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As you can see from my TTAG bio, I’m no “gun nut.” In fact, I’ve never really been much of a gun person at all. I know a good bit about guns, and guns have always been part of my family’s life, but in the full spectrum of my passions . . . let’s just say guns were always on the radar, but the “blip” wasn’t too prominent. Of course, that’s changing now that I’m writing for the TTAG. My eyes are opening wider every day to the very real, very legitimate needs many people have for firearms of various types. That being said, I still haven’t made any plans to increase my current ownership of guns: one .40 S&W semi-automatic pistol, one antique revolver. Until now. Now I’m having second thoughts on having a third weapon. And a fourth.

You may have noticed that over the past few days, the White House has been drawing more attention to the very-real threat posed by terrorists who may soon be armed with nuclear weapons. Browsing the news today, I ran across a USA Today piece entitled,“Nuclear blast victims would have to wait.” Steve Sternberg reports:

The White House has warned state and local governments not to expect a ‘significant federal response’ at the scene of a terrorist nuclear attack for 24 to 72 hours after the blast.

Of course, a federal response and the lack of a federal response can be very nearly the same thing, as we witnessed post-Hurricane Katrina. Anyway, Sternberg goes on to quote the head of an international affairs think-tank who ostensibly knows something about a modern-day, post-blast scenario:

One challenge . . . will be to persuade survivors to stay indoors, shielded from dangerous radiation until they’re given the all-clear or told to evacuate.

What about survivors in the radiation zone unlucky enough to be outside when the horrific event occurs? If no help is available – and no help was on the way for up to 72 hours – is it all that inconceivable that these individuals could pose a threat to people who were in their homes?

Maybe not. But this White House admission that our government’s power to protect and assist its citizens during such a crisis is – though certainly understandable – quite sobering. In my mind, it once again underscores the fact that the responsibility for self defense is primarily incumbent upon the individual.

Yes, I know that if I were the victim of a nuclear attack, I would have much bigger problems than zombie-like looters trying to break into my home for food. But given the realities displayed by Katrina and the ever-increasing dangers of the world in which we live, I have to ask myself: is one .40 caliber pistol and a practically-useless 90-year-old revolver enough to defend my family and I in the absolute worst of circumstances?

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  1. In the "absolute worst of circumstances" is your 40 S&W enough to protect your family? Yes, and no.

    Looking at the federal response to Katrina, it would work well, for awhile. It may be just enough to keep the looters and thieves at bay (at least until the BAT(F)men showed up to relieve you of your firearm and place you in custody and your family in a "camp."

    It's simply a matter of who you think you'll be fighting. If it's a few desperate, hungry, unarmed citizens, then you're plenty well-off. If against a platoon of marines or squad of black-clad, masked feds, then you are heartily screwed.

    Again, against the well-trained, well- equipped foes, you may buy yourself a few more…minutes if you had, in addition to your 40, a shotgun and AR15. But you will lose. Eventually. Badly.

    Take the money you might spend on buying more guns and use it to buy lots of practice ammo and some training. Get as good as you can with the 40. Train. Like you mean it. Like your life depends on it. Like your wife and kids' lives depend on it.

    It's skill at arms, the honing of reaction time, learning of tactics and proper decision making that will determine what happens in the heat of the moment.

    And you also learn what's possible with that training…when you should respond with force, and when you should respond with your wits.

    In the "worst of all possible circumstances," it's not the guy with the biggest safe full of guns that wins. It's the guy who thinks best, and responds decisively and appropriately that survives.

  2. Monte,

    Thanks for the comment. Don doesn't have an AR. Still, I agree with you that tactics and training are the key to what is survival in the New Frontier. A lot of people contemplating the worst case scenario focus on the guns and miss out on mission critical strategic considerations, such as stealth and combat skills. And what of the physical environment? Instead of another firearm, you could invest in a redoubt: a bullet resistant area in which to shelter and hold out against attackers. With a safe, discreet exit.

    All that said, I'm a fan of having a plan B, C, D and E. If the shit hits the fan, it's a good idea to take the weapons out of the safe and spread them around a bit. In a gun battle in or around my home (a remote possibility by any standard but there you go), I'd rather grab another gun than reload. Assuming I was equally comfortable with the new firearm. Two of the same gun? Why not?

