Tag Archives: self defense

What Your Armory Needs

This is going to be an article about basics. The first item has to do with language. (I do teach English, after all.) An arsenal is a government facility for the storage and repair of weapons. Private citizens don’t have arsenals, no matter how many guns or how much ammunition they own. We have armories.

With that out of the way, let’s discuss what needs to be in one. I’m a gun nut. I wear the label proudly. But lots of people, either due to financial limitations or a busy life or whatnot, are concerned only with filling minimal needs. If you’re one of them, this is for you.

So to begin, a list of the firearms you should have:

1. Training

The first category, logically, is training. You need a handgun and a rifle, both in .22 Long Rifle. For the handgun, it can be a revolver or a semiautomatic–doesn’t matter. The point here is that for both hand and long gun, you will be able to learn the fundamental techniques of trigger discipline, trigger squeeze, aiming, holding, stance, and position with rounds that run under $20 per box of 550 (in good times…). You also will have the benefit of less report (but still wear hearing protection) and much less recoil. Those guns also typically don’t cost a pile of cash. If times go agley and the situation calls for it, a .22 is a good squirrel and rabbit dispatcher.

These are good options, though there are many:
Ruger Mk. III
Ruger 10/22

2. Personal defense

This means what you can have on you at all times–with due consideration given to the laws regulating such. There are two parts to this category:

A. Full-size handgun

We’ve discussed the caliber wars before, so I won’t go back through that, but I mean what’s called a service pistol or revolver with a standard capacity–six for the wheelgun and between eight and sixteen rounds for the self-loader. The advantage of one of these is that it’s big. That means the sight radius is longer, and the typical weight absorbs some of the recoil. The disadvantage is that it’s big. (There’s no free lunch.) A full-size handgun can be concealed–I do it all the time–but it takes more effort. Inside the waistband is a good way to carry one, though plenty of people go for shoulder holsters or other arrangements. I have a preference for single action for a belt gun, though I’ve of late been dallying with a double-action only gun that has a butter-smooth trigger.

Here’s one I love:
the M1911.

B. Pocket gun

But there are times when you just have to run out for a candy bar or a gallon of gas and don’t feel like strapping on the heavy artillery. For times like that, a pocket gun fits the bill–and your pocket, naturally. I like revolvers for this job, because they’re more tolerant of lint. A pocket holster is a good idea, though not essential. Such an accessory will save the pocket material from getting holes torn by the sights. Do not under any circumstances allow anything other than the gun and its holster in that pocket. No keys, no change, no sticks of gum, nothing. Pocket guns should be double action with a reasonably heavy trigger. Yes, some can be cocked to single action, but (in modern designs) keep the thing in Condition Two in situ.

This is a good choice, but certainly again, not the only one:
a Smith & Wesson Model 642.

3. Home defense

Here’s where the shotgun comes in. We can debate endlessly whether a handgun or a rifle or a shotgun is better, but the scattergun is something that is simple to operate and simple to understand. There are lots of interesting gauges, but for this purpose, and in fact for most purposes, you want a twelve or a twenty gauge.

This one
is tricked out with a lot of doodads, but the Remington 870 can take that and still provide good work. Or it can be plain and simple. One particularly good thing here is that you can change out barrels–a twenty incher for the home and a longer one for hunting.

Shotguns do kick, and their pellets will go through dry wall, so don’t let a home invasion be the first time you shoot the thing, and keep in mind what’s down range. (This is true about everything in this article, of course.) Your handguns will make decent home defense guns, too, but a long gun provides enough power to feel comfortable about, whereas all handgun cartridges are something we tolerate when that’s the most we can have.

4. Action at a distance

Here I mean hunting, primarily, but this could also involve a zombie apocalypse, alien invasion, or some other unfortunate incident in which something bad needs to be settled. To reach out and touch the aforementioned thing over there, you need a centerfire rifle. Here I’ll give caliber recommendations: .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester, or .30-’06. There are others, but those are common and powerful enough to do the job on this continent up to (and including in a pinch) the great bears.
That’s a Springfield M1903 with a scope, but again, the choices here are many. These kick as well, so get in some range time.

And that’s it. Six guns. Some will complain that I didn’t include a semiautomatic, detachable-magazine fed, plastic-furniture, and fancy-sights carbine.
Myeh, I was talking the basics. The Rooney gun there may be good for a lot of things, but most of the time, what it can do, the ones I named above can do better. Of course, if you want one, have it. I’m not pushing regulations here, just practicality.

The point of this exercise is to examine what a basic armory is. Suggestions are welcome, and updates are possible. Let the discussion begin.

