TLDR: If you can help it, a character might be better off with a handgun with more bite than a .25 caliber.
Last week’s post about the .25 caliber “lady’s gun” used by James Bond kicked off some interesting feedback from followers of this blog. Some agreed with my take that the ability to be accurate matters more than firepower (a perennial debate in the gun world, too). Others felt .25 caliber handguns are flat out a bad option despite how easy they are to shoot.
Characters in fiction can get away with plenty those in the real world can’t, so neither POV is completely right or wrong. It’s up to writers to make the final call.
Still, I feel like I didn’t give enough time in that post to why it might be a bad idea to go with a .25 caliber, especially since there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence.
.25 Caliber Pistols: A Glorified Pea Shooter
In my book, The Writer’s Guide to Weapons (Writer’s Digest Books), crime writer and ex-con (I say that in the best way possible) Les Edgerton talks about a gunfight he took part in with a friend. The friend used a Raven .25 caliber, similar to the one in the video above. Here’s what Edgerton wrote:
“Rat had one of those pesky little Raven .25 calibers, and I had a .38 revolver. I kept telling him to get rid of that little toy. If he ever shot anyone with it, it was just going to piss them off, plus it left [empty casings] lying around.”
As Edgerton points out, the issue with the .25 is how it’s underpowered compared to other calibers. A check of the ballistics tables in my copy of Gun Digest 2015 shows how the .25 is slower than a .22, despite having a larger bullet than the latter. It’s like building a larger car with a smaller engine.
The combination of a relatively large bullet with less energy behind it means it won’t hit as hard, hence Edgerton’s comment that the .25 “was just going to piss them off.”
It turns out he’s right.
What It’s Like to be Shot by a .25 Caliber Handgun
An anonymous source contact me earlier this week to share three separate incidents where the people shot by a .25. I couldn’t confirm the identity of this person, but I still think there’s merit to these stories.
Thankfully, everyone lived in this first story, although the violent encounter is still disturbing:
This first guy I knew [who was] shot with a .25 was a kid on my high school wrestling team. He confronted another kid near the projects in outside Las Vegas, NV. The kid pulled a pistol and fired one shot first.
My teammate’s friends scattered. My teammate yelled out something like, “Why are you running? It’s not real.” (He had been hit in the sternum near his heart). After he yelled at his friends for running, he charged the shooter still thinking the gun was fake.
The kid then shot my teammate again, hitting his cheek bone below his eye, at which time he realized he had been shot and covered his face with his arms. The kid fired again and struck him in the elbow. The bullets never penetrated his skull or sternum but did cause some fractures from what I remember.
This next story involves someone the source worked with in the military who was on leave. The money quote: “He was shot on a Saturday night and was at work on Monday.”
One weekend he was with his friends when they had a run in with some gangsters. Words were exchanged and he got into a little Honda Civic with four other guys and tried to leave. The gangsters blocked them in, and one gangster charged their car with a pistol out.
Everyone in the car scrambled out the passenger door. My buddy said he just started hauling ass when he heard the shots. He didn’t realize he was hit at first, just like my wrestling teammate a few years earlier. He said he thought he was making a good distance running as fast as he could but when he opened his eyes (yes, he was running at a full sprint with his eyes closed) he realized he was on the ground.
Now I know there is time distortion in critical incidents, so I don’t know how long it took him to realize he was doing the Curly Shuffle, but he said he opened his eyes and could see only one leg really moving. He had been shot in the hip and tricep about 20 feet from the car.
He was taken to the hospital, where the doctors used what he said were tweezers (I think it was some other instrument) to remove the bullet lodged in his tricep. They left the bullet in his hip because of where it was located.
He was shot on a Saturday night and was at work on Monday.
The final story involves a detective hosting a law enforcement training to the source about stabbings. The detective said he’d rather be shot than stabbed, and relayed a story about a criminal using a .25.
He explained while he was on the job he got into a confrontation with a suspect. During the scuffle, the guy pulled out a little silver automatic. The detective said he let the guy go and held his arm straight out, palm up, just out of instinct. He said he heard a pop and the guy ran off.
Then he said he felt the pain in his palm like he had placed his hand with full weight on a nail. The bullet hit him in the heel of the palm of the hand and didn’t even break a bone.
He said he was extremely lucky and explained he thought the .25 was infective round because it had the same amount of powder as a .22, but because the size of the bullet was larger, it didn’t have the penetrating velocity.
If They’re No Good, Why Would Anyone Use a .25 Caliber Handgun?
They’re cheap and easy to find. That’s the primary reason. This is one of the quintessential “Saturday Night Special” guns.
The second reason is they’re easy to shoot and conceal. This makes them ideal for backup guns, but perhaps not primary, as depicted in this clip from Dr. No:
Should Your Characters Use a .25?
My default in these conversations is that any firearm can be lethal, which is why in the real world they deserve respect. Would I want to be shot by a .25 to prove a point? Not if I can help it.
If your character has no other option, a .25 is better than a ham sandwich. If you can help it, though, you might want to go with these tried and true substitutes:
- .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol
- .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol
- 9mm semi-automatic pistol
- .38 caliber revolver
- .357 caliber revolver
Get the Book
The Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books) comes with everything but the ammo. Pick up a print or digital copy from these fine retailers: