Clay’s Guide to Urban Defense: Ep. 2 Other Things That Go Bang

Pistols, while not as optimal as rifles, may have a place in your urban defense plan.

Originally, the plan for Ep.1 was to put together a list of all the firearms I’d recommend for urban defense.  That plan fell apart when my discussion on rifles alone started pushing 2,000 words (I like guns, sue me).  So, I decided to break the firearms topic into two episodes: rifles and other things that go bang.

Before I get started on the other things that go bang, we had a lot of readers hit up the comments section with favorites, which is much appreciated. Special hat tip to the M1 Carbine guys, one of my favorites too. It wasn’t included on my list because, as mentioned, I was getting really long-winded. The .30 Carbine (7.62x33mm) is ballistically very similar to .357 Magnum out of a rifle, which is not a bad thing at all.

We also got a lotta love for the lever action mention as well, with some cogent commentary. I recommended .30-30 due to the extended reach. But I will concede that a pistol caliber such as .357- or .44 Magnum has significantly longer legs out of a rifle and I can’t fault that choice either. By the way, the Big Horn Armory lever gun pictured in Ep.1 is actually in .500 S&W, which would be devastatingly effective.

Okay, moving on. It’s time to discuss the other options on the table. Some of you are probably going to disagree with my choices here, but I can take the heat.

Clay’s Guide to Urban Defense

Strategy and Storage

In combat terms, worrying about your pistol is generally akin to worrying about the color of your underwear. That is to say, they don’t matter much and you should really be thinking about something more important. They are less lethal than any centerfire rifle cartridge unless you are at .41 Magnum or above, and I wouldn’t even guarantee that. They are typically lower in capacity, harder to shoot, and generally less capable.

From having fought in a city or ten, my opinion of pistols is pretty low. My recommendation under normal conditions would be to either carry a loaded pistol. Or, in lieu of the pistol, just carry an extra rifle mag. But the scenario I presented in our series introduction isn’t normal conditions. And you don’t have a military logistics train supporting you, nor a dozen friends with rocket launchers and machine guns backing your play. So you might have to lean on pistols more than anyone with alternatives would like to.

I’m serious when I say that pistols are nearly useless in a combat zone. But the one thing that they absolutely have going for them is they are small. Everyone knows space costs money in a city. Having lived in a few apartments, I can appreciate how little storage you actually have, much less that you can leverage to stash an arsenal. In size terms, you can get about four to five pistols in the same spot as one rifle. And since I’m talking about urban defense, that might not be a bad strategy.

Quantity has a quality all its own.

I haven’t talked a great deal about strategy yet.  But on that note, let’s admit up front you can’t defend a building by yourself.  Moreover, that defending an entire building with thick exterior walls and multiple vantage points is much preferred to trying to ride it out alone in your individual apartment. All that to say, you are going to need help. And most of that help didn’t prepare for this contingency, they were too busy keeping up the Kardashians. If you expect them to hold any ground at all, you will have to arm them yourself. As scary as that sounds, it beats trying to do everything on your own. So the number of weapons on hand is actually a factor. I am sure that is hysterical to the GunsAmerica readers that live in areas with larger living spaces, but we are talking about a narrow band here.

So while a pistol wouldn’t be my ideal option for a recently converted Starbucks Barista, it might be what is available. It can still get the job done. As long as you plan your defensive strategy right, you can play to those strengths. We will cover this more in detail later but think for now about the corners of a fortified building held by lookouts with pistols as defensive weapons, with rifles higher up to maximize fields of fire. It only takes one slip up to have bad guys inside your structure, so you have to hold the ground floor. But that is not the best use of your bigger guns if you’re in short supply.

The Caliber Debate Is Over: 9mm All the Way

If we agree that some pistols are handy to have, what about caliber? Given the use of your pistols, I don’t feel like there’s even an argument with this one in the way we had with 5.56/308. I’m recommending 9mm all the way! Now don’t get your shorts in a tizzy just yet. Hear me out.

As many of you know, I am usually a fan of .45 ACP and .40 S&W, not to mention my all-time favorite: 10mm. I believe they’re — all things being equal — more lethal than 9mm, forget what the FBI says. Shouldn’t the increase in lethality from .4 calibers offset the capacity and weight difference from 9mm? Usually. But that’s for a seasoned shooter like myself with many years on the job (You’ll have to make your own call on that). But if we are talking about the hands of the untrained, 9mm is better all around.

As we all know, 9mm recoils less and the shooter has an easier time getting back to the target, which is magnified exponentially in rookie hands. That plus the added capacity of a 9mm, not to mention the shots to weight ratio of ammo, increases the odds of a hit. As we say in the Army, “If you can’t shoot hot, shoot a lot.”

Pistol Recommendations

If you already have a hand cannon, by all means, feed it. But if you are buying today, with this guide in mind, you can go one of two ways. I can recommend either equally.

1. Go with a high-capacity 9mm pistol with a red dot, such as the Springfield Armory XD(M) OSP. Red dots make it easier to put lead on target. They also have an added benefit of making a long shot more likely. The 19+1 capacity is crazy high, and reliability is off the chart.

Consider an optics-equipped pistol like the Springfield XD(M) OSP.

2. Go with the AK of pistols. The Hi-Point!  An XD(M) OSP will set you back around $800, which stacks up quick if you are arming the entire floor.  Hi-Points have a street price of around $150, which is a lot more palatable for things you aren’t likely to see again. Sometimes we need to take the words of Stalin to heart, “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

She ain’t a beauty but she’ll get the job done.

Shotguns:

Normally, I don’t like shotguns for home defense, but again that is under normal conditions. A lot of my argument against the 12 gauge scattergun is offset by the scenario presented, a defensive posture in an urban environment, and the new mag-fed guns on the market.

Traditionally, I’ve argued that most lawful home-defense shootings happen inside your home at a distance of about 7 meters or less, which is not enough space for the pattern to actually open up. Which means, I would rather have a rifle and its higher capacity. Shotgun rounds are bulky and heavy, which also means I wouldn’t choose to carry one on offense.

But if you have time to carry the can of 00 buckshot up the stairs before the crisis starts and if you happen to get your hands on one of these new mag-fed shotguns like the Mossberg 590M, then it’s an altogether different story.

The Mossberg 590M changes the game in many ways, especially with its reliable 20-round magazines.

While the rounds are still heavy, especially in terms of bangs to weight and storage size, the scenario presented plays directly to the shotgun’s strengths. If I needed to stop a mob 100 deep streaming down a hallway or up a staircase, bent on my violent death, my first choice would be a belt-fed on a tripod. But those are in pretty short supply, so a 590M with a 20-round magazine makes an excellent second choice. You can find em on GunsAmerica for around $600.

In terms of hurting a lot of evildoers quickly, if they happen to be massed together at least, a shotgun at about 35 yards is absolutely perfect. And while slugs are not a normal scenario good choice, since they are difficult to shoot well and recoil hard, they have an added benefit here. If you fuel up with hard-cast slugs, they are likely to penetrate 6 miscreants per shot, if not more. In raw energy terms, a 1-ounce slug at 1,600 fps second is beyond most magnum rifles. It might not have the reach, but it would be devastating to a horde trying to breach your defenses.

Pistol Caliber Carbines

It was brought up in the comment sections on Ep.1 that PCCs are easier to shoot than pistols, plus the added velocity makes them more lethal. True. But the restrictions on barrel length mean they are the same size as ARs, and ammo weight ( 9mm to 5.56) is nearly identical. Cost is also virtually the same. Given those facts, I would stick with a real rifle caliber.

Rimfires

Again, normally a bad choice for home defense. But from a fortified position, things change. The great benefit here is the volume of ammo you can store in a small container, an incredible shot to weight ratio.

Obviously, .22 LR is by far the cheapest and most common, which is worth considering. With .17 WSM, I have made reliable hits at 450 meters, in high winds. That is worth considering too. A rimfire rifle takes up just as much space as a centerfire. But given the crazy amount of ammo you can carry, I think it is worth having at least one in this scenario.

If nothing else, a rimfire is very useful for probing the darkness, aka recon by fire. Most of us don’t have a pile of night vision goggles laying around, and if we did, we would just take our private helicopter out of the crisis zone. So the nights are going to get dark and the mind starts seeing things. It is much better to send harassment fire that is likely to hit nothing with your cheapest option, saving your precious centerfire for sure targets.

Melee Weapons

I wouldn’t waste space on hand-to-hand implements. True, swords don’t run out of ammo. But in my opinion, it’s still folly. If you expect your makeshift army to stand its ground with Viking-style weapons in the teeth of a surging mob of screaming banshees, it isn’t going to happen. And even if they did engage the mob, who do you think would win tête-à-tête? The insurance salesman you drafted yesterday whose hobbies include talking about his feelings and sock folding? Or the thug who spent the last four years getting experience at street fighting with bike locks and billy clubs?

Exactly.  Don’t waste money on melee weapons.

Conclusion

At last, we have exhausted the weapons talk. Before you get out your Visa card and go hog wild, remember, we have other things to factor into the budget. Tune in next week for our discussion on tactics and hardening the castle: boiling oil, razor wire, and plywood. It’ll be Home Depot shopping like you’ve never done before!

***Shop for Pistols and Shotguns on GunsAmerica***

About the author: Clay Martin is a former Marine and Green Beret, retiring out of 3rd Special Forces Group. He is a multi-decade and -service sniper, as well as 3-Gun competitor and Master ranked shooter in USPSA Production. In addition to writing about guns, he is the author of “Last Son of The War God,” a novel about shooting people that deserve it. You can also follow him on twitter, @offthe_res or his website, Off-The-Reservation.com

{ 26 comments… add one }
  • Phantom 30 September 21, 2018, 11:00 am

    Good series: However, a strong strategy would be to pare down to a pair of versatile weapons, long range capable battle rifle, 24” 6.5 Creedmoor MSR and 10.5” AR pistol in 300 blackout. 25 power Millett optics on MSR, and large red dot on the pistol along with J arm for PVS-14 and rail mounted IR laser for moving CQB at night. A longer term logistic consideration would be to keep a shipping tube with a backup barrel and gas system in 7.62×51 available for under $80 in case Creedmoor brass runs out. If necessary you can make 300 Blackout ammo out of 5.56×45 and 7.62×51 rounds. 147gr bullets in all cases. Reloading tools can be as compact as a 50 cal. ammo can supporting all three calibers.

  • 1Braveman September 9, 2018, 4:00 pm

    I live in the red and somewhat remote state of Idaho. I can see ya coming from a fur piece. So I trust my AI .338 Lapua and for close in stuff I will use my 10 inch M4 with 40 round mag and suppressor. My thoughts are if there is a whole bunch of em, them then fall back and live to fight another day.

  • Dusty Old Fart (Call me Dusty) August 26, 2018, 11:46 am

    Clay,
    First time I ran across your work, which is excellent, but well beyond my level of firearms proficiency. I am now a fan.
    I am an 81-year old, Vietnam Vet (1964 to 1969) with the usual disabilities. I set up my home defense system up based on a Sig MPX (for intimidation and/or fire power), a Sig P229, and Sig P938 group. Since I live in a trailer, I have fed the 9MM’s with Hornady Critical Defense Lite. The manufacturer claims this round will penetrate a leather jacket, a sweat shirt and 8 inches of ballistic gel. For CQC in a tin building my hopes are to contain the rounds to the target area, and not spray my neighbors. I set all three weapons up as follows: Laser bore-sighted Crimson Trace sighting systems zeroed for 25’ for my old eye balls, three and a half lb. trigger pull, and gunsmith polishing and buffing the moving parts to ease chambering with my screwed-up hands. My target grouping is good, and with the ability to hit without obtaining a iron sight picture.
    Considering my limitations, I think this is the best I can do to deal with a home invasion scenario. By the way, I have a Harley-Davidson Trike and we ride with the Patriot Guard Riders. I have the P-938 on a back holster for my wife to access, while I have the 40 Cal. P-229 on my side should the need arise. I am licensed for CCW.
    Any advice from you or your readers?

