Ep. 3 Should I Shoot? ‘What Gun Should I Get?’

Editor’s Note: The following is a post from Sammy Reese,  a former Marine Corps Artillery Officer and retired police officer from California. He is a part-time range master for the police department he retired from as well as a life-long martial artist and combatives coach.

If you have read the previous two installments of “Should I Shoot?” (see links above),  you might be saying, “Sammy hasn’t even come close to answering the question, ‘Should I shoot?’” Unless I can find a way to get into your shoes and be you when the decision has to be made, I won’t be telling you what to do and when to do it.

My goal is to get you thinking inside and outside of the box about all things related to personal defense. I want you to be the most prepared you can be to handle anything life might throw at you. No plan survives first contact, so I want you to have many plans for as many different scenarios as possible. Most importantly, I want you to have the training and skill sets to be flexible so you can adjust on the fly and, ultimately, prevail.

The Question

Are you prepared for all that life can throw your way?

Are you prepared for all that life can throw your way? (Photo: Sammy Reese)

The one question I get asked more than any other is, “I want a gun for home defense and concealed carry — what do you recommend?”

Every person who asks the question is surprised how I answer. My first non-answer is, “How many fire extinguishers do you have in your home?,” and the second is, “What is your level of first-aid training? Are you current in your CPR training?”

By my second question, the person is usually staring at me with his or her mouth open and eyebrows raised. I’ve done this enough times to know what he or she is thinking: “Sammy must be deaf because I didn’t ask about fire extinguishers or first aid.”

I’m probing for the level of preparedness the person in question currently employs in the event of common household crises and, in the process, getting him or her to think dynamically. Why fire extinguishers? Well, a fire in the home (in a “normal” neighborhood) is way more likely to happen than having to repel armed intruders. We have several extinguishers in my house so one is nearby if the need for one arises (and it has).

I stay current on first aid and CPR and I also keep up my basic trauma training —  specifically for gunshot and stab wounds. Injuries in the home are a fact of life. Serious wounds need immediate treatment. How long will it take the ambulance to arrive? My wife and kids have also been schooled up. Everyone knows where the trauma kit is. We are a team here and everyone has to be able to be a part of the solution.

More Questions

By the time I get through the fire extinguisher and first aid, my interrogator has all kinds of other questions, and that’s exactly what I want to happen. The dialog expands in many different directions, ranging from home-defense planning and strategies to “fortification of the castle.” Proper storage of firearms in the home, training (this topic is huge and revisited often) and mindset as it applies to using deadly force to defend yourself and your family are a few other angles that come up often — and we haven’t even gotten to the point where we talk about the original question, “What gun should I get?”

Have no fear… get there we will.

For more critical information on the use of deadly force and other firearms and self-defense topics, visit www.uscca.com/GunsAmerica.

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  • Steve November 18, 2016, 10:15 am

    A gun for home defense and carry are two completely different things. For carry? Just that, be able to carry it safely and comfortably. Small comes to mind for carry, as well as light.
    Home defense? Just my own opinion here, but I like the largest revolver you are proficient with. Revolvers usually work every time if you maintain them. High capacity semi-auto’s? For one thing, they are illegal in some states, and more complicated and dangerous, again only my opinion. A cannon (large pistol) is useless if you can’t handle the recoil or get a follow up shot on target quickly. I think simple is best. A double action 357 mag can be used by most people. Reduced 38 special loads can be fired out of it if you are recoil sensitive. Of course you can save some money and just buy a 38 special. If you can Handel the big revolver? Go for it absolutely. Take a shooting course where you can try all kinds of different hand guns. Don’t listen to friends, what is good for them may be wrong for you. Do practice, a lot. Good luck with your choice.

  • Marcelino May 25, 2016, 8:58 am

    I appreciate your insight in this matter of life and death situation. Advising on the consequences to shoot or not boils down on mind set and commitment on surviving a treat and imminent danger. Advice from experience is priceless. But never forget the fight will always be a surprise so mental control is key.

  • Scott Beverly May 23, 2016, 5:10 am

    I’m like a lot or common, ordinary people that have experience with firearms. Two time veteran who grew up target shooting and enjoying the hunting sports. I typically get ask these two questions, among others. Usually the question starts out with ” What is a good cheap gun I can buy”? This tells me several things about the person asking, one. They probably don’t have much experience with firearms and they have a limited budget or are only willing to spend a limited amount of money to protect themselves and or their families. Often times these conversations begin due to a recent personal experience with a ex something, or local news story of violent crime. The conversation usually turns to the same questions from myself. Do you have any experience with firearms? Why do you think you need a gun? Are you willing to devote time and resources to get training to become proficient enough to know the laws, determine a threat, and make the decision to end a life if that time ever comes? I’m not trying to discourage the would be gun buyer from purchasing a gun, but they do need to know that being a gun owner is more than just buying a gun. There is great responsibility with being a gun responsible gun owner. I’ve taught countless people about firearms. Some became gun owners who enjoy the shooting sports who also take protecting themselves and their loved ones very serious. If someone has the interest and can convince me they have the ability to understand firearms and treat them with respect I share my knowledge and experience with them. I live in an area where guns are considered scary, destructive killing machines that somehow injure and kill people indiscriminately. This usually goes along with the latest political candidate spouting off and the local news unbiased reporting of a gangbanger or drug dealer incident. Guns are only as dangerous as the person who owns them. Should I shoot? If there is a real recognized threat against you that could end in a serious bodily injury or death. The reality of this question is that there are too many variables to give a simple answer. There is no substitute for quality training, (classroom and field). Quality training must topics must address laws, function, muzzle control, perceived threats, actual threats, ammunition choices, carry options, etc.. Oh, did I mention personnel safety. What kind of gun should I get? The kind that will function each and every time that will serve it’s intended purpose that you can effectively shoot. I’m not a caliber snob that suggest you have to have a 45 and I will not tell you the 40 S&W is the only caliber I carry. I will tell you that the gun that saves your life will be the one you have on you. Some folks can’t control a large frame hand gun in a 45 acp or a 40 S&W. They may have a physical disability or just small hands. So, am I recommending a 22 rim fire, not at all. But, if that’s the only size you can effectively handle then by all means get one. There are a lot of choices out there when it comes to personal protection, different size guns with different calibers. You have to choose the type that fits your budget, and personal preferences. If you decide to become a gun owner the work is just beginning. Treat it like a bar of gold that everyone wants to take. Keep control of it at ALL times, yes, this means when your sleeping, driving, away from home, at home. All times. Never lend it to a buddy or leave it lying around where small hands can get it. Treat it with the upmost respect and never ever pick it up when your angry.

