Editor’s Note: The following is a syndicated article by author John Caile that first appeared in USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine Volume 15, Issue 4 May/June 2018 under the title, “Get Real: Keep Things Simple.”
As a firearms instructor for many decades, I’ve found discussions about the “ultimate” gun for carry to be interesting, sometimes argumentative and often fun. The same holds true when it comes to discussing ammunition. However, with all of the gun and ammo choices out there and more arriving every week, the entire situation can quickly become overly complicated, leading to overthinking and “paralysis by analysis.”
Instead, it might simplify things if you adopt some of the principles lived by military professionals. While their responsibilities (and rules of engagement) are very different from yours and mine, they can still teach us a few things. I just finished reading The Killing School by retired Navy SEAL sniper Brandon Webb, who also helped redesign and improve the sniper course for SEALs and other Tier 1 personnel. What struck me was how he and other SEALs kept three essential principles in mind.
1. The Mission Determines the Tool
Operators take great pains to understand and consider their mission before deciding what weapons and gear to carry with them. Depending on whether the mission is jungle patrol, a house-to-house search in an urban combat zone or long-range interdiction of a terrorist mortar team, the choice of weaponry will vary dramatically, from handguns to M4s to .50-caliber sniper rifles. Think about your “mission” when deciding what firearm fits your needs.
2. Training is Critical
Even when a trip “downrange” is not imminent, all highly skilled warriors are constantly training, practicing and honing their skills. I shouldn’t have to remind you how important practice and training are for civilians who carry. Having a gun and not having sufficient training or practice is a recipe for tragedy. We should train and practice as often as possible.
3. No Battle Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy
That old military axiom is absolutely true, and most police officers will nod in agreement as well. But the same unpredictability will probably also be part of any self-defense scenario we might encounter. Nothing will go the way we envisioned it, which is why I stress situational awareness and mental preparedness. Being able to notice something out of the ordinary and react quickly before things get out of control is essential. Even then, expect the unexpected.
Our Mission is Different
You and I are not military snipers, although some of you might have been at some point in your lives. While every soldier fully expects — and often initiates — “contact” with the enemy, we do not. On the contrary, we generally go out of our way to avoid violent encounters or even places or situations that might lead to such an encounter.
We’re not law enforcement officers either. Cops are required to do things, like chase down bad guys, and we are not. Except in very specific “exigent circumstances” (kidnapping, active shooter, etc.), we should not pursue suspects. In fact, doing so can get us into serious legal trouble; to a jury, it can make us appear to be the predominant aggressor and thus potentially damage or destroy our self-defense claim.
Those of us who carry do not “play cop.” We don’t walk around in tactical vests, carrying enough firepower to fit in on the streets of Fallujah. We are not — nor should we be — “looking for trouble” in any way. We just want to be prepared in case trouble finds us. Our mission is deterrence and defense: protecting ourselves, our loved ones and even strangers should the situation call for it.
Choosing the Right Tools
I won’t be recommending any particular gun in this column. Contrary to your buddy’s claims, there is no single “best” carry gun. Everyone’s physiology is different, from hand size to tolerance for recoil. Instead, I’ll go over some of the basic principles that experts suggest you follow. You’ve likely heard most of them.
Find a gun that fits your hand properly. Can you reach the trigger without having to move your hand halfway around the grip to do so? Is it easy for you to load, unload, shoot, field-strip and clean? If the gun you choose is an auto-pistol, can you rack the slide? Whether an auto-pistol or revolver, can you easily press the trigger multiple times? If you make sure it’s a gun that you can shoot well and that you enjoy shooting, you’ll shoot more. And that’s a good thing.
Do you really need a full-sized combat pistol or a 6-inch-barreled .357 Magnum? A mid-sized or even sub-compact pocket pistol might fit your lifestyle better. Consider how you normally dress, your concealment requirements, accessibility, etc.
Remember: In 92 percent of all successful armed-defense confrontations, no shots are fired. The attackers simply retreat, so caliber never comes into play. Even if you do have to shoot, the plain fact is that just about any of the typical defensive calibers will do the job. In pistols, those would be .380, 9mm, .40 and the venerable .45.
In revolvers, the most popular defensive calibers are .38 Special and .357 Magnum, and some newcomers, like the .327 Federal Magnum, are certainly fine for defense as well. Even a .22 pistol or revolver, when loaded with hot jacketed hollow-points, can stop a would-be rapist or mugger. There’s a wise old saying: “Nobody wants to get shot, even a little bit.”
However, one area where caliber especially matters is defense against non-human threats; even urban, residential neighborhoods can have nasty four-legged critters. In most cases, your regular defensive pistol or revolver is probably adequate to deal with coyotes or wild dogs. But, if large hogs or bears (especially brown bears) enter the picture, a .44 Magnum revolver might be a better choice. You can load 300-grain “bear loads” for nature walks, and lighter (200-grain) hollow-point defensive loads for city duty.
‘HOW MANY GUNS DO YOU REALLY NEED?’
OK, many of us (myself included) own more than one gun — sometimes a lot more. We can easily go with a Glock or M&P Shield for everyday carry and save the .44 Magnum for hiking in the woods. But, even then, the principle remains the same: “Let the mission determine the tool.”
And don’t overlook used guns. A “pre-owned,” high-end SIG or H&K might cost less than a new so-so gun. Just make sure you work with a trusted dealer, as he or she often gets trade-ins that have never been fired or were fired very little. Police “turn-ins” are a perfect example. There might be cosmetic holster wear, but barrels and internals are often like new — carried a lot but seldom fired. I picked one up — a duty Smith & Wesson M&P .40 — for $350. It’s barely used and works perfectly.
Finally, when it comes to everyday carry, I strongly recommend you stick with one gun as much as possible. Other than the aforementioned “bear gun” or other special “missions” requiring a change, carrying the gun you know well and train with is the most reliable and safest way to go.
There will always be differing views on defensive ammo. First, there are the “I don’t carry any gun that doesn’t start with a 4” folks. For some, capacity is everything — “more is always better.” Then there are those who seem obsessed with “energy” numbers.
What a bullet actually does is expend energy performing work: penetrating clothing, skin and flesh and smashing through bones and organs of varying densities and elasticities. Some bullets just do it better than others, regardless of “energy” figures. For example, a “low-energy” .45 Colt 250-grain plain lead bullet performs better against a bear than a “high-energy” 115-grain JHP 9mm +P. Effectiveness and balance of mission matter more than “energy” numbers.
Whatever you do, don’t agonize over ammo. Whatever gun you carry, any quality name-brand bullet will do the job. JHPs or expanding bullets are preferred, though, ideally labeled “Personal Protection” or “Self-Defense” on the box.
Speaking of which, a word of warning about “exotic” or “magic” ammo, often featuring ultra-light, super-fast bullets (to generate those high “energy” numbers) and claiming miraculous effectiveness. They are usually expensive, sometimes feed or eject unreliably and are seldom as effective as promised. Additionally, prosecutors love showing horrified jurors pictures of bizarre-looking bullets and ads proclaiming, “the most lethal round on the planet.” Stick with proven, reliable, name-brand ammo.
After carrying for most of my adult life, I have concluded that what most of us really need is simply a solid, reliable gun that we can shoot well and carry comfortably. The cartridge should allow us to train frequently without going broke or coming home from the range with hands or wrists throbbing with pain. That’s it. The bottom line? Keep things simple, choose your tools wisely and train regularly. Above all, be safe.
Discover how you can join nearly 300,000 responsibly armed Americans who already rely on the USCCA to protect their families, futures and freedoms: USCCA.com/gunsamerica.