Be sure you’ve read my title the right way. That would be, “How many guns do we need?” with incredulity and frustration in your voice.
I’m writing this article primarily for our female audience. It may help men understand us, perhaps, but it’s addressed to women. (And just maybe it will help men understand how to persuade us of something that they instinctively know.)
You see, I want to spend a few minutes with our female audience talking about why you need more than one gun. Men never seem to need such an explanation or an argument for this – they’re always OK with buying another gun.
When Phil and I started buying handguns a while ago, my questions before every purchase were, “Why do we need another gun?” and “What’s the purpose for this new gun?” Any purchase that exceeds our individual spending limit (which includes all of our gun purchases) have to be agreed upon by both of us. That means hubby needs my permission to make a purchase, and vice versa.
Once I became convinced that we needed to buy a gun for personal protection, I thought we would only need one gun. I figured it would be Phil’s concealed carry gun.
Shortly thereafter I agreed that after I became more comfortable with guns, I’d want a concealed carry gun for me, too. So the logical question for me at first was, “Which is the one best gun for me to carry?” Once we had the answer to that question, that’s what I would buy.
After much reading and research, we decided that we both wanted to carry a 9mm handgun. We judge it powerful enough to serve our needs with ammunition that was more affordable than other caliber options. We weren’t confident that a .22 (even a .22 magnum) would stop a threat, and a caliber bigger than a 9mm would be too much for a novice’s everyday carry (EDC) gun. So we decided that the best choice for us would be a 9mm semi-automatic.
But then Phil began to talk to me about the wisdom of buying a .22-caliber handgun first. “It’s a better gun to learn with,” he said. “Why not learn with the gun you’re going to carry every day?” I countered. Phil explained about the cost of ammunition. It’s significantly lower for a .22 than a 9mm, so the cost-effective way for new gun owners to become proficient at handling and shooting a handgun was to buy a .22 to use for most of our practice, and a 9mm for everyday carry. And we were both adamant that we become proficient with handguns before we began carrying one. That means lots of practice.
OK, I was now at the point where I could agree to two guns — with a plan to buy a third. We’d get a .22 for cheap practice, a 9mm carry gun for Phil, and eventually another 9mm for me to carry.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Our first purchase was a Smith & Wesson Model 22A, the same gun that I used to pass my concealed carry license test. We call this gun “Ray” because with its long, flat-topped barrel it looks like a ray gun. But at that trip to the gun store, Phil found another gun that he wanted, one that didn’t fit neatly into our purchasing plan. It was too big and heavy to carry as an EDC gun and it was a .40-caliber, which is larger than the 9mm size we had agreed on. So I asked him, “What do we need this gun for?” Phil was ready with a convincing sales pitch, of course. Neither of us was trained enough to begin to carry a concealed weapon, but we had both gotten to the point where we agreed that we needed to have a gun in the house to protect ourselves. We weren’t comfortable depending on a .22 for that, so this big .40-cal Springfield XD would be our “home defense” gun. Since it wouldn’t be carried concealed, we could get one that was bigger, heavier, and more powerful than what we intended to eventually carry.
“OK,” I said, “I’ll go along with that.” So we bought “Dave.” And that’s two guns.
We started going to the range at least once a week to learn how to safely and competently use our new guns. While we felt that we weren’t really qualified to carry one yet, we quickly got to the point where we wanted to go shopping for what would become our EDC guns. Fortunately, our closest gun shop had a wide selection of carry guns to choose from.
After handling what seemed like dozens of candidates, we each arrived at a decision. Phil fell in love with a sexy little Italian, the Beretta Px4 Storm compact model in 9mm. (OK, I have to confess. Phil proofread this blog before posting. He’s the one that added the phrase “sexy little Italian” to describe his gun, not me.) Meanwhile, I found one that felt like it was custom-made for my hand — a thin and lightweight Ruger LC9. We gave our new guns names so we could talk about them in public places without alerting those around us what we were talking about. Phil’s Beretta became known as Betty and my Ruger LC9 was called Elsie.
