Thursday, July 23, 2009

Home Defense

Ok, this is going to be a bit of a weird post. I'm going to talk about firearms in a home defense capacity, so before I begin I'd like to clear a few things up:

It's really hard to write a post like this without sounding like one of those survivalist nutcases who talk and act like Al-Queda are planning to personally take them out. The truth is that despite the fact I own both a shotgun and pistol, I honestly don't expect to ever have to use them in self defense. I own them primarily because I love target shooing…and having a weapon for home defense is like carrying a condom. It's better to have it and not need it that need it and not have it.

Long story short, we don't expect our homes to burst into flames either, but we still install smoke detectors. Yes, we can always call the police, but if a crackhead does kick your door down at 3am, he can do an awful lot of damage in the ten minutes it takes the police to arrive.


Today I want to talk primarily about shotguns because after having a look around online, there are a few myths that people are taking as fact.

The first is the idea that a shogun doesn't have to be aimed. Thanks to the movies, people have got it into their heads that you just point a shotgun in the bad guy's general direction, and not only will it blast him off his feet, it'll take out the two other bad guys standing next to him.


Let's assume you're shooting 00 Buckshot, probably the most popular home defense shotgun round. At around ten yards from a unchoked shotgun, each pellet is going to hit inside an approximately 6" circle. If you pull out a ruler and see exactly how big that is, you'll see it's not just possible to miss, it's easy to miss if you just point and shoot.

The real advantage of a shotgun isn't that multiple projectiles make your target easier to hit, It's the immense 'stopping power' of multiple projectiles. Basically, a 00 buck shell delivers the same force in a single shot as a nine round burst from a 9mm SMG.

Basically, a shotgun, just like any other weapon, has to be carefully aimed for home defense purposes. Shooting at skeet with birdshot at 30 yards (where the shot will spread out over a much wider area) is completely different to firing buckshot at indoor self-defense distances.

The second myth is about ammo selection.

The first fallacy seems to be that 'bigger is always better', whether we're talking about shoguns, pistols or rifles.

For the most part it's true that the bigger the projectile the more damage will be done to the target, but from a home defense standpoint, this isn't always the most important aspect of your choice of weapon and ammo.

Firstly, choice of ammo comes down to a trade-off between stopping power and controllability. If you're a tiny 80 year old grandma, a .357 Magnum is only going to be of use if your objective is to knock yourself out with the barrel of your own weapon. On the other hand, a .22 pistol can be fired easily by a four year old, but that weapon has almost zero stopping power and unless you're very, very lucky, it's more likely to just anger your attacker than stopping him.

Secondly, for a home defense scenario, there are other factors to consider. For example, if you live in an apartment building, shooting a large caliber rifle or pistol round could easily go through a wall and into a neighbor's bedroom. Firing a large caliber weapon indoors (especially if you've just been awoken by an attacker) is going to have the same effect as a flashbang grenade, disorientating you.

For a pistol or rifle, there's not much choice once you've bought the weapon (for the record, my recommendation is a 9mm semi-auto loaded with hollow points. At close range, the 9mm has plenty of stopping power and is also easily controllable for most people) With shotguns, however, things are a little different.

With a shotgun you have possibly hundreds of different choices from basic buckshot and birdshot to 'exotic' rounds like flechette or explosive rounds.

My advice is to stay away from exotic shotgun ammunition. Not only are they sometimes ridiculously expensive, they can also be extremely dangerous and unpredictable. You want to point your gun at your attacker, pull the trigger and knock him down... not worry about your 'Dragon's Breath' ammo setting the house alight. Plus, the expense makes them impractical to practice with…and practicing with your home defense weapon is the most important thing you can do. There's no point owning a weapon if you don' know how to use it and use it well.

I would also advise against the use of deer slugs unless nothing else is available. At indoor ranges they're almost certainly going to over penetrate and the massive recoil isn't desirable either.

The main argument when it comes to shotgun ammunition for self defense comes down mainly to buckshot versus birdshot.

