Whenever a feature on the revolver, .45 auto or a high-capacity pistol is published, the comments often center on round capacity. A perceived need or real need is the debate. The national debate on magazine capacity is also a heady subject. I leave the political debate to the experts at the NRA and the Second Amendment Foundation. My views are four square for liberty and freedom.
I own a number of high-capacity rifles just for the hell of it. Damned if I will let Washington affect my buying habits—and I have enough magazines for the duration, just in case. The question is important when it comes to personal defense. Rifles for military use have followed a progression from single-shot to under-the-barrel to rotary magazines, plus en bloc and detachable magazines.
Twenty rounds appears to be the manageable limit for .30-caliber battle rifles. The shorter, mid-range calibers may use 30-round magazines, with 20-round AR magazines almost passé. There are larger magazines available, ranging from 60 to 100 rounds or so. In my mind, they are purely recreational. They are great fun, but they destroy the handling of the rifle, at least in my hands. and few are reliable. That said, the real question is handguns.
While the AR 15-type rifle seems to have settled into the 30-round standard as most practical, handguns are all over the map. A service-grade handgun in .45 ACP may chamber eight rounds. A high-capacity 9mm may chamber 18. Many carry high-capacity 9mms and two spare magazines while attending to their daily business. The question is: Are they prepared Americans or tactical hypochondriacs?
Then there are those who carry five-shot .38s and no spare gun loads. Are they taking their lives in their hands, or do the statistics support their choice? If you do your research, conflicting events support either theory. Sometimes, you will need a significant number of shots. Other times, one or two will suffice.
As Colonel Jeff Cooper said, “Statistics are primarily useful for rascals to impress fools.” After taking the usual boring mean, mode and statistical analysis classes, I understand the validity of some statistics. Probability and possibility must be considered in personal defense, however.
The mindset is a tremendous field of study. The modern mindset may be colored by the cinema and fiction more than first-hand accounts of critical incidents. There are those who trust a revolver and little else. They believe a single, hard hit from a Magnum revolver is superior to a flurry of rounds from a less powerful self-loader. There is something to that mindset.
On the other hand, having grown up with men who carried revolvers, those in service for any length of time carried two revolvers. For all except the most practiced shooter, reloading a revolver during a gun battle is not an option; drawing a second revolver is a viable solution. Surely, we all practice to make the first gun load work.
The first three shots are the most important. With some luck, you will have sufficient focus to manipulate a piece properly and make a hit. I see a low-level of dedication in many training courses, and that simply is not going to cut it in the real world. If you take seriously a study of high-round-count gunfights, you realize the reason they are high-round count is because there are a lot of missed rounds.
Some believe the .45 ACP is the superior personal defense cartridge. They hedge their bets with a high-capacity handgun. In my experience, the greater girth of the grip and heavier weight of the high-capacity .45 are counterproductive and lead to a handgun that is more difficult to use well. However, a 10-shot, double-action, first-shot .45 in the form of the SIG P227 or Baby Desert Eagle are interesting service pistols.
There is an understanding among shooters that handgun calibers are poor stoppers compared to rifles and shotguns. The weak .38 and strong .45 are more alike than different when compared to a 12-gauge shotgun. So, we may need a lot of shots, and we better have a lot of shots is the theory. Still, a bigger bullet makes a larger wound and lets out more blood.
Others split the difference and adopt the .40-caliber cartridge. As time goes by, I have increasing respect for the .40 caliber. By the same token, I see students attempt to use .40-caliber compacts that kick too much. A mid-size .40, such as the SIG P229, offers a high degree of protection.
Then there are high-capacity 9mm handguns.
I see more concealed-carry handgun shooters adopt revolvers more powerful than the old 5-shot .38 standard. The .357 Magnum snubby and .44 Special short-barrel revolver are popular. I believe a 7-shot .357 makes sense. A five-shot .44 does as well because a heavy-frame .44 is too much for constant carry. However, most concealed-carry permit holders use self-loaders.
