Sep 052011
 
Fire Dept of New York Ambulance

The chances are you'll survive a bullet wound

The bad news is that if you get in a gun fight, you’ve got about a 50% chance of being hit by the other guy’s shooting (okay, there are so many variables at work as to make that a more or less meaningless statistic, but the bottom line is that you’re as likely to cop a round of incoming as not if you start shooting at someone who is shooting back at you).

The good news is that you’re not likely to die, at least if you get hit only once, assuming it not to be a ‘lucky’ shot (or should that be ‘unlucky’ shot?) and further assuming that you get competent medical treatment not long after.

This also assumes you’re both firing ordinary pistol bullets at each other.  If the other guy has a high powered rifle, then all bets are off.  Rifle wounds are massively more lethal than pistol wounds, and with a rifle being inherently more accurate to start with, if the other guy has a rifle and looks like he knows what to do with it, then you should think hard and long about your options before starting a firefight.

This immediately past weekend, from Saturday morning through Monday evening, has seen 42 gun shot victims in New York City – an amazing statistic when you consider it has pretty much the strictest gun control laws of the entire country.  What are people doing with guns in NYC?  Don’t they know it is illegal?

Mayor Bloomberg’s response is totally predictable.  The solution to 42 shootings in a single weekend is, he says, more gun control.  Yup.  He’s already made owning guns close to illegal and carrying guns totally illegal, and shooting people is illegal too.  So when these laws prove to be totally useless and completely ignored by criminals, his solution is to make them double illegal.

That will change nothing.  Indeed, it would be interesting to know how many lives New York’s current gun laws have saved – my guess is that the laws have cost lives rather than saved them, based on what has happened in almost the entire rest of the country, where there is an inarguable correlation between more permissive gun laws and fewer gun crimes and indeed, fewer crimes of violence in general – see our earlier discussion on this point.

Oh – be very afraid.  Not only does Mayor Bloomberg want to throw more stupidity at the hapless citizens of NYC, but he is calling for more federal restrictions on gun ownership too.  Yup.  NYC has a gun crime problem that is pretty much unique to NYC, so the mayor’s solution is to ask for gun restrictions in other states thousands of miles away; to make them more like NYC.  Here’s some news, Mayor Mike – if we wanted to live in a NYC type environment, we’d already be there.

It is hard to know which is the more breathtaking – his arrogance or his stupidity.  Both are regrettable.

But, ooops, getting sidetracked there.  The main topic of this post is not New York’s crazy dysfunctional gun laws, or the venally stupid politicians who create them, and neither is it to ponder on what strange chemical there must be in the city’s drinking water that causes NY’s citizens to vote for such politicians and to support such clearly wrong-headed policies.

Nope, we’re here to talk about gunshot wound survivability.

So, of these 42 people shot, including some people shot more than once, guess how many people were killed?  It will have to be a bit of a WAG (wild a**ed guess) because we don’t know how many were shot by pistols and how many by rifles or shotguns (it seems that most if not all were from pistols), but go ahead and have a guess.

What do you think?  30?  20?  10?  How many were killed?

The real answer is one.  Yes, 42 people shot, and only one killed.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Getting shot is no laughing matter, and even if you’re not killed, you might spend extended time in hospital, followed by months or years in physical therapy, and possibly lose the use of a limb or a sense permanently.  You definitely don’t want to get shot, and it is no laughing matter if you are shot.  Furthermore, the best sense I can get is that normally you’re looking at closer to a 20% mortality rate from pistol wounds – the 2.5% mortality rate in NYC this past weekend is much lower than normal.

However, whatever the mortality risk actually is – 2% or 20%, there are two very important lessons from this.

First, if you do get shot, don’t give up.  You’re not yet dead; you’ll probably live, and you’ve not yet lost the fight.  Keep your gun running, and stay in the fight.  Willpower, the drive to survive, and the essential need to triumph can keep you going; whereas a lack of willpower that causes you to give up as soon as you’ve been slightly wounded will definitely see you lose.

Expect to be wounded.  Mentally prepare yourself for it, and accept it when it happens, and stay in the fight.

Second, flip the scenario around.  Your opponent can also stay in the fight, even after soaking up one, two, three, four or more rounds (there have been cases of bad guys taking over ten rounds and staying active for some minutes).  Especially if the bad guy is high on some sort of drugs that alter his body chemistry and pain/injury response, he might not even notice the impact of the bullets and may keep on at you until he bleeds out or you land a kill shot that severs a vital artery or nerve.

