Potential First-Time Gun Owner Solicits Suggestions

by lizard

At Intelligent Discontent there is a lengthy discussion surrounding the question posed in the title of the post: When is Self-Defense Permissible in Montana?

I’ve been thinking about guns and gun ownership for awhile now, and I’ve finally decided to purchase my first handgun. I figure there is some expertise among our readership, so suggestions are welcome. I’m looking for a smaller caliber firearm that’s simple and dependable. I’m interested in mainly home-defense, not stopping a Grizzly.

  1. evdebs

    Do you live alone? Have kids?

    Buy a trigger lock, in any case. Keep the piece secure. You don’t want a burglar to use your gun in a robbery or worse.

    Take a gun safety course.

    If there’s reason you feel your home needs defending, you might think about other interventions or strategies as well.

    A small caliber gun won’t be much of a guarantee of self protection. I’d say .32 caliber would be the minimum.

    It will be expensive. Paranoia and the NRA have driven prices through the roof. Good locks are cheaper protection.

  2. steve kelly

    Reassess the threat. If the neighborhood is that unsafe, move to a location where a handgun is not needed. If you really think about it a handgun has only one real purpose.

    • lizard19

      it’s not the neighborhood, steve. I have a mentally unstable person fixated on me who sends me creepy letters to my home address and the court denied my order of protection because this person isn’t currently in Missoula.

      I also don’t have a lot of faith in things improving economically, and as things worsen, social unrest will become more prevalent. I think it makes sense to learn how to responsibly handle a gun.

      • NO It does NOT MAKE SENSE to own a gun unless your willing to KILL another person.

      • Given you’re dealing with a specific threat, obtaining a sidearm makes a certain sense. Acquiring skill in its use matters more than its caliber. Buy a weapon that’s comfortable in your hand and that you can control, then get professional instruction and a lot of practice.

        But make the firearm one part in a self-defense program that includes non-lethal elements such as bear spray, bright lights (including a high powered green laser), noise, and so forth. That’s probably unnecessary advice, but I offer it anyway.

        I’m not concerned about social unrest. A certain amount of it is always with us, but the U.S. and, especially, places like Montana, are pretty stable societies.

        If you’d like to get in touch with me privately, send email to jrc [at] flatheadmemo [dhawt] com.

        I hope you find a solution that works for you.

  3. larry kurtz

    liz, learning to get a gun unlocked, loaded and up in time for a surprise home invasion is a huge commitment. A baseball bat or long sturdy staff are very effective defensive tools.

  4. Big Swede

    May I suggest a Ruger LC-9. Inexpensive and reliable. If you have young kids leave a round out of the chamber so it has to be “racked” to be loaded, smaller weaker hands can’t pull the slide back.


  5. The first fundamental question to answer is exactly what you mean by “defense”. The answer to that question can range quite a bit, and will help narrow your weapon of choice. Are you interested in repelling an invading horde, or getting a drunk intruder to leave? Are you interested in apprehending a burglar and holding them until the police arrive or killing them? Do you want your family to have access to lethal force, or just you? Many of these questions are distasteful, but they have to to be answered unless you want to fall into the Zimmerman idea of the topic, which is that ‘defense’ is whatever you want it to be at the time. There will be those who would tell you that you should never fire a gun without the intent to kill. I disagree, but my definition of defense is probably different than theirs. You have to decide for yourself what that line is.

    I disagree that .22 is not sufficient for home defense, and it offers several advantages. They are lighter (unless you buy a target model like the the upscale Ruger Mark series.) They are easier to control in a pressure situation. No, they do not have the ‘stopping power’ of higher caliber firearms, but it should be acknowledged that ‘stopping power’ generally really means ‘killing power’. At close range, with proper accuracy, a .22 is every bit as lethal as a .40 cal. If you want to stop an intruder, scaring or hurting them is usually plenty to achieve your objective. If you are preparing for the worst case scenario, PCP freaks with chainsaws wearing hockey masks and body armor, then by all means, you are better served by a more powerful weapon. If the latter is your worry, then Steve Kelly makes a terrific point. Joining an arms race in a bad environment never tends to work out well. Do keep in mind that more power to “drop” an intruder also means more power to go through your walls and into the neighbor’s domicile, possibly dropping them. And, for the record, .22s are just hella fun to shoot, and you don’t need a mortgage to buy 500 rounds.

