Random thoughts from flyover country

Thursday, October 30

For those who have decided they want a gun, what should they get ?

On Michelle Malkin's blog yesterday, a poster was asking for recommendations on a handgun. I recommended a medium-frame 3 or 4 inch barreled revolver chambered for a .38 Special or .357 Magnum cartridge. In these days of high-capacity 9mm and .40 S&W semiautomatics and "pocket rockets," to use one of the gun control crowd's favorite terms, why in the world would I suggest something that would have been at home in a police officer's holster in the 1970s?

Let's make some assumptions:

1. The handgun must be usable for a man, a woman, or even an adolescent. The person asking for a recommendation was female, but it's really immaterial. Another family member might need to be able to use it.

2. The handgun must not be punishing to shoot. If it hurts to shoot, the users will not practice with it and thus will not develop the skill necessary to use it effectively.

3. The handgun must be reasonably effective in stopping a threat.

How does the old "police revolver" stack up?

1. A revolver is simple to operate. You aim the gun at the target, pull the trigger, and it goes bang. You can see if it's loaded by looking at it, and you can load or unload it quickly and easily. There is no slide to pull back to load or clear the chamber, and you can't forget to drop the magazine.

2. With a .38 Special steel-frame revolver recoil, even with good defensive ammunition, is not a problem for most folks. On the other hand, a .357 Magnum steel-frame revolver can be a handful with full-house magnum ammunition with heavy recoil and muzzle blast/flash. I'd recommend starting with lower pressure .38 Special ammunition and moving up to more powerful ammunition until you reach your recoil/blast/flash tolerance. I'd recommend practicing with lower-power ammunition and saving your defensive ammunition for the piece de resistance of your practice sessions.

3. As far as "stopping power" goes, no handgun is a "death ray." However, the .357 Magnum handgun loaded with 125 jacketed hollow point (JHP) full-power ammunition is the standard by which all others are measured. Using lower-powered ammo reduces stopping power, but may increase accuracy, and bullet placement is one of the top three things that determine effectiveness, given a minimum power level. The other two are placement and placement. There is nothing wrong with the effectiveness of any .38 Special defensive load, so my recommendation will provide an adequate level of protection provided you practice enough to establish competency and accuracy.

I'm going to wind this up with a short discussion of bullet types that I consider effective enough for defensive ammunition. You want either a lead semi-wadcutter hollow point of 158 grains in weight or a jacketed hollow point in 110 grains to 135 grains for the .38 Special. For the .357 Magnum, you want a 110 to 125 grain JHP. I'll get more detailed with specific recommendations for ammunition in a follow-on post.

Finally, if you aren't familiar with firearms, or especially if you aren't familiar with handguns, I'd recommend getting training from a competent instructor.



  1. ECS - hey I just linked off one of your comments on Michelle Malkin's page...by the way, how can I become a commenter over there? Seems like it's a closed community right now. Regardless, the reason I popped over here on your blog was to tell you i like your comments on Malkin, especially your "resist" themes...well done.

    And now that I've seen your site, and like what I see, I've added you to the blog roll on my WordPress blog site (http://bkn1966.wordpress.com/); I hope that's okay with you. If not, just say the word and I'll remove the link.

    Regarding this article about handguns, it's very timely for me as I'm new in the market and am looking to make my first handgun purchase. I like the advice you give but can you also address cost? I have a large family and am on a tight budget...I know this will be a wise investment but am looking for a good value.

    Thanks again, and keep up the good work!

  2. You can leave me on your blog. I appreciate it. Marilyn opens registration for commenters occasionally, and I was just lucky to get in myself. Keep watching her blog; it's one of the best.

    Now, about the cost of defensive armament, which these days is important to about everyone, there are a few "givens." 1. You get what you pay for. 2. Not everyone agrees on everything. 3. What ever you buy, someone will tell you you screwed up. That said, we'll get down to business.

    Recently, the few police trade-in revolvers I've seen at gun shops have been going for around $350.00 or more, of couse, these are Smith & Wesson stainless steel Model 64s. At gun shows they have been going for a bit less. The later L-Frame S&Ws have been running over $400.00 to $500.00. Older Smith & Wesson revolvers, especially those without the new lock mechanism, are escalating in price, but you can still find them for less than $300.00 if you aren't picky about cosmetics. There are fewer Ruger revolvers on the police trade-in market, but they are good, too, if nearly equivalent in price.

    There are two alternatives for the cost conscious - one is imported revolvers by Taurus and Rossi (which is owned by Taurus now) and home-grown revolvers by Charter Arms, and the other is one of the newer low price semiautomatics. I'll discuss those separately.

    There are people who will damn me for what I am about to say: Taurus and Rossi make good, solid guns. Quality control and customer service have taken hits in the past, but they are getting better. The best part is that you can get one for between $100.00 and $200.00 less new than a Smith & Wesson or Ruger. I would be wary of older guns, but the newer models seem very good to me. (I carry a Taurus 85SSUL* as a second primary CCW.) Charter Arms has a checkered history, and quality control and fit and finish have been an issue. However, they are making decent revolvers at reasonable prices. I invite you to examine all three makes.


    The second option is the Hi-Point family of semiautomatics. Please remember I don't recommend semiautomatics to "non-dedicated gunners," but these have some advantages cost-wise. These are blow-back operated guns with heavy slides made out of what I believe to be zinc alloys. They have the advantage of being inexpensive and simple to operate. You can get them in many useful calibers from 9mm to .45 ACP, and I haven't seen any of them for more than $179.00. Let me be very clear here - These are not guns I would use for extensive practice, plinking, or competition, but from what I have heard, not having any direct experience with them yet, they work.


    I hope this helps.



  3. Excellent - thanks for the information. Why are the semiauto's so much less expensive?

  4. Gordon Liddy's recommendation of revolver was a good one. No noise, just business. The no hammer, inside the pistol is also a good idea. No chance to catch on the bedsheets!

  5. As a 110lb woman, I'm fond of my Glock 22. Loaded up with 180gr 40 cal ammo. Three mags, all extended to hold 17. If that isn't stopping power, then I don't know what is.
    Caution: Glock 22s have serious kick. Don't know why it doesn't bother me, but nearly everyone I know refuses to target shoot with my gun after the first mag. Wimps.

    "This is my Glock. There are many like it, but this one is mine."

  6. There is nothing wrong with a Glock 22. I used to carry a Glock 23 myself loaded with nearly 1300 fps 135 grain Cor-Bon ammunition. I'm very glad that you have dedicated yourself to the control and handling of a seriously effective semiauto. I'm not one of those who think ladies cannot handle serious social implements. My recommendations are for beginners or those who don't have experience with handgun in particular.

    Thanks for your comment and demonstrating that guns are for girls.


  7. Abstractor -

    The Hi-Points are so much less expensive because they aren't made from steel. Zinc castings are inexpensive, and semiautos only need precision in the sear mechanisms. Slide to frame fit on a blow-back semiauto aren't terribly critical. Any decently fitted revolver has a number of critical precision point. That kind of machining costs.

    Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner.


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