Eric J. Perry is a former firearms instructor for various police departments. He is an Army veteran.
The Great Gun Debate
As with any good debate there is no clear, right answer and there are more opinions than anyone can process. So, you ask what makes me think my opinion is the right one, or the one that you should follow? Simply, I don't. I have my opinion based on my experience as a firearms instructor for various police departments, my years in the Army, my desire to find an inexpensive way to live, and my understanding of keeping things simple for the beginner or curious. With that said, I understand that this article is among hundreds if not thousands that maintain the writer's stance on what gun you should have for whatever situation you foresee yourself in. My breakdown is simple, inexpensive, and all encompassing. Not everyone is suited or capable of handling a .45 caliber pistol. Just as not everyone is capable of spending $700-$1200 on the currently popular AR-15 style rifle. I loved my M4 in the Army, and I love my civilian model now and recommend one to anyone if they already have the other 4 guns in this article.
I truly hope this article helps clear up the debate for you, and helps you take the next or possibly the first step in purchasing your first piece of self-defense. For those of you that already have a working knowledge of firearms I challenge you to consider this information as well. As always, any comments or questions are appreciated.
So, let’s get this started. First off, there is no order in which you should buy these guns. If you have experience with rifles, shotguns or pistols then go with what you know first. I believe there are 4 guns that you need to have in your house to cover every scenario possible from a regular day to doomsday. Once you have these 4 guns and sufficient ammo, that we will discuss later, then you can keep your eye out for specific guns that you would like to own for your own situation, and I will discuss a few of those in this article as well.
The Legendary .22 Rifle
The .22 rifle is perhaps the most commonly owned gun in America. Most of these type articles will agree with me on this; a .22 rifle is a must have. Let me explain why. Let me breakdown why so many Americans own this rifle and why this is on my list. A .22 rifle is one of the least expensive firearms to purchase. I recently bought a .22 for $110 at Wal-Mart. It has a 10 round detachable magazine and a black synthetic stock. They are generally priced in the low $100 range and the tube fed rifles can hold up to 17 rounds. My first recommendation is a firearm that will cost you roughly $100. That is a small investment. The ammunition can be somewhat difficult to find due to the popularity at this time. However, if you check with local gun stores or places other than Wal-Mart you can generally find ammo. Ammunition for a .22 is inexpensive as well. The local gun store has plenty of ammo to choose from. The basic ammunition I bought was a can of 325 rounds for $21.95. That is a lot of ammo for a small price. The low cost per round is a critical aspect of owning this gun. So basically, for an investment of $200 you can have one of the most common firearms in America and about 1000 rounds of ammo for it.
So, a .22 is cheap but what makes it so special? A .22 has no kick when fired and makes a small amount of noise. This is the perfect gun to practice your marksmanship. Never fired a gun before? Here is a perfect gun to use. The ammo is inexpensive so you can shoot a lot. There is no kick so a young child can safely handle firing it. You can develop the fundamentals of shooting with this gun. You can practice at various ranges and continue to improve your skills. I cannot think of a better gun to train someone on the basics of shooting with than a .22.
Now that you know how to shoot, then what? I would consider the .22 in the house as the family's training firearm and small game gun. A .22 is the perfect caliber for small game such as birds, squirrels, and rabbits. For most people, in a survival situation small game will be the primary animal hunted. There are very few people that live in an area with big game such as deer or larger so the focus should be on small, more common game. When it comes to surviving and providing for your family don't let your ego supersede reality. A .22 will take down most any animal in your area and you will be able to provide for your family just fine off them. Plus, do you even know how to dress out a deer? Or what you would do with the leftover meat in a grid down situation? Keep it simple and think local.
Do not believe the garbage people talk about a .22 not being powerful enough to take down a person. I know we have all heard that shooting someone with a .22 will just piss them off. That is just a fable. There are countless articles on the internet that prove a .22 round can be fatal. Although, I do not recommend this gun as being your self-defense weapon it does have the capability to be. Remember, some .22s hold up to 17 rounds. In the situation that you must defend yourself or your family there is no question that 17 rounds of .22s flying towards the threat will certainly benefit you more than the recipient.
So, the .22 is one of the least expensive guns and ammo you can buy. The .22 is the perfect gun to train any or all your inexperienced family members on, and it is the perfect caliber to hunt small game. This gun is a must have for anyone wanting to prepare for a less-than-favorable situation.
The Classic 12-Gauge Shotgun
The second most commonly owned firearm in America, and probably not too far behind the .22 is the trusty shotgun. The shotgun is one of the most versatile firearms on the market. It can fire a single shot slug or shells with multiple shots for an area-of-affect capability. Practically every gun magazine out there has published articles stating that the shotgun is the best home defense firearm. I agree. That is why I have placed this gun on my list. Its primary function should be as home defense with a secondary purpose of hunting.
