Starting over: replacing one’s firearms battery

Ryan, over at the Total Survivalist blog, put up a thought-provoking article recently titled “Starting a Firearms Battery Over“.  In a situation where “the guns I currently have were ALL lost in a boating accident/ fire/ etc.”, he asked how and with what he would replace them.  Click over there to read his proposed solution to the problem.

I found his answers interesting, but I approached the problem from a different perspective.  My biggest concern with most firearms owners is that, in a practical scenario, they aren’t able to produce rapid, accurate, aimed fire on demand.  If you were to take a hundred handgun owners, selected at random from an average city suburb, and ask them to shoot a basic law enforcement handgun qualification course of fire, I daresay a relatively low percentage would be able to pass it.  I daresay the same applies to the average rifle or shotgun owner, although those weapons are easier to shoot accurately than a handgun.  I therefore place the ability to practice often and cost-effectively very high on my list of priorities.  It won’t help me to have “ideal” weapons for my needs if I can’t demonstrate adequate capabilities with them on demand.

This is not only a practical consideration, it’s also a very important financial one.  Let’s say I need to fire 100 rounds per month to maintain basic proficiency with my defensive firearm.  (I’d consider that a bare-bones minimum for most people – more would be much better, but let’s go with 100 rounds for now.)  Let’s look at comparative costs for the lowest-priced practice versions of common defensive cartridges.  All figures are drawn from the current catalog at SGAmmo, a supplier of whom I’ve written before.

  • 9mm. Parabellum steel-case practice ball:  $149.80 per 1,000 rounds, or $0.15 per round.
  • .40 S&W steel-case practice ball:  $99.50 per 500 rounds, or $0.20 per round.
  • .45 ACP steel-case practice ball:  $109.90 per 500 rounds, or $0.22 per round.
  • .223 Remington steel-case practice ball:  $22.95 per 100 rounds, or $0.23 per round.
  • 7.62x39mm steel-case practice ball:  $204.90 per 1,000 rounds, or $0.21 per round.
  • .22LR 40gr. lead practice ball:  $209.50 per 5,000 round case, or $0.04 per round.

Those numbers say it all.  Work out your minimum monthly practice costs for each of those cartridges, and see which you’ll most easily be able to afford.  It won’t take very long to justify the cost of an additional .22LR firearm or two, or the relevant conversion kits or adapters, particularly if you’re talking about a family’s needs instead of an individual’s.  The money you save on practice and training can then be plowed back into buying better (or more) weapons for your joint and several needs.

For this reason, my top priority would be one of the following two options, depending on what was available to me.

  1. I want a primary defensive firearm, be it handgun or long gun, that can use a .22LR adapter or conversion kit to shoot low-cost rimfire ammunition for frequent practice, as well as its primary cartridge.  This has the added advantage of using the primary firearm’s own trigger and other controls during practice, helping to provide weapon familiarization.
  2. If I can’t find, or can’t afford, a primary defensive firearm with that capability, I’d put a very high priority on buying a .22LR equivalent to that firearm for training purposes.  That also has the advantage of providing a second weapon in an emergency, even if in a sub-optimal caliber – which can, nevertheless, be very effective, as I’ve pointed out before.

For ease of use, simplicity of operation, and common availability of parts and ease of maintenance, there are two defensive firearms that are ubiquitous;  and both can be fitted with rimfire adapters or conversion kits for low-cost practice.

  • The Glock pistol is probably the handgun most widely used by US law enforcement agencies, and is available everywhere at affordable prices.  Rimfire conversion kits are also freely available.
  • The AR-15 family of rifles and carbines is equally common, and many rimfire conversion kits are available.

I would therefore buy one of each as my very first firearms purchases, plus the necessary rimfire adapters or kits.  I’d buy the pistol chambered for the 9mm. cartridge, in the model most suitable for my requirements (the Glock Model 17 or 34 is full-size, the 19 is compact, and the 26 is sub-compact).  The AR-15 would be chambered for the 5.56x45mm. cartridge.  I’d lay in a supply of at least 5 good-quality magazines for each weapon, as well as a few boxes of high-quality defensive ammunition for each gun, over and above cheaper practice ammo.  Rimfire adapter kits would be included, or purchased as soon as possible thereafter.

Of course, I might live in a state or city where AR-15 rifles are highly restricted, and/or where handguns are tightly controlled.  In such circumstances, my first purchase might be a lever-action carbine or rifle in a handgun caliber, such as .357 Magnum or .44 Magnum.  Each could fire lower-power ammunition for training (.38 Special and .44 Special respectively), and would provide adequate defensive firepower and performance in an emergency.  Affordable .22LR lever-action carbines are available for lower-cost practice.  I’d back them up with a handgun conforming to local restrictions, the most powerful I could control under the circumstances.  If you’re going to be restricted to only a few rounds, make them the most effective you can control!  If ammo commonality is a consideration, and if semi-auto carbines other than the AR-15 are less politically incorrect in such an environment, Ruger’s new PC9 carbine would be a good fit, too.

