Millions of words have been written, quite a few here at LRC, about selecting a firearm for self-defense. There are questions about make, model, caliber, handgun, shotgun or rifle. While there are thousands of opinions, there is only one that really counts: yours.
There are quite a few questions you should ask yourself before you make your purchase. What is the application, or in simpler terms, how will I use this firearm? Will I be carrying it concealed? Will I only use it at home? Do I live in the city or on several acres? How much time to I have to devote to practice? What is my experience level with firearms? How much of my personal resources do I have to spend on this purchase? And of course, the ultimate question: if forced to, can I take another human beings life? If you cannot honestly answer the ultimate question in the affirmative, forget the others and take up karate.
If you intend to carry your weapon concealed, you can rule out the shotgun, the AR-15 and the M1A. If you live in an urban environment, plan to carry concealed or open carry (allowed in some states) you will probably be in the market for a handgun. The handgun is the smallest firearm you can have. It is great for home defense and for carrying on your person. Since the majority of personal attacks occur within 10—15 feet, according to FBI statistics, bringing a long gun (shotgun or rifle) into play in this scenario is difficult and presents a great opportunity for your assailant to disarm you.
There exists a great choice in handguns that provides the unique ability to fire either a .410 shotgun round or the 45 Colt center-fire round. This handgun is made by Taurus and is called "The Judge." It comes in blue or stainless finish and a choice of several barrel lengths. A .410 shotgun round would be devastating at short range and best of all would not penetrate inner walls within the house unless hit at very close range. .410 shotgun ammo is usually readily available although .45 Colt ammo is harder to find, due mainly to its use in Cowboy Action Shooting. Please note there is a difference between .45 ACP and .45 Colt firearms and ammo and they are not interchangeable!
While the size and weight of the "Judge" make it impractical for concealed carry for many, the potential devastation of five rounds of .410 shotgun rounds make it ideal for home defense and a nightmare for any potential carjacker when carried in your automobile or truck.
A great choice in the small handgun, designed especially for concealed carry, is the Kel-Tec or its basic twin, the Ruger LCP in .380 ACP. Both can be easily concealed in a pocket or purse and delivers quite a blow with +P ammo. I would not recommend a steady diet of the +P ammo in either pistol as it places a great deal of stress on the firearm components. Practice with standard ammo and use the +P when carrying the weapon for self-defense.
The caliber of your chosen handgun is much less important than your ability to hit the target and correct any malfunctions of that firearm under duress. After all, one hit with a .22 is better than a miss with a .44 Mag.
Many are the arguments and discussions on the best caliber for self-defense. Often mentioned are tests fired into gelatin and various other materials. While this gives a general idea as to bullet performance, the only thing that really matters is how that particular round performs on actual live targets. (In the development of the .45 ACP, rounds were actually fired into human cadavers long before it became politically incorrect to do so.) Some even tout one bullet weight over another as in a preference for the 124-grain 9mm rounds over the 117-grain rounds or the 125-grain .357 round over the standard 158-grain round. Since most acts of self-defense in which a firearm is deployed occur at 10 ft or less, I find this argument to be superfluous. I can assure you a potential rapist or home invader will not be able to tell anyone the difference between the choices of bullet weights in the various calibers after being hit by either. Most critical in self-defense situations is the ability to hit your target under the most stressful situation you will ever encounter.
History shows Federal Law Enforcement (FLE) chose to abandon the 9mm round after the failures of that round in the shootout in Miami. Many returning veterans I have spoken with voice similar concerns with the 9mm’s performance in the basic issue sidearm, the M9 Beretta.
Special Operations units in the US Military have retained the .45 ACP sidearm in several configurations. Kimber built a special .45 ACP in the 1911 configuration for the Force Recon unit of the U.S. Marines called the "Warrior." Other units have employed the .45 ACP in other configurations such as the Heckler and Koch USP model along with traditional 1911s.
