The Caliber Wars for Women

By Kellene Bishop

Caliber Wars: .45 Caliber Photo c/o wikimedia.org

Caliber Wars: .45 Caliber Photo c/o wikimedia.org

In a recent article I wrote, quite a few opinions were given about the appropriate caliber for self-defense.  There are many macho opinions dished out on the caliber wars.  But as a woman and a professional instructor I am constantly waging war on the misinformation dispensed to women on this matter.

Ironically, in spite of this site being primarily for the benefit of women, we have a LOT of male readers.  I don’t intend to offend any of these male readers when I say that the majority of the bad advice on “appropriate calibers” is given by men to women, and in my opinion, it’s a BIG reason why more women don’t embrace the ownership and use of a firearm.  The good news is that I’m certain that when men dispense this misinformation they certainly aren’t doing so for a diabolical reason.  I’ve talked to too many of these well-intentioned men over the years on “caliber wars” and have realized that ultimately they have a genuine interest in the safety of the women who are about to embark on gun ownership.  Regardless of their good intentions though, this unfortunate myth is still dispensed regularly.  And it goes as follows:

“Be sure that you have a caliber with a “4” in it.”

“Don’t rely on a 9 mm. It won’t save your life.”

“Anything less than a .40 caliber is useless.”

“Practice with a .22 or a .9, but be sure to carry a .40 or better.”

There are many versions of this advice freely dished out on thousands of blogs and in classrooms all over the U.S., but they are WRONG, pure and simple, for several reasons.

Lt. Yamile Jana Shoots a 9mm. Photo c/o northshorejournal.org

Lt. Yamile Jana Shoots a 9mm. Photo c/o northshorejournal.org

First, let’s understand where they myth comes from.  Many women opt to begin with a 9 mm handgun primarily due to the grip and recoil of the firearm.  A 9 mm typically has much less of a kick than a higher caliber.  But women often hear from their well-meaning, gun-toting friends that a 9 mm is useless.  This myth is perpetuated because of a handful of well-publicized instances in which a criminal was NOT stopped promptly in spite of being shot several times with a 9 mm.  Yes, it’s true that a drug-crazed individual is not easily fazed by a 9 mm shot.  But it’s not the caliber that is at fault.  It’s the PLACEMENT of the bullet. 

Don’t tell me that 9 mm is useless.  A 9 mm to the forearm may be useless whether or not the perpetrator is on drugs or embroiled in rage.  But a 9 mm to the center of the head or heart will stop a tyrant regardless of the quality of the drugs he/she is on.  The myth insinuates that a .40 or .45 caliber does not require accurate placement.  Clearly even if I manage to hit an attacker with a .50 caliber round on their pinky finger, it’s going to do very little to bring the confrontation to a halt, right?  You simply can’t count on the caliber to bring you safety.  You must rely solely on your target skills.

Grip, recoil, and competency all come into play when honing your target skills.  A chosen caliber should merely be the result of these aspects, not the determining factor of them.

Additionally, consider the capacity aspect of a firearm.  With a smaller caliber firearm I typically have more opportunities to hit my target directly than I do with higher caliber. 

This is not to say that women are “sissies.”  If a 9 mm were truly a “sissy gun,” then our nation’s law enforcement agencies would be run primarily by cowards.  Plenty of my students, male and female have opted for 9 mm, while others have chosen .40 or .45 caliber.  It’s not a self-defense issue.  It’s a personal preference issue.  But in most instances, my female students never would have started shooting if a .40 or .45 had been their only option.  If you’ve got too much kick in a firearm, you lose your skill.  If there’s too much required grip, you lose your effectiveness as well.  This is exactly why I’ve recommended the grip as the number one concern in selecting a firearm in previous articles.  The less a woman has to recover from the kick-back in her firearm, the more shots she can take.  Even a .22 caliber is better than a woman having NOTHING to defend herself.  And that is the primary goal of this site—to train and educate women how to appropriately defend themselves with a firearm.

