Thursday, November 17, 2011

3 Firearms 4 Life, Part V: Building Your Battery of Arms

File Under: With Both Barrels

The what, why, and how of practical preparedness

In this series so far we have outlined the scenarios under which you will need to carry and possibly use a firearm, and the threats potentially encountered in each of those scenarios. With this analysis we have been able to outline a selection of the most preferred firearm qualities and performance criteria, and have made some choices on systems that could satisfy them. Those selections are a guideline or starting point, not the definitive answer or the finish line. The entire point of the 3 Firearms 4 Life philosophy is to build a Battery of Arms (Battery of Firearms) suited to your unique situational specifications, that will effectively, efficiently, and economically fit a broad spectrum of firearms usage scenarios. The question you are answering is what systems can I purchase, train with, and incorporate into my overall defensive strategy, so that I am ready and able to use a firearm in any situation that will require one? If your solutions receive low or failing grades in any of the 3 Es, your answer to that question is inadequate at best and will eventually fail you completely at worst. The key concept here is Battery of Arms. Thus far in the series you have heard much of my own opinion, analysis, and distilled second-hand knowledge on this topic. To explain Battery of Arms and firearm selection I am going to quote and paraphrase heavily the words of an individual much more qualified than myself on this topic, renowned instructor, law enforcement, and defensive shooting expert Massad Ayoob as found in his article, “An Economical Battery of Guns For the Backwoods Home,” from a 1998 issue of Backwoods Home Magazine. But first, a general note on firearm ownership.

No matter where you live, no matter what the conditions, one should never forget that “firearms are important, routinely-used tools.” The last two words/phrases are the most critical. A firearm is a tool with a specific purpose. Firearms are inert without human interaction and are as safe as any other tools in in the hands of a conscientious, trained, and responsible operator. Secondly, like most tools, they must be used in order to accomplish their purpose. This means you must carry, safety check, clean, maintain, dry practice, shoot, and educate yourself on your firearms and firearms in general. Adherence to this tenet will ensure that when it is time to use a firearm you have a safe, reliable, functioning tool at the ready that you know exactly how to operate. Ayoob, admonishes that you do not just research firearms and tactics, but seek out formal, professional training. If you are new to firearm ownership, or even if you are not, take a basic firearm safety course. Then move on to programs focusing on concealed carry and being a responsible armed citizen. Try to take at least 1 firearms education course each year, escalating in scope, specificity, intensity, and cross-application of skills. Practice with your 3 Firearms at least once per month, every month a minimum of 200 rounds each. Clean each firearm after each range trip and lubricate each before safely storing. If your state issues concealed carry permits, obtain one and carry every day.

Now back to the topic of discussion. What is a Battery of Arms, how do we define it, and why is it important that we understand it? If you have a wild imagination you might be picturing a bunch of human limbs tied together in a series or someone caning your limbs with a bamboo stick.  Those are not the kinds of battery we are talking about.  Ayoob provides us with some enlightenment:
A "battery" of firearms is a selection of guns that will cover multiple needs. The collector has "a collection," but the person who uses guns as tools has a working "battery," like a carpenter having multiple saws for different cutting purposes, and different screwdrivers for dealing with different sizes of screws.
Understanding the distinction between the various types of firearm owner and the uses of a firearm are important to developing an understanding of the Battery of Arms concept and how you will build your own. Primarily, firearm owners will fall into one or more of the following categories, of which we will focus this discussion on the last: collectors, competitors, trophy hunters, military/police, security professionals, enthusiasts, and practical citizens. The use of the word practical does not imply that the other firearm owners are impractical, rather the term used in this context means that the needs of this type of firearm owner are not as highly specified or extreme as the needs of the other firearm owners and the user intends each purchase to fill a general “work” role. For some these roles include service as collection/investment pieces, plinking (target shooting for entertainment), or hobbies/income for those who like customizing, modifying, accessorizing firearms. However, when talking about work roles, we are usually talking about one of the following:
  • Self-defense – the combined strategies for preventing death or harm to your person or the person of another individual, by a human aggressor, when you are -OUTSIDE- the of confines of any stationary location legally determined to be your property or residence.
  • Home defense – the combined strategies for preventing death or harm to your person or the person of another individual, by a human aggressor, when you are -INSIDE- the of confines of any stationary location legally determined to be your property or residence.
  • Property protection – the combined strategies for legally preventing or stopping the theft or destruction of any property of which you have legal ownership.
  • Personal protection – the combined strategies for preventing death or harm to your person or the person of another individual, by a non-human threat, wherever you might encounter such without the express intention and action of stalking or trapping.
  • Hunting – legally stalking or trapping an animal with the express intention of killing it either to consume it as food or to destroy a dangerous nuisance animal.
  • Training – instruction and practice on the legal, safe, and effective storage, maintenance, and operation of a firearm and the legal and tactical considerations of the various situations in which one could be used.
To some that might be a considerable amount of semantics and hair-splitting, however, a considerable amount of the copious firearm laws have a considerable amount of semantics, hair-splitting, and treacherous legalese within them. Understanding what you are allowed to do, under what circumstances, and how those factors influence the composition of your Battery of Arms (BoA) will be critical to your success. Additionally, training might seem like a no-brainer but ask yourself: If you have added a sleek $2,000.00 firearm to your BoA with the idea that one day you will use it to save your life or feed yourself, which is more likely to happen – getting out to the range/wilderness to practice with it, put it through its paces and roll around in the dirt with it, or will that wind up taking up valuable real estate in your safe because you pamper it to death? Chances are the latter. Therefore, you want something you can train with and abuse (not literally). This is an opportunity to build your BoA correctly from the beginning or rethink your inks and build a Better Battery of Arms (BBoA) if you already have a few safe queens hoarding your precious resources. Find a collector or an enthusiast and get that dead-weight out of your life if you need to recoup the space and money to build a stronger foundation. If you do not shoot it or if you do not carry it, unless it is some uber-rare antique collectible family heirloom – get rid of it. You can always come back to collecting and buying for love once your bases are covered.

As you can imagine, finding 3 firearms to have on hand for each situation that span the range of firearm roles is a difficult proposition. Ayoob, who is vastly more well-informed on the topic than I, actually suggests four to cover you for all situations: a rifle in .22 Long Rifle, a 12 or 20 gauge pump-action shotgun, a pistol or revolver in .38 - .45 caliber range, and a high-powered rifle chambered in calibers such as .30-30 Winchester, .308 Winchester, and .30-06 Springfield. Ayoob, further adds:
If you're not planning on hunting and don't have problems with either very large, mean animals or very distant ones, the high powered rifle—the "deer rifle," if you will—is probably the one gun in the battery you can most easily do without.
This BoA will certainly provide a good answer to every question and is prudent advice for the ultra-budget restricted who want to get up to speed, get covered, and do so with as few purchases as possible to achieve a complete BoA. The 3 Firearms philosophy (3F) builds upon this start by providing you with customizable coverage you can always carry. When approached as an ever evolving plan, 3F allows you to address the most pressing (current) needs first and diversify your BoA later as resources allow. So what are the immediate needs, where do you begin building your BoA? Ayoob, has some practical counsel:
wherever you are, the need to defend yourself from man or beast tends to arise suddenly, without time to run to the gun cabinet […] a [...] moderately powerful sidearm that you can wear whenever you're dressed makes a lot of sense.
Due to complex dynamics of operating and accurately shooting a revolver or pistol, their comparative lack of firepower or range, their limited capacity, and their relative high cost, one might question the wisdom of making a revolver or pistol the basis of your 3F BoA and the platform on which you might learn the fundamentals of shooting. However, remember: what we want to accomplish with 3F is a 24/7/365 carry solution for anywhere we can conceivably wear a firearm. A revolver or pistol is the firearm that meets this criteria. Your next step is to determine where you will be using your firearm and what is the most dangerous threat you are likely to encounter in that environment. For most individuals reading this blog the environment will be a metropolitan area and the most dangerous threat will be a human attacker. Next, you will want whatever you purchase now to be able fulfill a future need if possible or looking at it from a different angle ask: can any of the firearms earmarked for a future need also serve a current/immediate need? In this way you are maximizing the effectiveness and efficiency of your dollar and preventing a gap in coverage.

