22 vs 9mm: Making a case for the 22LR

A 22LR revolver was my first firearm, gifted to me by my father.

Growing up, My dad and would target shoot regularly with my 22 revolver. On a few occasions, we used it for taking care of a few nocturnal critters that kept sneaking into our yard at night.

Doing that really opened my eyes as a young man to the capabilities of a 22 bullet on something other than paper and pop cans.

When I was old enough to purchase my first pistol, I picked up a Glock 17 chambered in 9mm. That offered me a much more powerful option for personal defense.

22 vs 9mm: Making a case for the 22LR

Each of those calibers offers distinct benefits and both deserve a place in any well-rounded gun safe.

However, it’s important to recognize that these calibers serve different purposes and excel in specific situations. Each has its own strengths that outshine the other in certain instances.

22 vs 9mm: Is it a Fair Comparison?

The 9mm and .22LR are both popular types of ammunition available on the market, known for their distinct cartridge sizes.

When comparing these two calibers, the size difference between them is quite evident, as the 9mm is larger than the .22 round.

When it comes to energy, the .22LR rounds possess noticeably less power in comparison to the 9mm rounds, mainly due to their smaller powder load. Overall, the .22LR exhibits lower acceleration and kinetic energy.

This difference in power results in variations in penetration and knockdown power, with the 9mm caliber surpassing the .22LR in these aspects.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that this doesn’t mean the .22LR lacks its own merits or usefulness in certain situations.

22 vs 9mm: Cartridge Comparison

The 22LR is one of the most prevalent rounds and is what many of us have used since childhood.

The bullet has a diameter of 0.2255 inches, while the base diameter measures 0.226 inches.

Within the overall length of a 22LR, which is approximately 1 inch, the case length accounts for 0.613 inches.

It is important to note that the maximum pressure according to SAAMI standards is 24,000 pounds per square inch (psi).

Case Length0.613 inches0.754 inches
Max Case Pressure (SAMMI)24,000 psi35,000 psi
Bullet Diameter0.2255 inches0.355 inches
Neck Diametern/a0.380 inches
Base Diameter0.226 inches0.391 inches
Overall Length1 inch1.169 inches


The 9mm bullet has a diameter of 0.355 inches, while the base diameter measures 0.391 inches.

In terms of the overall size of the round, the case length of the 9mm accounts for 0.754 inches out of a total length of 1.169 inches.

The maximum pressure allowed according to SAAMI standards for the 9mm is 35,000 pounds per square inch (psi), which is more than 10,000 psi higher than that of the 22LR.

22 vs 9mm: Ballistics

When it comes to shooting, we favor flat-shooting rounds because they necessitate less adjustment as the distance to the target grows.

Neither of these calibers was specifically designed for long-range shooting, thus both exhibit subpar trajectories.

At a distance of 100 yards, the 9mm bullet experiences a drop of over 12 inches.

The 9mm round was primarily designed for handguns, and therefore, taking a shot at 100 yards is not realistic.

The 22 LR, at a distance of 150 yards, experiences a drop of 11 inches.

Looking at the trajectory between the 22LR and 9mm, the 22LR is the clear winner. However, it is worth noting that the 22LR is typically fired from a rifle, which accounts for the flatter trajectory.

Which is Better for Hunting and Self Defense


As I mentioned in the beginning, I grew up hunting rabbits, squirrels and skunks with a Ruger 10/22 chambered in 22LR.

When it comes to hunting, comparing the 9mm and .22LR is somewhat unfair since the 9mm was never designed specifically for hunting purposes. In this regard, the .22LR ammunition proves to be a superior choice for hunting.

Obviously, we are not talking about taking down big game, but rather focusing on small game.

While the 9mm can technically be used for hunting, it is important to note that it will more than likely obliterate the meat you’re attempting to harvest.

Although these calibers were not specifically designed for hunting big game, when it comes to small game hunting, the .22 holds a slight advantage.

Keep in mind though, In most states, it is illegal to hunt anything larger than a coyote with a 22 caliber firearm.

Self Defense and Concealed Carry

The general consensus among most gun owners is that the 9mm is a superior choice for concealed carry and home defense. This is primarily attributed to its increased stopping power.

