Personal defense firearms: more questions from readers


Following last week’s article about personal defense rifles, a number of readers sent in questions and comments.  I thought I’d respond to some of them here.

Assuming I have an adequate defensive rifle, what’s the most important modification I can make to it to improve performance?

I addressed this in the first of three articles about personal defense rifles last year.  Please see it for a list of things to look for.  If I had to prioritize features I want in a weapon (handgun or rifle), I’d stress the following, in this order.

  1. Reliability.  The weapon must go “Bang!” every time I pull the trigger.  If it’s not reliable with your chosen defensive ammo – in other words, it fires 100 times out of 100 – it’s not good enough to trust your life to it.  I choose weapons, magazines and ammo, and test them in combination, until I’m satisfied they’re as reliable as it’s possible to make them – and I’ll still practice malfunction drills, just in case.  Send your firearm to a gunsmith for repair or modification if necessary, and replace it if he can’t find or solve the problem(s).  Reliability is absolutely critical, and overrides all other criteria for selecting a defensive firearm.
  2. Shootability.  This includes the correct length of pull for a long gun, good sights, and a good trigger.  Iron sights are not to be sneezed at for those with good eyesight, particularly over short to medium ranges – wars have mostly been fought with such rifles in the past.  High-tech electronic sights and bullet-drop-compensating reticles are all very well, but a flat battery or breakage or malfunction can sideline them all at the drop of a hat.  A good trigger is worth gold, IMHO, in a handgun as much as a rifle.  I discussed that last year.  I’d fit a better trigger even before looking for a better sight.  It can dramatically reduce your group size.
  3. Training.  This isn’t a “modification” as such, but it’s every bit as essential as fitting the right gear to your weapon.  I never cease to be astonished at the number of gun owners who buy a gun, only to put it away in a drawer and never (or hardly ever) shoot the thing.  Shooting is a perishable skill.  If it’s not exercised, it’ll atrophy.  Most competent shooters I know average at least 50 rounds per month, if not more – and that’s not to mention top competitive shooters, who’ll go through tens of thousands of rounds a year.  If you can’t afford to do that with full-power defensive ammo, get a .22LR equivalent to your weapon (or even an Airsoft or BB replica) and train with that, as we discussed some years ago.  It’ll pay dividends if you ever have to defend your life for real.
What’s the smallest, most compact, easily concealable handgun I can buy?

You’re asking the wrong question.  It should be, “What’s the smallest, most compact handgun that I can control in rapid, aimed defensive fire?”  There are several handguns that are so small as to be tiny (e.g. Ruger’s LCP II, Keltec’s P32 and P3AT, North American Arms’ mini-revolvers and pistols, etc.).  I used to carry the small Rugers or Keltecs in the past.  However, I’ve grown older.  They were always uncomfortable to shoot, and today I find them impossible to shoot well at further than halitosis range.  Their tiny sights are so hard to see with my aging eyes that they’re no longer a good choice for me.  The smallest firearm I currently carry (as a backup, in my pocket) is a Glock 42 pistol or a Smith & Wesson 442 or 642 revolver, which are slightly larger and (I find) easier to handle.  I much prefer something larger, when I can conceal it.

Remember, the object of carrying a gun is to defend your life, and the lives of your loved ones, in an emergency.  If the gun you’re carrying is hard to shoot fast and accurately, your defensive ability is diminished – perhaps fatally so.  Test-fire several models before you decide what to buy (a shooting range that rents out different models of firearms is a good place to start, or friends who own different guns and are willing to let you try them).  Function and fitness for purpose comes first.  Only after you’re sure of both should you consider whether the gun is “small enough” or “concealable enough”.

As Clint Smith has pointedly observed:

Carrying a gun is not supposed to be comfortable; it’s supposed to be comforting. The gun that’s with you is better than the one that’s home in the safe.

Good point!

If the Biden administration is going to outlaw most defensive rifles and large-capacity magazines, why should I buy one?  I’ll only have to hand it over, or go to jail!

For a start, any gun or magazine ban will undoubtedly be challenged in the courts on constitutional grounds.  It’ll probably take years for it to get to the Supreme Court, which has already made several rulings (e.g. Heller, McDonald, Caetano, etc.) that should limit the scope and effect of a ban.  If the authorities try to enforce new laws before such adjudication, I fully expect that restraining orders will be imposed on them until the result is known.

