A Capacity to Love

17-Oct-13 – 11:09 by ToddG

Tim started a series about handgun capacity over at Gun Nuts that stemmed from an earlier discussion about the ubiquitous j-frame as a defensive sidearm.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of tiny low-capacity guns as primary weapons. The appeal of a 5-shot pocket revolver simply eludes me.

  • A j-frame is plenty if no one attacks you.
  • A j-frame is plenty if an attacker is scared away when he sees your gun.
  • A j-frame is plenty if an attacker is scared away when you fire your gun.

You could say the same about a blank-firing gun, though.


The problem is that once you’ve reached the point where you’re facing someone who isn’t going to be deterred by the sight of a gun, it’s probably foolish for you to assume that he’ll be easily stopped. There are simply too many instances of police officers needing more than five rounds — with ammo more powerful than the typical .38 +p folks keep in their j-frames — to feel like that’s suitable for a single attacker. And if your response is that five rounds in your revolver means you can kill five guys with your awesome perfect head shots… good luck with that.

The one nagging issue I have with my current carry gun — a 9mm Springfield Custom Shop 1911 — is the lower capacity than I’m used to. While I understand statistically that 10+1 in the gun is probably enough for most problems that a private citizen is likely to encounter, it’s still… well… “less than.”

Bullets are opportunities. They’re options. Having more of them is always better than having less, even if you don’t need them. Because you simply don’t know whether you’re walking out the door in the morning for another violence-free day, or to become part of America’s first Mumbai or Westgate.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

  1. 32 Responses to “A Capacity to Love”

  2. FWIW, the counter-argument I’ve heard put forth is that fights for your life often happen at grappling range, and if you stick the muzzle of a revolver into a soft object (such as the belly or leg of someone trying to strangle you) it’s still likely to fire. If you stick an autoloader’s muzzle into something soft, the slide can get pushed back enough that the gun won’t fire, or will fire once but jam and need some manipulation before it can fire again. I have not done firsthand assessment of this sort of risk, but it may be worth studying. It’s not the sort of thing you can study and prepare for on the square range with a paper target tho.

    It may be worth making a foam ‘dummy’ (rolled up cushion foam, or even an old pillow) to test this on with your gun. Depending on where you life it may be hard to find a range that allows this tho.

    It’s your life, you need to assess the threats you’re likely to run into and your skill, and choose your response accordingly.

    By Redchrome on Oct 17, 2013

  3. We’ve already had our first Mumbai/Westgate:


    By LC Scotty on Oct 17, 2013

  4. Redchrome — Those contact shots are, in fact, extremely rare. Look at Tom Givens’s database of his 60+ students who’ve been involved in self defense shootings. Not a single one was a contact shot. I’m not discounting the revolvers’ superiority to perform the task but I think the need for the capability is significantly overblown by folks who, for whatever reason, decide to proselytize the wheel gun.

    By ToddG on Oct 17, 2013

  5. A long time ago now, an instructor who knew what he was talking about told the class I was in that before one got involved with grappling with an assailant, one should use every weapon available to prevent it, in descending order of capability. His preference was to use a 2000 lb bomb, because he thought 500 pounders left too much to chance.

    Thus, Todd, it is clearly the case that if everything else is equal, it is better to carry a 17 round pistol than a 5 round pistol.

    Of course, everything else is never equal, and it remains the case that any weapon is better than no weapon. For example, I normally work in job where I may not carry a firearm. So I generally have a knife. And often, when I’m off the job, because of its shape, a J-frame will fit a pocket better than a Glock 26 or even a Shield will.

    Moreover, while cops come across bad guys who keep fighting while soaking up an amazing quantity of bullets, it is not clear to me that that phenomena is nearly as common when criminals are going after civilians. My guess is that a J-frame will be good for over 95% of civilian encounters with bad guys, and probably 99%. When odds get that slim, you probably have more chance of being hit by a bus at the end of the fight than finding you need another live round.