With such weapons, plus ancillary equipment and accessories such as holsters, magazine pouches, flashlights, etc., I’d be reasonably well equipped to defend myself and my family – my single most important priority.  In a pinch, using suitable ammunition, an AR-15 or pistol-caliber lever-action carbine will also serve to hunt game up to the size of small to medium deer, or hogs, or what have you.  (It might not be legal to use 5.56mm. cartridges for hunting in your area, but in emergency, I daresay such regulations will be honored more in the breach than in the observance!)

At this point, I could begin to expand my horizons.  I could buy a hunting rifle, fitted with a telescopic sight and firing ammunition suitable to take down the game animals in my area.  I could buy a shotgun for bird hunting and/or defensive use;  many pump-action and semi-auto shotguns can be had with long or short barrels, which can be swapped out to make them more suitable for a given application.  My needs there would depend on where I was and what threat I was facing.  Someone in bear country might want a “stomper” such as a .45-70 lever-action rifle to defend against such animals, or a heavier-caliber rifle such as a .338 to hunt them.  In my area, where smaller, less dangerous game is the rule, I currently rely on a .30-30 lever-action rifle, and I’m comfortable with that choice.  Alternatively, a .308 bolt-action or semi-auto rifle would do a very good job around here.  Given my current physical limitations, I probably wouldn’t buy a shotgun.

However, there are other considerations.  In an environment with a higher crime rate, it might make more sense to equip other members of your family with adequate defensive weapons, before buying guns more suitable for hunting or sporting use.  Circumstances will dictate what’s most important for your needs.  There’s also the unpleasant reality that if you use a firearm in self-defense, even in the most clear-cut circumstances where you won’t be charged with anything, the police will still confiscate the gun(s) you used for a period of at least several months, possibly several years, for ballistics tests and possible use as evidence.  You’d better have something available to replace them while they’re not available – another good argument for having duplicates of each of your primary defensive firearms already on hand, in case your assailant’s friends come looking for evens.

That would be my approach to the problem.  What’s yours?



  1. What would your suggestion be for someone who is starting (as opposed to rebuilding) from scratch?

    Still do .22LR and practice with those firearms, or find a comfortable firearm and go with that?

    1. The post in question was mine. I think the same logic would apply to starting out. I did the post as ‘rebuilding’ because pretty much everyone who reads my blog is a gun owner.

      The other advantage of the ‘starting over’ angle for the post was that it lets us learn from our various experiences.

  2. Nope on the steel cased ammo. Too many problems with it in the past. I will invest in better quality ammo. I have also gravitated away from cheaper firearms to target models and match grade barrels.

    Different brands of bullets that are otherwise the same weight with similar FPS specs will also shoot much differently. That is part of the reason people reload. They are able to tune a load to a particular gun.

    As for starting over or just starting a gun collection buying police trade-in weapons are usually a good deal. A 40 cal Glock can be had in the $325-350 range. Add a 9mm conversion barrel for about $125 and you have a gun that can shoot the cheaper 9mm ammo or get the 357sig barrel and you have a hand cannon. Lots of choices.

  3. "If you were to take a hundred handgun owners, selected at random from an average city suburb, and ask them to shoot a basic law enforcement handgun qualification course of fire, I daresay a relatively low percentage would be able to pass it."

    I'd have to disagree – I think a larger percentage than you think would pass.

    This is not an endorsement of the skills of the average gun owner, it's a condemnation of the laughably low standards for most LE qualification. At least as regards the quals for our local agencies, most any shooter with a couple of defensive pistol classes under their belt, or any competition classification above "novice", could easily knock one out – with a head cold and a hangover.

    1. Tamra Keel of View From The Porch addressed this by saying (more or less) that “The average cop is a far better shot than the average gun owner. However when compared to serious shooters the average cop is not a very good shot.”

  4. I've been carrying and shooting a Sig P250 for a year or so now. A website had it in .22LR for just shy of $300. Then I picked up a conversion kit that allows me to swap a few parts and shoot .45ACP, but with the same trigger/fire control unit.

    Getting used to the DAO trigger took some work, but now I really enjoy it.

  5. For those so inclined I would suggest they consider getting involved in reloading their own ammo.
    You can still pick up a new single stage press starter kit that includes all the tools you need to turn out cartridges as good, and in some cases better, than what you buy with an initial investment of around $200. Of course like any such hobby one can eventually sink hundreds if not thousands into it for the most advanced and complex equipment.
    As a rule of thumb for pistol rounds I figure on three cents for primer, the same for powder, ten for a lead or copper plated bullet, and the brass at no charge since I always keep my empties. You can get ten or more reloads out of a brass case if you stick with reasonable powder loads. And for real savings you could learn the art of bullet casting and reduce that expense considerably.
    Of course the downside is that this requires a significant investment in time and absolute attention and focus. You are in fact working with small explosive devices that generate pressures in the 30-50 thousand psi range.
    But given current rumblings by several liberal states about restrictions on ammo purchases this seems like a skill it would be nice to have.

