Friday, January 24, 2014

Top 5 Firearms Myths Among Preppers (Original)

There are several myths or misconceptions about firearms that seem to float around the prepper community and pop up regularly. While I don't consider them to be "myths that will get you killed" or something similarly dramatic, they do a disservice to preppers--particularly those without extensive experience with firearms and ammunition--and potentially waste time and money.

Myth #1: Bigger is Better.

This myth most often shows up in arguments of caliber--particularly .223/5.56 mm versus 7.62 NATO/.308, or 9 mm versus .40 S&W versus .45 ACP. Let me answer this issue right now: it depends.

First, it depends on the type of ammunition being used (lead, FMJ, hollow-point, soft-point, partition, etc.) and your purpose. Are you talking about shooting elk, or rabbit? Are you talking about just lethality, or do want recoverable meat? Since my topic is self-defense, I am only going to consider effectiveness against a human being. Just remember, though, that you may have other considerations to take into account.

When it comes to effectiveness against a human being, I will acknowledge that common deer cartridges (e.g., .30-06, .308, .270, etc.) are superior to .223 when discussing hunting ammunition--i.e. soft-point or some other type of expanding bullet. Assuming consistent controlled expansion, the larger bullet will present a larger diameter at full expansion than a smaller bullet, causing a larger wound channel. The larger bullet will likely also cause greater hydrostatic shock as the now fat and stubby projectile is better at transferring energy to the target.

However, most preppers do not store or use hunting ammunition for their self-defense rifle. Rather, the vast majority use FMJ (full metal jacket) ammunition. Expansion of FMJ ammunition is a non-issue, because it doesn't expand. The issue instead become one of bullet upset and/or fragmentation. When comparing FMJ wounding between .30 caliber versus small bullets from rifles, both research and experience has shown that smaller bullets cause larger wounds. (See also here).

Even this doesn't resolve the question because, again, application will suggest what caliber is best for your situation. The smaller calibers begin to lose their lethality after 150 yards, and it is generally presumed that the effective range is approximately 300 to 400 yards. They also have poorer penetration against many forms of hard cover. 7.62 NATO has a longer effective range, and better penetration of wood, brick, cinder block, etc.

Handguns present a somewhat different proposition. First, most anyone using a handgun for self-defense will probably be using a hollow point bullet of some sort. With modern self-defense ammunition, the difference between the popular self-defense rounds is actually fairly minimal--part of the reason that the FBI and other law enforcement are moving from .40 S&W back to 9 mm.

Second, shot placement, and the ability to make quick and accurate follow up shots, are much more critical with a handgun. This is best illustrated by some research performed by Greg Ellifritz and published on the Buckeye Shooters Association site. He writes:
Over a 10-year period, I kept track of stopping power results from every shooting I could find. I talked to the participants of gunfights, read police reports, attended autopsies, and scoured the newspapers, magazines, and Internet for any reliable accounts of what happened to the human body when it was shot.

I documented all of the data I could; tracking caliber, type of bullet (if known), where the bullet hit and whether or not the person was incapacitated. I also tracked fatalities, noting which bullets were more likely to kill and which were not. It was an exhaustive project, but I'm glad I did it and I'm happy to report the results of my study here.
His results showed that, statistically, the .22 was one of the most lethal handgun round. For instance, with the .22, 34% of hits were lethal, it took an average of 1.38 hits to incapacitate the target (i.e., the target stopped being aggressive--not necessarily that the target was incapable of further aggression), and 31% of incidents were one-shot-stops. For comparison, the .45 ACP was 29% lethal, took on average 2.08 rounds to incapacitate, and produced a one-shot-stop 39% of the time; the .40 S&W was 25% fatal, took an average of 2.36 rounds to incapacitate, but had a one-shot-stop of 45%; the 9 mm was 24%, 2.45, and 34% (however, nearly half of his data points were from shootings involving FMJ rounds, which he believes skewed the 9 mm down compared to other calibers); the .38 Special was 29%, 1.87, and 39%; and the .357 Magnum was 34%, 1.7, and 44%. He has other calibers listed as well, if you want to compare your favorite round.

Ellifritz concluded:
What matters even more than caliber is shot placement. Across all calibers, if you break down the incapacitations based on where the bullet hit you will see some useful information.

Head shots = 75% immediate incapacitation
Torso shots = 41% immediate incapacitation
Extremity shots (arms and legs) = 14% immediate incapacitation.

