Thursday, December 27, 2012

Personal Security Systems Part II

Having concluded that a shoulder-mounted projectile launcher, of the type most commonly (and incorrectly) denigrated as an “assault rifle” is the penultimate thing you should embrace as the heart of your personal security system, we now move on to why they suck.
They’re heavy. 8-10 pounds usually, and another several pounds of extra ammunition, plus pouches and load-bearing equipment to tote it around.
They’re long. Three feet or more on average. Even a folded AK doesn’t sit easily slung under a coat unless you aren’t moving. And if trying to keep yourself alive is an issue, you should nearly always be moving to do something.

As a consequence of those two things, they aren’t very concealable. And as not-pistols, and not-concealable, there are precious few places in still semi-civilized life where you can tote them without making all manner of needless criminal/judicial trouble for yourself.
And lastly, sometimes, through your own fault or not, they jam, break, or otherwise fail to function, leaving you helplessly hoping for more “bang” and getting instead just “click”.

So as part of a system of personal security you really ought to consider a projectile launcher that, compared to a standard civilian version of a military battle rifle, is relatively light, short, and concealable, yet provides a helpful amount of utility for protecting yourself. Those are called pistols.
Aside from curiousities, pistols come in two flavors for the last century or so: revolvers (with between 5-10 ready rounds) and semiautomatics (with removable/replaceable magazines holding between 7-20 ready rounds).

A quality revolver (1st tier: Colt, Smith&Wesson, Ruger, 2nd tier Taurus, Rossi, etc.) in a caliber between .38 Special and .44 magnum* is caveman reliable. Pulling the trigger on a modern double-action cocks the hammer and rotates the cylinder to position the next round for firing. That’s about it, mechanically. Keep it reasonably clean and oiled, check the ammunition every so often, and you can pull one loaded from a drawer after 50 years with a virtual certainty of adequate performance. But since you likely won’t have a convenient drawer in your survival quest, as things do, it gets a small bit more complicated. Carrying a weapon in the cold cruel world, and/or concealed on a regular basis, and a weapon made of blessed stainless steel, far more resistant to rain, snow, salty sea air, body oils and sweat, and all other manner of other environmental insults, has much to recommend it over the more traditional and attractive gunblue steel of earlier examples. Once again, you makes your choices, and you takes your chances.  


A quality semiautomatic (Glock/Sig/Colt/Beretta/S&W/Ruger/Taurus/Springfield/Kimber/ad infinitum), properly maintained, in a caliber between .380 ACP and .45ACP* is nearly as caveman reliable as a revolver. And with 2-10 more rounds available immediately without reloading, and able to be reloaded much faster than revolvers for the average person. Pulling the slide back loads a round into battery the first time. Carried this way, pulling the trigger generally not only sends that shot on its way, but forces the slide to move itself rearward, and strip another round from a self-contained magazine and place it into firing position all on its own, hence the “semiautomatic” appellation.
A decent example of either of the above categories usually weighs in the vicinity of 2 pounds, plus another pound for a couple or more ready reloads. They are readily carried nigh invisibly and rapidly accessible on an average person’s body. Google pictures of holster-maker par excellence John Bianchi in a tuxedo with 30 or so such weapons from ankles to armpits if you need proof.

Drawbacks: Pistols don’t stop large animals – linebackers, grizzly bears, charging tigers – nearly as well as the most anemic of rifles, because they have a fraction of the usuable accuracy,  range, and deliverable energy. This can be overcome to some degree, but it’s still a problem. It’s a boon that unlike grizzlies, pointing any obvious weapon at a two-legged coyote usually notifies the clearer-thinking of the breed that they’re about to be painfully resisted, and possibly killed outright, and frequently causes them to beat a hasty retreat. Also, such sudden panic among their species is contagious. But one will occasionally encounter either a drug-impaired example, or one terminally stupid, or simply determined that the prey is worth the claws, and the party is on. This is where software again kicks in.

