This is a guest post and entry in our non-fiction writing contest by Lloyd P
In much simpler times when gentleman wanted to settle a dispute of honor they called for a duel. “Choose your weapons” was the traditional start of the events once they had assembled. Dueling pistols, swords, even Bowie knives were sometimes used as tools to settle the disputes. Although it sometimes played out with each party firing into the air and then walking away with honor in tact or regained as the case may be – with no harm done.
It did not always end without loss and there are some very famous duels in our US history. While I’m very glad we don’t settle disputes this way any longer, the fact is many of us feel we are involved in a different form of dueling today. We are dueling with much more complicated situations, events and scenarios more significant than simply defending one’s honor. In fact many people feel that any number of possible events could occur that might justify or require the ability to protect ones, life, liberty, property or loved ones.
While the polls show that a majority of Americans believe our leaders are not leading the country in the right direction, there are some good things going on out there. One huge area of improvement is the increase in the numbers of people arming themselves and getting training on the safe and proper use of firearms. State governments across the nation are strengthening and even encouraging the use and personal carry of defensive weapons, both concealed and openly carried.
This has had the result of lowering violent crime to its lowest level since statistics have been recorded. This includes every place where private carry and use of firearms has been loosened or confirmed and the only places in the nation where violent crime has increased is those localities where the local governments have bucked the trend and have made it harder, or continue to restrict the personal carry and use of personal firearms. Things can change quickly and you do not want to be a victim of violent crime. If I may adapt an old adage here – you can only be a victim if you haven’t been warned, after that you are a volunteer.
With so many entering the firearms market it is understandable that people are asking questions about what weapons to consider and what choices should be made concerning ownership of firearms. While we have all heard the adage “experience is the best teacher”, I do not subscribe to this opinion. In fact I believe experience is not the best teacher, someone else’s experience is. Who wants to learn about a rattlesnake bite or a hand grenade by experience?
I bet most of us wished we had not learned about having a car accident by experience! And so it is with firearms and related issues, what we can learn from others can be indispensable in the long run. Even if you are in a position to have unlimited choices of firearms and ammunition it makes little difference as you cannot use all of them at once or have everything available to you when you are in a critical position of need. So choices must be made, and if the right choices are made from the beginning even as other items are added the expense and time involved will not increase exponentially.
Experience is not the best teacher, someone else’s experience is.
Choosing a general purpose hand gun is often the first consideration when a person decides to enter the world of firearms ownership or the world of firearms for preparedness. There are so many options, colors, calibers, sizes, materials and the list goes on and on. How about starting with the idea of keeping things simple, useful, effective, flexible and commonly available?
Before actually choosing which hand gun might be your best staring point it is quite advisable to look at what caliber you will want in a defensive handgun. One should, of course, choose a cartridge that is adequate for the purpose of self-defense. But it should also be available, affordable and shootable by the person who will use it. You could choose something like the .38 super and you would have a cartridge that is totally acceptable as a self-defensive round, but it is not readily available or particularly affordable, so why consider it except for specially purposes?
The handgun … an entire class of arms that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense…it surely elevates above all other interests the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home. U.S. Supreme Court, District of Columbia V. Heller June 26 2008
Let me keep things simple for the sake of discussion – the most commonly available, affordable shootable cartridges that are at least adequate for self-defense in a handgun would include the .380 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol), the 9mm (9mm parabellum / 9mm Luger), .38 S&W (Smith and Wesson), .357 S&W Magnum, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. There are other great cartridges such as the .357 Sig, 10mm, .41 Magnum, .45 Colt, and .44 magnum, but these each fall short of our criteria in at least one area or more.
The .9mm is the most popular center-fire handgun cartridge in the world. This is supported by the fact that it is the military handgun cartridge for more militaries in the world than any other, including the NATO nations which includes the USA. Having a firearm that can be fed by readily available ammunition is a wise choice so long as the cartridge also meets all of our other standards.
While the 9mm has been replaced by the .40 S&W as the choice of carry for most police departments in the USA, the civilian still has a greater choice of useful ammunition available than the militaries of the world who are limited to the less effective full metal jacketed bullets, also called ball ammunition, because of treaty obligations. Police departments actually use handguns as their primary weapon where as militaries do not. So when in comes to handgun use perhaps it is wise to consider what the vast majority of police departments choose to use. This would be the .40 S&W. So while the 9mm is the most widely used cartridge in use by militaries, the .40 S&M is the most widely used by police departments across the USA.
The 9mm is cheaper to purchase in most cases, and it is widely available. If you consider that shortages might be a possibility in the future (they have been in the past) – a lot of people choose the 9mm in part at least with the thought of future availability as a major factor, even though the .40 S&W has more “stopping power“. Unless you are able to purchase a lifetime supply of ammunition at the time you acquire your handgun, this is a consideration.
But why not start with a choice of firearm which allows the use of both – or even more? This gives the flexibility of not only stocking up with your primary choice of cartridge, but also gives you the option of using another widely available cartridge should that be the available one in the future. While the 9mm is generally more available, what if in the future your source for ammunition was more closely related to your local police department than your national military?
“The .40 S&W caliber is the overwhelming top choice of police departments today.” Massad Ayoob – Police officer & internationally renowned firearm and self-defense instructor.
Those who choose a .357 revolver know the flexibility of having the possibility of using .38 Special ammunition for cost savings and enjoyable practice shooting with less recoil, yet using the same gun for both types of ammunition. But is this possible with the semi-auto pistol? It is if you plan ahead properly.
I shoot a lot of 9mm ammunition for practice and fun, and I don’t do it in a 9mm hand gun. How is that possible you might wonder? It is possible by using a .40 S&W handgun with a barrel designed to fit that firearm, but chambered for the 9mm. It is not possible to use a .40 S&W barrel in a 9mm, so it is necessary to choose the .40 S&W from the start even if you will be shooting 9mm as your primary ammunition choice, but then you will have the option of shooting .40 S&W if and when you choose to.
I do this with Glock pistols. All that is required is using an aftermarket 9mm conversion barrel designed for the handgun in question from suppliers such as Lone Wolf Distributers and also using the factory magazines for the caliber in use. A 9mm magazine works perfectly in a .40 S&W Glock. There are also after market conversion barrels for the Springfield XD pistols from Bar-Sto.
If you live in Delaware, Dallas, Maine, Tennessee, Virginia or other places where the .357 Sig is used by law enforcement you might choose a handgun in this caliber and use the same drop in barrel to shoot the .9mm. In fact the .40 S&W and .357 Sig factory barrels can be exchanged readily and the same magazines are used for both cartridges, but most people do not have a reality available source for inexpensive .357 Sig ammo.
After your basic firearms – invest in ammunition! The more you have, the better off you will be for a number of reasons. The cost isn’t going down. Ammo is also a good barter item. Unless you reload your own ammo you are vulnerable to the market on both price and availability. You never know how long you will need to depend upon the ammo you currently have.
Let’s face it, once you have your basic firearms stocking up on ammunition would be a priority. Without ammunition the handgun is useful for a paperweight or an attempt to bluff an attacker, neither of these would be high on your list of reasons to purchase a firearm. After you acquire your basic battery invest more in ammunition than on additional firearms. You don’t want to have more firearms than you can feed.
If you run out of ammo you will need to locate some, if you have extra you are in a position to barter – or practice more. If you choose a system which is flexible from the start, you have more options. I know a lot of people who choose a 9mm as their primary cartridge simply because it is the most readily available adequate cartridge even though they would like the added security of a more powerful cartridge like the .40 S&W. Why limit your choice?
By choosing carefully you can have the option of using both. While I have read of some problems with aftermarket conversion barrels – after firing thousands of rounds of ammo through mine I have not experienced any failures. I have learned that the barrels work best with some slight lubrication on the outside where as the factory barrels work best with no lubrication.
The flexibility does not end here either. Once a hand gun is acquired with conversion barrel, you might like to add a carbine such as the Kel-Tec Sub-2000 in either of your cartridges and use the same magazines as you use in your semi-auto handgun. This gives the person a real broad flexibility with a minimal expense just by planning ahead when purchasing the primary defensive firearm & cartridge.
The 10mm is not a widely popular hand gun cartridge because it is more powerful than necessary for most self-defense situations. Because of this it is more expensive to shoot. So why is it so popular in local areas such as the Rocky Mountain west? Because there are four-legged varmints as well as two-legged ones there! Lions, and wolves and bears (oh my!). So what if you live in an area like this and would like the added power of the 10mm but you don’t want to give up the flexibility, affordability and availability of the other cartridges listed? Simple, use your 10mm barrel when in the wild, and drop in a .40 S&W barrel when you are near pavement or the shooting range.
