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Many an article has been written on the topic of calibers and ammo. Indeed, this aspect of the firearm industry is a true horn of plenty for manufacturers, content-makers, and consumers alike. However, navigating this vast sea of calibers and brands without any map or guidance is nearly a lost cause. How can a person only briefly acquainted with firearms decide on the most optimal concealed carry caliber? Numbers and letters don’t speak for themselves. But words do. In this article, we’ll compare two of the most popular calibers on the American market and determine how good they are for concealed carry. Today’s menu: 22 LR vs. 9mm, roasted but not burned.
Table of Contents
A History Tour: .22 LR and 9mm
Things Important for Concealed Carry
Ease of Concealment
A History Tour: .22 LR and 9mm
Before we get down to comparison, we need to know what exactly we are talking about. Spoiler alert, the two calibers were designed for different purposes and, thus, will perform accordingly. The understanding of the caliber’s origins might tell you much more than you could have expected. And there is no present without the past so a brief overview won’t hurt anyone.
The .22 LR Origins
The most widely produced cartridge in the United States has been around since the end of the 19th century. If cartridges were humanized, the .22 LR would definitely be the one with a gray beard. Introduced in 1887, it became the most notable member of the .22 ammo family. It was designed by J. Stevens Arms & Tool Company as an introductory cartridge for young shooters and has been used as such for many decades. Soon after its introduction, it became a to-go cartridge for plinking, target shooting, and varmint control. The fact that it underwent only a few changes throughout its history is a testament to the fact that it was well-designed from the very beginning. The .22 LR dipped its toe into every sphere connected to firearms, so its strong and weak sides are all well-examined. Though it can’t boast universal recognition by the military and law enforcement, it is nothing to laugh at.
The 9mm Origins
The 9mm cartridge can boast the biggest number of guises in the ammo world. The question of whether the 9mm Parabellum and 9mm Luger are different calibers is not that uncommon, and 9x19mm NATO often complicates things even further. While the last one is indeed an altered version of the renowned cartridge, the rest of the names belong to the same round. The 9mm was designed at the beginning of the last century (1901) by an Austrian firearm designer G. Luger. It was introduced as a service cartridge for Luger’s semi-automatic pistol called the Pistole Parabellum. Luger used his design of the 7.65x21mm Parabellum round and reimagined it, bringing the 9mm into existence. The caliber was designed for combat purposes, hence all the properties of this round. The 9mm Luger became extremely popular in Europe after the World Wars, but it wasn’t until the ‘80s that it began to conquer the US.
To determine whether a round is suitable for concealed carry or not, we need some objective data. It might seem like there is little life behind the written numbers, but nothing else can describe the way a cartridge is built. Technical characteristics determine the performance of a cartridge. And performance is a factor crucial for determining whether a caliber is suitable for concealed carry or not. We won’t bother you with ballistics since they offer little information for beginners and are usually accurate only in a vacuum: real numbers are always different. Besides, people who can read ballistics charts already know the answer to the title theme, so no tables for you today, only lots of words diluted with a few numbers.
The 9mm and .22 LR cartridges belong to different ammunition families: centerfire and rimfire respectively. Primer placement is the feature that sets two types apart. In centerfire cartridges, the primer is located in the center of the case head. Such cartridges fire when the firing pin strikes the primer. Rimfire cartridges, on the other hand, feature a primer embedded in the rim. Such construction requires a firing pin to strike the rim to fire a cartridge.
How does it affect the performance? For a primer to successfully crash a rim, it needs to be thin enough. At the same time, if we combine it with the high-pressure loads required for propelling bigger bullets, we risk deforming the cartridge and causing an accident. To prevent that from happening, rimfire cartridges are restricted to low-pressure loads. Such loads aren’t potent enough to propel bigger projectiles, that’s why rimfire cartridges feature small bullets.
Cartridge dimensions aren’t the most thrilling part of the overview, but we do need them to understand the full potential of a cartridge. Case length indicates how much propellant a cartridge can hold, and maximum pressure determines the upper limit of the force that can be safely applied to propel a bullet.
The .22 LR is the smallest of the two. With an overall length equaling 1 inch, .22 LR features a bullet 0.2255 inches in diameter and a case 0.613 inches long. The 9mm is a more massive cartridge: it is 1.169 inches long, with a case length of 0.754 inches and a bullet diameter of 0.355 inches. The max pressure figures are as follows: 24,000 psi for .22 LR and 35,000 psi for 9mm.
As you can see, the 9mm cartridge has more space for propellant, can withstand higher pressure, and features a wider bullet that will leave a bigger wound. Those features alone can already tell a brief story about which caliber is the best. But we shouldn’t let numbers alone determine our choices. There are other things to consider.
Things Important for Concealed Carry
Let’s take our eyes off cartridges and take a look at respective handguns. After all, you don’t throw cartridges at foes – you shoot them. Pistols are an equally important component of the concealed carry equation, and so are other properties of a cartridge that manifest themselves when a round is shot. Here are the things worth considering when choosing a concealed-carry handgun.
In case some first-timers are reading this article, we should mention that recoil is this rearward thrust that happens when a gun is discharged. Much energy is released, and guns are always affected by it. If you can get a gun to shoot without holding it, you’ll see it jump back. But it can’t do so when it’s in your hands, so it kicks. The degree of this kick is the recoil.
Recoil depends on two factors. The first one is bullet weight. The heavier the bullet, the more energy is needed to propel it. And the energy needed to propel a bullet is in direct proportion with the energy evoked in reaction to a round being shot. Basically, the heavier the bullet, the more tangible the kick, as simple as that.