    Which brings up another element: teamwork. Not only should the paranoid parent train in ballistic self-defense AND offense, but they should also train with their spouse and gun-capable children. E.g. you busy yourself firing the new gun while the Mrs. reloads the previous one. Or vice versa. In our family, I'm more accurate with a long gun than my wife, who kicks ass with handguns. And we're both happy firing either. Just not at each other. Obviously.

    While team tactics are normally reserved for law enforcement, they shouldn't be. if nothing else, it's better to have your wife/husband working with you, rather than cowering behind you, hoping like hell you'll hero the situation. If Her Indoors is also attacking (preferably in some predictable, useful fashion), you have less to defend, and, thus, more options. In any case, it beats marriage counseling.

    Question monte my boy: if you had to choose ONE gun for a post-apocalyptic scenario, what would it be?

  3. Robert, I'd choose the one in my hand.

    Okay, seriously. I'd choose a long gun. While I'm proficient with my go-to, close-quarters piece (a Wilson Combat modified Springfield 45 1911), I'd choose a rifle. Always.

    Which? I've several from which to choose. But it'd be the old ought-six. 30 caliber authority which handles everything from room-to-room close-quarters fights, and able to defeat barriers and reach out to stop the fight before it gets to me — hundreds of yards out.

    And, if it all comes down to survivalist, post-apocalyptic hell, it's able to put meat over the fire.

  4. Thanks guys, for the informed, valuable, and practicable information of exactly the variety I'd hoped this post would spawn.

    After I wrote it, I started thinking about the complimentary issues of such dire scenarios (such as the need for extra food, clean water, extra ammo, ballistic vests, communications equipment, etc.). As well as (yes) training, training, and more training. But the likely utility of a more versitle weapon – such as the .30-06 you mention – keeps popping back to mind.

    I know that even considering stuff like this sounds rather "doomsday" and quite reactionary to the casual observer these days, but on at least one occasion in U.S. history when such a horrific threat started looking fearfully imminent – in November, 1962 – more than a few Americans were digging holes in their back yards.

    I just think that Boy Scouts have the right idea vis-a-vis the whole "Be Prepared" thing. And being prepared the right way – as you guys point out so well – is the real key to how one would ultimately fare in such a bleak situation.

  5. I think if you could only have one weapon for every eventuality you'd probably want a 12 gauge shotgun with a 3" chamber. It can handle almost anything.

    Survival: Depending on your ammo selection you can take anything from small birds and rabbits to turkeys and pheasant to coyotes, deer, and, depending on range, even larger game. All you need in life is a 12 gauge and equal parts birdshot and buckshot.

    Defense: Choose a gun with around an 8 round capacity and you're well off for any home invader. Loaded with 00 Buck and you've got a potent defensive weapon out to 25 yards or so. If you've got the need to touch something past that distance, put a slug in the chamber and you can say hello to 65-70 yards.

    The only thing a shotgun won't overcome is ballistic armor. It will impart a TON of energy to the person wearing the vest and could cause injury. But buckshot generally won't penetrate.

    Also, ammo is plentiful. In a SHTF situation, you can find 12g ammo pretty much anywhere.

    A good rifle is great, but not as versatile. If it doesn't have a detachable mag, it probably only holds 5-8 rounds and depending on the action isn't great for self-defense in close quarters. When I think about rifles for a SHTF situation, I like to recommend a military cartridge, which are more prevelant and you'll have a greater chance of finding. That would mean selecting either a .308 (7.62mm) or a .223 (5.56).

  6. The late, great Col. Jeff Cooper (father of the "Modern Method" and pater familias of the resurgent interest in the 1911) once opined, "you use a handgun to fight your way back to your rifle."

    I think it depends on the situation. I have a friend that keeps a variety of firearms secreted in rooms around his home, based on the idea that if all your guns are in the bedroom, and you're in the living room when the home invaders come, you're toast. With access to two shotguns, a revolver and a pistol, I follow much the same logic, except I keep a handgun AND a shotgun nearby. My logic is that a handgun is more maneuverable, while a shotgun is a bigger perceived threat to a bad guy. (I can consistently hit 5" centers at > 25 feet with a snubby, my 1911, and the shotgun, even on a bad day at the range, so I'm not really worried about hitting where I aim.)

