THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 674, June 10, 2012
"The World is run by fools who kill children
as they pray and practice hymns in Church. And
that's what I remember learning in third grade."
The Beginning Gun OwnerWhat to Choose and What Training to Take
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
A few days ago a friend of mine was lamenting that people who AREN'T "gun people" yet wish to defend themselves, their family, and property have no real way to figure out even where to start getting the knowledge they need to make an informed decision. I decided to help out a bit. Let me introduce myself. I am a gunsmith, gun collector, target shooter, occasional competition shooter, and firm believer in the right to Keep and Bear Arms. At one time I was NRA certified to instruct in firearm handling and safety. I have been a Boy Scout range officer for the last 10 years. I firmly advocate gun ownership for those who take the time to willingly educate themselves on both firearms safety AND handling. While it certainly is your right to do otherwise, I do not advocate ANYONE just "buying a gun for self defense" who has never fired one before and has no inkling of safety rules, proper handling techniques, and safe maintenance of the weapon. Yes, I said weapon.
First, lets discuss a few important terms.
Guna generic term for any device that propel a small object at high speeds via rapidly expanding gasses. The gasses can be either air or the heated gasses from a rapidly burning propellant,
Firearmgeneric term for any gun that uses burning propellants to propel the small object.
Projectilethe small object we have referenced aboveusually a lead, copper jacketed lead, or bismuth object, round or cone-shaped.
Handgun or Pistola gun designed to be held and fired in one hand, although usually you use two hand for added accuracy. Primarily used for close-range shooting.
Riflea gun designed to be fired with two hands, and is usually placed firmly to the shoulder prior to firing. Primarily used at longer ranges than a pistol or handgun. Most are accurate at distances far greater than a football field, many are accurate at distances of over 600 yards. The barrel of a rifle has spiral grooves on the inside that spin the bullet, like a football spirals, to add stability and accuracy to the projectile.
Shotguna gun designed to use multiple very small projectiles in a single shot, that spread out as they travel, to increase damage and likelihood of hitting the target. MOST shotguns do not have the spiral grooves in the barrels.
Semi-automatic (or semi-auto)means a gun that must be cocked for the first shot, then the recoil of certain parts removes the empty shell and cycles the next round for firing, also cocking the gun for the next shot.
Pumpa tubular device in the barrel of the weapon must be brought to the rear then pushed forward to load the next shot.
Revolvera cylindrical metal device in the gun holds the ammunition, and each shot must be brought to position to fire by a mechanical means. Single action means you must cock the hammer for each shot. Double action means each pull of the trigger rotates the cylinder and fires the gun. Some guns can only fire single action, some can only fire double action, and most fire both ways.
We are not going to deal with antique weapons such as flintlocks, percussion cap, or blackpowder weapons. While many are good, as a whole, they are not for the novice shooter.
When talking target or competition shooting, it is common to refer to firearms and guns. Once you begin talking self defense, it is a weapon. Target shooting is good clean fun, and a vital part of self defense. Once we talk self defense, even though the same tool can and will be used for both, it is important not to forget that the primary reason to own the weapon is FOR IT'S USE AS A WEAPON. So I will refer to them as weapons to keep it foremost in your minds that these are not toys. The primary reason you buy a self defense weapon is to kill someone before they kill or injure you or your family, and to protect your property. If you cannot accept this fact. do not buy a weapon for self defense. either do not buy a weapon at all, or stick to target shooting, and ignore most of this article. While all self defense weapons can be used for some form of target shooting and/or hunting, and any target firearm can be used in a pinch as a self defense weapon, in many cases the one you buy for one use is not the primary choice for the other use.
After accepting the basic tenet that self defense means the possibility of having to kill someone, the next step is learning how to ensure that ONLY the bad guy gets hurt with your weapon. This means a safety class taught by a competent instructor. While your neighbor who is a shooter MAY be competent, he probably isn't a trained Range Safety Officer. and the beginner NEEDS a well-trained RSO. There are several ways to find a good local trainer. The NRA trains the best trainers, and they are happy to point you towards one. They do not require membership in their organization in order to use their instructors. Another way to find one is to go to the local sporting goods and/or gun shops and ask the counter people. They usually have a list of local resources. If you cannot find either, take a hunter safety course. Even if you never intend or desire to hunt, safety is taught there. And the hunter safety instructor will often be able to point you towards competent local instructors. One problem with hunter safety though is it dos NOT teach anything about self defense. But it is a start.