Any shotgun will do, and if you already have a shotgun that is a different gauge than the 12 gauge that is fine, but I do recommend obtaining a 12 gauge when you can. As with any sort of preparations you begin with what you have and what you can and then upgrade once you have the basics that you need. I specifically say the 12-gauge shotgun over any other gauge primarily for commonality of ammunition, pricing, and usability. The 12-gauge has a stout kick to it so I would recommend that if you train your child with this gun that the child is old enough and big enough to handle it. And before you do that you should be very comfortable around the gun yourself so that you can ensure the safest training environment.
I purchased a Stevens 12-gauge pump with a synthetic stock and pistol grip for $220, also from Wal-Mart. There are other gauges than a 12 that some people will argue to the end is better than another, and they are entitled to their opinion, but that doesn't really help you. The reason I say 12 over any other is because a 12 gauge is easily the most common. Which makes it more affordable; as well as the ammo. Also, in a catastrophic situation that has you searching abandoned houses to survive you are far more likely to find 12-gauge ammo than any other shotgun shells. A 12 gauge holds more pellets than a smaller gauge so there is a greater chance of hitting the target whether it is an intruder or a bird flying away. A 12-gauge slug can take down larger game such as a deer. In a grid-down situation you are not likely to run across large game but if you do your .22 will not be sufficient so having the 12-gauge will give you a greater chance of dropping dinner.
The 12-gauge shotgun should be added to your inventory for several reasons as we discussed. The shotgun is the best home defense firearm around. Use buckshot for home security. Buckshot holds roughly 8-9 pellets and will maintain a nice group under 30 feet. At a minimum, you can use birdshot. Birdshot has a lot more smaller pellets but it is very lethal within 30 feet (the size of an average living room). Keep a couple of boxes of slugs as well for hunting larger animals. Train with the cheaper birdshot to become familiar with firing a shotgun. Keep buckshot loaded for home security. Practice with the weapon by clearing the house room by room. It is a long gun; maintain control of it.
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The Old-School Revolver (.38/.357)
My dad loved revolvers. He never liked semi-automatics. He taught me one major lesson about a revolver. He said, “Son, do you know how to clear a malfunction from a revolver?” As he paused I said no and he responded, “you squeeze the trigger again.” I thought about it for a little while and it finally set in on me. At that point, I understood why my dad loved revolvers so much—because they are so simple to use. And that is why the revolver makes it on my list as one of the 4 must have firearms.
As with the shotgun, there is plenty of debate about what caliber. In continuing the tradition of simplicity, I have selected the .38/.357 as the caliber to have. Again, any caliber will do especially if you already have one. The reason I say a .357 Magnum, specifically, is because of its popularity, power, and ability to fire .38 Special ammunition as well. A 357 revolver can fire 38 ammo but if you get a 38 revolver it cannot fire a 357 round. Also, 38 ammo is cheaper and a lighter load than the 357. Practice and training with 38 ammo in the 357 revolver will save you money and does not have near the kickback as using 357 ammo. This is great when training a child or someone that is nervous or unsure of guns. A 357 Magnum will cost you around $400-500. There are some that may cost less and some that are much more. Keep an eye out for a deal also like from an individual selling one. For example, I bought a .32 caliber revolver for $75 from a friend. A 32 caliber is not a common round and actually the rounds are about $1 each but it was a good deal for a good gun and I hate to pass up a deal.
The primary purpose of having a revolver is for personal defense. A revolver can be concealed on the person or in a handbag. The simple function of a revolver makes this a must have firearm in your inventory. The limitation is the small capacity of 5-6 rounds. Revolvers have very few parts so it is less likely to be messed up beyond use if dropped or damaged otherwise, even being submerged in water will only have a minor effect on it. That is until you can get it cleaned to prevent rust. Additionally, the revolver can be used as home security just as the shotgun. Someone unable to safely control a shotgun could use the revolver instead in the home.
Of all my choices of must have firearms I fully expect the greatest debate about this one. And yes, I do believe you need a semi-automatic and a revolver in your inventory. And yes, I do believe it needs to be a 9mm. My preferred caliber semi-automatic is .40 caliber. But this article isn't about me and what I like; it’s about what is practical for the general population. A .40 caliber pistol has a large grip that some with smaller hands cannot handle well making their accuracy less than acceptable. A .40 also has a significantly greater kick than a 9mm making it intimidate children and those that are inexperienced. Also, 9mm is a more common round making it easier to buy and if necessary easier to scavenge. The U.S. Military uses a 9mm Beretta as standard issue. Numerous law enforcement agencies use 9mm ammo so locating ammo can be easier than other nontraditional rounds such as the .50 caliber pistol.