The Three Ps

Want to get a fight started? Go to a gathering of gun nuts and shout, nine mil or forty-five? Immediately afterward, get behind cover.

When I was entering the gun nut forest for the first time, the writings of Col. Cooper showed me the way. He favored the M1911 in .45 ACP. Even though I have committed heresy at times, I still hold a fondness for single-action self-loaders that pitch a half ounce of lead at the gentle speed of 850 ft/sec.

The question remains, though: What caliber is the best in a handgun? Oy vey, here we go. It’s an old debate. Back in the early years of the twentieth century, the Army was embarrassed by the poor performance of its .38 Long Colt revolvers in the Philippines and wanted something better. Two fellows by the names of Thompson and LaGarde were commissioned to come up with the answer–in other words, were told to find that .45 was best. A careful reading of their study, however, shows that the data support no particular caliber as being any good out of a handgun. (The .30 Luger performed better than many other rounds, ironically.)

More recently, we keep hearing that the .22 Long Rifle is the round that kills the most people in a given year. Or perhaps it’s the woebegotten .25. So what’s a gun-toting person to choose?

Here, submitted for your consideration, are my three desiderata of cartridge and gun:

1. Placement

If the gun’s too heavy to manipulate or the recoil is so much that I develop a flinch, the thing’s useless to my purpose. There’s no miss that’s good enough, no matter how much noise it makes or how deep a hole it makes in the scenery. Now it’s no good saying that standard calibers are too hard to manage. I’m telling you that I don’t carry a .500 S&W.
Dirty Harry’s round is the one on the left.

The key here is to find something that you can put on target in a hurry. And I’m not talking ten rounds through one hole. What good does that do? You need to be able to empty a magazine or cylinder into the area covered by a sheet of typing paper or a two liter bottle in short order and at whatever distance you expect to have to defend yourself. Also, the smaller the bullet, the better your aim has to be.

2. Penetration

The FBI standard is that the bullet has to penetrate twelve inches of tissue to be good enough. That really is the minimum, since people come in all sizes and don’t always cooperate by standing at the right angle when they’re trying to kill you. These
don’t penetrate as well as these
do. Generally speaking, for small calibers–.22 LR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .380 ACP, and 9mm Makarov–the bullets are too light or the powder charge is too low to get enough penetration out of hollow points, presuming they even expand at the typical velocities of those rounds. By contrast, .38 Special rounds on up are heavy enough to keep on going, so expanding bullets are better–the bullet does no good once it leaves the bad guy.

Whatever your choice of handgun, the round it spits has to get in deep enough to do what needs accomplishing.

3. Punch

As I said above, the good ole .22 LR and .25 ACP hit way above their class, but that’s probably because those are common guns. I might rely on a .22, but that’s only because I know what I can do with mine. The safer answer is to go with something that’s going to do a lot of work where it’s going. Yes, an icepick can be used as an effective weapon, but your chances of success with that are far higher if you start the fight first and have trained yourself to drive the shaft exactly where you want it every time. In other words, it’s not all that useful for us good guys who aren’t going about starting animosity. We have to react to someone else’s bad choices in life, rather than picking the time and place to act.

Here’s where the 9mm vs. .45 ACP argument really gets thick in the weeds. In days gone by when semiautomatics worked best with hardball, a 9mm wasn’t such a good choice. Just like the icepick, it was small and ran in a hurry straight on through whatever it hit. But we live in interesting times, as the Chinese would say. It’s true that while hollow points don’t always expand, there ain’t no such thing as a shrinking bullet, but expansion is highly likely with today’s ammunition. This means that .38 Special, .357 Sig, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W, 10mm, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, and .45 ACP hollow points are probably going to get big enough to discourage a bad guy. Of course, little bullets also do a lot, but as I said above, the smaller the round, the smaller you’d better be able to aim.

I’ve mentioned a number of rounds in this discussion. I’m not endorsing any of them. I carry several of them and have at my disposal several others. I gravitate toward .38 Special, 9mm, and .45 ACP, but that’s just because my guns that shoot those are the easiest to carry. My Colt Pocket Hammerless is elegant, and now and then I grab my Polish copy of the PPK, but those tend to stay locked away these days.

The takeaway message here is get something that’s easy to carry and feels good in a common caliber, and you will have nothing to feel ashamed or apologetic about, so long as you’re good with it. The caliber wars are endless, and the only certain conclusion from the data about shootings is that it’s bad to get shot. The only real confidence comes from having close air support and a company of Marines at the ready. Short of that, the handgun you can operate well is likely to be good enough in an emergency.

(By the way, there are a pun and a piece of firearms history buried in this article.)