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On Defensive Weapons

The handgun may well be one of mankind’s greatest inventions, at least in my opinion anyway.  There is a reason I say this. It is because for self defense man has risen from rocks and pointy sticks, to complex machinery made from steel, and other man-made materials.

Man made or gift from the heavens

Don’t be mistaken, steel is indeed man made. Steel does not exist naturally, only the iron from which the steel is created. There is an exception to this, meteorites. There have been iron meteorites that have enough other trace metals and carbon in them to be considered steel.

Bladed weapons were made in the past from meteorites and are still so today. I even saw a 1911 .45 pistol made from meteorite, the slide, frame, grips, and all moving parts. Only the barrel was made from modern steel (pictured below).

meteorite 45

In all its awesomeness

If the firearm itself wasn’t awesome enough, man then improved upon his achievement when he figured out how to shape other metals into casings, and projectiles. He figured out how to create a contained explosion, and then control this violence into a precision ballet that enables (some of us) to put a small piece of metal into a target hundreds of yards away, with consistent accuracy. Well, fairly consistently for some of us.

Then to top all of that off, this amazing creation is small enough to be held in one hand, it’s just incredible when you think about it. If a handgun were taken back into ancient times it would be worshipped as a magical talisman. This is because it is a mysterious object held in the hand, and with fire and a thunderous roar it holds the power of life and death.

worm farming

Life and death

This is something that every firearm owner who carries for self defense should keep in mind. You hold the power of life and death in your hand. This should not be taken lightly. But, this can be a good thing if we are talking about saving OUR life.

To get to my rifle (or shotgun)

I have often heard the expression that your hand gun is merely a tool to help you get to your rifle or shotgun. In other words, since you can’t go around everywhere carrying a rifle or shotgun, your hand gun is there to help you get to the rifle or shotgun.

Well, technically you can carry a rifle or shotgun around with you, it would just be awkward. That’s why it is presumably in the trunk if you are out in the world in your vehicle.

I have been known to carry a rifle in my trunk or even just in the backseat on occasion, but now I rely more on my handgun to get me home to my rifles when I am out in the world. I keep a spare magazine or two with me as well as a backup gun 80% of the time. If you are at your home/homestead, then your rifle might be just in the other room and your handgun is on your side.

However, if you lived on a large plot of land then it would be reasonable to take the rifle along with you while you are out working or just enjoying your land. A handgun is an excellent choice for your daily carry defensive weapon, as it is not cumbersome like a rifle would be, and it is much more discrete.

But your rifle is vital for serious defensive situations; after all, soldiers don’t typically go into combat with just a handgun. One good example of this is 25 years ago during the LA riots. Korean shop owners were said to have gotten on the roofs of their stores armed with rifles and shotguns. When the rioting hoards came to their stores to loot, the store owners let go a quick burst from rifles, and shotguns from the roof tops. This sent the rioters fleeing in fear for their lives, thus keeping their stores and their families unharmed.

Here is a rather tranquil video from a news report in 1992 during the LA riots when the Korean store owners protected their property. They never were looted like the rest of the stores near them were.

Few, if any, were shot, but merely the sound and sight of a man armed with a powerful rifle kept them, their families, and their stores safe from the rioters and looters.  Some store owners are shown in video footage, on the ground in front of their stores firing at looters with semi automatic handguns. This shows the reality that being well armed can be vital in a situation like that.

Appropriate ammunition

One important detail that shouldn’t be overlooked is the type of ammunition that you fire from your defensive weapon. The idea of using as firearm in self defense is that you or your loved ones lives are in danger. Because of this danger, you must use your firearm in defense of you or your loved ones lives. To do this effectively you want to use an expanding projectile, AKA, a hollow point.

This video shows extreme slow motion projectiles “splashing” against a steel plate and penetrating the same steel plate.

Hollow point projectile

This is because a hollow point projectile expands when it enters the “target” and so becomes larger. As it expands it often also creates “blades” from the metal jacket which cut a hole through the “target”.

This allows for a rapid loss of blood, resulting in a rapid loss of blood pressure, which in turn results in hypoxia. (Hypoxia is oxygen deprivation of the cells) Hypoxia in turn, results in death, thus saving you and your loved ones. But what if you missed the “target”? What then? That projectile is going somewhere.

Often even when the “target” is struck squarely center mass the projectile will pass through and continue on its trajectory. This could cause harm to innocent bystanders if you are out in the world, or to your loved ones in your home.

Frangible projectile

For this reason, rather than using expanding projectiles, you should use frangible projectiles. Frangible is derived from the Latin word, “frangere”, which means “to break”.  This is because frangible projectiles are designed to do just that, break up upon impact with hard surfaces. This prevents ricochets from harming innocent bystanders.

Here is a video of a frangible handgun cartridge called a magsafe. I have some in .38 spcl caliber and my tests showed them to be devastating to the test meat. They do not over penetrate and basically disintegrate if they hit a hard surface like brick, yet will pass through glass and a car door to reach a target.

Magsafe ammunition is made with a copper jacket filled with small lead shot and held together with epoxy, as you can see in the picture on the left.