Don’t stop to see what happens after firing one or two shots.  As long as the bad guy is on his feet and closing the distance on you, keep sending rounds at him.  Shoot him until the deadly threat he poses to you has ended.  This might be when he drops his gun and sinks to his knees, ten feet away, with his hands clearly visible and empty.  It might be when he turns and runs away.  But as long as he is advancing on you, and as long as the circumstances that caused you to need to use deadly force remain present, then he is still just as much a threat as before you hit him the first, second, and subsequent times.

Even seriously wounded people can still pull the trigger of the gun in their hand.  Even seriously wounded people can throw themselves on top of you and plunge a knife through your throat, your eyes, or your ribcage and heart.

There’s a reason the police don’t just shoot once at a bad guy.  Don’t go berserk and pepper him with 50 rounds, but don’t stint on the firepower either until he ceases to be a credible deadly threat.

Here’s a link to the article that counted 42 gun shot injuries.  Here’s a link to an article giving more details about eight of the casualties.

Update : The count is now up to 46 shootings, with two more hours of the day still to go before the end of the holiday weekend.  But still only one death.  Way to go, Mayor Mike.  Good job on that gun control thing you’ve got going there.

Aug 312011
 

The scene of the fatal shooting in CO, from gazette.com

We can learn from other people’s experiences.  Hopefully if we take such lessons to heart, we won’t be as unfortunate as to repeat their mistakes.

So whenever you come across an account of any situation where deadly force was used, don’t merely skim through it, but read it carefully and ask yourself “What is the ‘takeaway’ item I can learn from this”.

Sometimes the takeaway item – the bullet point or elevator summary – of what occurred is subtle and hard to find.  And then, sometimes, it hits you between the eyes, and there’s not just one or two but plenty of learning experiences to embrace.

Here’s a useful example from Colorado.  This story tells how the daughter of a shot (and killed) burglar was awarded $300,000 in a civil suit against the business owner who shot him.  An earlier story provides more background into the incident.

Civil lawsuits are sometimes the second part of the many downsides you should be aware of which follow from the use of deadly force.  And whereas a criminal prosecution requires proof ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ for the prosecution to succeed, a civil suit only needs ‘a preponderance of evidence’ to prevail.  In other words, think of a 99% or higher requirement for criminal convictions, but merely a 51% requirement for a civil suit to succeed.

And just because either the police decline to prosecute, or even if they do and you’re found not guilty, that doesn’t mean you’re safe from a civil lawsuit – think back to the OJ Simpson case where he was found not guilty in the criminal court but guilty in a civil trial that followed.

In the Colorado example above, and to my amazement when looking at the apparent facts as reported in the two articles, it seems the local district attorney declined to prosecute, and a Grand Jury also declined to return an indictment.  I’ll guess their thinking was along the lines of ‘It wasn’t really a 100% justifiable shooting, but the guy who was shot was definitely a low-life bad guy, and on balance we don’t think we should send the shooter to prison for killing a low-life, and we can understand how he felt, even if it was probably not the best decision he made’.

But in the civil trial, the jury there probably thought in different terms, perhaps more like ‘Okay, so the dead man was a criminal, but he didn’t really deserve to be shot and killed while hiding in a shed, and for sure, his 3 year old daughter now needs some help’, and because it was a civil trial, the jury could find for the dead man’s daughter and the ‘worst’ that happened to the shooters was that they had to pay damages to the daughter, with the jury probably reasoning ‘They can better afford to give some money to the girl, who needs it more than they do; it is the least they can do after killing her father unnecessarily’.

You can’t always rely on prosecutors and grand juries being so lenient, but you can pretty much always anticipate reasoning such as guessed at above in a civil case, any time that the shooting circumstances are less than very clearly 100% justifiable and unavoidable.

Now for the takeaway items in this case.  Here are four obvious ones.  First, Colorado doesn’t have a ‘castle doctrine’ type law that applies to people protecting their businesses, only to people protecting their homes.  The shooter and his two associates/relatives did not have the force of the law backing up their actions.  Second, the facts of the encounter were such to make it very difficult for the shooters to claim they were in imminent and certain fear of their lives, and were shooting in self defense.  Third, they had told various people they would shoot trespassers in the future.  Fourth, the shooter hid the gun he had used to shoot the burglar.