Even though we determined defense is the most immediate need, defense is actually low on the totem pole of needs to remain alive. Survivalists have a saying:  you can survive 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food.  Oxygen, shelter, temperature regulation, water, food, first aid, and infection prevention (in order of most to least pressing) outrank defense and personal protection on your hierachy of needs (though you will need to defend your food/water in a crisis). Fortunately most of those are provided for in one way or another in a normal situation, and only one of those (food) can a firearm directly provide. Therefore, once you have satisfied your defensive needs, insure that the next firearm you add to your BoA can net you food. Start on the smaller end of the spectrum (squirrels, rabbits, etc.) and move to the larger end (deer, moose, etc). Note: This is the exact opposite of defense/protection where you solve the larger/dangerous problem first.  Barring an irresistible deal, avoid buying something you do not need before you fill a higher, more pressing need. Your pistol or revolver will serve as personal and home defense firearm, do not buy your shotgun before you buy your sidearm. A shotgun will defend the home and put food on the table, do not buy your battle rifle before you buy your shotgun. If SHTF and you need to hunker down or bug-out you want to have as many firearm roles covered as possible at that very moment. A “planned” purchase won't do you any good, neither will having a super cool $2,000.00 safe queen that won't put food on the table. Get the picture?

Now that we understand the criteria for our selections and the order in which we should acquire them, what do we actually want to choose and why? Let us review the combined list of 3F picks, examine why those particular models made the cut, and how they achieved their rank:
  1. Glock G17 – this pistol made the list because of its long record of reliability, durability, and simplicity. It has no external safety controls making it brain-dead simple to learn and operate. Along with the Glock G19 it has a list of readily available -quality- accessories and spare parts rivaled only by the 1911 and the AR-15. When you factor in use of the 9x19mm Parabellum by NATO and law enforcement, this will be the cheapest, most R&D-ed, and most available ammunition – both now and after SHTF. The 9mm is the minimum caliber in this author's opinion for use as a primary round in personal defense, meaning the G17 that will serve you well when bugging-out can also fill the immediate need of personal/home defense today, ranking it numero uno. As a machine the G17 is reliable, durable, simple, common and in the hands of an experienced shooter it is effective and efficient. However, with retail prices exceeding $500.00 (US) new, it is not the most economical choice.
  2. Mossberg 835 Ulti-Mag – the shotgun should be your next purchase as it can serve all roles, including hunting small game. The Mossberg 835 is based on the design of the Mossberg 500/590, a battle and field-tested system used by the military, law enforcement, and hunters. The Mossberg is probably only bested in consumer sales by the Remington 870 (also used by military and police), so finding replacement parts and accessories should be a relatively painless affair – though this is a case where having replacements ready might be prudent. The 835 itself, does not appear to be readily stocked many places, which in my experience points to a lack of sales that ultimately leads to a discontinuation of production. I do not believe that is a reflection of the quality of the firearm, but rather its specificity in purpose and price. Unlike Remington's 3-½” chambered “super” magnum, the 835 is purpose-built (not an extended version of the 3” chamber). The 3-½” chamber allows for even more flexibility in the type of ammunition your shotgun can feed and the range you can use your shotgun. Compared to 2-¾” shells, 3-½” shells not only offer increased payload but also increased velocity, thus extended range. In addition to the longer chamber, the 835 comes native with a 20” barrel, the ability to use choke tubes, and a thumbhole stock making it more tactical out of the box than many other hunting shotguns and vastly better at hunting than many tactical/defense shotguns. Retailing over $400.00 this is not the most inexpensive shotgun on the market but definitely a high value one.
  3. Ruger 10/22 Carbine – the .22 Long Rifle will take the hunting load off the shotgun at the smaller end of the spectrum and should it be what you have in hand it can be a defensive firearm also, giving it third place in your BoA. The Ruger 10/22 beats less expensive and comparably high-quality, accurate rifles due to the availability of accessories/parts, higher magazine capacity, being massively customizable, and a longer record of reliability.
  4. Taurus Tracker Model 627 – With the bases covered, we restart the list adding items that serve immediate needs first. Having a secondary firearm is a much better proposition than just extra magazines, and completes your list of firearms for EDC. Moreover, the .357 Magnum / .38 Special serves as a simpler more handy home defense firearm and can put a wide-range of game in the pot, making it the #4 acquisition for your BoA. The 627 meets all of the criteria (weight and barrel length) and offers a very nice 7 round capacity. The 627 is even more attractive for its lifetime warranty and competitive pricing.
