Choosing a gun, another take?

Earlier this morning I wrote a piece on choosing a gun. Then I see via SayUncle a link to a piece on advice for a first time gun buyer. Uncle is right that it’s nice to see a positive piece in the mainstream media, but I have to take odds with the advice given. In light of my earlier posting, I feel a desire to comment on the article.

“[For the first time buyer] we usually suggest a shotgun or a revolver because of the simplicity.”

While I appreciate simplicity, what’s so simple about these? Granted their internals might be different and simpler than others in their class, but should we be looking at internals or operational simplicity? When it comes to a shotgun, what do they tend to suggest? A pump action shotgun. Operationally speaking, that’s not simple. You have to know how to pump the shotgun, you have to have the mental wherewithal to pump and not short-shuck it, then deal with the malfunctions that might ensue. Folks, a simple “point and click interface” goes a lot further, and frankly a semi-auto shotgun is going to be simpler to operate than a pump action, especially for people that don’t want to practice much. But then you do get the complexity of having to ensure you have a shotgun load that can operate the semi-auto’s mechanism, dealing with cleaning and maintenance, and so on. There’s always a trade-off. 

Then we look at a revolver, and while a revolver is a bit mechanically simpler than some semi-autos, operationally they’re just about the same as modern semi-autos. With a revolver (assuming a double-action revolver), you pull the trigger, gun fires, chamber advances and the gun is ready to fire again with the next trigger pull. Take a modern semi-auto like a Glock, Springfield XD, or Smith & Wesson M&P. You pull the trigger, gun fires, “chamber advances” (empty case extracted, magazine pushes next round up and slide goes forward to chamber the round), and the gun is ready to fire again with the next trigger pull. In the end, the operational simplicity is the same. Now, when it comes to malfunctions, yes a revolver is better because you can just pull the trigger again, no tap-rack-bang. But I’d rather take a little time to learn about and practice malfunction drills and have 19+1 rounds at my fingertips than only 5 or 6 in a revolver. Then we can talk about dealing with caliber, capacity, practice, speed of follow-up shots, and so on with revolvers vs. semi-autos, and while there’s many facets to this equation and always trade-offs, I still think most people will be better off starting out with a semi-auto.

Hill says the first home defense gun he recommends to his customers is a shotgun. “If somebody enters your house,” he says, “and they hear the sound of the shotgun being pumped, if they’re smart…they’ll leave.” … “An intruder knows that sound,” she says, “and it’s intimidating.”

I know some people live by the mantra that the sound of racking a shotgun is the be-all-end-all solution to home defense. I am not sold on it. Granted it’s an intimidating sound, but it assumes the invader will hear it and then be scared off by it. Basically, you’re bluffing and you better hope they don’t call your bluff. If it comes to a point where you must use a gun, then you must be prepared to use it… not to be making “scary noises”. It also means that when you make that sound, you’ve given away your position. It also means that the gun is not ready to go. If time is critical and you raise the shotgun to your shoulder and you press the trigger and it goes click instead of bang, or that you now MUST rack it to ensure you’re ready to go (again giving away your position, giving up precious time), is that tactically sound when your life is on the line? Furthermore, given the meager capacity of a shotgun, being down by one load can be a disadvantage. It also implies you’re using a pump action shotgun, which as I’ve said before doesn’t equate to the simpliest firearm to operate.

Bauer also touts a shotgun’s stopping power and says it’s good for beginners because it requires less aim than a hangun.   She recommends loading it with a No. 4 buckshot.

So something that kicks like a mule is good for a beginner? If you don’t practice with it, that recoil is going to be an unwelcome surprise. If you do practice with it, that recoil is going to wear on you and how willing will you be to continue to practice when your shoulder says “no more”?  Less aim? Hardly. Check out Box O’ Truth #3’s list of Lessons Learned #2. In fact, take a read over my take on a home defense tool, which talks about shotguns as a home-defense weapon.

“Birdshot,” says Gregory, “won’t go through the walls of your house which means  family members in other rooms, like your children, won’t get injured.”