The moral of the story, quite apart from the obvious one of only using deadly force when you’re in deadly danger yourself, is not to go around boasting about your intention to kill burglars in the future, whether they pose deadly threats to you or not.  Clearly, those stories will come back to haunt you if you subsequently use deadly force, no matter whether it was or was not justified at the time – in this case, even an employee of the shooter voluntarily approached the police to report the shooter’s earlier claims about shooting trespassers.  This person probably risked his future employment with the shooter by doing this, but did so anyway.  Your own friends and associates might do the same.

The other moral is not to lie to the police and act in a guilty manner.  Hiding the gun that was used to fire the fatal shot was not the act of an innocent person.  It shows the shooter to have been feeling guilty about his actions, and if you’re feeling guilty about your actions, it is difficult to simultaneously take the moral high ground, as you must, and say ‘I’m very sorry, I didn’t want to shoot him or anyone else, but I had no choice but to do so because I was in fear of my life’.  How can you simultaneously be saying you reluctantly but properly had to use deadly force to protect yourself, but at the same time, you are hiding the gun you used in self defense?

If you have more time, you might want to read through the pages and pages of police reports on the incident (linked from the original article).  If you do, you’ll get more of a feeling for police procedures, and you’ll also realize one more important thing.  Everything you say or do, and how you act and behave, is going into the police reports, and will subsequently be read by prosecutors, grand juries, and possibly regular juries too, and when these other people are reading these reports, they will be reading them out of context.

You want the reports to say that you were cooperative and helpful.  They can certainly say that you seemed distressed and upset – because you will be, indeed it is probably better to be recorded as being distressed/upset rather than jubilant, relaxed and happy!  But you don’t want them to say you were uncooperative, cagey, changing your story, argumentative, belligerent, and so on.

That is not to say you need to ‘cooperate’ with the police beyond a point of prudence, and it is also not to say you need to volunteer additional testimony at the scene beyond the obvious essentials, particularly if it might be rushed out before you’ve had a chance to calm down and understand, yourself, as best you can what happened.  Remember – when the police attend a shooting, they are looking to charge someone with a serious felony offense – you need to make sure that they don’t mistakenly fixate on you as the person to be charging.

Aug 172011
 

 

Testing a shotgun's penetration into drywall (from boxotruth.com)

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.

Aug 112011
 

A clip from the video linked below showing a mugger at work. He surprises an unaware woman and steals her phone.

We regularly come back to the need for situational awareness.  You want to live most of your life in ‘Condition Yellow’ and try not to be caught out in ‘Condition White’.

Which brings us to the video you can see in this article, showing a woman walking down a surprisingly empty street in San Francisco, talking on her phone.  As she walks into the camera’s field of view, we then see that she is oblivious about being stalked by a ne’er-do-well behind her – we can only guess as to how long he has been back there, checking out the area and getting a feeling for how vulnerable she is.

Even though there are only the two of them on an otherwise empty street, she is completely unaware of his presence and so gets a nasty surprise when he suddenly leaps at her and wrestles her phone away, then runs off with it.

Fortunately, all the woman lost was her cell phone, and she even ended up getting that back, thanks to the volunteered help of the taxi driver who was filming the incident from his dash cam.  But it could have been worse, and – most of all – it could have been prevented, if she’d turned around and briefly looked directly at the bad guy, then put her cell phone away, crossed the road, and continued where she was going.

Learn from this incident, and make sure it isn’t you being featured next time.  You want to live most of your life in ‘Condition Yellow’ and try never to be caught out in ‘Condition White’.

Aug 072011
 

Mayhem and potentially murder when riots rage around you

The good news is this appalling incident is less likely to happen much more in the future, because it occurred in Wisconsin, which last month passed a law allowing its citizens to get concealed weapon permits.

But the bad news is that it happened at all.  I don’t know if it is a passing craze, or a new media focus, or whatever, but my sense is there are a growing number of ‘flash mob’ type mini-riots occurring in the country these days, situations where a group of people suddenly congregate and go wild for no apparent reason, attacking ordinary peaceful other citizens in a location that you’d not normally consider an at-risk location.

Here is a report of this particular flash-mob that formed at the exit to the Wisconsin state fairgrounds.  You’ll note that the police were less than effective, and some police, a mere block or two away, busied themselves with directing traffic rather than going to assist at all!  Although some police did get into the middle of things, and were even injured, they were woefully outnumbered and unable to protect and prevent lawful citizens leaving the fairgrounds from being victimized, terrified, and assaulted.

