Firearms for Self Defense Part II

In Part I of this article, I discussed the moral and spiritual implications around use of firearms for self-defense.  In Part II, I want to discuss some of the practical considerations one should keep in mind when purchasing a firearm for self-defense.

One of the “gun blogs” to which I subscribe published a recent article, “Choosing your first handgun.”  If you search for this term online, you’ll find thousands of articles, YouTube videos, and other assorted opinions.  

What was interesting to me is the variety of opinions, often conflicting, that many bloggers, firearms experts, and others have on this topic.

Some advocate larger calibers for increased so-called stopping power.  (“Why do you carry a .45?  Because they don’t make a .46!”).

Others say a smaller caliber is better because it increases capacity (“A 9mm Glock holds 17 rounds, but the .45 Glock only holds 10 rounds.  No one ever lost a gunfight by having too much ammo!”).

Some experts advocate a larger, heaver gun to reduce felt recoil (“And when you run out of ammo, you can beat the criminal with your gun!”).

Then there’s the debate about weapon lights.  Many experts say this is a necessity for a home defense weapon. (“You can’t hit what you can’t see.”)

But conversely, others say this is violates a fundamental rule of gun safety (“Never point a gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy.”).

Then there is the revolver vs. semi-automatic crowd (“Revolvers have fewer moving parts and will never fail” vs. “Semi-automatics let you reload quickly.”)

Finally, there is a broader debate about whether a handgun, rifle, or shotgun is best for home defense (“The purpose of a handgun is to fight your way to your rifle/shotgun.”)

The novice or person looking to purchase their first handgun may quickly get overwhelmed with the universe of options and opinions.  To further confuse the prospective new gun owner, there is a much that has been written about the most important factors when choosing a handgun for self defense.  Should one start with price?  Is caliber the most important factor?  What about cost of ammo?  Should you buy new, or are used guns ok?

Rather than get in the middle of the debate on these questions for which much ink has been (and will continue to) spilled, instead I want to take a different tack.  Instead of offering my opinion on caliber, type, etc., of gun, I want to offer some advice on how to think about a handgun purchase.

First:  If you don’t know where to start, talk to someone you trust.  With some 80 million gun owners in America, chances are you know someone who is reasonably knowledgeable in the subject of gun ownership, and in particular self-defense.

Second:  Guns are like cars.  We have Ford, Chevy, Toyota, etc., we also have Glock, Smith and Wesson, Sig Sauer, Colt, etc.  And just as for every Toyota, there are 20 different models; the same is true for handguns (Glock actually has 25 different models, plus two that are law enforcement only).  And don’t get me started on rifles and shotguns---the varieties go into the thousands!  While you can spend north of $100,000 on a car (and get a really nice car!) you can also spend $20,000 and get a very servicable car that will meet all your transportation needs.  The same is true for guns.  You don’t have to spend $1,500 on a fully custom handgun, when a “stock” semi-auto from a reputable manufacture comes in at about $600.  Shop around!  “Test drive” several handguns.  Go to a local shooting range (with a friend if necessary) and shoot different guns of different calibers.  This will give you a sense of what works best for you.

Third:  Just like you should purchase a car that you’re comfortable driving, you should purchase a gun you’re comfortable shooting.  The gun should fit well in your hand and it should be something you actually like to shoot.  This point strays into the “caliber debate” a bit.  The advice I always give is:  shoot the largest caliber you're comfortable with.  If you're a 23-year-old female who weighs 105, and you can handle a .45 caliber, then shoot a .45.  If you're a 40-year-old man who weights 220, and the recoil of the .45 is uncomfortable and you're prefer the 9mm, then get a gun that shoots 9mm. If you don't like shooting your gun, you won't practice with it, and you probably won't carry it.  And if you do carry it, but you rarely practice with it, then in the (hopefully never) event you have to use it in a self-defense situation, you will not have the skills to properly use it.

Another point to consider is, according to crime statistics for the past few years, the average number of shots fired in a self-defense shooting is two.  There are, of course, many publicized examples that go well beyond this.  But two shots average is well within the capacity of all modern semi-auto handguns of any caliber.  What typically happens is when a threat presents itself (e.g.: bad guy shows up) and the would-be victim starts shooting (back) this causes a neuro-chemical reaction in the brain of the bad guy in which he rapidly reconsiders his immediate choices in life (he quickly realizes he’s messed up and picked an armed victim, and he turns and runs like hell).

In civilian defensing training, we teach to "shoot until the threat is no longer a threat."  That may require you to empty a magazine into the threat, or it may only require one or two shots (or none! which thank God happens often).  A criminal lying dead on the living room floor or one fleeing out the back door simply because you announced "I have a gun, and I've called 911!" are both examples of "stopping the threat" (with the second being infinitely better for all concerned).

After you’ve made the decision to carry a handgun (or own a rifle or shotgun) for self-defense, there are multiple factors to consider when actually choosing which gun to purchase.  I hope I’ve given the prospective gun owner some good tips on how to think about the choice.  Careful and critical thinking is, after all, a very important skill to have.