    Again, it’s better to have that 17 rounder with extra mags, but if you can’t readily do so, to me, a J-frame isn’t a bad compromise, and a Shield is a pretty good one. I wouldn’t worry about that 1911 at all, particularly given how fast you can change magazines. Unless they totally get the jump of you, a group of bad guys is going to be in a world of hurt once you start pulling the trigger.

    By SteveJ on Oct 17, 2013

  6. Steve — First, I’m with you 100% that a j-frame is better than no gun at all and if you’ve made the decision, for whatever reason, that the J is all you can carry, rock on.

    Having said that, I’m not in agreement with the suggestion that cops see more bullet-resistant criminals than private citizens do. Why? Because in almost every instance, the criminal the cop meets first victimized one or more private citizens.

    As Tim points out in the Gun Nuts article I referenced above, it’s a bad idea to look at generic criminal statistics when thinking about CCW. A very, very small percentage of criminals encounter any armed resistance whatsoever. But a HUGE percentage of private citizens will face a violent criminal attack in their lifetime.

    As I said from the beginning, there are all sorts of things a J is good enough for. Most of those things would also be satisfied with a much less expensive airsoft gun, blank gun, or starter pistol… and you’d save a ton of money on ammo & training, too. 😎

    By ToddG on Oct 17, 2013

  7. I get tired of these discussions because they always ring along the lines of “the guy carrying a j-frame is an idiot.” This post, and the linked one, are better than many but the undercurrent is still grating.

    There are people whose jobs are gun related or they’ve decided to make guns a large part of their life for whatever reason. Cops, firearms instructors, IDPA players, some military, gun writers, 2A advocates, Mall Team 6, etc. For those people a G17 is just part of being awake. Understandably, these people analyze the bejesus out of this defining portion of their existence and post on the internet.

    For the 95% of the rest of the (gun owning) world it’s just a thing. A dangerous thing, but so are table saws and automobiles. J-frame guy is better off than the vast majority of the public walking around with their iBuds in place. Give j-frame guy some credit. He might be carrying to work knowing he’ll get fired if he prints at the wrong time. Or she’s wearing a harness to wash windows on skyscrapers all day. Or he’s checking out if this gun thing can work for him at all. Or…

    By aczarnowski on Oct 17, 2013

  8. Todd:

    You raise a very interesting point. Do cops see more bullet-resistant crimnals than the rest of us do? I wish there were statistics on point, but I don’t think there are any so I think we are left with logic and anecdotes, which means that any conclusions are necessarily going to be a least somewhat soft.

    Your point that the rest of the citizenry will see a bad guy who later proves to be bullet-resistant before the cops see him is a good one, and I don’t discount it. But let me suggest that many of those bullet-resistant bad guys are only bullet-resistant some of the time, and in part some of their resistance might be motivated by their hatred of the cops–in other words that hatred fuels the adrenaline or whatever it is that keeps them going.

    I am not sure of that at all, but while I have seen lots of articles about bad guys having to be shot 20 times by the police, I don’t think I have ever seen a story about someone shot by a concealed carry holder who absorbs two or three rounds and then shoots the CCW holder. Of course, I might simply have missed such a story, and the news reporters might not have reported it in that fashion, but my working hypothesis is that there might be something almost ontologically different between CCW/bad guy fights and police/bad guy fights.

    However, I should note that for home defense, while I have sometimes given thought to using a S&W Model 25 or a 1911 in .45, I have stuck for many years now to a Glock, M&P or 226 in .40 or 9 because I don’t need to worry about concealment and I want the extra capacity. On the street, breaking contact with the bad guy (ie: fleeing) might be possible; at home not so much.

    By SteveJ on Oct 17, 2013

  9. Frankly, any pistol is more of a “I shoot this guy and hope he runs away.” If you’re the average untrained/minimally trained civilian up against 3 armed bad guys and you pop one, and they decide to stick around for a reenactment of the OK corral, you’re probably screwed. I look at a carry pistol as a starter pistol in any meaning. You draw, shoot the bad guy and then put shoe sole to sidewalk and call the cops when you’re safe.

