What Should I Do?

Selecting a Firearm

Thursday, November 17, 2011, 12:04 PM

[Note: today's WSID topic has been a long time in coming. Firearms can be a sensitive subject, but worth considering for many when planning for food procurement or home/personal defense in a changing future. We sought an author who could provide an introduction to the subject in as conscientious, fact-oriented, and knowledgeable a manner as possible, and are grateful to community member Aaron Moyer for doing so. Aaron is a longtime active poster on this site, the founder of our Definitive Firearms thread, and an active-duty serviceman in the US armed forces. --Adam] 

This is one of the more difficult pieces of writing I’ve done to date. There are various reasons why this topic is difficult to start; everyone has a different idea of what they need, their level of commitment, legal concerns, political pre-dispositions and so forth. It’s easy to talk about firearms as a ‘topic’ – you can comment on their particulars, weigh the advantages and disadvantages and wax philosophical about what would be the best choice for a given situation -- but that’s not what this edition is about.

This piece is to help navigate the process that starts once you’ve decided you’d like to purchase a firearm, and leads to the ongoing process of establishing proficiency, maintaining safety and building skill.

Understanding the Options 

The goal when procuring a firearm is to fit the model your purchase to your own specific set of needs and capabilities. What works for one person may very well not work for another.  

For instance, it’s fairly common knowledge that I heavily favor the Glock 19, in 9mm. It fulfills all my ‘requirements’ from what I want from a sidearm. That said, this solution will not work for everyone. Some folks lack grip strength, and cannot retract the slide fully. For some, it may be too big to carry – which ideally everyone who reads this will commit themselves to doing, in addition to acquiring training.

For this reason, we’ll discuss a metric that will help us learn to make purchases based on solid logic, proven performance, and your projected needs.

A word of caution: there is no “perfect” solution. Any selection you make will be a compromise, but the key is to stick with your decision, learn and become effective with whatever tool you find yourself using.

Firearm Categories

At the most basic, firearms come in three basic types:

  • Handguns
  • Shotguns
  • Rifles

We break firearms down thusly, because of each type; all have qualities that are unique. As we analyze the types, we’ll break down and discuss some of the particularities within the sub-sets.

Before we do, it’s important to define some terms. As with many topics, there is a lingo, and understanding it will help you better describe your needs to anyone you speak to about the issue.

Grip/Frame – The portion of the firearm which is grasped during firing

Slide/Receiver – The portion of the firearm which houses the mechanism responsible for cycling the weapon.

Cylinder – the portion of a revolver which acts as a magazine for the cartridges and aligns them with the barrel.

Bore – The inside of the barrel.

Breech – The portion of the barrel where the bullet rests when it is chambered

Lands and Grooves – the rifling which causes handgun and rifle bullets to spin as they pass through the bore.

Firepower/Capacity – the amount of ammunition held in a single firearm. High capacity/firepower is generally
considered >10 rounds, while <10 rounds is “low capacity”. This is a very academic definition, however.

Stopping Power – The theoretical ability for a bullet to “stop” an aggressor. This entire concept is horribly flawed, as there is no ‘consistency’, especially amongst pistols/shotguns.

Magazine – A magazine is a firm bodied device in which ammunition is inserted. It is inserted into the bottom of the weapon.

Clip – A metal strip which creates a horizontal line of cartridges which are fed in through the top of the action of a rifle. Two types exist, internal, and ‘stripper’. Internal are inserted, and eject when the last round is fired. Stripper clips require the user to press the rounds into an internal magazine.

Safety – A mechanical device which if used properly and is in functional condition, will prevent a firearm from firing.

Jam/Stoppage – An occurrence in which a firearm is prevented from extracting or loading a fresh cartridge, but requires only remedial action.

Malfunction – A mechanical or component failure which causes the weapon to cease functioning properly until it is replaced. 

Revolvers (Hangun)

1. Overview

Named for the revolving cylinder that rotates to align cartridges in the cylinder with the barrel at a point called the breech, revolvers are the longest serving type of handgun, dating back to 1597 with the ‘revolving arquebus’, an archaic contraption that bears little resemblance to its modern cousins, which use a very similar design to the 1836 Colt Revolver.

Revolvers are mechanically simple, involving little in the way of moving parts, are easy to carry and conceal, and range in size from something you could cover by making a fist, to something most people wouldn’t be comfortable shooting without a buttstock. Revolvers are commonly chambered in widely recognized calibers, such as .38 Special, .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum.

2. Strengths and Weaknesses


  • The barrel is not (in most cases) in motion during firing – this gives greater consistency and accuracy during firing.
  • The sights of a revolver sit right atop the barrel – this results in a very low “height over bore” – meaning that the point you're aiming at and the point that the bullet strikes will have very little deviation based on mechanics. Ballistics will be the primary influence. Accuracy is largely a measure of skill, but this is an inherent advantage of the revolver.


  • Revolvers cylinders are significantly limited in capacity – most ‘major’ calibers (> .38spl) will only hold 6 rounds. While some models will carry 8-9 rounds, this comes at a significant addition in size.
  • Required Dexterity – Revolvers require a great deal more precision to load than auto-loading (magazine fed) pistols. This, coupled with the low capacity means that more time will be spent keeping the weapon in the fight, than you will actually spend fighting.
  • Mechanical Stoppages – Firearms in general are mechanical devices prone to failure. While revolvers cannot ‘jam’ in the way an autoloader can (failure of the action to eject a spent cartridge), they can have mechanical stoppages – which occur when dirt, debris or fouling compromise the revolvers ability to cycle. This is a very serious situation that can often lead to the weapon being useless until it is cleared properly.
3. Bottom Line

While certainly better than nothing, the revolver continues to be popular amongst gun owners, but has fallen out of favor with those who carry handguns professionally for the reasons highlighted above. Many persuasive articles have been written on the subject, but findings by end users have shown that the limited capacity and slow reload speed make the revolver less suited to out and out ‘gunfights’. That said, for use in personal defense, many fine options exist.

Auto-loader (Handgun)

1. Overview

The autoloader became popular with Colt’s M1911, adopted by the U.S. Army that year, and found continued support through the Browning Hi-Power. The automatic pistol is characterized by an operation that uses gas pressure from the detonation of the cartridge to press the slide backwards, out of battery, and at the same time eject the spent casing and load a fresh cartridge. This process occurs ‘automatically’ until the magazine is expended. Therefore, once the pistol is loaded (Full magazine inserted, slide pulled fully to the rear and released) the weapon is capable of firing until the magazine is empty.

2. Strengths and Weakness:


  • While generally more complex than revolvers, the automatic pistol can be operated more quickly (Ejecting a magazine and inserting a ‘fresh’ one can [practically] take around 2 seconds, whereas an ‘average’ for a revolver would be around 3 times that long, or 6 seconds).
  • In addition to this, magazines can be carried which secure a great number more cartridges than do speed-loaders for revolvers, and require less fine motor skills (which is greatly important when stress is high)
  • Because of their popularity, autoloaders have easily affordable and obtainable spare parts, replacement parts, accessories (such as magazines and holsters) and many more options in terms of accessories (such as flashlights, and sights).


  • they do suffer from the drawback that because of the mechanism, empty shell casings can become ‘stuck’ if the slide cycles too quickly or without enough force. This causes a stoppage (Which can be discussed further), which requires remedial action.
  • The great variety and gradient with regards to autoloader makes, models and quality requires that the prospective owner more carefully investigates what they’re buying.
  • The more complicated design demands that the owner spend significantly more time learning to operate the pistol.
3. Bottom Line

The Autoloader is the more compelling choice for me, for a number of reasons, but it must be constantly re-enforced that it requires a great deal more practice to operate it accurately, effectively and safely.


1. Overview

Shotguns are loosely categorized into three categories, much like handguns:

  • Break Action
  • Pump
  • Auto-loader

Shotguns of all types suffer from a common inequity: a limited capacity. They also share several common assets. So instead of discussing the types at length, we’re going to highlight the shotgun's strengths and uses, rather than its mechanical operation.

Shotguns were the mechanical outflow from the blunderbuss – the firearm that Elmer Fudd used to hunt rabbits. The barrel opened like a trumpet, to allow the ‘shot’ to spread once fired. This differs from the single projectile which is stabilized by the lands and grooves of barreling as in handguns and rifles, and so shotgun projectiles suffer from lower velocity, less accuracy and a disperse shot pattern – which can be fairly inconsistent.

2. Strengths and Weakness:

It’s common to hear gun store cowboys talking about all sorts of firearm mythos. Common amongst shotguns is how you don’t have to “aim” a shotgun, and a shot will knock someone back a dozen feet or the like. None of this is true, but as with all myths, there is an element of embedded reality.