  5. Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan – At this juncture should you bug out into the wilderness the most powerful sidearm you will have to call upon is the .357 Magnum. While that is good and definitely beats the heck out of swinging a stick, it is not good enough for me; adding the .454 Casull here, you round out your 3F needs for wilderness carry. Though expensive as all get-out, the Super Redhawk Alaskan makes the grade because a) Ruger makes quality revolvers, b) it is compact, and comparatively light making it easier to carry, and c) there are verified stories of this actual model of revolver putting rounds on target, managing the forces of the .454 Casull without coming apart, and dropping a brown bear charging from close-range without expending all of its rounds. 'Nuff said.
  6. Century International Arms GP WASR-10 – this is a good time to cover your ability to take the fight to human aggressors in a WROL situation. Once, you have this in your BoA you can consider yourself ready to go. You are going to use your AKM primarily for defense and secondarily as a hunting firearm. As far as AKMs go without getting your hands on a pre-ban version the closest competition to the WASR-10s for availability would be the Saiga models imported and modified by Arsenal. The SGL-21 is indeed a much higher quality firearm, however it is also double the price of the WASR-10. It is important to realize that while the AKM is a rugged, reliable battle-tested platform, these are not actual battle-tested surplus AKMs. These are new-production, heavily modified AKM-like firearms that have not seen a nanosecond of combat. That said, I am going to put it through some horrendous paces before affirming it my main battle rifle; and, if I am to wind up with an expensive club I would rather have a $350.00 club than a $700.00 one.  Major Caveat:  Do not purchase this firearm sight unseen (online) as the importer/re-manufacturer is known to have QC issues.  If you cannot find one locally AND cannot take an experienced AKM owner with you avoid this brand.  Moreover, if you are averse to minor gunsmithing buy the more expensive brand.
  7. Springfield Armory XDm 40 3.8 – If we have not diverged ideologically already this probably will be where that divergence occurs. In everyday America, the .40 S&W makes a better caliber choice and the Springfield Armory XDm series of semi-automatic pistol a better platform. The ammunition is as plentiful as necessary, the firearm requires few accessories that the manufacturer does not supply with the purchase, and ergonomically the XDm is hard to beat. The 3.8” barrel gives performance and sight radius in the area of a 4” barrel while being slightly easier to carry/conceal and maintaining full 16-round magazine capacity. Like the Glock 22, the XDm has no manual external safeties but it does have a passive grip safety that when combined with common sense and adherence to basic firearm safety rules makes it that much safer than the so-called "Safe-action" Glock. This firearm is not cheap but it is a high-value option that will increase the magnitude of your tactical response when you swap it into the role of primary EDC.
  8. Para USA 14-45 Long Slide Limited – It is a 1911 style pistol. It has 14 rounds of .45 ACP in the magazine, and 1 in the chamber. It has a accuracy and terminal performance improving 6” barrel. It is a beautiful machine. It is more expensive than “value” 1911s and cheaper than some high-end custom shop 1911s, but nowhere near cheap. Do you need more reasons? The traditional 1911 has a 7-round magazine capacity, depending on the manufacturer some have 8 or 10 round magazines. More than 10 rounds and you are looking at a double-stacked magazine, meaning the rounds are staggered in the magazine rather than stacked one on top of the other. The 1911 was designed to use a single stack 7-round magazine.  Therefore, if done poorly a double stacked magazine can create an uncomfortable grip and feeding problems. You do not want feeding problems when its time to shoot – every little .45 must come out when it is its turn. If you do go for a double-stack 1911 do your homework, buy quality, and put at least 1,000 rounds through it before making it a carry option to isolate and correct any feeding, extraction, or ejection issues. With any 1911, whether single or double stacked, test a wide variety of ammunition to find a defensive round (jacketed hollow-point, JHP) that feeds reliably. No BoA is complete without a 1911 in .45 ACP so get a high-quality one you can afford.
  9. Kel-Tec KSG – Depending on how you reckon life, the universe, and everything this might just be the firearm you have been waiting your whole life for someone to make: a pump-action shotgun that gives you on deck 15 rounds of 2-¾” (13 rounds of 3”) shells without reloading. The KSG accomplishes this by incorporating 2, yes 2, 6 or 7 round magazine tubes under the barrel instead of the traditional one. The operator selects which tube the firearm feeds from by means of a switch. As one web reviewer so eloquently put it, “think of it as the fastest shotgun reload you will ever do.” Weighing in under 9 pounds fully load and measuring 26.1” long overall, can you say light? Can you say compact? Can you say perfect home defense shotgun? Yes you can. All that zombie-blasting awesome is not cheap of course, expect to shell out over $600.00 retail if you can find it at a reputable dealer.
