Aug 172011


Testing a shotgun's penetration into drywall (from

It is the easiest thing in the world to open a gun store.  All it takes is money.  Sure, you have to fill out some BATF forms, and all that sort of stuff too, but there’s no exam you need to pass, there’s no formal ‘gun expert’ qualification you need to obtain before you start influencing people and helping them to make decisions that literally may make the difference between life and death – for them, for attackers, and for innocent other people in the general vicinity.

And if there is no qualification required to become a gun shop owner, there is also, of course, no qualification required to become a gun shop employee.

Depending on your perspective, this may or may not be a good thing.  While the right to sell arms is closely related to the right to bear arms, I’ve heard more nonsense spoken in gun shops – and on both sides of the counter – than just about anywhere else, other than at a Presidential press conference.  Here’s a case in point.

Are Shotguns Better than Pistols for Home Defense

Here’s an interesting article that reports on a rush of shotgun sales after a terrible home invasion in the exclusive upscale area of North Branford, CT.  Apparently – and unsurprisingly – neighbors in the vicinity rushed to buy a self/home defense weapon after learning of the home invasion.  Surprisingly though, most of these people bought shotguns, for two reasons.

The first reason is that to buy a pistol in Connecticut, you first need to attend 8 hours of classes and then wait anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks for your pistol permit to be approved.  Buying a shotgun has a mere 2 week waiting period, or – if you buy a hunting license at the same time – you can walk out the store with your shotgun with no delay at all (just the standard phone check with NICS).

My guess is that all of a sudden, North Branford had a surge of interest in, ahem, ‘hunting’.

But, now for the second reason.  They were badly advised.  Read what gun store owner Andy Piscitelle says in the article :

The former English teacher says that when it comes to home defense, “We recommend shotguns.”  This because the shot isn’t likely to go through walls and with the shorter (18.5-inch) barrel, the home defense shotgun “allows you to maneuver quickly and through doorways.”

Is any part of this true?  Are shotguns a good choice for home defense?  Does shot from a shotgun penetrate walls or not?  And with an 18.5″ barrel, can you maneuver quickly and through doorways?

Let’s answer these questions in reverse order.

First, by law, a shotgun must have a minimum barrel length of 18″, and – for the purpose of maneuverability, perhaps more important is the related law that the overall length of the shotgun must be at least 26″.  Now compare that with a pistol, which can have as little as a 2″ barrel, and an overall length of perhaps 4″.

There’s no comparison in terms of which is the more easily carried weapon in corridors and through doorways.  Plus the pistol is lighter and easier to move around – if you go through a doorway or around a corner with a shotgun you can’t have it held out ‘ready to fire’ (for fear of someone hiding on the other side of the doorway/corner grabbing it from you) whereas you can have a pistol much more ‘ready to fire’ and able to be protected as you go through the ‘fatal funnel’ of the doorway/corner and more quickly brought on target as/after you pass through it.

Oh – one more comment about this claim.  The last thing you ever want to do when there are intruders in your house is go looking for them.  The only time you’d leave your bedroom would be if you needed to go fetch other people (such as children) so that you’re all huddled together in a defensive location, awaiting the police.  So, hopefully, most of the time you won’t even need to think about how easy it is to maneuver around the house with any sort of weapon.

Second, shot penetration.  It was unclear if Mr Piscitelle actually said that shot will not penetrate walls – his comments aren’t in quotes, so I contacted the reporter who wrote the article and asked for clarification.  He confirmed this was indeed Mr Piscitelle’s claim.  Piscitelle’s assertion is total nonsense.  Indeed, you only have to think about this for the briefest of seconds to realize the nonsense of the claim.  Let’s do both a ‘thought experiment’ and a real life experiment.

Thought experiment.  Would an 00 buckshot ball, about the same size as a 9mm bullet, and traveling at the same speed, penetrate more, less, or about the same through walls as a 9mm bullet?  Obvious guess – kinda, sorta, the same.  Two rounds, of similar size, weight, speed and reasonably similar shape, will probably have similar penetrative powers.

Actual experiment.  Please visit this extremely good website’s page that shows real world testing of shot penetration into dry wall (the image with this article is taken from their testing).  The results of their testing – expect the shot to go through not just one or two, but half a dozen walls!

So – are shotguns a good choice for home defense?  They’re bulkier and heavier and harder to maneuver than a pistol, and can shoot through as many as six walls.

There are two additional considerations – unstated in this article – to also consider.

The first is that firing a single shotgun round is like firing a machine gun – you get multiple ‘bullets’ all leaving the shotgun at the same time.  This adds greatly to the stopping power of the shotgun (if they all land effectively on the attacker).  But – don’t be caught out here.

At typical home defense ranges – 10 ft to 20 ft – the shot will not spread out much.  Maybe you’ll have, at the most, the shot within a tight 4″ or so circle at the end of about 20 feet (depending on the barrel length and choke – shorter barrels with a cylinder bore are best).  This really doesn’t make much difference in terms of accuracy requirements than firing a single round at a time from a pistol.  It doesn’t make you invincible and doesn’t mean you don’t have to aim.

The second is that there is, however, one unique feature of a pump action shotgun that no pistol can ever match.  There’s no more intimidating sound, in the quiet of the middle of the night, or at any other time, than suddenly hearing a shotgun being racked and made ready to do some business.  The ability of a shotgun to intimidate is a major plus factor, and may prevent you from ever needing to actually use it.

So, back on topic.  Don’t believe everything a gun store employee or owner tells you; and if he tells you a shotgun is safe to fire indoors without worrying about over-penetration and rounds going through walls and into other rooms (or even other houses) then you know that he’s full of, ummm, shot.

Lastly, I’m appalled to see that Mr Piscitelle is an NRA certified training counselor (this is a senior level certification – a person who is rated to train trainers in how to teach NRA courses).  How is it possible that a training counselor can be so ignorant?  I’m writing to ask the NRA about this and will let you know.

  One Response to “The Danger of Relying on Gun Shop ‘Experts’”

  1. I guess those choir boys learned a vualable lesson. Trying to scare people with a nonfunctional gun is usually a really bad idea. I can understand why Mr Henderson is upset that Mr. Williams continued shooting at him after he fell down. Tough, isn’t it? When you point your gun at people sometimes they respond by doing things to you that you don’t like. Life sucks when you’re stupid.Mr. Henderson is lucky that Mr. Williams didn’t practice much. An oversight I’m sure Mr. Williams is presently addressing.

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