It happened again. Someone asked me what I thought the best caliber is. Granted they didn’t ask it quite that ambiguous. But it did raise the “insufficient information hackles” when I got the email.
The actual question was:
Tell me which caliber you think is best and why: 9mm, 40 S&W, or 45 ACP.
Had the question been, “Which caliber has the best stopping power?” I would have replied, “It’s tough to beat something chambered in 200 mm XM422 with the 40 kiloton yield option”.
The question isn’t quite that unbounded but still it’s insufficiently bounded to give an answer that is credible for even a fraction of the possible values of the unconstrained variables. One must really have more information about the use cases of the firearm before you can give an answer that someone couldn’t drive a Euclid truck through.
When someone asks a question like this what you really need to do is get the person asking the question to answer it for themselves. For all intents and purposes they already know the answer they just don’t know the proper questions to ask themselves. You can help them with this.
The top level question is, “What are you going to use this gun for? Recreation, self-defense, competition, all of the above?” One could drill down to a depth of three or more in the specifics for any of the answers given but here are few of the possibilities:
- What is your ammo budget?
- Self-defense against two legged varmints or four?
- What is the body mass of the varmint you need to defend against?
- One attacker or a mob?
- Which sport?
Everything is a tradeoff. The smaller calibers tend toward higher capacities, higher velocities, lower costs, and, obviously, smaller holes. With the larger calibers the opposite is true. Once you figure out your application then the caliber question should pretty much answer itself.
If you are interested in self-defense “stopping power” then I answered that question nearly 15 years ago and I don’t see any reason to update the conclusion where I agree with Greg Hamilton who says:
The entire discussion of “stopping power” is both stupid and irrelevant. Statistics cannot be applied to individuals. People that need to be shot need to be shot soon and often. They need to be shot until they run out of fluid, brains, or balls.
If during the time you were reading the latest “stopping power” article you were instead practicing to save your life you would be far, far ahead.
May 08, 1998
Of potential interest is what caliber gun(s) do I own and use and why.
I have guns in all three of the calibers in question. I almost never use the 9mm or the .45. The reason has nothing to do with the caliber themselves. It is because a .40 with 17 or 18 round magazines is the best choice for Limited class USPSA matches which I compete in. I can compete in USPSA and Steel Challenge with it and I can carry it for self-defense. I figure the odds of me using it in self-defense are pretty low but the probability of me using it in competition are near 1.0. And even supposing that some other caliber/gun would be better for self-defense the fact that I am going to be practicing with the competition gun is probably going to make up for the (questionable) fact that I wasn’t shooting the optimal caliber.