I've had a few readers take issue with my article on Wednesday about defensive firearms on a budget, particularly my comments about training disabled shooters using table tennis balls or equivalent targets. Some people seem to think that such results are impossible - in other words, they think I'm lying. Others believe it's irresponsible to recommend the 'puny' .22LR as a defensive round. I'd like to take a little time to address both perspectives.
Let's start with .22LR's viability for defensive use. I completely agree that a defensive round should have adequate power to get the job done. The trouble is, all handgun rounds are deficient in energy, not to mention the nebulous concept known as 'stopping power', when compared to almost any centerfire rifle or shotgun round. The 'gold standards' of handgun cartridge effectiveness are widely perceived to be .45 ACP in pistols, or .357 Magnum in revolvers. However, there have been many 'failures to stop' using both rounds. They're far from infallible. Furthermore, most modern defensive ammunition appears to offer very similar performance, irrespective of caliber or cartridge, when results are compared in uniform test media such as ballistic gelatin, as the image below shows.
The image is taken from this excellent discussion of the topic, which I highly recommend you read in full. Given an effective round, defensive success appears to be far more dependent on shot placement - putting one's bullets where they'll do the most good (or harm, depending on one's perspective) - than on bullet diameter, weight or energy level.
The average muzzle energy of all six of the above rounds is 404.33 foot-pounds. In comparison, a .22LR hollow-point round weighing 36 grains, fired at a muzzle velocity of 1020 feet per second from a 4" handgun barrel, offers muzzle energy of a mere 83.2 foot-pounds - about one-fifth that of a handgun round considered more suitable for defensive use. That's pretty weak. However, it will also generate very much less recoil than the better-performing rounds. For example, the first round in the illustration above, a 124gr. 9mm. bullet fired from a Glock 19 pistol at a muzzle velocity of 1181 feet per second, produces free recoil energy of 7.69 foot-pounds. (Most of the other rounds mentioned in the image will produce greater recoil energy than that from a typical handgun.) The .22LR round described above, fired from a Ruger SR22 pistol, will produce free recoil energy of only 1.37 foot-pounds.
That recoil figure is why the .22LR is a game-changer for some people. I've worked with disabled and handicapped individuals who have limited upper body strength and/or mobility, including their arms and hands. They find it difficult or even impossible to control an average handgun in recoil. However, the very low recoil impulse of a .22LR handgun is a different kettle of fish. Basically, if they can pick up a tennis ball, they can cope with a .22's recoil. Therefore, such individuals are much better served being able to shoot something in self-defense, even if it's generally considered less than optimum, rather than be left with nothing at all.
That brings us back to the training I provide to such individuals - the training some readers seem to think is 'impossible'. It's not. In fact, I'm going to challenge all of my readers to try this experiment for themselves.
First, I'm assuming that you're capable of keeping all your shots from a handgun inside a 6" circle at a range of 20-25 yards, firing slowly and deliberately. If you're not yet at that level of competence, you should work on that before proceeding with this exercise.
Next, you'll need a BB pistol and ammunition, given the high cost and limited availability of .22LR ammo right now. If you don't already have one, I suggest this one (that's the model I use, but there are many alternatives - do your own research and select one you like). Buy also a pack of CO2 cartridges and a supply of BB's. All three purchases together will cost you about $62, which will give you up to 2,400 shots for a total cost (including the pistol) of about 2½ cents per round. If you want to go to 4,800 shots (which I frankly recommend), buy two packs of CO2 cartridges and two of BB's for a total investment of under $84 - well under 2 cents per round. (If you'd prefer to use an Airsoft pistol rather than a BB, that's your call. Personally, I find the BB more effective as a training tool.)
