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As a ten-year-old at summer camp I watched Neil Armstrong push-off the ladder of the Lunar Excursion Module, step onto the surface of the moon and declare “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Oops! Armstrong left out the definite article. He was supposed to say “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” His truncated version doesn’t make any sense. Never mind. In fact, Armstrong’s gaffe provides an important lesson for those of us who equip ourselves with a firearm for self-defense . . .

Armstrong spent tens of thousands of hours training for his moon mission, running through every possibly scenario dozens of times. He was mentally, physically and psychologically prepared for the big moment. Including the words he uttered immediately after the big moment itself.

How many times did Armstrong rehearse his “One small step” spiel,” heard by billions of people in every corner of planet Earth (not to mention the astronaut’s employers)? Plenty. Neither NASA or Neil were known for improvising their PR utterances or leaving anything to chance.

So what happened? Why the flubbed line? Adrenalin rush? Maybe. When you’re in the midst of a fight, flight or freeze moment the part of your brain that controls your speech doesn’t get the highest priority. Then again, maybe not.

According to Wikipedia, “during the Apollo 11 launch, Armstrong’s heart reached a top rate of 110 beats per minute.” I do 140 on the elliptical. But then Neil Armstrong had been around the block a few times by the time NASA strapped a Saturn V to his ass.

During the Korean War, the Naval aviator flew 78 missions in various aircraft (e.g., Grumman F9F-2 above). During his career as a Air Force test pilot Armstrong’s ability to deal with the unknown was severely tested; he logged seven flights in the “Holy Shit this thing actually flies?” X-15 experimental aircraft. Excitable boy? Not our Neil.

Perhaps Armstrong blew his line because he was distracted.

There were plenty of variables to occupy his thoughts. Armstrong was boldly going and all that; NASA wondered if the LEM would sink into the moon’s surface and disappear. On a personal level, Armstrong may have worried that man’s first step on the moon would be followed by man’s first fall on the moon.

“That’s one small step for a man—crap!”

Actually, that’s the last thing squeaky clean Neil Armstrong would have said. And anyway, does the fact that the first man on the moon said the “wrong” thing at one of the most crucial moments in human history make that much of a difference? Not really. After all, result!

Same goes for armed self-defense. It’s a results-driven process.

I’m a firm believer in training, training and more training (as long as it’s the right kind of training). But I also believe the chances are excellent that any civilian involved in a defensive gun use (DGU) will screw up something. If it’s you you’ll be spending years going over your “performance” trying to think of ways you could have done it better.

And you’ll find mistakes, too. They won’t be heard or seen by billions of people around the world (one hopes) but that won’t make it any better. Like Armstrong, you’ll know you blew it. Well, some of it. But not the important bit: surviving.

No one knew if the Apollo 11 astronauts would survive their mission. Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin might have died on the launch pad like Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. Or blown up before reaching orbit. Or missed the moon, flew into space and starved to death/taken a suicide pill. Or missed the Earth upon return and faced the same fate.

Just getting to the moon, landing, having a stroll, taking off and getting back safely was a major accomplishment. The accomplishment. The style of it? Not so much. The exact words Armstrong said the moment he put foot to moon are interesting but ultimately irrelevant.

In the same way, surviving a lethal threat is the accomplishment, not how you do it.  If it happens to me I will make mistakes. I’ll spend a lot of time wondering how I could have performed better. But I’ll be alive to do it. At least in theory.

This Armstrong-inspired realization that’s allowed me to ease up (a bit) on the question that’s been vexing me lately: which caliber in which gun for everyday carry?

Ralph’s penning a comparo between the [Joe Matafome’s] Glock G36 and the Springfield XD-S. As the official photographer for this battle of the compact .45s (click here for the snaps) I’ve been sneaking in a little side-by-side shooting time. And I’m confused.

The G36 doesn’t conceal as well as the XD-S but it’s got one more round than the XD-S which is far more accurate during slow fire but not during rapid fire when my groups spread like this girl I once knew (everyone knew) which means I could probably just just slow down and nail it but I probably wouldn’t do that in a DGU would I so maybe the G36 is better.

Then again if the G36 is the way to go, why not holster my old everyday carry gun the G30SF which conceals only slightly more prominently yet holds the maximum rounds I can carry when I go into Massachusetts (10 + 1), which is why I want a .45 in the first place rather than my Caracal C 9mm which conceals like a boa in the jungle, shoots like a dream AND offers 15 + 1 capacity but violates MA’s high cap mag ban?

Of course, I could carry the Caracal C with a ten-round mag (on order) and switch to the 15-round mag for RI, provided I knew I wasn’t going to MA ’cause just carrying the 15-round magazine is a felony in The Bay State, unless you’re traveling through rather than to Massachusetts, in which case the ammo must be locked and stored separately from the firearm which also must be locked and secured in the trunk or the farthest position away from the driver in an SUV.

So do I carry a highly concealable handgun with “just” ten rounds of perfectly point-able nine millimeter ammo that can be upgraded to 15 rounds most of the time or do I schlep a print-‘o-matic pistol with six, seven or 10 rounds of more potent .45 that can’t be upgraded to a higher capacity eva?

