Can .22LR Really Be A Self-Defense Caliber?

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The caliber debate. This is a debate that likely will never go away completely, but even among those who want to keep arguing for or against a particular caliber for self-defense, most generally say that the smallest caliber that you want to use for self-protection is .380.

Still, some people are arguing for the usefulness of even smaller calibers than that, but can a smaller caliber, such as a .22LR, actually be effective as a self-defense caliber?

Kevin Creighton has some thoughts on this subject:

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Let’s begin with the obvious: 22LR is not a powerful cartridge. At the muzzle, a typical 22LR round will have a 40 grain bullet that leaves the barrel of your gun at around 1100 feet per second and delivers just over 100 foot/pounds of energy. Compare that to a round of 9mm, with a bullet weighing almost three times as much, traveling at over 1100 fps and punching out over 320 foot pounds of energy, and you begin to see the problem with using 22 for self defense. 

However, the power of the cartridge is just one part of the self defense equation. The most powerful handgun in the world does you absolutely no good if it’s not nearby when you need it. In addition to this, a powerful handgun that you can’t shoot well might be comforting to you, but it will have little impact on the bad guy trying to ruin your life. Turns out there might be something to the idea of using a 22 for self defense after all. 

Creighton goes on to say that, generally speaking, most people will want to choose a larger caliber for their self-protection needs, but, because accuracy is vital to a gun being useful at all for self-protection, a .22LR firearm can effectively be used for self-protection because it allows even a physically weaker person to effectively hit the shots that they need to hit when your life is on the line.

What do you think: is .22LR a legitimate self-defense caliber? Tell us below.

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46 COMMENTS

  1. I know of two men who were shot with a .22 cal. The first was shot in the chest, and stated it felt like he was hit with a sledge hammer. I can’t remember the extent of his wound. The second nearly died, having extensive surgery on his liver, and other organs. Both were immediately incapacitated. All that kinetic energy concentrated into such a small mass/area of impact at close range should sting quite a bit.

  2. If being attacked, my first priority is to stop the attacker. A .22 hollow point shot at close range will do the job. My intent would be to incapacitate – not kill.

    When you have drawn your gun, attacker knows you have a drawn weapon and they do not change their behavior based on the caliber of your weapon. They will proceed to o what they want. Its up to you to deter or change their mind.

    A 22 Cal is the perfect weapon for many women with small hands and little hand strength and for men with arthritis in their fingers. Pulling the trigger is hard. A weapon that uses .22 Cal is generally smaller, lighter and easier to conceal and shoots with little recoil.

    I trust Kevin’s description of what its like to get shot with a 22. That level of pain is good enough for me as I an sure if they were attackers, they were stopped in their tracks.

  3. Thats what i use a High Standard M100 and a Calico for several reasons #1: Accuracy I can put a round in the size of a dime at 50 yards under stress (practice, practice, practice.) #2: cost of rounds for practice to insure acuracy. #3: ease of use theres no kick so site alignment after first shot is not lost so you can double triple quad one round atop another as fast as you can squeze the trigger.
    Plus the weight is negligable.
    I dont care who you are if you get shot in the eye at 5,10,20,30,50 feet etc. Your on the elevator down to hell.

    • I would add that it is probably the express elevator as well. I carry a .22 Pheonix pistol most of the time. It is easily concealed and fast to get out into action, accurate (I stick toothpicks up, and then shoot them from the appendix draw and I have only been stopped once and asked if I had a weapon – I was going thru a detection machine machine and forgot I had the gun). That one time, at the emergency room, is the only time the pistol was noticed. I also have two extra mags and use aguila hi power .22. so, I think a .22 is very useful for self defense, because your defensive circle is around 10 to 15 feet anyway.

    • You must be the greatest pistol shot of all time. I agree, a .22 rimfire is far better than than an empty hand, but a dime at 50 yards.

  4. At the indoor range one day I watched a young woman with an 8 round .22 revolver and a man with a .22 10 round semi-auto consistently obliterate the 10 ring at 10 yards. That’s 8 and 10 head shots with no effort. Loading after loading. A single .22 short head shot took out Robert Kennedy. Practice with the gun with which you are comfortable and accurate. Enough said.