Here are a couple of facts to be considered:

  • Professional (and military) assassins have long elected to use a .22 caliber rifle or handgun.
  • Law enforcement agencies all over the U.S. use a 9 mm as a standard issue. 
  • There have actually been several instances in law enforcement where even .40 and .45 calibers were ineffective in stopping a criminal—not because of the caliber, but because of the ineffective placement of the round. 
Woman Practicing At the Range. Photo c/o midwestdefense.com

Woman Practicing At the Range. Photo c/o midwestdefense.com

The reason why I fiercely advocate this point is because many women hesitate to shoot a .40 caliber.  They are much more successful in their shot placement when shooting a smaller caliber.  Thus it’s shameful to have a woman stopped or frustrated in her pursuit of gun ownership because some macho, misinformed man tells her that a strong caliber (that knocks her on her butt when she shoots it) is useless.  One thing that men simply don’t realize is that women are physiologically more sensitive to the loud bass sound of the bullet igniting than men are.  Women are literally more affected by the sound of a .40 caliber+ than men are.  The sound resonates through them longer than it does in men.  As such, the sound literally rattles a woman.  Thus high caliber firearms are uncomfortable for them to shoot initially.  Do you really think someone is going to practice with a firearm that they are not comfortable with or that frightens them?  No.  So if they do listen to their .40 caliber friends, all they end up doing is A) not moving forward with gun ownership, or B) acquiring a .40 caliber+ firearm and just putting it away, allowing themselves to be lured with a false sense of security.  Is that really in the best interest of a person who is considering taking on the responsibility of firearm self-defense? 

Finally, on dispelling these common myths, practicing with a firearm other than the one you intend to use qualifies as “dumb squared.”  Practice with what you are going to use for self-defense.  Period.  An element of surprise can only be suitably conquered by mental and physical practice to combat such an element.  The last thing you need when suddenly confronted with an attack, robbery, nighttime break-in, or worse, is a millisecond of doubt that occurs, causing you to question whether or not you will be able to use your firearm since it’s not the one you’ve been practicing with.  

Here’s one final thought on this topic.  Five years ago my own mother took her life with a teeny tiny little .22 Derringer.  So many men would have me believe that such a firearm is useless for anything other than rabbit hunting.  Mom’s death had nothing to do with the caliber.  It was all about the placement, folks.  So, well-meaning gun owners, PLEASE stop spreading the myth that a 9 mm is useless.  Let’s identify the real culprit.  A poorly practiced shooter is what’s really useless to provide self-defense.  Let the caliber wars cease.  

Copyright 2009 Kellene Bishop. All rights reserved.  You are welcome to repost this information so long as it is credited to Kellene Bishop.

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21 Responses

  1. You make a lot of valid points Kellene. Shot placement and creating multiple wound channels is what really matters. People should shoot what they shoot best, and not what someone else tells them to shoot.
    I do have to admit though, that I like the way a .45 penetrates a windshield typically without splintering. 🙂

  2. Thanks for all of the hard work that you do to empower women with a sense that they can defend themselves. As I always like to say “Strong women raise strong sons and daughters”. 😉

  3. I carry a Glock 19 in 9 x 19 which is loaded with 147 grain Gold Dots, and would never questioned its ability to stop a criminal. I also carry a snubnose with 158 grain hollowtips,and never doubted it either to stop a threat. Sure,bigger is always better,but use what you are comfortable with.

    • Yes, and let us not forget that you can also use +P ammo in your 9 mm, thus giving it that much more power without compromising capacity.

  4. Kellene,

    Please e-mail me. I have a few questions for you on another topic.

  5. Having seen many gunshot wounds and having caused more than a few over my lifetime, I am not a fan of the 9mm Parabellum as a combat round. However I agree with you that the firearm MUST fit the shooter and the caliber and recoil is important when training. If you’re afraid of the recoil or develop a ‘flinch’ you’re not going to be able to put ordnance on target.