    The question concerning your family’s use of the firearm is very significant. Buying a gun that fits more than just your hand requires more thought, training and planning, both before and after purchase.

    All that written, the best weapon for home defense is frequently one that shoots many projectiles rather than one, like a 410 gauge shotgun or a pistol with birdshot loads. That dramatically ups your accuracy and keeps the power at distance to a minimum, which your neighbors will greatly appreciate should you ever need to fire the gun.

    Another consideration is this: statistically, revolvers are safer than semi-automatics, especially if they are single action. That may not always be the case depending on your scenario planning. If you plan to keep the handgun loaded, then a semi-auto without a round chambered is likely more safe than an un-cocked revolver around curious children. If you plan to keep the firearm unloaded, then a magazine is much quicker to push and chamber a round than it is to load cylinders with bullets, cock and shoot. The higher rate of fire is a blessing if you need to kill, but can be a curse if you are intending to control your actions somewhat and don’t have proper training and consistent practice (heavy on the practice).

    It is possible that you were looking for more substantive suggestions, like make and model of caliber X versus that of Y. I’m a Ruger guy, someone else may favor S&W, or Kimber or Browning or Colt. Frankly, brand loyalty doesn’t mean anything to a first time gun purchaser (or at least shouldn’t). Yes, most higher priced firearms are superior to those of lower make, and that means precisely squat until you have answered many or most of the questions posed through scenario planning. Everyone has their own favorite style and caliber and grip. I suggest to you that those things become their favorites because the firearm accomplishes what they want it to accomplish, and rarely is that home defense. Preparedness, on the other hand …

    (I still say that the best home defense originally comes from Germany, has four strong legs, and will loyally love you until death.)

    • lizard19

      I’m leaning toward a Ruger Mark III, probably just the standard model. I appreciate your feedback, Rob.

      • I am giggling with joy as I write this, because that’s what my Mark III is, pure joy. I have the standard model with tapered barrel and ‘luger’ style grip and I love it. My brother has the bull barrel (target barrel) with the luger style grip and my niece has the target model with the bull barrel and the 1911 style grip. I hate the grip on hers, seriously. The squared off edges have never felt all that comfortable to me, because I have large hands with long fingers and big pads. At the risk of being branded a charlatan, I don’t even like the feel of the 1911 grip on a Colt 1911 .45.

        The bull barrel does give better accuracy at distance with no argument, and it greatly assists in recovery time for sighting after firing. But I am not fond of the extra weight, and I can’t get used to the balance of the weapon in my hand. It just feels front heavy. The tapered barrel leaves more of the weight directly in your hand, and the firearm feels more like an extension of your body. Though it’s a far cry from proper technique, I love to fire mine one handed. Frankly, my body is so right-side dominant that I am frequently as accurate with one hand as with two. The bull barrel just isn’t as much fun for me. And that’s really what the Mark III is about. It is just plain fun to shoot. As a plinker, as a target pistol, as a zombie slayer or a home defense weapon, the Mark III is just a whole lotta fun.

        Mine also serves the common role of home defense, though Teddy and Skete have that role covered. 200 pounds of German Shepherds trumps a gun any day. Still, around the house, I keep my Mark III loaded with bird shot (or snake-shot as Dillonites tell me it is.) The pellets are no bigger than salt grains, but ten good velocity rounds of that will likely deal with anyone who somehow manages to get past the boys. I also have the .44 mag, but frankly, if I need a ‘bigger boat’ then nothing I keep in the house is likely to do much good, including the rifles.