Once again, we’re reminded that the only people we can count on to defend us in an emergency is our own selves – us personally and hopefully the loved ones and close friends with us.

Note also the muted reporting on the subject of whether it was black people selectively attacking white people only.  On the other hand, this report quotes people with obviously vested interests as saying it was only black people fighting other black people.  Ordinary citizens saw black people selectively attacking white people, but public officials did not.  Hmmmm……

What Would You Do?

This sort of situation raises a very difficult question.  What would you do if you found yourself in the middle of such a mob, and a group of youths attacked you?  (Assume, for the sake of this discussion, that you were carrying a pistol with you, as hopefully you always do.)

The significant outcome of most of these flash mob attacks is that no-one has been killed, or even gravely/critically wounded.  Sure, people have been punched up, kicked down, and generally injured, but is it really a situation where you can truly say you feared for your life; is it truly a situation that warrants the use of deadly force?

On the other hand, it may well be that you had no ability to retreat.  If your state has a ‘stand your ground’ law, why should you either try ineffectively to run away, or passively accept a beating?  And just because few people have been critically injured or killed, that’s no guarantee that you might not be less fortunate.

Let’s think what would happen if you did resort to your gun.  When you pull it out, if you don’t start shooting immediately, one of three things will happen.  Either the flash mob will run away screaming, or it will taunt you and get closer to you (and they may already be way too close for comfort), forcing you to either use your gun or lose it, or, option three, someone in the flash mob also has a gun, and he (or they if more than one) will draw it and shoot you first.

If the flash mob runs away screaming without you needing to fire a single shot, then good job, well done.  But how likely is that?

Let’s think about scenario #2.  They crush in towards you, leaving you no choice but either to surrender your gun (and risk having it used against you) or to start shooting.  Even if you managed to disable the weapon before it was taken from you (at the very least, releasing the magazine and kicking it away) you’ve raised the odds and probably increased the severity of the beating you’ll get.

Maybe you fire a warning shot in the air (not really advised by most experts).  Perhaps they’ll now turn around and run away screaming, but even if they wanted to, maybe – if there is a crush of others behind them, they can’t.  Do you then start shooting for real, or do you surrender your weapon and hope for the best?

And what if you start shooting?  You’ll have half a dozen people all crowding in on you, and more behind them.  How to fight them all off with only one gun and however many rounds in its magazine?

The answers to these questions fall into two parts – legal issues to do with the justifiability of you shooting at these attackers, and the tactical issues of how best to get a positive outcome from your situation.

Legal Issues

I asked a respected attorney who specializes in gun law issues for his opinion on the situation.  Unfortunately, his opinion is only valid in the one state he practices law in, and each state has different legislation (and customary practice) in terms of what is acceptable use of deadly force and what is not.

Based on the laws of his state, he believes that shooting at your attackers would probably be justified in his state – a state that says there is no obligation to retreat, and which allows you to shoot in self defense if you have a reasonable fear of imminent danger to yourself or loved ones and if such an action is what a reasonable person could be expected to do.

But your state laws may be very different, and no matter what your laws are, there is also this very vague standard of what a ‘reasonable’ person would do.  Maybe your state law allows for use of deadly force in terms of the theory of the legislation, but maybe the practice of how the case law has modified and interpreted the words of the law is such that what you think is a permissive empowerment to defend yourself is actually no such thing.

Maybe a ‘reasonable’ person in your state might think it more reasonable to submit to a beating than to kill one or many attackers?  Surely you’ve heard people say ‘nothing ever justifies taking a human life’ – maybe they say this in opposition to capital punishment, even for the most depraved mass murderers, and often they say it when explaining why they think no-one should be allowed to own guns.  Normally you might just roll your eyes when hearing this and move on, recognizing a viewpoint that you have nothing in common with and are unlikely to change.  But what would you do if you were faced with a jury of people who all subscribed to that point of view – all viewing your actions as ‘unreasonable’ by their fervently held viewpoints?

So the legal issues are murky.  Let’s all pray you don’t find yourself becoming a test case in your state.  If you have a genuine concern, you should consult a good attorney in your state who specializes in firearms and self defense law, and if you get a written opinion with him, please share it with us so we can share it with everyone else.