IMPORTANT NOTEif a safety course does not include time at the range shooting real firearms, it isn't for you!
Remember the four basic rules of firearm safety as taught by Colonel Jeff Cooper, the guru of self defense;
1) A firearm is always loaded it is best to be treated as such.
Now to the type of weapon to choose. I heartily recommend that you make no choice until after you have taken at least one range-based class, and have fired both a shotgun and a handgun. Each person tolerates different weapons better than other people might. Therefore, the course that allows you to shoot several different types is the best pre-cursor to a purchase is the best option. For self defense in the home, the shortest legal shotgun, or a handgun is the recommended choice. Rifles are not recommended because the length, cumbersome nature, and generally higher power, in a home environment a rifle is the last choice. For street protection, a handgun is the only choice. So, we are going to ignore rifles for self defense in this article.
A shotgun has several things about it that makes it the best home defense choice for many people. The barrel of a shotgun can be no shorter than 18 inches according to bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. We will not deal with the legalities of getting a shorter shotgun. It can be done, but it is too expensive for the beginner. We also will not bring up the politics of firearms ownership, the BATFE, or the 2nd Amendment. These are not for this article. The pluses of a shotgun are several.
1st is intimidation factor. Criminals can recognize the noise of a pump action shotgun in the dark. If you are stalking through a darkened house you do not belong in, the noise of the homeowner pumping a round into the chamber will make your knees get weak and give you a desire to run for the door.
2nd is spread. A shotgun with the shortest legal barrel spreads it's shot pattern (the group of small pellets that come out with each shot) over an ever-widening pattern as the distance increases.
3rd is actually safety. If you use a medium-sized pellet, pellets that miss your target are far less likely to penetrate the walls across the room and proceed across the neighborhood. Most people have heard of "00 Buck" or "Double-Ought Buck". an excellent combat load for a shotgun, but truly not suitable in the home, especially in an apartment, where others are present. The pellets will over-penetrate if they miss the perpetrator.
There are four common types of shotgun. Pump, semi-auto, double barrel, and single shot. Most experts recommend a pump shotgun for the home defender. The intimidation factor mentioned above, combined with a capacity of up to 8 rounds is great for the home. Semi-auto shotguns are nice for the trained user, and many people like them for defense, but I tend to avoid them with the new shooter because they tend to be complicated to clean and maintain. A double-barreled shotgun is nice for a visual intimidation of the invader, but if there are more than two, reloading quickly takes hours of practice and means you have to hold a re-load of shells in your fingers at all times, rendering the weapon less reliable and controllable. and the single shot shotgun is better than nothing, but only barely. I NEVER recommend them.
The size of a shotgun is called "gauge". 12 gauge is the size most novices have heard of, and it is a great size for defense IF you are comfortable handling it. However, many people feel the recoil, or "kick" of a 12 gauge are extreme. Novice shooters are recommended to use a 16 or 20 gauge. NOTEThe larger the number, the smaller the bore, the lower the recoil. Even a 410 shotgun is quite a potent weapon at indoor defense ranges.
For brands, I recommend a Remington 870 or a Mossberg 500ATP for pump shotguns. Both are very common, and you can buy a replacement (and legal) short "combat" barrel for an extra $100-150 if all you can find are longer barreled models, and the spare barrel increases the value of the weapon if you ever decide to sell it. Expect to pay between $200 and $500 for a decent used copy. Insist the gunshop either allows you to test fire it in their test range, or gives you a couple days to test fire it with an option to return if you buy used. For a semi-auto shotgun, a Remington 1100 or Mossberg's newer semi-auto are both good values new or used. And again the shorter barrels are readily available. If you insist on a double barreled shotgun, a Rossi Coach gun has several advantages for the novice. It has exposed hammers you can easily cock or un-cock one or both barrels for safety. But again, I recommend against this style. Single shot shotguns are your choice, but I make no recommendations as to model.
I recommend against buying ANY antique weapon for defense. Using your collectible 1897 Winchester trench Pump shotgun for defense is all right, but not the first choice. Stick with modern weapons in good repair.
Now to handguns. There are two basic styles for self defense. We will avoid double barreled pistols for the same reason we avoided them with shotguns, and the same for single shot pistols. The two recommended styles of handguns are revolvers and semiautos.