The main argument for birdshot is that it tends to spread further than buckshot, making it easier to hit your target. The recoil is easier to control and the pellets are unlikely to 'over-penetrate' through walls and doors putting neighbors and family members in danger. The main argument for buckshot is simply its immense stopping power.

Here's the part I think most people get confused about: Stopping power and killing power are two entirely different things. Don't get me wrong, in a home defense situation you should be absolutely willing to kill your assailant. It's one of the first rules of self defense: Don't draw a weapon unless you're willing to use it. Drawing a weapon just to scare an assailant is an excellent way to get it taken from you and used against you. It's not a nice thought, but if someone breaks into your house in the middle of the night armed with a weapon, they're highly unlikely to be as concerned about the value of human life as you are.

Now, a standard 'sport' load for your shotgun (say No. 8 birdshot) is unlikely to penetrate enough to be fatal, but the aim is to incapacitate your assailant, to remove his ability to harm you, not necessarily to kill him.

As I mentioned above, if an armed intruder breaks into my home, his welfare is not going to be on the top of my list of priorities. If I have a choice, I'm loading my shotgun with buckshot and aiming for his center mass. However, a load of No.8 buckshot delivered to the chest or face is more likely to leave that intruder alive, but very unhappy and in need of urgent medical attention. No. 8 shot to the face is possibly fatal, and will almost certainly blind your attacker and put him on the floor. Also, if the first shot doesn't incapacitate him, you have at least three more in the tube.

Basically, for me, Buckshot will always be the 'round of choice' for home defense, but birdshot is not a useless round for self defense at ten yards or under.

Lastly, I read a bit of an old chestnut about the sound of a shotgun being cocked being likely to scare off an attacker. Some people believe this almost as guaranteed fact, and other people think it's just a really stupid way to let your attacker know exactly where you are.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

There is definitely a real psychological effect on the people at both ends of the shotgun. A shotgun, with its relatively huge barrel and muzzle, is terrifying for the person it's pointed at and does a lot for the bravery of the person looking down it. However, the strength of that effect depends entirely on who your assailant is.

If your intruder is an unarmed teenager who broke into your house on a dare, the sound of you cocking your shotgun or the sight of you aiming it at him is likely to make him shit in his pants and do whatever you say…or run like hell. On the other hand, if your intruder is an armed crackhead who's high as a kite, just pointing your weapon at him will probably have zero effect.

It all comes back to what I said earlier. Never draw a weapon unless you're willing to use it. In the vast majority of cases an unarmed assailant will surrender or run from an armed home owner…but in case they're armed and don't run…you have to be willing to shoot.


Kelly said...

Yeah I have a .45 Springfield Armory pistol that I have loaded with hollow points and I go to the range and practice shooting. I know how to keep it safe, I know how to use it and I know how to clean it.
I hope I never have to use it for anything other than target practice, but I am ready and able if the situation arises.

I have never fired a shotgun....Toby exchanged his with someone for a M1A rifle he'd been wanting.......

Sunny said...

Lord- two Redneck Brits talking about Home Defense.....Now I've seen everything.

MC Etcher said...

Guns are bad! You're all bad people!

Oh, but when the end of civilization as we know it comes along, can I share your knowledge, food, shelter, and armed protection? Thanks, I appreciate it!

Evan 08 said...

My shotgun doesn't have a cocking mechanism. Does this mean that my shotgun is less threatening than my neighbor's?

Paulius said...

Kelly: Shotguns are fun. You should explain to Toby how you really, really need one

Sunny: It's all part of coming from a country where it's almost impossible to legally own a firearm, and if someone breaks into your house and you knock them out, the law treats it like you just walked up to a stranger in the street and punched them.

MC Etcher: No. When the end of the world comes we're going to hunt you for sport.

Evan: That many barrels does it have? Plus, you can always make the "shucking" sound with your mouth while out of sight.

Evan 08 said...

It's an old-school 20 gauge double-barrel.

BTW, I'm all for sport-hunting Etcher, but I'm not a big fan of wasting meat... especially after the apocalypse. I've heard human flesh tastes like chicken.