WWNAD? What Would Neil Armstrong Do?

Neil may have been your standard OCD engineering astronaut type but he flew over 200 different types of aircraft during his life—without dying. So I reckon Neil Armstrong would say shot placement counts more than round count or caliber size. He’d train on all the guns until he was proficient, measure his results, pick and pack the winner and train some more.

And if that didn’t work out—say I chose the Caracal nine for MA and couldn’t get the job done in 11 rounds (plus another 11 in my pocket)—Neil would probably shrug his shoulders, smile, pat me on the back and say “Son, in case you didn’t notice, we’re both dead. You did your best but it’s game over.”

To which I’d reply: “That was one small gun for a man, one giant gun for the preservation of mankind.” If I could remember my line.

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  1. If you love the Caracal, carry that.

    If you regularly travel to Massachusetts, or occasionally travel to Massachusetts, or if that travel is exceedingly rare BUT may happen on the spur of the moment, or accidentally, then carry it with the 10 round magazines. Heck, carry TWO extra magazines in addition to the one that is in the gun. Now you have the same number of rounds that you would’ve had if you had one 15 round mag in the gun, and one in your pocket.

  2. i think we tend to over think this issue. the majority of dgu’s won’t involve firing a shot. the ones that do will depend more on shot placement than caliber. whichever of the stated options is most reliable and that you can hit best with is the one to go to. at this moment in time i own a bunch of handguns. none larger than 38/9mm and i surely do not feel undergunned.

  3. That has been my issue with the really small .45s. The Glock 30 holding 10 plus 1 is concealable enough—on par with a G19. Going down to 6 plus one of .45 makes me wonder why I wouldn’t just carry a small .357 and a speedloader.

    125 gr. .357 hollowpoint is a proven manstopper, a small snubnose would be easily concealable, lightweight, and be dead reliable.

    What’s the benefit of a .45 in such a situation?

    • the 45 will take your attacker down with one shot no matter where you hit him/her. when things are happening fast, i mean real fast and you are popping a round off, your heart is going, and unless you train like I do, and have been in the mitz of the fight, like I have, you have no idea where that first or even second round is going….. you get tunnel vision, seeing smaller and smaller…. this is stress and you will be under a lot when you pull that weapon. I have seen people hit in the hand with a 45 and that person went to the ground like a brick. it does not matter where they are hit, that is why the 45 is the one to carry…. the 9mm goes so fast that a lot of hits go right through with no stopping power, the 38 well like the 9 but just a little slower, and the 380, forget it,,, james bond you are not…. I hear a lot about placement,,,, in a fight there is no placement unless you train for it,,,,, do this run I mean run 50 steps pull you gun and shot…… oh what happened to placement,,, it went out the window,,,, most even miss the target,,, thiss is practice and training guys and girls,,,,, do this until you can put placement and you might have a chance…. good luck …. and buy a gun and keep America free……..

      • you obviously haven’t seen the reports of people taking multiple torso hits with the 45 and still needing a head shot to put them down. my own cousin shot himself in the leg with a 45 and walked himself to the car and drove himself to the hospital. he was mobile and aware the entirer time. for a number of reasons and experiences i don’t buy into the caliber is everything argument.

      • Besides the takedown energy (which is pretty effective even if there is no such guarantee of a “one-shot-stop”), I was always taught the .45 was “safe and humane”. Safe in no over-penetration to risk hitting anybody behind your target (through a wall or two and down the block, etc). Humane in that the velocity of a hardball doesn’t cause the organ-crushing hydrostatic shock (just in case you didn’t want your target so dead). The other concern is controllability. Folks seem to think the .45 is worse than a nine or a .40, but it’s a lower pressure round, and I actually find it more manageable than the 9mm (a lot more than the .357, and much less disorienting in enclosed spaces). 9mm is a sharp crack-and-smack (stings a bit in light platforms). .45 is a boom-and-push. (I shoot 9mm more just because its cheaper.) .357 (especially in a light frame) is like high-fiving a baseball bat, and then you get the infamous magnum blast. If you’ve got strong, beefy hands and it’s no problem for you, it is a great round (I do shoot .357 and .44 and love them, but out of guns I can neither practically carry or conceal). Extreme lesson: Many years ago, I actually dislocated my thumb trying to shoot a 3″ magnum load out of my pistol-grip 12g Mossberg pump ’cause some fool said it was a great defensive round. Shoot what you can handle best.

      • Just where have you seen all of these miraculous one shot stops? Another arm chair warrior sounding off, like he has been there, and done that. I carried a .45 for a number of years, while in the Army. That includes my two tours in Nam
        (69-71). I have never seen a miracle shot such as you describe.

        It is more likely you have watched one too many t.v. shows, i.e. old Combat re-runs. Much of what you say has some merit, BUT not all. Also, please go back and re-take your 6th grade English. “Pull you gun and shot”, at least learn proper syntax.

