Aug 022011
LSW Seecamp and Walther PPK

A LWS Seecamp .32 ACP and Walther PPK .380 ACP

(This is part one of a three part series.  Please also visit ‘Which Caliber to Choose for a Sub-Compact Pocket Pistol‘ and  ‘How to Best Carry Concealed a Sub-Compact Pocket Pistol‘.)

At times it seems that little has changed in the last 100 years of firearm and pistol design.  Revolvers are much as they always have been.  The Colt .45 semi-auto has celebrated its 100 year anniversary this year.  But if you find yourself agreeing with this, you’re wrong.

There have been big changes in semi-auto design, and in new lightweight small sized guns.  There have also been new calibers (most notably the .40 S&W, introduced in 1990, and the 5.7×28, introduced in 1993) but these are outside the scope of this article.

Semi-autos now can hold a great deal more than the classic 7+1 round capacity of an M1911A1, and can also be a great deal smaller.  Sure, derringers have always been around, but they’ve never been much more than ultra-desperate ‘toy’ guns, and now there are plenty of what are sometimes termed ‘sub-compact’ or sometimes ‘pocket’ pistols.  Some use new plastic materials or aluminum to replace some of the heavy steel, giving them even lighter weight, and all are designed to be as small as possible to provide the ultimate in terms of convenient carry and ultra concealment.

The Evolution of Modern Pocket Pistols

Pocket pistols can be traced back to that titan of gun design, John Browning (designer of the Colt M1911 among many other weapons) and his 1905 and 1908 model semi-auto pistols chambered for the .25 Auto cartridge.  His pistol, then known as the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket Pistol, subsequently evolved into the Baby Browning, produced from 1931 onwards, and is still (more or less) in production today.

These pistols were small – the earlier was 4.5″ long, the Baby Browning 4.1″ long, but were medium rather than light weight (13 oz and 9.7 oz respectively), and carried six round magazines.  The .25 Auto cartridge is very underpowered (see part two of this article series which discusses calibers for pocket pistols) and so these pistols represented an uneasy compromise between concealability and fire power.

Larger pistols appeared with larger calibers, and the development of high quality pistols by Seecamp – first in the same .25 Auto caliber in 1981, then subsequently in .32 ACP (from the mid 80’s to the present day) and .380 ACP (from 2000 to the present day) saw broader acceptance of the modern pocket pistol.  These Seecamp weapons, although produced in very small numbers, acted to validate the concept of ultra-compact pocket pistols as a bona fide modern day weapon variant.

Other manufacturers copied Seecamp to a greater or lesser extent, and then evolved into their own designs, and new lighter weight materials allowed for the pistols to be reduced in weight.

The next thing that massively increased the market interest and demand for ultra-concealable pistols was/is the wonderful restoration of concealed carry rights in most US states over the last couple of decades.  Nowadays the NSSF estimate there to be 6.3 million people with concealed weapon permits in the US, and that has unquestionably driven demand for small easily carried pistols.

Some Modern Sub-Compact Pistols to Consider

So, maybe you too are looking for a small ‘pocket pistol’ that you can literally carry in your pocket, or readily conceal elsewhere on your person?  Here’s a great summary of ten small pistols that might include the one that is exactly what you’re looking for.

I’m not nearly brave enough to wade into the depths of ‘which is the best gun’ because these days so many guns are so good that it boils down to a lot of personal preference.  It is analogous to arguing whether Ford or GM make the best car (or for that matter, Toyota and all the other companies too) when all you need is a car for your daily commute and local shopping runs.

But I can tell you (uh, oh, here I go….) that of the ten pistols detailed in this article, I own a .32 ACP caliber LWS/Seecamp.  However, many of the pistols in the review have come out since when I bought the Seecamp, and I can’t help but think that maybe one of the new tiny .380 (or even 9mm) pistols might give me a significant upgrade in power with only a minimal increase in size/weight.

On the other hand, I already have a couple of small .380 pistols (my favorite being a Walther PPK).

Size/Weight Issues and Tradeoffs – Walther PPK vs Modern Designs

It is interesting to compare the PPK size/weight with that of more modern pocket pistols.  The PPK – which amazingly dates back to 1931, and with little change over the 80 years since its introduction – is 6.15″ long overall, almost exactly an inch wide, and weighs 20.8 ounces with empty magazine, or 23.1 ounces when filled with seven rounds of .380 ammo.

The various modern  .380 pistols are shorter and narrower – ranging from 4.25″ long to 5.25″ long (so between almost one and two inches shorter); from 0.75″ to 0.91″ wide (saving you up to a quarter inch in this dimension), and their unloaded weights range from 8.3 oz up to 18.5 oz.  Many of these new pocket pistols are half the weight of the PPK – a much appreciated factor if you truly are carrying them in a pocket.