The second factor is the weight of the gun. The thing about recoil is that it isn’t transferred to you to the full extent. Your firearm absorbs a certain portion of it since it’s the first thing energy contacts with. It’s like with the houses of the Three Little Pigs: things made of lighter materials are more easily affected than those that are heavy. The same goes for handguns: lighter firearms can absorb less recoil than heavier ones.
How does all that apply to our very specific calibers? The .22 LR bullet is lighter than that of a 9mm cartridge. Even more than that, rimfire cartridges are restricted to low-pressure loads, so the recoil in .22 LR pistols is significantly lighter than in 9mm guns. Why should recoil bother you in the first place? It affects the way you shoot, beginning with the anticipation of a shot to making consecutive shots. And recoil is never a help, so you want as little of it as possible.
You may think that 9mm guns are designed to be heavier to compensate for increased recoil, but that is not always true. Sometimes, the difference doesn’t exceed half of an ounce. Sometimes, the .22 LR pistols are heavier than the 9mm ones. Even though making a gun heavier might seem like a working solution, things are not that easy for concealed carry.
Ease of Concealment
The thing about concealed carry guns is that you carry them discreetly. Nobody is supposed to know you have a handgun on your person, that’s the whole point. Design is the primary factor that determines whether a handgun is easily concealed or hardly concealable. In this particular case, no caliber is superior. As we’ve already mentioned, .22 LR and 9mm handguns can be of similar size and weight, or one can be bigger and heavier than another. There is no winner in the design competition. But this is where recoil shows its face again.
You don’t want too much weight in your handgun lest it should affect your posture or gait or simply become a hindrance. It might be reasonable to estimate a comfortable weight range for your handgun beforehand or while choosing. However, shooting a 17.3 oz .22 LR pistol and a 17.3 9mm pistol are two very different experiences. The recoil of a 9mm handgun isn’t the heaviest on the market, but it is notably heavier than that of a .22 LR pistol of the same weight.
The situation with 9mm pistols cuts both ways, no matter how you look at it. If you prioritize recoil management, the ability to carry guns discreetly suffers. If you opt for lightweight options, recoil is going to be a problem. It might seem like the .22 LR is the obvious way out since it combines lightweight design with light recoil. But a new actor is about to appear, the one that usually tips the scales dramatically.
Though the mythical concept of stopping power hasn’t been criticized only by the lazy and the dead, an understandable desire for classification lies in its core. Stopping power is usually described as the ability of a fired round to end the self-defense situation by immobilizing the attacker. Sounds quite vague even to us, but we have what we have.
The conventional opinion is that 9mm caliber wins the stopping power competition hands down. 9mm bullets produce wider wound channels and penetrate deeper. There is also a plenitude of cartridge types, with some varieties designed specifically to inflict more damage.
The .22 LR caliber can’t boast the same performance regardless of the load and configuration. These cartridges tend to perform better when shot from a handgun with longer barrels but long barrels aren’t beneficial for concealed carry. It’s worth mentioning that a well-placed shot of a .22 LR is better than a poorly placed shot of a 9mm cartridge. So stopping power only works when you manage to place a shot. And that is a factor unto itself.
For a round to be even remotely effective, it needs to hit the target. Even though accuracy lies within hands, not firearms, some guns are simply easier to shoot. Our good acquaintance recoil is one of the determining factors when it comes to accuracy. The anticipation of heavy recoil might force a shooter to flinch when pressing the trigger. As a result, the trigger pull isn’t smooth, and the jerking motion is likely to disturb the alignment of the barrel and cause a miss. To cut a long story short, firearms with lighter recoil are easier to shoot accurately.
The trajectory of a bullet is another characteristic that impacts accuracy, though to a lesser degree. None of the calibers were meant for long-range shooting, so their trajectory is less than stellar. The 9mm drops 12 inches at 100 yards, while .22 LR has an 11 inches drop at 150 yards. Choosing between the two, we would call .22 LR a more accurate round.
There was a time when rimfire ammunition was as scarce as a hen’s teeth. But those times are gone, and now both calibers are widely available. The .22 LR ammo is the most affordable among the popular handgun rounds due to low production prices and the non-reloadable nature of rimfire ammunition. The 9mm ammo is a bit pricier but is still considered the most affordable among centerfire calibers. There are also more varieties of 9mm ammo, so you have more options to choose from.
We’ve covered the main points that might inform your decision when choosing between .22 LR and 9mm for concealed carry. Many factors speak in favor of the .22 LR: it enjoys lighter recoil, tends to be more accurate, and is cheap to train with. Despite these benefits, we can’t call .22 LR an optimal choice for concealed carry. It lacks the power to inflict sufficient damage and is less likely to immobilize an attacker.
Given that conditions are the same, 9mm is the best option. We mentioned some of the inconveniences fraught with using a 9mm pistol, but they are not critical. Yes, recoil is heavier than in rimfire guns, but it’s nothing a person can’t deal with. They can be as easy to conceal as .22 LR handguns, but their stopping power is recognized even by the military and law enforcement.
Though the crown of the winner goes to 9mm, that doesn’t mean .22 LR leaves the competition empty-handed. Its shine is bleaker than 9 mm, but it’s not absent. The .22 LR is a better option for people with health limitations and is a better fit for concealed carry than other pocket guns chambered in, say, .380 ACP. After all, its light recoil even in tiny-framed pocket pistols is very alluring, especially for beginners.