Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The changing urban self-defense environment

With the US economy in the doldrums, as described above, patterns of urban crime have been shifting. I've been studying the statistics from major urban areas over the past few weeks, trying to get a sense of the changing patterns. Many of them are bad news for law-abiding citizens.

  • 'Flash mobs' as a new form of gang- or crime-related activities are becoming much more common in or near urban areas with large inner-city slum or low-income environments. In every case of which I'm aware thus far, participants have been mainly black, and their targets have frequently been people of other races: but in most cases, the mainstream media have carefully avoided mentioning this, presumably out of an exaggerated sense of 'political correctness'. Recent examples include Milwaukee, WI; Philadelphia, PA; Cleveland, OH; Chicago, IL; and elsewhere.
  • Some of these urban flash mobs have apparently been organized with specific targets in mind, with robbery as the motive. Examples have occurred in Philadelphia, PA; Chicago, IL; Germantown, MD; Washington, DC; and elsewhere.
  • So-called 'home invasion' robberies are increasing in frequency in many urban areas, and the perpetrators are becoming more violent. Recent examples (culled from a single Google search which yielded 3,380,000 results!) include incidents in Houston, TX; Cincinnati, OH; Denver, CO; and San Antonio, TX. Last night I linked to another incident reported by fellow blogger Confederate Yankee.
  • Due to budgetary constraints and competing demands on their resources, many prison systems, both state and Federal, are either considering the early release of, or actually releasing, convicted criminals to serve the remainder of their sentences under house arrest or in the parole and probation system. Examples include California, Kentucky, Tennessee and the Federal prison system, plus many others. You can confidently expect crime rates to soar in areas receiving this flood of former prisoners. (If you believe they're all going to become angels as soon as they're released, and never commit another crime, there's a bridge in Brooklyn, NYC I'd like to sell you. Cash only, please, and in small bills . . . )
  • Random, seemingly senseless confrontations and assaults appear to be increasing, some in public places, some at residences. Some of them have caused more or less serious injury. A few examples (out of a vast number that could be cited - do an Internet search for such incidents in your area): New York City, NY; Seattle, WA; Harrisburg, PA; San Juan Capistrano, CA; and others.
  • The unemployment rate in the USA as a whole is bad enough, but for those in the black community it's far worse, presently estimated to be more than twice as bad as for caucasians. This means that in the very same inner-city communities that are most plagued with gangs, mob violence and crime, there are fewer jobs available to provide a legal income, which is essential for a more productive, less self-destructive lifestyle. If there are no jobs available, crime becomes a much more tempting proposition. Furthermore, all those convicted criminals, mentioned above, who are now being considered for early release will have a much harder time finding work once they're back on the street, thereby increasing the temptation to revert to a life of crime as the only way to make ends meet.

All of these factors have changed the crime threat in many urban areas of the country, in the following ways:

  1. One is now more likely to be confronted with crime, whether at home, in the shopping mall, in parking areas, or at large gatherings;
  2. One is more likely to have to defend oneself and/or one's loved ones against danger from multiple directions and multiple attackers;
  3. The crime is more likely to be violent, with little or no verbal or other warning before escalating to blows or the use of weapons.
  4. The attack may be based solely on your race. Having the wrong skin color at the wrong place and/or at the wrong time may now get you assaulted, injured, even killed.

I'm afraid all this drives home the point that one must be prepared to defend oneself and one's loved ones. It's no good saying "It won't happen to me!" The thousands of people attending the Wisconsin State Fair outside Milwaukee earlier this year doubtless thought that . . . until the flash mob showed up. Many of them appear to have been targeted specifically because they were caucasian - another thing that would have been unthinkable to many a short time ago. Furthermore, the police are unlikely to be there when you need them. Read any of the incidents linked above, and ask yourself where the police were when things went pear-shaped. The answer is - "not there!"

I'm therefore updating the advice I give to students wanting to learn to shoot, then purchase a defensive handgun. In brief, this is what I'm now emphasizing.

  1. The odds of having to deal with multiple assailants are now much higher than in the past; therefore, it pays to select a handgun with a large magazine capacity. This, in turn, implies selecting a caliber that permits such a capacity. A bigger cartridge such as the .45 ACP may be very effective, but it's too large to permit the same handgun magazine capacity as a smaller cartridge such as the 9mm. Parabellum. With modern high-performance ammunition (my preference in the latter cartridge is currently Winchester's RA9TA) the smaller round now develops 80%-90% of the energy of the larger round, and has proven almost as effective in actual shooting incidents. I submit that for the average shooter (not necessarily for highly-trained experts), giving up 10%-20% of bullet energy in exchange for greatly increasing a handgun's magazine capacity may be a worthwhile trade-off. The models I most frequently recommend are the Glock and Smith & Wesson M&P pistols, but there are many other choices out there.
  2. The same applies to long guns. I think a shotgun is an excellent defensive weapon, but its magazine capacity is relatively small, and its recoil is difficult for many shooters to manage. Given the current threat environment, I suggest an AR-15-type carbine or an equivalent weapon may be a better choice. With a high-capacity magazine (20-30 rounds), such firearms offer greater utility for defense against multiple assailants; and, given careful ammunition selection, the risk of over-penetration is greatly reduced. (My personal choice is the Kel-Tec SU-16C, which has proven reliable in my hands and is light, compact and affordable. I also use the very similar Kel-Tec SU-22 model chambered in .22 Long Rifle (.22 LR) for training purposes. Some of my disabled students, who can't handle heavy firearms or recoil, use lightweight Ruger 10/22 semi-auto rifles in .22 LR, equipped with 25-round magazines loaded with CCI Velocitor ammunition [my preferred defensive round in this caliber]. This solution also works well for younger or smaller family members. It's not ideal compared to a more powerful weapon, but even so, I don't think anyone in his right mind would want to get in the way of half a magazine of those bullets!)
  3. We need to train to accurately hit multiple targets at different angles in the shortest possible time. It's no longer good enough to practice shooting at a single target, set directly in front of us, in a leisurely fashion. We need to shoot at three to five targets, set at different angles to and distances from us, and hit each one in an effective location at least once, as quickly as possible.
  4. We should practice moving while we shoot, because the criminals may be shooting at us too, or trying to stab or strike us. If we stand still, we'll give them an easier target. We should practice backward as well as lateral movement. Good instructors have always taught and emphasized this, but many people don't do it during their own practice sessions. That needs to change.
  5. We have to train more frequently, so as to be confident in our ability to control our weapons and direct our shots where they're needed. If we spray the area wildly with gunfire, we're likely to miss our attackers with at least some shots, and perhaps hit innocent bystanders and/or buildings. We're legally liable for where every one of our bullets goes. If one of them passes through the wall of a house and hits a child inside, we're likely to end up jail along with the criminals who attacked us. This is not good, to put it mildly!
  6. The need for more frequent training means, in turn, owning (a) defensive firearm(s) with which we can afford to train! .45 ACP training ammunition costs almost twice as much per round as 9mm. Parabellum, which is in turn much more expensive than .22 LR. Choose a cartridge you can afford to shoot enough to become and stay competent. If possible, choose a firearm for which a .22 LR conversion kit is available, or buy another, similar firearm in that caliber. This will allow you to shoot using very-low-cost ammunition, which makes frequent training much more affordable.
  7. Our situational awareness has to become more acute. It's no good trying to draw a firearm and shoot an attacker if we've allowed him to get within a few feet of us before we start moving! He'll be close enough to hit or stab us, or grab our hands and arms and prevent us from drawing our weapon. We have to keep a lookout, observe potential trouble before it arrives, keep clear of threatening situations, and be prepared to do something about them if necessary. That's not being paranoid - that's being realistic.
  8. Situational awareness must extend to selecting our destination. If we're going to a department store, we need to be aware that flash mob robberies have occurred at such venues. What are the chances of something like that happening to us? If we need to make a run to the store late at night, should we choose the local convenience store, or take an extra few minutes to drive to a supermarket with a well-lit parking area? The odds of meeting criminals at the latter location are considerably lower than at the former. (Convenience stores aren't called 'stop-and-robs' for nothing, you know!)
  9. We need to teach our families and loved ones about the realities discussed here, and make sure they're aware that the risk of violent crime has increased measurably in many cities and urban areas. They, too, need to improve their situational awareness. If any of them are not trained in the defensive use of firearms, I suggest this should be considered urgently. You may not be there when they need you - and even if you are, you may need their supporting fire to deal with multiple attackers.

