In these uncertain times, the firearms industry has experienced a rapid and substantial uptick in sales of firearms, ammunition, and accessories during these uncertain times. Many gun stores have reported that the overwhelming majority of sales here recently have been from new gun owners- people that had previously never owned a gun before. Anecdotally, what I have been hearing from friends in the business, seeing on social media, and interaction I’ve had with viewers on YouTube, backs this up. The universal crisis we are facing from Covid-19 and this novel coronavirus has many people all over the world facing the uncertainty of the future due to the unprecedented nature of both the illness, but mainly government actions in response to this illness. Here in the United States, with our relative free access to firearms thanks to our 2nd Amendment protecting our natural right to self defense, this uncertainty has manifested itself with people choosing this moment to arm themselves.
I have condensed the majority of this information into video format on my YouTube channel. Part 1 of 3 is up now, with the other two coming soon.
Chances are, if you are reading this, then you may fall into that category. Buying a firearm for the first time is a big deal, under the most normal of circumstances. Right now, it is going to present some challenges of its own with many places on lockdown, and social distancing being highly encouraged. One of the first things I typically recommend to new gun owners is to seek out qualified instruction from a reputable instructor. Many trainers have suspended training sessions, and many gun ranges that previously have offered introductory classes have suspended those, and in some cases, even their range operations. Fortunately, there are many things you CAN do to learn about operating your firearm safely, and putting in the work to get proficient with your firearm. Before we get into all of that though, I’d like to discuss some of the various common firearms types out there, and some of their merits and downsides. This may help you decide on what type of firearm will best suit yours and your family’s needs.
Rifles. This is a very broad segment of the firearms market, so I’m going to break this down into two main categories. First, we will discuss manually operated firearms- lever actions, bolt actions, and the like. These rifles require the shooter to manually chamber each round before firing. These can be found chambered in everything from small calibers such as .22 Long Rifle, all the way up to the largest of center-fire rifle cartridges. In many cases, these are the go to style of rifle for hunters. I certainly recognize the usefulness of these rifles for hunting, if chambered in a suitable caliber, they have several downsides when it comes to being useful for defensive purposes. These rifles commonly have an internal magazine which must be loaded one round at a time, which is inherently slow compared to an external magazine fed firearm. They also require each round to be manually chambered, leading to a slower rate of fire. This decreased fire rate could potentially cost you your life in a gunfight.
The second type of rifle we will look at is the modern sporting rifle style. This encompasses things like AK-47s, AR-15s, AR-10s, and other magazine fed semi-automatic rifles with a standard magazine capacity of 20+ rounds. While often demonized by the media as “assault rifles” these rifles, particularly the AR-15, make up a huge segment of rifles sold in America, and are a favorite platform for home defense, hunting in some cases, and over all fun for target shooting. The major benefit of the AR-15 is its extreme modular nature- these rifles can be endlessly modified and adjusted to fit the shooter. For example with a quick adjustment of the rifle stock (the part of the rifle that rests against the shooter’s shoulder) my AR-15 can be shot comfortably by my wife, who is substantially smaller than me. The rounds that these rifles shoot are often not very punishing, particularly the AK-47 and AR-15. For the rest of this discussion, we will focus on these two designs, with an admitted heavy bias from me towards the AR-15.
The AR-15 most commonly shoots the 5.56 NATO round which is a relatively small and light projectile, traveling at relatively high velocities. This caliber is the main caliber of the U.S. military, and many law enforcement agencies in the country. This translates into ammunition being widely available, which is definitely a plus when considering a rifle for SHTF (shit hitting the fan). On the other hand, the AK-47 shoots a 7.62 x 39 mm round, which means the cartridge’s overall length is shorter, but the diameter is larger. This round is heavier, but moving at slower velocities. The 7.62 x 39 mm round is a better choice for hunting, although both calibers will work for small to medium sized game. 5.56 NATO ammunition is going to be lighter and easier to carry, in addition to being more common than the 7.62 x 39 caliber. My vote here goes to the AR-15. For a rifle that offer the most out of the box, and be endlessly configured and tailored for the user, the AR-15 is hard to beat. If you live in a state where these rifles are illegal or heavily restricted, something beats nothing.
Now we will discuss shotguns. Shotguns are some of the most versatile firearms known to man. The range of projectiles these guns can fire is truly impressive. Everything from birdshot, a lot of tiny pellets, commonly used for shooting sporting clays or shooting birds, as the name suggests to slugs, one massive piece of lead, commonly weighing one ounce. There are a variety of calibers when it comes to shotguns, but these are measured a bit differently than traditional handgun or rifle cartridges. The most common are 12 gauge, 20 gauge, and .410, also known as a 28 gauge. These terms refer to the amount of solid lead balls that could be made in the same diameter of the gun’s bore out of one pound of lead. So, the smaller the number, the larger the bore diameter. For instance, 12 gauge has a bigger bore diameter than 20 gauge and so on. There are several more sizes of shotgun chamberings, but these are the most common. 12 gauge is undoubtedly the most common here in the US and has the most support in terms of ammunition variety and availability, and is my recommendation. Shotguns have been one of the most misunderstood firearms from what I have gathered talking to new shooters. The way they are portrayed on television and several persistent myths have led several things to be cemented as fact, that are actually demonstrably false. Let’s pick some of those apart.
