Following last week's article about personal defense rifles, a number of readers sent in questions and comments. I thought I'd respond to some of them here.
Assuming I have an adequate defensive rifle, what's the most important modification I can make to it to improve performance?
I addressed this in the first of three articles about personal defense rifles last year. Please see it for a list of things to look for. If I had to prioritize features I want in a weapon (handgun or rifle), I'd stress the following, in this order.
- Reliability. The weapon must go "Bang!" every time I pull the trigger. If it's not reliable with your chosen defensive ammo - in other words, it fires 100 times out of 100 - it's not good enough to trust your life to it. I choose weapons, magazines and ammo, and test them in combination, until I'm satisfied they're as reliable as it's possible to make them - and I'll still practice malfunction drills, just in case. Send your firearm to a gunsmith for repair or modification if necessary, and replace it if he can't find or solve the problem(s). Reliability is absolutely critical, and overrides all other criteria for selecting a defensive firearm.
- Shootability. This includes the correct length of pull for a long gun, good sights, and a good trigger. Iron sights are not to be sneezed at for those with good eyesight, particularly over short to medium ranges - wars have mostly been fought with such rifles in the past. High-tech electronic sights and bullet-drop-compensating reticles are all very well, but a flat battery or breakage or malfunction can sideline them all at the drop of a hat. A good trigger is worth gold, IMHO, in a handgun as much as a rifle. I discussed that last year. I'd fit a better trigger even before looking for a better sight. It can dramatically reduce your group size.
- Training. This isn't a "modification" as such, but it's every bit as essential as fitting the right gear to your weapon. I never cease to be astonished at the number of gun owners who buy a gun, only to put it away in a drawer and never (or hardly ever) shoot the thing. Shooting is a perishable skill. If it's not exercised, it'll atrophy. Most competent shooters I know average at least 50 rounds per month, if not more - and that's not to mention top competitive shooters, who'll go through tens of thousands of rounds a year. If you can't afford to do that with full-power defensive ammo, get a .22LR equivalent to your weapon (or even an Airsoft or BB replica) and train with that, as we discussed some years ago. It'll pay dividends if you ever have to defend your life for real.
You're asking the wrong question. It should be, "What's the smallest, most compact handgun that I can control in rapid, aimed defensive fire?" There are several handguns that are so small as to be tiny (e.g. Ruger's LCP II, Keltec's P32 and P3AT, North American Arms' mini-revolvers and pistols, etc.). I used to carry the small Rugers or Keltecs in the past. However, I've grown older. They were always uncomfortable to shoot, and today I find them impossible to shoot well at further than halitosis range. Their tiny sights are so hard to see with my aging eyes that they're no longer a good choice for me. The smallest firearm I currently carry (as a backup, in my pocket) is a Glock 42 pistol or a Smith & Wesson 442 or 642 revolver, which are slightly larger and (I find) easier to handle. I much prefer something larger, when I can conceal it.
Remember, the object of carrying a gun is to defend your life, and the lives of your loved ones, in an emergency. If the gun you're carrying is hard to shoot fast and accurately, your defensive ability is diminished - perhaps fatally so. Test-fire several models before you decide what to buy (a shooting range that rents out different models of firearms is a good place to start, or friends who own different guns and are willing to let you try them). Function and fitness for purpose comes first. Only after you're sure of both should you consider whether the gun is "small enough" or "concealable enough".
As Clint Smith has pointedly observed:
Carrying a gun is not supposed to be comfortable; it’s supposed to be comforting. The gun that’s with you is better than the one that’s home in the safe.
If the Biden administration is going to outlaw most defensive rifles and large-capacity magazines, why should I buy one? I'll only have to hand it over, or go to jail!
For a start, any gun or magazine ban will undoubtedly be challenged in the courts on constitutional grounds. It'll probably take years for it to get to the Supreme Court, which has already made several rulings (e.g. Heller, McDonald, Caetano, etc.) that should limit the scope and effect of a ban. If the authorities try to enforce new laws before such adjudication, I fully expect that restraining orders will be imposed on them until the result is known.
There's also a long, rich tradition of civil disobedience in this country. When New York passed highly restrictive firearm legislation, including requiring the registration of so-called "assault weapons", the vast majority of its residents refused to comply. The same thing happened in Connecticut. If national legislation is passed along the same lines, I have little doubt that gun-owners across the USA will do likewise. Yes, there's a risk of prosecution if that happens: but the civil rights for which our Founding Fathers fought so hard are not to be given up lightly. If the authorities take matters too far, I daresay some of them will learn the hard way how seriously ordinary Americans take such matters.
Guns and ammunition are so expensive right now that I simply can't afford them!
What's your life worth?
If you can afford to spend money every month on cosmetic procedures (e.g. hairdo's, nail salons, etc.), or can afford to eat out once or twice a week, or can buy more than necessities (e.g. fashion items, etc.), then you have excess income that you could save towards the purchase of a firearm and ammunition. It's up to you to decide where your priorities lie.
Some of the poorest individuals I know have acquired the means to defend themselves. Consider:
- A lowly machete can be had for as little as $5.99 at Harbor Freight. It can be kept handy at home, in case someone kicks in the door. (In the sort of places where many poor people live, this can be more than just a theoretical risk.)
- A used short-barreled pump-action shotgun (and even some new models, if you shop around) can be found for well under $200 in many places, including a box or two of ammunition. It makes a great home defense weapon. (Just a few weeks ago, I picked up a Mossberg 500 12ga. shotgun for only $125 - a heck of a bargain, to be sure, but they are out there if you look for them. I don't need it - I don't use shotguns much anymore, thanks to my back injury - but sooner or later, I'm certain I'll run into a friend who does.)
- A cheap handgun or carbine such as those offered by Hi-Point may look clunky, and be regarded with disdain by more affluent shooters, but I've seldom seen them malfunction. Some can be had for under $200. If that's all you can afford right now, buy it until you can afford better.
You don't necessarily have to pay cash at all. True story: one man I know mowed and edged his neighbor's lawn all through one long, hot Texas summer, and in the fall received as payment a personal defense rifle. He did the same the following year, and earned a shotgun and ammunition. The third year he earned a 9mm pistol. This year, he's working for more ammunition. He's built up a useful defensive collection, all paid for with sweat equity. Good for him!
My parents never needed a gun. Why should I?
I can't be sure whether you will or not. However, I think we're in for a torrid time over the next few months.
- Antifa and BLM aren't going away, and are openly threatening to carry on with their violent street "demonstrations" (a.k.a. riots) if sufficiently progressive legislation isn't enacted fast enough to suit them.
- The Biden administration may work hand in glove with social pressure groups, to use the influence they can exert to assist in getting its policies through Congress.
- High-profile court cases, such as those arising from the death of George Floyd, may escalate interracial tension.
- The so-called "urban underclass" in many American cities is increasingly turning to crime and violence to get what they want. See the crime statistics over the past year or two for evidence of this. Some are calling it the "Minneapolis Effect". It shows no sign of decreasing - rather, the opposite.
If you live near a concentration of such problems, you can expect to encounter them more often in the foreseeable future. Under such circumstances, if you're not ready, willing and able to defend yourself and your loved ones, you're an accident waiting to happen. You're a victim waiting on a crime. You're a defenseless target.
Don't be any of those things. Prepare yourself as best you can to defend what's near and dear to you.