In some past articles, I’ve discussed some non-lethal means of personal defense, such as stun guns, and pepper spray. In the wake of the San Bernardino and Orlando shootings, I thought it appropriate to discuss the use of firearms, and specifically, handguns for self defense.
I will not go into the political side of this issue- much has been said already and there is no shortage of opinion.
However, as a former Special Agent, Police Officer, Firearms Instructor and competitive shooter, I will offer some considerations for those contemplating buying a gun for self defense. I don’t mean for this to be a dry, academic discussion, but rather, an interactive conversation to help you think this through.
Guns vs. Pepper Spray vs. Stun Guns
When it comes to personal defense, each of these has its place, and each has its limitations.
Pepper spray can be discreetly carried, can effectively incapacitate an attacker, and can be used from stand-off distances. That is, you don’t have to be in direct contact with your assailant.
On the other hand, pepper spray’s effectiveness is affected by wind, and may even blow back into your own face.
Stun guns can likewise be carried discreetly, and can even be disguised as a flashlight or cell phone. With some units putting out in excess of a million volts, they are also capable of immediately incapacitating an assailant for several minutes.
Their main drawback is that they must be put into physical contact with the assailant, which gives your attacker the opportunity to overpower you. Additionally, heavy clothing, such as a winter overcoat, may hamper the stun gun’s effectiveness.
You might ask, “What about a Taser? They can be shot from several feet away, and have proven to be very effective. That’s why police now carry them.” And you would be right. Tasers can be purchased for $3-4 hundred dollars and can be reloaded once used.
However, here are three things to think about: 1. You only get one shot. What if you miss? (Yes, they can be reloaded, but have you ever tried it? Not the fastest way, especially under intense stress.) 2. When the police employ them, they have a backup if the Taser fails – their handgun.
A Gun – Is It for Me?
I remember as a young, fresh-faced new Special Agent in the Firearms class at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Brunswick, Georgia (a long time ago!),being asked by the lead instructor at the beginning of the class, “How many of you are willing to take another person’s life in a split second, without a moment’s hesitation? Because a split second is all you get. If you are not, please find another occupation.”
Wow! That really stuck with me, and I have since asked the same question of the hundreds of students I’ve taught. It may sound callous, but that is the reality. There is an old adage that says, “Every bullet has a lawyer attached.” And that’s not far from the truth.
So let’s talk about the pros and cons of handguns for self defense. We’ll cover guns for home defense in an upcoming blog.
The single biggest advantage of carrying a handgun is that it simply is the most effective way to stop an attack. And with multiple bullets in the gun, if you miss (and you probably will under stress) you have “backup” ability to defend yourself. Modern bullets are much less affected by either wind or clothing, especially at the typical confrontational ranges.
But, as with any defensive tool, there are many things to consider. Let’s look at them.
Handguns are heavily regulated. There is much debate about it, and that is the subject for someone else’s article. But I mention it here, because for nearly all purchases (and again, there are exceptions, such as inheritances, etc.) you must go through a federally licensed dealer. And you must undergo an instant background check, and meet some specific guidelines.
Once done with that, you generally cannot simply stick it in your pocket or purse. Depending on where you live, you may be required to obtain a concealed carry license. Check your link state’s laws to see if this applies.
Load and Go?
Each gun has its own specific way of loading, unloading, making safe, cleaning, etc. Since guns do make a loud bang and recoil, practice is a MUST. You can’t just take it to the range once, fire 10 rounds and consider yourself qualified. Ongoing practice is essential, especially since you will be under considerable stress.
I remember when qualifying as a Distinguished Weapons Expert at FLETC, as I transitioned from my handgun to the shotgun, I pulled the trigger several times, and nothing happened! Then as the Range Officer’s voice came on the intercom announcing that I was dead, I realized, red-faced, that in the heat of the moment, I forgot to take the safety off! My classmates were amused. I was not.
A final Consideration
Probably the most compelling reason to be properly trained is the fact that once a bullet leaves the barrel, it cannot be recalled. The results are final.
That being said, I still believe that the handgun is the most effective means for self defense. The small-statured need not have brute physical force to be effective. It doesn’t require contact, and can be discreetly carried (where legal).
In future articles, I will cover some specifics, such as which gun should I buy? What about handguns for women? Which caliber should I choose? Concealed carry or open carry? Where can I get the most up to date information?
Please, if you have questions or comments, don’t hesitate to leave them below.
And Stay Safe!