    By John on Oct 17, 2013

  10. Todd, I didn’t find the Tom Givens database with a cursory Google search, but I did turn up this bit of interesting compiled statistics:


    There does seem to be substantial statistical evidence for your contention that contact shots are very rare. It’s entirely possible that if the fight gets to contact range, it’s likely to be too late anyway.

    By Redchrome on Oct 17, 2013

  11. SteveJ — I get where you’re coming from but my thought process, fwiw, has always been that the guy who is physically and mentally capable of taking on multiple cops at once is at least capable of standing in the face of fire from little ole me, too. And perhaps more importantly, I want to be prepared for something beyond the statistical mean.

    Redchrome — The contact-distance stuff is not my area of expertise. Craig “Southnarc” Douglas is the acknowledged go-to guy for entangled shooting training and for what it’s worth he’s usually seen carrying a semi auto. But more than a few of his experienced students prefer the j-frame. Regardless, both are capable of solving the problem and while it definitely makes sense to consider it (see my “be prepared for something beyond the statistical mean” comment one paragraph ago!) it’s not the most important factor for me when choosing a CCW gun.

    By ToddG on Oct 17, 2013

  12. The same issue has been going on in photography. As cameraphones get better and better, they’ve all but killed compact cameras, and everyone’s starting to wonder when a honkin’ DSLR and a couple grand of glass are worth the cost, weight, and bulk.

    You get better ergos and better performance, whether it’s a gun or a camera. You have more options for accessories to make the ergos and performance even better, whether it’s a gun or a camera. But there is a cost. Of course there is a cost. Better ergos make for bulkier items. Greater functionality often increases size and weight.

    With both cameras and guns, it’s only useful if it’s within reach when it’s needed. With both, if you get sick of the size and weight, you’re less likely to carry it. With both, you need to weigh the carrying logistics vs the capability. It’s fine to end up with the compromise product. In fact, many do.

    Try this mental exercise: Just think how thrilled we’d be if all these cameraphone owners owned and carried low capacity, compact guns. What would society look like if the world of responsible gun ownership, albeit with compromise guns, were as popular and well-accepted as taking pictures with compromise cameras.

    The thing to do with compact guns isn’t to decry their use, but rather to welcome their users into the field, to help them understand potential drawbacks, to suggest products that might better fit their needs, and importantly, to realize that there might not be any such products.

    By Curby on Oct 17, 2013

  13. Curby, don’t get me started on photography, dude. I have been waiting for over a year for Canon to come out with the damn 7D MkII. If they delay it one more time I will be very, very cross!

    By ToddG on Oct 17, 2013

  14. Expect it in 2014. If you’re considering a 7DII though, you might want to seriously look at an upgrade to full frame for better DoF control and low light performance. As cameraphones get better and better, there’s an ever-increasing benefit for maximizing your sensor size to exploit the benefits of a dedicated camera.

    Anyway, I was considering a larger body, but ended up going with the smaller 70D. And even that’s considerably heavier and harder to carry for a long time compared to my old Rebel. As you go up in size, the grips get more comfortable, but you have to balance that with the greater weight in your hand.

    P.S. Knowing how much ammo you go through now, I wonder if you ever shot film, and in what quantity.

    By Curby on Oct 17, 2013

  15. Curby — I went wild and bought myself a Nikon F4 in college. I probably shot a few hundred rolls of film a year but had to get them all processed at the local one hour place.

    I’ve been using a Canon 1D Mk2 N for the past nine years or so but it’s finally reached a point where servicing it isn’t worth the cost. The 1DX is just out of my price range (by a lot) and I’ve been really impressed with the 7D results of a friend. I’ve actually considered the 70D but I really like/need the “weatherproofing” and high burst speed which is why holding out for the 7D2 has seemed like a decent choice. But Canon wants me to be unhappy.

