Just a quick background:
I started my formal firearms training by dropping out of High School and joining the US Army.
Started as an MP, became a LRRP, Finished by becoming a Weapons and Tactics Instructor at Fort Jackson. After the Army I started college for Law Enforcement. Wound up as a Level 1 Reserve with a rural Sheriffs Department. While there I became active instructing in Automatic Weapons and Combat Shotguns. I have also been able to attend Gunsite Ranch back in the early 80’s when Jeff Cooper was still active there. I also attended Massad Ayoob’s Lethal Force Institute.
Does this make me an “Expert”? Nope. Experienced? Yup. Opinionated? Yup. Remember, “X” is an unknown quantity and “spurt” is a leak under pressure. Beware of someone who claims to be an Expert.
I wanted to write this as to give you all a little sage advice. And that’s all it is…advice.
My pet peeve lately has been reading about and actually listening in the gun shops to people telling others which gun to buy. Only buy what they like, all others are substandard, too big, too small, wrong caliber, etc.
Example; A family member recently purchase a Beretta M9 9mm. He asked me what I thought. I told him I couldn’t stand it. As he looked at me kinda funny I said, I hate the sights, The trigger guard bites into my fingers. I don’t like the grip as it feels weird and the trigger is atrocious. As he started to mumble a few choice words I told him that all things considered it was one of the finest Combat Handguns made. He still was giving me a strange look. “I thought you hated it” he said. I replied, “Yup”, “I would not purchase one unless the price was really cheap, However, Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with it. I’m just not a big fan of Beretta handguns”. As we talked further he understood that I was not trying to sway his decision. He asked for a opinion and got one. I was able to explain to him that what HE felt is comfortable and confident with is what counts. The guy at the gun shop was trying to talk him into a S&W M&P .40. He didn’t like the grip no matter which one they tried. So he bought the M9.
People, I don’t care what the local gun dealer, your neighbor, brother-in-law or whoever says to you. If YOU do not feel comfortable and confident with a chosen gun, You will have trouble reaching the high level of proficiency you need to be Effective. PERIOD.
If you like your Grandpa’s old Model 30 S&W .32 and you are deadly accurate with it, then fine. You’ll be more effective than shooting a Desert Eagle in .50AE. (Recoil on those is punishing. Try some rapid fire drills with one. I dare you! )
Find what works for you. Spend some time at your local range. Some indoor ranges have guns you can rent. You usually have to buy their ammo and it is a lot cheaper than spending $400-$1000 and finding out you aren’t as happy as you thought. I am taking my Wife to an indoor range and gun shop that has a HUGE selection of handguns for rent.
(She likes the feel of the H&K P2000 Compact. I’m trying to get her to like something less than $1100 ! )
Me? I’m a 1911 fan. (Surprised?) Qualified Expert while in the Army and have owned and been carrying one for, well….awhile. It works for me that is why I haven’t changed. Although the 3rd and 4th Gen Glocks are kinda comfy…..
These days you can add so many accessories it’s nuts! Like Barbie for Adults. But first see how the grip feels. Firmly in your hand? How about the trigger? Can you place your finger on it properly in SA as well as DA? (If it is DA/SA or DAO) Do the sights line up for you when you grip it and point? Is the safety and slide release easy to manipulate? How about the magazine release? Cylinder latch? Can your Wife/Girl Friend rack the slide?
At one time, these were life and death decisions for me. For you? Only you can decide.
Just for the record, I do NOT recommend a 1911 as a first gun for self defense. The single action trigger and the requirement of condition “1” carry, (Chamber loaded, Hammer cocked, Thumb safety engaged),needed for quick deployment requires a LOT of practice, draw and fire drills to master. I carry one. But I have fired many THOUSANDS of rounds in practice and in Practical Competition and countless hours drawing the weapon from different holsters. You get the message.
Educate yourselves and look around. Touch, feel and, when possible, shoot the gun/guns you’re interested in. Bring along someone familiar with guns. They can help keep you focused on what you really need (and can afford!) Then you can make an informed decision.
I will recommend a 9mm if you are on a budget but I will save that for part 2.
Firearms Part 2 – By Mark Anderson
Pistol or Revolver?
Wow, that opens a can of worms!
Revolvers have several advantages;
Being able to fire multiple types of bullet weights and types without worrying about feeding issues is a big one. Revolvers also have many choices in the type of grips; Wood, Rubber, Composite… It is very easy to tailor a grip to your hand. Every revolver I own has a custom grip of either neoprene rubber or exotic
wood. Hogue is a personal favorite followed by Pachmayr and a few by small custom companies.
Revolvers have the versatility to load the chambers with different rounds. While hiking in snake country I like to load 2 CCI Shot shell rounds followed by something strong enough to take down any varmints that might be looking for trouble.