Once you've bought those things, you need to invest in some suitable targets. 60 cheap tennis balls will cost you a dollar apiece and are tough enough to last for a long time, but might be a bit heavy for BB pellets to roll them across uneven ground. These 'small balls' are even cheaper and weigh less, but probably won't last as long. I've used both options. (I know one shooter who invested in a small ball pitching machine to help his training.) As your skills improve, you'll need smaller targets. I use these mini practice balls, and also bulk packs of ping-pong (table-tennis) balls - the latter don't hold up well to multiple bullet impacts, but they react very well when hit, making them a lot of fun. You'll also need hearing protection and eye protection (VERY important, particularly the latter!).
Finally, find an open area of bare ground on which to place the balls, with a suitable backstop (an earthen berm, a solid wooden fence, etc.) to stop the BB's ricocheting off the ground and endangering others. (A grassy surface isn't optimum, as the grass will slow down the balls, perhaps even prevent them from rolling at all under the very light impact of BB's. However, if a grass surface is all that's available, consider laying down a tarpaulin or old carpet on top of it as a rolling surface. It'll get torn up, so don't use anything you want to keep in good condition.) As a commenter has noted, you can also use the interior of your garage provided you line the walls with old carpets, or cardboard boxes, or something else to absorb BB's that ricochet off the cement floor. You don't want them bouncing off the walls and coming back at you! (A great source for old carpets is a carpet seller/installer. They rip out old carpets by the mile every week, recycling the best and throwing away the worst. You can often get old carpet rolls from them free of charge, or for nominal sums.)
Start by laying out a few of the larger tennis balls or 'small balls' at random. From a range of about 10 feet, try lining up your sights on each one and hitting it with a magazine full of BB's, moving it along the ground. Don't try for speed at first, but concentrate on accuracy. As you get better, start shifting your sights between balls with each shot. Hit one ball, start it moving, swing to another ball, hit it and start it moving, then swing back to the first and hit it again. Do this until you can make every shot count, then move back to first 15 feet, then 20 feet, then 25 feet. Practice until you're competent at every distance, including putting balls at varying ranges from near to far and hitting them all.
When you've got this down pat, move to the smaller balls and repeat the process. Practice until you can hit a stationary table-tennis-ball-sized target with every round at ranges up to 25 feet. When you achieve that, you'll need to call upon a friend for help to get to the next level. His job will be to stand next to you, or just behind you, and toss the balls ahead of you so that you have to hit them while they're moving. When you've acquired that skill, he should start bouncing them off a plank or other obstacle to either side, so that they're moving across your front instead of away from you. This makes them much harder to hit. As you're able to hit more and more balls one after another, increase the speed and frequency at which they're thrown, making the shooter's task more difficult. You can work up to a point where he's throwing several balls at once.
The object of the exercise is to reach a level of skill where you can hit 7 out of 10 randomly moving table-tennis balls within 5 seconds. I find even disabled or handicapped students can reach this level of skill after about 3,000-4,000 rounds of practice. The best can hit all 10 in that time. (A few shooters, after much more practice, can even hit several balls firing from the hip, without using the sights.) Once you can attain that standard using a BB pistol, it's not hard to do likewise with a .22LR handgun (assuming your backstop is adequate to prevent the bullets from ricocheting outside your range area and endangering others - I use a field with a hillside behind it to prevent that happening).
Now, consider this from a defensive shooting standpoint. You're capable of hitting 7 out of 10 moving targets not much bigger than a human nose, using a .22LR handgun, at typical defensive ranges. Using the same handgun, do you think you could put 7 out of 10 rounds into the inverted triangle formed by the human eyes and nose (a larger, easier target) at the same distance - even if your target is moving? You bet you could! I think we can take it for granted that any bad guy receiving a faceful of high-velocity hollowpoints (my standard recommendation for defensive use in .22LR is CCI Velocitor ammunition, with CCI Stinger as a second choice) is going to be discouraged. Three of my disabled students (so far) have already demonstrated that to their (and my) complete satisfaction. They're still here, and uninjured. Their assailants . . . not so much.
Under those conditions, for shooters with physical limitations but with that sort of training, you'd better believe the 'lowly' .22LR is a viable defensive round!