Tactical Issues

Okay, so if you find yourself where you are forced to shoot, what is the best way to solve the problem you are confronted with, causing minimum loss of life and ensuring your own safety?

I asked two people, both with a huge amount of real world experience, what they would recommend.  One is a former Marine, and a former LAPD officer in some of the worst neighborhoods of Los Angeles, and is a massively credentialed firearms trainer.  The other is a former Navy officer and sworn member of one of the Justice Department’s many branches, and again a well credentialed firearms trainer.

They both agreed that the thing to do is to assertively point your weapon at the person who seems to be ringleader, simultaneously look him straight in the eye, and tell him ‘Back Off!  Or you’ll be the first person I shoot!’  Then point it at a second person and say ‘You’ll be second!  Back Off!’  and perhaps give the same warning to a third person.

Then, if they continue to advance, and particularly if they are getting to ten feet or so of you, and they have ignored your warnings, you’re going to need to start shooting.  One of these two people said ‘If there are other people behind them (and there probably will be) consider dropping down on one knee and then shooting up at the person’s head so that the round doesn’t pass through their body and into additional people behind them’.

I understand the good sense of that advice, but you’re sacrificing dexterity and maneuverability in doing so, and head shots are more difficult to take at the best of times.  Do you really want to put yourself at much greater risk so as to make it safer for the person behind the first bad guy – a person who is far from being labeled as an ‘innocent bystander’?  Furthermore, by dropping down to this position, you’re less authoritative – although it could be argued that the gun in your hand that starts shooting compensates for that!

If you’re comfortable with your ability to drop to a one knee position and still command the situation, shoot accurately, and fight effectively, by all means do so.  But right now, your highest priority is your personal survival, not protecting the people who you may well be forced to shoot in a few seconds time.

A Force Multiplier

Lastly, a thought that you need to get front and center into your mind, always.  Try and encourage the people who go places and do things with you to also be armed.  This will not only enhance their own personal safety, but yours too.

Which would you rather experience?  A deadly threat from multiple attackers where you have to simultaneously protect you and a second, defenseless person; or a deadly threat where you have a partner alongside you, also armed and skilled at the use of their firearm?

Friends don’t let friends be unarmed.

One last thought.  You are less likely to need to use your guns if there are two of you and both armed, because you’re a much stronger adversary and you can probably defuse the situation without needing to resort to lethal force.  Which is an interesting concept to tell a friend who is not sure about carrying – ‘If you have a gun, too; then we’re less likely to need to use them than if I am the only one armed’.

We’ll return to the topic of encouraging your friends to become armed citizens in a subsequent post.  It is a very important topic, deserving of its own standalone post.

Aug 022011
 
A selection of pistol bullets

L to R = .22 LR, .32 ACP, .380 ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, 5.7x28

(This is part two of a three part series.  Please also visit ‘Choosing a Lightweight, Small, Concealable Sub-Compact or Pocket Pistol‘ and ‘How to Best Carry Concealed a Sub-Compact Pocket Pistol‘.)

If you’re getting some type of pocket pistol, you generally have a choice between .32 ACP and .380 ACP.  But there are plenty of other options too – there are still pistols available with smaller calibers – the .25 Auto and even various types of .22 LR cartridges are sometimes featured in sub-compact pistols.

And you can get 9mm pistols that are only a little bigger than some of the .380 Auto chambered pistols.  Then you might think to yourself that if you’ve gone a little bigger, up to a 9mm caliber pistol, it is only another relatively small step to .40 S&W, and so on and so on beyond that.

Where to start and where to stop?

How Underpowered is Too Underpowered?  How Powerful is Too Powerful?

If you have to set cut-offs for too big and too small, then let’s arbitrarily set them as anything less than .32 ACP is too small and anything bigger than .380 ACP is too big.

But this is just for the sake of simplicity.  Any gun of any caliber is better than no gun at all, and bigger is usually better than smaller (assuming the gun remains controllable without too much recoil).

Here’s a heart warming story of a woman who killed an attacker with a single shot from a .22 caliber derringer she had hidden in her bra – and judging by the picture of the attacker, he was a big man.  However, being able to incapacitate an attacker with a single .22 round is extremely unusual, and you’d be very well advised not to rely on such an underpowered round for your own future safety.