While I might have a .44 Magnum in my hand, I can always load it with milder .44 Specials. Same with .357 Magnum/.38 Special. The difference being case length you can tailor the load for the use. Target, Plinking, Hunting or Defense.
3-4 inch barrels seem to be the best for accuracy and control. Many try and buy a 2 or 2-1/2″ snubby for themselves or Wife/Girlfriend. Keep in mind that the small grip and small frame are not the best for trigger control or sights. In fact, They are harder to shoot well than a 4″. Also keep in mind, that more mass means less felt recoil. My favorite house gun is a 4 or 6″ .357 Magnum. It’s always loaded, I don’t have to worry about magazine springs getting compressed, no safety to disengage. Just point and squeeze !
Depending on the time of the year you can conceal a 4″ revolver as easily as a 3-4″ auto. I have fired a S&W Scandium .357Mag with a 2-1/2 barrel. With 125gr Hollow points the recoil and muzzle flash is incredible! Nice, VERY light pistol but I passed. Not enjoyable to shoot with my prefered loads at all.
Revolvers do have an Achilles Heel; Reloading. Speed loaders and Speed strips have made it better. Which leads us to our next choice…..
Pistols (semi-automatic handguns)
One of the biggest advantages to pistols is the ability to reloaded faster (most times) and hold more rounds than a Revolver.
Trigger pull tends to be lighter, and with shorter travel, to make follow up shots easier. That being said, I read an article, wherein the author tested speed between pistol and revolver. Believe it or not the revolver was faster ! The author did point out that all of his volunteers were very experienced shooters of both types. The common factor among them is that all have been shooting for several years.
Sights tend to be a little easier to use, especially with the smaller autos. The trend toward picatinny rails on the underside of the dust cover makes attachment of lights and lasers easy.
Carrying extra magazines is easier than speed loaders. And in most states you can carry a lot more rounds in the magazine than in a 6 round cylinder.
Grip choice is not as varied but with as many pistol designs out there you should be able to find one that fits.
That slide on a pistol also tends to absorb more recoil so you only need to worry about muzzle flip.
Both types have Pro’s and Con’s. If you are going to carry it I do not recommend lights or lasers unless you look
at Crimson Trace. Their lasers are embedded in the grip and do not require special holsters and are activated by a pressure pad as opposed to a switch.
Lights are very handy on a house gun for identifying your target but add bulk and limit your choice of holsters for concealed carry.
Again, research and decide what purpose you will be using your handgun for and choose from there.
Next up; Caliber Selection
Firearms Pt. 3 by Mark Anderson
Unless you want to try and carry a 105mm Howitzer you may have to compromise.
.22LR, .25ACP, .32ACP Are all but useless unless you already own one and can’t afford a new or gently used gun.
If I really had to, I would stay with 22LR. Ammo is cheap, Light to non-existent recoil means you should be able to practice and become proficient.
.380ACP is a round I consider for deep concealment carry or a “last resort hideout gun”. Modern ammo has brought the capabilities of this round up the ladder in, “Stopping Power” but still…why waltz when ya wanna rock and roll?
Before I continue I need to clarify something. “Stopping Power” is relative.
IF YOU CANNOT HIT YOUR TARGET IN A VITAL KILL ZONE THEN CALIBER IS MEANINGLESS!!
Ok, I’m off the soapbox for awhile.
Putting the shiny things out of the barrel into the X-ring is more important than how big the shiny things are. Do not get a gun in a caliber that recoils so much that it becomes difficult or even painful to shoot rapidly and accurately. (My T/C Contender in .45-70 comes to mind.)
Here is a short breakdown of what is out there.
.38 Special. Is NOT to be confused with .38S&W! Two entirely different cartridges. The .38 has the advantage of having many different bullet designs and weights that finding a good defensive load is easy. In all but the smallest of revolvers recoil is mild.You can load it from mild to wild.
.38 Special+P. and +P+ should only be used in guns specifically designed for it. It is a .38 on steroids, nitrous and crack all in one! Check the owners manual first!
.357Mag. The .357 Mag is a stretched ,38 Special. Any gun chambered for .357 Magnum will also shoot .38 Specials. Makes it easy to reload for any use and you can pick your degree of power. Before you discount this caliber remember, It is the #1 fight stopper when loaded with a 125grain Jacketed Hollowpoint. The muzzle flash for 3″ and shorter barrels is awesome and can be intimidating.
9mm Parabellum. Been around for about 105 years or so. A lot of guns chambered for it and it is VERY cheap compared to other calibers.
As time marches on we have been given many new types of bullets/powders for this caliber that a short barreled 9mm is no longer considered a handicap.