This design is what lets this type of ammunition perform the way it does. You can’t get this type of performance from an FMJ projectile.

mag safe

Watch this video where a ricochet from a .50 BMG rifle fired at a steel plate that was way too close to the shooter comes back and almost takes off the shooters head.

A ricochet is when a projectile strikes a hard surface then bounces off in a direction different from its original trajectory. Considering the distances modern projectiles can travel, a ricochet has the potential to travel hundreds of yards and harm someone in an urban environment.

See how frangible ammunition reacts in gel and upon striking a hard surface in this short video here:

So, by using frangible ammunition in an environment that is high risk for friendly fire related injuries caused by pass through and/or ricochets, you minimize the risks.

Using shotguns for home defense and urban environments

Another method of home and self defense is using shotguns. In your home and around your homestead if you have acreage, by using a shotgun for defense you can also help to minimize risk of injury and/or death to innocents.

Of course this is negated if you choose to use slugs or heavy buckshot in the home because these types of ammunition can still have pass through and ricochet risks. You can solve this problem, again, by using frangible projectiles.

Here is a video demonstrating the use of frangible shotgun slugs.

Many people that have less experience do not realize that in short distances of only 20-30 feet or so, a birdshot round fired from a shotgun acts as a frangible slug. At these short distances the shot cup doesn’t have a chance to open and disperse the shot yet and so carries the shot to the target en mass.

The impact of this mass of shot at these close ranges is quite devastating. I had to prove this to someone one day when we were out back in my yard shooting. I set up three sheets of 3/4” plywood and from about 20 feet or so away I fired a 12 gauge shot shell with number 7 or 8 birds shot, common “playing in the yard with a shotgun” ammo at our house.

The 2” hole blasted through the boards convinced him that, yes this does act as a frangible slug at short distances. Of course once you double that range the effect quickly begins to diminish so this method is intended solely for use inside the house.

Here is a video that demonstrates that.

If you intend to use a shotgun around your home outside, then I would opt for buckshot and/or slugs, depending on how well you shoot. If you aren’t so great of a shot then buckshot is the way to go. If you expect to be shooting at running targets or in the dark, again, buckshot is the way to go.

Shotgun in a hand gun

If you want to use the shotgun idea in an urban environment to minimize risk of injuring an innocent with friendly fire then I would suggest using a Taurus Judge or a Smith & Wesson Governor. These are .410 bore revolvers and can fire birdshot, buckshot, and slugs as well as .45 Long Colt ammunition. You can put a combination of these rounds in the gun and have a blast with it. (Pun intended)

judge with ammo

Final thoughts

What it comes down to, as usual, is to use your head. Think about the scenario that is most likely to occur and think about what equipment will best control the situation. Carrying a handgun for EDC is the best idea because it is the most suitable for that situation.

Having a rifle or shotgun in the trunk and/or at home is a good idea because you can go from the handgun to the rifle/shotgun if the situation calls for that. The ammunition you will use for these different situations should be considered and determine what is best.

If you carry a handgun in an urban environment it is probably best that you use frangible ammunition to minimize the risk of hurting innocent bystanders from pass through and/or ricochets. Likewise, if you have other people in your home frangible ammunition is likely to be the best course of action there as well, especially if you are using a shotgun or rifle in the home.

Just use your head. I would say use common sense, but it seems that common sense isn’t really that common. So THINK about your situation, assess the situation, and determine the best course of action to resolve the issue. If your knowledge limits your decision making then do your research and learn what you need to know to make the best decision. Your, and your loved ones lives, and stranger’s lives too, can depend on what course of action you take.

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About Eric W. Eichenberger

Eric W. Eichenberger
Eric Eichenberger is an avid outdoorsman, skilled marksman, and former certified range officer and instructor with nearly 40 years experience handling and repairing firearms. A skilled craftsman with a strong love for working with his hands, Eric spent 20 years as a carpenter and custom woodworker in high end homes. As a gold and silversmith he has created hundreds of pieces of jewelry over the years using the lost wax casting method. The grandson of humble country folk, he was raised with the “do it yourself” mentality and so is accustomed to coming up with unique solutions to problems utilizing materials at hand.

6 comments

  1. So this article talks about everything BUT what handgun is best for home defense.

  2. I think he is saying that each person will have a different “perfect/best handgun” for them based on the criteria listed and scenario they are in.
    I would title it something like, how to determine the best defensive weapon for you. A few articles back he was bashed when he put the “best” as Ben said he couldnt possible know the best for everyone….so damned if you do damned if you dont…lol on here I guess
    We can share same set of guns, same scenario, but Eric picks a different one other than me as to hand size and a few other factors…so even in same house 2 people can choose differently

  3. Considering that the original article title pertained to “The Best Handgun for Home Defense…” I would be prepared to rip whatever you said. This is a thoroughly exhausted argument that will never produce a consensus agreement on caliber or weapon type. I do, however, credit you for changing the content to something that more broadly discusses home defense options.

    I don’t think any reasonable person would dispute the value of a shotgun for home defense. However, that does not negate the utility of a handgun with appropriate types of ammunition in close quarters. At the distances involved inside a home, the competent use of a semi-auto pistol is more likely to yield better results than a poorly aimed shotgun. Moreover, a semi-auto pistol can put more rounds into a target more quickly than any shotgun you can name.

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