  5. During a family dispute, my son confronted his step-father with a .22 single-shot rifle at close range; when the step-dad grabbed him, he flinched and put a round into the man’s thigh, through-and-through. It took him a second to realize he was shot, after which he growled a threat, turned and left in the family car. Deterrent, maybe. Crime-stopper, I don’t think so.

    • I’m going to have to say the a big difference in getting shot in the leg and getting shot in the chest area! Getting shot in the leg and hitting that artery that bleeds you out in seconds is pretty extreme! I’ve heard a shot from a 22 can be just as deadly as a 9mm or any other. I’ve been told 22’s like to bounce around and tear the hell out of flesh. A 22 can penetrate the skull so at that, I’d have to say a 22 is way more than adequate for defense, offense or anything. I’ve used a 22 rifle to put down deer and it works quite well when shot placement is good.

  6. I have a 9 shot DA 22 revolver that is my nightstand weapon.

    The advantages of it is that there is no safety, little recoile, little muzzle flash, and will not go through a whole bunch of walls like even a .38 special. Waking up in the middle of the night and having to mess around with getting the pistol ready is not something I want to to do.

    The muzzle flash is a major point in it’s favor because I am not a believer in making myself a target by turning on lights.

  7. I don’t own a 22, but I think I will after reading the results.I have shot one many times an I sure do not want to be hit with one

  8. I have a S&W M&P .22LR Semi Auto with 25 rounds on tap. Exact replica of my 5.56 S&W with 30 rounds… I can put all the rounds on 3″ circle at 100 yards with either. I think any criminal would be equally dead in either case. My 10 round Sig .22LR pistol with hollow points is accurate to 25yards. It destroys a watermelon at that range, I don’t think a criminal would survive even a couple of accurate hits. My friend always says, if you don’t think a .22 can kill you would you let someone shoot you with one? I’ve been in BB gun wars, they bounce off, I’ve seen hunting accidents with bird shot where it just slides down a heavy jacket with no penetration… a 22LR is no joke.

  9. As a retired firefighter/paramedic for 42 years I can tell you I ran on more dead shooting victims from a .22 than any other caliber. I believe the article was about a self-defense caliber. I would say it is risky as it will probably not stop a person in their tracks, especially if on certain illicit drugs.

    It can be a deadly round, just not strong enough to stop someone quickly, in my opinion.

  10. I’m not sure what the current stats are, but it was only a few years back that .22LR led the pack for deaths by gunfire. Of course that included accidental shootings and suicides.

    My wife’s Uncle, back in the early 50s, lost his life at 14 to a .22 Short he’d accidently shot himself with. Back in the days before EMS, it took over an hour to get an Ambulance to him, and he passed en route. The bullet had passed through his spleen and he died from internal bleeding.

    My better half I gifted a Ladysmith Mod 60 to on our wedding day. At her last job carrying was an issue. So I ended up picking a little NAA Mini Revolver in .22 Mag/.22 LR. Converted an ankle holster to hold the wee gun. She loves it and can consistently keep her shots in a 6″ circle at 17 feet. It’s small enough it doesn’t print no matter what she wears (except shorts of course). Is it the best choice? Maybe not, but no matter how much I work with her, she’s uncomfortable with any of the semi autos we have. She is comfortable with any of Revolvers we own, including the mini. So for her right now, that’s the option she’s most comfortable with. I’d rather she carry that .22 Mag than be unarmed.

  11. A .22 long rifle round to the central nervous system will terminate a person just as effectively as I have done to deer in the long ago past.

  12. During the Second World War, attacking Japanese soldiers were shot, at close range, with the .30 caliber M1 Carbine. And it didn’t even slow them down. In the 1960’s a Rapist, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was shot TWICE in the back of his head, WITH A .38 Special FIRED BY A POLICEMAN. He was knocked FLAT ON HIS FACE. NEITHER BULLET PENETRATED HIS SKULL! One was lodged, BETWEEN HIS SCALP AND SKULL, OVER EACH EAR! On one occasion, I shot a Pigeon, from 15 yards, with a .22 LR HOLLOW POINT, fired from a Scoped Remington Nylon 66. It hit 1/2 inch off the center of his breastbone, KNOCKED HIM DOWN AND RIPPED OFF FEATHERS, BUT DID NOT PENETRATE. He probably died FROM OLD AGE! I would not expect a .22 LR to accomplish much, except make a VERY LITTLE noise.