    I've always leaned toward pump shotguns and semi-autos because I doubt I'd be able to pull off a reload in the midst of a stress situation. If I can't bring down the bad guys with six rounds of 00 buckshot or 8+ rounds of .45ACP, then I think I pretty much deserve whatever happens.

  7. Brad has invoked the name of the Guru. A moment of silence, please…

    The point Brad makes in his first paragraph was one I was about to make last night, before lock-down duties called me away from the keyboard.

    So, I only have this to add from Col Jeff Cooper's book, "The Art of the Rifle." Mr Cooper's opening paragraph:

    "Personal weapons are what raised mankind out of the mud, and the rifle is the queen of personal weapons. The possession of a good rifle, as well as the skill to use it well, truly makes a man the monarch of all he surveys. It realizes the ancient dream of the Jovian thunderbolt, and as such it s the embodiment of personal power. For this reason it exercises a curious influence over the minds of most men, and in its best examples it constitutes an affection unmatched by other inanimate objects."

    If any TTAG readers have not secured their own copy of "The Art of the Rifle", do so immediately. Refer to it often.

    You shall see that the rifle, above all other weapons, is the one to have if you only get, as Robert poses, one gun.

    Review for a moment one of the key rules of a fight: If you are not shooting, you should be moving. And reloading.

    While Robert makes a case for bunker defense, and there are situations where this is necessary, I shall make use of my knowledge of my terrain — my neighborhood (or the forests where I hunt). I will move, strike and move. As the fate of the men in the Alamo illustrate, a hunkered down defense strategy against overwhelming forces works, but only for awhile.

    The shotgun and pistol are ideal in a home (bunker) defense situation. But my goal (if facing post-apocalyptic gangs) is not to remain confined (sheetrock walls and aluminum siding offer little resistance, even to the 9mm round), but to take the fight to my opponent. To quickly change a defensive posture to an offensive one. Make the other guy hunker down, take cover, and have him reconsider his motivations.

    The rifle allows me to do so. Its power, precision, and range let me put distance between me and the attacker, yet strike at him mercilessly. And I worry not about my rate of fire, but first round hits. Shoot. Once. Hit. Move. Flank. Use my knowledge: the neighbor's deck. The old shed by the RR tracks. The oak grove by the lake.

    In short, the use of a rifle means I am not making Custer's last stand; I am instead able to move to a place of my choosing and advantage, where I can put accurate fire upon my foe at a distance. My chance of survival has now gone up exponentially.

  8. The advice above is great, and here's my added $.02.

    Really, as with any hobby if you're a firearms enthusiast you can't have enough guns. It has nothing to do with greed, paranoia or Rambo fantasies. Owning and trying out a variety of firearms over time is a big part of the fun, and the only way you can truly find out what you like and can shoot well. The guns you find you don't shoot often, that aren't reliable or sufficiently and consistently accurate, or simply don't like for whatever reason, you can always sell or trade in. So, just go for it, enjoy the hobby and the variety it offers.

    Having been a lifelong shooter, hunter and firearms owner/enthusiast, I think the "if you could only have one gun" question is really moot, since everybody is going to have different needs and circumstances, which will change over time. I think it comes down to your environment (or your expected environment), what you'll predominately need it for, and most importantly, how comfortable and familiar you are with the firearm and how well you can shoot it.

    Guns are tools, and most tools are designed and optimized for a specific purpose, regardless of how we may actually use them, and compromised for other uses. Just as you would want to chop wood with a claw hammer, you wouldn't want to try and kill a cape buffalo with a .22 LR (though, not doubt people have tried on both counts). There are very few firearms – probably none – that will truly cover all scenarios well.

