This portion of the series focuses on the primary differences, advantages and disadvantages between revolvers and semi-automatic handguns. I’m making the assumption that readers contemplating what I’ve had to say in the first nine installments intend to do more than purchase a firearm exclusively for home defense. Our lives don’t lose their value outside the home–though some are surely arguing that–and one is, depending on a variety of factors, arguably more rather than less likely to need to defend their life—or the lives of others–-outside their home.
As with the first article in the series, I write primarily for those whose knowledge of firearms and related terminology is limited. As the information I’m providing here is covered in a wide variety of magazines–print and online–and books, I’ll be providing primarily an overview rather than an exhaustive exposition of the issues. I recommend as a basic text The Complete Book of Combat Handgunning by Chuck Taylor. It contains the fundamentals necessary to develop essential basic skills. Full disclosure: I am one of the few certified as an instructor by Taylor’s American Small Arms Academy, and I am also certified by the NRA as a range safety and handgun instructor.
Why a handgun? There’s an old story about a reporter who asked a Texas Ranger why he carried a .45. He replied, in a slow drawl (of course): “Because they don’t make a .46.” The point is that one should always carry the most effective weapon they can efficiently manage. Anyone who knowingly enters a gunfight armed with less than a rifle (or submachine gun) is asking to die. Long guns are much easier to shoot accurately at much greater than handgun ranges and are far more deadly. Carbines such as the AR-15 family can also serve as excellent home defense firearms. However, since it is practically difficult or impossible to carry such weapons on a daily basis, a handgun is the best alternative.
But what about shotguns? Aren’t they more effective than handguns? Yes, particularly when employed against enraged waterfowl. Seriously, despite what Hollywood (and Vice President Biden) would have one believe, they must be aimed like any firearm. The effectiveness of shotgun ammunition depends primarily on keeping the shot column together, as close to the diameter with which it left the muzzle of the shotgun as possible, which means that to be truly effective, shotgun range is essentially the same as handgun range: Out to about 25 yards, and the closer the better. Generally speaking, the shorter the barrel (18″ is the legal minimum without a federal stamp similar to that required to own an automatic weapon, suppressor or short barreled rifle) the shorter the effective range of the shotgun.
The Remington 870 12 gauge shotgun depicted here has a number of the more common accessories. Some claim that shotguns are more flexible than handguns because they accept a greater range of potential cartridges, including various kinds of shot and slug cartridges. This is true to a point, but only the larger calibers of buckshot, such as the standard 00 (“double ought”) buckshot are truly effective on human beings at beyond easy handgun range, and while some slugs can increase reasonable shotgun range to 50 yards and more with some weapons, accuracy will always be lacking compared to rifles because shotguns are, of necessity, smoothbore weapons. They have no rifling in their barrels to impart spin to a projectile, thus stabilizing it and greatly increasing accuracy. In many cases, shot can be stopped entirely, or its effectiveness greatly reduced, by nothing more than heavy winter clothing. This is particularly true at greater ranges. [Obviously, we’re not talking slug guns, with rifled barrels – Ed.]
Shotguns are also, like rifles, long guns. They’re simply not practical for daily carry.
I mention 25 yards as more or less a universal standard. Experts can deliver accurate handgun fire at greater ranges, but for most, 25 yards is the outer effective limit. Twenty-five yards may not sound like much, until you’re trying to place a bullet on a human-sized target that looks surprisingly small at that range. Distance can be tricky. If you’re not convinced, pace off 25 yards and see how far it actually is. It is fortunate–and frightening–that the overwhelming majority of gunfights take place at much, much closer ranges.
The choice of a personal, defensive handgun must take into account many factors, but ultimately one should choose a handgun that is powerful, concealable, reliable, that they can shoot well, and with which they are comfortable. Ultimately, the most effective handgun is one with which one regularly practices and that one is willing and able to carry each and every day. That said, the choice is simpler, and more difficult, than many imagine.
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