  10. If you have been paying attention, you might have noticed there were only 9 firearms mentioned in the 3F series. However, everyone loves Top 10 lists ...nobody likes Top 9 lists. So we will use the 10th  spot (and the 11th and 12th or however many it takes) to address any areas of deficiency. But how can there be holes, I thought 3F prepares you for EVERYTHING? Without question 3F will serve you quite well as part of a complete everyday to extreme survival strategy, yet it does not address every tactical situation. Emphasizing avoidance, diplomacy, peaceful coexistence, stealth, speed, and mobility 3F will see to it that you own your space within 200 yards. This is because 3F assumes if it is outside of that space you probably should not be messing with it, that does not mean that you will never encounter a situation where you need to reach out and touch someone or something assuming your have the skill to do so. If you require a long-distance calling plan you cannot go wrong with tried and true solutions like the Remington 700, Ruger M77, Winchester Model 70, or Savage 110; or if you want something slightly more “tactical” spring for a Springfield Armory M1A Loaded. If this is where I was spending my dollars, I would grab Ayoob's selection of Browning BAR Safari model, albeit in the more common and cheaper .30-06 Springfield. Working a bolt or lever may be more difficult than you think when rounds are flying over head or Yogi Bear is after your picnic basket, the ability to simply squeeze the trigger for follow-up shots and a detachable box magazine could possibly save your bacon. Many people espouse the benefit of having a .22 LR pistol for inexpensive practice using a full-size pistol. If you are intent on having a dedicated pistol instead of a conversion then the Sig Sauer Mosquito or Ruger Mark III variants are an options you might want to consider. If you enjoy the sounds of silence and you are running low on .22 LR you might appreciate the whisper quiet deadliness of the Gamo Socom Extreme .25 cal. This lightweight air rifle can hurl a .25 caliber pellet at 1,000 fps out of the muzzle, spoiling the day of pests and small game. Other silent options include bows or crossbows, such as the Barnett Ghost 400 CRT, which fires bolts at a blistering 400 feet per second. Air riles, bows, and crossbows are not technically firearms, yet that does not matter to all the things they can nevertheless kill. Remember, you are building a battery of ARMS, not just firearms; various non-firearm tools will support the mission of your firearm selections.  As far as carbines go, I am not sure which camp will be more hurt: the AR-15 black rifle proponents or those who swear by the M1 Carbine as the most effective zombie-slayer. I genuinely apologize if I have hurt either of your feelings. I do, however, believe the carbine has a place in a multi-member survival party. Not everyone can or should have a full-size battle rifle, especially if that someone operates in a confined area and requires both his or her hands, like a combat medic. For these members of your party a carbine, like the Hi-Point 995TS chambered in 9mm, could be just the ticket to give them more range and terminal performance than their sidearm while not encumbering them with a longer, heavier rifle.
The list of honorable mentions and slightly overly-justified “must haves” could go on forever with someone who likes firearms and tactics as much I do, but I think you get the point. Assess your priorities, resources, and make choices to give yourself the optimal coverage for what you believe you are likely to encounter. To wrap up this part of our discussion, I am going to borrow from Massad Ayoob one final time:
Don't go for an A+ in one class at the expense of a grade of Incomplete on the rest of the curriculum. One screwdriver won't do it all for you, nor will one saw, and neither will one firearm. A good, functional, representative example of each type puts a lot more versatility in your toolbox than the most expensive specimen of just one type. That's how it is with tools...and […] the working gun IS a tool. No more, no less. […] Choose your tools carefully. Learn to use them well. And, above all, demand of yourself and others that they be used responsibly and safely.
'Nuff said.

You are probably ready to go out and start filling up your firearm safe. I know. I am too, but reign in your horses. The last thing we want to do in these fragile economic times is to go out and blow our wad on a stockpile of junk that wont serve us as well as it should when we need it most. There is yet much to discover in order to maximize our dollars, build an efficient Battery of Arms, and achieve efficient, effective logistical planning. Stay tuned for the next exciting edition – 3 Firearms 4 Life, Part VI: Bullets for My Valentine.

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