Friday, July 11, 2014

July 11 2014: The great and unending debate about the best pistol caliber for personal defense

The British were keen for 30 caliber guns, did not believe in daylight bombing. American experts said 30 caliber was not enough; we had to have 50 caliber, also said daylight bombing was right provided the planes attacked in formation, with 50 caliber guns.

Stuart Symington

FN Five-seveN®

To be frank, semi-automatic pistols look—on the face of it—remarkably similar even if there are important points of detail which differentiates the weapons.

This is the FN 5.7mm. Superficially, it looks like many a 9mm, but actually it uses a decidedly different cartridge—a much smaller, high velocity 5.7mm round which has little kick—so is easier to shoot—and which can penetrate soft body armor—and has an impressively flat trajectory for a more than adequate range. If you want to shoot somebody at 50-100 meters (unlikely, but you never know) the 5.7mm will do it for you.

But can such a small bullet be militarily effective? Read on. These are my opinions—no more. Would I use such a weapon for personal defense? Yes, I would.

Do I currently carry a weapon? No I don’t. In Seattle, I don’t feel the need.

I don’t pretend to know the correct answer to the question of the optimum personal defense handgun caliber. Overall, I take the view that if the U.S. military—with all its resources—hasn’t been able to resolve the issue, my personal opinion is likely to count for little. And here I would add that there are vast numbers of U.S. gun owners—many extremely experienced—who have shot a great deal and hold their own views. I respect their expertise.

For all that, I do have a dog in the fight because I like to have a logic behind the weapons my characters choose to use—particularly where Hugo Fitzduane, the soldier turned combat photographer turned counter-terrorist expert, who features in most of my novel to date, is concerned.

Hugo is a thinking soldier—and militarily very experienced—so I like my readers to follow his thinking providing it doesn’t slow up the action. Sometimes characters just act spontaneously much as real people do—but mostly Hugo has a rationale for what he does. He is tactically extremely proficient. My feeling is that Hugo doesn’t have to be right—he merely has to be right for him. If the round he chooses keeps him alive, he is content. Not unreasonably, he regards his survival as a very personal matter.

Hugo is somewhat frustrated by the fact that when firing .45 or 9mm handguns—the calibers he has used for most of career—he is not a particularly good shot. He is fast and competent in combat—talents which have kept him alive—but his shooting on the range has never been more than adequate (a source of some embarrassment) and he longs to do significantly better. He knows this is primarily a matter of ego rather than military necessity—but feels it is a fairly harmless indulgence which might even prove useful. However, his general rule, when in a combat situation, is not to rely on a handgun at all—but to use a rifle or heavier weapon. He also has found that the noble arts of concealment or running away have a great deal of merit. He understands full well that you never quite know what will happen in a fight, that bullets are squirrelly, and that avoiding violence is always the preferred option unless you have no choice in the matter.

Hugo understands the pistol caliber debate full well. He is well aware of the appeal of a pistol round with stopping power—such as the .45—but has also noticed that, regardless of caliber—multiple hits often need to be achieved if the assailant is pumped full of adrenalin (which tends to be the situation in a fight). In short, he has become a believer in accurate shot placement combined with multiple hits because clearly stopping power is of little use if you can’t hit your target—and multiple hits from a small caliber seem to make up for their lack of individual stopping power.

Dr. Joseph SerrazzaRegarding the importance of getting a hit, I was much influenced by my late friend, Dr. Joe Sperrazza—a truly wonderful man—who headed up a study that examined many thousands of casualties during the Vietnam War. Joe found that even a hit by a small fragment could have a significant effect so was skeptical of the worship of stopping power. Instead he would stress: “Get a hit! Get a hit! Get a hit!” in his lectures—and just to make sure everyone was paying attention, he liked to throw chalk at you. His talks were both hilarious and memorable—and he was a Great American and friend. Essentially, he was a weapons scientist and worked out of the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. There is a building named after him there. It was a well earned honor.

Hugo takes to the FN 5.7mm handgun like the proverbial duck to water. These are his reasons:

  • He has already had favorable experience of the unusual looking FN 5.7mm PDW (Personal Defense Weapon or carbine) and knows the combat effectiveness of the small round
  • He likes the fact that the high velocity 5.7mm can penetrate soft body armor yet yaws when in the body. This means that the wound channel it delivers is based on the bullet’s length rather than its diameter.
  • He finds the 5.7mm particularly easy to shoot so his performance on the range improves considerably.
  • He likes the fact that the weapon—even when loaded with a 20 round magazine—is still lighter than a Glock
  • He likes the 4.5lb trigger pull
  • He finds the FN 5.7mm pistol particularly well made.

The weapons illustrated below are the FN carbines which use the 5.7mm round. They are most unusual looking weapons—but highly effective. The most unorthodox feature is the 50 round magazine which lies on the top of the weapon. The rounds in the magazine are stored at right-angles to the barrel, but are turned just before they are inserted. Sounds crazy—and it is certainly counter-intuitive—but it works even on full automatic fire. The weapon is extremely light and compact and is effective up to about 200 meters.



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