Your Two Main Choices – .32 ACP and .380 ACP

The .32 ACP tends to have a round weighing 65 – 71 grains, a velocity of 925 – 900 ft/sec and 123 – 128 ft lbf of energy (the velocity and energy figures assume a 4″ barrel – your pocket pistol will have a much shorter barrel, so will develop less velocity and energy).

The .380 ACP tends to have a round weighing 85 – 95 grains, a velocity of 1050 – 955 ft/sec, and 193 – 220 ft lbf of energy (with a 3.75″ barrel).

As you can see from these stats, the larger .380 is almost 50% heavier, 10% faster, and has 60% more energy.  It is definitely a superior round.

But why stop there?  If you upgrade further to a 9mm chambered pistol, you will have rounds weighing 115 – 147 grains, traveling at 990 – 1430 ft/sec, and with 320 – 520 ft lbf of energy (the upper numbers being +P+ loaded cartridges).  That’s twice the weight and three times the power of the .32 ACP, and 30% or more weight compared to the .380 ACP and about twice its power.

And then, of course, there’s .40 S&W and .45 ACP and so on and so on.  Where to stop? (Answer = A .50 BMG caliber Barrett rifle, firing a 650 – 800 grain bullet out of a 35″ barrel at about 3,000 ft/sec and with up to 15,000 ft lbf of energy!)

A rifle weighing 30lbs or more and 4 ft long is clearly not concealable.  So let’s return to reality, and remember that our prime consideration here is a pistol you will always carry that is ultra-concealable.  You are sacrificing some power and magazine capacity in return for smaller size, lighter weight, and greater concealability.  The issue is simply how far you should go on this sacrificial scale.

To look at the lower end of the energy scale, a .25 Auto round weighs about 35 – 50 grains, travels at 760 – 900 fps, and generates about 63 – 66 ft lbf (these figures from a 2″ barrel).  It is massively slower, lighter, and less powerful than even the .32 ACP.

In case you wonder, a .22 LR is in some respects more powerful than the .25 Auto.  Although the bullets are smaller (30 – 40 grain), they are faster (1000 – 1400 fps) and have more energy (100 – 150 ft lbf).

For the truly small pocket pistols, you probably should limit yourself to .380 ACP.  Try and skip the .32 ACP because there’s not really any extra advantage in terms of size/weight to justify the reduction in ‘stopping power’ between the .380 and .32 rounds, and don’t get a too small and light pistol in a heavier caliber.

If you really want 9mm or bigger/better (and good for you if you do) then get a ‘proper’ sized pistol to go with it so you’ve a more stable and accurate firing platform to work with.

(This was part two of a three part series.  Please also visit ‘Choosing a Lightweight, Small, Concealable Sub-Compact or Pocket Pistol‘ and ‘How to Best Carry Concealed a Sub-Compact Pocket Pistol‘.)

Aug 022011
 
Pocket Holsters for a Ruger LCR (l) and Seecamp (r)

Pocket Holsters for a Ruger LCR (l) and Seecamp (r)

(This is part three of a three part series on sub-compact pocket pistols.  Please also visit  ‘Choosing a Lightweight, Small, Concealable Sub-Compact or Pocket Pistol‘ and ‘Which Caliber to Choose for a Sub-Compact Pocket Pistol‘.)

There’s one main reason to choose a sub-compact small caliber pistol instead of a full size larger caliber pistol.  The ability to comfortably carry it in an ultra-concealed manner.  (A second possibility is using it as your backup gun if you are carrying two pistols with you.  And for a third reason, read on down to the section on the time/surprise advantage you can get with a pocket pistol.)

The rationale for the sub-compact is that it is better to have a less than ideal weapon conveniently on your person when you unexpectedly need it, than to have a full size optimized weapon – but not with you.  So in such cases, the ability to carry the sub-compact is of over-riding importance.

You can use all the regular methods of carry with a small pistol, of course.  Inside the waistband, ankle, shoulder, whatever.  But there’s one additional carry option that is probably your best choice, especially for men.  Where better to carry a ‘pocket pistol’ than in your pocket!

Yes, you should consider carrying a pocket pistol in your pocket.  You want to get a pocket ‘holster’ – this mainly acts to disguise the outline of the pistol, so that instead of looking like a pistol in your pocket, it looks like something flat and rectangular.

It also provides a bit of protection around the trigger, and by flattening out the barrel, lessens the stress on the bottom of your pocket.  You’ll still wear through pockets at an accelerated rate, but if you’re like me, and buy trousers at Walmart for $15 – $20 a pair, that’s no big deal, and it is probably cheaper/easier to simply buy more pairs of trousers than to repair pockets that you’ve worn through.