But smaller and lighter is not universally good.  The shorter the barrel, the more the muzzle flash and less the accuracy.  And the lighter the pistol, the greater the recoil.  Neither factor really matters when you’re at ‘point blank’ range and rapidly firing semi-blindly into the center of mass of a way-too-close attacker, but if for any reason you find yourself needing to make an aimed shot at more than say 10 ft, your ability to do so will massively reduce in line with the smaller and lighter the gun is you’re using.

My PPK is a lovely smooth shooter and can be operated single or double action, and with a great trigger feel to it (Interarms did a lovely port/polish/tune job on the pistol for me when I first purchased it as a much appreciated courtesy).  Sure, there’s recoil, but it is no worse than firing a full size 9mm, and its low profile fixed sights and general design is acceptably accurate (ie the gun is better than me) out to at least 21 feet, and as far as I’m concerned, most of the time if a bad guy is more than 21′ away, he’s less likely to be a deadly threat.

On the other hand, my less powerful double action only LWS has a long heavy trigger pull, nasty recoil and no sights (which sort of says it all in terms of accuracy expectations, doesn’t it!).

In choosing a pocket pistol, don’t necessarily fall into the trap of thinking that the lightest weapon is the best.  A few more ounces will make an appreciable difference in soaking up some extra recoil.

However, whatever size and weight you choose, by all means get one of these new generation pocket pistols.  They are lightweight, concealable, and generally inexpensive (sometimes little more than half the price of the $629 list on my PPK), but they are also nasty to shoot, with heavy triggers (being double action only), lots of recoil and little accuracy.

(This was part one of a three part series.  Please also visit ‘Which Caliber to Choose for a Sub-Compact Pocket Pistol‘ and  ‘How to Best Carry Concealed a Sub-Compact Pocket Pistol‘.)

Aug 012011
Ruger LCR, Bianchi Speed Strip and 5 Star Speed Loader

15 rounds for this LCR - but with two reloads, it is too slow

(This is the second post on an important topic – please also see our earlier post here – How Much Ammo Do You Carry?)

In our earlier post on how much ammo you should carry with you (which you really should read first) we suggest you should have at least one spare magazine and at least a moderately high capacity semi-auto.  In other words, hopefully at least 10 rounds in the gun and another 10 rounds in a spare magazine.

Notice we are talking about semi-autos, not revolvers.  This was an assumption in the previous article that needs some explaining.

The Problem with Carrying a Revolver

Sure, we love revolvers as much as anyone else, and sometimes every carry one, too.  But a revolver – especially for concealed carry – probably has no more than five or six rounds in its chamber.  We say you need to plan on anywhere from maybe three or four rounds per bad guy if you are very lucky, and up to maybe eight or more rounds if you’re not so lucky.  So in your ‘worst case’ scenario planning, that means you need to plan for being able to get at least eight rounds downrange, per bad guy, in a hurry.

(A quick side-bar comment :  Recommended strategy for multiple adversaries is usually to fire one shot at each target first (more or less from greatest and most immediate threat to least – but still deadly – threat), then return back and add extra shots as needed to stop the threats.  So when we’re saying ‘eight or more rounds per bad guy’ we’re not suggesting to fix on just one bad guy and get as many rounds as needed his way before switching to the next bad guy – you’re going to want to share your favors out on a more even basis than that!)

A wheel gun has five or six rounds.  After you’ve emptied your chamber, you’re then in a world of hurt.  Sure, maybe you have a speed reloader, or a Bianchi strip reloader, but how long will it take you to reload in a high stress situation like this?  Reloading a revolver includes using micro-motor skills that are hard when you’re full of adrenalin and trembling both from the adrenalin and the animal fear that will be overwhelming you.  Reloading a semi-auto is vastly simpler in all respects and easier to do in a stress situation.

In Front Sight’s skills testing, they allow 7.0 seconds to reload a revolver, compared to 2.4 seconds for a semi-auto.  Those extra 4.5 seconds are almost literally life and death in a gun fight.  In 4.5 seconds, a bad guy can run almost 50 yards – hopefully away from you, but if he is charging towards you, then you’ve got big problems well before you’ve got your revolver running again.

Bottom line for revolvers :  They are a good, simple, and reliable weapon, but most effective against only a single adversary.  If you’re facing multiple adversaries, you need a semi-auto that both has more rounds in its magazine to start with and a faster reload time if (when) you need to reload.

How Many Adversaries to Expect

Which leads to the second part of this article.  How many bad guys do you need to plan on attacking you?  That’s a bit like asking ‘How long is a piece of string’ – the answer could vary anywhere from one to one hundred.  The earlier article linked to a story about two people being attacked by a gang of 30, and that is probably as close to a worst case scenario as you never need to consider.

At the low end, it is realistic to expect a minimum of two bad guys.  Particularly in situations where bad guys are going out with the intention of carrying out some type of violent crime, they will want the odds in their favor, and so are much more likely to bring a partner or two than if they were doing some empty house breaking and entering, or simple car prowling.  So you should plan for at least two bad guys as a minimum.