If it won’t go through walls of your house, it won’t go through the bad guy either. Again, see The Box O’ Truth. That isn’t to say that birdshot doesn’t have a place, but it’s not my first choice (then, neither is a shotgun).

Gun store owner Hill says you should take your time choosing your first gun.  And if more than one person will be using it, both people should come to the shop to get a feel for the gun’s size and weight.

“The wife should always come with her husband,” he says.  “A gun is a lot like buying a mattress. It’s what feels good to the hand.”

I will agree that you should take your time choosing your first gun. I emphasized this in my previous article. I’ll also agree that if more than one person will be using it, you should tailor things for both people. For instance, I’m certainly right-handed, but my wife is fairly ambidextrous and tends to shoot lefty. As a result, choosing firearms that have ambidextrous features (e.g. magazine releases) is a good thing. If you have to make a choice to serve one person over another, choose either the dominant user of that or the smaller person. So if the firearm is going to be used 95% by this one person, I’d say to set things up primarily to suit that person, but ensure the other person can use it because chances are that 5% of the time may be the time that saves someone’s life. Or opt to fit the smaller person because it’s easier for a big person to use something fitted for a smaller person, but it’s tough for a smaller person to use something fitted for a larger person.

Our experts’ second choice is a .38 revolver.   They selected this gun because it’s easy to load and unload.  And, unlike semi-automatic handguns, revolvers don’t jam.

While a .38 isn’t the worst caliber in the world, there are better. I spoke to revolvers earlier, but on the subject of loading and unloading them well… are they easy to (un)load? I suppose, especially if you use things like speed loaders to load them. I don’t find dropping a magazine and inserting a new one into a semi-automatic handgun to be that difficult an operation. But either way, the key is to practice. Can a revolver jam? Maybe not jam, but they are mechanical and like anything mechanical that can break and/or malfunction. They are not immune.

“If you’re going to stand your ground,” says Gregory, “then a shotgun will work.  But if you’re going to be moving around your house, you can’t hold a shotgun and a cell phone or flashlight at the same time.  A handgun is easier and it’s more accurate.”

If you’re going to move around your house, this is why something like an M4-gery works well. They do raise a good point about two hands and operation. This is why having a weapon-mounted flashlight can be useful. This is also why it’s important to not just have these tools, but having a plan on how to use these tools.

Whether you choose a revolver or a shotgun, all our experts agree, you need to learn how to use your firearm.

Although I haven’t agreed with a lot of their advice, this final point is one we certainly agree on. No matter what tools you choose, you need the education and training to learn how to use it.

Updated: John The Texaner has a reply to this posting (as you can see in my comments). So in the spirit of that, I’d like to reply to his reply. 🙂

In general we’re in agreement on things. He is right that this particular blog posting deals with new shooters as the article this blog entry replies to was geared towards first-time shooters. As I stated in my other piece on choosing a gun, knowledge is best. As John mentions, getting range time is invaluable because it gives you “hands on” experience and first-hand knowledge towards what works for you. The first time you feel the recoil from a 12 gauge, your eyes are opened a little bit. 🙂  Education is so important.

He does touch on an interesting point worth elaborating. John mentions how he took his girlfriend to the range, and unfortunately it wasn’t the best range experience: indoor range shooting 12 gauge slugs. That’s not a great initiation. While sometimes that may be how it has to go (and this certainly isn’t a slight or comment on John), generally a good way to introduce a newbie to firearms is gentle and easy. Find a good location that is as free of other distractions and issues as possible… indoor ranges aren’t ideal because they’re loud, but sometimes that’s all you have. Outdoor can be better for noise, but maybe not for weather. Then when you choose a firearm, pick something light and easy. For instance, for a total novice, start with a .22. Move to a 9mm or a .38. Then try a rifle like an AR, then a .308. Basically, you’re moving up the ladder of power, slow and gradual. It’s often more successful to ease people into things instead of dropping them off the deep end. Again, not a comment on John, just  was an opportunity to make a general comment about introducing people to firearms.

