I used to carry a full-size Springfield XD(m) 45. It was a fearsome weapon. Then again, so is its replacement: a Glock 30. The XD9(m) was easier to grip out of my holster and carried more bullets than the Glock. The Springfield offered a better sight picture and more recoil control. But the Glock has a better trigger and isn’t nearly so ginormous. And that was the deciding factor. I wanted a gun I could carry in an outside-the-waistband holster that wouldn’t print like Kall Kwik. Only it kinda does. So now . . .

I wear a Ramora inside-the-waistband holster with a lightweight ported Gemini Customs’ Smith & Wesson 642 revolver, mit laser grip— until I can find an inside-the-waistband holster that will comfortably accomodate the Glock 30 or my forthcoming Wilson Combat Bill Wilson Carry 1911. Meanwhile, do I feel “under-gunned”? Yes, I do. But I’m working on it.

The thing is, I’m beginning to develop an appreciation for the limits of armed self-defense. I’ve come to realize that you can carry an entire arsenal—cell phone, tactical flashlight, pepper spray, knife, .45, two spare magazines and a backup gun—and still get your ass killed. You may never need anything more than a couple of rounds of Critical Defense .38. Or just your feet to run away. And maybe not even that.

If you want to be prepared for an attack by the entire Hells Angels Oakland Chapter, go for it. Risk assessment is yours for the making; you can qualify on and carry a Smith & Wesson 500 as a backup gun s’il vous plait. But there’s danger in thinking that mo’ gun or mo’ guns is mo’ better. ‘Cause it is and it isn’t. Sure, if push came to shove, I’d rather have a big-ass gun with 30 .45s at my disposal than a lightweight revolver with five .38s. But the pursuit/attainment/implementation of maximum personal firepower comes at a price.

When I tooled-up with all that full-size self-defense clobber, I felt weighed down. No surprise there; I was. To carry that stuff, I found myself purchasing clothing with less style than a pair of Brooks Brothers boxers with enough pockets to make a kangaroo troop jealous. More than that, the multi-perp-ready ensemble separated me psychologically from the unarmed citizens with whom I share my day-to-day life. It made me feel distanced. Alienated. Different.

I’ve often wondered about the mindset of civilians who are armed to the teeth. Are they looking for a fight? Personally, when I was I wasn’t. And I don’t agree with gun grabbers’ gleeful characterization of most CCW permit holders as “gun loons” itching for action. No matter how many guns or bullets the permit holder holds.

That said, back in the day, I treated thousands of phobics. Some of them lived in so much fear for so long that they wanted their fears to come true. The realization of their worst nightmare would be a relief of endless tension and a justification for their socially unacceptable behavior. I’m convinced that the same dynamic is at play for a small percentage of heavily armed civilians.

I’m not saying that accessible firepower junkies want to create a self-defense situation to show off their fully-prepped prowess—just as New England-dwelling arachnophobes don’t want to go into musty garages to have a close encounter with a black widow spider. Let’s just say neither group would be particularly surprised if something bad happened. Nor, on some level, displeased.

All of which brings us to the back-up gun (BUG). I’m in favor. But not for the reason that most of its proponents suggest. The chances of a well-maintained primary weapon failing at the exact moment when you need it are so small you might as well worry about tripping over your shoelaces. The odds of shooting your gun dry without resolving your problem are greater, but not by much. Three, three, three. Three yards, three shots, three seconds.

I’m pro-BUG because a second gun stretches one of the less obvious limits of self-defense: you. No matter how big your gun, or how many bullets you have, or how good you are at shooting people who need shooting, there’s only so much one person can do in a self-defense situation. If there are multiple perps, you’re better off with multiple defenders than multiple bullets from the same gun.

Friends don’t let friends die in a hail of gunfire. If you have a second gun, you can give it to a friend and turn someone you have to defend into someone who can help you attack, defend or escape. OMG! Handing a gun to an unskilled person? Correct. This is a revolver. Point it at the bad guy. Pull the trigger. Bottom line: if you need to do this, you need to do this. It’s urgent enough where every little bullet helps. [UPDATE: This is a really stupid idea, legally. Click here for the critique.]

Wow! Did I do it again? Did I over-think, over-plan and over-equip? Truth be told, I don’t carry a BUG. But my little Gemini Smith is a perfect example of the breed: light yet controllable. Small yet chic. If I find the perfect summer holster for my Glock or Wilson, I just might throw a BUG in my pocket. Or wait ’til fall when concealment is easy. Then again, I might not. Either way, I won’t sweat it. Life turns out best for people who make the best of how life turns out. With or without a gun. Or guns.

