September 01, 2005

Disaster Guns

The original Battle of New Orleans was a victory for a mixed bag of regular Army units, frontiersmen, former slaves, and outlaws. 190 years later, gunshots echo over the same patch of ground, as their descendants of the winners fire upon one another.

Armed gangs of violent young men rape and pillage their way across a city shattered by Hurricane Katrina. National Guard units and police officers trying to evacuate trapped citizens have come under gunfire, as have ambulances and rescue helicopters. Looting prevails. Bodies lie in the street, some apparent drowning victims, some clearly victims of gunshot wounds.

This is to the Second Battle of New Orleans.

There will be no winners, only survivors

Local, state, and federal government plans seem to have failed in almost every possible way, and continue to fail those rocked by what will be likely be remembered as the most destructive hurricane in American history.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was late in issuing a mandatory evacuation order, and when one was given, he failed to provide to provide the resources to make that evacuation possible for those most in need. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, perhaps the person single most responsible for the citizens of her state, has completely failed to implement or coordinate either an evacuation or a rescue and recovery effort. The federal government failed (perhaps in an impossible bid) to conquer Mother Nature, and failing that, has been slow to marshal forces and deliver aid. The layers of government failed, and the administration of law failed as well.

There is only one law now along the Gulf Coast, and that is the law of strength, the law of the gun. It has happened before.

Glenn Reynolds:

NEW YORK TIMES: Owners Take Up Arms as Looters Press Their Advantage

If you've got a week's supplies, and a gun, you'll usually do okay after a disaster. If you don't, you're in much bigger trouble, because it generally takes that long for some sort of order to be restored. We saw that after Andrew, and we're seeing it again.

It will happen again.

It will come in the form of another hurricane, or an earthquake, an outbreak of disease, or another eventuality of which we have not dared dream, even in our darkest thoughts. When that time comes, the only thing that may preserve your life and property may be the possession of and willingness to use a firearm.

Not all firearms are suitable for civilian defense. Most, in fact, are entirely unsuitable for the kind of situation brought about in natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

A civilian defense firearm must:

  • be easy to load, unload
  • easy to make safe
  • be easy to clean
  • be rugged and tolerant of abuse
  • use common, readily available ammunition of sufficient power
  • carry a minimum of five rounds of ammunition
  • be reasonably abundant (for acquiring spare parts)

Easy to Load and Unload
Loading ammunition into a civilian defense firearm must be easy. Most civilians will not handle their firearms often in the course of an average year. They must have firearms that are designed with enough ease of use so that once the loading and unloading process is once learned, it is easy to recall even after extended amounts of time. Almost all firearms meet these minimum criteria.

Easy to Make Safe
Firearms must be able to easily store, with the ability to chamber and fire a round of ammunition blocked, to keep it safe from access by children and Howard Dean supporters—a gun lock of some sort. Firearms should also ideally have a recognizable loaded-chamber indicator and easy-to-engage and/or redundant safety systems. Most modern firearms meet the former criteria of being able to accept gunlocks, and many firearms meet the later.

Be Easy to Clean
Civilian defense firearms must be able to be field-stripped and cleaned, and reassembled with minimal tools or no tools at all in a short amount of time, with a minimal danger of losing or damaging critical parts. More difficult in some older designs, or newer designs that will not long last.

Be Rugged and Tolerant of Abuse
Civilian defense firearms in a survival setting are likely to suffer accidental abuse, face improper storage and cleaning, use less than perfect-quality ammunition—and still perform flawlessly when needed. A hard task for many firearms.

Use Common, Readily Available Ammunition of Sufficient Power
This dual criteria is essential to meet. You cache of ammunition may get damaged or lost, or in nightmare Snake Plissken scenarios, you might even shoot it all up. You should choose a caliber of ammunition common to your area. That ammunition must be capable of killing animals both wild and domestic that are common to your area, from alligators to pit bulls. It must also be capable of stopping humans quickly and lethally, but must not be overly powerful for the task at hand. This I one of the more difficult criteria to satisfy.

Carry a Minimum of Five Rounds of Ammunition
You may not always hit what you aim at, and you may have multiple targets. If you cannot hit your target with five shots, significantly more ammunition only contributes to environmental lead poisoning downrange. In addition, after five rounds, your target, if human, is not likely to stay within range. If an animal, it will either be feasting or running as well. This

While a surprising number of firearms did past these tests, a few designs stood out.

12-gauge Pump-Action Shotgun

A 12-gauge pump-action shotgun is perhaps the most common, powerful, adaptable, and useful firearm available for person defense. The unmistakable shuck-shuck sound of a pump shotgun chambering a round makes even the most thuggish brute reconsider his intentions, and should he continue down the wrong path, a simple point and squeeze will arrange an immediate consultation with the deity of his choice.

Pumps such as the Mossburg 500 series and the Remington 870 series (pictured) are used to hunt everything from birds the bears, and are in common use by police and military units worldwide. Ammunition is readily available and can be specialized to certain tasks, an advantage most other weapons lack. Pump action shotguns typically carry sufficient amounts of ammunition, and they can be fired extremely rapidly in trained hands.


The choice of the cheap, tawdry Simonov carbine might be off-putting to some, but it might be the perfect rifle for our stated purposes. It uses the universally accessible 7.62x39mm (.30 Russian) military round found almost everywhere in the world in bulk, for cheap. The round reasonably duplicates the ballistics of the lever-action .30/30s, while the rifle itself has the advantages of being easier to load, and unload that the lever guns. The simple safety can be checked by touch. It carries its own cleaning kit in the butt of the rifle, and is compact in design.

.30/30 Lever-Action Rifle

A staple of hunters for years, the .30/30 lever-actions from Marlin (pictured) and Winchester are perhaps the most common rifles in the closets of American hunters today. They are easy to load, easy to carry, have good power at reason ranges beyond what a shotgun can provide, and are quick to use. The downside is that they are a bit more difficult to fieldstrip than most pump shotguns, and while the ammunition is common, they are also harder to easily unload.

9mm Safe-Action Pistols

Any handgun is at a distinct disadvantage against shotguns and rifles for many reason starting with practical accuracy, and knock-down power. On the other hand, they are far more easily concealed. Of semi-automatic pistols, the so-called "safe-action" designs from Springfield Armory and Glock (pictured) are nearly identical in appearance and function. Both feature similar, though proprietary safety systems that prevent accidental discharges while enabling the user to get the weapon up and ready to fire quickly. They are lightweight, and having polymer frames, are extremely resistant to corrosion. They are also relatively easy to shoot, load, and clean ,The 9x19mm NATO round is also nearly universal, making it easy to obtain while still providing acceptable stopping power.

.357 Magnum Stainless Revolver

Once nearly universal among police forces, the .38 Special/.375 Magnum police type revolvers (Smith & Wesson pictured)simply refuse to fade completely away. The can use both .38 and .357 Magnum ammunition (in the .357 chambered guns only) and are very easy to load and unload. Shooting a revolver is not as intuitive as shooting a pistol, but its simple reliability and legendary stopping power, along with a reasonable amount of concealablity make it an acceptable choice.

In Review
Pump-action shotguns are the best all around personal defense weapon. Lever –action and semi-automatic carbines are the best rifles for a multitude of reasons not perhaps the least of which is a proven track record in killing other humans when the need arose. Pistols and revolvers common to police agencies are also often the best choice of handguns. And while not a conscious criteria, the rifles and shotguns mentioned in this post can all be purchased for less than $300 (often under $200), making them quite affordable as well when compared to other firearms.

If you are black and poor like most disaster victims seem to be, that is an important factor, even if nobody wants to talk about it.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at September 1, 2005 10:18 PM | TrackBack

I prefer the single action .44 magnum pistol and bolt action .30-06 rifle. In combination, and properly employed they present a formidable adversary to wouldbe assailants.

Posted by: John Yetter, CW5, USA (Retired) at September 2, 2005 08:27 AM

I would actually guess that .30-06Gov't ammo is more available than .30-30, but most rifles that chamber it are either more expensive than the lever guns or slower to operate, so you're correct.

This seems like a good comprehensive list for last minute looter-prevention. Of course, nothing can substitute for proper preparation. Having several hundred rounds on hand for your trusted disaster guns is preferable to scrounging with an untested gun anytime.

Posted by: Josh at September 2, 2005 12:11 PM

Pump shotguns are NOT user friendly. Sliding the "pump" back and forward smoothly and completely are learned skills. In stressful situations, even cops fail to "pump" the shotgun correctly. This leads to jams. The empty case is not ejected fully, and the new cartridge will not load. If you must have a shotgun, spend the extra cash for a semiautomatic. They are more expensive, they do have more parts to take care of, but when you're under fire, there's less chance of an operator error causing a fatal jam.

Posted by: Jeremy at September 2, 2005 12:23 PM

I will agree that people sometimes "short-stroke" a pump (I've done it myself), but it is still far superior to other kinds of shotguns based upon the kind of situations we are discussing.

Pump guns are easier to clear and less likely to jam or be ammo sensitive than are semi-autos. Semi-autos are great under ideal conditions, but fail repeatedly if fouled, and fouling is expected in natural disasters and combat. That is the reason pump shotguns are still the choice of most major military and police organizations worldwide.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at September 2, 2005 12:45 PM

One benefit of a pump shotgun that many people advocate is the noise of the action. This is a universal sound that is appreciated as much as a rattlesnakes tail.

Posted by: David Caskey, MD at September 2, 2005 01:44 PM

I agree with the assessment of the pump shotgun but I'm not sure about the use of a 9 mm handgun. A friend of mine was involved in the unpleasantness in Viet Nam and his favorite was the familiar 1911A1 .45 cal. pistol. He says the 9 mm is a good weapon, light of weight and the supply of ammo is plentiful but he claims that the 9 mm can "often" (his word) result in a wound that will not keep a bad guy down. He claims that if the .45 cal. hits a man almost anywhere in the body, that body will usually stay down. The .45's bullet moves rather slowly so the bullet's energy is absorbed by the body. Based upon my friend's recomendations I have a 12 ga. pump with a 22" barrel loaded with No. 4 shot and a 1911A1 .45 cal. pistol loaded with easily attained ball ammo. (I average 5 out of 7 rounds in the 10-ring at 20 yards and this is not a sporterized pistol.)

Posted by: Alceste at September 2, 2005 02:16 PM

Why did I choose 9mm over .45 ACP?

You answered it yourself when you said, "He says the 9 mm is a good weapon, light of weight and the supply of ammo is plentiful."

.45 ACP is the best manstopper in pistol calibers, period. That said, it won't stop people with a hit just anywhere, and some people find the guns chambered for them too large and heavy.

a 9mm is a compromise cartridge, not necessarily the best at a specific task.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at September 2, 2005 02:54 PM

The argument of light/fast/high capacity versus heavy/slow/low cap. pistols has been ongoing for decades, and it isn't likely to ever end. I would personally put the "compromise cartridge" at around the .40S&W, myself. Just about all three of those cartridges are highly plentiful here - just look in any WalMart or hardware store and see if they don't carry Winchester Whitebox in all 3, and .38/.357. All that aside, the best advice is to pick something you are comfortable with and can shoot well and stick with it. Even a .22lr is better than nothing.

Posted by: Josh at September 2, 2005 03:18 PM

I just came from Annika's and I wanted to thank you for a great post. I just had this conversation with a friend and if there's one thing I would add for your consideration is an individual's location. A rifle cartidge fired in an apartment building might be just as dangerous to your neighbors as it is to the intruder. I think that's just one more reason to recommend a shotgun (or pistol with hydro-shock ammo.) This obviously isn't a problem if you live in a rural area, but should be considered for urban residents.

Posted by: Trevor at September 2, 2005 06:12 PM

Just one nit to pick. If a person knows so little about guns that they don't look in the chamber to see if it's loaded, how are they going to know what it means when the extractor is lifted up, when there's a little red bump on the back of the slide, or whatever?

Knowing whether a gun is loaded or not is a training issue, regardless of how many gadgets you stick on.

Posted by: Chris at September 2, 2005 06:35 PM


Federal Hydra-Shok ammunition is indeed great stuff (I've got them in my backup magazines) but it cuts through sheetrock like a hot knife through butter. You are probably thinking of Magsafe, Glasers Safety slugs, or other frangible ammunition.

Glaser and Magsafe both make frangible rifle ammunition for rifles, BTW.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at September 2, 2005 07:23 PM

Excellent post. I agree on all but the 9mm., as I would lean more towards something along the lines of a Taurus/Beretta 92 series, or maybe a SIG. I had a DAO S & W and couldn't wait to get rid of it. A .45 is still better, if you can (and DO) shoot it...

I'll put up a link to your post at Mr. Completely.

Posted by: Mr. Completely at September 3, 2005 03:03 PM

Not a bad rundown. I might argue about 9mm for a semi-auto pistol, but that's about it.

And as I told a friend, there's not a damn thing wrong with a good revolver. Taurus makes a 5-shot in .45acp that uses moon clips; it's slim enough for a good carry gun, and good .45 ammo is plentiful. Reloading is fast, too.

Dammit, since I've been mad at Taurus for helping on on the 'smart gun' idiocy, I wish S&W made one like that...

Posted by: Mark at September 3, 2005 07:50 PM

Great post.
I guess I need to go get a 30-30.

Posted by: jimmyb at September 3, 2005 11:21 PM

Actually, Jimmy, I'd say that in some ways, the SKS has an advantage over lever-action .30/30s. The ammo is more available world-wide and is far cheaper, it has a faster rate of fire, and in general, is less expensive. The firearm itself is faster to load and unload, faster to field strip, and carries it own basic cleaning kit. That said, the lever guns are more aesthetically pleasing and better made.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at September 3, 2005 11:45 PM

Damned my Dad was good!

Through the years my father has given me, and taught me to shoot several firearms. A Remington 870 12 guage shotgun, a Winchester 30-30, a Colt 1911A 45, and a M1884 45-70 Carbine.

OK, you might not think that the 45-70 is much good for defense. It's a single shot and uses ammo that isn't all that standard. But back in 1969 a friend of my father's had borrowed it for a weekend shoot. That evening a couple guys decided to create a little mischief at his house just outside of town. When Dad's friend opened the door and yelled at them to clear out they just started taunting him. Eventually one of the voices in the dark threatened to shoot Dad's friend if he didn't go back inside. So he did. He walked to the kitchen table where the 45-70 was laying, grabbed it and a couple of the black powder rounds that Dad had loaned him. He walked back out the kitchen door, aimed about 10 feet over the gate at the end of his yard and fired off a round.

All he heard was a lot a screaming and cursing as the trouble makers cleared out - fast.

10 minutes later the sheriff showed up. His neighbor down the road reported hearing a cannon going off...

Posted by: David at September 4, 2005 01:13 AM

To boil it down: Ruger SP101 and Win 94 in 357 mag.

Idiot proof and will get you home.

Posted by: CDR Salamander at September 4, 2005 04:55 PM

What's the big deal about ammo being available world-wide? I tain't planning on a world tour and I suspect neither are many of the folks reading your post. I suspect 30-30 ammo isn't plentiful world wide. I have both a .223 and .308 semi-auto. Eventhough the .223 seems (from many after action reports from Vietnam to Afganistan to Iraq) to require multiple hits to do the job....thus you may need a lot of ammo. The .308 seems to require fewer hits.

Posted by: BlueMntCeltic at September 5, 2005 05:25 PM

Thank you very much for an informative and thought provoking post. I'm going to go away and think about it for a bit, inquire of my local police department concerning firearm regulations, find a local range where I can practice, and maybe take some of my rifles out of storage.

Posted by: RP at September 6, 2005 12:39 PM

I'd go with a Beretta 92FS over the Glock, but that's just me. The Glock works fine, too. For the ladies, my wife carries a Smith and Wesson 3913 LS, which is smaller, lighter, and is also chambered for 9mm. It's operation is similar to the Beretta, also, so she's comfortable with either. I wanted us to be chambered the same to simplify ammo. This has been a good combo for us.

In .45, I like a modern .45 rather than a 1911. I'm a lefty, so the 1911 has never had great appeal for me; it is laid out awkwardly for me. The Smith & Wesson 4566 TSW is a brutally reliable piece of stainless steel with ambidextrous safeties and a modern decocker/safety. Again, just my $.02.

In revolvers, a .357 Smith & Wesson is hard to argue with. The ladies can shoot .38; the men, .357. I'm fond of the model 686 that S&W makes.

Shotguns I'm with you 100%.

For rifles, I've always been partial to bolt-action .308 Winchesters, myself.

Great advice, and great post, though.

Posted by: The Colossus at September 6, 2005 01:53 PM

Boil it down, folks: To each their own. the important thing isn't which gun you have, or how many guns you have (yes yes, I speak heresy, I know) but that you HAVE A GUN.
ANY gun beats NO gun.

Posted by: DaveP. at September 6, 2005 11:24 PM

DaveP: Hear, hear!

Actually I think certain semi-auto shotguns are a better choice than pump-actions; some of them are pretty reliable, and they only have to be more reliable than the operator of the pump to be better. For example the Saiga shotguns based on the AK-47 are probably pretty reliable; the AK isn't exactly known for jamming when dirty. The Franchi SPAS-12 is overweight and complicated to learn, but never fails with high-brass. The Benelli M104 seems to be very reliable.

In handguns, in my part of America at least, .40 S&W is about as common as 9mm, and significantly superior in power.

Posted by: CharlesH at September 8, 2005 09:34 AM

I agree that the pump action shotgun is overrated, because of the likelihood of short stroking the round. If the perp is on PCP, he will make a beeline for you.

If the perp is in your house without your permission, you don't owe him a warning as a matter of morals, though you may opt to give him one as a matter of manners. Basic ambush technique is to initiate the ambush with a casualty producing device. The first thing the most aggressive perp should hear is the meaty thump of number 1 buck into his body. If that doesn't deter the next guy, the shuck-shuck sound wouldn't either.

Number 1 buck will penetrate all the way to the back of the perp, and the 16 balls will have more lethality than say, 9 rounds of 00 buck. Aim or point high in the torso, to be sure to get the spine and heart.

I use a double barreled shotgun, with a .45ACP revolver on my bedside table. Spare rounds attached to each. .45ACP revolvers use half or full moon clips, which function as speed loaders.

After a few moon clips, there is enough carbon buildup so that additional rounds can be fired without moon clips, though ejection can be a problem. With 6 moonclips in my quick access safe, plus one in the revolver, I am in good shape.

Posted by: Don Meaker at September 12, 2005 07:59 PM

In regards to the Saiga-12:

I own one, and with the right ammo, it's very reliable. On the other hand, with cheap stuff, it sometimes gets hung up. Also, the sights provided with the gun aren't very good, but would be adequate at pistol range.

One useful piece of advice: you can use the white box cheap stuff for practice, but I wouldn't want to use it for defense. You tend to get one or two rounds that fail to fire, and it tends to be dirty stuff, too. In short, you get what you pay for.

I also favor the .45 ACP revolver, whether a modern S&W 625, or a Model 1917.

Posted by: Jon Acheson at September 13, 2005 10:16 AM

What? No CO2 pellet gun for varmit control? Quiet, accurate and effective. Keeps the rats under control.

Posted by: DJ at September 17, 2005 01:26 AM

DJ, the focus of this post is "disaster guns."

The vermin we're most concerned about walk on two legs, and pellets won't suffice.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at September 17, 2005 01:58 AM