The primary purpose of the pistol is concealable, personal defense with a larger round capacity than the revolver. I recently purchased a Kel-Tec 9mm for $239 at a local gun store. I am a big Glock fan and would easily recommend a Glock to anyone but they are going to start in the $500 and up range. Kel-Tec has been around for a while and has made dependable small framed pistols carried by several police departments as their backup. (mm ammo is about as inexpensive as any other semi-automatic round at about $20 for 50. Practice with ball ammo and carry hollow-point for protection.
Train at ranges within 30 feet. This is for self-defense, not the movies. If a threat is greater than 30 feet away you need to consider if they are truly a threat at that point. Be smart, be safe, and don't be Rambo. Push aside your ego about having a larger caliber gun or being able to hit the target at 50 yards. You may be able to handle a larger caliber but what happens when your 9-year-old daughter must use that gun to protect herself or protect you? Do you still feel confident?
A well-placed shot of any caliber is better than a missed shot from a larger caliber.
Let's Wrap it Up
Your inventory should include a .22 rifle, 12-gauge shotgun, 357 Magnum revolver, and a 9mm semi-automatic pistol. You can purchase all 4 guns new for under $1000 without having to do much searching. So, for under $1000 you have 4 guns that can do anything you could possibly need a gun to do. This cost is about the cost of one AR-15. Let’s think about this for a second. Consider you are a family of 4: dad, mom, son and daughter. You now have a gun in each family members hands in the event something catastrophic happens compared to having one AR-15. If one of those guns goes down you still have 3 and that sounds much better to me than only having one to begin with. Don't ever forget Murphy's Laws.
Once you have all 4 necessary guns and ammo for each one then you can start eyeing the prospect of specialized guns such as the AR-15, large caliber hunting rifle, or a different pistol. I love my 308-bolt-action rifle. It is a great round for large game and capable of making long shots, but I would hate to have to use it to clear my house. An Ar-15 style rifle is very versatile and fun to use. It has very little recoil and isn't very loud. My biggest issue is that the rifle itself starts in the $700 range and ammo is about $1 each. I don't feel like that is a good starter gun, but get one while you can if you can.
I truly hope this has cleared up a few questions on where to begin and what you need. Remember that training is everything, and preparing for every possible scenario will make you and your family much more comfortable in this unstable world. Thank you and God Bless you all.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Got advice for anyone reading that could help them? Do you have suggestions on training, purchasing, or storage? Disagree with my 4? What would you use instead? I would love to hear any and ever comment. Of course, keep it clean and friendly. Thank you again for taking time to read this article.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Kelly Ann Christensen from Overland Park, Johnson County, Kansas on January 25, 2020:
I like that 9 mm. I was impressed that you are a firearms instructor until I saw that it was with the police department. We used to make/pack the shells when I was a kid. It has been a while since I shot a rifle. Thanks for the interesting article.
Jeffery Martin from Fort Worth on August 16, 2017:
I agree with your choices; although I might add an AR-15 style "sporting" rifle to the mix.
My favorite handgun, and the one my fiancee likes to shoot the most, is my Ruger GP100 .357 magnum. Although I only own two revolvers, at the moment, I have always been drawn to wheel guns.
LJ Bonham on September 04, 2016:
Nice hub. I might substitute a good, inexpensive bolt action, such as a Savage, in .30-06 or .308 for either the revolver or pistol, but I see your emphasis is on self-defense. Never know when a good hunting rifle will come in handy, though - also good for perimeter defense.
Dave Regala from Ebensburg, Pennsylvania on August 20, 2015:
The nice thing about this article is that it doesn't specifically list the exact model of gun you should have, but rather the category of gun. It allows the reader to do his/her own research to find the specific gun that they want. Personally I have one of each type of firearm you listed.
1. Smith & Wesson M&P-15 .22
2. Mossberg 590A1 Special Purpose 12 Gauge pump shotgun
3. Smith and Wesson Model 29 .357 Revolver
4 Sig Sauer p226 only its in .40 S&W
Very nice article, Sir.
PoppaPete on March 29, 2014:
You didn't mention any centerfire rifles like a .308 or a .30-06, but I guess a 12 ga shotgun will drop deer just as well. Enjoyed reading this.
morris adams on March 23, 2014:
And we all know a kel Tec 9 will get a 17yo thug off of ya!!!