    • Unless a person is defending against multiple attackers most DGU (as in about 98%) are over with after one or two shots. I prefer the revolver since it can be brought to bear without needing to rack a slide, release a safety, cock/decock, clear a failure to fire, not affected by limp wrist, etc. A revolver can also be fired more reliably than a semi from within a coat pocket.

      • aharon, i have autos and revolvers. but the gun i have with me when i carry is a s&w 442 in a pocket holster. 5 shots of adequate power and as close ro murphy proof as you can get.

  4. A gun blogger who has been reading dozens of crime reports daily for years (where a gun is involved in self-defense) wrote that he has never come across one case when a fired .22 cal never proved to be too little stopping power. In other words, no one armed with .22 was under-armed in stopping an attack.

    As proven by stats and empirical evidence, defenders armed with revolvers (and not high capacity semis) have enough ammo capacity. I guess the exception to the capacity matter is that those who do need more high capacity are drug dealers, someone being stalked by an ex-lover who is stalking them with an AK47, and other such cases.

  5. Maybe I can make you feel a bit better. First, the microphones in use on the mission were voice activated. So there was a bit of clipping on the sound. Lost a few milliseconds. Next is that audio guys have analyzed the original NASA tapes. There is a bit of a sound impulse where the “a” should be. Finally, Armstrong said he said it. So that closes the book for me. I ain’t gonna argue with the most heroic figure I’ve seen in my lifetime.

  6. Actually, I’d always heard he did say “a man” but a transmission hiccup fuzzed it out (you can sort-of hear a pause and a bit of static). I grew up with the no-a version and found it rather poetic. Lesson for DGU? Same for performers: the audience isn’t as aware of your mistakes as you are (unless they really know the material). But if a survivable mistake makes you freeze, hesitate, fumble or otherwise freak out, you’re done. If you get through it, don’t die (and don’t get the wrong people hurt or killed), you aced it. The armchair experts can grouse amongst themselves later.

  7. Neil always claimed that he did say “a man”. I don’t know that he got caught up in the excitement of the moment. He was, after all, super human, even though he didn’t think so.

    I was 11 years old when I watched him take that venerable first step on the Moon. I was laying on the floor of my dad’s old navy buddy’s house. We were there on vacation. There must have been 20 people glued to the TV. I was riveted.

    • +1 on the riveted. we had an old b&w tv with rabbit ears but it worked just fine for that moment.

      i’m just wondering when the tin foil hat crowds going to chime in and tell us it did’nt happen.

  8. Comparing a gunfight to the first moon landing by man seems flawed from my perch.

    Unlike Neil Armstrong’s situation, gunfights are not a completely unknown quantity. Armstrong was a man placed literally another world away from Earth, exploring a body no other man had set foot on, and thus had to adjust and cope with the profound nature of that kind of event with only the barest guidance available.There were unanswered and serious questions about the expedition all the way up until the moment Armstrong set foot on the moon.

    By comparison armed people in America have the benefit of decades of discussion regarding firearms, law, conflict and human behavior. With the Internet and other training resources available, we need not set out into the world of armed self defense as unaware and in the black as Armstrong did on the moon.

  9. From what I remember, he actually did say “one small step for a man” but it was during the transmission period from moon to the Earth that the “a” sounded garbled and was mixed into the static.

    • As AznMike and others have pointed out, it’s likely he did say “a man.” It’s clearly possible to muddle a transmission, as evidence by the fact that the end of the line, “for mankind,” actually sounds more like “for manPBTHSBS” due to what sounds like static.

  10. Robert, 

    In my opinion you spend too much time worrying about the caliber and MA magazine capacity issues. With a little bit of luck and good 9MM +P defensive ammunition, you could  match everyone killed at the OK Corral AND in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, before you reload your pistol with another MA magazine! 

    Try this: load your mags with 5 rounds only, practice shooting at smaller targets and work to make all of your reloads flawless. Then relax.

    I was on Goose Bay AFB in Labrador when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. The Air Force had someone fly the film up in a T-38 and we watched it the next day. Amazing and a fantastic memory.

      • Behavior modification. Pretty soon you’ll be making only money shots on the small targets (left ventricle or right ventricle?) and when you do load up to ten you might even feel, dare I say, shameless, that you have so much ammunition.

        Look, I know you know about hypnosis. Maybe that will be better for you. Truth is, based on what I’ve interpreted in several of your posts, I’m worried that on the day you may be faced with a DGU, you might be convinced that you are not adequately prepared, and that may work against you.

        If I’m out of bounds, I apologize.

      • I also tried to add, when was the last time a DGU took 10 or more shots to resolve? I’d say the odds of any DGU are remote, and the odds of needing more than 10 rounds are likely much smaller. (FYI, I carry a 5-shot j-frame with 3 speedloaders, and I figure I’m covering just about the entire statistical distibution.)

  11. Just to nit pick, considering the relatively weak thrust produced by the command/service module (CSM), missing the Earth on the way back wasn’t an option. Remember, it took a Saturn-5 just to leave the Earth to begin with.

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