For those of you who are keeping score, we’re up to four guns now: a practice .22 (Ray), a .40-caliber home defense gun (Dave), and two 9mm concealed carry guns (Betty and Elsie). Technically, two of them are mine, one is Phil’s and one is ours (if you’re really keeping score).
Our weekly dates at the range were a lot of fun, but they had an element of frustration to them, too. Spending half the time at the range waiting for my turn to shoot the .22 wasn’t my idea of a good use of my time or Phil’s. After several trips to the range I was saying (much to my husband’s delight), “OK, now I see why we need a second .22.” So it was back to the gun shop where Phil selected what would be his .22 practice gun, a Ruger SR22. Gun #5. He calls it the Blackbird.
How many guns do we need? I would think five would be more than enough, especially since just a few months earlier I thought one would be sufficient.
Well, not quite.
I loved the size and shape of Elsie, but every time I shot her my index finger got pinched between the trigger and the trigger guard, so much so that it caused a blood blister. We tried all kinds of things, including having a gunsmith shave a little off the tip of the trigger. Still, I couldn’t shoot it without getting my finger pinched. That meant I couldn’t practice with her, which in my book means I can’t reliably shoot her, which sadly meant that she ultimately wasn’t a good choice for me. (In reading numerous online gun forums, Phil found only one other person that has had that problem with the LC9…and Phil does a lot of reading.)
Let the novice gun buyer beware — the first gun (or holster) that you buy for any specific purpose is likely to not meet your needs the way that you hoped. Sometimes you have to live with a gun for a while to come to find its pluses and minuses. So it was with Phil and his beloved Beretta, too. He loved to shoot Betty, but she was just too thick for him to conceal easily. So Phil inherited my Elsie as his carry gun and we went shopping for a replacement for me to carry.
Despite my issues with Elsie, I had become a real Ruger fan. They tend to be very comfortable in my hand, they have a solid feel to them, and they’re very reasonably priced. One of Phil’s female co-workers had just bought a Ruger SR9c compact 9mm. I handled one at the gun shop and really liked the feel of it, but I was determined not to buy it without trying it first. They have a range in the basement of that store, so they let me test-fire it to see if it gave me the same finger pinching problems that I had with Elsie. It didn’t, so it went home with me that day. Gun #6. We called my new 9c “Nancy.”
I bought Nancy for a carry gun, but I soon found that Nancy was quite a lot bigger and heavier than my sleek little Elsie had been. It was like carrying a brick in my purse. Wearing it on my body was out of the question. This wasn’t going to work.
I didn’t want to get rid of her, but what’s the purpose of a gun that’s too big and heavy to carry concealed? To borrow a line of reasoning from Phil, Nancy became home defense gun #2. Our house has two floors plus a basement. We spend a lot of time on each of the three levels. I decided that I didn’t want to be in the basement and need to go to the bedroom on the second floor to get a gun if someone broke into the house. We work from home in an office in our basement. Having a weapon within reach during the many hours we spend at our desks is a wise practice, so Phil found a holster designed to be mounted on the bottom of my desktop. I love it!
But this repurposing of Nancy left me once again without a carry gun. My first EDC was now Phil’s EDC and my second one was now our office defense gun.
The hottest selling concealed carry gun at that time was the new Smith & Wesson M&P Shield. This was touted by many gun writers and a growing legion of owners as “the perfect gun.” Perfect in every way except availability. It was almost impossible to find one to even inspect, much less buy. Our favorite gun shop (for whom we were quickly becoming their favorite customers) couldn’t keep them in stock, but one of their salesmen was using the Shield as his EDC, and he let me check it out. I think they were right. This very well may be the perfect carry gun. I placed an order for one in 9mm (it also comes in .40-cal.) and waited four months for it to arrive.