  13. I live in Brazil, and here the table was turned on the criminals side, because except COPs and Military people, none can carry any gun. I’m a War Veteran, a Blue Helmet, and I need (and use) a wheelchair to move around, although I drive and have a semi-disabled life. If the situation asks for anything, fock the Law, and I put anywhere in me a North American Arms short barreled revolver in .22 Long Rifle, because untill recently the .22WMRF was forbidden. So, since I train when possible at the Stand, I train in my suburban house (with a lawn of roughly 4,000 square feet) with my Air-gunnery, Crossbows, Paintball Markers with “devil may care” diabolic loads (but be quite, please), and if the need arise, I’m sure my little revolver will stop an attacker. If it didn’t, I carry a thick Bolo Machete on my wheelchair, so the more one is closer to me, the worst for him/her. My wife carries a Phazor (option over Taser), cheaper but more versatile, since it can shoot rubber balls, pepper balls, pepper powder, besides the usual shocker. As my “bed tight companion” (better than under the pillow, I keep my gun under my right tight, inside a speed drawn holster) is a revolver Taurus the Judge, with 4″ Bbl., but here it is sold with smoth barrel only, so I use the most devilished .410 x 2 1/2″ shotshell, the kind the guys at Demolition Ranch or Taufledermaus on YouTube would live to try! And of course a tactical folder clipped on my thousers, because I’m need to stay into a single position, so I’m solid enough to kill even being killed, and I’m sure you’ll understand what I mean. I’m always ready to die for my wife, and even if I did so, I’ll still be indebted to her eternally!

  14. Back in the late ’70’s. My step dads younger brother. Who Only had ONE Arm and was UN Armed. They owned an auto repair shop. And were an agent for a Rent a Truck company. 2 guys came in to rent a truck. The Rental companies rules were $100 deposit and Photo ID. These guys didn’t have either. So he said NO Rental. They argued for awhile and the two guys left. They came back. Just out of spite. And shot him. Once in the heart with a .22. Coroner said he was dead before he hit the ground. A ONE ARMED. UN ARMED MAN!! And they never caught the guys that killed him in cold blood. So. Who wants to argue or debate with me that a .22 isn’t Deadly??? Yeah. Didn’t think so. . .

  15. I gave my wife a choice of handguns for self defense one of our anniversaries, I really wanted her to take the .32 HR magnum, it has no kick, but for her it was too heavy, she chose one of my .22 handguns, semi auto. she is comfortable using it, and we have trained with it, I told her that if the attacker is high on whatever he may not feel it, so shot placement is absolute. she has done work with the State Patrol, and was in the past a reserve police officer. I trust her, but as stated above shot placement is absolutely the most important thing to remember, she works at a hospital detox, I am sure happy that the security walks her out and sometimes into the facility. I love her more than life, I am a DISABLED USMC VETERAN, above knee amputee, and not able to do things as I used to. she also has stun guns, and edc knifes, I do everything I can to keep her and our girls safe from sick people.

  16. Ever retrieve a .22 Copper Jacketed Hollow Point bullet after you’ve shot it. And see how much it expands with copper shreds sticking out all over? It’s all twisted out like Shrapnel. It looks like it would do a hell of alot of damage ripping through a “target”. Body. Head. And the thing about a .22 is that if you take a head shot. (On an “Animal”.) After it initially ppenetrates the skull. The velocity is decreased Alot So that it might not have enough power to exit the other side of the skull. But does still have enough to ricochet or bounce around inside the heads and make lots of nice holes in the brain. I read somewhere that the .22 and .25 are the choice of hitmen. (Allegedly) So if it’s good enough for them. It’s good enough as protection. Ofcourse. A larger, more powerful gun is better. But if you are limited. In Strength. Money. Somewhere to carry it. A .22 is better than Nothing.

