I mused a bit of a thought experiment with Jennifer over the weekend. When we purchased the vast majority of our guns, we were cumulatively making fairly decent money. We weren’t at all wealthy, but we had the bills paid off and there was enough left over to play. As such, each of our first guns were revolvers out of Smith & Wesson’s custom shop. Indeed, we invested in some very nice defensive and sporting pieces. It’s no secret that things have been significantly tighter over the last few years. I posited that if we started now instead of then, our accumulation of arms would look significantly different. I thought that this was interesting enough to write up here. The three major defensive/utility gun configurations are commonly accepted as the handgun, either semi-automatic or revolver; a repeating rifle, usually in a carbine length, and a repeating shotgun, usually with a barrel length between 18 and 22 inches. In a life or death fight, we use our handguns to get to our long guns. If the fight is a close-range one, use the shotgun. If there’s some distance in the fight, use your rifle. Rule one in a gun fight is have a gun. A hand gun is the gun you have on you, and is therefore the beginning of the conversation.
When I made the decision to carry concealed, I decided that my 6.5-inch .44 Mag with factory hand engraving was ill-suited to the task. So, I picked out a S&W 586L-Comp as my carry piece. Since I tend to be an ambidextrous shooter, I bought a second 586L-Comp to carry as a backup, in a mirrored holster. Were I to arm up today, there is no way that I’d purchase a matched pair of Performance Center revolvers for concealed carry. That much money can be spread over entirely too many bills and debts for that. I did wind up with a M&P45c for daily carry, but I’d likely go with something more economical than that even. I’d more than likely pick up a used Glock 22 or 23. Jennifer asked me, “why .40?” This is an excellent question, as we don’t have anything in the house chambered in .40S&W. The primary reason we don’t, is that we have 9mms and .45ACPs. No matter how careless you (or your guests) are, you will never get a 9mm cartridge chambered in a .45. There are things one caliber is good at that the other isn’t, but there’s not a whole lot you can do with .40 that you can’t with either 9mm or .45ACP. However, if you could only have one gun, .40S&W is a longer-range cartridge, is far more compact gun frame than .45ACP, and is deer-legal in Oklahoma from at least a four-inch barrel. Glock models in .40 have been so ubiqutous that used varieties can easily be found for less than the $500-mark with a lot of life left in them. They’re cheap and easy to get accessories for, and their magazines are interchangeable with some non-Glock models.
This leads us to defensive carbines. Jennifer and I each have name-brand AR-pattern carbines in 5.56 NATO. Even though we love our little M4geries, I would not purchase one on the budget that I have today. Frankly, they are overpriced. Sure, a basic model doesn’t command $3,000 as it did for a weird four months or so of the Obamascare, but even what is commonly sold as a $800-$1,200 rifle is often an assortment of parts that should cost more like $500-$600 in a fair and unbiased market. This goes for AK clones as well. If a decent gun could be had for $300-$500, then everyone should have one. With the prices they command, I believe I’ll still pass. If I were purchasing my defensive carbine in today’s market, I’d be looking at Kel Tec’s Sub2000 in .40S&W, or perhaps a Hi-Point carbine also in .40S&W. Either one will happily share magazines and ammunition with the aforementioned Glock models. *01/22/2014 – EDITED FOR CORRECTION – Cyberludite points out in the comments that Hi-Point carbines do NOT in fact use Glock magazines. I’m not sure why I was thinking that they did, but I was indeed guilty of being a guy saying something wrong on the internets. Thank you Cyberludite and I’m sorry world.* I would most likely stock up on a few of the 22 or 29-round magazines, as well as shave the grips down on both guns so they would be short enough to accept Glock 27 magazines too. Although .40S&W isn’t the long range shooter that 5.56 or 2.23Rem, out of a 16-inch barrel (or 17.5, in the case of the Hi-Point), it’s producing more energy than 9mm, and it can reach out further than .45ACP. Again, this rifle configuration would be legal and effective against Oklahoma white tail.
Jennifer and I love our Winchester pump actions. This is like being a Studebaker fan. Most sane folks justifiably choose a current offering from Remington or Mossberg, or perhaps one of the high quality semi-automatics. I wanted an old Defender, and when I couldn’t find one, I basically built one out of a 120 Ranger, which is a variation of the Winchester 1300 platform. I left the vent-ribbed barrel at 22-inches and added a magazine extention. After the fact, we managed to find a lightly used Defender for Jennifer. These things tend to be relatively inexpensive, and also tend to be pretty solid guns. Expect to see workable examples in pawn shops for $200, give or take $50. If I didn’t have my Winchester, and was looking to score a house gun, I’d probably get the cheapest used Mossberg pump I could find that was still serviceable, chambered in 12-gauge. Jennifer suggested a police retired Remington 870 as an option. Remington’s 870 is a fine gun in my opinion, at least as good as the old Winchester 1912, 1200, or 1300 pump actions, but even used and beat up, they tend to command a price that would buy two or three similarly worn Mossburgs. Indeed, I’ve seen Mossies in pawn shops priced close to $100 if not less. If it has a long barrel on it, chop it down within the legal minimum limit of 18-inches. I like my shotguns at around 20 to 22-inches, because this seems to be a pretty good compromise between payload velocity and keeping the gun maneuverable. Whether it has plastic or wood furniture, it will still put lead downrange. Whether it has a super long eight-round tube magazine, or a four-rounder with a plug limiting it to two rounds, training and practice will make it work just fine. When you practice and get good at feeding rounds in through the ejection port, you’ll find that the missing two or three rounds of magazine capacity will not be your bottleneck on shooting speed over the course of 25 to 50 rounds of ammunition.
In such a hypothetical situation, I probably wouldn’t worry so much about a backup handgun, but would focus my attention on making sure that my primary was in excellent working order at any given time. However, if I were to add one as a fourth gun, I’d probably be just as likely to choose either the cheapest, serviceable, used Glock 27 (for magazine and ammo compatability), or a .38Spl snubby in whatever brand was available. Although I do love my S&W revolvers, they tend to be expensive, pulling in close to $500 for even the cheapest of the J-frames. Conversely, I’d be looking at whatever used examples I could find from Taurus, Rossi, Charter Arms, and probably a few others, just as long as the timing was right, and the cylinder locked up satisfactorily. But even then, this would be way low on my list of must haves, as I feel that the expense would be better spent on practice ammunition and training.
Previously, I would have said that a .22lr, either rifle or a high-quality pistol would be a must-have in such a setup, for practice, training, and for small game hunting. But recently, it’s been so hard to come by .22lr ammunition, that I’m not convinced it would be well-advised. For the going rate of .22lr when you can manage to find it, you can hand load any common centerfire handgun cartridge for less money, so there’s not a significant cost savings if you have access to reloading equipment. Small game that can be taken with a .22 can also be taken with lighter 12-gauge loads, or even some centerfire handgun loads.
If you’ve found yourself in a similar situation but you started out with a revolver instead of a semi-auto, you might consider a lever-action carbine in the same chambering as your wheel gun. There’s something about ammunition commonality that is quite charming and useful. Frankly, it’s kind of weird that Jennifer and I have not wound up with any lever actions in .357 or .44 Magnum yet. Just as the pump action shotgun, with practice, these can run really fast and accurately. A .357 Magnum load out of a carbine-length barrel can get close to actual, rifle cartridge velocities, which puts it at an advantage over the .40S&W as discussed above. Plus, your .357Mag lever gun will shoot mouse-fart .38Spl wadcutters just as happily as your revolver, making it equally effective for small game hunting or paper killing.
At any rate, we do live in interesting times. It is my hope (and frequent prayer) that we’ll see real improvement in the economy. For those of you who may be trying to cobble together a defensive system under a serious budget duress, I hope this proves useful to you. Feel free to ask questions, and I’ll do my best to round up the answers. If any of my readers have anything to add, I’d love to hear that too!