A lot can change over the course of four months. I was elated when we got the call saying that my new Shield was ready to pick up, so much so that we left work early to go get it. Gun #7. But when we got it home I was surprised, and more than a little disappointed, to see just how large it was. It was bigger than I remembered it being in the store. Upon getting it home, I realized that yes, it was nice and thin like Elsie had been, but the overall height and length were bigger than Elsie.
I’ve been struggling with how to carry a concealed handgun. I really want to wear it on my body, rather than carrying it in a purse. But it seems that women’s bodies have more curves than men’s bodies and guns have more angles than curves. In other words, carrying a concealed weapon is much easier for men than women. As much as I wanted to carry the Shield, I just couldn’t find a way that worked for me except carrying in my purse.
So in the midst of my frustration, Phil began to do some more research and talked to me about considering a .380-caliber gun. A .380 bullet is the same diameter as a 9mm, but it’s shorter and therefore a bit less powerful. I was totally against this, largely for practical reasons. I didn’t want to have to buy and stock another kind of ammo. But Phil had just read an article in a gun magazine that put forth the argument for having guns of several different calibers as a hedge against scarcity of ammo in any specific caliber. If 9mm ammo is in short supply and all you have are 9mm guns, you’re in trouble. I’m sorry, but that argument didn’t convince me. I didn’t want to buy another gun. How many guns do we need???!!! (And perhaps it’s time for Phil to quit reading…)
Well, we went shopping for ammo one day and he dragged me over to the gun case to try out some .380s.
After handling a few different brands in a wide variety of prices, I found a great one, which happened to be the least expensive of the bunch! My new gun is a Taurus 738 TCP. It’s actually small enough for me to carry concealed on my person and I can shoot it well.
That’s now five guns that have been bought for me alone! A .22, three 9mm’s, and now a .380. All are still in service, all fulfilling different purposes. I’ve opted to keep the Shield because it’s a good gun and there will be times when I choose to carry it instead of the .380. And if you’re keeping score, we’ve bought two for Phil (a .22 and a 9mm) and an additional home defense gun (.40 cal). And that makes eight!
So the bottom line is that now we’ve got a bunch of guns in four different calibers. And I still consider each purchase to have been a wise one. Each one has a specific purpose. Some have been re-purposed, but we’ve found an appropriate use for each one.
How many guns do we need? Well, you might be surprised at your answer to that question. You might need a couple for different areas of your house. You might need a couple different sizes and calibers to accommodate the different type of clothes that you wear (summer, winter, casual, dressy).
Ask a woman how many purses she needs, or how many pairs of shoes she has. We know very well that we “need” more than one purse or pair of shoes for the different ways that we dress. I’ve come to understand that it’s the same with guns. Yes, it’s possible to make do with just one, but for many gun owners — especially women! — it’s pretty hard to find one single, all-purpose gun that works well for every situation or change of clothes. Owning multiple guns in multiple sizes and calibers just makes sense.
If you had told me a few years ago that I’d be OK with that, I’d have said, “Are you kidding me? How many guns do we need???!!!”
Wait a minute. I did say that. Times change.
PS: Don’t keep your guns in a pile like the photo. Treat them with respect. The photo is just an image.
PPS: Before we bought any guns, we attended an NRA Basic Handgun Safety and Ohio Conceal Carry class which included time at a range with the instructor. If you’re new to guns, we recommend training. I’m currently participating in a Women’s Action Pistol (WAP) class and we’re signed up for an NRA Home Protection class. The WAP is at the range and gives me practical experience drawing the gun and shooting in a fast but controlled manner, shooting while moving away from the target, and other good defensive shooting practices. The Home Protection class focuses on how to handle a gun for self protection in your home.
In a previous blog I addressed the basics of a revolver as a personal defense tool. In this article we’re going to look at the other type of handgun: the semi-automatic.
If you’re new to guns, most of what you know (or you think you know) comes from movies, TV, and the news. These are probably the three worst sources of information about firearms. Prepare to unlearn most of what you’ve picked up from them.
