If you’ve been in a gun store at least once, you’ve probably heard an opinion about a firearm, good or bad. You’ve probably also heard some outlandish stories, too. I tried working in a gun store, and I could only take it for about six months. There’s an incredible amount of misinformation out there, and if you’re new to the world of shooting, it’s going to be next to impossible for you to sort through the bad and find the good.
I wouldn’t dream of trying to put every bit of information I could think of in one article, mainly because I don’t have all the answers, and I’m not intending this to be some sort of reference for any particular firearm. I might mention brand or model names as being a good choice for one particular situation, but please, do more research before making a purchase.
Whether I’m in a gun store, at the range, or browsing forums online, I invariably find someone who’s willing to explain to me how I’ve made the wrong choice in firearms, for a variety of reasons. I’ll hear things such as, “Oh, that rifle isn’t reliable,” or “This is what (insert name of special operations unit here) uses, so I bought it.” I’ll also hear interesting observations on tactics from people who’ve never heard a shot fired in anger, such as “If you use a light at night, you’ll get shot,” or “You can just rack the action of the shotgun, and the bad guys will run away.” We also hear that “All you need is one round of .40”.
Well, reality begs to differ. For the most part, any quality name brand weapon is going to be reliable. This includes, but is not limited to, Beretta, Colt, Glock, Heckler & Koch, Remington, Sig Sauer, Springfield, etc. That doesn’t mean you should blindly trust something out of the box – fire it thoroughly to ensure proper function. However, if a gun store employee tries to tell you that a Beretta 92FS is unreliable and will get you killed, or that AR-15s don’t work unless they’re clean enough to eat off of, just smile and nod.
- The Beretta 92FS is one of the most accurate service pistols available today. Its undeservedly negative reputation comes from poor maintenance and bad magazines supplied to the US Military. Out of the box, it’s an exceptionally reliable firearm.
We also hear about who uses what, but generally without the why, where, and when. Yes, US Navy SEALs use M4s with 10.3″ barrels, among other rifles. They have the HK Mk 23 handgun, which doubles as a boat anchor. They use a lot of different weapons systems, but they have specific needs for those weapons. SEALs have many missions, one of which is called VBSS, Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure. This relates to merchant ships, warships, pirate vessels, etc. These are very confined spaces, requiring short rifles for maneuverability. In other words, unless you live on an oil tanker, maybe having the same rifle that the SEALs do isn’t going to do you much good.
As for weapon mounted lights, that’s a topic for another day, but suffice it to say that I know of no one who kills bad guys for a living that doesn’t use a white light when appropriate. I know I just contradicted myself, with the discussion of “don’t pay attention to what the cool guys use”, but when everyone who does it agrees on one point…the importance of a light becomes obvious. It’s as important for you as it is for them, or you’ll end up like this guy and kill your fiancée because you didn’t identify your target. Learn from this man’s tragic mistake – don’t shoot at dark shapes.
Shotguns can be very effective weapons, but with the increasing prevalence of home invaders wearing body armor, the shotgun has to take a backseat to the rifle or carbine. Many people fall into the trap of the shotgun being an easy to use, easy to hit with weapon that requires no training. You just pick up a shotgun and rack the action, causing the bad guys to poop themselves, then you fire in their general direction and a 12″ hole appears in their chest, causing them to fly backwards through the nearest window, right? Unfortunately, this is just one of many cases where the movie industry has not done folks in the firearms training world any favors. In the right hands, a shotgun is a very effective weapon, with certain limitations. In the wrong hands, it’s far from effective, as this wonderful video from the good folks at Adco Firearms shows. Just ignore the comments below the video – those people have spent too much time at gun stores.
Your first priority in the defensive use of a firearm has to be ensuring that you are justified in using deadly force against a potential threat. Next, you need to put rounds in the right place on that threat until it stops being a threat. Everything else is secondary. As Officer Soulis and Officer Borders discovered, having a .40 or .45 caliber handgun is by itself not sufficient to stop a threat. 9mm, despite being vilified mostly by folks who have little knowledge of terminal ballistics, is very effective when the proper load is selected. I was once informed by a gun store employee that 9mm was a bad choice for self defense because it would over penetrate the target. 10 minutes later, he was telling me how a Carhartt jacket “stopped a 9mm bullet fired at point blank range.” If that was true, I’d buy more Carhartt jackets. As it was, I simply smiled and nodded.
The discussions between handgun, carbine and shotgun have been going on for a while, and will probably continue to go on for decades, or until the introduction of the phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range. While handguns are easily concealed or, more importantly, kept out of reach of children, shotguns are more effective from a terminal ballistics standpoint. Handguns are more easily fired with one hand than a rifle, which might be important if one was trying to keep a panicked child out of the line of fire, but rifles and carbines are faster and more accurate at close range.
Each weapon has benefits and drawbacks, but the most important aspect of a weapon, in my opinion, is your willingness to practice with it. If you have an 8 gauge shotgun by your bed that you’ve only fired once because it dislocated your shoulder, you probably won’t stand a chance against three or four determined home invaders who, despite popular belief,regularly train with their weapons. You need to be proficient with your firearm, or you might be found liable in either criminal or civil court should you miss your target – and that’s if you survive the armed encounter. As many folks like to say, there’s a lawyer attached to every round you fire.