But what about the maximum number you should realistically plan for?  In partial answer, let’s look at another newspaper story, this time about how some small towns in what is (was!) otherwise peaceful idyllic rural Washington state are being terrorized by gangs.

There’s a lot to worry about how gangs are migrating out of the big cities and into smaller rural towns, where there is not the matching concentration of police to combat them, and you might wonder ‘What are gangs doing in rural Washington?’  Here’s a hint – based on the names of the gangs, they seem to be exclusively Mexican gangs (a fact which the liberal newspaper can’t quite bring itself to feature as a main story point).

The relevant part of this newspaper article is the quote ‘…these packs of eight or 10 of them’.  Apparently, at least in eastern Washington, gang members like to congregate in packs of 8 – 10.

So what would you do if you found yourself confronted by a murderous gang of 8 – 10 gang members?  Other than run away as fast as you can, of course!  Do you have enough ammo for a shoot-out with 8 – 10 gang members?  That could see you needing 100 rounds or more, in a situation where your prime objective would be to find cover, call for help, and then wait up to an hour for some deputies to get to you, firing only when necessary to keep the bad guys from rushing you.

Say you have a pistol with a 16 round magazine.  That would mean carrying five loaded spare magazines in addition to the one in your pistol.  It probably isn’t realistic to carry this much spare ammo.  But while 100 rounds is more than most people could conveniently keep on their person, the chances are you can probably carry one more magazine than you currently do.  And you probably should, too.

Realistically, your odds of surviving a gunfight against ten adversaries are very low, so perhaps it is unrealistic to prepare for something you’re unlikely to survive.  On a happier note, not every gang member is always armed, and when rounds start coming inbound, not all gang members will adopt an aggressive posture and fight back.

But it is also quite probably true that your adversaries have been under fire before, and may have also not only been receiving incoming but been shooting back in turn.  They might be more experienced in fire fights than you, and most of all, you’re fighting a battle on their terms.  They rather than you have decided if, when, and how to initiate the conflict, while you’re compelled to be reactive rather than pro-active, because with that many potential adversaries, you need to have a defensive posture that reduces the chance of any escalation of conflict.

Here’s another measure.  Have you ever seen a group of motorcycle gang members drive down the highway?  There’s usually more than two of them driving together, isn’t there.  Maybe four, maybe more.  And sometimes with passengers on the back of each bike, too.  Get into a ‘road rage’ incident with them and you could again find yourself with half a dozen adversaries, all eager to do extreme harm to you.

My point is simple.  An encounter – outside your home – where you end up needing to resort to deadly force is more likely to involve multiple adversaries than just a single assailant.  Stopping the first guy will just enrage the second, third, and other guys all the more, and your ability to ‘project power’ and control a situation is massively reduced with a small little gun that everyone knows holds only a few rounds, especially if it is a revolver which everyone also knows will take a long time to reload.

While of course any gun is better than no gun, and a concealable pistol is a necessary compromise between effectiveness and convenience, try to select a pistol that has hopefully at least a ten round capacity (if it is .45 caliber, then fewer rounds are okay) and try to carry two (or more) spare magazines with you.

Jun 292011

A pseudo-official looking Concealed Weapon Permit badge

At times it is easy to feel that the gun-grabbers are winning and that our second amendment rights are being steadily whittled away.

There is, sadly, some measure of truth in that perception, some of the time.  But the gun grabbers aren’t getting it all their own way (but please don’t get complacent!).

In addition to two recent favorable Supreme Court decisions, there’s been a quiet grass roots revolution going on for the last 25 or so years, whereby states have been reversing a century or more of restrictive laws constraining our ability to carry concealed weapons.  In 1986, only eight states had ‘shall issue’ laws obligating law enforcement authorities to issue concealed carry permits, and one additional state allowed concealed carry without any permit being needed at all.

Since that time, the number of shall issue states has been steadily increasing, leaping up to 30 by 1996 and continuing on to 37 by 2006, with now three states also allowing concealed carry with no permit at all.  Another two states have fairly administered ‘may issue’ type laws whereby law enforcement has discretion in who they will and won’t issue permits to, leaving six ‘may issue’ states who tend to never issue permits (for example, California and New York are ‘may issue’ states) and two hold outs that refuse to ever issue permits – Illinois and Wisconsin.

Just this week it seems that Wisconsin is now moving from the hall of shame to the hall of fame, and is poised to join 40 of the other states with a very positive ‘shall issue’ law.  If we include the two fairly managed ‘shall issue’ states, that leaves only seven states that remain resolutely gun unfriendly.

Yay to Wisconsin and its residents.  More details here.

May 182011
A Ruger LCR revolver is hidden inside this innocuous looking book

Looks like a book on the outside, but has a surprise on the inside

A woman was having a shower, and upon stepping out of the shower – naked and defenseless – she discovered an intruder with a knife in her bathroom.

