I have pistols in both 9mm and 22 Mag and have run extensive tests on both to see how they perform. I think it’s safe to say that I can give a pretty solid opinion on the matter.
9mm ballistically outperforms 22 Mag as a self-defense caliber. The 9mm will penetrate twice as much as 22 Mag when fired from a pistol. The 9mm also creates a significantly wider wound than 22 Mag. Law enforcement officers and firearm experts agree that a 22 mag is not a good choice for self-defense.
Now, there is an argument to be heard about the 22 Mag and it may be a good choice for your situation. I’ll break it down for you so you can make your own informed decision.
22 Mag vs 9mm Cost
The average 22 Mag pistol costs around $300 and the average 9mm pistol costs $450. 9mm ammo is more expensive at $0.30 to $1.00 a round vs the 22 Mag which runs $0.25 to $0.50 each.
The 22 mag is, for the most part, the cheaper gun to produce. That’s because it uses less metal in the design. The barrel for a 22 caliber can be much skinnier and use much less metal than the barrel on a 36 caliber firearm. The magazine is skinnier and the action doesn’t need to be as strong as that of a 9mm.
Check out my recommended 22 mag ARs and AR uppers here.
Now, let’s consider ammo. Both are usually sold in 50 round boxes. The average price for a box of 22 Mag is $15. The average price for a box of 9mm is $14. But, there’s a lot more to it than that.
Most 9mm ammo is cheap practice ammo. It usually costs 35 to 45 cents a round. if You want some quality 9mm target ammo, expect to pay closer to 70 cents a round. Quality always costs. If you’re looking for some defensive ammo or specialty rounds, you should expect to pay between one and two dollars per round for quality 9mm ammo.
Most 22 mag ammo is hunting ammo. Hunting ammo is a more precise, more expensive type of ammo to produce. Even so, you can get it for near 30 cents a round. There are some cheaper plinking rounds that you can get for a little less. 22 Mag ammo just doesn’t take up a lot of powder or brass. It’s cheaper to produce quality 22 Mag ammo than it is for 9mm.
22 Mag and 9mm Ammo Selection
There is a much bigger ammo selection available in 9mm than in 22 Mag. There is significantly more ammo produced in 9mm and it’s made by many more companies. It is easier to find 9mm ammo at a store than 22 Mag.
I just went to Cabela’s and they had a full shipment of ammo on the shelves. There were ten or twelve different brands of 9mm and only one brand of 22 Mag ammo. That’s a pretty good idea of how the availability is most of the time. every ammo company makes 9mm ammo. There are only two primary companies that manufacture 22 Mag ammo.
Pretty much all the 22 Mag ammo is made by CCI. Some of it is made by Federal. Those two companies make up around 90 percent of all 22 Mag ammo production.
If we were going to consider the long-term availability of ammo to be a major issue, the 9mm comes out ahead. That’s really only because there are only a couple of companies out there getting ammo on shelves. Fewer manufacturers mean it’s less likely to be available in the wake of a natural disaster or other emergencies.
The fix for that would be to just have plenty of ammo on hand, and I mean plenty. As in, all the ammo that your gun could likey shoot without breaking down.
9mm Pistols are 2.9 Times more Powerful than 22 Mag
In pistols, the 9mm averages 350 ft/lbs. of energy. 22 Mag pistols average 120 ft/lbs of energy. That’s basically a 3rd of 9mm energy. 9mm is significantly more powerful than 22 magnums.
9mm fires a bullet between 115 and 147 grains at velocities between 1,100 and 1,300 fps. The most common loading is a 115-grain bullet at 1,200 fps. The second most common is a 124-grain bullet at 1,100 fps. That makes 368 ft/lbs and 333 ft/lbs respectively. Now, let’s look at the 22 Mag.
The 22 Mag has a listed velocity of between 1750 and 2,100 fps. But, they shoot about 40 percent slower if you are using a pistol. the listed velocities are if you shoot the ammo in a full-length rifle.
If you want to look at some really fun guns, check out these 9mm rifles at Bear Creek Arsenal.
The velocity of 22 Mag when shot from a pistol usually falls between 1,000 and 1,250 fps. That’s the same velocity range as the 9mm.
However, the 22 Mag shoots bullets that range from 32 and 50 grains. The standard 22 mag load is a 40-grain bullet that goes 1,100 fps in a pistol. That comes out to 107 ft/lbs. of energy. Compare the 9mm with an average of 350 ft/lbs. of energy and the 22 Mag with 107 ft/lbs.
In a pistol, the 9mm is 3.4 times more powerful than the 22 Mag when comparing only the most common ammo for each.
Rimfire is less Reliable and Prone to Jamming in semi-autos
Rimfire ammo is inherently less reliable than centerfire ammo. Rimfire ammo is more sensitive to light primer strikes and primer malfunctions, and it’s prone to stacking issues in the magazine leading to jamming.
Rimfire cartridges are prone to having more issues with the primers than centerfire. this is particularly bad with cheap 22lr ammo, but it happens even with good 22 Mag. Sometimes there is a spot in the rim that didn’t get the priming compound. If your gun’s firing pin hits that spot, all that will happen is a little “tink” as the pin hits an empty rim.
I know a guy who earned the nickname Tink for that very reason. He hated it, we loved it. It was pretty funny.
The issue of magazine reliability plagues all 22lr and 22 mag pistols with a box magazine. The problem here is a thing called rimlock. That’s when you load a cartridge so its rim is sitting behind the rim of the cartridge beneath. effectively, you’ve locked the rim behind another cartridge. it simply won’t feed then.
Rimlock happens when you load one cartridge, but not all the way back, then load a second one slightly behind the first. It’s pretty easy to avoid if you pay attention while loading the magazine, but it’s also pretty easy to do.
The 22 Mag has Significantly Less Recoil than a 9mm
The most common 22 Mag pistol will have about 0.4 ft/lbs of recoil. Compare that to a Glock 17 (9mm) with 5 ft/lbs. of recoil. A 22 mag pistol has around 1/10th the recoil of a common 9mm pistol.
This is where the 22 Mag really shines. The little rimfire has almost no recoil to speak of. It’s just a very slight twitch of the pistol. Because of this, it may be one option for a person with wrist problems who can’t handle the recoil of larger cartridges.
A 22 Mag Pistol is Comparable to a 22lr Rifle
A 40-grain 22 Mag bullet fired out of a pistol has a similar velocity to a 40-grain 22lr shot out of a rifle. They will both shoot a 40-grain bullet near 1,100 fps. Just as a general rule, a 22 Mag out of a pistol is equivalent to a 22lr out of a rifle in terms of power, velocity, and penetration.
While both are certainly lethal, the 9mm is the clear winner. sure, the 22 mag has proved effective, but so has the 9mm. And, 9mm doesn’t have any of the shortcomings the 22 Mag has
If you liked this article, you may be interested in one I wrote about the lethality of the 22lr. Here’s the link. I also wrote an article on using the Ruger 10/22 for Home Defense. Here’s the link for that one.