The .40 caliber S&W (Smith and Wesson) round came about allegedly due to female agents of FLE being unable to qualify with the 10mm or .45ACP rounds because of heavy recoil. Smith and Wesson created the .40 caliber round to maintain the 10mm bullet configuration with a shorter casing; all this at a cost to the taxpayer of something over 7 million dollars. While this round is currently employed by a large number of law enforcement entities, it is still referred to by many as the .40 Short and Weak.
Then, there is the choice between revolver and semi-automatic. I recommend a revolver for those with very limited experience firing a handgun. All you must do to engage a target is pull the trigger with a loaded revolver. Up until recently most revolvers did not have a safety. Revolvers come in a wide choice of calibers. Again, stay with that which has proved reliable in the past.
I readily admit to being a huge fan of the 1911 in .45 ACP. If I had one handgun and one round of ammo to take down a bad guy, it would be the Springfield 1911 in .45 ACP that has been a dear and close friend for a very long time. I have seen the damage this round can do to a human body. How can you not like a firearm that has proved itself over a century in battle after battle and shootout after shootout? When possible the Springfield is my carry weapon with the Kel Tec .380 as a back up. On rare occasions it is just the little Kel Tec.
If you wonder about durability and reliability take a look here as Todd Jarrett puts 1000 rounds of ammo through a Para Ordnance 1911 in slightly over 10 minutes. This same firearm eventually fired 5000 rounds without a malfunction. That, my friend, is reliability.
While it is true there have been bad guys that have taken a hit with the .45 center of mass and not gone down, the same could be said of all calibers. In contrast, all calibers have recorded one-shot kills. In many cases, an assailant has consumed alcohol, drugs or both prior to perpetrating an act of violence. When they feel no pain, a shot must shut down the nervous system to stop the violent act. Ironically, the .45 ACP was designed to do just that against the Moro Warriors in the Philippines in the early 20th century; prior to that the .38 and the .45 Colt had proven ineffective in stopping them in battle. The Moro Warriors had a ritual before battle that included the consumption of Cocaine, which raised their pain threshold.
As for long guns for self-defense, the odds-on favorite is the shotgun. While there are many who recommend the pump-action, usually in 12 gauge, I prefer the semi-auto instead, specifically the Benelli M4. Anyone who has survived their first firefight knows, to survive you must make yourself a very small target. Therefore, I prefer to get to the prone position where practical/available. The pump-action shotgun requires one to roll on to their back to recycle the shotgun after firing which can cause one to lose sight of their adversary; not a good thing. The semi-auto allows one to keep firing from the prone position, keeping ones eyes on the target.
Quite a few people that I know have opted for the M-4/AR-15 platform for their home defense weapon. This selection allows one to have a high capacity weapon available with lethal capabilities. The downside would be the round penetrates most walls at close range. This weapon also provides the means to engage a target at up to 350 yards should that need arise. Beyond that range one would need either a combat style rifle in the M1A, AR 15 type in .308-caliber configuration or a bolt-action rifle in a caliber capable of longer ranges. The bolt-action type hunting rifles are usually a good buy right now for most have opted for the rifles such as the AR15 and the M1A.
The bottom line is choosing a weapon that fits your needs. If you are only going to have a firearm in the home and/or your mode of transportation, or for concealed or open carry, stay with the handgun. I can assure you carrying a shotgun or rifle to and from your car each morning and evening in an urban environment is going to bring you attention you do not need and bringing it to bear in time of emergency will be challenging.
Find a firearm that is comfortable to shoot, easy to maintain, and fits your budget. Get properly trained and practice, practice, practice. Whether it be a .22 or a .44 mag, it doesn’t mean a thing if you cannot consistently hit your intended target (with either hand) clear your weapon if a malfunction occurs in a stressful situation and reload in that same scenario.
Last, but not least, remember, in today’s economic times a firearm is also a good investment. I’m sure their value has outperformed your 401K in the past year and when the economic tsunami hits you will be able to trade extras for necessities.
Michael Gaddy [send him mail], an Army veteran of Vietnam, Grenada, and Beirut, lives in the Four Corners area of the American Southwest.