Software, as with rifles, comes down to frequent, diligent, committed practice and training. Even more so with pistols, because like selecting real estate, the most important thing with shooting a pistol in self-defense is location, location, location. A pistol Jedi might be able to self-defend with a humble .22, providing he could put the round(s) into a suitable spot in his prey. This necessity decreases somewhat as caliber and power increases, but even so, single shots to vital spots always trump splatter-fire spray-and-pray delivered everywhere to whom it may concern. And as countless police shootings testify, your body’s rapid dump of adrenaline in a life and death situation, along with your vision tunneling down to the point of looking through wrapping paper tubes, will make you Hulk strong and paddle hands lousy at fine motor skills, and pistol shooting is absolutely a fine motor skill. The keys to overcoming this are multiple. Punching paper reinforces only the basics and teaches your body muscle memory, but like the piano, practice doesn’t make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect. Get instruction and again, lots of practice in moving and shooting from cover. To the extent possible, you might even consider some training aids. At a shooting range you usually already have to wear ear and eye protection. Consider sacrificing a pair of safety glasses by blacking out all but the center of the lenses to simulate stress-induced tunnel vision. If it makes you feel better, they put instrument pilot trainees “under a hood” of similarly restricted vision to simulate being inside a plane in a cloud so they don’t flip over and dive for the ground in their first vertigo-inducing cloudy experience, and it works. You might also consider getting ascending sizes of latex or nitrile exam gloves, and put 2-3 pairs on over your hands, to simulate the fumble-fingers of an adrenaline dump, then practice your pistol drills until you’re almost or as good while so impaired as you are with no encumbrances. And don’t only practice on warm, sunny, clear days. Within the realms of safety, practice on cold, wet, windy days. Get used to handling wet weapons safely, and overcoming gusts blowing your sight picture all to hell; the latter is great for simulating the overcontrol adrenaline can dump on you, not to mention for being attacked on cold, wet, windy days. And since an enormous amount of attacks happen in the dark, because predators always see darkness as concealment and therefore gain surprise, you HAVE TO practice in very low light. Try wearing the darkest sunglasses you can find, and shooting at targets whose color matches the backdrop, and are in shade or shadow, if possible. The do it again, with the blacked out lenses and extra gloves. Then while moving and taking cover. Then on a cold, wet, windy day. NOW you’re actually getting useful training. You can also practice in other unorthodox ways. A personal friend and a world-class champion shooter wanted to get practice time and slick up the internals of his new weapons. So he squirted gobs of a mildly abrasive brand of toothpaste into brand-new stainless guns, replaced the body panels, put in snap caps, and spent his free time for the next week dry-firing each one at every badguy in every scene of every western and action flick whose DVD he possessed. After a week, he scrupulously cleaned out the toothpaste, and cleaned and lubricated his weapons normally, as they were now smooth as glass, and he’d gotten in thousands of dry-fire rounds of muscle memory and proper sight techniques, and watched all his favorite movies. Total cost, just over $0.00. Another acquaintance and Olympic figure skater athlete pointed out once that making it to the Olympics requires the dedication to fall on your ass at least 10,000 times. He'd competed in three Olympics in his life at that point, so I'm thinking he knew what he was talking about. And in times of stress, it has been noted by many experts that you won’t rise to the occasion, you’ll sink to the level of your training. Fail to train, train to fail.

Next time, additional measures.

* All pistol rounds are weak. Far weaker than most rifle rounds, and usually used at all solely because of a necessitated compromise. Anything smaller than .380ACP/.38 Special is very nearly worthless in the realm of self-defense, assuming you want to stop a threat before it kills you, rather than just insure mutual demise. (What Ian Fleming knew about guns could fit in a thimble.) And the differences between .38, .357 Mag, 9mm, .40, .45 and .44 magnum &co. are like comparing the height of Death Valley with the height of Mt. Everest, as observed with the naked eye from the surface of the moon. In certain instances you may need the extra oomph, but that's for you to decide.
While I wouldn’t want to be shot with a .22, a .25, or a .32, neither would I willingly choose any of them for personal protection against anything larger than a small reptile or domestic barnyard animal. So unless you anticipate hordes of zombie chickens and homing rattlesnakes squaring off against you, don’t waste your time and mine going there.

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