Saturday, March 9, 2013

But the .22 Has Killed.....

More people than ALL other calibers combined!!!!!!

No, it has not.

This is one of my favorite misunderstandings to to hype, regurgitation, and lack of reading comprehension and maybe just a bit of gun shop know-it-alls.

So we've see this claim, I will use the most recently seen version.

"Some years ago, I ran across a DOJ study that concluded .22LR ammo has killed more people in the USA than any other caliber(s)."

That DOJ study can be found HERE in this 1989 study which states:

"Probably more people in this country have been killed by .22 rimfires than all other calibers combined, which, based on body count, would compel the use of .22’s for self-defense. The more important question, which is sadly seldom asked, is what did the individual do when hit?"

"Probably" does not equal "conclusion."

"Probably" as defined by Websters:
: insofar as seems reasonably true, factual, or to be expected : without much doubt probably
happy> probably rain>
But is the statement above reasonably true? 
Now granted this is not 1989 and we have some new studies, most recently Greg Ellifritz's An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power  which has some pretty interesting data on the little .22 in that of the handgun calibers, it had the 2nd highest percentage of hits resulting in a fatality and the 3rd lowest rate of incapacitation. 

.22 is third lowest in incapacitation

.22 is 2nd highest (of the handguns) in terms of fatality.
 Seems kind of paradoxical, doesn't it?

I asked Greg about this and he told me pretty much what I expected to hear:

I think the two may be somewhat related...It's a small bullet, it doesn't incapacitate well. I 'm guessing that many of the people who were hit with it (even seriously) didn't know they were hit. They didn't immediately go to the hospital for treatment. By the time they recognized they had a problem, it was too late and they died.
Many of the people shot were criminals. They don't want to go to the hospital with a gunshot wound. They see a little .22 hole in their skin and they say "that ain't shit" as they slowly bleed to death internally.
One other factor to consider is that the .22 is outside lubricated. It picks up all kinds of crap as it goes down the barrel and through clothing. It carries all that crap into the wound. The death rates from infection are likely higher with it than with other bullets.
 Lets look at some other data we have, the original source of this claim comes from 1989, in 1995 we had this paper, Guns Used in Crime which contains these tidbits of info regarding caliber:

  • Surveys of inmates show that they prefer concealable, large caliber guns. Juvenile offenders appear to be more likely to possess guns than adults.
  • Studies of the guns used in homicides show that large caliber revolvers are the most frequent type of gun used in homicides, but the number of large caliber semiautomatic guns used in murders is increasing.

  • Research by Wright and Rossi in the 1980's found that most criminals prefer guns that are easily concealable, large caliber, and well made. Their studies also found that the handguns used by the felons interviewed were similar to the handguns available to the general public, except that the criminals preferred larger caliber guns.

 In this other document, Homicide Trends in the United States 1980-2008 we have the following point to consider:
Data in this report are from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR), unless otherwise noted. The SHR Program of the FBI collects yearly supplementary homicide data regarding homicides committed in the
United States. Statistics in this report detail homicide trends by age, sex, and race, including homicides of children under age 5 and of persons age 65 or older. It examines the relationship between the victim and the
offender, particularly in cases of intimate and family homicide. Th e report also examines multiple victim and offender homicides, circumstances surrounding the death, justifiable homicides, law enforcement offi cers
killed, homicides cleared, and homicide trends by city size and weapon use.
 These data may differ slightly from previously published versions because of updates to the data file, changes to the imputation methods used, and refinements in the analyses. (See Methodology for more information on the imputation methods used in this report.) In addition, analyses presented here include data from 1980 through 2008 only. This modification was made, in part, to reflect revisions in the SHR in 1980

 If you look at the FBI's coding of the SHR data you find the following*:

Column 14.
Weapon Used:

Data Element 13 (Type Weapon/Force Involved)—the weapon code numbers are the same for both NIBRS and Summary.  When NIBRS codes 11-15 include a suffix of
A = automatic, disregard the suffix in the conversion process.

11 - Firearm (type not stated)

12 - Handgun

13 - Rifle

14 - Shotgun

15 - Other firearm

20 - Knife/cutting instrument

30 - Blunt object

40 - Personal weapons

50 - Poison

60 - Explosives

65 - Fire/incendiary device

70 - Drugs/narcotics/sleeping pills
 Aside from some other mumbojumbo therein, you won't see any mention of caliber in that report. As such, I would wager that the statement in the report initially quoted has no supporting data.*It is possibly that before 1980 caliber was listed, but I have not yet been able to confirm if it was or was not.

Greg's study is geographically limited, but it stands to reason that the results would average out.

So what does all this mean? I don't think it comes up with anything too concrete other than that when you look at the ratios of what guns are used in crimes, what guns criminals prefer, the fatality stats shown above I think it's on the level to say that while the .22 can certainly kill, it is not "responsible" for more deaths than "all the other calibers" combined, but hey...I could be wrong.

In a pinch I would much rather carry a .22 than nothing, but thankfully I can manage to carry larger.


  1. I'm more inclined to believe the second chart has some errors. And I haven't see outside lubricated .22 rounds since I found some in my grandfathers addict.

  2. The study where the charts came from is linked to in my post, feel free to crunch the numbers yourself if you are inclined. I don't think anyone would mind you double checking their work.

    Also keep in mind that this study took 10 years if I recall so some of the shootings may be older than newer.

    As an interesting anecdote on ammo age etc. I was once at a gun shop when a guy walked in and wanted 6 cartridges and only 6 cartridges only. The shop owner took out a shoe box from under the counter that held a bunch of lose cartridges, dug out 6 random .38 Special cartridges and put them in a baggie for the guy. I forgot what he charged him but it was kind of a funny transaction to watch.

    Any way, sometimes ammo comes from strange places.

  3. I think FBI studies and hitman "cookbooks" fuel a lot of non-sense that people believe to be Gospel. I think it is safe to say that if even a lay person sits down and thinks about it: If your goal is to empty a water bottle of all the water in it, is it going to lose more water faster from several tiny holes or several massive holes? The lay person is going to say, the latter.

  4. For many decades the .22 was a popular "throwgun" for inner city thug types. It was easy to conceal and because it was used more by trigger happy criminals it earned the title deadliest cartridge. I graduated HS with a guy who went on to become medical doctor specializing in diseases of GI tract. He interned in Savannah ga. which has daily shooting by competing drug gangs. He told me while he was assisting in treatment of gunshot victims during this internment he noticed tendancies of several calibers. He said the .45,9mm fmj, .38 etc would make a straight thru would channel that was relatively uncomplicated to stitch up(most common wound area chest/abdomen). The .22 on the other because would both bounce off ribs and fragment and doctor would have to be very diligent to check carefully to discover every internal wound especially to bowel. These criminals would recover and go on to shoot the homie that shot them.

  5. It's a bullet that shoots on average around 900-1100 feet per second. And higher in rifles. It can kill. No it's not going to kill as easy as a faster heavier bullet. But it still kills. Not my first choice for defense. But I would not be scared to use it for defense. And a little semi-auto pistol (especially semi-auto rifle) can fire quick and will do the job regardless of it's size. Do i think it's killed more than any other? No, But if it has? It's only because it's cheaper and in higher number.