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Rimfire for Personal Defense

Don't dismiss the potential of this popular little cartridge.

Rimfire for Personal Defense
Photos By Alfredo Rico

Disclaimer: Using any rimfire-chambered firearm for personal defense is less than ideal and, generally, not recommended. Centerfire cartridges have proven more effective for self-defense. However, for shooters who don't have access to a more suitable firearm, or for those who are recoil adverse or who have a physical condition preventing their control of a centerfire firearm, a rimfire pistol or rifle could be a lifesaving tool.

You’ve heard the blowhard talking about how he only carries a .45 ACP, and anything less is unsuitable for personal defense. Rather than knowledge, he relies on clichés. “I carry a .45 because they don’t make a .46.” Typically, this dude is parroting what he’s heard from some “expert.” Chances are the “.45 ACP-or-bust” guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

As with most things in life, there are no guarantees when it comes to protecting yourself with a firearm. There are instances of people being shot multiple times with large-caliber bullets in vital areas only to keep fighting, often at the expense of their adversary. Though they may eventually die, it doesn’t happen quickly enough to prevent their adversary from being injured or worse. Then there are those who are shot in a relatively benign area with a small-caliber bullet who succumb to their seemingly nonlife-threatening injuries. Still others will disengage at the mere presence of a firearm.

There is simply no way to tell what type of attacker you might face. One thing is certain, there are no absolutes and no “magic bullet.” It’s both ignorant and arrogant to dismiss the effectiveness of firearms chambered in 9mm, .380 ACP and, dare I say, even .22LR.

While considering a rimfire cartridge like the .22LR for personal defense would be blasphemous to the .45 blowhard, it has its place for inexperienced or recoil-sensitive shooters and/or shooters with compromised strength. While the .22LR is less than optimal from a ballistics standpoint, keep in mind, personal defense is not an all or nothing proposition. Hopefully, we can all agree that in our time of need, any firearm is better than no firearm.

Why a Rimfire?

The .22LR is an immensely popular cartridge, probably the most popular in the world. This can be attributed in part to the relative affordability of the cartridge and of the firearms designed around it. Because they are easy on the wallet and so much fun to shoot, .22LR-chambered firearms are everywhere. For many, a .22LR is the only gun they own. Should they disregard the defensive attributes of their firearm because it’s not a centerfire?

Even though it’s a rimfire, Ruger’s 10/22 Takedown is a capable self-defense firearm. It’s compact, reliable and accurate.

Believe it or not, .22LR-chambered firearms actually have some advantages over the more commonly accepted centerfire firearms when it comes to personal or home defense. Two of which are less noise and less recoil that make the .22LR far less intimidating to inexperienced shooters than a centerfire firearm. It instills confidence that is critical in any personal-defense situation. It’s not as simple as the guy with the biggest gun wins.

Rimfire guns allow the shooter to fire more quickly and accurately thanks to less recoil and reduced muzzle rise. The result is less delay between follow-up shots and faster target-to-target transitions. And, contrary to popular opinion, stopping a committed assailant will likely require several well-placed hits regardless of caliber. This is especially true with regard to handgun cartridges.

Reliability Concerns

A legitimate knock on using rimfire guns for personal defense is that they are not generally as reliable as centerfire guns. Since they don’t have a self-contained primer like centerfire rounds, rimfire cartridges are more prone to ignition problems. In other words, there’s a greater chance that when you pull the trigger to fire a rimfire cartridge, you will hear the dreaded click rather than the expected bang.

Rimfires have been used as survival rifles by the military, so why wouldn’t one work for you?

Additionally, rimfire cartridges may not feed as reliably in semiautomatic firearms. That’s because the primer is contained in the rim, which extends beyond the case and can hang up, especially with the tab-style .22LR magazines. Then again, with .22LR revolvers, feeding issues are a moot point.

As with any firearm intended for defensive purposes, loading a .22LR with quality ammunition is critically important. Experiencing a malfunction while plinking at cans is one thing, but when you’re pulling the trigger to stop an imminent deadly threat, a malfunction could have tragic consequences. To remedy this, you need to be well-versed in clearing malfunctions. No firearm is immune from malfunctioning, but since a .22LR is even more susceptable, it’s incumbent on you to make malfunction clearing part of your training regimen.

Another way to mitigate malfunctions is choose a quality firearm and to properly maintain it. Rimfire cartridges are dirtier, meaning there is more fouling associated with shooting them than with a centerfire cartridge. Don’t bet your life on a dirty firearm. Use a clean, reputable firearm and quality ammunition to help stack the odds in your favor.


More Than the Gun

As the late Colonel Jeff Cooper wrote, “Owning a handgun doesn’t make you armed any more than owning a guitar makes you a musician.” Many gun owners place too much emphasis on the gun and not enough on understanding how to properly employ it. Personal defense has more to do with an awareness of one’s surroundings, a willingness to fight back and an adherence to sound tactics than the specific gun being used.

Being aware of your surroundings not only reduces the likelihood of you being targeted because you don’t look like prey, it gives you more time to respond if you should find yourself in danger. Being aware means paying attention rather than escaping reality via ear buds, phone screens or other devices that hinder our natural ability to sense danger.

Coupled with awareness must be a willingness to fight back. This is often taken for granted. There’s a big difference between having a firearm and truly being willing to use it in defense of yourself or another innocent person. This may require more than merely displaying your firearm and shouting commands at an assailant.


In the most extreme example, you must be willing to align the sights on your gun over the assailant and pull the trigger, knowing that the byproduct of stopping the threat may be severely wounding or even killing the assailant. You need to be OK with that if you’re going to rely on a firearm for defensive purposes. Willingness also translates to being motivated to learn proper shooting tactics.

Marksmanship is the easy part of personal defense. Not that hitting your target under duress is all that easy, but it is far simpler than understanding and applying the appropriate tactic in the midst of a potential deadly encounter. Those serious about protecting themselves and their loved ones will study such things and how to recognize and maximize available cover. When the bullets are flying, putting something that can stop them between you and the bad guy is pretty darn important.

Personal defense should be a layered approach. Don’t put all your eggs in the gun basket. Your shots can miss your intended target, and even hits may not immediately stop the deadly threat you’re facing. Shooting an assailant does not preclude you from having to fight him empty handed. This sentiment rings true regardless of whether you’re shooting a .45 ACP or a .22LR.

Parting Thoughts

Would I choose a .22LR-chambered handgun for concealed carry? No, but I’m an experienced shooter with considerable experience shooting centerfire handguns. Centerfire cartridges will assuredly yield better terminal ballistic performance, but not everyone is as capable as me. A .22LR-chambered firearm is a way to bridge the gap for people whose only alternative is to be unarmed.


For recoil-sensitive shooters, rimfire loads like the .22LR offer a viable alternative to being unarmed. They are less intimidating than centerfire loads, and the lack of recoil enables the average shooter to benefit from a higher volume of combat accurate fire. Surely, you would agree with the adage that a hit with a .22LR round beats a miss with a .45 ACP. Now imagine multiple hits fired in rapid succession.

Just because the .22LR isn’t the ideal cartridge for personal defense doesn’t mean it should be dismissed as ineffective. When you consider that something as innocuous as an inadvertent finger in the eye has stopped many professional MMA fighters in their tracks, why is it so hard to believe that a rimfire firearm couldn’t have a defensive application? 

Remember the colonel’s words: “Owning a firearm doesn’t make you armed….” There’s more to personal defense than the caliber of your gun. Rimfire guns like those chambered in .22LR have saved countless lives over the years, and there’s no reason to think they won’t continue to do so.


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