There’s also a long, rich tradition of civil disobedience in this country.  When New York passed highly restrictive firearm legislation, including requiring the registration of so-called “assault weapons”, the vast majority of its residents refused to comply.  The same thing happened in Connecticut.  If national legislation is passed along the same lines, I have little doubt that gun-owners across the USA will do likewise.  Yes, there’s a risk of prosecution if that happens:  but the civil rights for which our Founding Fathers fought so hard are not to be given up lightly.  If the authorities take matters too far, I daresay some of them will learn the hard way how seriously ordinary Americans take such matters.

Guns and ammunition are so expensive right now that I simply can’t afford them!

What’s your life worth?

If you can afford to spend money every month on cosmetic procedures (e.g. hairdo’s, nail salons, etc.), or can afford to eat out once or twice a week, or can buy more than necessities (e.g. fashion items, etc.), then you have excess income that you could save towards the purchase of a firearm and ammunition.  It’s up to you to decide where your priorities lie.

Some of the poorest individuals I know have acquired the means to defend themselves.  Consider:

  • A lowly machete can be had for as little as $5.99 at Harbor Freight.  It can be kept handy at home, in case someone kicks in the door.  (In the sort of places where many poor people live, this can be more than just a theoretical risk.)
  • A used short-barreled pump-action shotgun (and even some new models, if you shop around) can be found for well under $200 in many places, including a box or two of ammunition.  It makes a great home defense weapon.  (Just a few weeks ago, I picked up a Mossberg 500 12ga. shotgun for only $125 – a heck of a bargain, to be sure, but they are out there if you look for them.  I don’t need it – I don’t use shotguns much anymore, thanks to my back injury – but sooner or later, I’m certain I’ll run into a friend who does.)
  • A cheap handgun or carbine such as those offered by Hi-Point may look clunky, and be regarded with disdain by more affluent shooters, but I’ve seldom seen them malfunction.  Some can be had for under $200.  If that’s all you can afford right now, buy it until you can afford better.

You don’t necessarily have to pay cash at all.  True story:  one man I know mowed and edged his neighbor’s lawn all through one long, hot Texas summer, and in the fall received as payment a personal defense rifle. He did the same the following year, and earned a shotgun and ammunition. The third year he earned a 9mm pistol. This year, he’s working for more ammunition. He’s built up a useful defensive collection, all paid for with sweat equity. Good for him!

My parents never needed a gun.  Why should I?

I can’t be sure whether you will or not.  However, I think we’re in for a torrid time over the next few months.

  • Antifa and BLM aren’t going away, and are openly threatening to carry on with their violent street “demonstrations” (a.k.a. riots) if sufficiently progressive legislation isn’t enacted fast enough to suit them.
  • The Biden administration may work hand in glove with social pressure groups, to use the influence they can exert to assist in getting its policies through Congress.
  • High-profile court cases, such as those arising from the death of George Floyd, may escalate interracial tension.
  • The so-called “urban underclass” in many American cities is increasingly turning to crime and violence to get what they want.  See the crime statistics over the past year or two for evidence of this.  Some are calling it the “Minneapolis Effect“.  It shows no sign of decreasing – rather, the opposite.

If you live near a concentration of such problems, you can expect to encounter them more often in the foreseeable future.  Under such circumstances, if you’re not ready, willing and able to defend yourself and your loved ones, you’re an accident waiting to happen.  You’re a victim waiting on a crime.  You’re a defenseless target.

Don’t be any of those things.  Prepare yourself as best you can to defend what’s near and dear to you.



  1. Hey Peter;

    I appreciate your plug for the Hi-point carbine, Those who sneer never owned one. Sure they are ugly as homemade sin, but they will work, they are cheap and they offer them in several calibers for commonalities of calibers with your pistols. They have them in 9mm, 40, 45 and I read that they have the rifle in .380 now….dang…..I put a cheap pair of holographic optics on mine and it is a great combination. It serves a purpose. And no I ain't a salesman or own stock or get any benefit for praising the rifle, LOL

  2. As to the need for self protection. We are in the battle for the founding of this nation and those of us who believe and support the original intent of our founders must realize that the forces aligned against us will not stop until they completely undo those remarkable concepts.