No, this story isn’t going to suggest you should keep a ‘waterproof’ gun in your shower next to your soap (although you’ll have my respect it you do!).  But it will make two very important suggestions.  First, let’s complete the story.

The man started beating the woman in a struggle, and she told him she had money in her bedroom – a place the intruder was doubtless keen to take her, anyway.  Upon getting to the bedroom, she managed to get a gun she had somewhere there and shot him.  The guy stumbled out of her house, collapsed in the yard, and subsequently died.

As for the woman, local police said she won’t be charged with any crime.  More details here.

So, the two morals of this story?

First, it isn’t paranoia.  It is good common sense to always keep your house secure, day and night.  Many times you might not hear someone at your door, and might not hear someone come in to your house; indeed, if you don’t answer their first trial knocking on the door, they might think you are out and so be encouraged to take advantage of an unlocked door.

Second, while the most common hiding place in a house for a self defense gun is the bedroom, that’s no reason not to have a gun somewhere close at hand in your bedroom.  Also, imagine what would have happened if the woman’s gun had a gun-lock on it, or if it was in a gun safe, or if it was unloaded?  You need to have a gun not only conveniently at hand, but ready to go immediately you seize it.

It isn’t just your bedroom where a hidden pistol might be a good idea.  Think through scenarios of where/when/how you might be surprised by a home intruder in your house.  Where else would it be a good idea to have a gun readily available?

A related issue is how to hide guns around the house.  Here are three ideas, I’m sure you can think of more.

(a)  In a picture frame.  This Google page links to various different picture frames which have an obscured secret compartment in the frame.  If you go this route, choose a frame that is as thin as possible so it isn’t too unusually thick and draws attention to itself in your house; and/or place it in a location so its thickness isn’t immediately obvious – ie, on a wall where you see it primarily from the front rather than from the side.

(b)  In a book.  Here’s a Google page to some ‘books’ that contain not pages but rather guns.  Note that not all the books offered for sale look 100% realistic, so consider also following the very helpful process on this page (read the comments too) and make your own books storage units, and be sure to have them located in places where books already can be found and in such a manner that casual visitors might not pick up your ‘book’ and get a surprise.

(c)  In a clock.  See this product and this related product.  This is one of my favorite strategies, because clocks are of a natural shape/size to allow a gun to be hidden, and whereas people might look at and touch your books, who ever looks too carefully at or plays with a clock?

You can also hide guns in just about any other place you choose, even under tables and in cupboards and drawers (by mounting a holster inside the hiding place and slipping the gun inside).  But the key thing is not to get carried away with ingenuity.  The key thing is to have a gun or guns in convenient locations where you can quickly reach them in an extreme situation.

Could I also suggest you consider having revolvers as your emergency guns in such places.  I say this for the simple reason that you can leave a revolver loaded and ready to fire without stressing any parts, and without needing to do anything to it, for year after year at a time.  But if you’re using a semi-auto, you’ll want to swap magazines from time to time to avoid spring fatigue, and you may or may not choose to have it already cocked and with the safety off.

Remember – if you’ve got the bad guy(s) breathing down your neck, you’ll probably only have one hand free to grab your gun, and there’s no way of telling if it will be your left or right hand, so go easy on any tricky mounting devices.  You will need it to be instantly ready to start working.  Choose your concealment system, its location, and the pistol inside it, accordingly.

And of course, if you have curious children at home, you’ll need to temper these considerations with the need to keep your guns where they won’t be chanced upon by your children.

Apr 202011

You don't need six spare magazines, but you do need at least one

Here’s a question for all of us who choose to carry a concealed weapon :  How many rounds do you have with you, both in the pistol and in spare magazines?

Many people carry a small (and therefore convenient, lightweight and easily concealed) pistol that might have perhaps a six round magazine, and if they are prudent, they’ll not load the magazine to full capacity so as to preserve the life of the magazine spring.  Perhaps they’ll have four or five rounds in the magazine plus one in the chamber.

And how about a spare magazine?  With how many rounds loaded in it?  Another four or five rounds?

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking that if the (say) five – ten rounds in your gun aren’t enough to solve a situation, nothing much else would be of use either, and you should be running away rather than standing your ground.

But there are several considerations to keep in mind.

First and most importantly, we – all of us – would always prefer to be a ‘brave coward’ and run away.  For all reasons, we must always do all we can to avoid any sort of conflict that could escalate up to requiring deadly force.  That goes without saying.  But so too does it go without saying that sometimes there is no alternative open to us.  We are forced to defend ourselves and our loved ones.

Remember – the whole purpose of carrying any concealed weapon is to plan and prepare for the worst case scenarios, not the best case scenarios.  So, when planning for moderately worst case scenarios, the first part of your planning has to be an allowance for there being no way to avoid the need to use deadly force.

Now, next thought.  What happens if you have a ‘Type 3’ malfunction – a ‘failure to feed’, with the requirement to strip out your magazine and replace it with a spare magazine?  This lengthy process assumes you have a spare magazine readily to hand, and even in the most optimum of situations can take five or six precious seconds to complete.  What if you don’t have a spare magazine?