    By ToddG on Oct 17, 2013

  16. I think a lot of CCW folks carry j-frames as a last ditch defensive tool; a “backup gun” even for a person not carrying a “primary pistol”. In other words: all of the reasons that make a j-frame a good BUG, also make it a good last ditch defensive tool. A j-frame may best be considered as a 5-shot, double action “derringer”, except for those few people who train enough to use it at distance.

    From the previously cited link: http://thinkinggunfighter.blogspot.com/2012/03/self-defense-findings.html
    “The shooting distance in the vast majority of cases was slightly in excess of arm’s length.”

    J-frames remain the preeminent “pocket gun” in that they actually fit well and are light enough to carry in a front trouser pocket. Centennial models are more streamlined than autos because they have no slide that sticks out behind the grip. It can be taken hold of within the pocket and fired from within if necessary (for short range work) without inducing an FTF. DocGKR rates the 38 special +P as his minimum recommended defensive round. Limp wristng is never an issue with a revolver.

    By JimT on Oct 17, 2013

  17. By the way Todd, I should have remarked on your Mumbai/Westgate Mall remark.

    I agree; that kind of thing is going to come to America (I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already) and if you are in a shopping mall when it comes, you are going to want all the rounds you can get. I still think your 1911 will be fine–a mall attack will put a premium on longer range shots so accuracy will be crucial–but a J-frame might be less likely to get you to safety. And where better to attack a mall than right next to DC in a state that makes CCW very difficult so there won’t be much resistance. (A mall attack in Texas might not be such a good idea).

    Personally, I avoid malls (because I hate shopping, not out of worry about attacks) but that type of scenario does caution in favor of a double stack. And it is headed our way.

    By SteveJ on Oct 17, 2013

  18. I agree with Todd, but I come from an LE perspective. Anyone who thinks handguns (all standard calibers) are good a stopping bad guys, is fooling them self. Handguns (handgun rounds) are piss poor people stoppers/killers, generally speaking. The single most important factors of a gun fight (handgun especially) are; hit first and hit accurately. As we all know, the 9mm vrs .45 (stopping/knock down power) debate is essentially bunk. The guy who hits high value target areas first, and creates the greatest volume of blood loss rapidly, will generally have the upper hand (with the exception of central nervous system hits).

    That said, a 2″ .38 (J frame/+P or whatever load) will be at a disadvantage, generally. But, any gun is better than no gun, that is for certain. As someone else pointed out, what gun most poeple carry is dependent on their lifestyle, workplace, and overall concealability.

    When I’m training our guys, I try to impress upon them the benefits of a fighting size gun vrs a pocket gun in a mouse caliber, but it never ceases to amaze me guys will get a tiny 6 shot .25 or .380 in a pocket…

    just my thoughts….

    PS: the “Mall Team 6” comment made me laugh out loud!

    By LCSO264 on Oct 17, 2013

  19. Be Advised: Contents Controversial.

    Those of you who carry J frames as primary weapons need to read a few after action reports on LE shootings. Look at the Skokie, IL incident where a scumbag soaked up 14 rounds of .45 ACP police duty ammunition before the fight stopped. Also look at the case of a citizen who had to shoot a scumbag in the head MULTIPLE TIMES with his .45 ACP pistol. Those two bad guys didn’t read Cooper’s Commentaries, it would seem . The bad guy who took a fatal .40 S&W round to the chest and drove 5 miles afterwards must have a lapsed G&A subscription.

    Bottom line: if me, a guy who carries concealed a 92FS loaded with 19 rounds might deplete my magazine stopping ONE determined thug, the guy with the 6 shot or 8 shot anything is toast and then some. IMO, there is no debate, as reality has its own opinion. Ignore it at your peril.

    By ST on Oct 18, 2013

  20. I carry a J frame everyday. It’s usually in the grab-n-go bag with my extra G19 magazines. It’s sometimes in the left front pocket when doing something really interesting, and when it cools off it’s often in a jacket pocket. As a backup.