- You don’t have to aim a shotgun. While several projectile loads in shotguns DO offer some spread, this is heavily dependent on the range the projectiles are being shot at. They open over distance, not immediately upon the barrel on a standard shotgun. Depending on the load, some shotgun shells may still have all of the pellets in a fist sized pattern at 25+ yards. This means that inside of a standard home, aiming is absolutely essential. Remember that interior walls are often nothing more than some studs and two layers of drywall. These ear easily defeated by most projectiles from firearms. Getting your rounds on target is paramount to both stop the threat, and minimize the potential for injuring an innocent bystander or family member.
- Just the sound of racking a shotgun will scare an intruder. This is a tricky one because the definitive data simply isn’t available to show if this actually works or not. Anecdotal stories can be found both supporting this, and showing that it failed to deter an intruder. The issue here is that many people believe that this is all that will be needed to stop a home invader, while in truth, it may or may not. You need to be prepared to use said weapon if your life or the lives of others in the home are in danger.
- Birdshot is NOT acceptable for defensive use. It lacks the penetration needed to reliably stop a threat in all but the closest engagements. It can and will still penetrate interior walls. There is literally NO reason to use this for defense against two legged threats. Bird hunting, clay shooting, and venomous snakes that are in your immediate vicinity.
Shotguns are very versatile at the end of the day, and if you are planning on acquiring more than just one firearm, I absolutely recommend picking up a 12 gauge shotgun. They can be used to hunt, and with buckshot or slugs, can be devastating defensive weapons, although my preference will always be with 00 buckshot for defensive purposes. Slugs will extend the effective range of a shotgun somewhat, but accuracy can suffer at range by nature of most shotguns lacking rifling, the grooves on the inside of the barrel of firearms that imparts spin on a projectile. This spin helps stabilize the projectiles and makes them more accurate. Some shotguns have rifled barrels that either come with them or can be purchased separately but these should only be used with slugs, and can be more trouble than they are worth. A shotgun’s range is going to be in the middle- longer than a handgun, much shorter than a rifle.
By my site and YouTube channel name, you may have correctly deduced at this point that I am a handgun guy. I like everything about them. Their portability, designs, and the challenges inherent in shooting a firearm that doesn’t benefit from having four points of contact with your body like a rifle or shotgun (strong hand, support hand, shoulder, and cheek) but only has two. Handguns are what I, and a substantial amount of other people carry daily as a last line of defense to preserve our lives and those of our families. They’ve been around a long time in one form or another and their designs have changed based on war, metallurgy advances, and cartridge innovation. They are largely tools of convenience, outdistanced in orders of magnitude by centerfire rifle calibers. We carry them because they are able to be concealed, but if I KNEW I was going to be in a fight, or had a high potential of being in a fight, I’d most assuredly want my rifle. That being said, these are valuable tools, and a handgun may be the right firearm for you.
- They can be concealed. In our society, concealed is definitely the way to carry a firearm. While I wholeheartedly believe that open carry IS a right, I find the political and social climate to be largely intolerant of firearms carried plainly in the open in most places. There are various arguments about whether open carry acts as a deterrent or makes you a target, and I will leave that discussion to those better suited to have it. I carry concealed because I don’t like drawing unneeded attention to myself.
- Ammo is inexpensive in relation to rifle and shotgun rounds. This will largely come down to your caliber choice, but 9mm is usually what I recommend to new shooters because it is typically easily obtained (present ammo shortage excluded), the recoil is manageable and typically will not “scare off” a new shooter, and the variety of firearms chambered for 9mm is vast. Despite what some older folks will tell you, 9mm absolutely possesses the energy to decisively end a deadly force encounter. The most important factor is going to be shot placement- making sure your rounds impact where you mean for them to.
Handguns also have their drawbacks as well. The rounds are not as powerful as a rifle. They make poor choices for hunting. Perhaps the biggest one is that they take a great deal of practice to shoot well compared to a rifle. You will absolutely need to put in the time and effort with a handgun to be proficient with it, particularly for the means of self defense. I cannot stress enough the importance of training regularly with your defensive handgun.
In closing, if you could only pick one firearm for SHTF, I would have to recommend a solid, dependable AR-15. Ideally though, I think it would be prudent to have a good AR-15, shotgun, and dependable 9mm handgun. Each platform has its strengths and weaknesses.
Folks, I don’t write on here nearly as much as I used to, and most of my time is now spent making my YouTube videos. I will be putting out more content geared towards folks just getting their first firearm soon. I also have several gun and gear reviews that may help you in your purchase decisions. I hope that all of you stay safe during these uncertain times, and that this information helped you in some way.