Pocket holsters usually have some sort of grip or anti-slip on them so that when you grab your pistol and pull it from your pocket, the holster (at least in theory, although not always in practice) stays behind.  But don’t worry about it; if the holster stays with the gun, you can shoot your first shot through it and it won’t make any difference at all.

Pocket holsters are not only very concealable, they are also better than any other type of holster for unobstrusively preparing to draw.  With most types of holsters, if a person reaches to put their hand on their weapon, it is 99% obvious – especially to a bad guy who is trying to decide if the person is a vulnerable target – what they are doing.  But what is suspicious or unusual about a person who has his hands in his pockets?  Nothing at all.

Indeed, you could even manage a draw in an extreme case if a mugger surprises you on the street and demands your wallet.  Hand over your wallet and drop it, then say ‘Oh, I’ve got a bill fold too’ or something like that, reach in your pocket while the bad guy is distracted, and either take out (or shoot through the pocket) your pistol.  (Note – it is seldom appropriate to shoot a mugger unless you’re convinced he/they are not going to simply let you go after taking your money.)  (Second note – this may work if the guy has a knife, I’m not sure I’d want to try it if he had a gun pointed directly at me!)

The Time and Tactical (Surprise) Advantage of a Pocket Pistol

Which leads to an unexpected benefit of pocket pistols that you can uniquely experience with them and no other type of carry weapon.

This is the ability to have your hand already wrapped around your pistol and ready to take it out of your pocket, a capability that gives you an extra margin of perhaps 0.5 – 1 second over the time it would take you to suddenly reach for your pistol, get a good firing grip, and then remove it from wherever it is being carried.  If you’ve a clutzy shoulder holster, or something with a retention/snap, or (perhaps worst of all) an ankle holster, your time advantage lengthens even more.

What can you do with even as small as ‘only’ 0.5 seconds of advantage?  Well, put it this way – in that same 0.5 seconds, the bad guy can get maybe 10 ft – 15 ft closer to you.  In that same 0.5 seconds, you can possibly fire two more rounds at him, and stop him sooner and further away.  In that same 0.5 seconds, you’ve seized the initiative and the other guy is now having to react to you and your control of the situation, rather than you having to react to him.

More likely, your time advantage is even more than 0.5 seconds – more like 1 second, giving you even more of an edge.

But be careful – ‘Wild West’ rules sort of apply even in this modern age – the other guy has to draw first, or, in modern parlance, has to become a real lethal threat.  You can’t shoot someone because you think they’re going to become a threat; you can only do so when they have become a real threat and when you have no other alternative (such as running away).

This time and surprise advantage is so great that it can win a battle for you.  When I’m carrying both a regular pistol in a regular rig and a pocket pistol in my pocket, if I feel threatened, I stick my hands in my pockets and look casual, calm, and unaware (hoping to de-escalate the situation rather than prematurely responding to what might not be a threat), while actually being the total opposite.  If it becomes necessary, I’ll use the time/surprise advantage of my pocket pistol to triage any threat that may eventuate, then switch to my main gun for the real work to finish the job.

This switching of pistols might be in the form of a ‘New York reload’ – ie, empty the pocket pistol’s magazine at the threat(s) then rather than reload it, draw the main gun for the rest of the job.  Or it could be, if attempting to control a situation that might not call for lethal force, rapidly presenting the pocket pistol, swapping it to my support hand, then presenting the main pistol with my firing hand and pocketing the smaller pistol at that point.  If a bad guy is surprised to see someone he thought to be a helpless victim suddenly present one pistol from nowhere, imagine his laundry bill when you then pull a second bigger pistol and point that at him authoritatively too!

So, here’s a key factor in choosing your pocket pistol.  You want it to be small enough to truly fit in your pocket.  You’ll discover that not all pockets are the same size – some trousers have deeper pockets than others, so choose an appropriate pair of trousers then test out guns complete with their appropriate pocket holsters before selecting the pistol you buy.

Worst case scenario, you might have to buy two or three pocket holsters if the gun store doesn’t have holsters available for you to try with their pistols.  But the pocket holsters are generally ambidextrous, and there are only a few sizes that between them fit almost all pocket pistols, and they’re not tremendously expensive, so it is a small and necessary investment in researching a pocket pistol.

