One of the best things about our marketing and pricing structure for Permit To Carry (PTC) courses is that I often see students who would not otherwise attend one of our classes. Most of those students are not only new to the idea of carrying, but are new to firearms for self defense in general. I am always asked for my opinions on what gun to purchase, and my answer is always “it depends”. I can provide guidelines, but every person must select a gun that is right for him or her. That said, I want to walk you through my personal choices in hopes that they can help you when browsing the case at your local gun shop.
There isn’t much in the world of handguns that I haven’t fired over the years. Name the brand and caliber, and I’ve probably fired rounds through it. I’ve also owned far more than my fair share, often trading and selling to acquire something else. I’m now at a point where I’ve been extremely content with my current choices for quite some time, and as I’ll discuss later, this is a good thing.
Many of our students look to start with a gun to “keep around the house just in case…”. That’s an excellent purpose for a firearm, but in my opinion it’s not the ideal task for a handgun. Remember, a handgun is what we carry because it’s convenient. When you are in a fixed position such as your home, a long gun is a far superior weapon. For home defense, I’ll take my 12 gauge pump shotgun. An important note on shotguns: there is a myth that shotguns don’t require a shooter to aim; this is indeed a myth. At self defense distances, even cheap buckshot will stay within minute-of-bad-guy. Higher quality ammunition such as the excellent Federal brand law enforcement buckshot may hold a fist sized pattern out to 20 yards or more from my personal experience. A properly used shotgun in the hands of a trained individual is a weapon system that is absolutely devastating.
The classic pump shotgun is the Remington 870 (and is the gun of choice for a number of our instructors), but a Mossberg 500 is another excellent option in the same price range. The Mossberg may be preferable for left-handed shooters, as the safety is an ambidextrous style. Either way, get a version that has an 18.5″ barrel. If you want to have a longer hunting barrel for it as well, that’s fine; keep the shorter barrel on it for social work.
Shotguns are all about the ammo. My recommendation is the law enforcement 00 buckshot from Federal. It’s cheap, easily available, and as I mentioned above, holds a pattern like nothing else on the market. One pull of the trigger is the equivalent of eight or nine (depending on which variation of the buckshot you choose) 9mm rounds on target.
Let’s get the big question of these few months out of the way: does an AR-15 have value as a home defense weapon? My answer is ABSOLUTELY.
I advise folks to have a shotgun available as a primary weapon for inside the house, but an AR-15 with the proper ammunition can be used as well. For inside use, you need to use proper ammunition such as the Federal TRU. If you use standard full metal jacket rounds, you run a high risk of over-penetration.
The AR will have lower recoil, should you have someone in your family that is recoil-adverse.
Where the AR-15 shines is in a SHTF situation. While many will say that this cannot happen, it HAS happened. Los Angeles during the riots. New Orleans during Katrina (until the government illegally confiscated the guns, that is). In those instances, FMJ rounds may be preferable as you could be fighting off a horde of “choirboys”.
Finally, we come to handguns. It has been said by many that a handgun is what we use to fight our way to a long gun, and there is definitely merit to that statement. Handguns are harder to hold steady, less powerful, and overall simply far less effective than a shotgun or rifle. We carry a handgun because it’s convenient, not because it’s the best weapon for the job.
Your mission drives the gear, and everybody’s requirements are different. The first thing to consider when choosing a handgun to carry is how concealed you need to be in your daily life. You CAN conceal a full-size handgun (many of us in the Blue Line Defense instructor cadre do so on a daily basis), but a smaller handgun is certainly more easily hidden. Snubnose revolvers and small semi-automatics such as the Kel-Tec P3AT or Kimber Solo slide easily into a pocket (always use a pocket holster!), and thicker compact guns such as the Glock 26 or M&P Compact can be carried on the belt with a very low risk of detection. Deep cover holsters such as Smart Carry are an option as well.
For those choosing to carry a full-size handgun, holster selection is critical. For inside-the-waistband (IWB) carry, you need a holster that can distribute the weight of the gun on your belt. I use a Comp-Tac Minotaur holster for IWB, and I know at least one other Blue Line instructor does as well. For outside-the-waistband (OWB), you should look for a holster that holds the gun close to your body if you want to keep it concealed. Raven Concealment is a leader in this area, but I haven’t gotten the chance to go hands-on with their gear. That will be changing in about a week when my Phantom holster for my M&P with weaponlight arrives.
That brings me to a final topic…lighting. Whether we talk about shotguns, rifles, or handguns, target identification is critical. Rule #2 of firearm safety: “Never point a gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.” You need to know if the bump in the middle of the night is an intruder looking to do harm…or a loved one getting a glass of water. Anywhere you keep a gun, you need to keep a flashlight right next to it. Flashlights run the gamut. I’ve always been a fan of Surefire quality, but I hate the price tags. Streamlight is a similarly well-known and high-quality brand, and is often a little less expensive. Brands such as Fenix are making fast inroads into the market with excellent lights at low cost due to overseas operation.
I have all of the above…I have a Surefire 9P that has been with me for over a decade. It now sports a LED head and lives on my primary shotgun in a mount alongside the barrel. I have a Streamlight Protac 1L for general use around the house…it also lives within arm’s reach at night. For on-duty use at my federal job, I carry a multitude of lights (following the axiom that “2 is 1, and 1 is none”). I have a Streamlight Stylus in my shirt pocket, a Streamlight Stinger LED dual switch on my duty belt, and a Fenix TK41 for when I need an obnoxious amount of light. My primary M&P 9 VTAC sports a Surefire X300 weaponlight for when I’m out in the world.
Most shootings occur in low-light situations. Don’t be caught without a light source! I also consider night sights to be a necessity whenever possible. My VTAC and even my AR-15 front sight have tritium inserts.
I’ll do in-depth posts about all of the above, but hopefully sharing my choices gives you some food for thought in choosing your defensive tools. As always, if you have questions or would like to discuss training options, we are always available via email or phone (email preferred for me).