Sure, there is an alternate drill for reusing your current magazine, but it adds further time and requires additional dexterity at a time when the adrenalin rushing through your system is making you massively clumsy, and in a situation where the bad guys are almost literally on top of you and you don’t have the time to quietly and calmly work your way through the clearance drill.

There are other situations where you may need a second magazine (other than running out of ammo).  Maybe in your stressed condition, you accidentally hit the magazine release button – I’ve seen this happen more times than I care to count.  All of a sudden, your gun is empty and your magazine has fallen somewhere away from you on the ground.  Stopping the fight to crawl around, perhaps in the dark, looking for your dropped magazine is not an option.

So, lesson learned – if you’re carrying a concealed semi-auto, be sure to carry at least one spare magazine too, in a location easily reached by your support hand (the one that doesn’t have your pistol in it).

Next, how many bad guys do you expect to have attacking you?   As a former instructor of mine always insisted, ‘rats travel in packs’.  If you’re being mugged on the street, there’s every chance there are two or more bad guys – and always remember that just because you only see one, that does not mean there isn’t one or two more lurking in the background, waiting to surprise you if you resist the attack from the first guy.  If you surprise a burglar in your kitchen, there’s a good chance his partner is in your living room or bedroom.  And so on.

Worst case scenario, let’s say you’re confronted with a group of four or five bad guys – maybe gang members, out for some mischief, murder and mayhem.

How many rounds do you need to have per bad guy?  Allow for misses, and particularly if you’re using a smaller caliber weapon, allow for multiple hits to stop each threat, and perhaps you should plan for as many as 4 – 8 rounds per bad guy, ‘worst case scenario’.  Five bad guys and eight rounds per bad guy – that is 40 rounds.

Do you still feel good carrying your pistol with five or six rounds in it and no spare ammo?

Lastly, and the reason for sharing these thoughts today, consider the situation described here – two people were attacked by a group of 30 youths on a MARTA train in the Atlanta area.

Think about that situation and use it to redefine your concept of ‘worst case scenario’ :  You can’t run away, and, for that matter, neither can the 30 bad guys either.  If they set upon you, as they did these two innocent riders, with the conflict occurring suddenly and from short range, and in a subway car full of ordinary innocent citizens as well as bad guys, what are you going to do?

One thing is for sure – you’re going to need to project a massively powerful force at the group of bad guys if you wish to take control of the situation.  I’m not even sure you could triumph, but wouldn’t you much rather fail having taken a sizeable number of the bad guys with you, than passively submit to whatever they chose to dish out.

And a closing thought :  Your chances of surviving such a scenario would be much better if the person you were traveling with also has a concealed weapon and knows how to use it.  Of course you don’t want to alienate the gun-haters among your friends and family; but for your safety as well as theirs, any time you have a chance to encourage a person to join you as a gun carrying non-victim, you increase the odds not only of their future survival, but of yours too, if/when something bad goes down.

How Many Guns Can You/Should You Own

Here’s a related question – how many guns should you own?  The same breathless newspaper articles that express shock and horror at discovering some ‘survivalist’ had thousands of rounds of ammo stored also refer to his ‘arsenal’ of guns.

How many guns are fair, and how many become excessive and too many?

Most states have no limit on the number of guns you can own, so that removes that constraint.  As for an actual number, here is an interesting article where a person lists the 16 guns he owns and why he needs each one of them. We’re not going to say that 16 is the exact number to aim for, but clearly this person can easily explain each of them and why he has them all (not that he should need to).

Lastly on this point, if you’re being given grief on this point by someone (often a woman) ask her how many pairs of shoes she owns?  After all, you can only wear one pair at a time, right (chances are she has just been saying ‘you can only shoot one gun at a time, why do you need more)?

Make her a deal – you’ll limit both the number of guns you own and your ongoing purchase of more guns to the same quantities as the shoes she owns and continues to buy!

Bottom Line Action Items

1.  Always carry at least one spare magazine

2.  Consider choosing a self-defense pistol with a higher round capacity

Please also see a second related article ‘How Many Rounds to Carry with Your Concealed Weapon‘.


Mar 132011

There’s more to do than merely adjusting your clocks

Some people advocate making the switch to/from daylight savings a trigger event for checking the batteries in your smoke detectors.  That’s a good idea, even though probably all smoke detectors these days have low battery alarms that make annoying chirping sounds when the batteries get low.

It is barely conceivable that the low battery alarm might have failed, or that the battery died while you were out of town, so a formal test every six months is a good routine to get into.

But I’m not writing today about smoke alarms, as important as they are.  Let’s think about some other things you should do maybe every six months, maybe every year.  And if you’ve additional items to add to this list, share your thoughts with us in the comments, below.

1.  Check, Clean and Oil all Guns

This isn’t essential, but it is a good thing to do – to renew your familiarity with your weapons, to give them a bit of tender loving care, and to check, clean and oil them.

