The Effective Defense Gun


Forests have been felled to provide paper for this debate; numerous handguns have been created to provide it; new calibers have been spawned and bullet design refined in its name: Effectiveness!


But have we really gained anything?


I think that the answer is a qualified "yes". Unlike the ammunition of years gone by, bullets now actually do expand at less than a thousand feet per second and do so more reliably.  Consistency shot-to-shot is remarkably uniform with the better stuff and so is accuracy. Most of today's ammunition can be expected to feed reliably and in several calibers, we have a choice as to how powerful a load to choose.  For example, a person with a .357 magnum can have anything from the light target .38 Special 148-gr. wadcutter cruising along at around 700 ft/sec from a 4" gun to a full-house magnum kicking out hot JHP's at nearly twice that velocity.  The choices don't end there.  If the magnum's too much a +P .38 load that pleases is bound to be available and there are some attenuated magnum loads that ballistically rank just a bit higher. With the automatics we find standard velocity and +P loads and a myriad of designer ammunition intended to meet the majority of perceived needs.


So while I think we can say, "Yes, there have been improvements in defensive handgun capabilities," I also think that these improvements will never be realized by many.


Today's expanding bullet designs do work more reliably than those from years past.  These can increase the effectiveness of a given handgun, but are they going to?  Are they the most critical part of the handgun effectiveness equation?



We now have a plethora of downsized automatics in more potent calibers ranging from 9mm to .45 ACP and newer rounds like the .357 SIG and .40 S&W have their devotees by the thousands. Revolver fans can now purchase more compact magnums than ever before, but does increasing numbers of guns, calibers, and loads significantly increase our individual chances should we ever be in the "dark place"?


The effective defense gun may or may not be of the latest design or newest caliber. Its effectiveness depends upon its shooter, something that is woefully overlooked in my experience as a firearm instructor to both police and private citizens. It has been said that the mind is the weapon and the gun but the tool and I tend to agree…strongly.


So how does one get an effective defense handgun?

I humbly submit that going with what works for the individual and being competent with it attains this more surely than simply owning the latest gun or newest ammunition for it.


The CZ-75 is considered a top choice by a great many shooters.  Is it necessarily going to be effective in the hands of someone who does not trust automatics or who has never shot other than a revolver? If the gun cannot be made to accurately fire in an instant, magazine capacity and ammunition simply do not matter.


Owning a defense handgun is the first step, but being competent with it is a more important one. I believe that the caliber and action-type should be that which the shooter is most comfortable with and trusts, but think it should be at least a .38 Special.  Solid, sure hits with a properly loaded .38 will have more effectiveness than misses and peripheral hits with a .45 or .357 magnum.


In the trained hands, a 1911 .45 makes a very fine defensive arm as could this custom-built one, but for someone used to neither the action nor how to operate it under stress it could be a liability.


Thus, the effective defense gun is one with which the owner is willing to practice and become extremely familiar.  He or she absolutely must be able to operate without having to remember how it works.  It should be of at least sufficient power to do what's required but must not have recoil so intimidating as to make practice unpleasant.  If this happens, practice is forsaken and we're back to less than effective. I believe an overlooked fact of life is that some people do perceive the need for a defense gun but are not shooting enthusiasts. This must be kept in mind as shooting enthusiasts have already made their choices or can do so independently or with but minimal suggestions.  Very often I fear that we overlook this aspect of recommending an appropriate defensive handgun for others.


This S&W Model 10 represents what might be a very good choice for the non-enthusiasts. It's simple to operate, has modest recoil, is capable of extreme accuracy, and possesses very, very good reliability. For those not really into shooting, it might be a very fine defense gun. The gun chosen by an IPSC competitor, IDPA martial artist, SWAT team member, or Special Operations soldier would probably be something quite different.


So let us assume that our new owner has purchased the "right" defense gun and has put forth at least minimal effort toward understanding his weapon.  He has practiced and is at least able to repeatedly hit his target pretty quickly at close range.  He's bought "effective" ammunition of one type or the other and knows that his gun works fine with it.


Does he have an effective defense gun?


Maybe, but maybe not.


It is my opinion that unless the individual is actually willing to use the gun against another living being if no reasonable alternative exists, the gun is not effective.  In fact it becomes a threat to its owner. It can be loaded with "nuclear" expanding ammo, but that will matter not one wit if he cannot use the weapon to save his own life and do so quickly.


The effective defense gun that's right for me may not be the best choice for another. Caliber, make of weapon, action type, etc. may vary quite a bit between serious users, but the following will be present:


·         Understanding of the gun chosen

·         Competence in its use

·         Willingness to use it if there's no other way


When all of these are combined with a weapon of at least adequate power and proven reliability, we find someone with an effective defense gun.