  • Neil Sea May 22, 2016, 1:58 pm

    Adam Jeppson, I sincerely hope that you don’t limit the prospective buyer to your exact recommendation/s. I’ve been a gunsmith well over 30 years and do sell some factory firearms to regular customers, friends, and family. I do teach for concealed carry classes as well as comprehensive instruction for beginners and am range officer for the local range. In other words I see a LOT of new people shooting. When I recommend a firearm such as carry gun/concealed carry gun, I’ll 1st try to determine their strengths & weaknesses. Then I’ll let them handle several different platforms & action styles to determine fit. Then I’ll hand them different handguns after making damn sure it’s cleared, and teach them to clear ANY gun when it 1st comes in their hands regardless of if they just watched me clear it. To impress the importance of this sometimes I’ll slip a snap cap in it’s chamber or cylinder. When they watch me the whole time & fail to see when I loaded the snap cap in it, it sort of wakes them up. I’ll have them hold the handgun in their hands as if they was going to shoot it while held down pointed at floor and focus on something on the far wall (have to make sure they don’t sweep anybody while doing this) and close their eyes, bring the gun up to where they think the spot on the wall is while keeping their eyes closed. Then they open their eyes and see where the gun is pointed. If it’s pointed dead on after several times (to eliminate luck or guess) then it naturally points for them & fits their hands. That means they’ll be able to shoot more accurately when under extreme duress such as a deadly force justified situation, and follow up shots will be faster while hitting the target when proper form & technique is utilized. Then if they really like a semi-auto I have them rack the slide several times to check as to whether they can reliably operate their choice because if they cannot load, clean, or unload it then it’s NOT a good gun for them. I do show them how to cup the slide by holding weak or non shooting hand (2 handed style using the off hand, and racking the slide hand over it. If they still cannot operate (rack slide) it then it’s kicked out of the process. I have them try both semi autos & revolvers in various brands, models, sizes, weights, and cartridges. Then we go to the range and let them choose which of the several different handguns they prefer. Now they have to see which is most comfortable for THEM, not you, I, or joe blow down the street. I teach further form & safety at the range. It seems to me, and from all the results, that a lot more in depth research helps them tremendously on practical effective choices. I do recommend a revolver quite a bit of the time, especially when very old, young, or weak in regards to ability to operate fully. The manual of arms is MUCH simpler with revolvers so they learn with it quicker, and it can digest any power level of the cartridge they/we determine will work for THEM. They don’t have to worry about is there 1 in chamber, is the mag loaded, is the mag even in the gun, is safety engaged if so equipped, and so forth. The polymer framed striker fired pistols are closest to a revolver as all they have to do is same as revolver, aim & shoot, but that pesky slide manipulation is still a issue to contend with.

  • Adam Jeppson May 20, 2016, 4:35 pm

    Well kids, I’m in the firearms business as a gunsmith. I repair and sell firearms to put food on my table. When someone asks me “what gun do I get” I try to do an honest assessment of my customer and match them up with what I think would work. Yes, there are the over tactical “mall ninja’s” that come around from time to time. They usually are all hot air and bluster and have no money anyway. Regardless, if an individual has money and is ready to become part of the firearms community It behooves me to be the one selling them their firearm. I’ve proven to be a good judge of character so far and then there’s the government background checks that rule out the vast majority if not all of the illegal sales. My reputation is on the line with every transaction and I screen carefully but in all honesty I push for the sale so that I get paid. Simple as that.

  • Mitch Spence May 20, 2016, 1:18 pm

    Yes, I think a primary question should be, “are you prepared to use the weapon and take a life?” There are plenty of folks out there with a gun under the bed that would not be able to do that. IMHO they would be better off with no gun.

    • Neil Sea May 22, 2016, 2:04 pm

      When it comes down to the wire, if they don’t freeze up, most will be able to defend themselves or loved 1s. Tell them to look at it this way, they’re SAVING lives by taking a bad guy out. No telling what he’d do if still loose or how many people will he hurt if not stopped!

  • Ricky45 May 20, 2016, 9:37 am

    This is only my opinion, but I would have answered the question first. Most new gun owners are nervous enough as it is. Not to mention a bit intimidated that they are walking into a brand new environment and are afraid they may ask “A stupid question”. That approach may work for some people, but I feel most would probably walk away with a bad taste in their mouth. As a Law Enforcement Officer of 15 years and current Firearms Instructor, it’s just my opinion on the experiences I’ve had with new gun owners.

  • Will Drider May 19, 2016, 10:57 pm

    I understand your methodology with this Series. I just hope that someone with a serious active threat against them does not get the long version. We must talk with people interested in firearms and not give the impression we are talking down to them.

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