I've also changed my recommendation concerning small, ultra-compact firearms. Previously, I've suggested that any caliber smaller than .38 Special (in revolvers) or 9mm. Parabellum (in semi-auto pistols) is too under-powered for serious defensive use. Typical small handguns in those calibers include the Smith & Wesson J-frame revolver and its competitors from companies such as Ruger, Taurus, Rossi, etc., or the Kel-Tec PF9, Ruger LC9 and similar weapons. (Despite this reservation, I've trained many disabled shooters to use .22 LR for defense: but that's because of their physical limitations. It may not be ideal, but if that's all they can manage effectively, that's what they use.)

Unfortunately, there are times (particularly in summer, when clothing may be both minimal and light) when even those firearms are too bulky to be easily concealed. I have a number of reservations about 'tiny' firearms such as the Kel-Tec P3AT or Ruger LCP, including:

  • Their reliability is frequently sub-standard (I've seldom found one that will shoot 100 rounds at a stretch without at least one malfunction of some kind);
  • Their tiny size, minimal sights and relatively heavy recoil (due to their very light weight and tiny grip area) make controlling them in accurate, rapid fire very difficult for many shooters;
  • I've known some examples to make multiple trips back to the manufacturer under warranty before they would function properly. Others have had parts (particularly springs) break or weaken after a relatively short period of use. Some shooters I know could never get their firearms to work to their satisfaction, and so discarded them in favor of more reliable weapons.

Despite these problems, the growing urban crime problem has led me to accept such tiny handguns as better than nothing - and it's now a higher priority than ever to be armed. Therefore, I now suggest that those who must live and/or work in higher-crime areas should carry one of these weapons rather than be unarmed, if that's the only choice they have. (Clearly, they'll need to train intensively with them to make sure they can overcome the problems mentioned above, and obtain fast, accurate hits with them. They should also fire enough rounds through them to ensure their weapons are reliable, and fix or replace them if they're not.)

A very highly recommended accessory for your defensive weapon is a laser sight of some sort. I prefer the Crimson Trace units if they make a model to fit the firearm in question. For very small handguns like the Kel-Tec P3AT or Ruger LCP, LaserLyte offers a side-mounted laser at a very reasonable price, which has received positive reviews. The company also offers rear sights with integrated laser for many handgun models. Shooters whose opinions I trust have rated the LaserLyte offerings second only to Crimson Trace. I hope to test them soon. For rapid, accurate shooting in low light against multiple attackers, laser sights can be invaluable.

The 'urban jungle' is getting junglier by the day, folks. Please be alert, and be prepared.



Home on the Range said...

I have a friend who swears by the Keltec for a "automobile" carry weapon. I held it, I looked it. It seemed to have all the stopping power of a water pistol.

I'll carry .40 to the local grocers in my tiny town. For the city, nothing less than .45 hollow point. And I've seen my last mall.

Anything I buy there I can buy on line, without being disarmed.

Peter said...

Agreed, Brigid - but you're one of those I'd consider highly trained, much more capable than the average shooter. If I were in your shoes, and as capable as you, I'd do exactly the same thing.

MikeinAppalachia said...

One might consider the Keltec PMR-30 in .22 Win mag with a 30 round magazine pair with a Ruger Mini14 for home defense. The Mini14 is in lieu of the lamented Ruger 10-22 in .22 mag which has been discontinued. A .22 mag has manageable recoil and effective with multiple hits.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Canadian, if you're unaware of our asinine firearms laws any magazine capacity is limited to 5 round for rifles and 10 rounds for magazines used to fit a common pistole. Exceptions include the M1 Garand and the Lee Einfield. There are no pre-ban exceptions. What would you recommend?

