By David Kenik
The following article originally appeared in Handguns magazine and is reprinted here with permission.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was driving on I-95 in Massachusetts listening to the attacks unfold on the radio while heading towards Boston to teach a three-hour seminar. When I got to the office where the class was being held it was only the sobbing receptionist that broke the deafening silence that greeted me. We decided to press on with the training program and during the class breaks we watched the towers burn on television. To describe it as surreal would be an understatement. When I got home early that afternoon—already wearing my pistol, as normal, I took a rifle and shotgun out of the quick-action safe and put one on each side of the house . . .
That probably seems extreme to some, but, at the time nobody knew how far the attacks would go. I was not expecting terrorists to attack the rural section of the state I lived in; what I feared was panic. If the attacks had continued or gotten closer to home, fear could have set off panic, rioting, and looting.
In the weeks following 9/11, I increased my stores of food, water, and yes, ammunition. While I had enough ammo for personal defense, I didn’t have enough for social unrest. If that doesn’t sound like a logical enough excuse, I expected ammo to become quite scarce and expensive—which proved to be true.
The food I stored has since been consumed and rotated, and the ammo stash has increased, despite my ongoing attempts to deplete it. Now, with recent events, we have more reasons than ever to stock up again.
Probability of Crisis
Before you say social unrest caused by a terrorist attack in this country is not likely, keep in mind that a terrorist attack is not the only thing capable of inciting civil chaos. Think “act of God. ” An earthquake, volcano, hurricane, or any other kind of devastating natural event can bring polite society to its knees. Anytime unprepared people are left to fend for themselves, chaos will ensue. People will be killed for food, water, shelter, and just for the “fun” of it. Law enforcement will be all but non-existent and society will be a free-for-all with criminals reigning terror over the rest of us. Before you say “not likely’, think two words: Hurricane Katrina.
The physical and social effects of Hurricane Katrina were a national tragedy, not just because of the flooding, but also for the ineptness of government officials at all levels. Local, state and federal governments all failed miserably in their feeble attempts at providing assistance.
Katrina is but just one recent example, but it proved without a shadow of a doubt that we can depend on no one but ourselves for our safety and survival. Even though the impending doom of the storm was known well in advance, the government could not provide for the victims’ need for food or shelter and it could not protect them in any sense of the word.
But, what is probably most disturbing is that not only could they not stop the looting, rioting, murders, rapes, assaults, and robberies, but police, at the direction of elected officials, purposely disarmed law-abiding citizens, thus eliminating any chance for personal survival in the face of violence. Imagine watching a gang rape your wife or daughter because the police, while they couldn’t evacuate you or bring you food or water or stay and protect you, had time to swing by and confiscate your guns for the greater good and safety of the whole.
The atrocities that occurred after Hurricane Katrina galvanized the country and I hope it finally started to sink into our collective consciousness that we have to be prepared to take care of ourselves—whether it be a personal attack, terrorist bombing, or natural disaster, we can’t depend on anyone else for our safety and our survival.
Value of a Handgun
In the shadow of Hurricane Katrina, survivalists – or should I say realists – stocked up for what is commonly known as SHTF situations. While I’m sure that it’s been going on for quite a while, I just recently noticed an interesting trend in what ammunition people are stockpiling—there is a significant bent towards stocking rifle ammunition.
While that may sound reasonable, since we all acknowledge the fact that rifles offer far better stopping power than handguns, I think a handgun is more appropriate for the average citizen. Before you jump all over me for that transgression of thought, allow me to explain; it’s not that I think a handgun is more effective, it’s that in times of social unrest, I think a handgun is more practical.
Defending yourself in a home is one example. In my training classes, I often ask the participants what type of weapon they prefer for home defense. Typically, more than half state that they prefer a shotgun because of its devastating stopping power. They usually change their mind however, after I run them through a home protection scenario where they have to negotiate corners, open doors, operate light switches, and control the movements of family members.
A shotgun, as well as a rifle, is a two-handed weapon and is virtually impossible to operate effectively with just one. For instance, to keep from giving your position away and to prevent a gun grab when negotiating travelways through the home, a gun should not protrude beyond a corner or through a doorway.
To survey around a corner or pass through a doorway, a long gun must be lowered or raised to keep it from view. Due to its length and weight, that’s not easy to do with just one hand. Nor is it easy to get a long gun back on target in a hurry from a raised or lowered position if you are controlling it one-handed.