    As the “Old Guy”, it’s fun to bring out during qualifications and explain to the Glock Generation exactly what it is and how to operate it.

    Realistically, for me, if I need it, I should also be checking the placement of my folding knife, because that’s the next step.

    By RedWal on Oct 18, 2013

  21. I agree Todd, for most people, most of the time. METT-T and “the mission” should drive the gear train though.

    I can think of two contact shot shootings in my AO by citizens, one in which I am absolutely convinced the good guy won because he was carrying a snub that didn’t choke at grapple range.

    Anyway, IMHO the J frame is THE BUG, and I keep my 642s because none of the semi auto pocket guns I have met thus far have been up to the task reliability wise, with the one exception of the third PM9 that I tried and my wife took that one.

    By Chuck Haggard on Oct 18, 2013

  22. @ST: If you look at enough incidents, you always find outliers. It’s fine to be prepared for those once-in-a-lifetime, none-in-most-lifetimes situations, but admit to yourself that they are in fact outliers. When you choose which of life’s unlikely situations you’re going to prepare yourself for, you have to be honest about the opportunity cost of focusing on those risks.

    Nothing worth talking about is ever cut and dry. Reality certainly should inform decisions, but reality informs us that different people have different needs, and there’s no single tool that can handle every case… which is great for us enthusiasts, who now have more to choose from!

    P.S. For contact shots: threaded barrel without suppressor?

    By Curby on Oct 18, 2013

  23. @Curby.

    Your statement rests on a crucial point:that bad guys soaking up lead is an uncommon abberation.

    I’ll prove that it’s not.

    Last week footage was released of a guy fatally eating a .40 S&W round, and driving away to die miles away.

    Then there’s the 1986 FBI incident, plus multiple shootings in NY. Jim Cirillo’s book cites instances of scumbags taking 12 gauge shotgun fire and still staying in the fight.If a bad guy shakes off a deadly hit with a 12 gauge, he won’t even notice being shot with a handgun of any caliber unless it’s a CNS hit-which, naturally requires that you have rounds to use once your first 10 odd hits havent made a difference.

    BTW, none of the examples above are of committed terrorists like the AlShababb

    By ST on Oct 18, 2013

  24. Regarding Anecdotal evidence [0]:

    “The expression anecdotal evidence refers to evidence from anecdotes. Because of the small sample, there is a larger chance that it may be unreliable due to cherry-picked or otherwise non-representative samples of typical cases.”

    To understand how common something is, you need to compare how often something happens compared to how often it could possibly happen. I’m just spitballing here, but let’s take a look.

    There are about 600k police officers in the US [1]. There are around 7.5M CCW holders [2]. Very roughly, there are around 72M adult gun owners in the US [3, 4]. Every year, there’s roughly 1M defensive gun uses (DGUs) in the US [5].

    Now in the roughly two decades since the first case that you cite, how many gun-days (think man-hours) of gun carrying have occurred? Billions. How many DGUs have occurred? Millions. How many cases like the above can you cite? Dozens? Thousands? That would still be less than 0.1% of all DGUs. If you can handle 99.9% of use cases with a more comfortable set up that you’re more likely to actually use, I’d recommend that over buying a larger setup that ends up staying at home because it’s too impractical or uncomfortable for your situation.

    Again, I get that a compact gun is a compromise product. But sometimes (many times) that compromise product is all someone can carry. And sometimes (many times) that compromise product is all they need.

    [0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anecdotal_evidence
    [1] http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333051.htm
    [2] http://legallyarmed.com/ccw_statistics.htm
    [3] http://www.statisticbrain.com/gun-ownership-statistics-demographics/
    [4] http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/6538-adult-population-by-age-group?loc=1&loct=1#detailed/1/any/false/867,133,38,35,18/117,2801,2802,2803/13515,13516
    [5] http://www.saf.org/LawReviews/KleckAndGertz1.htm

    P.S. I don’t own anything that holds less than 10+1.