However, with the proper shot placement, if all you have is a 22, it’s certainly better than nothing. It won’t do the damage of a 9mm, but it’s still gonna hurt like hell.

Will a .22 stop an attacker? Lucky Gunner conducted a test on a 1.9-inch snub nose revolver firing .22 rounds into ballistic gel. All five rounds penetrated the gel, achieving a depth ranging from 10 to 12 inches.

As expected, there was no expansion, which is typical for .22 caliber bullets.

The FBI establishes a minimum standard of 12 inches of penetration for duty ammunition, but achieving 10 inches is still a commendable feat.

Having said all that, the .22 caliber firearm lacks the necessary kinetic energy to effectively penetrate and incapacitate an attacker. It is widely known for its failure to penetrate the skull or reach vital organs by penetrating deep enough into the tissues.

Your most viable option would be to aim for soft tissue areas like the neck and face. These areas are highly prone to bleeding, which can cause a psychological deterrent. A sufficient amount of blood in the face, accompanied by the associated pain, might be sufficient to halt the attacker, although it cannot be guaranteed.

It is important to note that multiple shots will likely be required, considering the .22LR’s reputation for inconsistency and malfunctions.

22 vs 9mm: The Backstory of These Two


At the dawn of the previous century (1901), the 9mm was conceptualized by G. Luger, an Austrian firearm designer. It was initially developed as a service cartridge to accompany Luger’s semi-automatic pistol known as the Pistole Parabellum.

Following the conclusion of both World War I and World War II, the 9mm cartridge gained significant popularity among military and law enforcement agencies in Europe.

However, its prevalence in the United States didn’t become widespread until the 1980s when the US Army officially adopted the Beretta M9 Service Pistol.

The 9mm gained significant traction in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s with the introduction of the Glock 17 and Sig Sauer P226.

The rest is history.


First introduced in 1887 and created by the J. Stevens Arms & Tool Company, 22LR was specifically designed as an entry-level cartridge for young shooters, and it served that purpose for numerous decades.

Shortly after its debut, it gained popularity as the go-to choice for plinking, target shooting, and controlling varmints.

And although 22LR does not have proven applications in the military as the 9mm does, it does have some roots in the intelligence and covert action community.

The 22LR has a very interesting history with the Israeli Mossad in real-world clandestine operations.

Following the 1968 hijacking of an Israeli airliner, the government began a secret program to put armed sky marshals on its flights armed with Beretta Model 70 handguns chambered in 22LR.

BERETTA 71 22LR Pistol (Israeli Mossad Issue)
BERETTA 71 22LR Pistol (Israeli Mossad Issue)

In 1971, a Sabena Airlines jet was hijacked by members of the Black September terror group. Several Israeli operatives disguised themselves as aircraft mechanics (with concealed Beretta Model 70 handguns) to approach the plane and "fix a problem with the hydraulic system" killing two of the four hijackers.

They were used again during the famed Operation Wrath of God in 1972.

These compact and concealable 22LR pistols played a leading role in Israeli covert action for many years to follow.

Recommended 22LR Compact Pistols for Self Defense

KelTec P17

The Kel Tec P17 is an uncomplicated, cost-effective, and dependable option.

If you’re currently searching for a compact .22LR pistol with a capacity of 17 rounds, equipped with numerous additional features, it is undoubtedly the ideal choice for you.

Kel-Tec P17

at Guns.com
Prices accurate at time of writing

For a more in-depth look at the P17, check out our article titled KelTec P17 Review: A 17 Round Compact .22LR Pistol.

Ruger LCR 22LR Revolver

The Ruger LCR 22LR Revolver is an excellent choice for those seeking a lightweight and easily maneuverable concealed carry firearm.

Due to the nature of a revolver, you don’t have the issues a semi-auto pistol does with rimfire ammo.

This innovatively designed LCR (Lightweight Compact Revolver) features a monolithic frame crafted from aerospace-grade, 7000 series aluminum.

Ruger LCR 22

at Guns.com
Prices accurate at time of writing

Achieving rapid accuracy with all eight shots at a distance of 7 yards or closer is a relatively easy task. Simply put, this rimfire revolver is a workhorse.