Depending on how and where you store them, maybe they’ve got some dust on them, maybe even mildew/mold (I find that even with a heater bar ‘dehumidifier’ in my gun safe, I still have problems), and maybe you might have forgotten to clean them after the last time you used them, or maybe someone else has touched/tampered with them, or who knows what else.

I’d put this on a six monthly cycle.

2.  Replace Critical Ammo

By ‘critical’ ammo I mean the ammo you keep loaded in your self defense and carry guns, and potentially in the spare magazines you keep loaded with them.

Sure, ammunition can last decades if stored properly, but the ammunition in a carry gun is stored anything but properly.  It is is a warm humid environment, and when there isn’t sweat seeping in through the seals and into the propellant, there’s gun oil or who knows what else.

Plus, if you ever find yourself needing to pull the trigger ‘for real’ on a carry gun, you’re in a critical situation where you have to be 110% guaranteed that you’ll hear a ‘bang’ rather than a ‘click’.

So – and I put this on the six monthly cycle too – go to the range once every six months, and shoot off the ammo in the guns that you keep loaded 24/7 and replace it with fresh out of the box ammo.  This also gives you ongoing feedback that your ammo is good and feeding reliably.  Which leads to my next point.

3.  Range Time

No matter how much you have practiced in the past, the skills you’ve mastered at handling your weapons erode quickly, and need to be freshened up from time to time.  The good news is that if you’ve been formally trained to a high level, you’ll find it easier to quickly do a self-administered refresher course.

So once every six months, do some dry firing practice at home (rapid presentation from concealment using the actual holsters you carry in, trigger control, and malfunction clearances), and then go to your local range and shoot some rounds through each of your primary self defense guns (yes, I am using the plural, because you do have multiple self defense guns, don’t you?).

Doing this helps you combine the preceding point about replacing critical ammo, and then encourages you to do the first point, about checking and cleaning your weapons, too.

4.  Springs

I don’t know about you, but I never keep any magazine fully loaded to its capacity with ammo, except when I’m on the range and about to use it, or temporarily in an ultimately hostile environment.

All my carry weapons have at least one (single stack magazines) or two (double stack magazines) unfilled position, so the springs are never compressed to their maximum.

I also rotate magazines on a regular basis so that some are always kept empty and some are kept nearly full, to further reduce spring fatigue.

This is important.  Make no mistake – good men have lost their lives because they’ve been relying on a magazine that has sat, passively, with the spring fully compressed, perhaps for a year or more at a time.

I swap full and empty magazines over much more often than once every six months, but if you only do it twice a year, you’re still much better off than never doing it.

Now, let me tell you what I do do every six months.  I disassemble my magazines and check the springs to see if they still have enough tension in them.  This is easily done by simply seeing how far the spring extends out of the magazine once you remove its end cap.

Most gun manufacturers will tell you their specification for the minimum amount of additional spring extension outside of the magazine (usually expressed in so many zigs and zags of spring, or perhaps more simply in how many inches stick out).  If you can’t get this information, buy a new magazine and immediately disassemble it.  Take a picture of the spring sticking out the end of the magazine with a ruler alongside so you can see how many inches out it sticks.  Print out a copy and keep it in your gun safe with your spare magazines, and use that as a reference point.

You can allow springs to lose a small amount of tension compared to a new magazine’s spring, but if you see any magazine spring losing more tension than the others, you know it is time to replace the spring, and when they all have significantly deviated from the new magazine spring, it is again time to replace their springs.

5.  Batteries

What do you have in your ‘kit’ that uses batteries?  Several tactical flashlights, for sure.  Maybe a laser sight.  Goodness only knows what else.

Make the daylight saving switches a time to check batteries, and also to inventory your reserve of spare batteries.

Open up the battery compartment of everything that has batteries, and make sure the batteries haven’t swollen or started to leak.

If you have devices that use non-standard sized batteries, make sure you have spares, and make sure they are where you expect them to be.

And for all the things you have that use AA and AAA batteries, consider replacing the batteries ‘whether they need replacing or not’ in items that you occasionally use, and give a good test of the batteries in items you seldom or never use.

For batteries you’ve left in devices for some time, check their expiry dates.  If you’re within a year of the expiry date, why not replace them anyway.

Feb 142011

The Taurus Judge takes .410 shot shells and .45 Colt cartridges

Here’s an interesting couple of videos – the first being an interview with a homeowner in the Denver CO area who was forced to defend himself against three intruders who broke into his house one night.  At least one of the intruders was armed; the homeowner defended himself successfully with his own pistol, and subsequently was interviewed on a local news program.

The second interview is with the Denver District Attorney who explains why, according to Colorado law and the facts of that particular case, he decided the shooting was justified – note in particular how one of the two reporters was trying to feed him a line about it being a vigilante shooting, and his very reasoned and rational response.

