Although the days are over when gun ownership was so common that no one even thought it worth mentioning, the days when it was seen as being only the province of rednecks who like to shoot at the rusting cars in their front yards are also coming to a close. The internet and conservative news sources are making it difficult to conceal the numerous accounts of attacks that have been stopped because the assailants met with deadly force. This has led many people to reconsider owning / carrying a firearm for defensive purposes, and that is what this article is about (i.e., not about gun purchases for sport or hunting purposes).
Now, I am far from being an expert on this topic. I’ve owned firearms off and on throughout the years, and I have had some limited (but excellent) training. That’s about it. I also realize that there are approximately 1,000,0000,000000 websites and blogs devoted to this topic, and I won’t bother duplicating all that information here. I am simply writing this for those who have asked me my thoughts on the matter.
Why NOT Own / Carry a Firearm?
Personal / Legal Reasons
If you are not willing to take potentially lethal action to protect your family or yourself, you should neither own nor carry a gun for that purpose. If this is the case, that is fine - consider carrying non-lethal weapons like pepper spray, a taser, a knife, a bat, a sharp stick – anything you will use (because the criminal probably will not hesitate to use whatever he has). This decision goes well beyond having a “try to hurt my family and I’ll shoot you” attitude. That’s easy enough to generate, especially if you have kids. Beyond this instinct, there are serious, possibly life-altering consequences to any shooting incident. You risk criminal charges if you accidentally violate some detail of firearms laws. And even if you no criminal charges are made, you may face civil lawsuits from the criminal’s family (which will not be based on firearms laws so much as your ability to convince a jury of your “peers” that you only did what you had to do). Besides the potential legal issues, you may need to relocate your family if threatened with revenge. And even if all of these things work out, can you live with causing someone’s death, should that be the result of your actions? A great firearms instructor once said that you always lose in a gunfight – all that changes is what is lost.
Moral / Religious Reasons
If you are a Christian there are more issues than just attitude and legality. You need to be sure that you think deadly force is allowable and under what circumstances. Dealing sufficiently with this question might require several of its own articles, but here are some (both pro and con) to get you started thinking about it:
- Bible Verses on Self Defense
- The Morality of Killing in Self-Defense
- Doctrine of Double Effect
- Bible Verses on Pacifism
You must make these kinds of decisions before pointing a gun at an attacker.
Why Own / Carry a Firearm?
Why Own A Firearm?
Besides preparing for the zombie apocalypse (above), taking out giant underground monsters, hunting, or sports, the most common reason to own a gun is to be able to meet a deadly attack with deadly force. A firearm is one of the few weapons that can truly equalize opponents. The problem with relying on a stick, a knife, or learning martial arts, is that an attacker with physical advantages retains those advantages with similar weapons/skills. A firearm, however, is exactly as powerful in the hands of an 80 year old woman as it is in the hands of a 20 year old gangster. Further, while most weapons will have to be employed to stop an attack after it has begun, the fear factor that a firearm generates is tough to beat for stopping an attack before it starts.
Reality Check: The national average response time to a 911 call is over ten minutes. You read that right – ten minutes. Try staring at a wall for ten minutes and see how long that feels. Then imagine someone breaking into your house (if you were fortunate enough to hear them as they entered), or your wife screaming, or your children being assaulted that whole time. Police do their best, but they cannot camp out in front of your house.
With the rise of home invasions and other violent crimes, personal protection is more personal than ever. What you do not hear much about on the news is that armed citizens prevent tens of thousands of crimes (not including the future crimes these criminals would have committed) every year (see this recently released study), and despite ill-informed opinions, the legality of firearm ownership is positively correlated to lower crime and violence (as even the New York Times admitted). The mere presence of an armed citizenry thwarts many crimes before they even start.
Why Carry A Firearm?
There are few things less useful than a firearm you cannot access when needed. If you are going to be a firearm owner, I recommend that you be prepared to legally carry it – everywhere you can.Criminal attacks are hardly limited to the house, and so your means of protection should not be limited to your house either.