Oh I still Home Carry the Glock .45, regardless of the weather. I may be philosophical about self-defense, but I’m not crazy. At least not yet. As far as I can tell.

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23 Responses to The Limits of Armed Self-Defense

  1. The percentage of unavoidable problems that can be solved with a handgun, but can’t be solved with a 5 shot .38 or a 7 shot .380 is very small–and upping the caliber is more likely to help than upping capacity.

    • I disagree. I would up the shots before the caliber. I have heard the argument that more isn’t actually better. But then again I have read that some people have survived 9 plus gunshot wounds. How many do we know that have survived 15 or even 20?

        • That line always sounds great. Fantastic even!

          The trouble is, making hits (ANY hits) in a gunfight is a lot harder than shooting ragged little hole groups on the range. Bad guys bob, weave, shuck and jive around in an attempt to not get shot. It is a very different ball game than anything you can do short of serious force-on-force training. Anyone who thinks their bad guy is gonna stand there like an IDPA target and allow you the time/visibility to make well placed shots is a fool.

          We live in the internet age now. Go watch some footage of people in real-life gunfights. Watch the number of rounds expended and how little effect they often have on bad guys. Watch how dynamic the situation usually is. Watch how much unpredictable, fast movement takes place.

          With modern ammo, I want as many opportunities as I can possibly get.

          The only caveat to this is people who live in places with a magazine capacity restriction. I carry a Glock 19 and think of it as the optimal size handgun from a shoot-ability/ergonomic/capacity standpoint. If the law restricted me on capacity, I would likely trade that in for caliber.

        • I couldn’t agree more, GA. A simple game of paintball will prove this anytime. I always go for surprise. No one expects the surprise. You can be in the game and ready to go all amped up. Boom! Someone pops out of nowhere, fires wildly and downs half your team. Why this changes in ‘real life’ I have no idea. Maybe some folks do think that a gun causes people to pause whilst being shot. Go hunting, see how the game reacts.

        • When hearing news reports about a bad guy vs. police shootout, or a “fierce gunbattle between the military and (insert volatile country name here) militants” with only one or two KIA, it made me realize that two things are coming into play: the stress and adrenaline of the fight makes hitting harder… and that most of the participants are probably more interested in avoiding getting hit than inflicting them on the opponent.

      • The problem is time–As a civilian with the option to run and hide I’m likely to run out of time before I run out of ammo. Sure, there will be exceptions, but we are talking about small percentages of small percentages.

        • I don’t know. I shoot seven .40 out of my buddies CCW gun at the range in no time. Maybe 2 seconds? The advantage I have is a similar round with almost three times more the firing time, three times less the reload time. He can only achieve this if he has three reloads on him. I can negate that again by having just one more ready to go reload. For me, more is better. More on target, more good shots, less chance of dying.

          As for run and hide… when you fire six or seven rounds and beat it away from the scene. As a perp or defender (if moving further into my home) I can easily run you down because you have nothing but a reload. I have another two times the firing time.

  2. I am all for the BUG when I can get one. The extra for my wife to use is a great asset. I don’t shoot as well with my left hand that’s for sure.

  3. My first handgun was a Glock 21, double stack .45. I have high-cap 9mms of every description. I own pistols in 10mm and .357 SIG, and any number of large .357 revolvers. Even a snubbie .454 Casull. And I love shooting them all. Love it! But what do I carry most of the time?

    The S&W 342PD with 5 shots of .38 +P and the titanium cylinder that makes it oh-so-light and easy to slip into a pocket.

    There is great value in having a gun. The difference between having a gun, and having no gun is huge. But the difference between having a gun, and a gun with slightly more power, or higher capacity isn’t nearly as large. When you start to consider just how much more effort and discomfort you’d need to “spend” to get those things… Well, that little J-frame starts to look like a really good value for the “price” you pay.

  4. Robert, you seriously need to look at the new holsters on the way from http://n82tactical.com. The model I reviewed is my IWB carry holster (over my CrossBreed, believe it or not). They have new models on the way that will solve the reholstering issue. It is, hands down, the most comfortable holster I’ve ever worn.

    • Hemmm… could it be this simple? They mention sweat… is it really as good as they say? I am headed West this summer and it is gonna be in the 90’s pretty much all day, everyday. How do you find it? Could you send me some detailed info? The site is pretty basic.

    • The N8 is super comfortable… and if your pants aren’t TOO tight, you can reholster. I’ve had the holster for a couple of weeks now and I can draw and reholster with no problem.

