I've been having an e-mail exchange with a correspondent who asked for advice on which handguns to select for himself and his family. A lot of things have been discussed, but I thought it might be useful to distil the main points into a single blog post for future reference.
- Having a weapon or weapons is only one aspect of a multi-faceted problem. I suggest you should spend time and money 'hardening' your residence to resist 'home invasion'-style robberies and assaults; clear the area where you park and between it and your home so you can't be ambushed; and take other practical measures like that. With proper planning and preparation, you'll hopefully obviate the need to use your firearms at all.
- Select weapons based on what every member of the family can shoot comfortably and accurately. Caliber, etc. is secondary to this consideration. The process will undoubtedly involve test-firing as many different weapons as possible. Here's what one family chose; your own selection will depend on your needs. If you won't be able to practice often, or buy much ammo for the purpose, consider a long gun instead of a handgun. The former can be mastered more easily and will cost you less to keep in practice.
- Plan on spending at least the cost of your defensive handgun, per shooting family member, on ammunition and shooting practice every year. For example, if three of you shoot and your handguns cost (say) $400 apiece, budget $1,200 every year for training costs. At a fee of (say) $5 per person per range visit, plus 100 rounds of ammo each, that can easily add up to over $100 for each and every training session. It never ceases to amaze me how people will spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars on a quality defensive firearm, fire half a box of ammunition through it, then put it away in case of need. It takes a lot of practice to become proficient with any firearm - about five to ten times more for a handgun than for a long gun. Also, shooting is a perishable skill. You need to keep in practice, or you're going to lose your touch.
- Make your practice sessions count for something. Don't just blaze away downrange without a plan of what you're trying to achieve and how your training will help you get there. It's a good idea to get professional training to help you do that - see the next point for more information.
- Make sure you're all well informed about the legalities of self-defense in your local environment: local, State and Federal laws, attitudes of local law enforcement agencies, etc. This can keep you out of serious trouble if you - God forbid - should ever need to defend yourself or your family. I highly recommend doing a course like Massad Ayoob's MAG-20 (at least the classroom portion and, if possible, the live fire component too). The course can be done in two halves in some locations, and there are numerous affiliated ranges and instructors who work with Mas to offer it. Contact him for more information. (I've done three of his courses, and recommend all of them very highly.)
- Get to know a local lawyer who's knowledgeable and experienced in self-defence cases. Keep his card in your wallet in case of need. If you can't find one locally, consider subscribing to a prepaid legal defense service specializing in cases of self-defense (this Internet search will give you more information). You can bet your boots that if you have to defend yourself using potentially lethal force, those who attacked you and/or their families will be suing for damages, even if they have no right to them whatsoever. You'll need professional help to deal with them.
- Get to know local crime patterns and statistics, and keep up-to-date with them. If there's an upsurge of a particular type of crime, you can plan ahead to avoid becoming a victim. If a crime wave develops in a particular area, you'll know to avoid it if possible. Furthermore, if the overall crime situation worsens, you'll have early warning about it and can consider options like moving to a safer area. This is nothing more than basic common sense . . . but it's amazing how many people fail to do it.
Just a few thoughts for your consideration.