  6. For initial training of friends/family and at least some ongoing training I've taken Dr. Pournelle's advice and gone the pellet/airsoft route. $50 got me an airsoft spring pistol and rifle, plus plastic BB's. $200 got me the pellet rifle and pistol (single shot, no CO2).

    I use these to teach basic firearm rules and handling before moving to the actual firearms. For me, pistol accuracy is harder to maintain than rifle. Airsoft practice is better than no practice, can be done indoors and you can't beat the price. The pellet rifle doubles as varmint control, it can deal with pigeons, squirrels and rabbits.

    The trick is to treat airsoft and pellet as standard firearm training, not as toys. Establish the correct mindset and the 4 rules at the start, enforce likewise, and it works.

  7. I have some of all the solutions. Other than 22 conversion for the base firearm. Most of my air rifles are spring actuated so I do not have co2 cartridges to find should things go seriously sideways.

    I think any thing less than 38/357 is probably to anemic for defense. that being said I have a lot of nines around in both pistol and rifle configurations.

    I would like to spend more time at the range and I think I will not that I have a couple I really like shooting.

    I can get 9 cheap enough it does not make sense to reload but I have most of the needed supplies to do that.

    Hopefully I will not have to move any time soon.

  8. Steel cased ammo for practice is fine. I use it for pistol matches with few/no problems in SIG, Glock and M&P 9mm and .40 pistols. For social work, of course, you'll want something with better bullets loaded hot, but you don't want to throw 50 or 75 cents per round downrange with every shot in practice.

    Now think about what you might do in a SHTF situation. Are you going to squat and defend your property ? Be an insurgent ? Hunt down your enemies ? Ally with neighbors into a militia ? Other ?

    Your battery must have, first of all, both a .22 rifle and pistol. Cheap practice and small game hunting are the usual reasons, but .22 can be an effective insurgent weapon as well. The point blank headshot from a .22 pistol was a favorite Mafia hit method for decades. Check out some of Matt Bracken's latest on the use of match-grade .22 rifles with subsonic ammo for near-silent takedown of adversaries at what's considered extreme range for .22

    If you think .22 can't be used effectively as an offensive weapon look up 2016 Cascade Mall shooting. A Ruger 10/22. Five dead. If you can find the video it's chilling.

    I would disagree that a magazine rifle and a tube fed rifle are equally desirable in this caliber. Given the overwhelming popularity and availability of the 10/22 and high capacity magazines for same, the only recommendation for the Marlin alternative is poverty.

    I would have two. An AR-15 clone such as the S&W MP15 or preferably the now out of production SIG, and a magazine-fed bolt action. CZ makes one, I have a Remington from the early days of the 21st.

    .22 Pistols, I'm agnostic. If you want to replicate your defense gun by adapting or buying a clone, that's fine. If you want to upgrade to match specs, that's fine too. Whatever floats your boat, although in a defensive situation you'll see no difference. The little accuracy edge might pay off in a survival one.

    more later ..

  9. As much as I admire the aesthetics of lever guns and the provenance of the .30-30, the 7.62×39 is a ballistic twin and SKS rifles and carbines are quite handy.

    Now that they're not importing them any more, I wish somebody made them here in the USA. It would be really fun to have one in 6.5 Grendel with a well made barrel, too. "If wishes were fishes…"

    Second the motion for airsoft and BB/pellet practice guns. We've got CO2 revolvers in both airsoft and BB that you have to feed cartridges into. They handle and shoot remarkably well. You can also get simulators for most popular models of firearms, that have the same weight, manual of arms, and function.

    1. The import issue is in part because they haven’t been made since the 50’s or so. Still I would take an AKM over a 30-30 any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

  10. To do it all over, with enough cash, and avoiding mistakes and missteps along the way?

    I'd probably end up close to where Total Survivalist Blog ended up. A Glock and a spare. An AK and a spare. A bunch of spare parts. A pile of magazines. Accessories and accouterments as needed. Bucketloads of ammo, and components for making more.

    A .22 of some sort, plus probably a .38 snub for discreet pocket carry.

    I'd also add a Lee Classic Turret press (not their cheap turret press), for hand loading needs. Faster than single stage and minimal aggravation.

  11. I went with the GEN3 Glock 23. With that pistol you can buy a conversion barrel in 9mm or 357 sig (and the appropriate mags) as well as a .22 conversion kit and you now have quite the versatile firearm.

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