Thursday, May 21, 2009

Handgun Buying Consideration: Caliber Size

The first decision that a new handgun buyer must make is to select a desired caliber size for his firearm. Of course, before that determination is made, the prospective purchaser would be best served if he knew how he wanted to use that handgun. For example, a handgun that is going to be used primarily for personal protection must at least meet a minimum caliber size to be effective. In contrast, handguns to be used for other purposes, such as participation in competitive shooting events, can have smaller caliber sizes.

What Does Caliber Size Mean?
A handgun's caliber is determined by a simple measurement of its barrel. The barrel of a handgun is the cylindrical metal tube that a fired bullet travels through until it exits the firearm's muzzle. Within the barrel's inner wall is a pattern of grooves and flat spaces (i.e. lands) that are formed in a corkscrew-like fashion. The purpose of this barrel's 'rifling' is to improve flight characteristics of the bullet by giving it a gyroscopic spin.

A handgun's caliber is the distance between a groove and an opposing land that passes through the barrel's center. In other words, it is roughly the diameter of the firearm's barrel. Caliber size, depending on the handgun, is measured in either English or metric units of measurement - inches and millimeters, respectively. For example, popular English unit caliber measurements include the following: .22LR", .25", .32", .357", .380", .40", and .45". In contrast, two popular metric caliber sizes are 9mm and 10mm.

Implications Of Caliber Size
Obviously, if caliber relates to the diameter of a handgun's barrel, a higher caliber handgun uses and fires larger sized ammunition rounds. Accordingly, larger bullets in the ammunition catridges make bigger holes in their designated targets. Thus, if a handgun is being used for personal protection, a victim's ability to successfully fight off an assailant is better augmented with a higher caliber handgun.

Furthermore, since relatively larger bullets are discharged from higher caliber handguns, more power needs to be generated from antecedent firing sequence to propel the bullet. As a consequence, the firearm will have more recoil or "kick" than a smaller caliber handgun. It is for this reason, most shooting textbooks will suggest that a new shooter should first learn marksmanship skills with a .22LR caliber handgun, which is only marginally bigger than a .177" caliber BB gun.

As a practical matter, a new shooter should borrow or rent a smaller caliber handgun to master marksmanship, as opposed to buying a handgun that he will quickly outgrow. There is no need to allocate handgun purchase money on a handgun that can not be reliably used for personal protection. Many first time firearm buyers do not have access to resources to simultaneously acquire several handguns.

Keep in mind that a handgun's caliber size does not have a directly linear relationship to its purchase price. Thus, it is very easy for a novice to mistakenly buy an expensive practice gun for the same money that could have bought two good quality carry handguns. For example, I had a student last year who bought a .22LR handgun just before he enrolled in my CCW Class.

I had the unpleasant task of informing him that for his purposes - personal protection - his $800 purchase could have bought two good quality Smith & Wesson 9mm caliber handguns. If you are going to buy your first handgun, it is imperative that you consult with an objective and knowledgeable gun owner; some gun shops just want your money and if they have an opportunity to sell a slow moving gun to an unwitting buyer they'll take it.

Another consideration related to caliber size is ammunition capacity. Larger caliber handguns typically can't be loaded with as many rounds of ammunition as a smaller caliber handgun. As a practical matter, a violent assailant - possibly high on drugs - may need to be engaged several times with a smaller caliber handgun. In contrast, a threat to your safety can be eliminated with less shots from a higher caliber handgun.

Minimum Carry Gun Caliber Size
The best caliber handgun that should be used for personal protection is 9mm. The 9mm caliber best balances the trade-off between power and felt recoil. It is for this reason, that many first-time handgun buyers choose this caliber size. A first-time handgun buyer should not immediately rule buying an even larger caliber handgun. Many new shooters, with excellent instruction from a qualified trainer, can learn to accurately and safely fire a .45 caliber handgun.
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