Peter said...

@Anonymous in Canada: A Garand or Lee-Enfield is a very good choice for rural use. They're probably too powerful for urban use - the risk of over-penetration is VERY great! I'd suggest a lever-action carbine or rifle in a pistol caliber for urban use - .357 Magnum, for example, or .44 Magnum shooting less powerful rounds. .30-30 is also an excellent choice (the Texas Rangers used it for decades), but again, it may be too powerful for an urban environment. I don't feel in the least under-armed with a .357 Magnum lever-action weapon such as the Marlin 1894, loaded with 10 rounds of 145gr. Winchester Silvertip. It has similar energy to the .30 M1 Carbine of World War II.

As for handguns, if you're limited to a maximum of ten rounds, choose the most powerful round you can control in a handgun and carry a weapon with the legal maximum magazine capacity in that caliber. 10-round .45 ACP handguns are available from a number of sources - Glock, Taurus, Springfield, etc.

Anonymous said...

My every day carry is the P3AT with a Crimson Trace laser on it. Of course it's not a 50' target pistol; my attitude is that it's a ten-foot-then-get-out-of-the-way gun. But in Florida I can carry it concealed regardless of what I'm wearing.

Anonymous said...

Peter, I would like your opinion on the AKM rifles- they seem like an ideal cheap, reliable and compact weapon for close range shooting in a densely wooded rural environment.

Peter said...

@Anonymous at 9:41 AM: I agree that the AK/AKM type rifles are a superb weapon for their purpose. They were built for peasant soldiers who couldn't be relied on to keep them clean, and who weren't great marksmen. They keep on working despite abuse that would render almost any other rifle inoperative, and they shoot accurately enough (usually 3-4 MOA) to get the job done at the short to medium ranges (out to 200-250 yards) for which they're designed.

Also, the 7.62x39mm. round is a very effective bullet. I've been shot by it on two separate occasions. I'm here to tell you, despite the fact that it didn't kill me (due to poor bullet placement by the shooters), it hurt like a SOB, and took the fight right out of me, there and then. Both times I was hit with military hardball . . . I'd hate like hell to be hit with a softpoint in that caliber!

I think the round is a bit too over-penetrative for urban use, but for rural use such as you describe, it's excellent. Think of it as a virtual ballistic twin to the US .30-30 round.

Stretch said...

I believe Heinlein called these The Crazy Years.

Anonymous said...

I happen to have some AK 40-round mags full of soft point ammo for home use. It shoots about as accurately as the regular stuff at least out to 100 yards.

For warm weather, I find a good holster works with a T-shirt and shorts as well as jeans. A crossbreed holster works with with my CZ P06 in 40. Cargo shorts can be worn with a heavy carry belt just fine.

I like my Kel-tec pistols, but I wouldn't recommend carrying any pistol without putting a 100 to 200 rounds down range and being comfortable with the reliability.

I saw the new Kel-tec PMR30 at a gun show last weekend. It felt like a plastic water pistol it was so light. I'm not sure it is what I would want for any carry purpose, but each to his own.


On a Wing and a Whim said...

Personally, I love the PMR-30, from the times I've shot it. It's very light, but very low recoil. The only problem I have with it is the way I keep getting failure to eject - I know at least half that is shooter's failure to hold the gun firmly. And I hate tap-rack drills. They make my limp wrists hurt.

Which is why Peter's set me up with a little, heavy revolver in .38 that I need to practice more. It's not as nice as the PMR-30, and hurts more on the recoil, but it doesn't jam on me, either.

MrGarabaldi said...

Hi Peter,

I have started to carry my CZ-50 .32 in hollowpoints all the time. I have no holster for it except the origional holster which was a clamshell type suitable for police(My CZ-50 was a former Czech police pistol) Do you have any ideas? I just drop it in my pocket but I am not crazy about that.

I thank you for your time

Peter said...

