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!