If you only plan to carry a firearm only when going to a place you expect you might need it, ask yourself two questions: Why am I going to a place like that in the first place? If you somehow come up with a good answer to that question, then ask the second: Do I really know when I will need it? Think about crimes that take place where you go regularly: Do you drive? There are carjackings. Does that car need gas? Gas station robberies are so common they are a cliche. Do you ever need money? ATM and bank robberies are even more cliche. Criminals know where things are that they want – and it is often the same places you have to go on a day-to-day basis.
Before You Go Buy that Sexy Glock…
Come at me, bro.
The focus of this article is carryable firearms (i.e., handguns), but I’d like to preface what follows with this fact: handguns kind of suck for home defense.
The main benefit of a handgun is portability. Actually, that’s about the only benefit. If you have decided to arm yourself with a firearm that you will not be carrying (at least in your car) there is little reason to have one. So before you go run out and buy that wicked-looking pistol and start practicing your quick draws, keep a few things in mind:
- You have to be really good to hit a target with something as small as a handgun you probably carry.
- You have to be extraordinarily good to hit a moving target in the dark while you are half asleep.
- Even if you hit your target, few single hits will stop an attacker with the small caliber handgun you probably carry.
- If you miss, your bullet is likely to penetrate the wall(s) of your home and endanger others in your house or the one next to you (goes triple for apartments).
- If you hit your target, handguns have a bad reputation among liberals which might put you at a disadvantage in court (which is likely).
- Handguns and their accessories (like flashlights) are very expensive.
$300. 9 Rounds. No permits. Scary as crap.
Compare the above limitations and drawbacks with that of a common shotgun:
- While you still need to practice with a shotgun, training is cheaper and targeting is easier.
- If you hit your target anywhere, it will probably stop them.
- If you miss, shotguns are less likely to threaten people at greater distances / through walls.
- Shotguns, shotgun shells, and their accessories (like flashlights, scopes, rails) are inexpensive.
- You usually don’t need anywhere near the permits / licenses to own a shotgun compared to a handgun.
- Just the sound of a racking shotgun can end a home invasion.
All that to say this: if you are concerned about home security and will only have one firearm to protect yourself and/or family, first consider getting a shotgun.* Then, if you end up deciding to carry, then go get that pistol for your belt and bedside (like they say – a handgun is good for getting you to your real gun!).
*Note: Full-sized rifles are difficult to use indoors, and are even more dangerous as far as wall-penetration goes. A good carbine may be a good option, but perhaps not as a first firearm (and most will be more costly all-around, require more training, and more permits as well). The best option, of course, is to have one of everything and use each as the situation dictates.
Steps to Gun Ownership / Carrying
I’ll say it one more time before moving on: If you are not willing or able to do what it takes to attain a state of firearm readiness that is both safe and legal, you should not have one. One thing the world does not need is for you to do something stupid and give the anti-gun lobby another reason to make firearms illegal for those who are willing to do it right.
OK, enough preaching.
Here, in my opinion, is what it takes to reach a minimum state of readiness to obtain, own, and carry a firearm. It’s going to take some time, so plan ahead.
Step 1: Save Up Some Cash
Not only will this process take time, it’s going to be somewhat expensive. My rule of thumb for prospective gun owners to initially set aside $1,000.
Sound like a lot? Well, even if you find a firearm you like for$500 you’re still going to want protective gear, range time, ammunition, holster, range time, a gun safe, and conceal carry class and license (see below). You will need most of these things by the time you buy your gun. While stuffing your piggy bank, read lots and lots of articles and spend some time online watching video reviews so you will have a good idea of what you might want when you go shooting.
Step 2: Go Shooting
Go to a gun store / firing range with some people who shoot, and try out some different models. If you don’t have a friend with access to guns and property, you’ll need to go to a professional establishment. Either way, take someone experienced! You may need to rent some guns to try out, plus the ammunition and targets (translation: $100 or so). You don’t need to try everything, just get an idea of what major features you like / dislike. I would at least try a medium-sized revolver plus two different calibers of semi-automatic pistols (maybe 9mm and .45 for a good spread).