  • Pattern – Shotgun shells, with the exception of rifled slugs, create a pattern when fired. These patterns vary with the type of shot (lead or steel pellets used in shells) and gauge (Diameter of the shell). Because there are many projectiles, shotgun blasts create jagged wounds, but because they lack velocity, beyond 25-50 yards, they quickly become superficial, and in some cases, insufficient to stop an attacker. However, this does allow the shot to be less accurate, while giving multiple chances per shot to strike vital areas.

  • Energy transfer – Because shotguns create dramatic wounds, and use a large powder charge -- up close they produce quite a lot of velocity and energy, creating significant trauma.

  • Commonality/Familiarity – shotguns are very common and familiar to many people. They are easy to reload shells for, and are forgiving with minor flaws in accuracy. They don’t draw much attention from people and are considered “politically correct”, if that enters into your thinking.

The shotgun has various issues going against it for any purpose apart from hunting or very limited applications during home defense.

  • Slow to reload – limited capacity and slow reloads limit the shotgun’s use outside the home. While they can be used for hunting large game, they lack the velocity and range of a rifle, and the capacity of the handgun.
  • Limited range – Because of the smooth bore barrel of the shotgun, range is typically limited to ~50 yards and less. This may not seem to be a disadvantage, and in a home defense situation it is not – but if you select a shotgun as a “do all” weapon, you’ll be handicapping yourself when it comes to other tasks.
  • Pattern – While an asset in some situations, it must be considered that in a situation where you’re fighting for your life, such as a home invasion or if pressed to defend your community, a shotgun's patterning can lead to unintended injuries on hostages or friendly forces. Because of this, the same thing that is an advantage in certain situations can be a liability in others.
  • Ammunition Bulk – 20 Shotshells takes up roughly the same amount of space as 60 rounds of 5.56 or 40 rounds of 7.62x51 (.308). This consideration is not important outside of war, but it is something that should be calculated in for “worst case” scenarios.
3. Bottom Line

Shotguns have unique liabilities and advantages that should be considered. The shotgun bridges a very narrow gap between the pistol and rifle – it’s more powerful than a pistol, but has the concealing properties of a rifle (that is to say – not concealable). It has the ‘range’ of a pistol, but within that range will produce results comparable to a rifle. For this reason, I spend very little time with the shotgun as a weapon, other than to familiarize myself in case I am forced to press one into service.

However, one very important consideration I suggest thinking about is this:

If society collapses, it’s very likely that shot-shells will be one of the most commonly available and reloadable types of ammunition. Because of their sturdiness, they will be more forgiving and longer lasting.

Manual Rifle

1. Overview

Manual rifles are often found as bolt, lever action or pump action. Unlike most Autoloading rifles, they’re chambered in “full power” cartridges – which are significantly more powerful than the cartridges found in rifles like the M4 or even AK rifles. They generally feature internal magazines, which hold very few rounds.

2. Strengths and Weakness:


  • Full powered rounds which are very powerful. Excellent for hunting large game.
  • Excellent range – most of these rifles are perfectly capable of producing hits out to 600m with practice.
  • Mechanically simple and extremely reliable
  • Robust and durable


  • Heavier; these rifles commonly weigh 8-10 pounds
  • Slower to load and manipulate
  • Low magazine capacity – this is a negative to me, but may not be to you. However, since it is a “restrained” quality, I’m going to list it as a limitation.
  • Often use bizarre, exotic or expensive cartridges which are produced in small quantities

Note: similar to the shotgun, the full powered cartridge can be an asset, but it can also be a terrible liability. In a home, the rifle round could easily travel through walls or even cars and strike objects or people behind them. This can be an asset in battle, but could be very troublesome as well.

3. Bottom Line

The rifle is the best “bang for the buck” so to speak. A good surplus rifle can be had for ~$150, will last a century, and will be useful for hunting and community defense. The rifle is to the community what the handgun is to the self, or the shotgun to the home. 

Autoloading Rifle

1. Overview

Autoloading rifles were born from the conflict of WWII. After the war revealed the urban nature of warfare, the Russians perfected the autoloading rifle in the ubiquitous AK-47, and its variants. America designed several excellent rifles of its own, including the M14 and M4 carbine. Sharing many of the advantages of the Manual rifle, with a drastically increased capacity and a medium power round, the Autoloading rifle is analogous to the autoloading pistol. It is mechanically more complex, carries with it a greater need for training and discipline to be used effectively, but is far and away superior to the slower firing, loading and manipulating manual rifle cousins.

2. Strengths and Weakness:


  • Fires medium powered cartridges which are very effective from 15m-300m with little or no trouble – longer ranges are perfectly realistic.
  • Allows user to fight longer, faster and harder than any other firearm listed
  • .30 caliber variants (M14, AK, etc) can be used to hunt.
  • Rugged and durable – military pattern rifles are made to withstand rigors that hunting rifles or commercial products are not. A battle-proven design will last for decades, if not centuries.


  • Stigma may attract unwanted attention or scorn
  • Often very pricey
  • Perhaps overpowered for home defense
  • Many clones, knock-offs, or poorly made alternatives exist that will not be as durable or long lasting
  • Requires magazines and ancillary equipment
  • Lack of training and discipline make it easy to “spray and pray” rather than use effectively.
3. Bottom Line

Rifles are the best ‘all around’ choice when you look at the problem using the metric of “Accuracy”, “Simplicity” and “Terminal Ballistics”. In the case of Autoloading rifles, it continues this trend with “Capacity” and in the case of military pattern rifles, “Durability” as well.

However, these aren’t available to everyone, and aren’t practical to carry on your person. This is where we see the rise of the “Survival Arsenal” fallacy. Generally written by “gun people”, this myth holds that you’re “not ready” unless you have a pistol, a rifle and a shotgun at your disposal.

The reason this is wrong? Well… Let’s look at our criteria.

Criteria For Selecting A Firearm

Now that we’ve defined the types of firearms available, and looked at some of their strengths and weaknesses, but we haven’t really talked much about what we need. Let’s face it – we all have different needs. So, does a couple in downtown Boston need a pistol, a rifle and a shotgun? Playing the numbers, they’ll have none of the above. So how do they start?

How about a young guy or gal in rural Kentucky? Same needs?

The answer is there are no ‘magic bullets’ to determine what will suit you – but there are ways of minimizing the headache of selection, maintenance and use of the tool you may have to stake your life on.

First buy quality, cry just once – and you will end up ahead of the game.

Second – Don’t waste your money on accessories until you’ve determined a need, not a want. Like the rest of America’s industries, the firearms industry wants to sell you lots of stuff you really don’t need. There are important accessories (magazines, holsters, and such), but most are poorly made, and don’t overcome any deficiency you couldn’t address on your own with more practice.

Third – don’t listen to the guy selling you the firearm. He’ll tell you lots and lots of things that sound ‘legit’, but are really pretty soft, from an intellectual standpoint. Do your own homework and research your selection.

So in a semi-prioritized fashion, here’s what to look for:

  1. Durability – In my opinion, having a weapon that is durable is more important than any single other influence. It simply has to work when you need it to. As a mechanical device, the quality of materials, craftsmanship and engineering will all impact how long the tool will last. If, like me, you’re buying this for the defense of your life, the most critical element is that it works under the worst conditions.
  2. Reliability – While this may seem the same as durability, it is not. While Durability vouches for the weapon's ability to take punishment, Reliability is a measure of how well it will work under those circumstances, and of course, after. The mechanical operation of the weapon must run as unimpeded as possible. That means, fewer parts break, fewer mechanical stoppages, and fewer full breakages. A reliable weapon that is durable will be handed down, through the generations, while a weapon that has only one quality will be hung above a mantle.
  3. Repair-ability – as a mechanical device, breakages are inevitable. When they do, you want the tool you’re using to be easy to fix and have replacement parts readily available. This speaks to anything from the magazines getting lost, or breaking an internal component to losing a spring, or breaking the stock. It must be easy to replace or salvage parts to keep your firearm in operational condition.
  4. Commonality – Commonality to me is a big one, and ultimately has helped me narrow down my selections to very specific tools. The areas I evaluate for commonality are:
    • Is it being used by Police or a Military? If it is, there will be ammunition, magazines and parts produced en masse.
    • Is it in a caliber that is common? Again, I try and stick to calibers currently in use by the military. That ensures that there will be ample ammunition produced, as well as brass and surplus for the “long haul”.
    • Is it something I can/would buy a second copy of? For obvious reasons, having a great variety of firearms is a liability to anyone other than the collector, and it’s far more utilitarian to find one “pattern” and stick to it. This minimizes training, ammunition buying, magazine and spare parts selection and familiarity concerns.
  5. Capacity – does it hold enough ammunition that you will not be continually reloading, if your life depends on staying ‘in the fight’? When rounds are flying, exhausting your ammunition can (and often has been: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1986_FBI_Miami_shootout, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Hollywood_shootout) a serious liability, to both you, and anyone else you may be protecting or assisting. While this point has become contentious, it’s important to remember that the enemy will not limit his options based on what he perceives as being 'socially acceptable'. 

