Alright, this is not the usual fare for our GunsAmerica readership. But it is something that needs to be said. If you are a regular, it will have some entertainment value, if nothing else. You can have a chuckle while you gaze upon your safe full of options, likely while sitting on your throne of 5.56/308 ammo cans.
This is also something you can share with the people undoubtedly asking you a million questions right now. And it is a place to engage the collective brain trust of our readership. If you have something to add or some sound advice, please toss it in the comments down below. Given the currently deteriorating situation, you may help save someone’s life.
Other episodes in this series:
- Clay on Survival Foods for COVID-19 Crisis (How to Avoid Eating Your Pets)
- Clay on Staying Fit and Sane During Quarantine
- Clay’s COVID-19 Gun Buying Guide for Noobs
- Clay’s COVID-19 Gun Buying Guide for Noobs Part II: Holsters & Slings
- Clay’s COVID-19 Gun Buying Guide for Noobs Part III: Flashlights & Broadswords
- Clay’s COVID-19 Gun Buying Guide for Noobs Part IV: Dinosaur Tech and Space Age Sights
Here is the situation that I have seen firsthand. MANY people that never thought they would need one, are suddenly lined up at the gun store. Visa cards, gold coins, grandma’s silverware — turns out that in a crisis, paying for a gun becomes a high priority. This has nearly overwhelmed the background check system, which is a fight for another day. And it includes more than a few “persons” that were gun-grabbing commies last week, wondering why anyone needed a semi-fully automatic assault machine gun rifle with double-barrel magazine extended clips. Who are now dismayed to learn that they can’t mail-order an M-60 machine gun nor a run-of-the-mill hand cannon to their front door, “gun show loophole” or not.
So, first off, WE F*CKING TOLD YOU SO!!!!!! There, it’s out of the way now. But we are still going to help you. I, for one, hope this lesson sticks after the crisis averts (assuming it does and people aren’t killing one another in the streets next week or month over a 12-pack of Charmin). Even if we as a nation never fire a round in anger during COVID-19 season, a lot of people are going to be comforted by some variation of Mr. Colt standing watch. If even 10 percent of the people now panic buying convert to the church of “Guns Are Fun,” we have gained a powerful set of allies. We have a chance, right now, to set the gun grabbers back 30 years. So not only am I going to help you, I am going to encourage all of my friends with guns to help you. And that, my dears, is an army in itself.
When we look at the facts on the ground we have to make a number of assumptions, all of which are bad. First, most of the desirable stuff is already likely gone. Second, nobody buying a gun for the first time today is going to get A.) Training from an expert in the near future B.) Enough ammo for practice and self-training. They might not even get to test fire that weapon, which is horrifying. But, we got what we got.
Best Gun to Buy:
My number one choice remains an AR-15 in 5.56/223 chambering. But good luck finding one right now. However, a few gems do remain. In my local market at least, it seems like all the cheap and mid-priced ARs are gone. But the really “nice” (read expensive) models are still here. Things like the Daniel Defense M4V7 , SIG MCX, Nemo Battle Light & LWRC IC-A5. If you can get a couple of boxes of ammo to go with one of those (no ammo means all you have is an expensive bat), consider you are going to have to pay a premium. Getting a high-end gun right from Day 1 does pack some advantages, though.
Don’t think for a second that a noob with a high-end rifle is going to outshoot a seasoned hooligan with a battered SKS that shot a spam can per week leading up to this. It won’t happen. But… a high-end rifle is likely to have a very forgiving trigger, which does help with accuracy. And you can grow into it after the crisis ends. You are still going to have to shoot a pile of ammo to do so, but you are essentially paying for all your upgrades at once. Consider yourself taxed.
Next Best Gun to Buy
The second choice in the AR family is merely thinking outside the box. Lots of ARs in 556 here are gone, and all the bullets are too. But you can still buy rifles in both 300 AAC and 6.8 SPC. That might not be the best choice in normal times, but these aren’t normal times. If you burn through a stash of say, 250 rounds of 6.8 SPC, one of two things is very likely. Either you are dead or you have won. If you won, I suggest battlefield recovery ASAP. You may also be able to find a large frame AR, in 308, 6.5 Creedmoor, or 260 Remington. You pay a cost in weight, but the side benefit is the bullets are going to be devastating to whatever you hit.
Okay, we haven’t been very out of the box yet. I just wanted to clarify that an AR is still King, in my opinion, if you can find one. After an AR would be any variant of AK, then 9mm Mag fed Carbines , M1A , SKS, in any particular order you can think of.
As a class then, my next choice would be a lever-action rifle. Lever-action rifles are surprisingly agile and instinctive. Even for you AR guys, if you have never shot one, you might be shocked at how easy it is to snap around. Henry makes an excellent rifle, as do many others such as Marlin and Big Horn Armory. Caliber, you have to make a choice. Rifle calibers will reach further, and generally hit harder. But pistol calibers have more capacity. My Big Horn Armory review gun was chambered in 500 S&W, which would be an excellent choice. Bonus to lever actions: ammo may still be on the shelf. For pistol caliber, look to 500 S&W, 44 Magnum, and 357 Magnum/38 Special. (Like revolvers, many 357 rifles will also shoot 38 Special, two calibers for one gun.) In rifle calibers, 30-30 is a classic, but other options exist.