Semi-Automatics: What They’re Not
If you say “semi-automatic” to newbies, they think “machine gun.” Pull the trigger and a stream of bullets erupts from the gun, continuing to fire until either you manage to get your finger off the trigger or you run out of ammunition. Right?
Wrong, wrong, wrong!
Because this is the mental picture that many people get when the term “semi-automatic gun” is used, it’s no wonder that so many well-meaning but misinformed people are in favor of more strict gun control. I would be too — if it were true.
The “machine gun” that we’ve just described is not a semi-automatic. Machine guns are fully automatic. They exist, but they’ve been illegal for civilians to own since the 1930s. This is one of the many reasons why responsible gun owners say that we don’t need new gun laws; we just need to enforce the laws that we already have.
Semi-Automatics: What They Are
What makes a handgun a semi-automatic is that when a bullet is fired from the gun, it loads the next available round into the chamber to be ready to be fired. The recoil from the gun pushes the “slide” (the top part of the gun) to the back and ejects the empty casing of the bullet that was just fired, allowing the next round to be moved into place to be ready to fire. Here’s a pretty good YouTube video that demonstrates how a semi-automatic handgun “cycles” from firing a bullet to reloading the next available round. Watch as the entire process of pulling the trigger, cocking and releasing the hammer, firing the bullet, ejecting the spent bullet casing, and loading the next round is repeated through several trigger pulls of the trigger.
To repeat, semi-automatics are not machine guns. Only one bullet is fired each time you pull the trigger, no matter how long you hold the trigger back. If you want another bullet to fire, you’re going to have to do something to make it happen. After the last bullet is fired, with most semi-autos the slide will lock in the back position, showing you that the gun is now completely empty.
Semi-autos are a bit more complicated to operate and maintain than a revolver because of all the moving parts that are involved in cycling the gun to eject the fired bullet casing and to move the next round into firing position. Nevertheless, they are simple enough that a responsible and mature child of about age ten can be trained to use one safely with responsible adult supervision.
The Advantages of a Semi-Automatic
So if a semi-automatic handgun is more difficult to operate and maintain than a revolver, and if your misinformed family and friends would think that you own a dangerous machine gun that should be banned (helpful reminder: machine guns have been banned for almost 80 years), why would anyone choose to own one instead of just buying a trusty revolver?
I think the biggest advantage is ammunition capacity — one of the very factors that the gun control advocates has such a problem with. Semi-auto magazines come in a wide variety of capacities, based on the physical size of the gun and the caliber of ammunition used in it. The larger the gun the more bullets it can hold (generally), but the higher the caliber the less it can hold. If you want a small gun for concealed carry, you’re going to have to live with less rounds of ammunition. There’s just no place to put a lot of bullets in a sub-compact gun. If you want to carry a high-caliber gun, such as a .45, you’re going to have to live with less ammo. Those big bullets take up a lot of space, so a .45 generally doesn’t carry many. For both of these options (small gun or large caliber), you’ll be looking at guns that hold seven or eight rounds. But with all the variations of gun size and calibers, there are plenty of choices. The highest standard ammo capacity of any handgun that I’m aware of is the Kel-Tec PMR-30. It holds 30 rounds of .22 Magnum. I want one. It’s a gun you load on Sunday and shoot all week long. By comparison, a typical full-sized 9mm semi-auto will hold about 15 to 17 rounds of ammo.
Why is a higher ammo capacity such a plus? Because handguns are hard to shoot well. You need training before you ever consider buying and using one, and then you need regular practice to maintain your skills. A low-powered rifle, such as a .22, is very accurate at a range of 100 yards or more with very little practice. With a handgun, you have to practice a lot to become a good shot at 10 yards. This is why some folks define a handgun as a tool that you use to fight your way back to your rifle (which you shouldn’t have put down in the first place).