No matter which caliber you use, you have to hit something important in order to stop someone!
In other words, with handguns, accuracy is far more important than caliber.

Myth #2: You need specialized guns for specialized purposes. 

Firearms are tools, and certain jobs take particular tools. For instance, you wouldn't use a hammer when you need a screwdriver, and you are not going to lug around a FAL rifle as your concealed carry weapon, nor would you use your .32 "mouse gun" to hunt big game. However, I notices some people carrying this to an extreme, wanting numerous guns for very specialized and specific tasks.

This is partly the result of gun manufacturers and gun media pushing the latest and greatest for particular and specific types of shooting or hunting. It is also historical in the prepping community. Mel Tappan, for instance, took the approach that you needed "defensive guns" versus "working guns," then subdividing each category down further and further, until he was recommending that clients have a dozen or more different models and calibers of firearms depending on whether they were putting down a horse, shooting a snake, defending against bandits, riding in a car, hiking in the woods, etc. In his book Surviving Doomsday, "Boston Tea Party" in the same vein recommends purchasing at least 4 handguns and at least 7 rifles (one of them exclusively for when traveling) and then writes:
Rifles are merely tools, and no one tool can do it all (although a scoped FAL or AR10 comes close...). Think of rifles like shoes: how many pairs of shoes do you have? You've got tennis shoes, running shoes, dress shoes, beach sandals, hiking boots, work boots, and house slippers. That's seven pairs of footwear. Now, does seven rifles sound so extreme?
Boston goes on to recommend at least three more rifles to get and lays on the guilt trip: "Will three rifles giving 95% be enough? Is that a gamble you can make in good conscience?"

I've written on this topic before in more detail, but this is the gist of my arguments as to why this approach is wrong:

First, and foremost, is the sheer expense of purchasing a large number of different types of firearms and their necessary ammunition, magazines, spare parts, and other accessories. While you will need defensive firearms, I believe you would be better off taking the money you would otherwise put into specialist firearms and use it instead to pay down debt, add to your savings account, purchase stockpiles of food or other equipment, or purchase extra ammunition or accessories for a basic battery of weapons. In short, minimize where possible and put the savings into other preparations.

Second, you will probably have to relocate or temporarily abandon your home or retreat at some point, and maybe more than once. You won't be able to carry a lot of weapons if you are on foot, you probably won't want to carry a large number in a vehicle, and you may not have time to hide a large arsenal. While looters and scavengers may appreciate your leaving a large arsenal of weapons, it probably won't do you any good.

Third, what you carry should be able to serve both as a working gun and a defensive weapon. If you are out hunting and suddenly come under fire, the other side is not going to give you a time-out while you go back to your shelter to exchange your hunting rifle for a combat rifle. Similarly, the need for fresh meat may require you to take game when out on a security patrol or reconnaissance.

Fourth, these recommendations generally assume that the prepper will be living in a remote area as homesteaders--running a working ranch or small farm, with gardens and orchards to boot, and trying to be self-sufficient in most every way. I would question the application of accumulating a large number of specialist weapons to even that small group of people, let lone the suburban or urban survivalist.

To sum up my thoughts on this matter, I want to share something simple, yet profound, that I read in the book High Country Hunting by Lloyd Bare. Bare noted the amazement and disapproval he generally encountered when other hunters learned that he used a .300 Winchester Magnum BAR for all of his big game hunting, be it deer, sheep, elk or bear. He explained:
In my gun cabinet you'll find one big game rifle (the BAR), one .22, one varmint rifle and one shotgun. In other words, I'm a hunter not a “gun nut” and I say that with kindest regards to gun experts and aficionados. Some of my best friends own a closet full of guns, one for every purpose. 
(High Country Hunting, p. 208). As preppers, we too should strive for simplicity. After all, you have to buy ammo for all this stuff, have to learn to shoot it well, and may have to evacuate with it.

Suffice it to say that this is a trap that can easily consume large amounts of money you could use for food storage or other preps.

Myth #3: Pre-1899 Firearms.

Some very prominent members of the prepping community have recommended buying pre-1899 weapons. The basic thrust of their argument is that because pre-1899 guns are not legally "firearms" under federal law, they fall outside federal jurisdiction and that this will protect you in the event of a gun confiscation. All of that is true to a point. The problem with the argument is that the "point" is a law that can easily be changed or ignored.