Shooting until you are comfortable with a firearm is important. The last thing you want to do is go through all this hassle, finally get your firearm of choice, and then be afraid to take it out of the drawer. If you are shooting with someone who owns the guns you are trying, offer to clean them if the owner will show you how. Taking a gun apart removes a lot of the mystery and increases confidence around them. Spending some time on the range actually shooting will also let you know if you can shoot well enough to earn a concealed carry permit – which I personally recommend doing before you get your gun.
Before going shooting, I recommend buying your ear and eye protection. You’ll need these items for the rest of your life, so why spend extra money to rent them at the range? For eye protection you’ll want safety glasses made for shooting, and electronic headphones that allow you to communicate without removing them on the range (these are also great when not on the range, as they can actually give you an audio advantage should you need to quietly search your home). Both items can be found for under $100.
Step 3: Get Your Concealed Carry Permit
Assuming you plan to own at least one handgun, go get your Concealed Carry License (CCL). Yes, you can buy a firearm without one, but if you don’t have the knowledge and ability you need to acquire the CCL, you should not own a gun in the first place. Beyond gaining minimal familiarity with local laws and proving you are able to hit the side of a barn, having your conceal carry license makes life a lot easier for gun ownership in general. Purchasing s firearm will be a much smoother process, and you won’t have to worry nearly as much over where to keep it once you have it. Although this will probably be the most annoying part of the process. CCL’s are often difficult and expensive to attain. But unless you simply cannot do it, you should.
If you cannot obtain one in the state or county in which you live, you should consider moving. Like placing a “No Guns” sticker on the door to a business, this is like a WELCOME! sign for criminals. If you are considering carrying in disregard of the law, consider this: The penalty for illegal carry could be a year in jail even if it is “only” a misdemeanor, and it could easily be a felony. How well can you protect your family from behind bars?
Step 4: Purchase a Firearm and Accessories
I won’t go into a bunch of issues here, as you should pretty well know what you want by now. But here are some of my thoughts.
REVOLVER vs. SEMI-AUTO: I used to be a big fan of revolvers because they were so reliable, basically never jammed, and required so little maintenance. Those things are true, but as I became more comfortable with how semi-autos worked, I grew to appreciate them more. For one thing, they can carry more bullets, and they also reload faster when you run out. Second, they are easier to carry because they can be made smaller. Another reason I liked revolvers better was because they were simpler, and that also remains true. However, if you get the right kind of semi-auto this also becomes less of an issue.
For example, I am not a big fan of button or lever “safeties” on carry guns. First, they can give a dangerous – and therefore false – sense of security. Safeties are not locks, and it is just as easy (if not easier) to press the safety as it is to squeeze the trigger. In reality, a safety is just one more button to push in order to make the gun go boom – which is not something I want to be thinking about in the heat of the moment. I recommend built-in grip/trigger safeties (that go with internal hammers) like those on Springfields and Glocks.
CALIBER: The rule of thumb is to shoot the highest caliber you can control, but this has its limits because the higher the caliber the less shots you’ll have. What is control? Let’s say that, at minimum, you can place 2-3 good hits in as many seconds at realistic distances. This is another reason to go shooting before you start to shop. For the average person somewhere in the 9mm to .45 range is optimal. While higher calibers might seem more daunting, the smaller the caliber the better your shots need to be (which means more training, not less) – but you also get more shots because the magazine can hold more rounds if they are not as big. Keep in mind too that ammunition varies considerably in price. Going from one end of the spectrum to the other could nearly double your cost per shot, and you do not want it to be too expensive to practice.
FRAME SIZE: Unless you are planning to purchase multiple firearms for different situations, I’d get the biggest you can carry in the manner you wish to carry. You really need to get some models in your hand to tell the difference – small differences matter. Given the size of compact 9mm pistols these days, (e.g., the Kel-Tek PF9, the Glock 26 or the Springfield XDM), there is really no need for anything smaller. One consideration that some fail to take seriously is that while new shooters might initially feel more comfortable around smaller guns, they are actually far more difficult to control and less pleasant to shoot (like a smaller caliber – this means more practice, not less).
