Friday, July 9, 2010

Shifting Gears - A Little More Fun Stuff

When I started this blog, I envisioned talking about things I consider fun.  I have a ton of interests and hobbies, from bicycling to shooting; from saltwater fishing to photography; from woodworking to metalworking, along with hiking, radio and others.  Looking back on my first few months, I see way more politics and nowhere near as much fun as I envisioned. 

If you asked me to describe myself, the last word I would use would be "serious".  Of course I want to be good at my job, but I would much rather people not remember me so much as a good engineer but as the funniest guy they ever worked with.  I once told people working with me to expect me to be serious 10% of the time. 

So I'm going to take some of the zeitgeist floating around over at WSRA today - about trying to get a better balance of awareness of what's coming while not being overwhelmed by it as much as possible.  As John Lennon is quoted as saying, "life is what happens while you're busy making other plans".  No matter what else comes in the next 10 years, we have lives to lead.  We will go to work as long as we can, provide for ourselves and families as best as we can, and have as much fun as we possibly can. 

If you've read this blog much this won't be a shock: I think really bad times are coming.  I can't predict that there will be open civil war in the US, but I can't express how surprised I'd be if I looked up one day in 2020 and everything was peachy and all the major problems we face today have been solved.  As others have said, I really don't think a new set of elections will fix the structural problems we face; problems like the deficit and the 100+ trillion dollar unfunded liabilities have been brewing for a century.  The realization that the money is gone is going to cause social unrest like we have never seen.  I understand Goldman or one of those big banks has started arming their employees and getting them CC permits.  When you think of things like the SEIU protests outside the banker's home, and where that could have gone, you have to respect them for that. 

So at least for a while, I'm going to beat on that drum less, and talk about fun a bit more.  So let's talk about home defense guns.

Gun nuts are just as big a group of debaters and arguers as any other specialized hobby.  There is never a shortage of things to talk about, from cartridge stopping power to the "best" handgun for everyday carry to tactics to, well, you name it. 

One of the recurring topics is what type of weapon to use for home defense.  There are just as many opinions as authors, so here's a few ideas that I've distilled and adopted in my world.

First off, it is hard to beat a shotgun as man-stopper with anything you can wear in a holster.  I have heard of people being shot over 30 times with 9mm handguns before they stopped being a threat but I can't say I've ever heard of someone being hit by shotgun more than twice.  Consider this: at self defense distances (almost always under 10 yards) a 9mm jacketed hollow point has an impact energy of around 330 ft-lbs.  A 12 ga buckshot load hits with around 1890 ft-lbs.  It's hard to compare those two.  (All ballistics data from the Federal Premium ballistics calculator, download here).  Even the vaunted 45 ACP won't go over 420 ft-lbs (230 grain JHPs).
Springfield Armory XD Subcompact 9mm

There are, of course, shotgun snobs who say only a 12 ga with 00 ("double-ought") buckshot will do.  A 20 ga shooting #3 buckshot hits with 1435 ft-lbs of energy.  Over three times the energy of your potent 45 ACP.  As famous gun writer Massad Ayoob says, the only difference to the home invader hit by a 20 ga or 12 ga is how much work the coroner has to do to find all the pellets.  The important thing in favor of a 20 ga is that a smaller man or small woman or adolescent in the home might find a 20 ga shotgun fits better and is easier to handle. 
Mossberg Tactical 20 gage

A shotgun is harder to move around in cramped spaces inside your house than a handgun is, but that can be practiced (with the gun unloaded!!) to get used to it.  Some real training, or watching of TV training with lots of copying, helps no matter what you use. 

There's two more reasons to give the nod to the shotgun, especially for a friend or relative that has no other plans for self-defense.  First; a shotgun is legally treated differently than a handgun; in most places (every one I know of) you don't need a cooling off period to buy one, or a permit of any kind to own it.  You walk into your local Bass Pro, Cabela's, Gander, etc., etc., plunk down your money and walk out with it.  Yeah, you have to fill out the instant crime check form, but that's usually about it.  Second, your shotgun is likely to cost less than a good handgun.  Maybe much less.  A pump action shotgun like a Mossberg 500 series or Remington 870 series, will typically be around $300 or so; less if used.  I have seen perfectly good used Mossberg 500s for $200 and less.  A good handgun, will probably be $450-ish new, and used handguns hold their value quite well.   