The selection of 1899 was an arbitrary choice. Congress could change the date or definition of firearms at any time. As an example of how broad the definition of "firearms" could be, you should look up your local ordinance prohibiting the discharge of a firearm within city limits and see how it defines "firearm." Most likely, it will be something vague that includes all firearms of any type or age, airguns, and probably bows and crossbows, etc. Congress could adopt just as broad of definition. 

From a more practical standpoint, imagine that the federal, state or local government has decided to confiscate firearms (e.g., as done in New Orleans post-Katrina). When the SWAT team (or whomever) shows up at your door, do you think they are going to distinguish between your Winchester lever action made in 1898 versus the one made in 1998? Do you think they are going to care one whit about your legal argument or justification on why they should take one and not the other? No. They will take them all, and let the court sort it out.

And what do you get when you buy a pre-1899 firearm anyway? Unless you can lay down the money for collector grade gun, you get an inferior firearm made of poorer steel and likely with substantial wear and tear, probably shooting an odd caliber that has been discontinued or hard to find. If you can find ammunition for the firearm, it likely won't be able to handle modern factory loads. You could have it converted to shoot another caliber, and send it to a gunsmith (who will dutifully write down the information in the records that the BATF requires him to keep) for the work, but that is an added expense on top of whatever outrageous price you paid for the weapon in the first place.

In short, the legal protection afforded by buying pre-1899 firearms is largely illusory. This is, again, a potential money pit that takes away from your other preps.

Myth #4: Your Primary Weapon is Your Rifle.

There are a significant number of preppers that seem to believe that when whatever earth-rendering disaster, financial collapse, or alien invasion occurs, we will suddenly be launched into a full-blown, "Mad Max" situation of kill-or-be-killed. They envision picking off bandits (or U.N. Peacekeepers) at hundreds of yards as they advance toward the particular prepper's retreat, all the while safely ensconced in a concealed location beyond the reach of the bandits' weapons. For instance, there was this post earlier today at the Survivalist Blog, stating:
... Distance ALWAYS equals two things. Time and safety. The time aspect of this is quite simple. The further away an enemy is from a target the longer it will take to achieve their objective. The further away from your loved ones that you can engage a threat provides reaction time for your and your loved ones to initiate whatever pre arranged defense protocols you have established. This in and of itself provides an added level of safety. If you are trying to protect your family, and they are going to be in the home, than the defense should be started as far away from the house as is possible. A good shot with an AR style rifle can ruin your day from five hundred meters in. I am aware that it may not be possible to establish a perimeter at that distance, but that would be best. I suggest possibly establishing a forward outpost at this distance if possible. A forward placed rifle and a few well placed shots may well be all it takes to persuade someone that its better to go somewhere else.
There is nothing wrong with this tactic ... in a war.  But when we prepare, we aren't necessarily preparing for the end of civilization, but other disasters, big and small and in-between. As Fernando "FerFal" Aguirre explains in his book, Surviving the Economic Collapse:
Rifles are terrific but they are not your main weapon. Again, here's the difference between a soldier or a SWAT member and you. 
A soldier carries his rifle because it's his job to do so while at war. SWAT guy has his rifle when doing his thing as well but both soldier guy and SWAT guy do NOT carry their rifles when they go pick up the kids at a friend's birthday party. And yes, the bad guys will attack you at that birthday party, or some other ridiculously unlikely circumstance. 
That's the way it is my friend. Understand that while I'm writing this tonight there are thousands staying awake in their beds thinking about possible plans and ideas to rob people like you and me.
(Surviving the Economic Collapse, p. 155). Massad Ayoob similarly wrote:
For you, it won't happen on a battlefield where the nearest Soviet soldier is 600 meters away behind a French hedgerow. For you, it will happen at point-blank range. Studies by the FBI show that the great majority of shoot-outs occur at a range of 7 yards or less, and more commonly at about 7 feet. And this is among police, whose statistics include running gunfights on the highway and long-distance gunfire exchanges with snipers and barricaded felons. 
The civilian, almost always, will fight his opponent face-to-face. In that close space he won't be able to bring a rifle or shotgun up before the attacker can take two steps forward and stab, club, or disarm him, or fire his own illegal gun. ...
(The Truth About Self Protection, p. 346). Ayoob also discusses the downsides to using a rifle at close quarters, such as the lack of mobility, the overpowering flash and stunning noise, and the need for two hands.

This is not to discount obtaining a rifle or shotgun. They have their place and, as I said earlier, I believe that this nation--the United States--will see another civil war. But I don't know when. It could be tomorrow, or 100 years from now. The burglar or mugger, though, is always with us.