Revolvers are the simplest to use and operate. There is no chance of forgetting to remove the safety so you can fire, because there isn't one. The safety is a very long and fairly still double action trigger pull or a need to thumb-cock the hammer before you can fire. The disadvantages are slow to re-load (rarely a problem inside the home, but it can and does factor in occasionally), and no safety to slow down your child if they should, through your criminal carelessness, get their hands on the weapon. They are easy to clean and maintain, used are fairly cheap and plentiful, and the range of calibers (bullet sizes) is immense.
Semi-automatic pistols usually have a separate metal ammunition carrier properly called a magazine, though often referred to as a clip, that slides into the handle of the weapon. Then the top of the weapon is slid back and released, chambering the first round (shot). upon pulling the trigger, the recoil of the round firing causes the slide to move to the rear, ejecting the empty brass from the bullet and picking up the next round, preparing the gun to fire again. Currently, there are three main types of semi-automatic pistols.
Single action semi-auto means you have to manually cock the gun's hammer to fire the first round, then the gun cycles and self-cocks after each round until empty. They are carried either un-cocked on an empty chamber, requiring drawing the weapon and"jacking the slide" to chamber the first round and cock the gun before you can fire the first round, or "Cocked and locked" meaning the hammer is cocked, the safety is set, and usually a safety strap blocks the hammer from firing the gun if slammed hard enough to break past the safety and sear. Cocked and locked, in my opinion, is very safe for experienced gun-handlers but it is not for the novice shooter. It happens to be MY way to carry MY favorite handgun, but I do not recommend it until you have shot several types of guns and practiced drawing this style of UNLOADED gun and "dry" or empty firing it for literally hours on end.
Double action semi-auto allows you to carry the weapon hammer down on a loaded chamber with a safety set. Draw the weapon, release the safety, and pull a VERY LONG STIFF trigger pull for the first shot, then the gun will cycle as above, leaving the gun ready to fire with a much easier second shot. You can also cock the hammer manually, time permitting, and shoot each shot with the lighter and shorter trigger pull.
Double-Action Only (DAO) is considered the safest for novices. Every shot requires the long trigger pull, even though the gun cycles and puts the next loaded round in the chamber after each shot. The Glock is the most famous DAO semi-auto, and many claim it is the easiest to learn on. I am not a fan of the Glock, but it is a reliable, robust weapon, accurate enough for target shooting and quick enough for defense. I just prefer the single action style.
In revolvers, I recommend the novice start with a .357 Magnum because it has lots of stopping power, yet it also fires the .38 special for cheap target practice with minimal recoil. Today, the market is flooded with revolvers in many calibers. The following brands are all worth considering. Smith & Wesson, Colt, Ruger, and Taurus. Older Taurus revolvers were notorious for function problems, so have a competent gunsmith certify yours as good before you buy it. ALL Taurus weapons now have a lifetime warranty, even those sold without one, because Taurus decided to upgrade their image. So if a problem DOES , Taurus will repair or replace it (at their discretion) any time. Any gun is better than no gun at all, but I recommend against any revolver with a caliber less than .38 special for defense purposes. DO NOT BUY A COWBOY TYPE OF GUN for self defense. While excellent weapons in the right hands, they require far more training and practice to use competently.
In semi-autos, I would recommend against the single-action style for beginners. Stick with double action or DAO. While 9mm is the rage, I prefer .40 Smith&Wesson or larger, though a 9mm IS adequate. Brands to buy are far more than revolvers. Colt, Smith&Wesson, Ruger, Taurus, Beretta, Kimber, Springfield Armory, and Walther to name just a few. Every brand has it's fans and detractors, so try not to buy one if you haven't fired one of the same make and model first. Gun dealers are just like car dealers in one respectthey all have their favorite, and think it ought to be yours. Just like Ford vs Chevy vs Dodge, Colt vs S&W vs Ruger has it's brand loyalists. All are good, so choose the one that feels "right" in your hand. It is mostly a matter of choice.
The advantages of pistols for self defense are several-. First, one weapon suffices for both home and on the street. You cannot, obviously, get away with carrying a loaded shotgun down most city streets. The police frown on that even if it IS Constitutional. (Oops, I let a teeny-tiny bit of politics in!) Remember, though, that carrying a pistol usually requires a permit or license if concealed, and many places totally deny the right to carry concealed OR openly. Know the laws of your towns and state before you carry a pistol. Second, a pistol can be carried several waysbelt holster, shoulder holster, cargo-pocket of your pants or jacket, in a purse or fanny pack, and even in your pocket. Deciding to carry without following local and state laws regarding same is not something I can recommend.
