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Evolving on Guns: My First Foray into Gun Culture

Family advice on gun shopping: My son said I should think of it like going to the mall and trying on a lot of different outfits until I find one that fits.

Paula Bolyard


May 6, 2013 - 8:00 am
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I’ve been writing about my evolution on guns since the Boston manhunt (see here and here). Last week I made my first foray into gun culture by getting my hands on some actual guns.

Once I made the decision to exercise my 2nd Amendment right to self-defense rather than to be a helpless victim, I began to research my options for home protection. I contacted friends who are qualified to dispense advice on the topic and I sent them emails with my requirements. I said I wanted a gun for home use (not for concealed carry at this point), one that is easy to load and shoot (and wouldn’t require me to be an expert marksman), and one for which ammo is readily available. They responded with helpful suggestions and all had a 12-gauge shotgun at the top of their lists. One said a 12-gauge pump shotgun is “ tried and true, easy to use, and ammo is plentiful.” Another said, “For home protection get a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun. A Mossberg 500 and a Remington 870 are essentially the same weapon. 12-gauge 00 buckshot is still fairly cheap and plentiful. Anything you shoot at will be vaporized at close range.”

That sounded good, though the thought of “vaporized at close range” in my home was unnerving. Let’s not forget that until a few weeks ago my weapon of choice was a bug vacuum (don’t judge me, this is a process).

My friend and neighbor, Doug Deeken, who is on the board of Ohioans for Concealed Carry, sent me a detailed email with a list of handgun and long gun options. He also thought a shotgun might be a good choice for home use, but offered some cautions,

Long guns are easier overall, and a bit safer for the user, but aren’t quite as easy to use in a hallway with that long barrel sticking out there.  Personally, I have a pump-action Mossberg 500 12-gauge for my home-defense gun. Unless you are familiar with the recoil of a 12-gauge, you’d be well advised to look for either a 20-gauge or .410 gauge pump-action shotgun.  Either a Mossberg 500 or Remington 870 will work fine. Get a “Youth” or “Bantam” model, because it’ll have a shorter stock that is easier for you to hold correctly.

When three out of three friends had shotguns at the top of their recommendation lists, I latched onto that idea and told my husband and son that I was leaning toward a shotgun. Ryan, my 21-year-old son, has many years of experience with a variety of guns (what happened at camp, stayed at camp — I didn’t want to know the scary details all those years). When I told him (via Facebook chat) about my plans to get a shotgun, he didn’t agree. Actually, “scoffed” might be a better word, but he tried to be gentle:

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All Comments   (72)
All Comments   (72)
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Regardless of the gun you choose, the most important thing is to practice to the point of 'unconscious competence'. My wife found other ladies to shoot with, and shoots local competitions with her handguns - it's the best thing she ever did...
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Two highly recommended YouTube channels to watch for some very useful info on the topic of all things firearms, accessories for them, tips & tricks, etc: faliaphotography & TheYankeeMarshall.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
1) 870 Remington with buck shot
2) M-16 or AR47 – personal preference
3) Remington 308
This would be a very minimum and a good start
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
So you got it. The right one is what fits best for you. Think of music. What is the best guitar or drumstick?

Just trust yourself and find something that feels right. The rest is commentary.

46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Great to read about your experiences down this road. Sounds like it's all evolving quite well. I agree with your son's comments about the trying on different cloths. Not about the shotgun however.
There's no rule that says you have to use buckshot. You can use #4 birdshot. It won't kick quite as hard, and won't be quite as effective against an assailant as 00 buckshot would be, but still, it's an oz. of lead shot that won't feel good when it hits someone and won't go thru structure so easily. If one round does not produce the desired result, keep shooting; that's why you have the extended magazine tube. You'll get used to this recoil over time and it will be natural. I agree with the comment about how it's harder to maneuver with a long gun inside. Good to have a handgun as well.
I agree also about the .45 ACP, it feels good to shoot and is a great defensive round. Try a 1911, you will probably like these. I'm a small guy and a 1911 fit's my small hands well.
Good Luck!
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Welcome to the REAL AMERICA, Paula.
You have taken your first steps on a long journey to firearm education.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Springfield Armory XD 45 ACP is an excellent choice for close range out to 20 yds. It’s very accurate and comfortable to shoot. .38 / .357 revolvers (e.g. Ruger Redhawk or GP100) are very reliable. AR15 is a very versatile rifle, easy add, and change attachments. In spite of the demonization of it by the anti-gun nuts, it's really a very practical firearm like a Sport Utility Rifle, low recoil close to long-range. Enjoy your new tools and people you'll meet who help you.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
One thing you may want to consider that many people dismiss is a good lever gun. A cowboy lever-action rifle chambered in .30-30, .30-06, .44 Mag, etc is much less expensive than an AR-15. Also, with a minimum of maintenance, it feeds and fires absolutely reliably. A carbine model is short enough to pie a corner with. The rate of fire, with some practice, can be almost as high as that of an M4, and though it's a bit slower to reload, the magazine holds 8-10 rounds, not to mention that in a stressful situation at close range, it's easier to put rounds on target with a carbine than with a handgun.