Once you’ve weighed your prospective purchase against these criteria, you will then have to assess whether or not the price is practical and fits your budget. While this is a critical turning point for most people, it should be noted that spending more and buying a quality tool will allow you a lifetime of service, while making a poor decision may leave you searching for a compromise at a desperate time. Buying on a layaway plan, purchasing used firearms, and saving up are all preferable, in my opinion, to buying a less expensive firearm that will not perform when it is needed most.


Safety is an ongoing topic of concern for both pro and anti-gun folks. I won’t belabor the issue, but I firmly believe that safety is a byproduct of knowledge. You have to know what you’re looking at, how it functions and then how to apply the rules of gun safety.

At this time, I’d ask that readers take a look at the Definitive Firearms Thread and familiarize yourself with the safety strategies and practices discussed there. As we develop our base of knowledge, we can begin to develop both safe habits, and apply safe handling principles. I encourage this method, because as a component of your training at a later time, “dry practice” will become a part of how we develop our consistent trigger pull, reduce flinch and practice our malfunction drills and reloading procedures.


Let’s take a look at the three cardinal rules of firearms safety before we go any further:

  1. Handle every gun as if is loaded.
  2. Know what’s in front of your muzzle (barrel) at all times.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire.

There are more complicated sets of rules out there, but the great thing about these basic rules is this:  If you break one, while following the other two, no harm will occur.

Anytime you receive a weapon – the first thing you should do is verify its status as “clear” – meaning there is no ammunition in it if you do not want there to be, and there is if you do.

To verify that the weapon is empty, the following steps should be followed:

  1. Remove the magazine, or open the cylinder. If it’s a manual rifle or shotgun, physically check to be sure the internal magazine has been emptied, or no shells are in the magazine tube.
  2. If the weapon is an autoloader, pull the bolt to the rear, and visually inspect the chamber. “Triple check”. It never hurts to be extra safe, and this is a good habit to get in to before you learn to dry practice.
  3. Separate the magazine or ammunition, and close the bolt, cylinder or release the slide.


I won’t belabor this point too heavily here, but I will touch on it in the upcoming addition to the WSID Series “Understanding Emergencies”.

With that said regardless of what you choose, you are the one ultimately responsible for the safe and effective use of a firearm. While many levels of training exist (far superior training, in fact, to what most Police or Military members receive) to match your level of commitment, it’s imperative that you at least understand the basic rules of safety, and become familiar with the weapon you decide to purchase.

If you can’t automatically identify several key features:

  • Barrel
  • Trigger
  • Safety or de-cocker
  • Cylinder/Slide/Bolt
  • Chamber
  • Magazine Release
  • Cylinder/slide release button or lever
  • Frame/Lower receiver/Stock

…You need to devote more time to knowing your firearm. You should further be able to identify if your weapon is:

  • Single Action, Double Action or SA/DA
  • Blowback, revolving, gas impingement, piston driven, pump, bolt or lever action or semi-automatic.

Knowing this will help you understand the strengths and weaknesses inherent to the different designs, so that when you use your own metric for what fits best for you, you will be “armed” with knowledge. Also consider attending a firearms training course, several of which are recommended near the end of the the WSID article on Protecting Yourself Against Crime and Violence.

It’s my sincerest hope that this is a helpful addition to the WSID series, and I’d be glad to hear any feedback, comments or field any questions anyone may have regarding purchasing a firearm.



This What Should I Do? blog series is intended to surface knowledge and perspective useful to preparing for a future defined by Peak Oil.  The content is written by PeakProsperity.com readers and is based in their own experiences in putting into practice many of the ideas exchanged on this site.  If there are topics you'd like to see featured here, or if you have interest in contributing a post in a relevant area of your expertise, please indicate so in our What Should I Do? series feedback forum.

If you have not yet seen the other articles in this series, you can find them here:

This series is a companion to this site's free What Should I Do? Guide, which provides guidance from Chris and the PeakProsperity.com staff on specific strategies, products, and services that individuals should consider in their preparations. 

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Retha's picture
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 13 2011
Posts: 67
Excellent Aaron!

Great timing for me, too since I am 'in the market'.  Perfectly written!  Thank you! 

Travlin's picture
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Posts: 1322
Thanks for publishing this article

Thank you CM.com for publishing this article. While some people may find the topic uncomfortable, it is important to provide objective information for members to consider. This is particularly true for people who know little about guns but are thinking about acquiring one.

It is only in recent decades that guns became controversial in the US as most people were raised in cities and had no direct experience with them. Their only exposure was hyped up news reports of criminals and crazies shooting people. In rural areas guns have always been a part of everyday life and very rarely a problem. Guns are just tools. People determine whether they are used for good or ill. There are plenty of people in urban areas who will use guns responsibly if they make the decision to acquire them.

This article is a valuable service to members.


Jim H's picture
Jim H
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 8 2009
Posts: 2391
Thank you Aaron

Very comprehensive.  Although I have gone through my "gun 101" stage, with the help of a brother who spent most of his police career as his department's shooting instructor, and a good old friend who grew up with guns and now shoots competitively, I still have an important decision to make... namely whether to go through the effort to get a NYS hand gun permit.  While I can walk into a gun shop and walk out (one FBI background check phone call later) with a long gun, I cannot get a handgun unless I run the gauntlet.  

My question to you is;  Is it worth it?  Are there instances, i.e. travelling in the car, where a handgun is the only logical choice? 

I have a Mossy 500 20G, 18.5 barrel, and two HiPoint 9mm carbines (for parts resilience).  After doing my own research, I very much agree that the carbines (what you call autoloaders above) are the best all around choice.  As well, the HiPoint is really incredibly cheap, especially in 9mm (you can get .40 and .45 as well) at about $310 out the door, with iron sights. 9mm ammo is cheap too, the gun shoots quite well, and has been stone cold reliable at the range (once I learned that the autofeed does not like hollow point).  

Thanks, Jim   

ken325's picture
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Posts: 18
Excellent article, some more information

Excellent article.  I appreciate the difficulty of covering this subject as you need to provide a great deal of background information.  I think that it would be good to recommend training.  I am also a big proponent of having a safe for storing a weapon.  I think that it is essential that you become familiar with the laws in your area so that you stay out of trouble. 


I think that revolvers are a better choice if you are not going to get a lot of training and practice.  An auto pistol is more capable, but you must practice a lot more.  The author made this point, but I would like to strengthen it.  The same is true with a shotgun as you need less practice to be effective with it.  I think that sensitivity to recoil is a big issue with shotguns.  A big advantage with shotguns is the variety of shells that can be used, giving you effective rounds out to 100 yards.  A shotgun is also the most versatile, as it can be used for hunting any size game with the right shell. A pump shotgun is a very intimidating weapon that will scare away many attackers, and it is very reliable.


It would be good to discuss penetration.  This is something a homeowner should consider as thin walls will not stop some bullets and this is a safety consideration. Small buckshot in a shotgun, small caliber pistols, and some rifle bullets (rem 223) are a good choice in this situation.


You also need to discuss types of ammunition, amunition price, avalibility, and amount to store.


Another point that I like to make with novices is that guns hold their value.  I think of guns as an investment like gold and silver.  Most of the time a quality gun will hold its value over time, and it could appreciate.  This is something that a novice should consider when making the decision to buy a firearm.

Travlin's picture
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Posts: 1322
Good job Aaron

Thanks for writing this Aaron. You presented the essential information very well. You were very objective, though I know you have strong opinions on the merits of various options. I hope you didn’t have to bite your tongue hard enough to cause damage!  

I know you were limited by the length of your article so I want to add a couple of points I’m sure you know but didn’t have space for.

I’d like to clarify that military pattern rifles people can ordinarily buy are semi-automatic, and fire only one bullet per pull of the trigger. A fully-automatic, or selective fire, weapon fires multiple rounds with one trigger pull, and buying one is very highly restricted legally. They also cost many thousands of dollars and are hard to find. A military looking rifle that fires semi-automatically is no more dangerous then sporting arms sold for hunting, and often less powerful. How it looks does not affect how it functions. Many people do not realize this difference as their knowledge is based on what they see on TV and movies. The news media is also notoriously ignorant and factually inaccurate in reporting about guns and related issues.

As a historical footnote, the US entered World War II as the first nation to equip its soldiers with a semi-automatic rifle, the M1 Garand. These can still be bought today and use very common ammo. Everyone who wasn’t a front line rifleman received a short and light M1 Carbine that was also semi-automatic but fired a round with much less power.

I hope you are planning another installment to examine specific guns in all three categories that people may consider to fit various purposes. Just be sure to mention more then Glocks and AK-47s.



Poet's picture
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 21 2009
Posts: 1892
Another Vote For Aaron

Excellent article! Really puts it together and made me re-visit some of my thinking.