The disadvantages are primarily in the house. Most pistols are more than powerful enough to penetrate two layers of drywall with little reduction in velocity. This can make missed shots deadly to family members if you do not know EXACTLY where they are at night. This ALSO means the round can penetrate one layer of drywall and then one layer of sheathing, plus the insulation between them, to pose a threat to friends and neighbors or fellow tenants.
Each firearm relies on many components functioning correctly in order for it to operate safely. The single biggest cause of malfunctions is dirt. On the range, all this means a missed shot and annoyance. In a life or death self defense situation this means you die. All guns should be cleaned every time they are used. Your carry gun should be cleaned at least monthly, but then, if you don't SHOOT it at least monthly, you are not maintaining your skills. I clean my carry gun weekly. The gun shop sales person will cheerfully show you the best way to clean your new purchase,and what you should NOT do, which may be at least as important. If you are going to use Uncle Bob's old gun, the gun shop will usually give it a professional cleaning and safety check for a nominal fee, then show you how to clean it yourself. Support the shopbuy your cleaning kit from them instead of Wal-Mart. The lessons you learn will more than cover the few dollars more you may spend on the cleaning kit. Kits run from about $10 (for a one-gun specific kit) to hundreds for a fancy wooden-cased kit that can clean everything from your .22 pistol to the cannon on an M1 Abrams tank! Againclean itit may save your life, and it certainly will save your investment. Remember, a well cared for gun ALWAYS has value!
Finally, a few words about Hollywood and guns. Many movies make it seem that a gun is a magic wand. Wave it, and the bad guys cower in fear or run away. Or just surrender peacefully. None of these things are guaranteed. If you have a gun, and let the criminal know, they may well surrender or flee. They may ALSO advance, knowing that many people may brandish the weapon yet lack the mindset to pull the trigger. Others will foolishly "shoot to wound" or "Attempt to shoot the weapon out of the bad guy's hand" which allows the criminal to attempt to take the weapon from you. If you pull the gun on a criminal, you must accept that the final result will possibly be the death of the criminal at your hands. If this is not something you are willing to accept, do not buy a gun for self defense. If you are forced to shoot, you are shooting to kill. Not to wound. Warning shots are not only a waste of ammunition, they are by their nature deadly to others. A round not stopped by the perpetrator's body will travel as much as a mile or a mile and a half with killing force. and YOU are responsible for the results of that round's path. So, as the classes will teach you, shoot to center of the chest. Or do not pull the gun, and hope the criminal is not a violent person, that they only want your money, not to rape, beat, or kill.
So, to sum it up. Before buying a gun for self defense, take as many safety and handling classes as you can, hopefully taught by qualified instructors. The NRA and your local gun shps are excellent sources of local instructors. Decide how and where you wish to be armed before buying a gun. Do your best to buy a gun that you have shot rather than a totally new make and model. And last but not least, decide BEFORE YOU BUY that you are actually willing and able to take the life of an attacker before you buy that gun, or else hesitating at the wrong moment may well result in your being a statistic anti-gun people use to claim you are more likely to be killed with your own weapon than a criminal's.
Chiappa Firearms has released two highly specialized version of the 1887 Lever Action shotgun, the T-2 and the Bootlegger. Basically these are 1887's with the shoulder stock cut down to a pistol grip. If you are a fan of Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Return of the Mummy (the new version) these would be guns worth buying as collectors items.
Kel-Tec has released a new shotgun known as the KSG. It is a bullpup design and has two magazines for a total of 14 shells plus one in the chamber. It is actually more compact than the Chiappas T-series gun even with an 18". I Kinda favor the idea of loading one with buckshot and the other with slugs, but in the current issue of Soldier of Fortune ( July 2012) Gary Paul Johnston says it's better to just load one type of shell in both magazines.
Gun control freaks will probably hate both when they see them, one for looking "bad ass," the other for really being "bad ass." So if you're a movie fan, if you need a shotgun that looks and/or really is bad ass, and you do, get one or both of these guns, unless there's something you want more (Saiga, Bennelli, FNH). And you don't need a new fuel pump, or plumbing repairs, or have a medical emergency. Annoying a hoplophobe is always fun, if you need an incentive to buy a shotgun.
So, get the gun of your desire. If times are tough, earn, scrimp, and save, and if an emergency comes up, start again. Sooner or later you will be able to get the gun you need. Of course, if you don't fight to defend your right to own guns politically, by the time that later arrives may be too late. Then you won't have that gun come the day you need it to defend your freedom. You won't be able to annoy homophobes and other tyrants. And what fun would that be?
Was that worth reading?