Beretta 21A Bobcat

With dimensions similar to that of a smartphone and a mere weight of 11.5 ounces, the Beretta Bobcat is an exceptionally discreet firearm that has held its status as the ultimate pocket pistol for over three decades.

The Bobcat is easy to manipulate, durable, reliable, and accurate within reason. Its sleek design with snag-free lines allows for discreet and deep concealment.

Beretta 21A Bobcat

at Guns.com
Prices accurate at time of writing

When it comes to ammunition for your Bobcat pistol, I highly recommend CCI ammo. You have the option of Stingers, Velocitors, or Mini Mags—depending on your preference. Personally, I find the Velocitors to be preferable as they utilize a heavier bullet, resulting in improved penetration.

Recommended 22LR Ammo for Self Defense

If you choose to carry a .22 LR for self-defense, it is important to familiarize yourself with ammunition specifics and test that ammo in your carry gun.

Many of the conventional rules regarding ammunition don’t apply in this case. Previously, a jacketed hollow point was preferred, but the situation changes when using 22LR ammo.

22 vs 9mm
From letf to right (124gr Gold Dot, 124gr Hornady, CCI Velocitor, Federal Punch)

While a hollow point .22 LR is effective for hunting, its expansion slows the round’s velocity enough to impede sufficient penetration. When it comes to defensive purposes, expansion is a characteristic we don’t necessarily want with .22 LR ammunition.

In the case of .22 LR, the focus should be on penetration. Even small entry wounds can cause significant damage if they are accurately placed in critical areas. It’s all about shot placement with the 22LR round.

Fortunately, a few 22LR rounds have demonstrated reliable performance and meet the minimum standards set by the FBI.

Federal Punch

The Federal Punch personal defense round is another excellent option. It is a relatively new round specifically engineered for self-defense purposes.

This round demonstrates consistent penetration capabilities and features a nickel-plated construction.

FEDERAL AMMO 22 LR Punch 29Gr FN “Personal Defense" 50rd

at Kentucky Gun Co
Prices accurate at time of writing

The Nickel plating provides a protective layer to prevent corrosion, especially from the effects of sweat. Since these smaller pocket guns are commonly carried in deep concealment positions, they tend to be exposed to higher levels of perspiration.

Federal Punch 22 Ammo

CCI Velocitor

Although the CCI Velocitor was not specifically designed to excel when fired from a short barrel, the semi-hollow point round weighing in at 40 grains boasts a reported velocity of 1,435 feet per second.

In direct comparison to Federal Punch, though, CCI Velocitors exhibit lower velocities, averaging around 200 feet per second slower. That alone gives the Federal Punch a distinct advantage in penetration.

Both of these rounds perform flawlessly out of my KelTec P17, so that’s why I chose them. Let us know in the comments if you’ve had a different experience with these rounds -OR- let us know what you use.

Wrapping it Up!

We have discussed the key factors to consider when comparing .22 LR and 9mm.

Several advantages favor the use of .22 LR: it offers lighter recoil, tends to be more accurate, and is cost-effective for training purposes.

However, 9mm pistols can be concealed just as easily as .22 LR handguns and their stopping power is by far superior.

It’s also advisable to familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of human anatomy, particularly regarding target areas. Personally, I prefer carrying a slightly larger caliber, such as a 9mm.

I haven’t had enough experience with my .22 pistols to have full confidence in relying on them to protect my life… at least not yet.

Although we give the upper hand to the 9mm, it does not mean that .22 LR has nothing to offer.

By selecting a reliable pistol, high-quality ammunition, and dedicating time to practice, you’ll be able to mitigate many of the issues inherent with 22LR.


Table of Contents

  • 22 vs 9mm: Is it a Fair Comparison?
  • 22 vs 9mm: Cartridge Comparison
  • 22 vs 9mm: Ballistics
  • Which is Better for Hunting and Self Defense
  • Hunting
  • Self Defense and Concealed Carry
  • 22 vs 9mm: The Backstory of These Two
  • 9mm
  • 22LR
  • Recommended 22LR Compact Pistols for Self Defense
  • KelTec P17
  • Ruger LCR 22LR Revolver
  • Beretta 21A Bobcat
  • Recommended 22LR Ammo for Self Defense
  • Federal Punch
  • CCI Velocitor
  • Wrapping it Up!

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