Lately I have seen a lot more articles on the legitimacy of 22lr for personal defense. However, none of the articles included what I think are important aspects of selecting a rimfire firearm for self-defense. I personally don’t care what caliber or gun you chose to defend your life with, but I do want you to be informed before you pick your poison. So if you are considering a rimfire for self-defense then there are 4 areas you should consider. 1) Perceived threat, 2) Physical capabilities and platform selection, 3) Capabilities and limitations of rimfire cartridges and 4) Firearm selection for self-defense.
If you live a quite life and your biggest concern is an unmotivated attacker in the parking lot of your local Kroger, or the unheard of home invasion in your “safe” neighborhood, then a rimfire firearm might be an option for you. A non-violent criminal who is merely looking to score some cash is usually going to turn and run at the first site of a firearm. Most are not willing to stand there and be shot by your peashooter, and will hopefully move on to easier targets. However, if you are a victim of domestic abuse, have restraining orders filed against former partners or have had specific threats against your life, you may want to consider another option. In these cases many of the assailants have already decided they are going to die, and their only mission is to take you out with them. There is no such thing as a “psychological stop” in situations like this and you would be much better served by spending your resources on learning to “fight” with a centerfire pistol. This also means carrying the gun EVERYDAY, and learning to draw and get multiple shots on target QUICKLY. Finally, I would consider your definition of “perceived threat”. While the chance of being attacked by a violent criminal in your quite suburban neighborhood might be low, it isn’t ZERO! Too many people are lulled into a sense of “security” because the live in low crime areas, but they don’t consider what is at stake if they are confronted by a violent criminal who doesn’t share your morals, values or sense of right and wrong. These individuals live in your community and have no qualms about killing you for your car or wallet.
Physical Capabilities and Platform
There are far too many big box gun salesman who recommend snub nosed revolvers for ladies because they think females can’t rack the slide on a centerfire semi-automatic. Not only are they mistaken, they also don’t realize they are promoting a firearm that is one of the most unpleasant and difficult to shoot. A .38 Caliber snub nosed revolver is extremely snappy and the recoil can actually make it painful to shoot. Plus the long heavy trigger pull also makes it difficult to shoot accurately. To counteract this, some “gun experts” will suggest a 22lr revolver to reduce the felt recoil not realizing that rimfire revolvers have heavier internal springs. The heavier springs are necessary to reliably ignite a rimfire cartridge, but they result in an even heavier trigger pull which requires more hand strength.
For those with hand strength issues you would be much better suited with a 22lr pistol. The slide springs on rimfire pistols are much lighter than centerfire pistols and almost everyone can learn to rack the slide. The felt recoil and trigger pull are also going to be much lighter so novice shooters are going to be more accurate and willing to practice more often. With just a couple of regular practice session, a novice shooter can also learn to clear malfunctions quickly. The best way to improve one’s skill level through consistent training and practice, a rimfire pistol is going to be less expensive and more enjoyable to shoot. In fact, I venture to say that someone who has taken the time to learn run a rimfire pistol and who can put accurate shots on target quickly and clear any malfunctions, will be better prepared to protect themselves than someone who resists practice with a snub-nose revolver or centerfire pistol.
Limitations and Capabilities of rimfire cartridges
The most often cited argument against a 22LR for self defense is its lack of “stopping power”, but stopping power is a myth. This is reiterated by Dave Spaulding in his video entitled Stopping Power and the article “An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power” by Greg Ellifritz. The most important aspects of stopping a threat include shot placement and the ability to put multiple rounds on target quickly. Most people will be able to shoot a smaller caliber more accurately and more quickly than a larger caliber. So as long as you use a good self-defense round that has enough energy to reach the vital areas of the attacker, caliber is less important than shot placement.
Another limitation of the rimfire cartridge is that firearms chambered for this round tend to be smaller and have limited capacity. Revolvers will usually have 6-8 rounds and pistols are usually have 10 rounds. This limitation could be exaggerated by an aggressor wearing heavying clothing, if you are facing multiple attackers, or a determined attacker. However the biggest limitation of the 22Lr is the source of ignition. Rimfire rounds are notorious for misfires and a misfire in the middle of a gun fight could be catastrophic. If you are selecting a 22lr for self-defense make sure you use high quality self-defense rounds like the Federal 22 Punch.
Rimfire suggestions for self-defense.
In addition to using high quality ammunition, you should also select a good quality firearm. If you are considering a rimfire handgun for self-defense, especially for concealed carry, I would suggest you look at revolvers from Smith & Wesson (S&W) and Ruger. For pistols, I would suggest the Glock 44 or the S&W M&P Compact. These models have been part of the Boondocks’ rental pool for years. They have proven to be reliable and work with the widest range of ammunition. More recently I have seen some good reviews of the Ruger LCP Light Rack 22LR. I don’t have any hands on experience with this firearm, but it packs 10 rounds into a tiny package for those who need a deep concealment option.
For home defense, I suggest going with a rifle. The additional barrel length adds much needed velocity to the 22LR. In my opinion, two good home defense rimfire rifles would be the Ruger 10/22 and the S&M M&P 15-22. Both of these models offer factory magazine capacities of 10 and 25 rounds. The addition of a rimfire suppressor to either of these rifles will also ensure you save your hearing if you are forced to defend your home.
The Bottom Line
There are more cons in selecting a rimfire for self-defense when compared to centerfire options, but the bottom line is I would rather you be very proficient with a rimfire than mediocre with a centerfire. A rimfire will allow you to practice more often and at a much lower cost. They are more pleasant to shoot and make trips to the range FUN instead of intimidating for new shooters. Many of the manufacturers make rimfire versions of their centerfire models, which can make it easier to graduate to centerfire models later on.