        Word of warning: The Mark III is a total bugger to dismantle and reassemble until the parts loosen a little. This is not a joke. If you buy it new, it would not be a bad idea to have a gunsmith break it down and clean it a couple of times, showing you several times how it’s done. The hard part is breaking out the side release. The dangerous part is putting the slide pin spring coil back such that it doesn’t jam and damage the gun. This is definitely one time to RTFM.

  6. Your best bets are a cellphone with 911 on speed-dial, a brighter than hell flashlight, and bear spray.

    Not to mention living in a low crime neighborhood, having motion sensor activated floodlights on your house, and a big dog that loves you and hates them.

  7. you have SO MANY different options than a handgun for protection. For goodness sakes you live in Missoula Montana!
    Just a reminder…GUNS DON’T KILL…It’s the people pulling the trigger that do. Can you live with killing someone? If not, don’t do it!

  8. larry kurtz

    Los perros son nuestro vínculo con el paraíso. No conocen la maldad, la envidia o el descontento." ― Milan Kundera pic.twitter.com/xxlGodgnTF— A.Dॐ (@Analucita) March 18, 2014

  9. Adam

    First, I’d highly recommend taking one of Gary Marbut’s gun safety classes. Not only will you learn a lot, but Gary will let you try out a few of his handguns so you can determine what you’re most comfortable shooting.

    When it comes to caliber and style, it really depends on what level of defense you’re looking for and what you’re comfortable shooting. The first pistol I ever became comfortable shooting was a Ruger .22. It’s easy to shoot, fun, and .22 ammo is inexpensive. It’s about the only gun we have that we can afford to take to the range and pop off a couple hundred rounds with. If some punk teenager comes through your window, just pointing a .22 at him should be about all the defense you need before he runs away with his tail tucked. On the other hand, if a meth head comes busting down your door you might pump 8 rounds of .22 into him before he even notices. Don’t get me wrong. Like any gun, a .22 is absolutely lethal…it just doesn’t have any stopping power. I like stopping power. For that reason, I don’t recommend going any smaller than a 9mm.

    Style is also a consideration. Do you want a revolver or a semi-auto? Revolvers are easy to use and generally very reliable. If you are seeking one of the most reliable, easiest to use revolver options with real stopping power, I think a Ruger LCR-LG in a .38 special or .357 mag is a great option. They come with a laser grip that could be clutch in a dark, hectic home defense situation. Ammo is generally readily available and not terribly expensive. Unfortunatley, an LCR-LG will cost about as much as my first car did.

    Semi-autos are a whole different animal. I don’t much care for most of them as home defense handguns, but many, many people use them for home defense. Semi-autos are likely to jam more often than revolvers. You don’t ever want to have to use your home defense gun outside of the shooting range, but if you do, you sure as heck don’t want to risk having it jam up on you. On the other hand, I personally shoot semi-autos with much more accuracy than revolvers. There is one semi-auto that I do like for home defense because it offers both a manual safety and double action, and I’ve personally found it to be reliable. It’s also a lot of bang for your buck. The Sccy CPX-1. My wife hates shooting it. The double action makes for a heavier trigger pull and she can’t shoot it with any accuracy. Her identical twin really likes shooting it.

    In short, choosing the “right” handgun can be an overwhelming task based purely on personal preference that even identical twins can’t agree on.

    Why not listen to Joe Biden and buy a shotgun?

    • Adam, please don’t get me wrong. I am a believer in power (p=J/s). I hunt with a .300 WinMag and I adore my .44mag Super Blackhawk. But let’s be real. Beyond post-Ice-age mega-fauna (walrus, grizzlies, elephants, moose, bison) ‘stopping power’ is a bit of a myth. The hydrostatic shock (measured as Joules per second transfer) of a 9mm is not more debilitating, or capable of stopping the motion of a human being than that of a .22. What ‘stops’ a human being is measured in damage to necessary systems or in the pain that human feels. The hydrostatic shock of a larger high-velocity round is greater, thus the damage is greater. But if the damage isn’t to critical systems, it won’t stop an aggressor. A shot through the heart will, either from a .38, a .357 or a .22.