    By Curby on Oct 18, 2013

  25. Curby — it’s not just the odds, it’s the stakes and the costs. After all, if you’re just playing the odds, why carry or practice?

    The stakes in a DGU are enormous and even if a “big” fight is an outlier, that will be faint comfort if you’re the outlier. In contrast, the cost of carrying a more capable gun is often far less than people want to pretend. Is it more challenging and less comfortable to carry a G19 in a holster than a j-frame in a pocket? Sure. But the difference is so minor, why NOT opt for the more capable option whenever possible?

    By ToddG on Oct 18, 2013

  26. With the understanding that “far less” and “minor” are subjective, I agree. My point is just that different people have different needs.

    It’d be great if everyone were fine carrying the most capable solution, but that’s obviously not the world we live in. I’d rather that people actually use the 99% solution than leave the 99.9% solution at home. Maybe they’ll get used to it and upgrade to a larger, more capable gun. But what if they don’t? They’re likely a user that would have bought the full-size gun and left it at home because it was too big.

    99.9% is good and 99.99% is better, but I’ll happily take 99% over 0. Hopefully we can all drink to that.

    By Curby on Oct 18, 2013

  27. Lots of folks point to LE shootings and the types of attackers they encounter. The one problem I find in that is that cops run towards the sound of gunfire, and intentionally engage shady individuals. I on the other hand run away from the sound of gunfire, and avoid shady individuals.

    Given that, I’m not sure stats on LE shootings are as relevant to non-LE as they’re being made out to be.

    By T. on Oct 18, 2013

  28. Curby, I will not presume to assume what kind of family you have.That being said, we all have someone who cares about us somewhere-and I don’t know who that is for you.

    I can speak for my own family, however, when I say that I owe it to them to survive whatever may come.The SAS guy didn’t plan on escorting fellow shoppers out of a terrorist kill zone in Nairobi, but there he was.Carrying a sub-10 round gun might be comfortable ,even logical if it’s owner is unwilling to carry a larger capacity option.Such reasoning will be cold comfort should the lead start flying.It may be extraordinary to need to fire your weapon-but if your luck is that bad already, its very possible you’ll be facing down prepared scumbags with body armor, long arms, and the skill to use them.
    Will you want your family to bury you because ,one nasty day, you ran into Matix and Platt 2.0 and you didn’t have the hardware to fight your way out?

    By ST on Oct 18, 2013

  29. T, Todd pointed out elsewhere that those hardcore thugs LE engages FIRST targeted ordinary people.Before 911 gets a call or an officer hears shots, innocent citizens are being assaulted by said scumbags.

    The bad guy who soaked up 14 rounds on Main Street victimized a lot of good people before he became a bullet sponge.That’s why LE shooting stats have direct relevance to us ordinary Joes.

    By ST on Oct 18, 2013

  30. Todd – in total agreement that a full-size auto with a ton of bullets is better.

    One question, though – I haven’t seen Givens’ data – but out of those 60 gunfights, how many would a revolver have lost?

    By Mike on Oct 19, 2013

  31. “Bullets are opportunities. They’re options. Having more of them is always better than having less, even if you don’t need them. Because you simply don’t know whether you’re walking out the door in the morning for another violence-free day, or to become part of America’s first Mumbai or Westgate.”
    Says the guy who carries a 10+1 9mm that’s larger, heavier, slower to reload and less reliable than a Glock 17 which carries 17+1 9mm’s.

    By JodyH on Oct 19, 2013

  32. Jody — Absolutely true and valid point to be sure. The capacity limit of my 1911 is probably my single biggest dislike.

    By ToddG on Oct 19, 2013

  33. Lots of folks point to LE shootings and the types of attackers they encounter. The one problem I find in that is that cops run towards the sound of gunfire, and intentionally engage shady individuals. I on the other hand run away from the sound of gunfire, and avoid shady individuals.

    Awesome! Common sense on the internet!

    By RedWal on Oct 19, 2013

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