  5. Assuming that they all come in threes:

    You are expecting yourself to (within the timeframe of 3 seconds): draw primary CCW (if OC then it will take slightly less time), draw BUG, give it to friend, acquire perp in sights, squeeze off 3 shoots COM while expecting the BG not to over-run you (eg with a knife) or connect with you first while you are doing all the above ( admittedly their bad marksmanship is in your favour), or to have a friendly fire because they flinched or jerked the trigger, or to be muzzle f***ed (which IIRC you mentioned in another post really hating it).

    If there are multiple perps and you have multiple defenders, will you have time to designate zones of fire? Or will you end up shooting the same perp while the other one shoots one of you?

    Yes I do think you are over-thinking it.

    It doesn’t take much time to double tap each target and move on, while you yourself are moving to cover. However, if you are fearing that the angel or Murphy will piss in your primer, then I don’t blame you. Personally I don’t have a BUG, but it doesn’t seem to be uncommon (especially) in the LE circuit. Maybe those guys are seeing something different?

  6. Personal opinions:
    small gun is always better than no gun

    -a small snubbie and a speed strip of 6 more rounds carries easily and lightly, no excuse to not carry this unless it’s not legal where you’re going

    -home carry is good, especially if you have entry points secured by glass

    -for IWB concealed carry for a G30, consider a Comp-tac CTAC or Minotaur holster. Truthfully, it IS a brick, but both those holsters conceal bulky Glocks better than other holsters I’ve used. By FAR the best quality holsters I’ve owned are by Tim Thurner of TT gunleather. My favorite holster for compact 9mm Glocks is the “Mike’s Special” by TT. Conceals almost as well as the Comp-tacs, but slightly heavier. I prefer the TT, but not everyone wants to wait or pay more when the Comp-tacs are cheaper and faster. I don’t know anything about the “Stronghold” holsters by TT as I’ve never used/owned one.

    -My friend carries 2 snubbies instead of 1 gun or a primary and BUG. He believes that proficiency with 1 gun is>going the primary&bug route. I disagree, but it certainly carries and conceals better.

  7. In many cases I find it more convenient to carry two compact revolvers than an auto. I like the idea of one of my “speed loaders” being another fully functional revolver. Also the shape of a revolver is somewhat more conducive to pocket carry in the warmer months.

    -D

  8. We aren’t girding up for war. In a SD situation, a snubbie will help us get out of Dodge just like any other handgun. You would not feel outgunned carrying a .38SPL if you ever saw anyone who was hit with just a single hollowpoint.

    • yessir… pictures on the internets have readjusted in me the idea that a .38+P JHP could be inadequate.

      -D

  9. All the major manufacturers make great IWB holsters. I carry a Glock 23 in a DeSantis. It works great with Hawaiian/bowling style shirts as well as baggy T-shirts.

  10. A secondary gun to give to out in a self-defense situation? Oh man…what a legal can-of-worms that would be.

    In general, self-defense shootings can only be justified under two conditions. One, that you have reasonably perceived that your life or that of a close concern is in immediate danger. Two, that you have no reasonably obvious way to exit the situation. In assessing both of those conditions, the key is “reasonably” – the self-defender is in a high-stress situation, and does not have much time to make a decision. You generally will be given some margin-of-error.

    If you have the time and presence-of-mind to give a handgun to a bystander, then your case for immediate danger is weakened, and most likely your case for inability to exit danger. Unless you’re in a hostage-type situation, if you have the time and opportunity to hand a gun to a stranger, you have the time and opportunity to run away. Finally, I don’t think you’ll get much benefit of the doubt if you somehow have the wits to start arming strangers in what is supposed to be a life-or-death self-defense situation (Three, three, three, remember?). So that’s the first problem.

    The second problem is that you’ve given a gun to someone of unknown quality, and you are now at least partially liable for their actions. All CCW-holders have, inevitably, mentally rehearsed their shoot-don’t-shoot decision matrix. CCW-holders are a self-selecting group that have made the moral decision that it is justified to kill an assailant to save your own life. The average person may not have hardened their mind for that scenario, and they may not come to the same answer. And finally, they might be terrible at shooting, muzzle control, and trigger control. Who’s responsible then?

    It might sound good in movies, where the good guys are being held in the bank vault while the bad guys are negotiating ransom with the cops, and they forgot to search the hero, and he has two guns, one which he gives to the attractive bank manager in a pencil skirt…but in real-life, that’s crazy talk.

  11. I think if you are also concerned about juries and prosecutors, consider the different assumptions they will make about a guy who carries a 5 shot snub-nose .38 special revolver and one who carries a 15 round semi-auto with 2 spare magazines, as well as a backup gun.

  12. Glock 23 gives 14 rounds of .40 and is small and light enough for all day carry no bug….beware the man with only one gun for he knows how to use it….even if you carry two identical guns they will not shoot the same and you don’t want to have to make mental adjustments in a gunfight

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