@Mr. G: First, I don't know the CZ50, but I regard the .32 ACP cartridge as woefully underpowered. It may not penetrate deeply enough to reach vital organs, particularly if hollowpoint ammunition is used. I'd suggest using hardball ammo as a way to get better penetration - in that caliber, you need it! I'd also very strongly suggest saving up for a weapon chambered in a more effective caliber. My standard minimum suggestions are 9mm. Parabellum in a pistol, or .38 Special in a revolver. (If the latter, try to get a gun approved for the so-called "+P" higher-pressure .38 Special loads, or a .357 Magnum revolver that can also fire the less powerful .38 Special rounds.)

As for a holster, I don't think many producers make them for the CZ50. You could try to find a cheap nylon holster to fit it, but their floppiness is a handicap, and they often don't hold a gun securely. A pocket holster such as the DeSantis Nemesis is a good idea, if they make one for a pistol of roughly similar dimensions. Otherwise, if you're going to get a higher-power handgun, choose one that has a selection of holsters available for it. (Not all of them do!)

As for choosing a better handgun, I suggest reading my article on small handguns for defense (linked in the sidebar of this blog). I hope you find it helpful. The series on stopping power will also give you some ideas.

MrGarabaldi said...

Thanks Peter,

In the winter I have a Smith 681 or a Smith Sigma .40. I have carried the CZ when I am wearing "summer" clothes and trying to pack a heavier and larger gun is problamic from the conceal aspect. I was looking for something for my little CZ for summer use. I would like to get one of the new glock .45 that is in the small range, but getting the capital expendiatures past the comptroller is difficult especially from her view that "You have too many guns already"

I have switched out the hollow point loads to straight ball for the .32

Anonymous said...

Here is a recent story about mob violence in Philly.

Chased home: Mob attacks man IN HIS HOUSE.

This reinforces BRM's changing ideas about home protection.


Tam said...

A small correction:

"the smaller round now develops 80%-90% of the energy of the larger round, and has proven almost as effective in actual shooting incidents. I submit that for the average shooter (not necessarily for highly-trained experts), giving up 10%-20% of bullet energy"

The RA9TA has more energy than the .45, not less.

And, perhaps not coincidentally, I recently switched from the 1911s I've been carrying for years to an M&P9 myself, being an average shooter and not a highly-trained expert. :)

xenophon said...

Just came across this post although I visit frequently. "Flash mobs" are a serious concern in urban areas. Just read the internet not the papers. I went to U Chicago and lived on the "South Side" of Chicago for several years in the late '80s to mid '90s. After Rodney King I had to dodge a car at a crosswalk. The "African-American" driver attempted to run me over while his "African-American" passengers shouted racial slurs for "whitey". I was threatened while walking home from physics class by a group of blacks on 57th street in daylight. Not Hyde Park blacks, but ghetto blacks. Many storekeepers were outside their shops so I think I owe them. They knew what was up. Sadly, I was leaving the grocery on 53rd when I saw a throng of perhaps 30 teenaged blacks pummel a white man as he struggled to get into his truck. He got beat up but was able to get in and get away. I'll never forget this kid just wailing away and punching this guy (55 ish) as he tried to start the truck. Hyde Park is supposedly a safe neighborhood. This attack happened during daylight with dozens of witnesses. He got away alive. What can one person do? I was just 22 but I realized you do NOT want to live in an urban area. In fact, move several hundred miles away from any urban area. All major cities are now feral and only for the armed or reckless.

Stuart from Sydney said...

At least you people CAN have a personal or household weapon, here in Australia, most definitely not!.
If a citizen is assaulted, or home invaded, his/her defence actions are scrutinised by the justice system, and if deemed 'excessive', then that citizen is duly charged with assault, G.B.H., manslaughter or attempted murder, depending on the outcome of the event.
It gets 'better'. More often than not, the criminal has access to free legal aid, not so the aggreived citizen, it is not uncommon for the victim to be financially devastated, but not the crim.
As I speak, there is a Chief Justice here in New South Wales who is not in favour of under aged (18 or less) lawbreakers getting custodial sentences, except possibly(!) for armed robbery, or sexual assault.
He favours non-custodial 'Conferencing' for lesser crimes. Lesser crimes? - Good Grief!.
Words fail me.