His decision as to this being a justifiable act of self defense of course probably would not apply in other states and/or in other situations, but it gives you some insight into the way the legal mind works in reviewing a home defense situation, as well as insight also into how you may react and what you should expect.

Also on the linked page is some commentary from Front Sight founder, Dr Ignatius Piazza, on the situation, and about how it is generally better not to agree to a television interview after being involved in an incident such as this.

I was interested in the handgun that was used – a Taurus Judge – a five chamber revolver that shoots either .410 shotgun shells or .45 ‘Long Colt’ (not regular ACP) rounds.  The shotgun shells need to be short 2.5″ long shells, rather than longer 2.75″ or 3″ (although Taurus now make a model that will handle the 3″ long shells too), and can have various different loads in them.   The 000 buck rounds hold just three balls (in 2.5″ length).

This review isn’t very positive about the Judge in terms of self defense, although it seems likely that it could be effective as at least a ‘scare them away’ weapon; perhaps loaded with the Number 4 shot, which very rapidly disperses to cover a large area.  I’ll try shooting one some time to let you know what the recoil is like – my guess is that it packs an awful punch.

Feb 132011

Charter Arms Pink Lady in .38 +P

So I was doing what I like best the other day – browsing through a gun shop.  As seems to so often be the case, it was busy with lots of people and too few store assistants, and I found myself chatting with a woman waiting to be served.  She was probably in her early 60s.

She was considering the purchase of her first ever firearm.  Her adult children were encouraging her in this and were also in the store, but they had been distracted and were looking at other gun goodies themselves, leaving her to look at a small light weight short barreled pink revolver.  Her son had recommended this would be a good gun for her.

I guess it might work as a carry gun, and it wouldn’t look out of place in a lady’s purse the way an ‘evil’ workmanlike blued steel creation might.  So I approached the matter cautiously and asked her what she wanted it for – a carry gun or a home defense gun.

She said she’d never choose to carry it.  She just wanted something for home defense.  There had been burglaries in her neighborhood, and after years of hating and being scared of firearms, her worries about her own safety overwhelmed her dislike of guns, and with the active encouragement of her adult children she was now about to buy her own gun for self defense at home.

Her sons had recommended this pink revolver to her, because it looked nice and because it was small and lightweight.

Which scored them a fail on all three points.

Listen up, ladies.  If you’re confronting a bad guy, you don’t want to show him a pink pistol.  The only way that would work would be if he died laughing.  If you need to present your weapon at a bad guy, you need to put the fear of God into him, and to immediately dominate and control the situation.  He needs to know, at a very basic primal level, both that the gun pointed at him could kill him, and that the person pointing the gun is ready and willing to do so.  Paradoxically, the more lethal looking your gun – and you – are perceived to be, the less likely you are to need to actually take a life.  A pink gun doesn’t have nearly the same authority as does a regular blued, or black, or even stainless steel gun.

Now next, let’s talk about size.  The heavier the gun, the easier it is to shoot, with less recoil.  The longer the barrel, not only the heavier it is, but the more accurate it becomes and the ‘nicer’ it is to shoot, with less muzzle flash and muzzle blast.

If you’re not needing to choose a small lightweight gun to carry with you, then choose the biggest heaviest longest barreled pistol you can find as a home defense weapon.  You’ll shoot straighter and better, and you’ll also dominate the situation much more with a big and ‘dangerous/deadly’ looking pistol than you will with a tiny ladies gun.

I tried to explain these issues to her, but her sons had told her to get a small pretty pistol, and I was merely a passing stranger in a gun store.  Who was she going to believe?

And possibly, for some of you now reading this, I’m similarly merely some guy writing some sort of blog.  That’s okay.  Because you don’t have to trust or believe me (or, even if you’re tempted to, take note of that famous line ‘Trust, but Verify’).  So, before you buy any gun, try it out, and also try out some other guns – bigger and smaller in size/weight; and of larger or smaller caliber.

You want to get a gun that you can fire a dozen times without it becoming painful to you, and which you can fire without flinching.  Any such gun, for sure, will be much bigger and heavier than what you might have first expected.

As for the issue of revolver vs semi-auto, that’s a really complicated topic and the subject for another discussion entirely.  And please don’t even get me started on the choice of caliber…..

Feb 092011

A CZ75 showing impressive accuracy

I went shooting with an acquaintance the other night for the first time (that is, for the first time with him, not the first time I went shooting!).  He could out-shoot me every which way, and did an excellent job of getting rounds close or exactly on the target bullseye, at quite impressive ranges.

But.  And it is a big but.  Although he could shoot very accurately, he would not be a good person to take lessons from in learning the art of prudent firearms-based self defense.

Firstly, he was not wearing a rimmed hat at the indoor range we were at.  What is wrong with that?  Well, he discovered that himself when an ejected shell casing dropped down and wedged itself in the frame along the side of his safety glasses.  Indeed, he was lucky the shell casing didn’t go down the front of the safety glasses.  You should always wear a rimmed hat at the range to protect yourself from ejected shell casings (they can be very hot and burn quite severely).

