“She’d Never Let Me Keep a Gun in the House”

One of the most common comments I hear when discussing the possibility of a non-shooter getting licensed and buying their first gun is “My Wife/Husband/Girlfriend/Boyfriend/Mom/Dad won’t let me have one in the house.” It’s easily the most common hurdle in the way of someone interested in firearms and, unfortunately, can be a pretty formidable one. With the right information and approach though, it needn’t be.

Some of us were lucky enough to be raised around guns at an early age. Maybe you were an Army brat. Maybe you shot in your Boy Scout troop. Maybe your whole family hunted together. Whatever the reason, some folks understood the facts and realities at a young age and never assigned any other worldly qualities to inanimate objects. For an awful lot of people, this isn’t the case.

For many, guns were never in their house or their lives. So, their only exposure to firearms is TV, movies, and the news. From those sources it’s understandable that their perception of guns is that of sinister, volatile time bombs waiting for a chance to kill! In truth, this is part of what has led me to be a firearms instructor. I want to destroy those myths and dismantle the broken thinking of the uninformed. If you’re facing a spouse or parent that doesn’t want guns in the house, you likely have a lot of deprogramming to do.

Fixing the misinformation is relatively easy. My advice to you is simple. Call me to set up a class. Include your spouse or parents or roommate or whoever else you’re trying to convince. If they are not currently interested in getting their license, they can audit the class you take; for free. They’ll learn everything you to, try everything you try, and ask all the questions they didn’t want to ask you. But they won’t pay.

The rest is up to you. Patience, understanding, and empathy go a long way. In my experience, someone armed with knowledge and facts will eventually come to realize that guns can absolutely be kept safely in the home.

When they do come around, call me back. If it’s within 1 year of your class date, they can pay their fee and get their certificate for the class they took with you and apply for their LTC.

The Myth of the Magical Shotgun

By now you may have heard that Vice President Biden advises you to buy a double barreled shotgun for self-defense. He also suggests to his wife “Jill, if there’s ever a problem, just walk out on the balcony here, put that double-barreled shotgun and fire two blasts outside the house”. He also suggests “You don’t need an AR-15, it’s harder to aim, it’s harder to use”. On today’s segment for Gun Myths and Misconceptions, we’re going to take a look at the Vice Presidents advice to see if it holds water.

Point 1: The Double Barreled Shotgun is The Only Home Defense Weapon You Need.

Joe Biden suggests in his interview that all you need is a double barreled shotgun to defend your family in the home. I’m not picking on the Vice President here. He’s not the first person to suggest this and it’s a commonly held belief among many. However, is this right?

In the pro column, a double barreled shotgun is mechanically simple. It breaks open at a hinge point, loads by simply dropping in the cartridges, and closes as easily as it opens. It’s easy to aim as roughly sighting down the barrel is “close enough” due to the spread of the shot as it leaves the barrel. This is especially true in the home where we can assume that you won’t be more than 20 feet away from your attacker in most cases. So far, so good.

What about the con column? Well, shotguns are not light. Typically a double barreled shotgun is created for sport shooting where the gun won’t be carried around much. They have heavy steel barrels and heavy wood stocks. They can be upwards of 7-8 pounds before you load them. In addition to the weight, DB shotguns are also long. They can be 45” or more in length depending on the model which means that gun is not only heavy but much of the weight is cantilevered out beyond your hands making it feel heavier and more difficult to control. In fairness, you can cut down the barrel on a shotgun but only down to 18”. That means you still have a 35” long gun and I’m guessing Joe wasn’t suggesting taking your trap gun out to the garage and introducing it to a hack saw.

That extra length poses another set of practical problems. How wide are your doorways? Most are only about 36” wide or so. That means when you exit one room into another in your home you’re going to stick about 12” or more of shotgun barrel into the hallway before you can see what’s out there. Alternatively, you could point it down as you cross the threshold but now you have to be ready to quickly raise that 45” long 7lb gun up and get it on target if your attacker is nearby! This brings us to another issue with long barrels. They’re easy to grab. If, in a moment’s hesitation, your attacker can get within about 6’ of you they can reach out and grab the end of that barrel.

Finally, there’s the claim that they are easy to use. I’ve already mentioned that a DB shotgun is easy to load and to aim. But is it easier to shoot than an AR15? I don’t believe so. First, a 12g shotgun has a huge recoil. It’s a very powerful gun and home defense cartridges for them are often among the most powerful of cartridges. That adds up to a big kick. If you are small, have a weak upper body, or any form of persistent shoulder issue, you may not find it easy to shoot. My wife, who is only about 98lbs hates to even hold my shotgun. However, she finds the AR15 easy to shoot. For larger, stronger individuals, a shotgun may be easier to shoot. But I would argue strongly that for smaller individuals, unless they have trained, will not find a shotgun easier to use.

To summarize, a DB shotgun is easy to load (with only two shots) and easy to aim. But, it’s heavy, extremely long, difficult to maneuver, very susceptible to being grabbed in close quarters, and not easily fired by small or physically challenged individuals. I’d call this a MYTH.

Point 2: The AR15 is Harder To Aim and Harder to Use Than a Double Barreled Shotgun.

Mr. Biden also suggested, “You don’t need an AR-15, it’s harder to aim, it’s harder to use”. Let’s take a look at that statement. We’ve already debunked the idea that the double barreled shotgun is the perfect home defense weapon, but is it easier to use than an AR15?

Let’s break this down to the two halves of the statement. First, is an AR15 harder to aim? To answer this we have to assume that we are indoors (as we did above to the shotgun) and that we are shooting at a person sized target. At a distance of 20 feet, even if you removed the sights from the AR15, if you used the same method to aim as you did with the shotgun, you could easily hit your target. This is because you are sighting the targeting along a relatively long barrel, just as with a shotgun. The key difference is that the AR15 shoots a .223 caliber projectile instead of the 00 Buckshot you may shoot from a shotgun which would be 9 .32 caliber projectiles. If you are a little off target with your .223, you miss. If you are a little off target with 00 buckshot, your target may still get hit with a pellet or two since, at 20’ you’ll get a spread of about 9” or so when the buckshot hits. So when people say a shotgun is easier to aim, what they really mean is that it’s more forgiving when you miss. Since you’re in a home with your family, you don’t want to miss. Additionally, there are a plethora of scopes and sights available for the AR15 that make aiming accurately at close distances remarking easy. Double barreled shotguns usually don’t accept scopes without modifications. At worst, I’d call an AR15 as easy to aim as a shotgun.

The other half of the statement claims that an AR15 is harder to use than a double barreled shotgun. We’ve already established that a double barreled shotgun is easier to manipulate mechanically. However, we also established that it is a real challenge for the small or physically challenged to fire and its size and weight make it very difficult and potentially dangerous to maneuver with in the home. So what about the AR15?

The first thing to understand is that an AR15 can be configured, cheaply and easily, in a number of configurations. It can be fitted with a short or long stock for those with short or long arms. There are hundreds of grips to choose from. The barrels can be configured from 16” out to 24” or more. You can also choose parts for them that shave weight from the gun. So, you can get an AR15 that is only 32” long and weighs between 5 and 8 pounds depending on setup. What’s more, the weight in an AR15 is much more evenly distributed than a DB shotgun. This means that the gun will feel lighter and be more maneuverable. You don’t need to look any further than the US military. The AR15 platform is their weapon of choice for close quarters combat!

The second thing to consider is the ability to easily shoot the gun. The AR15 is a gas operated semi-automatic rifle that utilizes a counterweight (buffer) to absorb recoil. This means that the felt recoil when shooting the rifle is dramatically reduced. Not only can you shoot it all day long, but the lower recoil allows the shooter to get their aim back on target very quickly for a second shot.

The final question is about controls and mechanics. Let’s compare. Both the shotgun and the AR15 have safety switches. The shotgun has a switch to break open the barrel for reloading while the AR15 has a button to release the magazine. The AR15 has one extra element to operate in the bolt. The operation consists of pulling back a charging handle to open to charge the bolt or pressing a button to release the bolt if its locked open. This one extra element, technically, would make it more complicated to use. However, I’d offer that this is dramatically offset by the fact that it can hold 15 times more ammunition and that reloading is even easier than in a DB shotgun. So, you have to operate at least one of those controls on a shotgun 15 times more than you would on an AR15. I’d call that one a draw.

Overall, I’d saw the idea that an AR15 is harder to operate than a double barreled shotgun is a MYTH

Point 3: The Sound of a Shotgun Will Deter All Intruders.

The Vice President has suggested, as others before him have, that the mere sound of a shotgun begin fired or its pump action being operated will make even the most hardened criminal quake in fear before running away. It’s been perpetuated around water coolers and in movies and TV shows for decades but is it true?

It’s offered by this study found in the Northwestern University School of Law, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology that guns are used for self-defense about 2 million times a year. Of those times a gun is used, it’s fired at an assailant about 24% of the time. So, in about 1 in 4 cases, the mere presence of a gun was not enough to deter the attack.

Debates can be held endlessly on the validity of the exact numbers above. In the interest of quelling that argument, the US Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey found the overall number to be more like 108,000 and the number of events where the gun needed to be fired more like 17%. So, using those two very different studies we can still say that somewhere between 17% and 24% of the time, people actually have to shoot their assailants to stop them.

While the racking of a pump shotgun or a blast from a shotgun may scare aware a teenager looking for cash and jewelry, it’s not likely to stop someone who it prepared to or intent on doing harm. In those cases, you will need to be prepared to actually use that firearm. Not only is this point a MYTH, it’s a dangerous one.

Of course, what statements like the Vice President’s are supposed to do is minimize the importance of firearms for protection. They do a pretty good job of it. Just remember, the Vice President, who is constantly surrounded by an elite Secret Service detail is about as well equipped to talk to the average person’s home protection as I am to talk to science of solid rocket boosters.

Its Not a Silencer

We’ve all seen them in movies. The secret agent screws a little canister onto the end of his pistol and suddenly, his guns shots are reduced to a barely audible “pffft”. So silent that removing a sword from its scabbard sounds like a cacophony by comparison! Because of this movie myth, we call these things “silencers”. They are actually called suppressors, which more accurately define what they do. This week we’re educating you by debunking this myth and setting you straight on how suppressors really work.

To understand how a suppressor works, we first have to understand what you’re hearing when a gun goes off. When a gun is fired, several noises are being made. First, and quietest, is the function of the gun itself. This is the mechanical sounds of the gun being operated. This is the sound of the trigger pulling, hammer falling, round being ejected, round being loaded, etc.. Second, is the muzzle blast. This is the load bang occurring as the result of the charge in the ammunition being ignited. Last is the ballistic crack or sonic signature. That’s the sound of the bullet breaking the sound barrier and typically occurs shortly after leaving the barrel.

The first sounds, those mechanical noises are very quiet and unaffected in any meaningful way by a suppressor. The last sound, that of the sonic signature, happens outside of the gun and is also not affected. It is possible to use sub sonic ammunition (bullets that, because of their charge, travel slower than the speed of sound) but the speed of sound is about 1,140 feet per second. Even handgun rounds travel at or beyond this. Even rounds traveling near this speed (transonic) may produce a sonic signature. Subsonic rounds are typically specialized rounds used for a specific purpose. It is safe to say that most commercially available ammunition (with the possible exception of some .22 caliber rounds) are at least transonic if not supersonic.

That leaves us with muzzle blast as a controllable sound. The booming sound of a muzzle blast is really just a volume of high pressure air expanding from the small volume of the barrel into the much larger volume outside of it. The result of the rapid expansion is a bang. Think of a balloon. When you take a pin to a large, full balloon, there’s a loud bang as it explodes. The bang is from that pressurized air in the balloon expanding all at once into the open air. Now, take the same balloon and, instead of popping it, gently open the filling neck to let the air slowly escape. There’s almost no sound. Suppressors use that same principle.

Typically, a suppressor is a container with an open volume of air inside of it. Its often filled with perforated baffles that allow the air from the barrel to expand at a slower rate inside the volume of the suppressor which is much larger. This slower expansion of air reduces the noise of the muzzle blast anywhere from 14 to 40db or so. On average, suppressors reduce the sound from the muzzle blast by about 30db or so. This happens to be about the amount that a decent set of ear protectors reduce the same noise to a shooter. So, in everyday use, a suppressor would reduce or eliminate the need for a recreational shooter to wear ear protection. The other benefit is that, because the release of gases is more controlled, felt recoil (the effect of the gun “kicking back”) is reduced by up to 30%.

Other benefits of a suppressor have a decidedly more military specific nature. By positioning themselves near hard surfaces, snipers can effectively “redirect” the sound of the sonic signature. That sound of the bullet breaking the sound barrier can be reflected off of a hard surface to mask the shot’s origin. This may not even be necessary in an urban area where the sound of the sonic signature alone may be nearly impossible to locate by ear in the midst of other noise. Suppressors also reduce flash. This can be helpful in night operations where exposure to a bright flash could disrupt night vision. Finally, it can reduce the risk of hearing injuries and disorientation when firing in closed spaces such as rooms.

Despite the science of suppressors, the general public and legislating bodies is still under the impression presented to them by Hollywood, that suppressors are magical devices that can reduce a gunshot to a whisper. In reality, the only effective use for them in the civilian world is as a hearing protection device and recoil assist mechanism. Yet, they are illegal to possess in several states (MA being one) and require a $200 tax stamp and a stack of paperwork from the ATF in the states where they are legal.

Semi-Automatic vs. Fully Automatic

Our next topic in the series on Gun Myths & Misconceptions is the difference between Traditional, Semi-Automatic, and Full-Automatic guns. Every time the conversation around gun control and assault weapons bans pop up the descriptions of fire modes get very muddy. Recently, my dad was telling me that he corrected a family member who was railing against the ridiculousness of assault rifles. There was no use for them for hunting, he argued, because you’d ruin the game with all the bullets. He was confusing a fully automatic rifle with a semi automatic one. He, like many people did not understand the facts. I hope to change that a little.