For example, I've never fired a shotgun, but had considered purchasing one. I'll have to give it additional thought, and in the meantime stick with what I'm more familiar with first. A recent left hand injury also made me think twice about grip strength lately.

Now we all just need to move next door to Aaron (when he's back)... :-P


LG's picture
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Posts: 59
Good Article

Thank you Sir.

Well done, short, brief and to the point.

Remember, Brass and Lead are also precious metals.

Thanks again, from a former Police Officer, Army and Navy Serviceman.

Thank you for serving our country. May God be with you.


SagerXX's picture
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
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Posts: 2252
LG wrote: Well done, short,
LG wrote:

Well done, short, brief and to the point.

Remember, Brass and Lead are also precious metals.

Thank you for serving our country. May God be with you.

Second all of that.

Viva -- Sager

ao's picture
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Joined: Feb 4 2009
Posts: 2220
Aaron, Thanks for an


Thanks for an excellent article and for all your valuable information presented on the Definitive Firearms Thread and always being so willing to thoroughly and thoughtfully answer everyones' questions.  I for one am very appreciative for what I've learned from you and I'm certain that many others are as well.

One small suggestion about the article above.  Deleting the following would make the article nigh on perfect:

"He sells them because he cannot work in the profession of arms."

The fact being, you really don't know why the firearm salesman is doing what he's doing and you may or may not be aware of all aspects of his background.  I don't think it's fair to make that kind of blanket statement and if you could edit the article to delete that statement, I hope you will consider doing so. 

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Thanks, Aaron!

Excellent article, Aaron. Even after reading the million or so posts on the Definitive Firearms Thread, and our many PMs about firearms, I still enjoyed and learned from this article!

I do agree with AO regarding the firearms salesman, as that stood out for me, too.

Keep up the great work, my friend!


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Nicely done, Aaron!  Thanks

Nicely done, Aaron!  Thanks for bringing order and reason to a subject that many of us are just beginning to learn about.  I know I have felt lucky to benefit from your experience and insights, given my strong desire to purchase a good firearm while still able to do so.  Thank-you.

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Well done... the DFT is a

Well done Aaron... the DFT is a wealth of information, but due to its size it's probably very time-consuming for new people to find the right practical advice.  It's great to have the essentials in one easy to reference (and high profile) WSID article.

Also, I appreciate the decision by Adam, Chris, and staff to put this up front & center on the main page in a WSID article.  Right or wrong, guns are pretty controversial today and the topic scares or drives away some people, but I have a hunch the article will help a lot more people than the few it might scare away.

- Nickbert

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Q/A - and Thanks!


My question to you is;  Is it worth it?  Are there instances, i.e. travelling in the car, where a handgun is the only logical choice? 

In my opinion, absolutely.
Handguns are the easy to conceal and more importantly, to retain.
Let me be very clear - fighting for a hangun inside a car is a very tough problem to navigate, and a significant amount of training is involved in being able to do it correctly...
Apart from that, having a concealed pistol available in advantageous in a number of situations:
- Traveling on foot in a non-permissive environment (Think Katrina Confinscations)
- When performing tasks that require the use of your hands (Fixing a faucet, carrying groceries, opening car doors etc)
- In tight areas, such as alleyways or narrow corridors
- In physical fights with multiple adversaries

This runs counter to most people's theories on firearms ownership - but if you're only going to have one firearm, it should be a concealable pistol. The reason is that hunting, while easier with firearms, can be done more effectively with traps. To further this point, fishing is generally a more productive method of food gathering (area dependent), so to me, it make more sense to be able to protect yourself and develop various skills to make food gathering more effective and less calorie consuming.


You also need to discuss types of ammunition, amunition price, avalibility, and amount to store.

That's a very good suggestion.
I think that could be it's own WSID entry, but briefly:

1. Ammunition types:
- Ball (FMJ - Full Metal Jacket)
- JHP(Jacketed Hollow Point)
- SP (Soft Point)
- Grain - A reference to the weight of the bullet or slug
- Frangible - Fragmenting, typically used indoors to prevent overpenetration in rifle caliber bullets

2. Ammo Price/Availability
These two issues are interlinked like any supply and demand issues, and this actually disects a point from the article. Under Criteria, "Commonality" is one of my big ones, and the reason is ammunition price and availability...
There are a great number of cartridges/calibers that are "more effective" or better designed, but lack the support to be:
a. Inexpensive
b. Widely available
A great example of this is the 6.8 Remington - which has arguably the best qualities of any intermediate rifle cartridge available today. The problem is it is not being produced in quantity, and hasn't been adopted by any military.
The result?
6.8SPC costs twice as much as 5.56mm.
That makes training with it difficult - especially if you're taking a class that requires 1500rds of ammunition. 

Also, 5.56, 5.45x39 and 7.62x39 are produced literally in the billions. Many countries use these calibers and production will not cease any time soon - which means these calibers will be more likely to be found during shortages.

3. Amount to store
This question is going to vary dramatically from person to person. Some people would be comfortable with a hundred rounds in the dresser, or and others... tens of thousands. 
Personally, 2500 is about right by my estiamation. This is because I do a lot of shooting, and I'm cycling through it pretty quickly - not because I think I'll ever need 2500 rounds to survive.

If you're not doing a lot of shooting, 200-500 is an adequate amount.

AO and Chris,

I flagged AO's post and alerted the moderators so hopefully they'll edit the work to make that change. [edit made -- Adam]

That said, I can't overstate how tainted by a desire to sell junk most gunshops are. You'll find more 'advice' there than you'll ever need, and Caveat Emptor. More often than not, you're going to end up talking to an enthusiast.
Enthusiasts are not reliable sources of information. They're enthusiastic about what they like. Not what is practical, useful durable, reliable or common.

Thank you for the suggestion, and cheers!


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I'm more than welcome to answer questions, or direct towards more knowledgable folks via PM if there are any out there who are warming up to the concept, but not to the degree that they'd abandon anonymity.

Also, I think I forgot to say thanks to all for the kind words - it's much appreciated and I hope that this is a useful and practical guide!



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thanks aaron a note to all

thanks aaron

a note to all the women out there....also consider going with what is comfortable in your hands.....when i bought a shotgun, i ended up buying a youth sized pump 20 ga as i wanted to be able to lift it in a few years when i am in my 70's

it was important that i did my homework before i went into the store to buy the actual gun, in that i knew pretty much what i wanted before hand.(having spent time consulting and studying up)

a woman buying a gun in a gun shop can attract alot of "experts" on both sides of the counter, and it's good to be able to brush the nonsense aside, and retain pertinent suggestions as you make your decision.

common sense goes a long way , know what YOU want, you'll be the one using it.

take your time, go home and sleep on it...and if the gunshop doesn't have what you want, go to others...it's worth the drive.

the women in my gardening network are talking about as a group, going and taking the concealed handguns permit class and getting our CCW permits.

i look forward to future articles aaron

thanks again


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butterflywoman wrote: thanks
butterflywoman wrote:

thanks aaron

a note to all the women out there....also consider going with what is comfortable in your hands.....when i bought a shotgun, i ended up buying a youth sized pump 20 ga as i wanted to be able to lift it in a few years when i am in my 70's

it was important that i did my homework before i went into the store to buy the actual gun, in that i knew pretty much what i wanted before hand.(having spent time consulting and studying up)

a woman buying a gun in a gun shop can attract alot of "experts" on both sides of the counter, and it's good to be able to brush the nonsense aside, and retain pertinent suggestions as you make your decision.

common sense goes a long way , know what YOU want, you'll be the one using it.

take your time, go home and sleep on it...and if the gunshop doesn't have what you want, go to others...it's worth the drive.

+1 I want to second what butterflywoman said about buying a gun froma woman's perspective.  I found all the same things she said to be true.  I also ended up buying a 20 gauge shotgun as opposed to a 12 gauge.  I went in "wanting" to buy a 12 gauge, from reading how common the ammunition was, and because so many people recommended them.  But the 12 gauge was just too big for me.  I tried a 20 gauge compact, and the difference in fit was night and day; this was a shotgun I could get comfortable with and learn to shoot .

I also did my homework before buying a handgun, both talking to people i know, and even moreso from taking advantage of the rich information on the DFT.  By the time I went to the store, I already knew exacly what types and models I was potentially interested in.  This saved me a LOT of confusion at the store.  I tired out the specific 5 or 6 handguns I was potentially interested in, and took note of how they felt in my hands (if comfortable holding or not; if too heavy, etc.), how it felt to pull the trigger, and the general ergonomics of operating it (e.g., if you buy a laser site built in, some require you to press a separate button to turn it on.  Others have the button built into the grip, so the mere normal pressure of your hand on the grip turns it on.  Very user friendly to me.).  I wrote down my notes, and then I went home to regroup. 

I took the time and space I needed at home (vs while feeling pressured at a store) to refine my assessments of the best options based on the new information.  I asked Aaron and others questions on the DFT to help me resolve some things I was uncertain of.  And then I went back with my top pick and bought it.  Now, it was lucky that I had AGAIN done all that homework (with help from Aaron and the DFT) because the salesman at the store had some very strong opinions about other guns that he wanted me to try out and buy.  And ,to his credit, the alternative model he suggested did feel just a little bit better to hold.  But because I had a lot of research done on pros and cons of all the models I was considering, and had read of some potential problems with that model, it was easy for me to decide on the other one I had been leaning towards, that both felt good (my 2nd choice ergonomically) AND had a stellar reputation for performance and reliability from all sources i checked.  So go in prepared ladies!

butteflywoman wrote:

the women in my gardening network are talking about as a group, going and taking the concealed handguns permit class and getting our CCW permits.

Butterflywoman, I urge you to consider doing this sooner rather than later!  I don't know what state you are from (the time it takes to get your CCW permit varies from state-to-state), but I took my class and submitted the application 8 months ago and am just now getting my CCW permit.  As more people wake up to our situation, and the more (if) our situation deteriorates, the longer I suspect this will take.

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20G for easier handling

As with Pinecarr and Butterfly.. although I didn't mention in my earlier post, I bought the 20G shotgun so that the women in my household could handle it more readily were the need ever to arise.  The other aspect of shotguns that has not been mentioned here is barrel length... for something where long range accuracy is needed, like trap shooting, or hunting, a long barrel is better.  For home defense, and for lower weight/maneueverability, shorter is better, and difference in overall length can be big.   My Mossberg 500 has an 18.5 inch (shortest legal length) barrel.  Over the summer at the range I got a chance to shoot my 20G side by side with my buddy's 12G, and the 12G had a significantly more violent kick.... literally made my shoulder sore in two shots.     

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gun shops vary

I second the suggestion to go to more than one gun shop until you find one you are happy with, who is not trying to sell product, but rather solutions.

We first tried a big box sporting good store and I was confronted by people who knew less about guns than I did at the time, and that was really saying something. They recommended the wrong ammo for my existing revolver (it does not take auto!) and tried to steer me to a "lady's gun", even though my hands are so large I can only wear men's gloves (size ten ring finger).

My second gun shop experience was better. It was in a pawn shop that specialized in tools, and the owner was an avid hunter. That's where we bought the antique 12-gauge shotgun my husband remembered fondly from his childhood hunts with his grandfather. The store is also local and handles reloading supplies. Once we added the rubber recoil pad they recommended to the butt of the shotgun's stock I found 12-gauge very usable.

Hubby visited a gun shop near a client recommended by a friend and was able to pick up a nice used  rifle for a great price. I never went there, but my third and best gun shop was also from a recommendation. An Ace Hardware two villages over has a gun shop bigger than the one at the big box store inside, with a very knowledgeable and helpful older clerk. This place is the go-to gun shop for local law enforement type's personal use, and local hunters (lots of hunters here). We go there for ammo and holsters and bought our rifle sight there.

Recommendations matter. Ask around for the best gunshop or gunsmith.

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Ordering Guns

Gun manufactures have excellent web sites with lots of data. If where you shop does not have the item you need, they should be happy to order the item from their suppliers. Have the information you need from the website for the item you want. Popular items are sometimes on backorder. You can also buy from a local FFL (Federal Firearms License) dealer if you know what you need. Don't let impulse sway your decision, get what you need. Yes, my wife is often treated like she is stupid when around gun people, times change slow.

Maybe this site could make contact with a reputable gun dealer. You buy the gun, it is shipped to a local FFL, for a fee, everybody is happy.

Happy hunting.



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Try this one
LG wrote:

Maybe this site could make contact with a reputable gun dealer. You buy the gun, it is shipped to a local FFL, for a fee, everybody is happy.

Bud's Gun Shop has an excellent reputation for low prices, with good service and a large selection.  You order online and it is shipped to a local gun shop for the backround check.  The fee for the local shop varies a lot so shop carefully for that.  Some state and city laws are very restrictive and may hinder this process.  For most it is very easy.




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in addition

Great job Aaron.  I would urge someone interested in buying a gun to first consider if they would be ready and willing to use it.  Consider this carefull and honestly.  If you want a gun for self defence, consider if you will be willing to shoot in your own self protection.  Many people aren't and thats OK.  But if you aren't, you're better off not having a gun around.

If you have kids around, unload it and lock it up.  This will make your firearm difficult to use in a pinch, but kids will find it and play with it if its out.

There is a lot of talk around that just the sound of racking a round in a shotgun will scare off an intruder.  Or people might be tempted to warn "I have a gun" to scare off an intruder.  Guns aren't for scaring off or intimidating anyone.  They are for stopping the threat as quickly as possible, and giving you an edge and standoff distance.  Don't give away any of your edge.  Never get in fair fight if you can help it.  In the same vein, know your state laws about the use of force.  You may do jail time for using a gun in self defence.  As the saying goes, better judged by nine than carried by six.

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Thank you Aaron

As a female hunter, plinker, and also avid gun-owner, I want to also highly recommend reading at the following excellent website:


Also, the book "In the Gravest Extreme" by Massad Ayoob, and everything else he writes as well. (I think he is a regular contributor to Backwoods Home magazine, but Google will find you plenty) and his courses on the use of firearms for self defense are well known and highly regarded:



It is critical that anyone, man or woman, who wishes to own guns, learn what the laws of their state are, get proper instruction, and take the time to fully and thoughtfully explore their own situation, reasons and fears surrounding gun ownership. A gun is unlike any other possession we own, and is NOT something to be tucked away and forgotten about. Practice is important, and taking full personal responsibility is deadly critical.

Women, educate yourselves - http://corneredcat.com/Contents/ - do NOT allow a male boyfriend/husband/family member/friend to decide what gun is good for you, or what holster is best, etc, etc . YOU must take the responsibility yourself, or you will be dangerous to yourself and others around you. 

Guys, if you disagree with what I just said above to women, then please read the following:




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spinone makes an excellent

spinone makes an excellent point of are you ready to own a gun....

i never owned a firearm until i decided to homestead 14 acres a few years back. but i did stop and think thru this...

if i own a gun i have to be able to use it. or i don't get one....that is a big question that one should take time to consider.

can you shoot another human being in self defense? or an animal?

if you can't . don't get the firearm.

there are many strategies of survival that don't need a gun to accomplish that.

i take gun ownership very serious and hope others do too.(even if you decide not to own one, knowledge of how to use one is a very good idea)

lots of good thoughts posted on this thread.

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A Slightly Different Take On The Subject ...

There’s a point that seems to be missing from this particular thread.  A gun is a tool, like any other.  Having the right tool for the job is important, but it’s only part of the equation.  You need skills, too.   

I’m not an expert on self defense, but unless you’re willing to put in the time and effort to make handling your new firearm second nature, you’re probably better served with a can of bear spray.  It’s small and easy to use, yet extremely potent.  And if you shoot someone by mistake, it’s unlikely to be lethal.  (Both UDAP and Counter Assault are considered reputable brands.)

As far as hunting, your choice of weapon is far less important than your skill as a hunter.  In a pinch, you can kill most of the game here in North America with a .22, or for that matter, with a stick bow and a stone point.   

I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy a gun, or that you shouldn’t take the time to pick out the right one for your personal needs.  I have a 30.06 with a variable power scope that I use occasionally for hunting elk & deer, a couple of shotguns for birds, and a Glock 20 for self defense.  But the most important thing isn’t the fact that I own guns, it’s that 35 years in the field have given me the requisite skills to use my guns safely and proficiently. 

By the way, in spite of the fact that I’ve owned any number of guns, and that I consider a well-built and well-designed firearm to be a thing of beauty, I spend the vast majority of my time afield with a longbow and a cedar shaft - and with a can of pepper spray on my belt in case I run into one of our local grizzly bears or mountain lions.  I can’t speak to military applications or law enforcement, but in the woods, skill always trumps firepower and one well-placed shot beats a bunch of lead in the air every single time.

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Shudock & Butterfly make great points...

....about if you're not really willing to use the gun -- don't own it.  

In my own journey down the path of firearms ownership (NEVER until 2 years ago did I think I'd ever own a firearm) I've come to grips with questions like:

"Would I shoot a person to protect my loved ones/community?"

Heinlein's "Starship Troopers' is not so much a sci-fi novel as it is an examination of the question "What does it mean to be a citizen?" (to a certain extent, it's also a coming-of-age "callow kid into man" story)  Of course, it being Heinlein's novel, we get Heinlein's answer but IMO there's much he has to  say that's of value -- and re-reading it recently helped me crystallize certain ideas.  