    Let's take a shotgun, for example. While the ideal weapon for close-quarter combat (or home defense), shotguns are pretty worthless at ranges much beyond, say, 75 meters. Add a slug barrel and you can reach out to maybe 150 meters pretty effectively, but not much beyond that. For an urban environment, though, out-to-150 meter effectiveness (or even 75 meters) is probably all you need to worry about, so a shotgun with both a shotgun barrel chambered for up to 3" magnum shells, and maybe a slug barrel that you can quickly change to, would be a great choice and cover all your likely self defense scenarios. I'd go with a good pump action shotgun for ultimate cycling reliability, like a Remington 870, Mossberg 500, or WInchester SXP.

    For folks who live in the country, or a more suburban or open urban environment, a good semi-auto magazine-fed rifle might be a better choice. I agree that either 5.56mm (.223 Rem) or 7.62mm NATO (.308 Win) are the best choice simply by virtue of the fact that ammo for each are plentiful and relatively cheap (especially .223/5.56).

    My personal favorite rifle is the Springfield M1A. I would absolutely stake my life and my family's lives on this superb, hard hitting, deadly accurate and dead-reliable rifle. They are expensive, but well worth it. For ultimate "shit hits the fan" duty, either the Scout Squad (19" barrel) or SOCOM version (16" barrel) would be my choice. IMO, all things considered, you really can't do any better than this.

    As for pistols, not my choice or recommendation for a "one firearm" scenario. Shooting a pistol WELL is an acquired skill that not many people are able to acquire. Based on this, unless you plan on spending A LOT of time practicing at the pistol range and are willing to get some professional instruction, a pistol will probably be more of a liability than an asset in a life-and-death situation. And I'm not even gonna go into debating wheel-gun vs. semi-auto, 9mm vs. .40 vs. .45… etc. That'd give me a headache.

    One last thing to add…keep it simple and forget all the do-dads and gadgets…the laser sights, holographic sights, and crap you see people hanging all over the Picatinny mounting rails of their ARs and tactical shotguns. Yeah, they look cool, but unless you really know how to use this crap, it all just gets in the way and adds uneeded complexity between you and your ability to effectively use your weapon in extremis. Learn how to shoot with iron/open sights – they work and they won't fail.

    Hope this helps. And remember, and to paraphrase one of my favorites sayings, "he who dies with the most guns wins."

  9. I've read a lot of articles and comments on a lot of websites about what to do when TSHTF. Many, many of them concern individuals wondering what sort of weapons to have, whether to get a wood-burning stove, a photovoltaic array, or a small farm with all of the above. IOW, most people ask what can I do *by myself* to prevail against an outside world gone crazy.

    More so than in most countries, and more so than in our past, US popular media has come to applaud the individual hero, even the anti-hero, as he struggles against the system. And in our broadcast media, not only does the lone wolf hero struggle, he often prevails – against considerable odds, even against amazing odds.

    My feeling is that if you, and a few family members, are trapped in your house, and there is no outside force coming to assist you, then you are unlikely to survive. Hardened rooms and secret exits might help, but what you really need are allies, friends, family.

    Groups are stronger than individuals. Most of the sensible voices on all those message boards advised people to get to know their neighbors, to set up groups for mutual support and defense.

    • I’m screwed, then.

      I know my neighbors. Across the street…all the way down. No gun, no gun, no gun, no gun. My side. Same-same. No guns.

      Two of my best friends live around the block. No gun and no gun. I kid them that as I bookass outta town (suburban, white-collar, professional far-west Chicago), I’ll toss ’em each a couple boxes of shells and a shotgun when TSHTF. As I head West. To family, a remote cabin, and lots of lots of remote wilderness.

      Not like I don’t offer to take ’em to the range. Get ’em started. Hell, I’m even providing the ammo, gun, eyes and ears and range fees. No takers.

      I am curious dude in my neck o’ the woods. I’m the guy that’s up 4:30 from mid-September through Mid-January. Wearing camo. Toting a gun or bow out to the mud-covered truck or Jeep. That offers neighbors and friends venison. Goose breasts. Ducks. Pheasants.

      So yeah. I know the neighbors. The only good thing, there’s a lot of easy, soft targets for bad guys all around me. By the time they get to my house and my decidedly more forceful reaction, their arms will be so full of loot, they’ll just keep on keeping on.

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