    • Clay Martin August 28, 2018, 2:43 pm

      I think that will certainly get the job done. An AR is a good general use weapon, but I find no fault in using basically a sub gun ( MPX), especially in a scenario like you described. The Critical Defense ammo from Hornady is excellent, and for normal problems plenty. most of my reasoning for other calibers is ball ammo, what all of us are likely to have bought in bulk.

  • Dusty Old Fart (Call me Dusty) August 26, 2018, 11:44 am

    Clay,
    First time I ran across your work, which is excellent, but well beyond my level of firearms proficiency. I am now a fan.
    I am an 81-year old, Vietnam Vet (1964 to 1969) with the usual disabilities. I set up my home defense system up based on a Sig MPX (for intimidation and/or fire power), a Sig P229, and Sig P938 group. Since I live in a trailer, I have fed the 9MM’s with Hornady Critical Defense Lite. The manufacturer claims this round will penetrate a leather jacket, a sweat shirt and 8 inches of ballistic gel. For CQC in a tin building my hopes are to contain the rounds to the target area, and not spray my neighbors. I set all three weapons up as follows: Laser bore-sighted Crimson Trace sighting systems zeroed for 25’ for my old eye balls, three and a half lb. trigger pull, and gunsmith polishing and buffing the moving parts to ease chambering with my screwed-up hands. My target grouping is good, and with the ability to hit without obtaining a iron sight picture.
    Considering my limitations, I think this is the best I can do to deal with a home invasion scenario. By the way, I have a Harley-Davidson Trike and we ride with the Patriot Guard Riders. I have the P-938 on a back holster for my wife to access, while I have the 40 Cal. P-229 on my side should the need arise. I am licensed for CCW.
    Any advice from you or your readers?

  • Zackary W August 24, 2018, 5:30 pm

    I support leaving pistols for “support staff” and just carrying two rifles, a lightweight 556 and a 4570 marlin(one of those 18inch barreled ones with a same length mag tube, 6+1 i think) for wall punching, car stoping,etc. If both are 7 pounds ish, and the 4570 is easy to load for with a pocket kit, shouldnt need much else right? I’m only being partly facetious here, thinking long term individual logistics(full facetious would be suggesting an underbarrel 4570 on an ar10 belt fed sbr, truly best of all worlds😎)

  • BRASS August 24, 2018, 2:48 pm

    Although a retired Marine I don’t have anywhere near Clays level of combat training and experience but, I have enough to see the wisdom in his words.

    Were I just starting out buying firearms today knowing what I know now I would limit my defensive/offensive batteries to 9MM, 5.56 and 12 Ga only. Hunting, recreation & sport are another matter but would come second to self protection considerations.

    As a reloader it is much easier if you can develop your high volume loading and equipment setups to standardized calibers and recipes. Using only one powder, one primer and one projectile per caliber/weapon has many benefits. Brass is not as important to be standardized as long as its good mainstream boxer primed & real brass.

    As of today based on availability of guns, spare/repair parts, magazines, reliability, etc. I think I’d limit my choices to Glock 19s with XS F-8 sights & Glock mags for everyone in my home, plus spares. Simplicity of manual of arms, etc. Then I’d probably go for Ruger or Smith and Wesson MSRs in 5.56 with Magpul mags for the same reasons as well as Remington 870s in 12 Ga.
    One gun, one mag, one load, one sighting system, etc., with the same training for all. That way all family members can pick up any weapon they’re near go to work without having to remember safeties, a different manual of arms for malfunction clearing & so forth.

    I’ve got a variety of other guns acquired over many years that I want to pass down someday but, I encourage my kids, grandkids and friends to standardize everything and train accordingly so if it hits the fan, the training scars and other problems inherent in multiple firearm, caliber, equipment types are minimized, at least to start.

