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The Capacity Question: How Much is Enough?

How much ammunition is enough? In particular, how much magazine capacity in a defensive handgun is enough? Who knows. Trends and averages would tell us that relatively low-capacity handguns usually prove entirely capable of getting armed citizens out of trouble. Of course, most defensive gun uses require no shots fired at all. The problem remains, however, that averages do little good for the individual who finds themselves in a violent encounter that lies outside of the curve.  

Another clear trend in defensive gun use among the civilian population is that reloads virtually never happen. Along with this comes the typical behavior of firing until guns are empty. In fact, often, attackers and defenders alike fire until their guns run empty, and if everyone remains ambulatory, both parties break contact and run away. This trend of firing guns dry should lead the thinking concealed carrier to consider how many rounds they would prefer to have before the gun does, indeed, run empty.  

Historically, criminal behavior typically involved lone perpetrators committing armed robbery against unsuspecting victims. Low-capacity handguns have proven quite effective at making such nefarious actors break off from their plans. However, contemporary America has seen another resurgence in violent crime in the past several years, and the nature of this crime is proving to be quite different compared to that of previous decades.  

Two Escalating Trends in Violence

Two forms of violence that have, without doubt, escalated in frequency in the past several years are mob violence and active killer attacks. Both of these forms of attack are quite different by nature compared to the lone armed robber. Mob violence in the forms of flash mob robberies, flash mob assaults, and home invasions performed by crews of numerous perpetrators are more common than ever before. Sadly, active killer attacks are also more common than before. Both of these threats demand considerably more defensive capability than what is required against a lone robber or assaulter. These two criminal trends prove the most critical reasons for the concealed carrier to evaluate the tools they are carrying.  

Even here, it is arguable that a low-capacity handgun will do the job. However, these heightened threats warrant consideration of more formidable defensive capability. In analyzing the growing list of active killers whom handgun-armed civilian defenders have stopped, a considerable percentage have required numerous shots at longer distances. A larger, more shootable handgun that holds more rounds is obviously more desirable in such a circumstance than a small, difficult-to-shoot, lower-capacity handgun. Concerning mob violence, it should be self-evident that more capacity is in order if dealing with three, four, or more, attackers. Very often, criminals scatter when the intended victim starts shooting, but relying on such puts our hopes in the psychological disposition of the criminals rather than in our ability to deal neutralizing force, if absolutely necessary.

Time in the Fight

While the need to carry a reload or not is a different discussion, let us focus here on the common trend of self-defenders shooting until they are out of ammunition. Many civilian self-defense shootings last, literally, until one or both parties run out of ammo, then anyone still able to move breaks contact and runs away. Anyone familiar with shooting handguns understands that rapid fire at close range, which is often the nature of defensive shootings, can empty a pistol very quickly. If firing rounds at a rate of four rounds a second, which is common when people fire under duress, then a five-round revolver keeps you in the fight for 1.25 seconds. A ten-round auto will keep you in the fight for 2.5 seconds. A fifteen-round auto will keep you in that fight for 3.75 seconds. When considered in this light, any of these capacities don’t sound very substantial, do they? Still, it should be obvious here that a longer time in the fight is better.  

How Much Does It Matter?

Based on all of my research on the trends of criminality and the outcomes of civilian defensive shootings, I still submit that many things matter more than the ammunition capacity in your defensive handgun. Having the gun, any gun, on your person when violence happens is the most important aspect of carrying a gun. If a larger, higher-capacity gun gets left at home, and a small, lower-capacity gun actually gets carried, then the better tool for the individual should be obvious. Likewise, the ability to land a first, accurate hit on an aggressor is the single most important skill to have with a defensive handgun. Usually, the fight goes in the favor of the first individual to do this.

However, in light of the contemporary threat profile that we face, I urge the reader to consider carrying more whenever possible. Should you face violence in the form of multiple, determined adversaries, then you will need significant ammunition capacity. Stopping an active killer at longer-than-usual ranges may also require more ammunition than what is aboard a small revolver of pocket auto.

The capacity question remains a point of consideration in the face of the contemporary criminal threat.  

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