    Accuracy is final and a lot of people have been killed by .22 LR projectiles over the years.

  6. As a trainer I highly recommend 9mm it works for both women & older adults.
    Really for most anyone, the 9 is highly controllable, it does not do joint damage over a long period of time, you will see this with the 40.
    The 9 is also affordable, so one can practice more, for less money
    Todays self defense rounds in 9mm are highly effective, do some indepth research & you’ll find failures with all the other rounds also, even 357 mag.

    “It’s not what you hit them with, it where you hit them with it.”

  7. The simplest statement I have ever heard on the matter is “carry the largest pistol (1) that you can shoot accurately and will carry (2) all the time (3).”

    1. caliber and platform
    2. a .44mag in the glove box is no good if you get stuck up in the parking lot.
    3. When legal.

    I personally have some options when it comes to cc and. choose a Glock 19 loaded with 147 grain hollow point ammunition.

  8. Kellene,

    I am a man that is totally in favor of the 9mm for the exact reasons you state. Shot placement is the key to stopping and 9mm semiautos usually hold more rounds than the larger calibers. Additionally, because of the availability and lower cost of 9mm ammunition, I practice more often. I can make double tap and triple tap groups much tighter with a 9mm than I ever could with a 40 or 45. From my experience, many women prefer the 9mm to the 40 or 45 when starting out. Great post.

  9. I thought everything was well put. Shot placement is king. Find the gun you are comfortable with and just carry it. I think a lot of the stories about the useless 9mm are old enough that they were before we had good hollow points. 9mm hollow points have come a long way in the last 5 or so years. I carry a .45 but have no problem with the 9mm. My advise to women is shoot a few calibers and get a comfortable pistol in the caliber you prefer.

  10. Thank you for this! I am looking to purchase my first handgun and had read that a 9mm might be the best fit for me…..and my friend said I needed the stopping power of the .40.

    I did not know about the sound issue, but it makes total sense.

  11. Hi Kellene,
    I really like this article.
    The only thing that I would change in it, if I had the chance, is that you please change the statements that theoretically put all men into one group, such as: ” Once thing that men simply don’t realize…”.
    I ask, that in talking about a group of men, that you’d categorize them by saying, “some men” or “most men”.

    It is just my opinion and observations, but just as most American women don’t like being put into a box where they are considered to be all the same, by the same token, most American men don’t like being put in a box or category, where they are considered as “all the same”.

    I just wanted to ask that you’d add that nuance to your articles.

    Thank You,

    TR

  12. As a man recommending a CCW to ladies I always tell them choose the largest caliber you can comfortably and effectively fire . Because no matter how long you train and how accurate you are at the range , it’s a different ball game when your faced with an armed assailant . And with all the training and range time doesn’t mean perfect placement on a moving armed person that is shooting back . So a 9mm versus a .40 or 10mm center mass shot . What gives you the best chances to stop your armed assailant in one maybe two shots . So think about it in those terms and not target shooting at the range !!

  13. Great post. So my wife, at 100 pounds should be able to handle a 9mm?

  14. I’m a 5 foot 6 inch 107 lb woman, and have only been shooting for 3 months. I bought and began shooting with a Ruger LCR .22, and have now found that I actually prefer my husband’s XDM .45. The noise and recoil is not an issue, and just tonight I found that I can control my flinch pretty well. I’ve tried the XDM 9mm, and found that it was just too “wild” for me. There’s something different about the recoil momentum with a 9mm. I’ve also enjoyed shooting my husband’s MPA SST 10, and Chiappa Rhino 20DS. Love those guns. Anyway, for me to begin loving a .45 was never expected, and is very surprising. I think all women should try every caliber at least once. You just never know what you might like. This was an interesting read; thanks to the author for your perspective.

    • Keep in mind too, Ladies, that the structure of the firearm will make a BIG difference in what caliber is more comfortable too. I do agree that a woman should try as may possibilities as possible before making the purchase of their “new best friend.” *grin*

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