Since my tongue-in-cheek piece on the suck factor of the most popular gun designs was such a rousing success (and because I want to see how high I can drive my stats counter), here’s a sequel. This time, I will take reader Eric’s suggestion, and tell you why your favorite caliber sucks.
Ready? Here we go!
9mm Luger: European popgun round that’s only popular because the ammo is cheap for a centerfire cartridge. Cheap ammo is a good thing for 9mm aficionados, because anything bigger and more dangerous than a cranky raccoon will likely require multiple well-placed hits. Wildly popular all over the world, mostly in countries where people don’t carry guns, and cops don’t have to actually shoot people with theirs.
.45ACP: Chunky low-pressure cartridge that hogs magazine space and requires a low-capacity design (if the gun needs to fit human hands) or a grip with the circumference of a two-liter soda bottle (if the gun needs to hold more than seven rounds). Disturbingly prone to bullet setback, expensive to reload, fits only into big and clunky guns, and a recoil that has an inversely proportionate relationship with muzzle energy.
.40S&W: Neutered compromise version of a compromise cartridge. Even more setback-happy than the .45ACP, and setbacks are much more dangerous because of higher pressure and smaller case volume. Manages to sacrifice both the capacity of the 9mm and the bullet diameter of the .45. Twice the recoil of the 9mm for 10% more muzzle energy.
.357SIG: Highly overpriced boutique round that does the .40S&W one worse: it manages to share the capacity penalty of the .40 while retaining the small bullet diameter of the 9mm. Noisy, sharp recoil, and 100% cost penalty for ballistics that can be matched by a good 9mm +P+ load. Penetrates like the dickens, which means that the Air Marshals just had to adopt it…only to load their guns with frangible bullets to make sure they don’t penetrate like the dickens.
.38 Special: Legacy design with a case length that’s 75% longer than necessary for the mediocre ballistics of the round due to its blackpowder heritage. On the plus side, the case length makes it easy to handle when reloading the gun. This is a good thing because anyone using their .38 in self-defense against a 250-pound attacker hopped up on crack will need to empty the gun multiple times.
.32ACP: Inadequate for anything more thick-skinned than Northeastern squirrels or inbred Austrian archdukes. Semi-rimmed cartridge that is rimlock-happy in modern lightweight autoloaders. Doesn’t go fast enough to expand a hollowpoint bullet, and it wouldn’t matter even if it did, because the bullet would only expand from tiny to small-ish.
.44 Magnum: Overpowered round that generates manageable recoil and muzzle blast…if you’re a 300-pound linebacker with wrists like steel girders. Often loaded to “Lite” levels that turn it into a noisy .44 Special while retaining the ego-preserving Magnum headstamp. Considered the “most powerful handgun cartridge in the world” by people whose gun knowledge is either stuck in 1960, or who get their expertise in ballistics from Dirty Harry movies.
10mm Auto: Super-high pressure cartridge that beats up gun and shooter alike. Very brisk recoil in anything other than all-steel S&W boat anchors, with a shot recovery that’s measured in geological epochs for most handgun platforms. Often underloaded to wimpy levels (see “.40 S&W”), which then gives it 9mm ballistics while requiring .45ACP magazine real estate.
.380ACP/9mm Kurz: Designed by people who thought the 9mm Luger was a bit too brisk and snappy, which is pretty much all that needs to be said here. Great round if you expect to only ever be attacked by people less than seven inches thick from front to back.
.357 Magnum: Lots of recoil, muzzle blast, and noise to drive a 9mm bullet to reckless speeds in an attempt to make up for its low mass and diameter. Explosive fragmentation and insufficient penetration with light bullets; excessive penetration and insufficient expansion with heavy ones. Still makes only 9mm holes in the target.
5.7x28mm: Ingenious way to make a centerfire .22 Magnum and then charge quadruple price for the same ballistics. Awesome chambering for a police weapon…if you’re the park ranger in charge of the chipmunk exhibit at the zoo, and you want to make sure you can take one down if it turns rabid on you.
.25ACP: Direct violation of the maxim “Never do an enemy a minor injury”. Designed by folks who wanted to retain the bullet diameter of the .22 rimfire round, but take a bit of the excessive lethality out of it. Favored by people who don’t feel comfortable carrying anything more dangerous than the neighbor kid’s rusty Red Ryder pellet gun.
Okay, that should cover most of the popular defensive calibers. Let the flaming begin!