Evolving on Guns: My First Foray into Gun Culture

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:

We are gun shopping.

 What are you looking for?

 12-gauge pump-action shotgun is what everyone seems to be recommending.

 Would you use a shotgun??? It would kick you on your butt.

 So why a shotgun?

 I want something that’s not complicated and that ammo is inexpensive and readily available.

 You might do better with a .22 pistol.

 And I don’t want to have to be an expert shot.

 I don’t think you will like a shotgun as much as a handgun.


 Because you won’t enjoy shooting the shotgun. You are not going to go trap shooting to practice. We could shoot a pistol in our back yard.

 All I want is something to kill the zombie who comes through the front door. I’m not sure a handgun would do that.

. But you won’t be able to kill anything unless you have practiced with it.

 I’d have to be a better shot with a handgun.

 A  zombie, no. A person, yes.

. I would practice.

 You would not practice with a shotgun.

 You have to be pretty accurate with a handgun, no?

 Chances are much higher that you will kill with a shotgun.


 So if you want a one shot, one kill, then a shotgun. But I don’t think you would handle that well. You would do better with a small handgun.

 Would I have to hit a vital organ to take them down?

 A .22 you could put 10 shots into them and not kill them, but I promise you they will not be getting up unless you placed your shot well, then it would kill.

If he’s armed and I’ve got a .22, what would happen?

 A shotgun could take someone’s  head off. Your .22 would have a better range than the shotgun. Shotgun range would be inside the house.

So we were back to that “vaporized at close range” concept again. Ugh. He had a point (and he knows his mother very well).

Everyone I contacted recommended a “try before you buy” approach, explaining that a gun purchase was a very personal decision and I’d have to hold it and shoot it before I knew which gun was the right one for me. When Doug made me this offer, I couldn’t refuse:

If you’d like to do some shooting this week just call.  I have a ton of empty milk jugs I could fill with water for your blasting pleasure.  Plus you could try out some different guns.

When my husband and I pulled into the driveway, Doug was waiting for us. He had a cache of guns and ammo set up on the tailgate of his truck in his garage. I have to admit, I was intimidated — it looked like the kind of thing you see on the news when the cops seize weapons in a drug bust.

Doug is a great teacher; he has obviously done this before. He started with the proper way to handle a gun (always treat it as if it’s loaded, never point the barrel at anyone) and moved on to the importance of hearing protection. We then started trying out the various firearms he had chosen from among his collection that he thought I might like.

First, I learned how to load and fire several revolvers:

  • .38 Special Colt Army Special Revolver 5″ barrel
  • .357 Magnum Taurus 66 Revolver 6″ barrel
  • .38 Special Ruger LCR Revolver snub-nose

The .38 Special felt like a heavier version of the cap guns my brother played with growing up. I found loading it (and the other revolvers) to be a little tricky and realized that I would need quite a bit of practice before I felt comfortable enough to use it in an emergency. I hit the box with the target on the first try and by the time I emptied all seven rounds, I was hitting near the center.

Not bad for my first time ever to shoot a handgun, I thought. (Please don’t tell me otherwise. Why spoil this moment for me?)

Next I tried the .357 Magnum. Compared to the .38 Special, it felt much more substantial in my hands and it had much less recoil. Doug had me try it chambered with two different bullets to get a feel for the difference between calibers. I definitely felt the difference in the recoil and, as a result, in my ability to shoot accurately. The more recoil, the less accuracy. Something for a small-framed girl to keep in mind. I also experimented with the difference between a single and double-action revolver because this gun could be fired either way. I found the lower pull weight of the double action to be much easier to handle.

Next Doug wanted me to try a “snubby” — a .38 Special Ruger LCR snub-nose revolver, which is a popular concealed-carry model. A lot of people like the small size because it fits easily into a purse; however, there are some drawbacks and Doug wanted me to try it out to see for myself. First shot: “Where’d it go?” Second shot: “Where’d that one go?” Third shot…etc. It didn’t take long to figure out that this cute little polymer-framed number was not easy to shoot accurately. If I wanted a little gun that I could shove into someone’s ribs, this would probably be my weapon of choice. Since I don’t anticipate joining the mob or any other situations in which I would be firing at extremely close range, I think this will probably not be the gun for me.

The final handgun I tried that day was a .45 ACP Springfield Armory XD45 Semi-Auto with a 5″ barrel. The polymer frame felt light, but the construction of the gun gave it a heft and sturdiness that I hadn’t felt with the revolvers. Out of all of the handguns, this one felt the best in my hands. Doug said that it was a popular model with those who carry their guns around all day because of the lightweight construction, but cautioned that the polymer frame also resulted in a stronger recoil. As it turned out, this was my favorite gun that I shot all day. The recoil was a bit much, so I would likely consider a steel frame rather than a polymer.

Next we moved on to the long guns:

  • .223 AR-15 with 11.5″ barrel + 5.5″ permanent flash hider
  • 7.62x39mm AK-47 16″ barrel
  • .410 Saiga Semi-Auto Shotgun 19″ barrel
  • 12-gauge Mossberg 500 Pump-Action Shotgun 24″ barrel

Whoa. Let’s just say that I will not be starting off with one of these bad boys for home protection. And contrary to our dear vice president’s advice, I won’t be firing two shots with a shotgun out my bedroom window to ward off a bad guy and won’t be shooting through the door with one, either. I admire you girls who look so awesome at the shooting ranges with your AKs and ARs, but these are all too much gun for me right now. The recoil about knocked me on my backside and left me with a sore shoulder. (Is there some technical reason they don’t come with shoulder padding? Just asking.)

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy shooting those powerful guns. After the first few rounds, once I knew to expect a punishing blow to my right shoulder, I derived a great deal of pleasure from obliterating a row of milk cartons — BAM! BAM! BAM! What’s not to love about that? But I didn’t feel like I would be comfortable toting one around my house in the dead of night if there was a Boston-like manhunt in my neighborhood. And that is what originally brought me to this place.

Perhaps the most important thing I discovered during our afternoon of shooting is that I want to think through and rehearse possible scenarios in which I might have to use the various guns I’m considering purchasing. Of course, I won’t be able to imagine or prepare for every possibility, but visualizing the possible use of a weapon seems like a prudent step to take before I make my final decision. While some will accuse me of “overthinking” this decision, it’s a big step and it’s a process and I don’t feel the need to rush into this decision.

For now, I’ve narrowed it down to the handgun family. While I liked the feel of the semi-automatic, the revolvers have some appealing features, such as reliability and low maintenance. My next step will be to start 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.

Dear boy, have you ever seen your mother at the mall trying on “a lot of different outfits”? I mean, when I wasn’t under extreme duress due to an impending high school reunion or wedding?

I’d rather be shooting up milk cartons.

In case you’re wondering, here’s where I ended up: