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Letter Re: Going into Debt to Acquire Firearms Before New Ban Legislation is Enacted?

Mr. Rawles,
Thanks for your recent advice. My question to you now combines questions of politics, debt, and firearms. The last time the executive and legislative branches were [both] held by the Democrats, we all got to enjoy the Assault Weapons Ban for 10 years. How removing a bayonet lug from firearms reduced gun violence, I’m not sure. The big problem with this, however, was obviously the magazine capacity limitations. The election of 2008 makes a similar act quite possible. By October 2008, a front-runner will probably have emerged. If that front-runner is not gun-friendly, where do we go from here? I will not have cash on hand to purchase firearms, but I do have consumer credit lines – kept completely free of debt – of around $8,000. I will probably be able to quickly convert this credit card debt (APR [1] around 14%) to student loans (APR around 7%). Instinct tells me that credit cards should only be used in time of emergency, and going into additional debt when I don’t need to do so is foolish. However, it may also make sense to jump through a closing window of opportunity and make sure I get what I need to have before I can no longer have it.

Once the decision to go into debt is made, the question is then one of priorities. Weapons most likely to be affected by legislation are “assault rifles” and handguns. The goal would be to acquire at least one handgun, one carbine, and one MBR [2], each with a large stash of magazines – at least a dozen, probably more like 20. The handgun(s) would likely be a high capacity 9mm or .40 S&W, (Glock, SIG, H&K – we’ll see) to be supplemented later with 1911s, which are less likely to be affected by the ban. The carbine would likely be from the AR-15/M4 family, based on the popularity of these weapons and therefore the ease with which spare parts can be acquired. The MBR would likely be a PTR-91. I do not yet have personal experience with this weapon – and would certainly learn more before purchase – but I base this decision on the extremely low price of high-capacity magazines and parts right now and the generally positive reviews I have read. A rough estimate on all of this comes to, in my mind, around $3,000 to $4,000, not including training or substantial stores of ammunition – no small investment. I do not feel confident enough in my own abilities to select a quality used weapon, and would buy new – I see little point in risking my security on skills I do not feel confident in. Other weapons likely to be added later include a lightweight bolt-action rifle chambered in .308, a shotgun, and, of course, a .22 pistol and .22 plinking rifle – these are the least likely to be affected by any “ban”, and are therefore at the lowest priority level.

Should I rush out and purchase before the ban – even if it means going into debt? Should I wait to avoid debt and accept whatever I can get afterwards? Should I just purchase magazines and hope that there is no legislation requiring weapons be modified to prevent the use of hi-cap mags? Your advice is always appreciated. My best,- S.

JWR Replies: In my opinion, just the chance of new legislation is not enough to justify going into debt–even if you can shuffle any new debt into low-interest student loans. One option might be borrowing the requisite cash from someone beneficent in your family (does either you or your wife have a sympathetic “gun nut” uncle?) Otherwise, I would wait until passage of a new gun law seems truly imminent, then go get cash (perhaps by cashing one of those dreaded credit card “convenience checks”.) To avoid a paper trail, you should then buy all of the guns privately at a gun show in your own state. (From private parties that have tables, rather than from Federally licensed licensed dealers.) Other options include GunBroker.com [3] (on-line auctions) or GunsAmerica.com [4] (fixed price sales–usually more expensive). You need to concentrate exclusively on private party sellers from your own state–that way you won’t run afoul of the Federal law that prohibits the transfer of a modern (post-1898) gun across state lines, except through a FFL [5] dealer.

It wouldn’t hurt to work up a detailed shopping list in advance. If your priority list is “legislatively driven”, then of course snatch up just the guns themselves, spare magazines, and a bit of ammo . You can get the other accessories and larger quantities of ammo at a later date.(After a new gun and/or full capacity magazine ban is enacted.)

Firearms selection is, and rightfully should be, highly personalized, based on your budget, your likely shooting distances at your intended retreat, regional caliber favorites, and your personal preferences. Both from the standpoint of adequate self -defense and in anticipation of legislated restrictions, a .308 MBR should be your top priority. I consider the FAL, L1A1, M1A, AR-10, and the HK-91 clones (such as the excellent Vector V-51 [6] or the passable JLD PTR-91 [7]) all functionally equivalent, and for the sake of argument, roughly comparable. (Yes, I know that glass-bedded match grade M1As can be insanely accurate. But they can also be insanely expensive–and so can their spare parts and extra magazines. I recommend that you pick from that short list and buy what ever “fits” you best–both your ergonomics and your budget. But regardless of what you choose, consider the full life-cycle cost of the weapons system, including scope mounts, spare parts and magazines. In today’s market, this tilts the scales toward the HK-91 clones. (Since like-new alloy HK G3 magazines are available for as little as $3 each!)

Someone on an extremely spartan budget might consider a Century Arms International (CAI) or Federal Arms CETME clone [8], which are also blessed with cheap, plentiful magazines. (I have heard that HK G3 Alloy magazines will work, in a pinch.) However, if you buy a CETME, I strongly suggest that you put it through a 60+ round functional firing test, and examine it closely it for excessive magazine well tightness, using unaltered magazines. (Since some of the CETME clones that have been built since 9/2004 exhibit receiver dimensional tolerance problems and/or feeding problems.) Also, as with any other “parts kit”-assembled gun, closely examine the bore.

As for handguns, the Glock .40 S&W models are a fine choice. As I have posted previously, I would probably switch to Glocks if it weren’t for the fact that I have 30 years of muscle memory invested in shooting the Colt Model 1911 platform. (Never try to teach an old dinosaur new tricks.) However, do yourself a favor and try borrowing or renting both a Glock .40 (such as a Model 22 or 23) and a Glock .45 ACP (such as a Glock 21-SF or the newly-announced 30-SF). Shoot them “side by side”, under the instruction of an experienced Glockophile. If you can handle the recoil of the .45 then that should be your caliber choice., rather than the .40 caliber. If any of those Glock models feel just a bit too big/fat, there is an neat option for you: Both Robar [9] and Arizona Response Systems [10] do very nice machined grip reductions on Glocks. In his excellent book Boston’s Gun Bible [11], our compadre and Glockophile extraordinaire Boston T. Party highly recommends frame reductions and mentions that a large frame (G20/G21) Glock with a grip reduction feels a lot like holding a Browning Hi-Power. I have done business with both Robar [9] and Arizona Response Systems [10] for more than a decade. Both firms are very competent and reputable. But as I recall, Robar tends to have higher gunsmithing rates and a deeper backlog of orders. So you should probably go with T. Mark Graham at Arizona Response Systems [10]. OBTW, if your budget allows it, have tritium sights installed at the same time as the grip reduction job.