Second, his Glock was dripping in oil.  Glocks are dry guns, they run best with almost no oil at all.  With any gun, too much oil can provide a base to attract dirt, dust, grit and grime, and can actually increase rather than decrease the chance of the gun malfunctioning.  It is best to almost underoil rather than overoil most guns, and this is absolutely the case with Glocks, which work astonishingly well with little or no oiling, ever (just the slightest hint of Break-Free on a few of the surfaces).

Third, he proudly showed me how he had a custom trigger job on his Glock.  He had a lighter pull trigger installed by a gunsmith, and then he personally polished and smoothed all the moving surfaces to make the trigger even lighter still.  The gun  probably had no more than a 1lb (2 lbs max) trigger pull and almost no movement in the trigger.  Indeed, it was so extreme that at one point in these modifications, he told me the gun started firing full auto rather than semi-auto.

Yes, a crisp trigger that doesn’t need a ton of pulling power or much finger movement is a good thing, but this was far beyond that.  And it opens him up to increased legal liabilities.  Which brings me to the fourth point.

Fourth, he proudly told me how he had managed to secure a supply of ‘law enforcement only’ (LEO) ammunition.  He said it was hard to buy the LEO ammo, because most places wanted details of his employment in a law enforcement organization (which he is not), but he managed to find a mail order place that sent it to him no questions asked.  He showed me a box of it, with ‘Law Enforcement Only’ prominently labeled on the front.

He said ‘it is legal to own this in Washington’ but that is beside the point.

Let’s look at these last two issues and their implication.  What say he was your friend, and you eagerly copied everything he did, and you too had a massively worked-on pistol with LEO ammunition.  Now let’s say you ended up having to use your gun in self defense.  The police are going to impound your gun and examine it, and also examine the ammunition you were using, as part of their formal review procedure.

They’ll see a modified gun with a much lighter trigger pull (and you better cross your fingers and pray the gun doesn’t suddenly start shooting in full auto mode for them too!), and they’ll see you using LEO ammunition.  If the shooting is in a somewhat grey area, these factors will count against you.

You have three things to worry about after any use of lethal force.  The first is the police and whether they will choose to arrest you and file charges or not.  Their decision will be influenced by all the facts in the case, and for sure, your demeanor, as demonstrated by the type of gun you were carrying and the type of ammunition it was loaded with, are relevant and influential facts.  If you have a stock standard pistol, with ‘off the shelf’ ammo, you score positively or neutrally in both cases.  But a heavily modified gun to make it easier to fire quicker, and restricted ammunition that in at least the opinion of the ammo manufacturer you should not even own?  Those are two big negatives that will definitely increase your chance of having charges filed.

Now the second thing to worry about is how the DA will handle your case.  Will he proceed to take it to court?  Will he go for the most severe charges possible?  Like the police, he too will look at all the facts of the case, and from two perspectives.  First, he’ll look at it from the perspective of the applicable law.  And secondly, he’ll look at it from the perspective of ‘Is this guy a sympathetic or unsympathetic person – will the public support me for prosecuting him or not?’  And, thirdly, he’ll look at it from the perspective of ‘If I proceed to trial, how likely am I to win a conviction?  How can I sell this to the jury?’  And you’ve just given him two huge selling points, haven’t you.

There’s a third thing to worry about.  At least the police and prosecutor are reasonably fair minded people, and stand to get only minimal personal gain from winning a conviction against you.  But what about a civil case filed against you by the bad guy (or his estate)?  You’re in a totally different scenario there.  They have a huge upside if they win a financial judgment against you (for potentially all the money you have in the world, all your houses, cars, and everything else).  They have no fairness factor shading their actions at all.  They are motivated by money, by greed, and by revenge, and they will be aided in this process by an attorney representing them for free, in return for picking up a share of any winnings they get against you (probably 30% – 50% of their winnings will go to the attorney).

Maybe you lucked out, with friendly fair police and a high-minded realistic DA and you had no criminal charges filed against you.  Or maybe you did have charges pressed against you, but managed to beat them at trial, because of the very high burden of proof placed on the prosecution.

But now you’re in a civil trial, with a much lower burden of proof, and you have an attorney opposing you who won’t hesitate to use every unfair play he can come up with, including making you out to be a gun crazed killer, a wanna-be Rambo, with a gun modified to make it more deadly, and with ammunition so dangerous that civilians aren’t trusted with it, but which you had somehow dishonestly obtained.

When you combine this type of rhetoric with the general misunderstandings of firearms-based self defense in the first place, and a jury that will inevitably have at least one or two people who hate firearms with a passion, you’re in a world of hurt.

About the only thing we could hope for is that your over-oiled gun would jam before firing the first shot.

So – moral of the story?  Just because a guy can shoot well at the range doesn’t mean you should turn to him for advice on self defense in general (or even about how to shoot well, either, but that’s a story for another time…..).