Your primary weapon should be, where available, a good quality handgun, extra magazines (or speed loaders if you choose to use a revolver), a good supply of ammunition, and practice. Your rifle is least for now.

Myth #5: Black Powder Firearms ... Just in Case.

This is one that I have never understood--the idea that you should add black powder firearms to your battery of defensive weapons. The general reasoning I've heard on this is that it is a back up for when you run out of ammunition for your modern weapons.

While a romantic notion, it is not a realistic one. Black powder firearms were a product of a functioning civilization and trading network. Making black powder takes materials that may not be available locally or in any great quantity, and can be dangerous. Percussion caps and primers require a fairly sophisticated manufacturing base. Even flints are not going to be available in all locations. If you are going to buy and store up caps and powder and ammunition, why not just purchase modern ammunition or components?

In addition, this is another firearm you have to learn to operate, repair, and provide for. Time and money that can be better spent elsewhere.

Final Comments

Just a few final comments. I am not arguing against collecting a wide variety of firearms, or shooting black powder firearms, if that is your "thing"--your hobby and passion. I'm just arguing against it as a survival preparation. Having a smaller number of weapons for which you have adequate stores of ammunition and, if necessary, magazines, and which you are good with, are going to be far more valuable than a safe full of different rifles for which you only have a few boxes of ammunition each.

In compiling this list, I am not attempting to downplay the role of self-defense and firearms for preppers. To me prepping is for both personal disasters, as well as regional and national disasters. At an individual level, we all face the threat of burglary, robbery, or worse. I also believe as part of my eschatology, based on statements made by past presidents of the LDS Church, that the United States will face civil war again, and possibly foreign invasion. Thus, I believe self-defense to be an important part of personal preparation.

Finally, find weapons you enjoy owning and shooting. These should be your go-to guns.

Update (1/24/2014): Max Velocity linked to this post, but took me to task for suggesting that the handgun should be your "primary" weapon. I have attempted to explain myself in a comment to his post, but I want to clarify my position, so I'm posting my reply here:
Max: With all due respect, I think you miss the point of my comments. My outlook is that prepping encompasses personal disasters (a mugging, a house fire, etc.) as well statistically more remote events (major flooding, earthquake, the proverbial SHTF, etc.). I believe people should take a baby-steps approach for prepping. Accordingly, my comments concerned something less than a SHTF, grid-down situation. I was talking about the standard day-to-day crime, or a localized or regional disaster such as a tornado, floods, etc., which might produce an opportunistic looter. Like you, I do not carry my rifle on me for common everyday activities. So my point was that the handgun is “primary” because it is the weapon you are most likely to have with you and the most likely to use. And you should train, purchase and plan accordingly.

Also, I want to make clear that I was not attempting to belittle the guest post at Survival Blog. I acknowledged his tactics were valid in a war, and I should have said something slightly broader such as a war-like state, conflict or a raid. I did not say that such a situation could not come to pass–in fact, I specifically said that I believed that our nation will see another civil war. That is also why I said that the rifle was not primary “…yet”.

I appreciate the opportunity to better explain my points.
This is a matter of perspective and, to a certain extent, semantics. I have noticed over the years that many prepping books and articles focus on SHTF events. The problem, I believe, is that when you start thinking about what you need to prepare for the metaphorical end of the world, it can be overwhelming and too easy to give up. I believe the better approach to prepping is to prepare for more likely events, and then you can broaden out to more statistically remote events. Sort of a crawl, walk, and then run approach. This is not to say that the financial system won't collapse, or that a nuclear war won't happen, but that to start small and closer to home. As an example, even if you felt it important to prepare for a nuclear war, first make sure you have working smoke detectors and a fire extinguisher before you build a fallout shelter. Similarly, don't think you need to go out and buy a year's supply of food tomorrow. Start building up a little here and there--get an extra weeks worth of food put away, then build up to a month, experiment with using your food storage, and slowly expand it as money and space allows.

I think the same approach is best for self-defense. Focus first on the more likely threat or risk, and then expand to cover other threats as you see fit. Work on obtaining the tools and ability to defend your person and house (cartilage) against a burglar before moving on to a mob or raiders. This is not to say that you won't someday face a mob or be subject to a home invasion, or a raid on your farm (if that is where you live), but that you are more likely to face the burglar. I'm not justifying ignoring the acquisition and use of a defensive rifle, I'm arguing against ignoring the handgun.

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