If you’re in a situation where you need to use a handgun for self-defense, you will be under the greatest stress of your life. Even though you’ll be at close range (most self-defense shootings occur within seven yards), the stress can cause you to miss your target unless you are highly trained. Even police officers average a first-round accuracy rating of only something like 50%. If you’re carrying a 5-shot revolver, you’re going to have very little margin of error for stopping your assailant. Forget a warning shot — you’ve just thrown away 20% of your ammunition. (Warning shots are a very bad idea for a number of reasons, which we’ll go into in a future article.) And if you’re defending yourself from more than one assailant, you’ll need to be packing more ammo than a revolver can hold. The weight of fifteen rounds in a semi-auto may not be comfortable to carry, but it’s very comforting to carry.
To Be Continued…
This is running long, so I’m going to wrap it up here, but in my next article on semi-autos I’m going to discuss why a semi-auto can be more accurate than a revolver. This is another reason why someone would choose a semi-auto over a revolver.
Firearms are a basic tool for self-reliance and home or personal defense. Today, I’m going to speak to readers who don’t know much about firearms, but have a growing awareness that having one and knowing how to use it might be a good idea.
Let’s start with handguns — revolvers in particular. This might not be the best place to start from a training perspective, because handguns are much more difficult to shoot well than rifles, but they have a number of benefits going for them that lead many people to acquire a handgun before they move on to rifles.
Many of the advantages of a handgun have to do with their smaller size and weight. Handguns are lighter, more portable, and more concealable, meaning that they can go with you wherever you need to go. You can carry a handgun on your body or store it away in places that a long gun wouldn’t fit.
The Pros and Cons of the Revolver
There are two basic styles of handguns: revolvers and semi-automatics. So what is a “revolver”? I’ve included a picture of one here. Think of the old-style cowboy handguns. A revolver has a big cylinder in the middle of the gun that holds all the bullets. When you cock the hammer, the cylinder rotates (or “revolves”) and puts the next bullet in line with the barrel, ready to be shot. There aren’t a lot of mechanical things going on with a revolver, which contributes greatly to its reliability.
Between revolvers and semi-automatics, revolvers are generally regarded as being more reliable. That means they go “bang!” every time you pull the trigger. Revolvers are also easier to operate. With a revolver it’s just point and shoot. You don’t have to fuss with a manual safety. (Is it on or is it off? How can I tell?) You don’t have to “rack” the gun to get a bullet in position to shoot like you do with a semi-auto. Revolvers don’t jam like semi-automatics do. Semi-automatics have to mechanically feed a bullet into the chamber to get it ready to fire, then eject the empty cartridge after the bullet has been fired to get the next bullet ready to shoot. When the gun fails to do either of those functions properly the gun “jams.” You have to fix the problem before you can fire the next shot with a semi-auto. Revolvers don’t feed and eject bullets like that, so they don’t jam.
The disadvantages of a revolver are that they’re thicker than a semi-auto (and thus harder to conceal), they don’t carry as many bullets as a semi-auto, and they can be much slower and more difficult to reload.
How Do These Things Work?
Revolvers come in two different designs, “single-action” and “double-action.”
A “single-action” revolver requires you to manually pull the hammer back with your thumb to cock it. Once the hammer is cocked, pulling the trigger performs a single action — it releases the hammer, causing the gun to fire. This design is very safe because you can’t pull the trigger at all until you have cocked the hammer. Once you’ve cocked the hammer, it only requires a light pull of the trigger to fire the gun, but the process of cocking the hammer is a very deliberate one, not likely to happen by accident, making a single-action revolver a very safe device even though it doesn’t have a manual safety like many semi-automatic handguns.
A “double-action” revolver doesn’t require you to cock the hammer as a separate step. Pulling the trigger will perform two actions — it cocks the hammer and then releases it to fire the gun. This design is also very safe because the trigger pull on a double-action revolver is much longer and stiffer than with a single-action revolver. The long, stiff trigger pull is a deliberate action that becomes the built-in safety.