The Glock 20 10mm even has a factory drop in barrel available which is designed specifically for handgun hunting, something not available for any of the lesser cartridges. There’s even a 10mm conversion carbine available from Mech Tech (Also many other caliber choices) for those who want to have the flexibility of a carbine for certain uses such as hunting or patrol. While I love the 10mm, I do not suggest it as a choice for the average person for reasons listed earlier, but it is totally possible to have a common cartridge such as the .40 S&W for common and general use and have a specialty cartridge like the 10mm available for the same firearm if proper planning is done before purchasing your weapon.
There are other options available also, while not quite as simple or as inexpensive as a conversion barrel for a .40 S&W to 9mm, a 10mm Glock can be converted to shoot .45 ACP by simply purchasing a new slide & barrel for the similar sized frame. Since only the frame is considered the “firearm” by the BTAFE, a new slide can be ordered through the mail thus avoiding additional paperwork and expense of purchasing an entire new firearm. This is also possible for those who have a .45 ACP but would like the 10mm, perhaps for hunting. The magazines from each caliber fit perfectly in the grip of the other. Glocks are not the only brand for which this is possible, but check before you purchase if you feel you might like this flexibility later. Along the same line, there are .22 conversion kits for various hand guns that convert your 9mm, 40 S&W, 10mm or .45ACP into a .22 rimfire for practice, plinking and flexibility to shoot and stock up on very cheap .22 caliber ammunition.
If you shop wisely you could start your battery with a pistol and conversion barrel that will shoot two or more common calibers of ammunition, a carbine that shares the same magazines as your handgun and as much as 1000 rounds of ammunition for the current average cost of one AR-15. However if you already have an AR-15 you also have a very flexible firearm. Most AR-15s shoot the useful and widely available 5.56×45 /.223 ammunition. If this is what you have you, have the option of adding a drop in .22 LR conversion to shoot .22 rimfire cartridges through the same barrel. Of course the AR family of rifles can be easily switched from one caliber to another by changing one upper for another.
This gives many options for other barrels, like longer for more velocity, heavier for heat displacement or other calibers. However, when it comes to our criteria of simple, useful, effective, flexible and commonly available we are primarily looking to the .223, .22 and the 7.62×39 which is currently widely available and quite reasonably priced. There are also uppers for pistol calibers which use special magazines.
For those who have a pistol in 9mm, .40 S&W or .45 ACP who also would like the simplicity and reliability of a revolver there are a number of revolvers which are chambered for these calibers. Charter Arms has a revolver chambered for the .40 S&W that is quite nice and does not require the use of moon clips to hold the rimless cartridges most used by pistols. For those who use the .45 ACP in their pistol the S&W Governor is a revolver that can expand your flexibility.
The Governor is a follow up of the very popular Taurus Judge which will chamber both .45 Long Colt and .410 shotgun shells. The Governor matches this and also accepts the .45 ACP. While I like the .45 Colt cartridge it does not meet our requirements of wide availability and reasonably priced, but with the right ammunition it is functional as a handgun hunting cartridge or for use against lager predators. While you might not purchase a dedicated .45 Colt revolver, if you have a .45 ACP and would like a revolver in this caliber having the .45 Colt adds flexibility. While the .410 shotgun shells are advertised as being great for self-defense personally find them very useful for small game, vermin, venomous snakes and game birds up close.
These ideas are meant as helpful suggestions with which you can increase your flexibility with your personal defense arm by careful planning and forethought. Flexibility, dependability, and adaptability are each keys to survivability. Choose your weapons – thoughtfully.
This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest where you could win:
First Prize) Winner will receive a Stealth Body Armor Level II vest courtesy of SafeGuard ARMOR™ LLC and a $150 gift certificate for Wolf Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner.com A total prize value of over $600.
Third Prize) Winner will receive copies of both of my books “31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness” and “Dirt-Cheap Survival Retreat: One Man’s Solution” and a Katadyn Siphon Water Filter courtesy of Mayflower Trading Company. A total prize value of $107.
Contest ends on June 5 2012.