  • W Buchanan August 24, 2018, 10:58 am

    Finally someone with enough sense to say it. “Pistols are pretty much useless in a combat zone”. 28 years in Force Recon backs up my thinking. In every OP I could get in on from 80 to 08 taught me that pistols are the absolute last resort. Personally I was able to carry my own handgun, Python with 6 inch barrel. When I did have to use it the difference between .357 and 7.62×51 was huge. I carried a G3. Thanks for giving me some ammo to use on my civilian buddies that talk about “Combat effectiveness” of their pistol.

    • Mickey September 1, 2018, 11:55 pm

      “Handguns are for fighting your way back to the rifle you should never have set down in the 1st place.” – Dad [USMC, Korea ’51]

    • Gunner September 17, 2018, 8:42 am

      G3 and a personal python? Must not have been an American branch, we don’t get to have that much fun.

  • Joe August 24, 2018, 10:46 am

    So top recs so far were Springfield saint edge, socom, and xdm. . . Seeing a trend.

  • Jim Blosser August 24, 2018, 10:07 am

    I “love my guns” too someday they probably will sue with todays climate going the way it is . I have all calibers from the .22 to .308. In hand guns .22 to .45ACP, my favorite is a.38 Super 1911. All of these weapons even the .22 can really mess up someone’s day if it comes down to it. I think one’s ability to use them is the most important. I’m 70 years old and don’t get to practice like I want to. But should it come down to it I think I could hold my own. Any caliber is useless if you can’t be proficient with it. The little .22 can punch a hole through 3/4″ solid pine at 400 yards. Sure it drops a lot but at reasonable distances if it is well placed, I don’t want to be the recipient. All calibers have their advantages and disadvantages. But if you can’t use them they are all worthless except for the unnerving of the other opponent. .What an old guy’s rambling means is become proficient with whatever caliber you choose. I don’t want to be shot with any of them, could really make my day a bummer.

    • Clem August 25, 2018, 12:18 am

      Agreed! I dropped a coyote at 300 yards with my 1932 Remington pump LR22. When I was 14 I hit a squirrel in the head at 30 yards as it ran right to left in front of me. Know your weapon inside and out!

  • BOhio August 24, 2018, 10:01 am

    Most public shooting ranges put really annoying and inconvenient (although perhaps somewhat understandable) restrictions on rapid fire practice. Even if you shoot High Master scores in metallic silhouette handgun matches, that skill won’t have much relevance to the scenario Clay describes in these articles. So, find yourself a place to practice rapid fire, because it is a WAY different thing.

    I started with a Ruger Mark II pistol, and got more proficient quickly. But the cost and recoil goes up fast when you move to 9mm, 40, etc.

    Don’t think you (or anybody) will be shooting bad guys like Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis, and Jason Statham (covering generations here) did/do in the movies. Believe it or not, Hollywood is fiction. And the NOISE without ear protection? Holy sh!t, it will rock your world. Along with the other gear you stash, I recommend you get at least a couple of pairs of electronic muffs. They protect your hearing, and amplify regular (sounds below a certain decibel range) so it’s like having bionic ears.

    Or, get sound suppressors for your rifles and pistols, but the cost and hassle can be prohibitive.

  • Dick Turner August 24, 2018, 8:32 am

    I have a scorpion Evo in 9mm covers a rifle and a pistol, The daughter 15 years old is deadly a with her Henery .22 mag but does take to long to reload, I need to make some sort of reload tubes. You now have me thinking about how to harden my concrete block house. I do some remodeling I am think 2 foot wide 1/4 steel plates beside the windows hidden under 1/4 sheet rock

    • Infidel762X51 August 24, 2018, 11:08 am

      The amusement park shooting galleries used to have something like a primer feed tube, crimped on one end with a hairpin clip on the other. It just barely fit over the mag tube on the .22s and they would pull the clip to dump the entire tube into the mag at once. you could probably find cheap aluminum or brass tube someplace like speedymetals.com and make up as many as you need.

  • Don August 24, 2018, 8:24 am

    Thank you for this series and the valuable information you’re sharing. It would be very much appreciated if you could do a similar series on suburban and rural defense settings. The knowledge shared and gained in this series (Urban Defense) is very helpful too. Thank you!!!