Neal Stephenson's book "Cryptonomicon" (apart from being one of my fave novels ever and a spectacularly great yarn) deals with some of these issues too.  One of the lead characters (Randy Waterhouse) travels an arc from insecure introvert geek to what the character Doug Shaftoe would call "a serious person" over the course of the book.  And the line between "not serious" and "serious" involves being willing to take risks -- sometimes dire -- on behalf of those you care about -- and also putting your heinie on the line in the most literal (mortal) sense for what you believe.  Both these books make the point that if you're not willing to put it all on the line, then either (a) what you espouse as being meaningful/worthy/beautiful/true is none of those things, Q.E.D., or (b) be prepared to have what you find meaningful/worthy/beautiful/true taken away from you.

I'm still wrestling with all these things and the implications that spring out of them.  

(for the purposes of the following paragraph, let's agree to set aside all the idiots out there for whom guns are toys or status/manhood markers, or the means to commit crimes...)

But I can say that it seems true to me that if you're not willing to use a firearm you shouldn't own one.  I'll also say that the part of me that in the past might have thought "Well, they have a false sense of security/confidence because they're wearing a gun"* would now be willing to think that person projects confidence because they have thought these issues through -- and in wrestling with them, understand the responsibility that comes with ownership of a firearm (and what it means to be a citizen, or "serious" as D. Shaftoe puts it).  To accept the awesome responsibility of firearm ownership is to know how to use it, how to hold it in abeyance, and to understand better one's own self.  

It's quite the journey, coming as I have from a family with little history of gun ownership.  I'm learning heaps about myself as I go.  Which is no mean trick at the age of 46.

Viva -- Sager


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A tool that works that you can use and afford.
t.tanner wrote:

 You need skills, too.   

   The great thing about firearms is that not all that much skill is needed to use them.     10 minutes instruction, shoot a few rounds, more instruction, safety reenforcement, disassembly and clean, dry fire, more safety reenforcement, here's your certificate. Your concealed carry ID should come in the mail in 60 days or less.  Drive home safe, now. Ladies who run sewing machines have no trouble.  Sewing machines are much more complex with more possiblity of injury. Their cars are more deadly, year over year. 

Far less skill is needed to headshot a squirrel with a Ruger MarkIII .22 pistol than do the same thing with a slingshot or bow.  With the pistol, you can have one eye working, be mostly paralyzed, except for the hand and arm that you can steady on your chair. You can be small or weak and get a pistol or rifle that fits you, that you can practice with until you are familiar with it and don't have to look at the safety or magazine catch to operate them.  If you have good sense, and can read the booklet that comes with the weapon, you can own and use it safely and effectively.   Guns make the small, weak, female and infirm equal to the young and strong when fighting is the order of the day.  Sounds like a 19th century gun salesman, right? It's all true. 

If you live in a State that prohibits you from having a weapon or would prosecute you for killing an intruder to your home, leave that State. Deny them the income you bring them by working and living there: stop supporting your own serfdom.

New York City is a place I won't go. It's full of people who won't take responsibility for their own safety by owning the most effective weapons invented, thus giving free reign to criminals. I can't be legally armed in NYC, but would be anyway if forced to be there.  Join us in America. 

We have skills. We know how to make, repair, and use guns, and how to teach others to do the same.  We have travelling gun clubs run like Tupperware parties from garages and livingrooms to ranges. Buy, sell, trade, teach, learn. No FFL's, but sometimes Sheriff Deputies.  Keep it under 24 guns for sale and it's not a "gun show". 

The reason "Glocks and AK-47's" are mentioned may be because these are some of the most combat-effective weapons ever made.  Their compromises are also their virtues. The world is mostly wet and mostly filthy, G's and AK's do fine in this.  They may not be the biggest, most precise, longest range, most powerful, but are like Goldilocks' choice: "just right" for almost every likely situation.  

Will anyone argue that everything is fine and you don't need a gun? Thought not. The debate is which ones and how many thousands of rounds in ammo cans. Will it be "civil unrest" that the cops can handle or gangs going door-to-door doing recruiting and executions along with gathering supplies? Best-case-scenario of 1933 repeated, or grid-down collapse?  A handgun can get you a rifle, if need be.  

 Firearms are an option you can give yourself now, that may not be legally or financially available later.  Buy and bury? Buy several and bury some?

A good friend in New Mexico said "If it's time to bury the rifles, it's time to use them". 


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A middle way

I’d like to offer another perspective on the statement, “Don’t own a gun unless you’re willing to use it.” I think that is too restrictive, and a graduated approach would be better.

Shooting targets can be an enjoyable pastime. Developing the skill and discipline to do it well can be rewarding and relaxing. Having a tool to shoot varmints raiding your garden can be useful. Being able to hunt can be very useful. Shooting can also be a fun activity with other family members, and a good way to teach responsibility to kids. They can surprise you with how well they do it, and how seriously they take your trust in them. Having a gun for these purposes allows you to learn to use it safely and become comfortable with it.

Once guns are no longer “demonized” in your mind you can rationally consider their use for self defense. It is clearly best if you do the serious thinking and training suggested in other posts, and reach clear conclusions on how you would act. But you don’t have to decide all that now. Having a secured but quickly accessible gun at home gives you options.

It is one thing for you to decide you would not shoot someone threatening to directly attack you, but what about a spouse, or children? Children can’t defend themselves, and they didn’t decide they don’t want to be defended. The same often applies to wives. Could you live with yourself if they were killed and you didn’t do everything possible to prevent it?

From what I have observed and experienced, when a person is really threatened with a serious attack they have an immediate and overwhelming desire to save themselves by any means possible. They experience danger at a profoundly visceral level and things can become crystal clear. You “know” beyond doubt that this is the time for the ultimate response. This is not the time to wish you had an effective weapon.

Again, it is clearly best if you do serious thinking and training, and reach clear conclusions on how you would act. But if you’re not ready to go that far there is a middle way that doesn’t leave you defenseless.





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Again, thank you all for the kind words!

Cornered Cat has long been one of my most referenced sites for female shooters. Someone recommended some years back to a gal I knew, so I figured I should read it, too. What I found was that the advice there was really good for males and females, in many cases - but it was built from the ground up acknowledging the things that make carrying more difficult for females. Kathy Johnson is an excellent resource for anyone - but specifically for ladies who'd like to learn more about carrying. For men, "dressing around a gun" is really simple. There are lots of options, and most men can pull it off without much of a change (new belt, size larger shirt or pants, etc).

For Gals, it's entirely different. Thank you for sharing!

On the issues of "Being ready to use it" - I'd defer to Authur Robey.
If at all possible, preserve your innocence. Avoid the situations, or stop them with good situational awareness, good security measures and an alert and cogent family.

...Because these things are not always fail-safe, it's important that you're ready mentally to make that decision before the situation happens. This is one of the reasons it's so important to start your training with a good instructor who understands not only the physiological aspects, but the psychological and legal aspects as well.


If you look over the Definitive Firearms Thread, or Definitive Tactics Thread, you'll find that the subject of skill is emphesized 10/1 on discussion of "raw" equipment. This particular entry is kept as simple and specific as possible to facilitate the choosing of a firearm.

From here, we can discuss training, tactics, mindset and anything else firearms on the www.PeakProsperity.com/forum/definitive-firearms-thread/12654 and www.PeakProsperity.com/forum/definitive-tactics-thread/19952 threads. Please look them over - the DTT especially is a resource that's completely under-used in terms of mental readiness and having a realistic understanding of life or death situations.


While firearms don't take a lot of skill to shoot, they take a literal never-ending committment to reach proficiency to fight with. Shooting and fighting are about as similar as skiing and parachuting.


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Something To Chew On ...

Thanks for the heads-up, Aaron.  I figured that the DFT probably had a lot of info on skill, attitude, training, etc.  I just think it’s appropriate to raise the subject here, too.

For those of you who are considering buying your first gun, I suggest you spend time thinking about why you might want one.

If you want to learn to target shoot, or plink, or shoot trap, skeet or sporting clays, by all means, buy a gun (or two, or ten).

If you want to hunt, a gun is an excellent tool.  Just make sure you pick one that’s appropriate for the task at hand, and that meets legal requirements for your area.  (For example, there are places where you can’t hunt with a rifle - you’re limited to a pistol or a shotgun.)

If you want to defend yourself and your family, a gun may, or may not, be the best choice.  You have to decide if you have the mental and emotional capacity to use deadly  force in a situation that may involve - just to name a few - darkness, anxiety, fear, adrenaline and confusion.  It’s one thing to take your .44 down to the local gravel pit and go all Dirty Harry on some tin cans.  It’s another thing entirely to shoot someone and then have to deal with the legal and emotional repercussions.  And what happens if you shoot someone by mistake?  Is that something you can live with?  

I’ve had two people close to me shot by accident.  One survived.  One didn’t.  (I wasn't involved in either shooting, but I experienced the aftermath and it wasn't pretty.)