A really good combination for many people may actually be a lever gun as the primary weapon, and in combat, when the lever gun runs out, transition to a 1911, or, even better, a wheel gun chambered in the same round as your cowboy rifle. Just make sure to put a good decelerator on the rifle.

Also, lever guns aren't federally tracked. ;)
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
"And I don’t want to have to be an expert shot."

AAAGGGHH! That myth again! That LIE!

Madam, within the ranges you will likely encounter in your home, you will have to be just as accurate with a shotgun as with a pistol or rifle.

The shot pattern does not expand much at all at those ranges. You cannot just point the gun in the target's general direction and let fly.

I'm glad you are leaning towards a handgun, but there's another myth that needs debunking. Revolvers are not more reliable than autos in any meaningful, real-world way. Have you noticed that no military and almost no law enforcement agencies are using revolvers? Is reliability not important to them?

Please do more shooting, and please, please, keep it to small calibers for a while. The worst thing you can do is to learn to flinch before you learn to shoot.

Your son's advice is good - a .22 is an excellent choice for you at this stage. You can shoot and shoot and shoot without developing a flinch, and you can do it without breaking the bank.

At this point, THE most important thing is to learn to shoot well. That requires PRACTICE.

Nothing else matters.

A hit with a .22 is FAR more effective than a miss with a 12 gauge or a .44 mag or any other weapon you can name.

If your life is on the line, the FIRST priority is to hit the target.

Start there.

46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
The argument about revolvers versus semi-auto handguns is interesting. Most departments in America had switched over to semi-auto issued handguns by 1997, but when the North Hollywood bank robbery happened that year, most departments mandated the carry of semi-auto sidearms (and began issuing .223 variants as well). Why? Because of two issues: speed of reloading and weapon capacity. It had little, if anything to do with weapon reliability.

I worked in law enforcement briefly, and have a decade and a half in two branches of the armed forces, and I'm a combat veteran. I've worked with spec-op types and law enforcement enough to get an idea of what they prefer, and this is often the case:
Many prefer Glock firearms, either in 9mm (higher capacity) or .40 (more knock-down power) because of their reputation for absolute reliability. A close second are those who prefer 1911 .45 ACP (LAPD SWAT issues Kimber .45 ACP 1911 handguns, and I have one myself).

The North Hollywood shootout showed (among other things) the need for higher-capacity handguns with a quicker reload time. So did the 1986 Florida FBI shootout. Semi-automatic handguns fit this bill very nicely, and some of them are very reliable.

That being said, many cops still carry revolvers as a backup weapon. Why? Because semi-autos CAN be very reliable, but the maintenance to keep them reliable is much higher than with a revolver. Revolvers are a little slower to load (but not much if you practice and use speed loaders), and they do have a lower capacity, but if you test most revolvers side-by-side with most semi-autos, the revolvers will tolerate neglect and contamination by dust, lint, dirt and grime much better than most semi-autos.

If you buy a handgun for home defense or concealed carry, you SHOULD have the commitment to clean and maintain it properly. But reality being the case, and taking Murphy's Law into consideration, most homeowners are not going to field strip their weapon at minimum once a week for basic cleaning and oiling, and it's amazing how much dust and lint can collect on a holstered firearm in seven days. Neglect cuts down on the reliability of semi-autos considerably, and many homeowners will be lucky to oil their weapon once a month. Heck, it would probably blow your mind to know how many military and law enforcement personnel don't even maintain a rigorous cleaning schedule. Scary stuff.

Bottom line: under these conditions, revolvers as a generality will be far more reliable than semi-autos. These ARE meaningful, real-world conditions. The reality is that homeowners live under different conditions than the military and law enforcement.

Take using the military and law enforcement's example with a grain of salt, because they buy weapons specifically tailored to THEIR conditions. Heck, I know a lot of guys that like the AR platform but wish they could get a gas-piston chambered in 7.62x39 rather than the gas-blowback M4 5.56 they are issued, so not even police and military are always on-board with what their departments issue. Bean-counters have a lot of sway in leadership and in Congress.

Other than that, you're absolutely right about practice and accuracy. I wish I had more time for that. I wish most police departments would place more emphasis on practice and accuracy too.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ease of reloading and magazine capacity are both very important.

Both take a back seat to reliability. You don't even GET to the discussion about reloading and capacity until you have the reliability question settled.

It's first base.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
The argument between revolvers and autos has gone on for years. I would say, carry whatever you can shoot well. I routinely carry either a 9mm auto (Browning High Power) or a .357 magnum revolver (Colt). I don't feel under gunned with either. I can fire an entire 6 shots out of my revolver on target in about 2 seconds and reload using a speed loader in another 2 seconds or a little more - I have years of experience and I practice regularly. I still lean towards a revolver because of their inherent simplicity and reliability - point and pull - Bang. The .357 is a proven bad guy stopper.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
I wish people would not refer it to as the "gun culture." It is liberty and our God-given right. Nothing more, nothing less.

It is WAY more than "culture."
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
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