A Matter of Choice
September 24, 2010
Long guns and handguns both have merit in home protection.
Common wisdom has it that a shotgun is the best gun to use for home defense. This advice is often supplemented with such encouraging comments as, "You don't need to aim, just point it in the general direction." Usually added to this, with a knowing look, is another supposed statement of fact that, "Just the sound of racking a shell into it is enough to get him running."
Let's take a look at these shotgun myths. Shot loads do spread but as a general rule do so at the rate of one inch per yard after the first three yards. This means that at 12 feet you have two inches of shot with which to hit anything—not quite a shower of doom in the average apartment or domicile. The "no need to aim" comment simply allows rationalization for not practicing, which gives mental comfort while believing you might never have to shoot.
The comment regarding the sound of chambering a shell is just wishful thinking. If you stop and consider, such noise only works if the person hears it and knows what it is—and if his survival instinct is stronger than whatever is driving him to commit whatever crime he has in mind.
I have no quarrel with using long guns, including shotguns, for self-defense, since they are easier to hit with than a handgun and are more effective—devastating, if you will—when used properly. Their limitations just need to be understood, along with their benefits.
On the other side of the ticket, the handgun requires more practice if you want to hit anything at any distance. I recently read a documented report where a criminal who, after taking an officer's handgun, fired three shots at him at point blank range—and missed.
However, a handgun is just that—a firearm that can be operated effectively with one hand. The handgun is underpowered by comparison to a shotgun or centerfire rifle, but this is well offset by its ease of use.
Another advantage of the handgun is that it can be concealed yet be in your hand (the subject of a previous column), ready to fire. You can also easily hide your handgun, either on your person (if you're wearing any clothes, that is) or by concealing it in or behind interior furnishings.
If you are forced into holding someone at gunpoint, a long gun will get very heavy very quickly and is much easier for someone to take away from you. Speaking of heavy: Remember, you might not be the one in your home who ends up needing the defensive arm. Not everyone is physically able to even properly mount a long gun. And if they do manage to direct it in the threat's direction and fire it, chances are, due to a poor hold, the gun will malfunction if it's a semiauto.
Of course, a long gun can be used effectively in the "safe-room" scenario, where it can be supported by furniture while you watch, listen and wait.
Another plus for a handgun: You can do other activities while holding it, such as opening a door without awkwardness that might compromise any cover you're using. And, of course, using a flashlight is much easier with a handgun.
The matter of lights mounted on guns needs to be addressed. In short, with a gun-mounted light, you will be pointing both light and gun muzzle wherever you want to search. Even if or when circumstances warrant this, the downside is you can't have the gun muzzle covering the general area while you look in corners and closets. (By the way, when you do choose to look for that "bump-in-the-night" sound, closing off areas that you've searched is a good tactic, since your searching might not be as good as you think it is.)
For anyone, but particularly for those who want to or must use a long gun, it is well worthwhile—perhaps worth your life—to do a few dry runs. I suggest practicing a few "wake-up and go" sessions (with verified unloaded gun, of course), timing yourself while doing so.
Home invasions are violent and happen quickly, and you need to be ready within the time it takes for the bad guys to get to you. A good rule of thumb is you have as much time as you would use when simply opening a door, with and without a key, and moving to where you or a family member might be under such an assault.
How quick is this? In serving fugitive warrants, many times one of us was able to catch the fugitive either as he got out of bed or, if he stopped to put on any clothes, before he could jump out a window or make it to another exit.
In review, neither long gun nor handgun is "best" for any reasonably expected home defense emergency. Having both close by is unquestionably the better choice.