One thing John mentions is the special stock that he added to his shotgun. How it improved the recoil is awesome. It also points out something to consider. You’ll see in the picture on his page how it has a shell holder on the buttstock. Carrying extra ammo is good. One disadvantage to this setup is it’s biased towards shouldering on the right shoulder. What if the shotgun has to be shoulders on the left? This is a consideration for lefties, but it’s also a consideration for righties because sometimes you may have to shoot “weak side”. This is why I think something like a TacStar SideSaddle is a better solution. But again, your needs are likely different from mine. There’s nothing wrong with a buttstock setup, just ensure it works for you.

But one place where John and I disagree is on the choice of home defense weapon. That’s OK. He practices hard with his choice, and in a lot of ways that’s key. He points out the strengths of the shotgun, and there’s no question it’s a devistating weapon. I’ve laid out reasons why I think there are better choices, but that’s why I’ve suggested before that the key thing for folks to do is to take your time, get educated, and make the best decision you can that works to suit your needs. No one holds the monopoly on “the ultimately weapon” and really what’s ultimate is what’s ultimately works for you and your needs. What you feel is best to address your situation, what you’re willing to become educated on, what you’re willing to practice with, what you’re willing to build your skills on.

John, thank you for your input! Much appreciated!

19 thoughts on “Choosing a gun, another take?

  1. The one thing I didn’t address in my post was your concern about needing the shotgun left-handed and the shell holder being in the way. Can you give me some sort of example where one would need to do so? Neither of us is left-handed, so it has not been a concern for me. I can’t really envision needing to switch sides on it.

    The only thing I can think of that would require me to do so would be some sort of injury, which I take into account with the handguns drills because an injury to the right hand may necessitate it. As a shotgun is a two-handed affair, I’m going to be needing both hands anyway. Because of this, I’ve never done any shotgun drills left-handed.

    • Shooting around a weak-side barrier is one possible example. So if you’re behind a barrier, you need to lean out weak-side (left in this case). Yes you can be shouldered on the strong (right) side and still do this, but now you have to lean out a LOT further, which exposes a lot more of your body and is arguably a bit slower since you have more and further to move. If instead you reshoulder to your weak (left) side then lean out you expose a lot less of yourself and is a bit quicker to deploy and return. Is this a hard-fast rule? No. For instance, foo.c and I both took the KR Defensive Long Gun class together and the SWAT guy guest instructor said that he personally never switched shoulders.

      Injury is another possibility. While yes it’s really a two-handed weapon, injury could always be such that you’re injured enough you can’t shoot but not so injured you couldn’t hold up the shotgun. Or maybe the injury isn’t to your hand/arm… maybe your eye and you need to switch shoulders to keep the “same side eye” open and looking down the bead.

      Or maybe it’s middle of the night, you’re naked in bed, and now there’s no side-arm strapped to your waist so there’s no weapon transition.

      In the end, we hope to never need any of these skills. But just like you said, the more you know and have trained for, the more options available to you under the stress of a life-threatening situation.

    • Hsoi and I have argued about just about everything gun related two intelligent gun owners can argue about, but this is one area where we are in complete agreement about.

      Do you know how your load patterns at every distance you could shoot in your domicile?

      If the BG is near or touching a GG, could you take the shot from all of those distances? If not, could you switch to a slug fast enough?

      If you had 2 “yes” answers, the shotgun will work for you, but otherwise you should consider other choices.

      In my case, I have a pretty long house, nearly 20 yards from front door to back door. I didn’t feel comfortable with the shotgun pattern at those distances, and even less comfortable with my ability in all circumstances to switch to a slug in a timely manner.

      I suppose I could just keep it full of slugs, but now I’ve got a weapon that has less than 1/3 the capacity of my AR, and 5 times the recoil per shot. (Recoil figures made up, but it’s a lot more.)

      • Go here:

        And scroll down to the Box O’ Truth links. Look at #20 and #42. They directly address what foo.c is talking about.

        Another thing to consider is your choke pattern. While the standard mantra is to use as wide/open a choke as possible for self-defense/security purposes, what may actually be more correct for you is to use as tight a choke as possible. If you might have to shoot longer distances, keeping the pattern as tight as you can for as long as you can could be good.

