A Detailed Look at the Stopping Power of the .22 vs the Larger Calibers
The .22 is a great starter weapon for learning the basics of shooting control and safety. It is lightweight, has minimal recoil, and the rounds are cheap. Making it great for those just getting started in shooting sports or as an introduction to firearms. The question we are looking at is whether or not a .22 caliber pistol or rifle is a suitable option for home defense or everyday carry.
- .22 rounds are cheap but misfires and magazine feed reliability can be an issue
- .22 has plenty of penetration power but hollow points do not expand when shot from handguns due to the low velocity
- Surprisingly, all handguns have a similar first shot stopping power (50 – 60%) when shots are placed in the torso or head
- The data clearly shows shot placement is more important than caliber when stopping an attacker
- All handguns suck when compared to Shotguns or Centerfire Rifles. For home defense use the latter.
- For EDC chose a round you are comfortable with and are willing to spend the money practicing with. Shot placement is king.
- Check out our 2019 Gear Review for Amazons best EDC and Shooting Accessory Gear
Pros and Cons of .22LR:
We will be looking at the .22 LR (long Rifle) shot through a 3.5″ barrel. Once we have analyzed the .22 we will compare the stopping power to other major defense rounds for a comparison of its overall effectiveness
For home defense we are looking for the “stopping power” of a particular round/ gun/ shooter combination. All three of these variables need to be taken into account when considering your best option. You must also keep in mind that when it comes to home defense, “something” is always better than nothing.
- Cost (Ability to practice shooting and handling the gun without worrying about ammo cost)
- Follow up shots & recoil management
- Lower muzzle flash (preserves night vision)
- Hand gun options can come in smaller sizes
- Rimfire round reliability. Both magazine feed issues and misfires
- The rimmed cartridge makes it difficult to double-stack in the magazine lowering the round density
- Dirtier firing round. This means more time will be spent on cleaning and maintenance
- Ballistics (hollow point does not always expand)
Taking a closer look at the ballistics:
We will first be looking at the ballistics of the .22 LR CCI Velocitor. I chose to review this particular round because of its high grain to advertised velocity ratio in a hollow point. This combination gives us a high imparted energy and the best chances of stopping a bad guy.
In this video we see a Ruger SR 22 (3.5” Barrel) being tested at a distance of 10 feet. The average muzzle velocity was measured at 1037 fps. Which is 28% lower than advertised. As we can see from the testing, none of the hollow points expanded. This is due to the lower velocity of the round being shot through a short barrel. The round did however penetrate pretty far into the ballistic block even with the layered clothing. After seeing this test I feel comfortable with the penetration power of this round. With a longer barrel, for example using a Ruger 10/22 rifle with a 18.5” barrel, the round does achieve expansion with an average velocity of 1284fps. Check out this video for specifics on the 10/20 ballistics
"Stopping Power" Comparison of Major Calibers
All of that being said, stopping an attacker does not necessarily mean killing that person. A great 10 yr study was completed by Greg Ellifritz looking into the stopping power of handguns. The study evaluates over 1,500 incidence tracking police, military, and civilian gunfights. Check out Greg’s article for a more detailed look. When looking at the data, the percentage of incapacitation with a single shot to the torso or head is remarkably similar between all handgun calibers. The averages are between 50 – 60% incapacitation. (Pictured below as the blue bars.)
** 9mm appears low due to the disproportionate instances of ball ammo use. We would expect to see a higher incapacitation percentage with the use of hollow points. But you can draw your own conclusions**
It is crazy to think that a torso or head shot from a .45 and a .22LR has similar power to incapacitate after 1 head or torso shot. Of course, that is not the whole story. “incapacitation” does not mean fatal and only references the rounds ability to stop an attacker. Included within the “incapacitation“ terminology is: “physical incapacitation” and also “phycological incapacitation”. Psychological incapacitation means the attacker no longer has the will or motivation to continue with the attack. This does not work if the attacker is highly motivated and willing to fight through the pain or is drunk or on drugs. We can see this in the “% not incapacitated” numbers (Grey bars in the graph). This is the percentage of attackers who were not stopped by the shooter regardless of number of shots. The .22 is roughly twice as high as the other larger calibers.
At the end of the day this data tells us nobody wants to get shot. Especially if the shooter hits what she is aiming at.
Key takeaways from this study are that regardless of caliber, if an attacker is shot in the torso or head there is a 50 – 60% chance the attacher will no longer continue with the assault. This is a clear indication that you should be placing a higher priority on shot accuracy, training, and reliable gear rather than spending time searching for the perfect caliber.
Data across all calibers:
“Head shots = 75% immediate incapacitation
Torso shots = 41% immediate incapacitation
Extremity shots (arms and legs) = 14% immediate incapacitation.
No matter which caliber you use, you have to hit something important in order to stop someone!” – (
First, let’s take care of the elephant in the room. The data clearly shows that if you are looking for maximum bad guy stopping power you need a centerfire rifle or a shotgun. Period. For pure home defense, I recommend owning a shotgun, a centerfire rifle, or both.
Everyday Cary is a different story since Rifles and Shotguns are not a legal or practical option. After looking at the ballistics of the .22 and the historical real world stopping power I no longer have any issue recommending a .22 for someone who feels the most comfortable with that round. As we have seen, shot placement is more important than caliber in most situations. There are a multitude of other factors to take into consideration when choosing a handgun for Everyday Cary. We did not look at factors like barrier penetration, extra heavy clothing, or an extremely motivated threat. The gun you choose to carry is a personal choice and needs to be made realistically taking into account your threat-model, experience, and monthly practice-ammo budget.
You should be genuinely honest with yourself and choose the largest caliber you can handle and shoot with ease. You also need to take into consideration the cost of keeping your skill level sharp. The cost of the round should not matter when talking about your defense but it a choice that needs to be made consciously. Be sure to pick a round you can afford to shoot and practice with often.
What are your thoughts on the stopping power of the .22? let us know in the comments.