.40 S&W. Has become fairly prolific in the last 20 years or so. Referred to by some of us as “10mm Light”, it is a 10mm case that has been shortened to fit into 9mm sized frames. It has an advantage over the 10mm in lower recoil and muzzle flash. Loaded with 165-180 grain Jacketed Hollowpoints it is a excellent choice.
10mm. Excellent choice but lots of recoil and muzzle flash. (See above)
.45ACP. Has been around for 110 years and still going strong. loaded with 180-200 grain jacketed Hollowpoints it is hard to beat. The same advances in bullet design that have increased effectiveness in 9mm and 40 S&W have also benefited the venerable old .45. Lots of muzzle flash from shorter barrels and the recoil can be stout. Barrels of at least 3 3/4 inch seem to be best with 4-5 inch being the most reliable.
.327 Federal Magnum is newer and has the ballistics of .38 Special +P without the recoil and flash. 85 Grain bullets seem to be the best choice. Unlike .38 you can fit 6 rounds in the same diameter cylinder in stead of only 5, as in my old “J” frames.
.357Sig. This is a newer cartridge that necks down a .40S&W and combined with a 125grain Jacketed Hollowpoint duplicates my favorite .357Mag FBI load. Any .40S&W pistol can be converted. Just swap the barrel and use the same magazines.
There has been a lot of Rifles sold for “Home Defense”. Pick your caliber based on your needs and your environment. If you live in an apartment 7.62 NATO is gonna have a problem with penetrating walls!
Here again you need to decide what your environment is.
.410 is nice in that it is very powerful at close range but the availability of loads is not as good as other gauges. It is also expensive!
20ga. Here you can get anything from birdshot to 00 buckshot and slugs.
12ga. Same as the 20. Lots of different loads for every purpose. However, 12ga loads in 000-00 buck and slugs have LOTS of recoil! They also have a tendency of going right trough sheet rock walls.
I personally like using #4 Buckshot or #7 or 8 Target loads. Do not discount the target loads. At a range of 15-25 feet or so there is very little spread of the shot. Therefore you still have to aim the gun and the results are nothing but spectacular. I spent several years working with a group here in California on Defensive 12ga ammo. ( Anybody remember the BRI 12ga Sabot Slug?) #7 shot seemed to be the best balance between energy and not over penetrating people or walls.
The nice thing about using target loads is you can buy case’s of 100 in 12ga or 20ga at Walmart for around $20. I have fired up to a thousand rounds of target shells when I was shooting competition Clays and would still have a usable shoulder Monday morning!
My personal calibers used for my house guns are .38 and .357mag Revolvers and a 20gauge pump shotgun. Never have to worry about compressing magazine springs and being double action less of a chance of an accidental discharge under stress.
What works for you may be different.
The most important thing about Defensive Ammo? ALWAYS USE FACTORY LOADED AMMUNITION! This is advice from some of the most brilliant minds in Defensive Combat and Litigation.
If you bought ammo that is sold as “Personal Defense” then some greasy attorney can’t poison a jury by claiming you “Home Cooked these bullets for the sole purpose of killing people”.
It has happened, trust me.
Any ammo from Hornady, Winchester, Barnes etc, is quality stuff that they have spent thousands of hours and dollars researching and testing. I reload for practice and hunting but when I get home the Factory ammo is what my guns are loaded with.
Do some research. Read. Ask. Any of us that have, “Been There, Done That” has an opinion. What works for us may not work for you. Get educated and make your choice.
This last little rant has to do with Care and Use. (Cleaning!)
One place I see gun owners drop the ball is proper cleaning and maintenance of thier firearm.
I’m not going to get into all the different cleaners and lubricants that are on the market. There is a bunch!
I will say that I use good old #9 Hoppes and Break Free CLP. Instead of using aerosol “Gun Scrubber’?
Buy a can of Brake Parts Cleaner. Same thing for a 1/3 the price!
When you are done shooting for the day, clean the bore and chamber(s) well and lubricate ALL moving parts with a quality lube.
Make sure you do not forget the trigger group!
I recently repaired a friends snubby .38 that wouldn’t fire. He apparently never put any oil down in the hammer pivot area.
This allowed rust to form and bind a hinged latch that actuated the transfer bar.
A 1 1/2 hour deep cleaning brought it back to flawless operation. I also got to harass him that they may not have needed to clean weapons in the Cav,
We sure as hell had to in the MP’s and Infantry!
Read your owners manual and keep up the maintenance on your gun just as you would on your new car or truck.
Kinda embarrassing if your gun won’t work or breaks because you didn’t clean or lube it!
I try and strip my guns down once a year and inspect and clean them. Lubricate and function test and return them to storage.
I kept these short because there is a lot of info out there.
Read any writings from Massad Ayoob, Evan Marshall, Clint Smith or the Master, Jeff Cooper.
Don’t take just one person’s word. Educate yourself. There are many roads to travel. Try a few and decide for yourself!