    With the ongoing assault upon our nation you also will see increases in violent crime going unchecked especially if it targets people who like us support the Bill of Rights and the concepts of freedom. The left is using the BLM and ANTIFA to attack and harass people like us just as they are trying to foment a revolt on our part so they can crush us once and for all eliminating our movement and our means of self defense at the same time.

    It is wise to be prepared and to keep a weather eye on the goings on within our nation. I believe we will be forced to take actions we as peace loving patriots are loathe to pursue but yet, this onslaught of socialism is not going to stop. At some point we will have to fight to save our nation.

  3. When I hear people talk about guns and survival I think back to Selco and his story about surviving in the Balkans.

  4. I once bought a Hi Point 9mm pistol, mostly because it was cheap (under $100 at a gun show Sunday afternoon). After an extensive litany of failures, I relegated it to the back of the safe before getting rid of it entirely. My thought was to hand it to any home invader in order to justify the use of deadly force against him as, though he would be technically armed and thus posing a legitimate threat, he would be so busy trying to get it into operation that I would have plenty of time to respond with my *real* sidearm. /sarc

    That, of course, was in the early iterations of the Hi Point line and I suppose their quality control may have improved since then, but I was so thoroughly disappointed by that monstrosity that absent compelling motivation to the contrary I would *never* consider another.

  5. I will also jump in with a defense of the lowly Hi-point.
    I have had the 40 pistol and carbine for about 9 years now. The only problem I have had was from not cleaning it after about 1000 rounds. The slide did not fully engage, a simple tap and it was good to go again. It was just plain filthy.

    The carbine has never given a problem. Shoots true, shoots often and shoots reliably. Year after year.

    If the price bothers you, keep in mind they also have a lifetime warranty.

  6. If the government once again takes it upon themselves to ban a weapon type after the drubbing they took over Heller and MacDonald, it's not that I won't turn in or register anything I may or may not have.

    It's that I would take that as tacit consent and carte blanche to open season on anyone and everyone who'd pass such a law, or enforce the law, from a cold start, to the limit of either my pulse rate, or ammunition supply, and nothing else.

    Such a law would, in fact, basically be considered by me as a triple dog dare to do so, from that point onwards.

  7. I have gone another direction with my carry gun. I sold my Glock 26 and used the funds to buy a Glock 20 10mm. I also upped the size of my shirts to better conceal the full size gun. I now have 15 rounds of 200 grain JHP that are traveling about 1115 fps 10 feet in front of the barrel.

  8. Not really a fan of Hi Point but there is nothing wrong with a firearm built for a price point. The second amendment also applies to those of modest means who in many case have a higher need for self defense. Having said that a friend went to the range with us one time and brought along his 9mm Hi Point Carbine. I was amazed how accurate and easy to shoot it was. I'm never afraid to be wrong about something and I may have to re think my position on Hi Point.

  9. 7916:

    the various .govs don't have exact numbers, but estimates based on sales numbers run from as low as 3% to a high of 10% compliance with bans. Btw, that also appears to be the case in other states that have/had bans or registrations of evil guns.

    One factor that gun owners should keep in mind is that turning in a banned gun does NOT remove your home address and name from the potential list of places and people to raid when/if the .govs decide to actively pursue weapons. You will ALWAYS be a target. People that own any type of gun scare the hell out of TPTB. Weapon owning, or use, is a mindset that they consider to be a major problem. YOU are the weapon, a gun is just a tool.

  10. One drill I have used in selecting a pistol is what I call a pillow drill. Making sure the gun is unloaded, hold the gun firmly, aiming at a point six to ten feet away. Then put it under a paper or cloth, randomly oriented. Close your eyes, reach under the cloth, find, grip, and aim the gun at the target, eyes still closed. Open your eyes and see where instinctive aiming puts the shot.
    Decide why or why not on target, and find a solution, be it another gun, altrred grips, more training, etc.
    I tried this with a Sig 365, and due to my hand size and shape, was pointing 20 to 25 degrees left of where I thought I was.
    The grips are just too small in circumference for me to point naturally. Glock 42, no problem.
    Find the gun that fits you, that you can handle well, and that you will carry. The gun does you no good at home if you are not there.
    John in Indy

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