In my case, my Seecamp fits in every pocket I have, even tailored suit trousers.  I consider my PPK too heavy, so rarely put it in a pocket, but will carry my Ruger LCR .38 SPL revolver (just under 16 ounces loaded with five rounds) and find it fits in many but not all casual trouser pockets but not in dress type trousers.

(This was part three of a three part series on sub-compact pocket pistols.  Please also visit  ‘Choosing a Lightweight, Small, Concealable Sub-Compact or Pocket Pistol‘ and ‘Which Caliber to Choose for a Sub-Compact Pocket Pistol‘.)

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
 
A real photo of Bonnie and Clyde

You don't have to be Bonnie and Clyde, but your partner should be gun totin' too

So there you are – the chips are down, you’re faced with two or three bad guys, and you’ve no alternative but to resort to deadly force to save yourself (and any loved ones with you).  Wouldn’t you be desperately keen to double your odds of not only surviving but also of winning the gun fight that is about to erupt?

Best of all, what would you say if I told you this strategy would cost you nothing?  No extra training on your part, no extra skills or equipment.  Sounds too good to be true?  Not at all, read on.

Many of us are married or in some other way in a committed relationship with another adult (how’s that for political correctness!), and in an appreciable number of cases, our partners are less likely to be competently carrying a weapon with them than we are, ourselves.  And therein lies the answer.  If you can persuade your partner to competently carry, too; then when things go bad, you’ve got yourself a partner, and the bad guys suddenly find themselves not with easy prey but with two determined citizens, fighting back with effective appropriate deadly force.

Who better to answer your partner’s questions and worries such as ‘I don’t like/hate/am scared by guns’, ‘I could never accurately shoot a gun’, ‘I could never bring myself to kill another person’ and ‘I’m worried the gun would be taken from me and used against me’ than you.  Most of all, point out that if they don’t/won’t use a gun in an hour of extreme need, not only are they voluntarily sacrificing their own life in favor of that of a low life, but they are also sacrificing your life, too.  Can you say to them ‘Okay, so maybe you’re willing to let a bad guy rape and murder you, but please would you shoot at him to protect me and my life?’

And how about any children or other dependents – your partner is making a decision that can have negative (or positive) consequences for them, too.  We all have people reliant on us and our continued well-being, and we have an obligation not only selfishly for our own sake, but for the sake of these other people too, to protect ourselves (and to protect them too if they’re with us when the brown stuff hits the fan).

I started off by saying that having your partner armed would double your odds of surviving/winning.  But an effectively armed partner probably increases your chances by an even greater factor.  Just like two tellers at the bank can more than halve the average wait time for people in line, so too can having an armed partner more than halve the risks you face.

Don’t get me wrong.  You might still get shot at, and you might even still get hit.  But that too displays a reason why two people are more than twice as good as one.  If you are by yourself, and something goes wrong – maybe a gun malfunction, maybe you’re hit, maybe you run out of ammo, maybe you’re blindsided by another attacker while you’re too fixated on the first one, or something/anything else, then your chances of survival have just plummeted down to close to zero.  There are no time-outs when the bad guys are trying to kill you.  But if you’ve an active partner, they’re still in the fight.  They can finish the fight, and then help you resolve your problem, whether it be as trivial as a failed gun, or as life threatening as a gunshot wound.  Lastly, you’ve also got a witness who can confirm your side of the story when the police arrive.

You are willing to use lawful lethal force to defend you and your partner if it ever becomes necessary.  Your partner should have a similar degree of commitment to you, to his/herself, and to the two of you (and any children you have).

Now remember this is all about having a competent partner at your side.  Just giving them a gun isn’t enough.  They need to get comfortable and familiar with it, and to develop the resolve and knowledge as to when they can and when they should not resort to it.

A great approach to getting them up to speed with firearms is to take them to a Front Sight Four Day Defensive Handgun course.  Maybe add some incentive by scheduling a couple of days in Vegas at the end of your training time at Front Sight’s school in Pahrump.  The gun skills and confidence they acquire and the associated lectures about tactics, strategy, and use of force will change their world view, and will give you an excellent partner at your side, should bad things ever happen to you.

This might save their life in the future, it might save your life, it might save someone else’s life.  Either which way, it is one of the best things you can do for both of you.  It also will help strengthen the everyday bond between you – ‘the family that shoots together, stays together’.