The same thing is true with the operation of door handles and light switches. Furthermore, in a dangerous situation, family members may need to be physically controlled. You many need to hold them at bay behind you and/or guide them in a particular direction. This again forces you to control and operate a long gun with just one hand.
While a short-barreled rifle or shotgun is most often the weapon of choice for law enforcement entry teams, there’s quite a difference between an entry team and a typical homeowner. First off, police entry teams are highly trained and practiced. Secondly, they work as a team. One officer can operate the doors and deal with innocents while other members make entry and take care of business.
If we consider our ability to live and operate in society that is plagued with ongoing and excessive violence yet still partially functional, the handgun will simply be more practical in the majority of likely defensive scenarios, both in and out of your home. If you need to venture out of the house, carrying a visible long gun will most likely instill panic, as the public will not know if your motive is self-defense or crime.
To a criminal, your weapon may broadcast “shoot me first” or you may become a gang target for the purpose of relieving you of your weapon. In your workplace, a long gun will most likely not be looked upon with kindness, to say the least. A properly concealed handgun would incite none of those reactions.
If during a crisis you are wandering around seeking help, the presence of a visible long gun will most likely deter any assistance from coming near you. Think of the people standing on their roofs in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina waiting for a lifeboat. How likely is it that they would be picked up if they were holding an AR-15 or shotgun?
Carjackings also are a serious and common occurrence in times of riots and looting. If you’re traveling, the manipulation and firing of a handgun from a car is far easier than a long gun, regardless of how easy it looks in the movies. A handgun can also be easily passed back and forth between driver and passenger if needed.
Imagine that you are going sixty miles an hour through traffic while trying to manipulate a rifle into position. Easy right? All you have to do is aim and fire without killing yourself or a bystander. While not easy or recommended, in a life or death situation a handgun can be fired much more effectively while driving or even while parked for that matter.
As I stated in my premise, while a handgun doesn’t offer the best stopping power, it does offer far greater practicality in terms of its operation in various situations. And it won’t incite panic since its presence can be hidden.
In times of social unrest, there are many considerations in regards to choosing your weapons that may not apply to normal criminal defensive situations. Defending your property’s exterior and interior perimeter spaces from multiple attackers or repeated attempts will probably necessitate that you arm family members, neighbors, or both, depending on your tactical situation. While you may be properly armed and trained, consider the fact that you may find your neighbors are not.
If you’re like most gun owners, you own several different types of handguns in various calibers. In a perfect civil defense scenario all of your handguns would be the same make, model, and caliber so ammunition, magazines and parts can be shared. The world is not perfect and having a dozen or so identical guns in hand is highly unlikely.
The best choice of weapon for a shared security situation may actually be in fact a revolver since you will likely be giving guns to people with limited understanding or training in firearms or personal defense. Revolvers hold an advantage over semi-automatics since they are easy to learn and quite intuitive.
Whichever way you go, be sure you have plenty of ammunition. It is best to store it in a cool and dry location. I store fully loaded magazines and spare ammunition in GI ammunition boxes with desiccant packs. The GI boxes are sealed with a rubber gasket to help keep moisture out and they are easy to pick up and carry as well.
The police confiscation of handguns from law-abiding citizens that we saw in New Orleans clearly demonstrates another reason to have multiple firearms. While we now have a federal law making gun confiscation illegal in times of crisis, are you willing to bet your life on it? Store guns and ammunition in different locations so if some are illegally confiscated you will have others available.
Value of Long Guns
While handguns make for a more practical choice in most situations, long guns do have a place in personal defense. To defend against certain home invasion scenarios, I’d grab my handgun and gather my family in a previously agreed upon safe room. Once secured, I would use a long gun to defend us against anyone attempting to breach the safe room. This necessitates having a room in your house designated as a safe room and having it stocked with long guns and spare ammunition. It’s good to keep a cell phone there as well to contact the police.
In the case of severe civil unrest, if a need to face a mob arises, a rifle or shotgun would of course be preferred. A long gun is preferable in the case of a need for intimidation and deterrence, such as sentry duty. Lastly, there are few substitutes for a long gun if you find yourself having to hunt for food.
In time of riots, disasters, and terrorism, you will have no idea what you’ll need and when. The idea of getting out of town will be moot as roads will be jammed with evacuees. You will have to rely on what you have stored, your training and your ingenuity in order to survive. Your handgun may just become your best friend.