Friday, October 7, 2011

Some Thoughts on a "Battery" of Survival Arms--Part III--Handguns

If you have to use a weapon to defend yourself it will likely be a handgun. There are two reasons for this. First, a handgun is easily carried or kept in a convenient drawer or cupboard. Thus, it is the weapon you are most likely to have at hand when you need it. There is an old maxim that applies here: “the best gun to bring to a gun fight is the one you have.” In other words, the best weapon in the world is worthless if you don't have it with you. With the right handgun, you can always be armed.

The other reason the handgun will be your primary weapon is that most armed encounters occur in the home.1 At the ranges inside a house or apartment the greater accuracy and power of a rifle or shotgun become moot; the human factors outweigh the environmental factors. What is relevant is a weapon that can be used to fend off or control an attacker who may only be a few feet away. The handgun can be used one-handed to cover a “perp” while you call the police. The handgun is quicker to redirect toward a target than the longer rifle or shotgun. Because of the difference in leverage, it is more difficult to disarm someone carrying a handgun than someone using a long arm such as a rifle or shotgun. A handgun doesn't have the issues of a long gun of trying to maneuver a long barrel or stock around in a confined space such as the standard width hallway in a residence. It can be slipped unobtrusively into a pocket when answering a late night knock at the door, or a strange noise in your backyard. In short, in most instances when you need to grab a gun, the handgun is the better weapon.

Revolvers v. Semi-Automatic Pistols

There are several commonly recognized advantages and disadvantages of revolvers and the semi-auto pistol.

Revolvers v. Semi-Automatic Pistols2
Semi-Auto Pistol
-Simple mechanism -Complicated mechanism
-Ammunition in chamber visible -Ammunition concealed
-No applied safety needed -Applied safety may be required
-No misfire problem -Misfire requires hand operation to clear
-Single-action firing produces smooth trigger action leading to improved accuracy -Trigger action rarely as smooth
-Bulky -Can be flat and unobtrusive
-Generally limited to 6 rounds -Higher capacity, with 10-15 rounds typical
-Long time to reload cylinder -Simple to replace magazines
-Generally has lower muzzle velocity -Generally has higher muzzle velocity
-Retains spent casings -Ejects spent casings

In short, “[t]he self-loading pistol produces a greater volume of fire in a given time, is less reliable, is not so safe except in expert hands, and its stoppages take a lot longer to clear. In small calibres it is easily concealed. The training time is lengthy if the user is to be capable of firing and maintaining the pistol under all conditions.”3 “The pistol revolver is safer and more reliable and training time is greatly reduced. It contains fewer rounds, fires at a lower muzzle velocity and is more bulky.”4

I do have some comments regarding reliability. Some people think the meme of "the revolver is more reliable" is passe, because of improvements in both the design and manufacture of semi-automatic pistols and ammunition. It is true that newer designs--the Glock comes to mind--are much more reliable than pistols from even a couple decades ago. It is also true that ammunition is more reliable and better made than ever before. But, you can still have a failure to feed or eject due to worn parts, limp-wristing the weapon, obstructions, dirt or grit, or something otherwise interfering with the operation of the weapon, such as someone grabbing the slide. Even with good quality guns and ammunition, some guns just don't like certain types of ammo. For instance, I've had more problems with Hydroshock than any other type of pistol ammunition--the wide cavity of the hollowpoint just seems to catch the top of the chamber in some guns while cycling.

On the other hand, revolvers are not without their problems. While generally more reliable, some of the worst jams I've had have been shooting magnum revolvers where the bullet was not properly crimped. What happens is the recoil from earlier shots will cause the bullets to back out of their cases, and quick enough, they have jammed into the frame as the cylinder turns. Generally, when this happens, you have to have the assistance of a mallet to get the cylinder to open. I've had similar problems when a cylinder rod has worked itself loose.

There is no answer to which type of handgun is best, because they each have their advantages and disadvantages. However, I hope to address some points in the future that may help you decide which is best for you.


1 See generally Massad Ayoob, The Truth About Self-Protection (1983), pp. 345-50.

2 Adapted from Jane's Infantry Weapons, 1980-81, p. 9.

3 Jane's Infantry Weapons, 1980-81, p. 9.

4 Id.

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