I have Completely Lost Faith In the .38spl

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Jan 6, 2003
I used to be on the bandwagon about recommending a .38spcl (.357mag) revolver to parents, elderly, those with arthritus, infirmities, etc. for a reliable, easy t operate self-defense weapon. Recent events have made me re-evaluate this.

By now most of us have seen the LA Lawyer shooting and there have already been a flurry of discussions here, but the most important impression that this has made on me is that the .38spl didn't do it's job-even under the best conditions: Ambush, close/contact range, meek target, no defensive response from victim.

I think the nut used a 5-rd snubbie revolver shooting .38spl bullets. and the lawyer did take at least one round in the shoulder as well as lighter wounds. Results? -He remained mobile and conscious the entire time before finally collapsing later.

1. Victim was a white-collar type, not a highly trained soldier/LEO or crazed killer, criminal, whacked-out junkie. Yet he remained mobile long enough to potentially hurt/kill the shooter.
2. .38spcl didn't immediately incapacitate, there certainly was little loss of muzzle-velocity at point-blank range.
3. A determined attacker would have enough time to potentially return deadly damage during this encounter.
4. Yeah yeah -"placement of bullets..." but as we all can see, targets do not like to stand still while you shoot at it. They were separated by about 2-ft distance, and it was already so difficult to hit him.

Results, I don't think that I would ever recommend this round to any of my loved ones to use for a self-defense caliber.

Anyone have a better solution?
Do what you want. After all it's your life.

Dear Abby,

I wouldn't be sitting here typing this if it hadn't been for a double tap from a .38 snub. First shot was about 5 yards, second was about 3. Didn't need a 3rd.

Just sign me Glad To Still Be Here.
He took one shot in the shoulder and you expect him to drop dead on the spot? I don't think anything short of .50bmg would have done that. Shot placement!
You cannot expect to reliably have an instant one shot drop with a handgun even in the best of circumstances, but even less so when you don't actually aim. Bullet placement is a BIG deal. You need to hit something that will either do major vascular damage or central nervous system damage. Even a potentialy lethal wound will not guarantee the perp will drop instantly.
Don't forget that you don't shoot to kill, you shoot to stop.

He was just walking along minding his own business. After the frist shot he did stop what he was doing before.

But IMO, the real lessons here are;

Hard Cover IS your friend!

Bring Enough Gun.

Don't waste ammo, especially when you don't have a clear shot.

Placement, placement, placement.

A handgun is at best a marginal weapon.


Now you know the reason that the outside rings on a B27 are such low numbers.
The 38 in typical loading , 158 RNL is not very good. Go to swc or jhp. Even better is the 158 swchp +p.That one is quite respectable. And place the bullet in the right place.
So.................A 45acp hit to the arm would have been better? The lawyer would have been knocked off of his feet? Placement, Placement, Placement. Oh and don't forget Placement.
.38 is nothing to sneeze at, and with right ammo, it is a valid choice for SD.

The lawyer was shot with a .22, and most of the hits were peripheral. More gun may have done more damage, but a marginal hits are never a good thing (unless you are the shootee).
I do believe that this man is very lucky that he was shot with a .22. A fiend of mine was hit 5 times with a .38. He spent weeks in a hospital, his injuries have left one arm useless and he walks with a cane. Gunshot wounds are funny things, all his hits were peripheral, but he dropped on the spot (shot in the knee).

Anyone have a better solution?

Yes , don't form your judgement of the 38 based on ONE specific shooting incident? If that is the case then all handgun cartridges have been failures in specific shootings.
hope you dont have faith in the .45, .357, .44mag..ect...a single shoulder shot from those have also left alot of fight in thier targets....

lets get real here huh?
About once every couple of years one of my handgun toting non-hunting or rifle/shotgun hunting friends shoots a critter with their self defense gun.



Hadguns are not great stoppers, regardless of caliber. There are many documented instances of rifles and shotguns failing too. :) It helps (IMHO) to think of a handgun as a remote control drill with zero shocking power or an arrow or an icepick. It's not a rifle.

No problems with a good .38 in my book. Practice makes perfect.
Reality check...

1. Victim was a white-collar type, not a highly trained soldier/LEO or crazed killer, criminal, whacked-out junkie. Yet he remained mobile long enough to potentially hurt/kill the shooter.

Victim exhibited a typical response to being shot- he tried to avoid being shot again, worse, or dead. Your job is as irrelevant as the color of your socks when you finally realize somebody is trying to kill you, and the adrenalin kicks in. Deer are neither "highly trained" or "crazed killers", but I have seen them run 200 yards after taking a .44/300XTP/1350fps, right behind the shoulder. They must have never read Marshall & Sanow, huh? I have seen similar behavior from homo sapiens hit with 12 gauge slugs and .40/180 HydraShok. Welcome to the "Wild Kingdom", of which we are all members.

2. .38spcl didn't immediately incapacitate, there certainly was little loss of muzzle-velocity at point-blank range.

Placement is the answer. Plant that little .38 on the centerline of the body and it is a pretty decent problem-solver- just like the others mentioned above.

3. A determined attacker would have enough time to potentially return deadly damage during this encounter.

Happens all the time. This is why you always take the biggest gun you can shoot well to a fight- and why anybody worth shooting, is worth shooting DOWN.

4. Yeah yeah -"placement of bullets..." but as we all can see, targets do not like to stand still while you shoot at it. They were separated by about 2-ft distance, and it was already so difficult to hit him.

Range time. Moving targets. Watch your front sight. See # 1 & 2 above.

