Someone asked my opinion on a gun for those Very Bad times in life. Unfortunately, its one of those questions that isn’t easily answered. Why? There’s many factors to consider –
Is the person familiar with the operation of automatics vs. revolvers?
Whats their level of skill? Weekend shooter? Competitor? Once a year?
What is the scenario under which they envision needing a gun?
Are there any other limiting factors?
If you [work with/sell/repair/recreate with/compete with/collect] guns, at some point someone will ask you to recommend a gun for them. Historically the answer is usually a 9mm of some type or a .38 revolver for the inexperienced. Theres some validity to this reasoning and I’ve often given it as an answer when pressed. But…and this is all my opinion so feel free to say Im fulla crap…heres a succinct and honest recommendation: buy the best quality firearm you can afford, that you are likely to practice with, in a caliber that you can shoot accurately, fast and comfortably.
“best quality firearm you can afford” – some will say buy the best quality firearm PERIOD. No, buy the best you can afford. If you put yourself in debt to buy a top-of-the-line BurglarBuster 2000 you wont have the money to afford practice ammo, defensive ammo, a holster and a cleaning kit. But more importantly, you wont be able to afford to practice and if you don’t practice than your gun is about as useful as a Roman candle. Buy a quality gun that you can afford and still be able to buy ammo and range time.
“that you are likely to practice with” – You plunk down money for that high quality affordable handgun and a box of ammo. You go to the range, determined to do your best and to become familiar with your new purchase, you load up, fire six rounds of .44 Mag and say “Im never doing that again!’. If you don’t enjoy shooting you won’t do it as often as you would if you enjoyed it. If a .45 is too much kick and blast and makes you flinch and cringe, get a .40. If that’s too much, get a 9mm. If the .357 Magnum terrifies you when it goes off, shoot .38 Specials. If you don’t enjoy shooting the gun, you won’t want to practice. Get a gun you’ll want to practice with. Get a gun that makes you say ‘Man, I hope I can get some time this weekend to go to the range’.
“that you can shoot accurately, fast and comfortably” – If your gun makes you flinch, twitch and jump when you shoot it you wont shoot comfortably, you wont be able to shoot it quickly, and it almost certainly wont be accurate. If youre not comfortable an automatic, get a revolver. If you cant shoot the revolver quickly, get an auto. Get what you feel most comfortable and perform best with.
For some people, heck for most people, this really will mean a 9mm or a .38 Special. For a few small people it might mean a .380 ACP and for some gorillas it might mean a 10mm. But anyone who can swing a golf club, knead bread dough, or do a couple chin ups can handle a 9mm or .38 Spl.
Whats your standard of marksmanship? One well-known writer on the subject said: “Set up a silhouette target or simply a twenty-four-inch wide by thirty-six-inch long sheet of wrapping paper at a measured twenty-five yards. Then with your friend timing you and blowing a start and stop signal on a loud whistle at five-second intervals, draw your pistol of choice (in a serious caliber) and fire five shots at the center of the target mass, within the allotted five seconds. Reload and repeat. If all of your shots can be contained within a ten-inch circle four times out of five, your survival index is probably adequate. If not, you need training.” (Tappan, “Survival Guns”)
My criteria is a bit more simple- staple a standard paper plate to a target board. Start at, say, 10 yards. Draw and shoot five rounds into the target area. Ideally, you want to do this as fast as you feel comfortable doing. If all your shots stay in the plate, move back another five yards. Repeat. Increase the distance. When you can no longer keep all your shots on that plate you’ve established the maximum distance you can shoot handgun effectively. Given that most handgun events seem to take place at relatively close distance, shooting in the ten to twentyfive yard range seems to be the area to concentrate on.
“Yeah, that’s all great theory but I’ve got a job, a mortgage to pay and barely time to go to the range. Whats gonna work best for me when the power goes out and 911 isnt answering the phone, huh?”
If you want something that youre only going to shoot once or twice a year, doesn’t have any tricky levers or buttons to remember, and can be had fairly cheap then I’d say get a police trade-in .38 or .357 ($250~) or a trade-in Glock 9mm or .40 ($400~). Buy some inexpensive ammo to practice with and become familiar with your gun. Buy a couple boxes of the expensive defensive ammo (usually a hollowpoint with a name like Gold Dot, Golden Sabre, HydraShock, XTP, SXT, etc) and shoot one or two boxes so you know exactly how the gun will perform with it. Load up the ‘good ammo’ and put your gun in a safe place for when you need it. (Storing it loaded vs. unloaded is up to you. Imagine the scenario you think most likely to require your gun..will you have time to load it? In the dark? When youre twitchy with adrenalin? Practice loading and unloading. Personally, I leave ‘the house gun’ loaded at all times.)
That’s 1000 words on handgun selection. I could use up another 1000 but it would just be rehashing the above.