On Michelle Malkin's blog yesterday, a poster was asking for recommendations on a handgun. I recommended a medium-frame 3 or 4 inch barreled revolver chambered for a .38 Special or .357 Magnum cartridge. In these days of high-capacity 9mm and .40 S&W semiautomatics and "pocket rockets," to use one of the gun control crowd's favorite terms, why in the world would I suggest something that would have been at home in a police officer's holster in the 1970s?
Let's make some assumptions:
1. The handgun must be usable for a man, a woman, or even an adolescent. The person asking for a recommendation was female, but it's really immaterial. Another family member might need to be able to use it.
2. The handgun must not be punishing to shoot. If it hurts to shoot, the users will not practice with it and thus will not develop the skill necessary to use it effectively.
3. The handgun must be reasonably effective in stopping a threat.
How does the old "police revolver" stack up?
1. A revolver is simple to operate. You aim the gun at the target, pull the trigger, and it goes bang. You can see if it's loaded by looking at it, and you can load or unload it quickly and easily. There is no slide to pull back to load or clear the chamber, and you can't forget to drop the magazine.
2. With a .38 Special steel-frame revolver recoil, even with good defensive ammunition, is not a problem for most folks. On the other hand, a .357 Magnum steel-frame revolver can be a handful with full-house magnum ammunition with heavy recoil and muzzle blast/flash. I'd recommend starting with lower pressure .38 Special ammunition and moving up to more powerful ammunition until you reach your recoil/blast/flash tolerance. I'd recommend practicing with lower-power ammunition and saving your defensive ammunition for the piece de resistance of your practice sessions.
3. As far as "stopping power" goes, no handgun is a "death ray." However, the .357 Magnum handgun loaded with 125 jacketed hollow point (JHP) full-power ammunition is the standard by which all others are measured. Using lower-powered ammo reduces stopping power, but may increase accuracy, and bullet placement is one of the top three things that determine effectiveness, given a minimum power level. The other two are placement and placement. There is nothing wrong with the effectiveness of any .38 Special defensive load, so my recommendation will provide an adequate level of protection provided you practice enough to establish competency and accuracy.
I'm going to wind this up with a short discussion of bullet types that I consider effective enough for defensive ammunition. You want either a lead semi-wadcutter hollow point of 158 grains in weight or a jacketed hollow point in 110 grains to 135 grains for the .38 Special. For the .357 Magnum, you want a 110 to 125 grain JHP. I'll get more detailed with specific recommendations for ammunition in a follow-on post.
Finally, if you aren't familiar with firearms, or especially if you aren't familiar with handguns, I'd recommend getting training from a competent instructor.