This is the reality of gunfights. They're usually a surprise for at least one of the participants, and if you can avoid taking any bad hits in the initial salvo, your chance of survival goes up dramatically. Avoid further exposure, seek cover, return effective fire until the problem is solved. Our shooter in this instance was obviously shocked by the ineffectiveness of his own fire. If Mr. Lawyer had been armed and in "yank & blast" mode, the aggressor would either have been dead, leaking badly, or moving a whole lot faster down that street in the opposite direction.

When you quit- you lose. Evade if you can't return fire, or to gain a better position to return fire from. As long as your evading you haven't quit. Allow adrenalin to do its work, and use the survival instinct to your advantage.
First, I seriously believe that with several "marginal calibers" including the 38, being VERY picky about your ammo really matters.

Once you get into 45ACP/357Mag territory, most brand-name JHPs work fine. When you drop the power down to 380/38Spl/32ACP/32Mag/22Mag/22LR territory, the number of reasonable choices takes a serious dip.

There's a grand total of three loads I'd trust in a 38Spl with a barrel of 2" - 4". At 6", the number of additional choices isn't that high.

1) The 158grain lead hollowpoint +Ps by Winchester and Remington. (Based on average penetration and expansion numbers, this round stomps a lot of 9mm out there, esp. from a 4" barrel. It's effectiveness is out of proportion to it's energy numbers and it's racked up a VERY good rep over a lot of years. Stone-axe primitive and still damned effective...gotta love it.)

2) The Gold Dot 125+Ps as loaded by Proload, Black Hills, Georgia Arms, etc.

3) Winchester's 130grain +P Supreme JHP.

This is based on looking at "post gelatin photos" (clothed and bare) plus velocity/energy data versus "bodycount studies" such as M&S.

In a 2" gun, as an additional factor I like to run a barrel/cylinder gap down into the .002" to .003" for extra velocity. 38+Ps in a snubby are right at the ragged edge of "barely working".

I am equally picky about ALL the other calibers mentioned. In 22LR, I like CCI Stingers and Remington Yellowjackets (latter is revolver only due to very weird nose shape and feed issues). In 22Mag, CCI has a pair of 30grain JHPs that pull 1,200fps from a 2" barrel and do energy numbers in the 32ACP's range.

I could on but the point is, a statement like "38snubbie is a very poor performer" is TRUE if you average across all available loads, but a lie if you hand-pick "the good stuff". Ditto all calibers below it's performance range. As most bad guys are gun-stupid, they grab whatever crap is handy and shoot people with it, and we see things like that poor attorney dodging behind a tree, taking multiple hits and walking out of the hospital in a day or two. Or that rapper "50 cents", hit eight times in a single incident during his gangbanger days and today walking around in perfect health.

You can't judge what YOU can do with carefully placed, carefully CHOSEN fodder based on idiocy like that.

Regardless of caliber.
Fanatasies for some notwithstanding, it is extremely unlikey that any non-LEOs (or even LEO's in most communities) will ever need to even draw our gun and much less so need to actually shoot it in the first place so I wouldn't worry TOO much! Don't get me wrong-I carry! But I think that a number on this site really enjoy imagining a scenario happening, (and there is nothing wrong with doing so in my opinion until you start talking like that to Mr. Average Public and hurt us all PR wise) but in REALITY, for 99.99% of us-it's NOT ever going to happen anyway!!! But you can't tell that to someone who never so much as goes to the bathroom without his 1911 and two back-ups to say nothing of the bug out bag in the SUV! He'd never admit that he was "playing" really! If you based your life on probalities you'd never drive a car! That being said a .38 with Hydra-Shoks will work just fine if you don't miss!
full wadcutter

Use a completely flat wadcutter bullet, never mind semiwadcutters. Hollowpoints may or may not expand at .38 special velocities. Wadcutters make a reliable hole, as big as the .38's diameter is capable of.

And as the previous writer said, damn little probability that any non-LEOs among us will really have to shoot at a fellow human being , so let's not stay up worrying about it. We practice until we are confident. That's enough. Shooting is a good hobby in itself, does not need to be supported by fantasies of shooting people.
You know, there was another nationally televised shooting with a .22 snubby revolver about twenty years ago that had a very different outcome, including one DRT. :uhoh:
When Only said...

"Gunshot wounds are funny things"...he was right. Good friend of mine has a LEO brother in law who was shot COM with a .22 short. He's a big guy, but he spent a month in the hospital over that little bullet. Almost died twice.

5 of the shots were in his ARM and the 6th shot was in his neck/shoulder area. Hardly vital hits - wouldn't have mattered if it was a 9mm...

Let's think about this...the man shot with lawyer with a snub nose -- what .22 or .38? Most people using the gun for self-defense will do so at close range -- often surprising the perp who won't expect them to be armed, and likely won't be dancing around the house/apartment when they realize the homeowner is armed. Nor would most people shoot a person in the back trying to run out of the victim's home. Hence, the gun serves it's purpose if it sends the perp running. I'm comfortable with either a revolver in that situation or a pistol. In the streets, I'd prefer the revolver to be my back up and my pistol to be my primary gun -- but at home, hardly matters....
Lee Harvey Oswald didn't think the .38spl was anything to sneeze at. Seems he killed that police officer Tippet with a .38 and then took one in the belly from Ruby's snub. Stick a "belly gun" into someones belly and the resulting damage will not only be from the slug but all the escaping gas as well.

And let's not forget that Bobby Kennedy was whacked with a .22 (conspiracy theories aside) and Reagan almost died from a .22 wound and left his press secretary Brady brain damaged.

The .38 will do the job, especially with with the new generation of hollowpoint bullets.

Personally I like the .38 revolver and will continue to recommend as a first gun a quality 3" barrel revolver for home defense (like a Ruger SP101) loaded with good quality ammo like Federal's PD 110 grain hyra shocks. Unlike higher powered calibers, I easily hit what I aim at and follow up quickly with a .38 and that goes for the 9mm as well.
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