Following the Baltimore riots, and the posts I've done on related defensive subjects over the past few days, I've had several queries asking me what firearms should be considered for defensive purposes when a family is involved. There may be several people, all needing to use a firearm, covering each other, defending a vehicle or vehicles when traveling, that sort of thing. The inquirers fell into two camps. In some cases each individual already had a favorite firearm, but there wasn't much commonality in terms of caliber, magazines, etc. In others the family were all relative novices, wanting advice on how to select firearms and get training.
I'm going to approach this from the second perspective, that of a family wanting to equip themselves for defensive purposes and starting with a relatively clean slate. If you and your family are already trained and experienced in the use of firearms, you'll probably know enough about your needs that you won't need me to tell you about them.
All right. Let's begin with a few basics.
- A handgun is the most difficult firearm to learn to use effectively. It requires a lot more training, and a lot more practice to keep one's skills at an effective level. A long gun (rifle, carbine or shotgun) is usually simpler and easier to learn to use, and skill with a long gun is easier to retain than it is with a handgun. However, a long gun is seldom easily concealed, and is much more difficult to carry on one's person or in one's car unobtrusively. There's a trade-off between size, ease of use, and concealability.
- For basic home defense, a simple long gun such as a pump-action shotgun is probably the quickest, easiest and most cost-effective option. I've already covered that in a three part article some time ago. Follow those three links to learn more.
- For concealed carry, vehicle defense, etc. a handgun is going to be far more practical - but also more demanding in terms of time, skills and commitment. If you aren't willing or able to commit to those needs, you may end up being more of a danger to yourself and your loved ones than to a would-be attacker.
We'll proceed on the assumption that you're going to invest in handguns for yourself and your family. Here are my suggested important considerations. For considerably more detail, I highly recommend my friend and fellow blogger Kathy Jackson, a very experienced instructor with particular expertise in helping women get up to speed on shooting - something very important in the context of a family. Her articles and blog are indispensable reading for me, and I recommend them to all my students.
First, even before you select your handguns, start training. You can do this with BB or Airsoft copies of well-known handguns, which are freely available at very reasonable prices. I've covered the subject in an earlier article, which I recommend you read before proceeding further with this one.
Second, remember that caliber, cartridge, etc. are not, repeat, NOT the primary consideration in the selection of firearms for the whole family. You're looking for a basic common handgun that can be used by all the members of your family. That allows you to maintain a common stock of ammunition, magazines, holsters and other accessories that everyone can use (and, more important, know how to use), and not have to worry about incompatible equipment or accessories. Considerations include:
- Does this type/model of firearm 'fit' everyone's hands? Can everyone hold it comfortably, reach the trigger, extend it at arms length without too much strain from the weight, etc.? It's no good giving a humongous pistol or revolver to someone with upper body strength limitations. Pick something everyone can hold and use.
- Can everyone operate all the controls and moving parts? Some people have difficulty operating the slide of some semi-automatic pistols. Others have dexterity issues, making it tricky for them to manipulate controls such as a revolver's cylinder release or the disassembly/takedown catch on a pistol. Try to find a firearm that everyone can operate. (This may be less important when it comes to takedown, cleaning, etc. if someone in the family will be primarily responsible for this. If a younger person can't take down a pistol, his or her father or mother probably can. As the youngster grows older, it'll become easier for them to do it too.)
- Are holsters, magazine carriers, etc. available to fit everyone in the family? Some may have different carry needs to others - for example, a man who habitually wears a business suit and drives to different locations might find a shoulder or cross-draw holster the most appropriate method of carry, whereas someone working on a farm might prefer a strong-side holster offering greater protection to the firearm from thorn bushes, etc. Women often can't comfortably wear the same holsters that men use, due to their different body shape and composition.
- Finally, can everyone handle the muzzle blast and recoil of the weapon? So-called "manly men" love to pick calibers and cartridges that have a reputation for greater stopping power, forgetting that the more power comes out of the muzzle, the greater the kick at the other end of the gun. A lot of smaller-statured people find powerful handguns very uncomfortable to shoot. Guys, don't try to 'prescribe' to your family what they will, repeat, WILL learn to love! It doesn't work that way. Try to rent firearms at ranges that offer that facility and let everyone try them for themselves. Talk to friends who have different models, and ask whether they'll demonstrate their chosen weapons to your family and let everyone try them. (By all means buy them a box or two of ammo to do that, so that you aren't a drain on their resources.) Let everyone have a say in the choice, and choose a firearm that most (preferably all) of your family can shoot well.
It's been my experience (in well over three decades of instructing shooters) that .38 Special in revolvers, and 9mm. Parabellum in semi-automatic pistols, are the biggest, most powerful cartridges that can be handled and controlled well by almost any shooter. When you get bigger or more powerful than that, some shooters start to get very uncomfortable. "Manly men" will doubtless claim that "Bigger is better", and "the only reason they carry a .45 is because nobody makes a .46". Good luck to them. Those slogans were accurate in the era before modern bullet technology became available, and are still somewhat valid when you're talking about hardball or full-metal-jacket bullets, but modern expanding bullets are pretty effective across most calibers and cartridges. This image (taken from this excellent discussion of the topic, which I highly recommend) conveys the point very well.
So, pick a firearm chambered for one of those cartridges that can be operated by anyone in the family and that fits everyone's hands (if necessary with different backstraps, for pistols offering that facility). Standardize on it, and stock up on ammunition, magazines (at least 5 per pistol) or speedloaders (5 per revolver) and holsters. Practice (and get training) until everyone's competent, and then stay that way. Don't let your skills atrophy.
My personal recommendation? It's the same I made a couple of months back - I recommend the Ruger SR9c pistol (and/or its big brothers, the SR9 or the new, lower-cost 9E, both of which use the same 17-round magazines as the SR9c, but can't use the latter's smaller 10-round version) as very cost-effective, reliable solutions. (Shop around for those magazines - they're often available from online retailers for much less than Ruger's asking price.) Their grips appear to fit most hands well, they've proved very reliable in my hands and those of my students, and there don't appear to be many problems with their controls and operation. No, I'm not being paid or sponsored in any way to recommend them! I've just had good experiences with them.