  17. The .22 dates back to the civil war. Statistically, more people have been killed by the lowly inadequate round than any other. Placement trumps caliber. One round might be all it takes to stop a threat.

  18. I think a 22lr is a good defensive weapon , and easy to shoot and handle. Easy to practice with too….

  19. I have a brand new 22cal. M100 Calico carbine. I’m looking for Accessories for it Do you know of anyone having accessories. I know Calico Firearms has them,but they never answered there PHONES or emails. Thanks

  20. I ALWAYS recommend a .22 automatic as a first timers self protection weapon. It has little kick and is therefore easier to keep on target. And at close range IS just as deadly as a .38, 9mm or.380. There is a REASON most mob hit men use exactly that weapon. The argument is similar to how much octane do you need for your car’s engine. If you need 85 octane, buying 93 octane fuel does you no more good than buying 85, 87, or 89…
    “Enough IS enough!

    Practicing with a .22 is far more productive than with a caliber that scares the hell out of you. So you become proficient; and more quickly.
    In these days of Democrats and their anti-gun nonsense, the ammo is cheaper. Though I admit there is the DIS-advantage that it cannot be reloaded- though it CAN be recycled.

    Another advantage of the.22/L/LR is that this round is FAR less likely to cause injury to someone in another room in your house, or that of a neighbor’s apartment or house.

  21. In the 50’s & 60’s, the preferred firearm used by Mob Hitmen on the East Coast was a .22LR, mainly a RUGER MK I. A .22LR hit in the head would have enough power to enter the skull, but would then bounce around, as it typically no longer had enough power to exit. In most cases, the noise of a .22LR would not be noticed over city background noise. A .22LR will easily kill, and with ammo that that firearm likes, can shoot dime size groups at 50′. If one is willing to try a number of different types of .22LR ammo, and find the brand/bullet that you gun likes, then one would have an unpleasant surprize for an unwelcomed bad guy. A .22LR headache just doesn’t go away. Jump up to a .22 WMR, and the results are even more effective. As for me, while I have .22 LR handguns, (and .22 WMR cylinders), I can still handle a 9mm.

  22. When I was 14, a classmate, also 14, was shot and killed by a neighbor across the street for skateboarding.
    But first ask yourself, would you want to be shot with a.22 LR? Probably not.
    Now if a (sober) burglar came into your house in the middle of the night, and you shot him with your.22, and he feels the bullet hit him and he sees the flash and hears the shot, do you think he’s going to wonder how many more rounds he can take, or do you think he’s going to head for the exit? He’ll probably die in your driveway.

  23. The best firearm in the world is the one you have with you when you really need it! I would much rather have my .45, but I am a good shot and a well placed .22 will do if you have no other! One advantage of a .22 is cost of ammunition. You can afford to shoot a .22 a lot more and practice makes perfect! In fact I have a .22 in the same configuration as my .45 and I use it for a lot more practice than I could afford with the .45. Keep in mind you still need to train with your preferred carry caliber but all the fundamentals are the same.

  24. It has been stated that the .22LR has been used to bring down at least one of every animal on the planet, from the Alaskan brown bear to the smallest field mouse. As has been stated in previous comments, shot placement is absolute. No margin of error. I personally carry .22WMR. The wound trauma is catastrophic. (Just ask California Highway patrol about their findings). The secret is to practice every chance you get, in every type of situation you can imagine. Pick an area where you can practice without putting anyone in harm’s way or check with your local gun shops if there is a place where you can practice and train with your firearm. AND know your local laws!

  25. I’m 59 and have both 22 and 22mag. My uncle was a sniper during Korean war he has always told me it’s not the size it’s the placement. My father also said they not only hit dimes but lit wooden matches. Grandpa gave them shells and his rule was 1 shot 1 kill so you better bring home dinner. So they learned how to kill wild rabbits with croquet mallets and saved extra shells for practice. I have still got savage 1916 pump 22 that is more accurate than most guns you can buy today.