I’m going to catch some grief for this next part, I always do. But I would take any rifle over a shotgun. However, the shotgun is next down the line. Rifles and shotguns are both what we call “long guns.” Long guns are easier to shoot accurately, deal more damage per round (even in pistol calibers, as the longer barrel creates higher projectile speeds), and are harder to hurt yourself with. Very relevant to the new shooter crew.
It can be argued that shotguns create more devastating wounds at closer range, and let’s just say that is true for now. They do come at a cost though. First, they are harder to load. Once they are empty, the cost to get them back running is time you don’t have (Mag fed being a rare exception). Second, years of 3 Gun shooting has taught an unmistakable lesson. A shotgun, especially a semi-auto shotgun, is the least reliable weapon in the arsenal. They have gotten better over the years, but they are still more likely to jam than anything else. Even a pump shotgun is easy to short stroke under pressure. If you grew up duck hunting, this might not be a factor. But for the truly new, it matters. Third, you have to aim a shotgun just like you do a rifle, with greater recoil. The irony is that the closer a target is, the easier it is to miss with a shotgun. While the spread on a gauge does help you somewhat at range, it takes a further distance than most people would think to open up. And fourth, the manual of arms is difficult compared to most rifles.
So while a shotgun isn’t a terrible choice, it is behind the rifle in my opinion. My order for shotguns is somewhat subjective, but here we go.
Option one in my book is a pump action. Yes, you can screw it up. But, a pump is still orders of magnitude more reliable than a semi-auto. I like the Mossberg 590A1 as a top pick.
Option two is a little off the beaten path, but our own Jordan Michaels just reviewed the Henry lever-action shotgun. Don’t rule out the lever gun.
Option three is a side-by-side. These have an advantage in simplicity, but they lack capacity. I strongly recommend getting some dummy rounds (aka snap caps) and a Cowboy Action style belt if you go this route. It takes time and effort, but a talented SASS shooter can chuck lead from a side-by-side faster than most mortals with a pump action. Don’t rule this out.
Option four would be my last choice for the noobs, if only for the reliability issue. It should also be said, in a panic, you could empty the tube much faster than you intended. This is not a place to cheap out either. I highly recommend the Beretta 1301 or the Benelli M2.
If Nothing Else…
Absolutely last on the list is any form of hand cannon. This is for two reasons. First, with absolutely no training, your ability to hit the floor if you drop it is in question. A pistol is by far the hardest weapon to master, as any shooter on this site will tell you. Even police, with at least some training, routinely miss the perp. (In case you didn’t click the link, hitting 9 bystanders would get you kicked out of any military unit I ever served in, if not a court-martial.) Second, with its short barrel and other things that make them awesome for concealed carry but troublesome for noobs, you are much more likely to hurt yourself. With a rifle you might shoot your foot by accident, but with a pistol any part of the body is in play, including your head. If you do end up with a pistol, and you’ve never trained, for God’s sake be careful! Learn the four rules of firearms safety. This applies to all guns not just handguns but now is as good a time as any to remind you of them:
When it comes to pistols, you have two choices of action, subset by multiple choices of size. To break it down to the lowest level, we have to simplify a lot of things.
First, how it works. Which is pretty much a semi-automatic or a revolver. Many times, we tell new shooters to get a revolver. And it does have some positives. It has by far the easiest to learn manual of arms. As in, it is pretty hard to screw up loading and unloading in terms of safety. Not impossible. But pretty hard. Second, it is about the most reliable gun in the arsenal. With few exceptions, they almost always go bang. And 99.9% percent of the times they don’t, just pulling the trigger again resolves the issue.
The downsides to a revolver? They usually have a long, stiff trigger. While you can make precision shots quickly with that trigger, it takes lots of practice. Which you have zero time to learn. Second, they come with a significantly reduced capacity. 8 rounds on the high end, and 6 is normal. Couple that with a steep learning curve to be able to reload quickly, and you can see the drawbacks.
Which leaves a semi-auto. If you must go semi-auto pistol, I recommend you get the biggest gun you can find and hold comfortably. Not in caliber, but in frame size. Larger “duty class” guns are not only easier to shoot, but they have a higher capacity. I like the Sig P320X5 and Glock 34 .
9mm is by far the most popular round today, which means you might not find any around. In that case, you have to choose a different caliber that is likely to recoil more. If this is your first rodeo, that recoil isn’t great to have, but it isn’t a deal-breaker. I would look for 45 ACP, 40 S&W, and 357 Sig, in that order. But if push actually comes to shove, don’t completely shy away from the big boys. Like the Desert Eagle 50AE .
I hope this helps, and more importantly, that we all get through this without actually descending into Mad Max world. But if we do, I will leave you with this from Niccolo Machiavelli,“ Before all else, be armed.”