Now a shotgun typically holds 5 shells, while a full-sized 9mm will hold as many as 19 rounds.  That is probably going to be a disadvantage, so spending some time at a range learning to do tactical speed reloads is a really good idea.  You don't need expensive buck shot (around .75 to $1 per shell) to do this.  Get a box of cheap Walmart bird shot for this.  

Let me address another couple of points.  Remember that while you may be legally justified in shooting someone in your house, "a lawyer goes down range with every round" and you want to be aware than any type of round capable of stopping an attacker will penetrate most any wall.  One of the rules of gun safety is to always know where you are shooting and what's behind the target, and there are no exceptions when you need to defend yourself.  While a fired round will lose energy going through walls, becoming less and less dangerous, you especially don't want to shoot through windows into a neighbor's house.  All that said, in tests I have seen, buckshot actually penetrated less than a 9mm round. 

You may hear that "you don't need to aim your shotgun - just point and shoot".  Not true.  With no choke, smooth barrel shotguns (like most 12 ga self defense guns) you will get about one to two inches of shot spread for every 10 feet of range.  Your attacker would have to be quite far away to not have to worry about aiming to hit them.

Although this is a very introductory level article, here are some conclusions.

A shotgun is a little unwieldy, but the impact from a load of buckshot will hit an attacker many times harder than a handgun shot would.  The small number of shells a shotgun will hold puts a premium on your being able to run the gun (tactical reloads), but a pump action shotgun is very reliable. 

A semi-auto handgun is easier to keep running due to the number of rounds it carries and it's easier to maneuver around inside a house.  You need to practice with a handgun, too, especially overcoming jams and other problems a semiautomatic weapon can throw at you.

If you're only going to own one gun, a shotgun is probably more useful.  You can hunt with it, usually just by changing barrels (generally less than $100 new). 

Have a plan for what your family does in a crisis.  If you have a split plan house with kids on one side and adults on the other, be sure the kids know to get low and stay low until you tell them all's clear. 

This only touches on the subject, but it's a good start for now.


  1. You're absolutely right about shotguns.

    I picked up a Mossberg 500 a few years ago for just under $200.00 new.

    For more practical purposes, I swapped the wood out to synthetics. The stock is now a Butler Creek folder with a pistol grip and I replaced the 28" field barrel with a 20" slug model. With the stock folded, the overall length is not at all difficult to swing around in tight spots.

    The butt end of the stock provides space for three shells to be held at the ready. It also has a fairly decent recoil pad attached. The stock can be easily removed / replaced, using an Allen wrench, for transition to or from the pistol grip only configuration.

    I have also installed a Side Saddle shell holder which provides space for an additional six rounds on the left side of the receiver. This is a very simple install but, a modified (shortened)forearm is required so that the action will fully open without interference between forearm and shell holder.

    With the plug removed, the magazine tube will hold five 2 3/4" shells. I keep the tube and Side Saddle loaded with Remington 12ga. 00 buckshot shells (12 pellets in each) and 1 1/4 oz. rifled slugs in the butt stock.


  2. Sounds like a good approach. The shotgun is brutally effective at everything it does. I'm sure you heard that in WWI, the Germans thought shotguns were too brutal for warfare. Shotguns were unfair, but mustard gas was OK!

    Slugs vs. buck is a pretty even choice, IMO. 00 buck pellets are just slightly bigger than 32 cal ball ammo, so it's like getting shot by 9 (or 12) 32 cal pistols at once - except that every pellet is going faster and hits harder than a 32 gun would shoot. A 12 ga. slug is like a .73 caliber bullet. It's bigger than a .50 BMG by almost half. I read somewhere a set of interviews with convicted burglars in prison. Their biggest fear: armed homeowners. Especially if the homeowner "got a gage" - a shotgun.

    I remember seeing shotguns on display at Sears when I was a kid, but never had one in those days.