I took a hard look at some of my favorite high-capacity pistols and compared each on a performance basis and to understand how much magazine capacity is tied to my appreciation of a pistol. I doubt I would enjoy the CZ 75, HK P30 or SIG P226 as much if were they 10-shooters. I know I would not. I would adopt a .45, hands down.
The CZ 75B rail gun and SIG P226 Navy Model are similar, tactically. Each is accurate and reliable. However, the CZ has a 17-round magazine, which was accomplished by adding an extended base pad. So, I have an 18-shot 9mm pistol. That is impressive and means I have three shots each to five targets plus a three-shot reserve.
The problem is I do not like those base pads. They add unnecessary bulk and are the only reason I use the SIG more than the CZ. Those base pads make the pistol more difficult to conceal, and I think they also affect the balance, although that may be subjective. I cannot recall how many times I have seen aftermarket base pads break and fail during a training class. They are a convenient item for some, but I do not use them on any of my handguns.
The CZ magazines are factory units and never have failed, yet they add bulk. I think it is particularly unwise to choose a compact handgun then add the bulk of a magazine extension. Why not simply choose a full-size pistol, with its longer sight radius and superior handling? The extended magazine is just as long as a full-size grip and does nothing for handling.
Then there is the PK 30. It is lighter than the other full-size 9mm pistols and demands concentration; however, it rewards a practiced shooter with excellent accuracy. I would feel as if my options were proscribed if it were a 10-shooter. I am certain I would adopt the .40 in that case. With the Winchester +P loading, I have confidence in this handgun.
And there are the light and lovely 9mm compacts. I am somewhat enamored of the SIG P228, a classic, out-of-print pistol. The P229 is heavier and simply does not have the same feel. Do I honestly sweat over the P228’s 13-round capacity compared to the SIG P226’s 15 rounds? Of course not. Among the favorite 9mm handguns is the 9-shot HKP7M8. I no longer own one and lament the loss. The high-capacity HKM13 did not come off as well, I think. By the same token, I would not feel under armed with the P225 9mm, and the P228 handles at least as well. The Beretta 92A1 compact is an impressive piece, particularly in the Inox version, and a treasure to own and fire.
Which Totem do We Worship?
It all comes down to personal preference in what we carry, and then we hope for the best. Few are prepared for the worst-case scenario: multiple, motivated opponents. A bank robbery by an armed team or a take-over robbery at a pharmacy or jewelry store come to mind. If you are caught in such an action, you should be prepared. It is not unusual for such teams to decide to eliminate living witnesses. They do that for their own safety and to avoid identification and imprisonment, and sometimes they do it for the hell of it.
There are options.
Some years ago, I interviewed a young cop who did not act when he witnessed an armed robbery at a fast-food restaurant. There were two gunmen with handguns, and all the young man had was a five-shot .38. He did not believe he had a fighting chance. I suppose I could have asked him why he carried the gun, although I did not.
Then there was Arlene Beckles. On Feburary 5, 1994, NYPD cop Beckles was in a styling salon when three gunmen attempted to rob it. She fired her five-shot .38 dry, dropping one robber for good and wounding the other two.
What is Your Mantra?
There are two important considerations: caliber and capacity. Some vary the theme from day to day and for each situation.
But a gunfight is the same, and the demands constant, whatever piece you carry.
- A five-shot .38 for a quick trip to the 7-11 is common.
- Then, when traveling, perhaps a 9mm and a spare magazine.
- Others believe the .45 automatic is the best combination, offering good hit probability with a fight-stopping cartridge.
The bottom line is you must consider your situation.
Master the firearm you have chosen. Be certain it is reliable with your chosen load, and the magazines are reliable, service grade and do not protrude beneath the magazine well. They must fit flush as every firearms designer, from Browning to GLOCK, intended. Capacity is a good thing, provided you can deliver the payload accurately. Practice and become formidable with your handgun.
The life you save may be your own.
Do you think quantity is the deciding factor when choosing your handgun? Or do you think it is quality? Share in the comments section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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