      Very few drugs can stop a sudden pain response altogether. Meth isn’t one of them. Shoot an attacking methhead with .22 and he’ll still go down from the pain. I suggest that if you’re using the right loads, it’s more likely he will drop from a .22 hollowpoint than from a 9mm jacketed. Many higher caliber rounds will pass through vital areas before expanding and releasing the energy stored in the bullet’s trajectory. .22s often won’t, and that might be why it is the most used and most effective murder weapon among firearms.

      I am not suggesting that your advice to look at higher calibers is wrong-headed. I am suggesting that that one not be seduced by a myth of ‘stopping power’ as if it is some kind of panacea that it is not.

      • Adam

        I agree with most of your assessment, Rob. We have a Ruger .22 Mark III as well, and it’s super fun to shoot. It’s the gun that sits within arm’s distance of my wife at night loaded with hollow points. She’s comfortable shooting it, and like I said, that’s the most important consideration. With a well placed shot, it will always do the job, and what good would a “more powerful” gun be if she’s not comfortable shooting it? I’m not worried about what happens with a well placed shot though. I like to have a handgun that does the job when the shot is not so well placed, as I suspect is likely to happen during the high intensity, high stress, and low light situation that I hopefully never find myself in while fending off a home invader. No doubt a .22 can do the job though, and the Mark III is a dang good one!

  10. petetalbot

    I’m disappointed, liz. Joining the ranks of Gary Marbut? Seriously listening to Adam’s discourse on dropping methheads with a .22 hollowpoint v. a 9mm jacketed? Good company.

    I’ve had whackos in my life, too, but I’m 60-years-old and never felt the need for a handgun. I’ve seen far more damage — suicides, accidental shootings, rage homicides — than legitimate acts of self defense.

    What I find more disturbing is your comment on social and economic turmoil getting worse. You can buy an arsenal of weapons, move up some draw in the Bitterroot or Sanders County, and hole up. Or you can embrace your community, work with others to make things better and envision a world that has fewer guns rather than more.

    • lizard19

      how does Adam’s suggestion I take classes from Marbut equate to me joining his ranks? thanks for the guilt by association jab, Pete.

      I get that I seem to have broken rank by giving Adam some credit where I thought credit was due, but I wouldn’t call him bad company, the way your comment implies.

      I made a personal decision to buy a gun and decided to do a little 4&20 crowd-sourcing to get some feedback, and wasn’t disappointed.

      I do share in your disappointment with me, though. I wish I could be more optimistic. I’m glad you’ve lived 60 years without feeling the need for a handgun. if I live to 60 it will be 2039. I’m not feeling really good about 2039, Pete.

      as for embracing my community and working with others to make things better, well, I guess I’ll just have to try harder.

      • petetalbot

        The “joining the ranks of Gary Marbut” was a cheap shot, but just hearing the Marbut name sets me off. He won’t be happy until everyone’s packing heat in schools, banks and churches; the bigger the magazine the better; a warning shot to the back of the head … well, you get my drift.

        And I know you already do things in service to your community, so that was lame on my part, too.

        To me, though, when one looks at civil and moral decline, the proliferation of guns is a huge indicator. Do you see the exponential growth in Western Montana of gun shops, ammunition manufacturers, and the makers of specialty gun items a positive thing? How about the display ads in the Missoulian recently for info on getting a concealed carry permit? This scares me more than the possibility of some psycho breaking into my home.

        As far as Adam goes, I know that you and jhwygirl are fans of a couple of his recent votes but to me, he’s still a young Republican (old Republicans are bad enough). Check out his twitter feed sometime: anti-reg., pro-coal, free-marketeer (not to mention a Steve Daines and Koch brothers supporter), ergo, in my world, “bad company.”

  11. Big Swede

    The disadvantage of .22’s right now is the availability of ammo, and the inflated price.

    9mm on the other hand is plentiful. Buy a 9’er so then you can upgrade to an Uzi later.


