in this article is invaluable to the novice like myself. Like Dana I came upon this article looking for other information so I will have to go back to part 1 of this article to get even more infor.

      Much appreciated


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