The first time you purchase a firearm you should not leave the store without some accessories. At minimum be prepared to buy:
AMMUNITION: That shiny new gun is a paper weight if it is unloaded. I’d get two kinds: target and defensive. Target ammunition is just whatever you will shoot paper targets with (you’ll want to put 500-1,000 rounds through the gun before it is considered “seasoned”). Go inexpensive, but go factory (i.e., not re-loads). Defensive ammunition is high-powered, hollow point, jacketed, etc. – and will cost a lot more money than target ammo. This is what you want in your gun off the range (you need to put a box through your gun to make sure it functions well). In addition to ammunition, you should have additional magazines or (if you bought a revolver) speed loaders.
HOLSTER: You didn’t think you’d be carrying this thing in your pocket did you? Of course not – therefore, time to holster up. Assuming you are not going cowboy style (“open carry”), you need a conceal holster. Most of them clip into your belt or pants, or go under a jacket. Try them out and see what feels good. My personal favorite “generic holsters” are the clipless, 3-in-1 Remora holsters, and the multi-function 3Speed holster which uses an independent suspension that does not rely on clothing for support (so you can tuck your shirt in with it on, and utilize the restroom without talking it off.) You will discover that the more fitted your clothing is, the more difficult conceal carrying will be – you will literally have to start dressing around your firearm. So go ahead and add that to your budget as well.
GUN SAFE: OK this one is a lot less fun, but it’s got to be done. Your gun will almost certainly come with some kind of locking device that, in reality, will be a huge pain to operate. Thus, you will probably get lazy and not use it. But of course there are very serious dangers, both physical, moral, and legal, with keeping a gun anywhere that you cannot control it. If you leave it in the car or in a dresser drawer someone could get a hold of it and you would be criminally liable for whatever happens next. Besides the obvious danger of having a criminal get hold of your gun, what if a minor gets it? Assuming the kid doesn’t accidentally kill himself or someone else, if he uses it illegally it could mean prison time, pal (and say goodbye to your conceal carry license – and probably all your guns – possibly forever). So you need a gun safe. Now, this does not necessarily mean an expensive, closet-sized vault. Small, easily accessible gun safes are available that you can carry around if need be. One is a key/combo safe with a security cable for the car that runs about $30 – so there is NO EXCUSE for not having a safe for your gun(s). Also, I would never rely on anything that is non-mechanical (like the sexy biometric safes). Even if it is a trustworthy model, if it requires power you are really relying on electricity and not only do batteries die, but cutting power to a home is covered in Home Invasion 101.
CLEANING KIT: Malfunctions often occur when a gun is dirty. While you should not need to clean it after every practice session, you will eventually need to do so, and you’ll need a bunch of junk to do it with. Start with a kit and figure out what you want more of later.
Step 5: Train and Practice (Repeat Often)
The ultimate false sense of security is to trust that rush you feel the first time you take your firearm out at home to save your life. Yes, you have a gun now – congratulations. But if you can’t handle that thing – and I mean handle it – when the time comes, you might be better off leaving it in the safe (or at the store!). Training should be available at local sports stores and gun clubs. You can also attend some high-end classes like those taught at Frontsight. (And yes, this will cost even more money.)
Then you need to maintain the skills you learn by practicing. You will perform about half as good in real life as you do on the range. Thus, simply having some knowledge about how to shoot will not cut it when it comes time to use it. You need to be able to draw and fire, quickly and accurately, from your chosen method of carry / storage – and the only way to develop this skill is through practice. The good news is that “dry practice” is a very effective means of doing so. It costs no money and is safe.
So . . . is it really worth all this? That is the question you must answer before rushing out to take advantage of the Second Amendment. Purchasing, owning, and carrying a firearm is a very, very serious decision. It is a choice that will cost you a lot even if you never have to use your firearm to defend someone’s life.
On the flip side, the cost for not making that choice could be even higher.