What you need to know about things that go “BANG!”
As the old saying goes, “God made men, but Sam Colt made them equal.” Referring, of course to one of the first mass-produced handguns, the Colt Peacemaker.
Since the start of the COVID/BLM/Antifa crisis in 2020 until when I’m writing this, over twelve million people have bought their first firearm in response to these events. Over half are women. Before I get into anything else, you need to answer this question honestly and to yourself: “Can I end the life of another person?” Until you can say “Yes” to that question, don’t buy a weapon. Because if you can’t/won’t use it at that critical moment, it will be taken away from you and used to end your life.
If you purchase a firearm, these are the most important skills you need to know and acquire:
- The four rules of firearm safety.
- How to safely handle, load and unload your weapon and magazines.
- How to clean and perform basic maintenance on it.
- How to shoot accurately (get an instructor to help with this).
- Dry fire to practice (for free) at home.
- Live fire at the range to know and stay accurate with the recoil.
I’m not here to tell you get any specific type of weapon or caliber. All I can suggest is to try different type to find out what works for you. My “preferred choice” will probably not be yours. The best way is to go to your local range and rent their weapons. Try all of them to see what works for you. Fire 10 shots and if they all end up in a group the size of your palm at about 10 yards, you have a serious contender. Because gunfights aren’t about the one who shoots first, it’s about the one who hits their target first.
I do suggest first you consult with your friends and acquaintances who own firearms. Ask them to take you to a local range to try out a variety of weapons to see what you can handle accurately. Make sure they will actually and properly teach you, not take a video of you getting your ass kicked by the firearm because it's overpowered for you or you underestimate its recoil and putting it on social media.
I am going to ask that you consider one type of weapon to start out with: an AR-15 carbine. The nice thing about the AR-15 is that it is very versatile. There is an entire industry devoted to making and selling custom parts and accessories for this platform. You can buy about 4,265 different accessories for an AR (I exaggerate. But only slightly).
Here are some notable point to consider an AR-15:
- You can get it in a variety of cartridges (.223/5.56, .308 Win, .300 Blackout, etc.)
- There are more accessories for it than Carter has little Liver Pills.
- Anyone (especially small females) can be deadly accurate with it out to 25 yards in 5 minutes or less.
- A carbine (a rifle with a shorter barrel length than a regular rifle) is well-suited for self-defense, house-clearing and urban environments, where the usual shot range is under 100 yards. One of these places is most-likely where most people will be using a rifle in a crisis situation.
Like Home Depot has a couple-dozen hammers for different jobs, the type of weapon (pistol, rifle or shotgun) and the caliber of the ammunition will be major determining factors in what job or role that firearm is best suited to accomplish.
Pistols are personal self-defense tools. They can be concealed discretely on your person or in a personal bag. They have an effective range of about 10 yards for most people, with a non-expert maximum range of about 25 yards.
Shotguns are close to medium range (up to 50 yards) and require less (but still some) accuracy. Because they shoot not a single bullet but a cup filled with a bunch of balls, this results in a cone-shaped “area of effect” that opens at a rate of about 1” per yard of range. If you’re 30 feet away from someone, most of the pellets will hit in about a 10” circle centered by the point of aim.
Rifles are for the “long distance” kind of shooting, but work well in close quarters as well. You have high-powered cartridges that are meant for long distance (up to 500 yards) and intermediate powered cartridges (.223/5.56, .308 Win) that are for shorter ranges. The high power cartridges can do “double-duty” for game hunting.
For the caliber question, your target (pun intended) should be the biggest caliber that you are can consistently hit your target. Bigger calibers mean more recoil. All firearms can kill a person if you shoot them in the right spot. A .22 Long Rifle has almost no recoil, however it has a “kill zone” the size of a quarter, you basically have to hit the person in their eye socket or aorta between their ribs. A .45ACP has a kill zone of about a dinner plate. Again, you have to hit what you’re shooting at before you have to start worrying about the lethality.
You will also need to practice with everything you get regularly. I know I’m asking a lot with how expensive ammo is right now, however this is not something you can expect to put in the closet and not touch it until two years later when you have to pull it out and use it properly and accurately in an emergency situation.
Dry fire is what you should be doing the most. With any modern centerfire rifle or pistol, you will not damage the weapon by dry firing it. Rimfire weapons (.22lr) you will damage them by dry firing. Practicing how you hold the weapon, point it at the target, draw or bring to ready, dump and reload the magazine, draw from concealment is critical, because doing these properly will give you muscle memory and retune your brain to the point these skills (draw, point, shoot, reload) will be automatic in a crisis situation. The professional competition shooters will pull the trigger 50-100 times on an empty chamber for every time they do on a loaded one.
You can also get “laser bullets” where you point your smartphone at a target with an app running, drop the laser in the chamber (they come in every caliber) then when you pull the trigger, it flashes a laser beam where you’re aiming (hopefully on the target) and the phone/app records where it hit. This way you can track your accuracy and shooting skills.
Dry fire also allows you to not learn bad habits that live fire can teach you. If you start anticipating recoil and jerk the trigger, or push the gun down to compensate for the anticipated recoil, this means you will miss, generally down and to the left. So, you compensate by aiming up and to the right. Which makes it harder if you have to do a longer shot. You would have to offset up and to the right more, but how much? When your life is on the line, do you really want to guess? You get my point?
You need to practice (live fire and dry fire) with it regularly. Again refer to your local gun store and/or friendly firearms enthusiast for further advice.