      • The answer is indeed yes for both. When I do shotgun drills at the range, I only use defensive buckshot and slug loads, not birdshot.

        I do live in an apartment, and am comfortable with the pattern my defense loads make at any distance available there. The longest possible distance for a shot is 8 yards, so the spread isn’t terribly great.

        AS for the BG being “near or touching a GG”, that depends on your definition. Up until a good amount of occlusion, yes. I keep slugs on-hand as well, and whether or not I transition to them would depend on the circumstance. I’d say in just about any circumstance I can envision, there’s not time for that.

        Keeping the shotgun full of slugs is something I decided against simply because I do have apartment neighbors to consider. Recoil is not an issue, as I have stated in my earlier post.

        I do appreciate the scenarios and questions you bring up. Right now, most of your concerns are not an issue for me. Life has a way of changing, and my plans and choice in weapons will change with it.

        Frankly, I do not have a rifle appropriate for a home defense scenario, and do not have the money to puchase one (especially given the prices these days) . Once I find gainful employment, that may change, but I’m still not sure I want to pay the inflated prices they command right now only to have to look high and low for enough ammo to become proficient with the new gun.

        • Don’t get me wrong, I still have a shotgun or three. :)-~

          I just don’t recommend them to most neophytes anymore because I don’t want to overload them. (Not that I make a lot of recommendations.)

          There’s other alternatives that don’t cost as much as an AR.

        • What this demonstrates is that everyone has to consider their particular situation. In fact, it also demonstrates that if your situation changes, you should take time to reevaluate and revise if necesary. This is why there is no one single answer to defensive needs… you gotta know what tools are available, their strengths, weaknesses, and then see what fits best for your situation.

          On the rifle front, you could even consider something like a Hi-Point carbine:

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  3. Interesting stuff here.

    I’ve always wondered why the loading sound of a pump shotgun is “intimidating” but the (generally equally loud) sounds of a semi-auto shotgun or pistol or rifle somehow are not.

    FWIW I keep my shotty “cruiser safe” and yes I’ll have to rack it but that’s not because I’m hoping the scary sound is going to do the trick. If I grab it and rack it, it’s because I figure “it’s on now.”

    I shoot lefty and I use the TacStar side saddle. File-to-fit on a Winchester 1300 by the way.

    And birdshot will penetrate drywall, if the Best Defense show regarding wall penetration was done correctly. It just doesn’t penetrate a whole BUNCH of walls. That said, I’m rolling with 00 buck.

    • Good question about the intimidation of sounds. Hadn’t considered that, but you’re right. Of course either way I don’t think “making noise” is a sound tactical strategy.

      I have a TacStar on one of my shotguns and like it. I need to get it for the other, but being a Mossberg Bantam 500 there isn’t one that fits it… tho I’ve heard you can get the 4-shell model and take a Dremel to it. I just haven’t done it yet. So for now, that one just has a buttstock sleeve and we deal with it.

      I know birdshot will penetrate drywall. There’s lots of evidence of that. Heck if someone doesn’t believe it, just go to Home Depot, buy a section of sheetrock, then head to the range and shoot it. Box O Truth has stuff on it too. Bottom line: if it’s going to be good enough to stop the bad guy, it’s going to have the (over)penetration risks… you just can’t get away from it. So you have to ensure you can control all your shots, which in a shotgun can include patterning issues… you’re shooting all that shot and can you guarantee 100% of the pellets will land where you want them? you’re responsible for every pellet that leaves your muzzle. But that’s also one good argument for using tighter chokes… shotguns aren’t “walls of death” anyway, there will always be some spread, so the more you can control it, wouldn’t that be better? Geting a gut full of tightly-grouped pellets is still going to ruin your day.

      Oh I would also recommend using reduced recoil loads. Why not? For the distances you’re shooting in home-defense, they’re certainly adequate. Plus with less recoil you improve your follow-ups. I’ve been trying to get some reduced recoil buckshot (12 gauge 00 buck, and 20 gauge #3 or #4 buck) but can’t find it… but that’s the state of ammo purchasing today….

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