I have no problem at all with guns.  But they’re not “equalizers.”  They’re tools, and you shouldn’t own or use them unless you can do so safely and proficiently.  If you’re interested in self-defense, a can of bear spray may well prove to be a more palatable choice.

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robie robinson
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Very good advice,however the idea of palatiblity and bear spray is couterintuitive.


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robie robinson

 I guess that depends on whether you like your food extra spicy.

joesxm2011's picture
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Four Aspects

I think there are four aspects to consider with regard to getting a gun or learning about guns if you have no prior exposure.

First, even if you have no intention of getting a gun or using a gun it might not be a bad idea to learn how to operate one at a basic level.  You may find yourself in a situation where you have to take possession of a gun and knowing how to make sure it is safe and empty would be handy.  For example, the wife of a friend recently went to help her old uncle who was having dementia and discovered that he had a collection of guns that had to be removed.  She decided to learn how to target shoot a year earlier so could handle the guns without worries.

Second, it might be good to take a pistol licensing course and get your license just so you can have it before the rules change and make it harder to get.  Usually it is about $100 for the class and another $100 for a five year license.  That way you keep your options open.

Third, you could get involved in the "shooting sports".  Shooting at targets is a lot of fun and there are clubs and leagues that you could join.  It would be like golf or bowling.  In this case you would keep your gun locked up and not plan on using it as a defensive tool.

Fourth, you could decide that you would like to be able to use the gun to defend yourself or your family.  This is a huge step.  You should definitely get much more training than what is given for the basic licensing course.  You need to learn how to shoot defensively and more importantly you need to learn when to shoot, why to shoot, when not to shoot and why not to shoot.  The when's and why's are very important and many people skip over them.


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If a gun is too inconvenient to carry at all times, you won't have it when you need it. A gun is no substitute for avoiding likely situations where you might need a gun. I carry two guns, a Glock 36, 45 acp, and to back that up, a S&W Bodyguard 380 acp. From 1965 I have carried: S&W Model 10 38 spc, Colt Combat Commander 45 acp, Baur 25 acp, S&W Model 37 38 spc, S&W Model 360 357 mag, S&W Model 396 44 spc, and for the better part of the last ten years, North American Mini 22 mag. I was trained in the 1960's in the Marines to use the Pistol Caliber 45 acp. I actually carried a Model 10 S&W (my service was aviation related) and both M-14 and M-16 rifles. I don't like single action guns. I don't like external safeties. The less you have to remember to get the gun to work, the better. S&W Revolvers and Glock are "perfect" personal protection guns. If there are rounds in the chamber, all that is needed is to put the front site on the target and pull the trigger. Handguns should be considered a last resort to selfdefense, avoidance being first and flight being second. Combat taught me that being 500 yards away from the target is better than hand-to-hand combat. If unable to avoid or flee, but with enough time to prepare, my first choice is a quality pump 12 gauge shotgun, 18" barrel,  with at least five rounds: BB, BB, 00 Buck, 00 Buck, 00 Buck. I do not wish to ever engage in combat with the government, so I don't need machine guns or armor piercing ammunition. I only want to be left alone, and if worse comes to worse, I want to survive. If you don't think you can kill another human being, don't carry a handgun. He will take it away from you, and after he beats, rapes, and kills your wife and children, he will kill you. The fact that a criminal can and will do this, is why I carry a gun. There is a time to buy a sword.

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Have printed it out for immediate reading and archived it for future use...either for myself of someone else.

Aaron M's picture
Aaron M
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Thank you kindly for the comments - I appreciate them sincerely.
I'd love to hear more feedback about what I can improve, what topics need to be covered more thoroughally, and if there are any portions that could be clarified.


I understand where you're coming from, but to me, shooting is a utility. 
People who do it for recreation would be better served with Golf. Not to say there isn't some utility in shooting competitively, but buying a gun and throwing it in a dresser, or only practicing with it under ideal conditions are failings of mindset. If the skill to shoot is your only interest, an Airsoft will do just fine. You can have a lot of fun without the responsibility. 


Thank you for your comment. I happen to agree strongly on your choice of "perfect" pistols. 


Thank you for say so, it's great to hear that this is of some use!



martinv's picture
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Firearms for hunting food

Good to see educational articles like this.  Keep up the good work.

I went through the whole firearms process just over a year ago.  I
spent quite a lot of time thinking through various scenarios.  The
following points may be useful for others.

I should mention that I'm not in the USA, but New Zealand.  The law
here is considerably different from the US with regards to firearms.
Here pistols are tightly controlled and require a special license
which few people have.  Semi-automatic rifles are limited to 7 or 15
shot depending on type of cartridge, and shape of stock on the rifle
(of all things).  Also, anyone who uses a firearm in self defense will
very likely find themselves on the wrong side of the law.  Even the
convenience store owner who defends himself against five thugs by
using a hockey stick may be in legal trouble (a current case here in
New Zealand)!

My decision on what to buy has focussed entirely on hunting for food,
as that is the way I personally see things unfolding.  It's also based
on a long term scenario, so thinking about what happens when stores of
ammo run out - ie. fabricating ammunition when resources are tight.

I first bought a good quality high power, spring .177 calibre air
rifle of all things.  These can be used to hunt rabbits (yum!) of
which there are millions of in this country.  The rifle is simple, and
a popular brand so parts are easy to come by.  Pellets are just made
from lead and small so don't need much lead.  The drawback is I think
pellet manufacture requires specialised machinery which doesn't exist
in New Zealand.  I've shot a few rabbits, but you need to get
reasonably close due to the low power and hence short range of an air
rifle.  Still, very little to go wrong with them.

An interesting alternative is a PCP (pre-charged pneumatic) air rifle.
These are by comparison complicated requiring things like dive tanks
to refill the cylinder in the rifle.  The upside is that some can fire
lead balls which you can cast yourself.  They're used for shooting
things up to pig size.  Still, not very mainstream.

The second rifle I bought was a .22LR rimfire.  The most popular and
cheapest firearm cartridge in the world.  Great for rabbits and the
extra range over the air rifle makes the task easier - a real bonus if
you need to live off of what you shoot.  Once again, I bought a good
quality popular brand so parts are easy.  These bullets are cheap
enough that you can stockpile them in quantity if you wish.

A shotgun, for ducks.  I actually shot clay bird in high school and
have taken up this sport again.  It's great fun and the skills are
transferrable to shooting ducks.  Shooting live ducks doesn't interest
me, but if we need to eat then it will interest me.  Shotgun shells
are made here in New Zealand, and are quite easy to manufacture
(relatively speaking).

You could buy a shotgun with exchangable barrels.  Long barrels for
shooting ducks, and short barrels for home defense if that's your
thing and it's legal where you live.

A shotgun also gives you flexibility in that you can fire different
size shot depending on what you're hunting.  Small pellets for birds,
larger for rabbits, even a single massive slug for stopping deer.

A centre-fire rifle.  Here it's illegal to fire a rimfire rifle
(Eg. .22LR caliber) or shotgun in the national forests.  So if you
want to shoot pigs, deer etc.  you need a centre-fire.  I chose one
with cheap pleantiful ammo.  What's cheap and pleantiful in
centre-fire will depend on what country you live in.

If you're thinking long term, it would be worth making sure your
firearms have open sights.  Some rifles come only with telescopic
sights and while great, they are not as durable as the rifle and it's
likely the rifle will outlast the telescopic sight.  If supplies of
telescopic sights dry up (think high quality optical lenses), then if
at least you still have open sights you can still hunt.

Buy a decent pair of earmuffs, and practice!  I took up target
shooting last year, and re-started clay bird shooting last year too.
These can be great fun sports and then at the end of the day, if
really really necessary the skills are transferrable.

ao's picture
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Hi martinv, Welcome to the

Hi martinv,

Welcome to the site.  Your decisions seem reasonable.  The only thing I would have done differently was get a .22 air rifle in a gas spring design rather a .177 in a spring (I assume spring piston) design.  The .177 is a little light for a rabbit and more limited in range for that type of hunting.  A high power .22 gas spring air rifle will take any type of small game or bird from a good distance.  Plus, the gas spring lasts longer, requires less maintenance, and has advantages over a spring piston, for the hunter in particular, in terms of allowing you to keep the rifle cocked for longer periods of time, better accuracy, lighter weight, and less sensitivity to the cold.  They are pricier and harder to cock, however.

Another thing to consider is that in a SHTF scenario, larger game will be hunted out rather quickly and small game will become scarce.  Some proficiency in traps, snares, deadfalls, etc. and fishing skills (including line, spear, net, etc.) will all come in handy.  Obviously, you want to grow your own food as well.




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One thing I tell people,  is that they will need to clean and lubricate their firearm. So, in choosing one I suggest that they go to the manufactures web site or You Tube and find a video to see how its done. And, see  how simple or difficult it is for that make and model.

badScooter's picture
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nice piece

Hi Aaron, nicely written piece.  