    Even limp wristed Maria can handle a couple.

  12. Anonymous

    Load your ammunition to provide a progressive deterrent. The first round is a “beanbag” type round so that you do not accidentally kill your girlfriend in the bathroom, your child coming home late, or the teenager in bed with your teenager. The second round is a light load (perhaps birdshot like Rob mentioned) designed to injure but not kill. The third round is designed to kill. If necessary, shoot through the first two rounds quickly. Of course, any of them will kill under the right circumstances, but a progressive deterrent more closely matches the response with the threat.

  13. Hey lizard I think others gave you good advice and you’re going the right way with getting a 22.

    I think it is important to recognize though that having a gun in your house increases the probability that your children will die due to a gun accident. We all like to think we are outliers but the statistics are pretty clear.

    I have a gun in my house for self-defense and I have two small children. If you’re going to have one gun I think it is worth your while to put as much thought into the safe you will have that gun in as the gun itself. I have a quick safe which is a four button combo. Practicing getting your gun out of the safe Safely and quickly is a must or else the purpose of having a gun is really defeated.

    I would also not hide the fact that you have a gun from your children. Force them to associate your gun with danger and terrible consequences. You don’t want to instill fear of others into them, But I think it is better to explain gun safety and rules to them as opposed to creating some sort of forbidden fruit effect about the gun in dad’s closet.

    I’ve wrestled with these things myself. I own many guns but only one is accessible. As a gun owner, don’t shy away from the fact that having a gun in your house increases the chances of your family members dying because of a gun. That’s a cost-benefit analysis you have to make yourself.

    I did not see this post coming.

    • lizard19

      great feedback, thank you. my wife and I have already started talking to our kids (5, 3) about guns in general, simply because there is a good chance they will encounter one in a less controlled environment, like a friend’s house where the parents don’t take precautions.

      I also appreciate your acknowledgement there is a case by case cost/benefit analysis we must make. I’ve made mine with the help of my partner, and I hope people respect that.

      that said, I still don’t think guns should be in schools or bars or on campus. I don’t think guns can counter rape culture or stop a fascist government from imposing state control/violence on the masses.

  14. lizardfollower

    Good decision

  15. Again, I am not going to get into the discussion about the merits of being a gun owner or whether Lizard is “betraying” anyone by choosing to buy a gun. There are plenty of other people who are more than willing to beat that horse.

    I will, though, offer a few thoughts on gun choice.

    I, too, like the idea of getting the .22. Ammo isn’t as scarce as people seem to think and I would be more than happy to point you to dozens of online sources if you can’t find relatively cheap ammo at home (hard to believe of Missoula, but you never know). Second, as Rob pointed out, a .22 hollowpoint will ruin anyone’s day and, as a self defense round, it has been proven effective.

    Moreover, even if the .22 round is less effective than larger calibers, it serves many other purposes. It can serve to cheaply teach you the basics of handgun use, it won’t break either your wrist of your pocket book and, most importantly, it isn’t like to kill your wife or children in another room if you do have to use it.

    I don’t use a .22 for self defense but I was trained to use a different weapon so well that it has become second nature for me. My Ruger .22 still sees much more use than my Springfield .45, though. I can buy more than 1,000 rounds of .22 for what a box of decent self defense .45 rounds costs, and I shoot far more .22 rounds at the range than I do .45.

    The most important part of this equation, though, is that whatever you choose to purchase, get something you are comfortable with and – more importantly – practice religiously. A gun does you no good if you aren’t competent in it’s use. Far too many people purchase guns do not take the time or effort to learn how to use them properly, safely or consistently. If you do not become competent on the range, you will never use it competently when it counts and that makes you more dangerous than not owning the firearm in the first place.

  1. 1 The Futility of a Missoula Municipal Ordinance Requiring Background Checks at Gun Shows | Reptile Dysfunction

    […] solicited feedback before purchasing my first gun, which ended up being a Ruger Mark III. The practical comments were […]

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