About This Whole Defensive Firearms Thing …

You Need To Think “Reality,” Not “Theory”

We in the gun fraternity constantly discuss what the best self-defense handguns may be. “Firepower!” “Stopping power!” “Shootability!”

Those are all real factors and real concerns … but they’re not the only such concerns, nor are they the prevalent concerns within what the Courts and Logic alike call, “The Totality of the Circumstances.”

What’s the best defense gun? The real answer is, “The one you have with you.”

Many years ago, I was at a gun writers’ conference at a host hotel, and a bunch of us were lounging out by the pool. The topic of “the best defensive handgun” came up. “High capacity 9mm,” said one guy. “1911 .45,” said another, confidently. Someone — it might just have been Evan Marshall — was then smart enough to ask, “Well, what are all of you carrying right now?” A sheepish silence descended.

It turned out Detroit street cop Evan Marshall had a Smith & Wesson Bodyguard Airweight .38 Special in a belly band under his swim trunks, the only garment he had on, I had a service pistol inside the waistband of my shorts covered by an open front Columbia-type shirt and everybody else was suitably garbed for poolside with swim trunks and no hardware at all.

Someone benevolently changed the subject before anyone was more embarrassed than they already were.


I have been in this business for half a century. I have learned the following.

It is not so much about what gun or ammo you had as it’s about, “Did you have a gun when the crap hit the fan?” Do a Google search for the Clutter Family Murders. The farmhouse where the massacre went down had guns but none of the family members could reach them when the two armed home invaders made entry and the slaughter went down unimpeded.

Did you see the danger coming in time to get your gun out before the assailant could bring his deadly weapon to bear? The history of cops murdered in the line of duty is largely a history of complacency — cop-killers lull their victims into a sense of “you don’t have to worry about me” and then initiate their murderous action. “Action beats reaction” is a truth of life and human dynamics.

Do you understand what creates “deterrence”? For cops and armed citizens alike, most armed encounters end when the VCA (Violent Criminal Actor) realizes he is likely to die if he continues his lawless behavior. The criminals are an armed subculture themselves — they’re not afraid of guns, they’re afraid of people who may shoot them to death. Did your commands and your body language tell them they were about to die from a sudden and acute failure of the victim selection process if they didn’t stop what they were doing?

Can you deliver neutralization? If the VCA continues his behavior threatening innocent human life and limb, can you place shots swiftly and accurately under stress into parts of his body that will render him physically incapable of doing so?
Only after the above criteria have been satisfied is it going to matter a rat’s backside whether your handgun held five rounds or 20, nor what diameter the bullets therein might be nor at what velocity they would strike.

Bottom Line

I’ve held my share of criminal suspects at gunpoint over the years, both as a cop and as an armed citizen. More than once, a little five-shot J-Frame caused awesome surrenders on the other side of the gun. One such suspect bleated like a sheep: “Mneaahh! Mneaahh!” as he raised his hands, because he believed (correctly) I was about to shoot him if he didn’t stop what he was doing. Yet one armed robbery suspect seemed about ready to charge into the muzzle of the Ithaca 12-gauge shotgun loaded with Magnum 00 buckshot because he thought until the last moment — which saved his life — I somehow knew he no longer had his gun and therefore couldn’t shoot him. What made him surrender was not my command, “Don’t touch it!” with my finger taking up the slack on the trigger, so much as my partner jumping back away from him to get out of the way of the buckshot, when the suspect reached for his hip.

The management of lethal threat is a multi-dimensional thing that comprises elements of firearms, tactics, criminal psychology, body language and other factors each of which is a life-study in and of itself. Anyone who invokes the KISS Principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) needs to be reminded — it ain’t Simple, and you ain’t Stupid.

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