  • Michael Cooke August 24, 2018, 8:22 am

    If one needed to outfit his/her family with a carbine and a sidearm each and money is an issue, you really can’t go wrong with Hi-Point Carbines and Pistols, especially in .40 or .45 as the magazines for these weapons are interchangeable. The carbines can be had for around 300 bucks, and, as you mentioned, the pistols for about 150. I’d go with .40 personally, because you get one more round (10 vs. 9) and you have commonality of ammunition. With this setup I’d stay away from the 9mm because the magazines are not interchangeable, and if one of the weapons goes down, the mags are already loaded for the others. Add a TruGlo red/green dot for around 50 bucks to each carbine, and you have a decent short-to-midrange defense situation.

    Don’t forget to stock up on extra mags, and get lots of practice; Hi-Points are heavy and a 10-round magazine goes quickly. Magazines go for around 15-20 bucks a pop.

    4 Carbine/Pistol combos – 1800 bucks
    4 TruGlo red-green dots – 200 bucks
    12 extra magazines – 240 bucks
    1000 rounds .40SW – 250 bucks

    • Mongo August 24, 2018, 10:53 am

      The 9mm carbine is very particular about the after-market higher capacity mags, which can cause damage to the internals of the carbine as well as mess up the mag. I own the .45, and at 50yds, it is dead on accurate, which means out to 75yds, you can throw enough lead to defend yourself adequately with 14 round mags. And, for the ladies, it is very easy to use, recoil is minimal, the action spring isn’t too heavy to keep them from working it. But they are heavy, so make sure you can place these where a solid rest can be an option.

  • Zackary W August 24, 2018, 6:01 am

    So up close, high volume of quick fire is king?
    Do you have experience with an sbr of any sort for this arena type? If you had a 308 the same length as an (real)m4 or shorter, would you use it? Or go longer for those benefits in the street. Your time is great man, I don’t have near as much real time experience so it helps to have things to consider.

    • clay martin August 24, 2018, 1:08 pm

      yes, 10 inch upper on my M-4. I still prefer a 14.5 or a 16, for the velocity gain. I also feel like I can actually shoot the longer barrels faster, the balance is better. between SBR length guns and 556/308, no idea. I never had a 308 shorter than 20″ SR-25 when I was doing this for reals. I have like 16&18 length since I’ve been retired, but never an SBR. I say 16 is plenty short, and caliber wise, they both have benefits. 556 is faster to shoot, but that 308 is hard to argue with.

  • Cayman August 24, 2018, 5:59 am

    Great series! I don’t live in a high rise but can relate the ideas to my suburban neighborhood. There are a few of us who belong to the local gun club but most would be new to wielding weapons. The “9mm” is spot on. My wife and young sons can handle the load. They are not interested in shooting any of my .44 mags. I really liked the introduction of the .22. It does make sense to pull it out of the safe with a brick of ammunition. Keep up the good work.

  • Richard Johnson August 24, 2018, 4:07 am

    Thank, You

  • Robert Smith August 23, 2018, 8:39 pm

    Standardize the rife round to 5.56. Same reasoning as standardizing the pistol to 9mm. You can pick up some $300 bolt-action hunting rifles in 5.56 for the Barista and the Insurance Salesman.

    As for rimfires, I am not quite as negative as Clay. I would rather have the “lookouts on the corners” armed with a .22 rifle they can reliably hit with than flinching away with the Hi-Point. A Mossberg 702 Plinkster costs about the same as a Hi Point. 5.56 is still first choice, but if you can’t, I’d go with .22LR.

    • clay martin August 24, 2018, 1:10 pm

      that’s not bad logic on the 22, can’t fault your thinking. but I would still like something quickly lethal on the corners too, in case the mongolian horde starts pouring in the windows.

    • 3chord master June 10, 2019, 5:28 pm

      Excellent advice. Anyone can use a .22 after firing three rounds; they will lose whatever fear they might have and get better as the day goes on. No one can use the Hi-Point because it stops shooting at round three. It simply will not feed, and no amount of magic tweaking you see performed in those youtube videos will make it do so.

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