One of my favorite parts of teaching defensive firearms (or even firearms in general) is dispelling some of the many myths surrounding firearms. A lot of these myths are transferred from person to person without any actual personal knowledge. They grow until many in the firearms industry accept them as given facts when they are complete falsehoods. I wanted to take a moment and share some of my favorites and the true information.
“A defensive handgun should be in a caliber that starts with a 4 or higher.”
Caliber is probably one of the most heavily debated topics in defensive firearms. Much of this comes from the military and is not relevant to the civilian or law enforcement world. The military is not allowed to utilize ammunition that is designed to expand such as hollow point ammunition. This comes from the Hague Convention of 1899 (which the U.S never adopted but has followed) and a time shortly after smokeless powder had been created. Full metal jacket ammunition caused smaller rounds to simply pass through and not incapacitate the enemy. The military wanted something bigger to cause more damage.
Modern defensive ammunition, like what is used by law enforcement and civilians, relies on this expansion and bullet design to incapacitate
an attacker. A report from the FBI was recently leaked that “justified” their switch back to 9mm. They found that agents could carry more ammo, shoot faster and shoot more accurately. Even further they found discernable difference between the wound tracks of 9mm, .357 Sig, .40 S&W, and 45 ACP when modern defensive bullets were used.
With these modern bullets even smaller calibers have been shown to be very effective.
“If you have trouble racking the slide of a semi-automatic get a revolver.”
I must be honest that I had even fallen into telling some people this in the past. It is an easy “solution” to the problem and seems to sound right. The truth is that if you have trouble with racking a semi-automatic you are most likely going to have a lot of trouble firing a revolver accurately. A defensive revolver (preferably double action only) will be fired in double action mode nearly 100% of the time. This means that you trigger finger must be able to pull a 6 pound (or heavier) weight approximately ½ inch. In a striker fired semi-automatic your finger is only pressing this weight (on most make and models) about 1/8th of an inch. The longer your finger is in contact and under weight the more amplified your deviation will be. At 21 feet approximately 1/16th inch movement of the muzzle results in 4.5 inches deviation at the target. This results in having to fire slower to control the deviation.
The amount of trigger control it takes to fire in double action mode quickly can take years of practice and training to master. Learning the proper technique for racking the slide of a semi-automatic is something most of my students are able to grasp in less than 5 minutes. One of my oldest students was in her 80’s and thought there was no chance she could rack the slide. A guy at a gun store told her she needed to buy a revolver. I brought her up in front of the class and was able to have her rack my full size M&P in a matter of minutes. I then gave her a revolver to dry-fire. She could not fire it. The trigger was simply too long and heavy and she did not have the hand strength. Technique can be taught for racking but I could never teach this lady how to have more strength in her trigger finger.
“The best home defense gun is a shotgun because you can’t miss.”
This idea comes from the thought that you can simply point a shotgun at an intruder coming through your bedroom door and the spread of the lead shot will be so large that you automatically hit them. Even if this were true the idea of that is absurd and dangerous. If it were true some of the shot would miss and now you are just firing past your intruder blindly. 00 Buck is approximately .33 caliber and weighs in at approximately 53 gr. Each shell generally contains 8 of these little balls. Only hitting the intruder with a couple of these is not very likely to immediately incapacitate them?
The real truth is that it is actually very easy to miss with a shotgun. The choke of a shotgun is determined by the choke and most of the time a full choke is used in defensive shotguns. This means that at a distance of 40 yards it will hold 70% of its shot on a 30 inch circle. Moving that in further the shot is much tighter. I recently tested a pump shotgun with an 18 inch barrel and full choke using Hornady critical defense loads at about 15 feet. The spread was consistently about 2 inches. Yes 3 inches is bigger than any handgun or rifle round but it is still very possible to miss. Getting a shotgun and relying on this falsehood is dangerous. If you have a shotgun you would use for home defense train with it just as you would any other defensive tool.
“.380 is a good round if you can’t handle a larger caliber”
This is one that I hear and see variations of all the time. Many times it is the guy behind the gun counter selling a pistol to a woman who has never shot before. Or even the husband and wife that come to class and he tells me “she doesn’t like shooting the 9mm so I bought her this .380.”
The problem with this thought process is that, even though the .380 does have significantly less power, a smaller gun will recoil more. Complicate this even more with having less gun for your grip to be in contact with and you now have even more problems controlling the recoil. I have had many students who were in this situation and I had them fire a full size 9mm. The majority end up saying the 9mm felt like it had less recoil.
Does the 9mm really have less felt recoil? Probably not from a scientific stand point but I would be willing to say they would be pretty close. The real problem is that it is harder to grip and control the recoil on a smaller gun.
If you are new to shooting get training and question things if they don’t seem right to you. Many of these myths have been passed down from person to person and just grow until they are accepted as facts. Training and shooting more will help you to learn more about what really is true and what is a myth.