Friday, October 18, 2013

Arm Yourself

Should you have a firearm to help be ready for a major disaster? If so, what kind, or what kinds? These questions are very easy to answer; the trouble is, most answers conflict with one another. I'm about to forge ahead with some firearms advice, knowing that many of you will have strong feelings of your own in disagreement. I accept that. Please accept this article in the spirit in which it is intended, advice for someone trying to get ready but with no background or training yet in firearms.

Important: Before acquiring a firearm, make sure you are familiar with all federal, state, and municipal laws relating to the purchase, possession, transportation, and storage of firearms and ammunition. If you own a firearm, you should also practice with it so that you can maintain it properly, handle it safely, know your limitations, and hit your target. 

First, in getting ready for the kinds of scenarios for which I'm preparing, I do recommend you arm yourself with at least one and ideally more than one firearm. There are those who argue you are more likely to shoot yourself than ever use the firearm in self-defense, or someone in your home is more likely to kill themselves than to be saved by the proper use of the firearm. Just know that many of the people out there throwing statistics around have an agenda. I am comfortable with the risks of having a firearm in my home, and am committed to being a responsible gun owner.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans in general are more likely to die of motor vehicle traffic accidents, accidental poisoning, accidental falls, accidental suffocation, accidental drowning, or other unclassified accidents than they are to die of an accidental shooting. Meanwhile, estimates of the defensive use of guns in the USA start at 55,000 per year and go as high as 3.6 million. I have no problem owning a car, having hazardous chemicals in my home for cleaning and lubrication, or using a swimming pool, and I have no problem owning a firearm. (Suicides involving firearms are a higher risk than accidents, so in cases of family members with mental health concerns I respect both those who choose not to keep firearms in their homes and those who choose responsible ways to control firearms kept in their homes.)

Next, what kinds of firearms help you be prepared for emergencies? The answer to this contentious question depends not only on the scenarios for which you are preparing but on on your own philosophy of use as well. Firearms may be used for target shooting, practice, hunting (different types for different game), and for defense (different types for different scenarios). Rather than me try to impose my own approach on you, I'll lay out a simplified array of options before telling you what I've decided for my family. (Chances are, if you disagree with any of this, you don't need this article in the first place.)

Handguns. Relative to long arms, handguns are small, light, and convenient. A person could feel comfortable carrying a handgun in a holster when a rifle might keep getting in the way or interfere with work. Handguns may also be concealed so that they may be carried without alarming others unnecessarily. While handguns may have shorter range and be less accurate than some long arms, in many situations you may be more likely to carry a firearm if it is a handgun; the firearm you're carrying is always more useful to you than the one you left behind.

Handguns fall into two categories: revolvers and semi-automatic pistols. Revolvers have a cylinder which revolves to bring fresh cartridges under the firing pin, while semi-automatics are typically fed by a magazine that is inserted into the handle of the firearm. Those who choose revolvers tend to be concerned with reliability, while those who choose semi-automatics tout their higher capacity (they can shoot more bullets before needing to be reloaded) and faster reload time.

Popular handgun calibers you should consider are .22 for practice but also useful for taking small game, and .38, 9mm, 40mm, .45, and .357 for self defense.

Shotguns. Most firearms have barrels that are "rifled" inside with a spiral of lands and grooves, which stabilizes bullets (letting them go farther and with more precision) by causing them to spin as they exit the gun. Generally, shotguns are not rifled; they are meant to shoot multiple small(er) projectiles, and rifling would just fling those projectiles in a wide pattern. Shotguns are good for home defense and close-quarters battle when loaded with shells that send multiple projectiles (roughly .30 caliber)  in each shot toward an attacker. They are excellent at hunting small game such as rabbits or fowl when loaded with shells that send a cloud of small projectiles toward a target. They can also be loaded with a single solid slug for hunting big game such as deer.

Shotguns may be limited to one or two shells at a time (with "side by side" or "over/under" barrels), or they may be pump-action (where each pump loads a new shell from a magazine tube) or semi-automatic (where a new shell is automatically loaded with each pull of the trigger). Recommended gauge: 12 gauge.

.22 Rifles. The .22 LR ("long rifle") cartridge defines this category. .22 rifles are favorites for practicing, target shooting, and recreational "plinking" because the ammunition is cheap. .22 rifles are ideal for hunting small game such as rabbits or squirrels. A .22 bullet can be lethal, though this caliber is rarely one's first choice for defense.

High-Power Bolt-Action Rifles. These rifles are typically the top choice for big-game hunters, marksmen, and snipers. They tend to be the most accurate rifles and have the longest effective range (experienced shooters are effective out to 1,000 yards or more). The majority of bolt-action rifles are paired with a magnifying scope that costs as much as the firearm itself. If one of these rifles has a magazine, it tends to be of lower capacity, and after each shot the shooter must work the bolt to eject the spent shell and load a fresh cartridge. Popular calibers include .270, 7.62mm Nato, .308, and .30-06.

High-Power Semi-Automatic Rifles and Carbines. These long arms tend to be semi-automatic civilian versions of the select-fire weapons issued to soldiers. Rifles have a bit more power and range than the shorter carbines, which are preferred for close-quarter battle. These guns are typically intended for use out to 200-400 yards, but experienced shooters with the right ammunition have stretched that out to about 800 yards. (You and I are not that kind of shooter.) Where permitted by laws, firearms in this category employ standard-capacity magazines capable of feeding 20-30 rounds of ammunition before the shooter must reload. Examples of carbines in this category would include the AR-15 and the AK. While the design in this category descends from military applications, many people find them capable of hunting game. Popular calibers include 5.45x39mm, .223, 5.56mm Nato, 7.62x39mm, 7.62mm Nato, and .308.

Given such a variety of options, what have I decided to go with? As I try to make my household ready for a major disaster, I keep in mind that I am not a young, fit, and trained soldier, operating as part of a unit of other soldiers. Instead, I'm a middle-aged sedentary man. If I ever find myself in a gun fight with a group of heavily-armed opponents, my plan has already failed. I plan to hide and avoid fighting if at all possible. At the same time, I realize people may not just leave me or my household alone, and since I've elected to stockpile supplies, my home will be worth defending if possible. Further, while I am pessemistic about my prospects for hunting, I want to have the option should my fears prove baseless or should our supplies be out of reach. Here's a list of the firearms with which I'm equipping our home:
  • A small, easily concealable handgun
  • A standard service handgun
  • A 12 gauge pump shotgun, primarily for home defense, but with an extra barrel and swappable chokes for hunting.
  • A high-power semi-automatic carbine in .308 as a multi-purpose long arm for home defense and hunting.
  • A .22 semi-automatic configured similarly to my .308 carbine for training purposes and also hunting varmints.
I want to repeat that others--even those in similar condition and preparing for similar scenarios--may select different arsenals, some I would consider overkill, and others I would consider naive (and they would form similar judgements about me).The important thing is that you think through your plans and your philosophy of getting ready, and arm yourself accordingly.

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  1. You're quite right, axinosp. I also omitted .50 caliber rifles, quite a few popular calibers, any real discussion of glass sights, suppressors, bows, etc. My goal here was to greatly simplify things for someone with no idea of where to start. You probably fall into the category I envisioned as, "If you differ with what I wrote you probably didn't need this article in the first place."

    Thanks for your comment!