The other night I was at a get together for a friend’s birthday. While there, one of my long time friends brought up that he was thinking of getting a gun, but was unsure of what to get. I am a gun advocate, and own several.
“What do you think? Should I get a revolver or a shotgun?”
He lives in a particularly rough part of Oxnard. Odds are one of his neighbors is a gang affiliate. Also, since a proposition was passed that let out non-violent offenders, he’s noticed that there has been an increase in drug users in his area, and believes property crime has increased as a result. He’s a father, and is concerned about the safety of his children.
So what should he get? Revolver or Shotgun?
The answer is: Neither.
“You should get a dog” I told him.
“Yeah but they’re a hassle; they bark, I have to feed them…”.
I understand. Not everyone is a dog lover like me. However, most of us look at home defense and begin imagining the situation once someone is inside the house. However, if safety is the priority, a deterrent is more valuable. And thieves will avoid a house with a dog. If you place yourself in the thief’s shoes, you’re looking for an easy or “soft” target; I just want to go in, find some cash so I can get my fix. A dog may bite. A dog will make a lot of noise. Instead, I’ll go to the house next door that doesn’t have a dog, get in get out, and buy drugs within the hour or so.
Using a gun for self defense is a huge responsibility, especially with children in the home. First, you have to have a method of securing the weapon that prevents accidents. Second, you have to educate the household on firearms to further prevent mishandling and so that everyone respects the weapon. Third, if you have to use the weapon, you have to take into account many factors (can I get to the weapon in time, am I justified in shooting this person, will the round over penetrate, will it hit a bystander – such as a member of my family). Last, you have to train continuously on how to use it under pressure; you’re aim will suffer when adrenaline kicks in (hands shake, vision begins to tunnel, etc.).
He pressed on.
“So if I get a gun, which should I get though?”
First, don’t get a revolver for self defense in the home. Revolvers are very reliable and very cool looking. But they typically have only 6 to 8 rounds, are hard to shoot, and even harder to reload. If you’re going to get a handgun, you’re better off getting a reliable semiautomatic. Magazines tend to have higher capacity (limited to 10 rounds here in California) and are much easier to reload. Trigger control tends to be easier as well.
Caliber is tricky though, as most rounds will go through walls pretty easily. I prefer 9mm, since it is easier to control and ammo is cheap for practice. However, a 9mm will go through walls – even using hollow points. There are arguments over “stopping power” of a round versus being able to penetrate sufficiently; I believe if you shoot well and place rounds in the heart and/or the head, it doesn’t matter.
“So I should get a shotgun then, right? They’d probably leave if they hear me rack it. Plus the spray…”
A shotgun is arguably a much better self defense weapon. In terms of knockdown power – it’s the best by far: if you hit someone center mass with a shot gun they bend back over flat at the knees.
However, if you rely on the sound of shotgun to scare off a burglar, you’ve probably seen too many movies. A burglar doesn’t necessarily know what a shotgun rack sounds like, and might not even hear it if they did. Also if you are considering shooting someone, you want to reduce the amount of time it takes to shoot them – so your shotgun should be ready to fire as soon as you point it.
Also, there’s the question of what type of shotgun load to use: 00 Buckshot is the equivalent of shooting nine 9mm rounds at once – creating an over penetration concern. Birdshot completely eliminates the concern of penetration through walls, but is not fatal and might just piss off someone on PCP. In addition, there is no “spray”; you still have to aim a shotgun – it’s not like video game. A shotgun typically spreads roughly one inch per yard depending on the choke. #1 Buckshot seems to be a good defensive load, balancing penetration concerns and fatality.
“So if not a pistol, or a shotgun, what should I get then?”
If you look at what SWAT uses (and pretty much the entire US Military), then the answer is an AR-15 rifle. The .223 is effective at home defense range, and penetrates through walls less than a 9mm (hence why many SWAT teams switched to the M4 from the MP5). Being a rifle, it has good ergonomics – making accurate shooting easier. They aren’t as cheap as shotguns, but parts are as plentiful as is ammunition.
Speaking of ergonomics, we also have to note an important trade off; handguns are much more maneuverable in a home but harder to shoot accurately. Long guns are easier to shoot but are harder to maneuver around a house (and they’re easier to grab on to if an assailant is in very close range).
So what is the answer really?
In truth, there is none. Get a gun you are comfortable shooting and will practice with A LOT. If someone breaks in, move your family into a single room and barricade yourself with your firearm. Call the police. Don’t go downstairs. Make sure everyone is clear on what happens if there is a break in.
If buying a gun, securing it, practicing with it continuously, educating the household about it, letting everyone know what to do when an intruder breaks in, and ultimately taking on the responsibility of using it sounds like too much, a dog would be an easier alternative. A dog will act as a deterrent for most, and be a wonderful companion. You’ll need to feed it, train it, walk it and most importantly – love it.
Or do what I did – have both. Deterrent/Early Detection/Companion + Firearms = Win.
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