At the risk of confusing someone who hasn’t used any revolver, a double-action can be used in either double- or single-action mode. You pick ’em. Just pull the trigger and it will cock and fire the gun (double-action). But the trigger pull is long and stiff, so it’s harder to keep the gun aimed while you’re pulling the trigger. So if you want a lighter trigger pull, you can cock the hammer with your thumb and pull the trigger to fire it (single-action). The trigger pull in single action mode is always much lighter, making it easier to stay on target.
[ FYI — Any idea why we used a drawing of someone cocking the hammer on a revolver rather than using a photo? We purchase and use professional “stock” photos for these blogs. In every photo of someone cocking a revolver hammer, they also had their finger on the trigger at the same time. Unless you are in a combat situation, DON’T DO THAT! It’s not safe. The photographer may have been a professional, but the model that they used to hold the gun wasn’t knowledgeable of safe gun handling habits. We don’t want to show improper safety practices, so this drawing was the only image I could find where the shooter had their finger off the trigger. ]
Suggestions for Buying a Revolver
- As with all guns, get one that fits your hand. I good fit will feel comfortable in your hand and allow you to reach and operate all controls (trigger, hammer, cylinder release) easily.
- Revolvers come in many different calibers. The higher the caliber, the more powerful the gun. The most common calibers for revolvers are .22, .38, .357 magnum, and .44 magnum. There are several others, but these are the most common, and therefore the most practical to consider.
- If you’re buying a revolver for personal defense, don’t even consider a single-action gun. The process of cocking it with your thumb before every shot takes so long that it will get you killed. A double-action revolver can be operated in either single- or double-action, giving you the best of both worlds. When you need speed, just pull the trigger and shoot (double-action). When you have the luxury of time to take a carefully aimed shot, cock the hammer with your thumb and pull the trigger (single-action).
- Determine how you are going to carry it before you commit to buying it. Will you do concealed carry in a hip holster or purse? Barrel length may become an issue.
- The shorter the barrel, the more difficult to aim accurately. Snub-nosed revolvers are “cute,” but they’re only practical for shooting at very short range (as in about 10 feet or so). But they make great back-up guns if your primary piece jams or runs out of ammo.
- The lighter the gun, the greater the recoil. Recoil makes a gun hard to control. It will buck after every shot and you will have to re-acquire the target. That takes time that you may not have. Excessive recoil can also make the gun very uncomfortable to shoot. If your gun is uncomfortable for you to shoot, you are less likely to practice with it. If you don’t practice with it regularly, you won’t be able to deploy it competently if the need arises. So a light-weight gun will be easier to carry and conceal, but it has the serious trade-offs of controllability and increased recoil that have to be considered. Find a gun that does the best job for you of balancing weight, control, and recoil.
- What about brands? Go with a good one. In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with a Ruger or a Smith & Wesson (if you keep the considerations of the previous point in mind). Both are great brand, but I think the Rugers are a better value. If you don’t find a Ruger that meets your needs, look at the Smith & Wessons. They’re more money, but they make great guns. Colts can be nice, too, but they’re prohibitively expensive (for my pocketbook, at least). Taurus makes a broad line of popular revolvers, but there is a long-running debate about the reliability of Taurus products. Those who have had a good experience say they’re great. Those with a bad experience perpetuate the notion that Tauruses are junk. Personally, I’ve never used a Taurus, but if I found one that had everything I was looking for in a gun, I’d buy it.
Having just laid out the case for a revolver as an excellent choice for a beginning handgunner, I must now confess that I’m not a revolver kind of guy. I own one and I love it. It’s an old .22 that was made in the 1960s. I bought it from a friend at church. (That kind of transaction would be illegal if the newly proposed gun control legislation gets passed which would require a background check for every sale of a gun. Since private owners don’t have the ability to run background checks, the sale of guns between friends and family members would become a crime.) I have a wish list of future guns and I have a revolver on the list. It’s a Ruger GP100 in .357 magnum. That’s the gun in the photo near the top of this blog. Ain’t she a beauty? If you’re in the market for a good revolver, this is a fabulous one to take a look at. Or if you just really, really want to be nice to me…