  26. I’m 76 years old and have spent a life time shooting the 22LR and I believe it is generally very underrated. You hear from guys like Ed that don’t seem to understand that it was never mean to be used in war and somehow it’s not capable of killing a pigeon at 15 yards, it’s obvious to me he hasn’t spent much time shooting the 22LR.
    Over the years I have shot untold thousands of rounds and have cleanly killed everything from deer down to the common sparrow and I have no problem defending my life with it. It performs way beyond its size.

  27. 22LR and 22Mag both have good applications in a carry weapon, when you really need something to defend yourself with. Personally, I dont want the bad guy to know I am armed until its too late for him. I carry a North American Arms 5 shot revolver with 5 rounds of 22 mag. I can assure you that the wound channel from that gun on animal flesh is pretty impressive, I dont think human flesh will be any different. I can carry that gun all the time in any clothing and it is very inconspicuous. My hand, casually in my pocket, can cock and fire the weapon at the appendix level very easily. If you practice, two inch groups at 10 yards is easy to accomplish. In a gun fight, bullets on target is what counts. I dont believe that I want to stand in front of anyone shooting one of these mini revolvers. It is not my best choice for a PD gun but a gun is better than none.

  28. If anyone ever tells you that a .22 LR is not a proper caliber for self defense, ask them if that’s the case, they would mind if you shot them with one just to test that out. My conclusion would be they would say; “um…well, no…that’s okay, I’ll pass”. When you’re talking about firing pieces of lead, copper, and other forms of metal into the human body at high speeds, you are going to do damage to the vital organs that is devastating because that damage is something the body is not ready to cope with. You will bleed, you will be in pain, shock, panic, and probably be calling “MOMMY!” or “OWIE”.

  29. I have shot all size calibers and I have like them all but for accuracy I believe I would go with the 22 Mag hollow point. One or two shots to the head is all you need to put any size person down

  30. OH . . . a 12GA FULL CHOKE would be NICE . . . ESPECIALLY when LOADED with ROCK SALT shot in the A**. I think that a 9mm would be a GOOD second choice. Of course, I LIKED “DIRTY HARRY’S” gun – if you can shoot it. You’ve got to find what WORKS for you. One Enlightened Patriot.

  31. I read that on Israel airlines back in the 1960’s, undercover Israel agents carried semi automatic pistols in 22 LR to stop hijacking.

    Even the 25 Auto will drop people.

    Would like to see the 25 Stevens brought back in rifles and revolvers.

    Ruger could chamber their 10/22 for it and call it the 10/25 !
    Hornady could make ammo.

  32. If that is the only caliber someone with disabilities can use, then that is the correct caliber. A lot of people have been killed with .22s. I have heard that more people have been killed with .22s than with any other caliber. I would have to check the info on that, but I have been told it is the case. So, if that is the only gun someone has, or can handle, then that is the one to have and use for self defense.

  33. While often underrated the 22 has been around for a long time and has been used for hunting mostly small animals. Not everyone can handle the higher caliber calibers so one should use what they are comfortable with using and can hit the target repeatedly.
    My one draw back with 22 LR semi-auto pistols is they tend to jam and need to be well cleaned. If you are going to use a 22 for self defense spend time at the range using different brands of ammunition and find one that does not jam in your firearm. I like Winchester and Federal ammunition in that order.

  34. When I was a kid, I had two cousins out shooting magpies over Christmas break. They decided it would be fun to play cops and robbers and removed the mag, but unfortunately didn’t clear the chamber. My fourteen-year-old cousin shot my twelve-year-old cousin in the gut and he was dead in 20 minutes. Two people died that day. It just took one 36 years to be buried.

  35. Would like to see Henry bring out their rimfire lever action rifles in 25 Stevens.
    Ruger could chamber the single six for 25 Stevens.
    Heritage could chamber their single action revolver for the 25 Stevens.
    These would be great for small game, target shooting and like the article said for self defense. Federal could make a ” punch” load for the 25 Stevens.

  36. Fig, June, 9, 2022
    I have been preaching the use of the 22 for years, light recoil, cheap practice rounds. Once precision is reached move up in size. And always shoot with what you can comfortably hit your target with. Also as stand and shoot is mastered, teach C & C, in your house or yard, you are the master of where everything is in your house.

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