When we talk about a gun’s fire mode or action type, what we’re really referring to is what must be done to cycle the next round of ammunition into the firearm. The standard or traditional mode of fire for a gun requires physical manipulation to load a round of ammunition. It could be in the form of bolt action rifles or lever action cowboy guns or revolvers. In all of these guns, the operator must insert the next cartridge into the chamber for firing. After the trigger is pulled and the round fired, they must insert the next round. In a revolver, this could be a function of cocking the hammer by hand or by pulling the trigger from its first stage to cock the hammer. In a bolt action rifle the operator must unlock and retract the bolt, insert a new cartridge (or allow one to be fed in through a magazine), reinsert the bolt, and lock it. There are many different methods across many styles of guns but the common denominator is that the gun operator must do something physically to load a round before pulling the trigger to shoot it.

Full-Automatic firearms are, as the term may suggest, capable of loading rounds automatically. Through its mechanical make-up, a full-automatic firearm will fire, eject a spent casing, load a fresh round, and fire again as long as the trigger is squeezed and the supply of ammunition present. It is, in common terms, a machine gun (although machine gun has a more precise definition, it’s less important here). Some Full-Automatic firearms fire in a full-auto “burst” that allows 3 or more rounds to fire in set bursts for each pull of the trigger. This is done to control recoil and conserve on ammunition in fire fights. The main premise remains the same though. The gun performs all actions of the firing cycle on its own, as long as it has a supply of ammunition, for as long as the trigger is pulled. These types of firearms are VERY heavily regulated. Any full-auto firearm produced after May 19, 1986 is completely illegal for a civilian to own. The military, police, and properly licensed gun manufacturers are the only people who may own them legally. Full-auto firearms made previous to that date may be own if the owner is properly licensed in their state (not all states require a specific FA license some do). The process for acquiring one is long and costly. A great deal of paperwork is submitted to the BATFE along with a $200 tax for each firearm purchased. After the paperwork is processed and returned, the okay is sent to the seller who may then release the firearm to the new owner. It can take 6 months or more. The cost of a FA firearm that is at least 26 years old is at least a few thousand dollars.

Finally, what is arguably the most popular and misunderstood type of fire; the semi-automatic. With an SA, every time you pull the trigger the firearm will fire a round, eject a round, and load a fresh round. That’s it. If you want to fire another round, you must pull the trigger again. Modern Sporting rifles like the AR15 fire this way. One pull, one shot. They are capable of as high a rate of fire as an individual can produce by pulling a trigger, typically, this does not come close to the rate of fire associated with a FA. Frankly, most people just can’t pull the trigger quickly enough to make this happen.

So, what about the argument that a SA can be converted to a FA very quickly? Its not typically true. If a gun is already a FA, it can be converted to SA. However, modern firearms that have been built as SA typically have some feature built into them that would prohibit FA conversion. It could be done but not by dropping in new parts or “filing” something down. Additionally, the parts to make a FA firearm are heavily regulated. Possessing one without the proper licensing or the legally possessed firearm to install them into, could land you in jail.

For more information about the difference between an “Assault Weapon” and the Modern Sporting Rifle, go here

Magazines or Clips?

I talk to a lot of people who firmly believe in wrong information about guns. Some believe it so firmly, they correct me! I’m starting this new feature call Gun Myths & Misconceptions to help combat this a little. If knowledge is power, consider this your daily vitamins!

Today we’re going to tackle a big pet peeve; Magazines versus Clips. Both are real terms, the trick is, they mean different things. Using the wrong one is a bit like saying chopper instead of moped.

Let’s start with a magazine. A magazine is typically a tube, box, or drum. It can be attached permanently to the gun or be detachable. It has a spring which compresses when ammunition is inserted and serves to force the ammunition to the top of the magazine to load into the chamber of the gun. In most cases, detachable magazines can be removed quickly and replaced with another fully loaded magazine.

A clip, on the other hand, holds the ammunition so that it may be installed into a magazine. It’s typically little more than spring steel but in addition to holding the ammunition also is required to make the action of the gun function. Without the clip, the gun would not be able to function even if the ammunition was present.

Another item, similar to the clip, is called a charger or stripper clip. It holds the ammunition but serves no function for the gun other than that. In some cases they are used only to load ammunition into a magazine and are then removed. In the case of a stripper clip, the ammunition can be loaded into the gun or magazine without it. The charger, therefore, is a convenience.

Hopefully, this clears up some of the confusion about the two words. Now, the next time you here a news anchor show an image of a magazine while using the word clip, you can shake your head just like I do.