I'd add just a couple things that some will know, and others might not.

As Bill was driving at:  The "right gun" is the one you've got with you when you need it.  Buying a bazooka is not going to help you if it is not with you.  I carry a little 380 most of the time, because it is very comfortable and actually gets worn vs. left in a safe somewhere (and the threat situation is pretty low).

Ken is spot-on in my opinion, with the observation that guns are a reasonable store of value.  Check out someplace like "outdoorstrader.com" or similar, and you'll see that they don't depreciate at anything like the rate of, say, a used car.

I teach my 10-year-old that there are only two rules (really only one); from which all else follows:  

It. Is. Always. LOADED.

 (the second "corrolary" is that "Only point at what you want to shoot - pretty much follows from the First Rule).  Incidentally, I've checked him out on the G17, and he can rack and clear the weapon safely; with technique, most folks should be able to operate such an automatic from a purely physical standpoint.  My wife, on the other hand, can't/won't operate the action.

Folks need to have a good think about if they are willing to deploy lethal force...ahead of time.  A weapon in the hands of a person who is unwilling to use it is an asset to an assailant, not a deterrent (the old saw about "racking the action of a shotgun" notwithstanding).  This is my opinion, but also my experience.

Following the above observation, my wife is scared featherless of operating a weapon on general principles, and I don't think she has the mindset either.  She has an industrial-sized can of OC pepper spray for the front door, and a Kimber OC pistol (google them, they are kind of cool) for the purse.  She's also got a dog with really big teeth (a loveable lab, but a dog who know's who's not in "his pack").

See you, buy you a cup of coffee next time you're in Vancouver if you want.



Tim_P's picture
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 Nice work on this

 Nice work on this Aaron,

I'd like to add to the discussion of deciding to buy a gun based on whether or not you think you could actually use it to shoot a person.  My advice is for someone to really think that through.  It may be easy to think that you could not do it if you are thinking about it while sitting behind a computer in a warm house while the Dow floats around 11,000.  But think ahead to a possible future where you wake one morning to discover your neighbors suffered a home invasion that ended up with them being raped and murdered.  The world today is nothing like the world we are heading in towards.

No matter what degree you think the world will change, everyone agrees that it will be a world with fewer police resources and with higher crime.  If we should go down the worst of the possible outcomes, that will not be the time to try to buy a gun, find ammunition and learn to carry and use it.  To wait until then will be to lose out on the ability to learn what firearm works for you, learn to use it, learn how to carry it and learn to be comfortable with it.  We currently have the luxury of a peaceful atmosphere in which to learn these things.  

To wait until the crisis is upon us could put you in the middle of a crowd that is clamboring for a gun at any price.  You may not get what works best for you and will spend a lot more of your purchase/barter resources to get one.  Then, once you have one, the cost of ammo will prevent you from learning to use it well enough to be effective.

My advice is to think it through, not from today's perspective, but from that which you believe is possible in the future.  Then, if you think you could defend your family with a gun, buy one now.  Learn to shoot it and get comfortable carrying it while we have the ability to do that in a peaceful society.

Also, buy a good pair of earmuffs and shooting glasses to go with it.  Electronic earmuffs that work pretty well can be bought for around $30 and really are worth having.  A good pair of shooting glasses is a must as well.


Aaron M's picture
Aaron M
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There have been several comments now, to paraphrase:

"Be prepared to take a life before you buy your weapon."

While I don't think anyone has minimized this issue at all, I do think it bears some scruitiny.

Preemption vs Reaction

Thinking on this issue is entirely different than acting.
I have a close friend who've I known for decades. He's an extremely non-violent type, has never owned a firearm and never expressed any interest in owning one. Raised in a violent metropolis, he's been harassed, intimidated and generally abused by the urban lifestyle. But he maintains it's not something he'd ever need.

One time, we were driving through a parking lot and someone pulled a real crazy cut-off stunt - the natural reaction was layin' on the horn. The car skidded to a stop, and a couple guys jump out, grabbing at their trousers as if to pull a weapon (intimidation, generally lacking in substance. Real bad guys don't 'pretend') and he immediately defaulted to looking at me like I was going to solve the situation with a gun. Didn't end up materializing that way, thank God, but the anecdote is to show that when it comes to situations that might potentially threaten your life, your personal politics or philosophies on use of force go straight out the window. This wasn't the first or last time something similar had happend.. but more on that later.

Nothing can prepare you

My dad used to tell me "The only worse feeling than holding someone at gunpoint, is being held at gunpoint". 

That was the philosophy that was reiterated throughout my youth, but by the first time it'd happened, I was in my teens and felt absolutely nothing other than the fear of the situation. Never really had time to think about it until much later. I had almost zero training at the point, and the experience pushed me over the cliff. I had the possession, but nothing of the skillset, mindset or tactical knowledge I'd need to address worse situation in the future.

If you asked me then if I could kill someone - the answer would be yes, absolutely. In the situation, it was not a decision, so much as a reaction, and I put little or no preemptive thought into it. So, in a way, my dad was right... but it was that I lacked skill. I feared that I wouldn't be able to match the bad guys. I feared that I'd be inable to work the equipment properly, or it wouldn't work.

I had a firearm back then because it was rural America, and perfectly acceptable. I never thought about taking life, and it wasn't until I had to turn that instinct on that I realized how horribly unequipped I was to deal with such a thing.

There is a difference

A lot of discussion on the topic of killing comes from wars. No different than technology, surgury or cultural phenomenon that occurs with wars, we shape our culture's perspective on killing by our experience in war. War is different than defense. When you're ordered to engage enemy targets, they may not be presenting you a threat, and all of a sudden, preemption and all the guilt and problems associated with it kick on. You might begin to consider things about that person that you wouldn't if they were attacking you as a person, rather than a 'enemy troop', or fighting an ideology. Especially if you've entered a soverign nation, and are fighting populists (Viet Nam), your concept of taking life might be horrendously skewed by the displays of committment, brutality and human nature evident in wartime situations. While I'm certainly no expert, and there are many more qualified to speak on the subject, I view this is as serious cultural crossroads that deliniates say, WII, from Viet Nam.

Concept over Possession

With these thing in consideration, I think that good people even 'having' a gun is better than them not purchasing one because they're simply scared of the device itself. At that critical juncture where they are more scared by situational circumstances, the ability to defend themselves is a cruicially important decision.

There are plenty of folks who target shoot or hunt who don't consider mortal altercations can turn situations around.

All this does not change the fact that anyone who owns a gun should at a minimum know the nomanclature listed here, the rules of safety, and as mentioned by JDavis, that you are able to assemble and disassemble your weapon for cleaning.

As Tim pointed out, think less about right now, and more about a future in which desperation, crime and poverty have risen. This is a likely outcome, but even if it fails to come around, the point brought up by Badscooter - firearms hold their value very well. (By the way, It'd be good to meet up for some coffee).

In short, I'd like for everyone to be able to do what Butterflywoman and Sager have done - taken a very proactive, practical position, made determinations based on their situations and needs, and followed through with a very big responsibility.


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Concept Over Possession

 Hi Aaron,

On your point #4, that is one (of the three) reasons I think it wise to have more than what I've got the two hands for...if things really do go seriously south, I could see being the one providing the otherwise impromptu "neighborhood watch" with some teeth, some gear, and some training.  Same people who wouldn't care to own or learn about firearms in more stable and sane times.  

In my head sticks the image of the Korean shopkeepers during the LA riots, successfully securing their own perimeter.  I don't know that anyone else within a mile of me thinks likewise, or sees the potential for at least a temporary, localized collapse of law and order,  and I'd just as soon be the one doing the providing than the one doing the needing.

Incidentally, there are very few people that realize what steps I've taken (none, in my immediate neighborhood), and if nothing very bad ever happens, that is the way it will stay.  

See you,


t.tanner's picture
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Related Points

 Given this thread’s focus on firearms for self defense, there are a few other things folks here might want to consider.

If you’re living in an area where the potential for crime or civic unrest makes owning a gun for self-defense seems like a necessity, you might want to move someplace safer.  Personally, I’d look at areas with low population densities, good soil & water, and a nearby rail line, and I’d stay away from spots where climate change is liable to flood you out or turn your backyard into a dustbowl.

I’d also pay more attention to your skills.  If you’re worried about your safety, or your family’s, take classes on self-defense and awareness.  I’m no expert, but I’ve trained with enough current and ex-special forces to know that your weapon isn’t what makes you dangerous. 

Finally, the thing that’s going to get us through what’s coming is an emphasis on neighbors & community.  You’re better off building those bonds now rather than later. 



lami88's picture
lami88 (not verified)

Thank you kindly for post. I can learn to make purchases based on solid logic, proven performance, and your projected needs. So much options i have never see before.I'm common rail come from sensor

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