Choices, Choices, Choices – Part 1, by K.C.

It’s almost holy writ that preppers, looking at guns for defense, should buy a 12 gauge shotgun (preferably a pump), a .308 battle rifle of some sort (M1A and HK seem to be the most popular), and a 1911 in .45 caliber (debate on this rages).

For a while, I had all of these, along with some others. Then, I got married; then, I had kids.

I did not grow up around guns, really. My father had little to no interest in hunting, and I think we shot the guns we had maybe a dozen times while I was growing up. I have always been interested in guns, however, so I had plans to get them even before I became a prepper. Over the years, I have owned about four dozen guns of various makes and calibers. I bought guns without much of a plan and without much thought to their utility; I was the ultimate impulse buyer.

As my life went on and I accumulated the natural attachments of growing up with a wife and children, I started to reflect on being able to provide for them for the long term, even when things got really bad; I gradually became a prepper.

My wife wasn’t terribly interested at first. Then, she picked it up in a big way, as the signs of potential collapse became even more apparent. She didn’t grow up around guns either and didn’t really think about it until a few years ago. We have two boys– a young teenager and a preteen.

As I looked at what I had in my collection, it was obvious that what I had was inadequate, in spite of the relatively large number of pieces. I had some 1911s, a couple of plastic 9mms, a Garand, an M1A, a couple of ARs, and a couple of shotguns. I am a competitive shooter (USPSA) and had dabbled a bit in 3-gun. I am also a collector, so I have some WWII pieces and a few things I thought were “neat.”

Casting a critical eye on my collection, I had to make some hard choices on what to keep and what to trade to get what I really should have. I went through a decision-making process, which I think might be instructive to the readership here, and I would like to share it.


My wife asked me to build her a 1911 a few years ago, because she likes the style and since I shoot them competitively she’s somewhat used to them. Since she’s not used to the recoil of a .45, which is what I shoot almost exclusively, we decided to build her a 9mm. I have a sweetheart load for the 9mm that’s soft shooting, especially in a steel gun.

That brings me to my first point—caliber selection. The caliber debate has raged for years and will probably continue long after I’m providing fertilizer for whatever grows where I’m buried. It’s pointless, because just about every handgun caliber is inadequate for its intended purpose—punching holes in something you’re trying to ventilate.

Handguns operate at relatively low velocities with a wide variety of bullet weights. Almost none of them deliver the appropriate shock to the target to instantly incapacitate it, regardless of anecdotal evidence to the contrary. In general, bigger and heavier bullets are better than smaller lighter ones. In general, faster bullets are better than slow ones. What this means is that a 40 grain .22 rimfire is inferior to a 440 grain .500 Smith and Wesson Magnum. Okay, we all get that, but the trade-off for a big bullet moving really fast comes down to capacity and recoil. The .22 rimfire will hold more cartridges in its magazine than the .500 will hold in its cylinder. The .22 will enable you to deliver fast follow-up shots because of the light recoil, while the .500 will not.

As you go from the extremes, you look at compromises and determine what you want. For me, I consider anything smaller and lighter than a 9mm 115 grain bullet to be marginal for human or animal targets larger than a medium-sized dog. I spend a lot of time advising people against a .380, simply because I believe a 95 grain bullet at a relatively low velocity is not adequate for self-defense. I also consider anything larger than a 230 grain .45 ACP to be a poor choice for self defense, because you wind up giving up the ability to deliver good follow-up shots and a lot of magazine capacity. I can get ten rounds of .45 ACP into a single stack magazine of practical size, while anything much larger is going to have less capacity. (Any of the magnum handgun calibers are commonly found in revolvers only and have a capacity of eight or less. Yes, I realize there are automatics in these calibers, but they are really little more than novelties and difficult to find spare parts and magazines for.) All of this led me to three basic calibers—9mm, .40 Smith and Wesson, and .45 ACP.

I am not a fan of the .40 caliber, simply because I find the recoil impulse “odd”. No offense to fans of the .40, but I don’t care for it. The .357 SIG, which is based off of the .40 case is also out for two reasons: 1) it’s a pain to reload, and 2) it’s the answer to an unasked question (if you want more velocity in a 9mm-sized bullet, go with .38 Super or 9mm +P+).

I am a huge fan of the .45 ACP, mostly because I shoot a few thousand rounds of it every year in competition. I have a load for the 200 grain semiwadcutter that’s a dream to shoot. The biggest obstacle for me with the .45 ACP as a standard caliber for my family is that I don’t think my wife and sons will be comfortable with the .45 ACP’s recoil for a few years, but I believe they can handle the 9mm’s recoil with little problem and a lot of practice.

So, that left me with the 9mm as the standard round for my family and the group of people with whom I will most likely share my preps when the Schumer hits the fan. After settling on the 9mm, I had to figure out the gun to ensure the ability to group-purchase spare parts and make sure the magazines are interchangeable. I’m still working through this, as I really think people should shoot a gun with which they’re comfortable. My plan is to have our group shoot a bunch of 9mms and choose one based on the best compromises I can make.

Although it pains me to say it, there is one gun I will probably advocate against, and that’s the 1911. The reason is that the original-pattern 1911 is capacity-limited (most flush-fit magazines are 10 rounds or less), and the 1911 has a somewhat “iffy” relationship with the 9mm cartridge.

Additionally, the 1911 requires a bit more “care and feeding” than many of the “wondernines” available today. I think Larry Vickers said it best when he said, “If you treat your pistols like we all treat our lawnmowers, then don’t get a 1911—get a GLOCK.” While I don’t abuse my pistols at all, a SHTF scenario may not allow you to spend lots of time maintaining your equipment. The more modern designs generally require less maintenance than most 1911s out there, which is why I’m advocating for them.* They’re also generally less expensive for like levels of quality.

Finally, my wife and one of my sons are both left-handed. The 1911 is simply not designed for a left-handed shooter. Magazine releases require cutting into the frame to make them for a lefty, and a slide stop for a lefty shooter doesn’t exist, as far as I can tell. The guns I settled on are generally ambidextrous.

For the purposes of our discussion, my intent is to present the following models for “peer review:”

  • Smith and Wesson M&P 9L or Pro (the longer sight radius helps with recoil control and accuracy)
  • Springfield Armory XDm 4.5
  • SIG P320 (the modularity of the pistol is intriguing, and I just traded a .44 Magnum revolver for one with some extra magazines)
  • FN FNS

You’ll note I left off some very popular brands, but I don’t shoot GLOCKs well; the grip angle messes up my natural index. HKs are generally too expensive, and I have too much negative history with the Beretta to like the idea of actually plunking down cash for one or more. I also left out double-action/single-action guns, because I don’t want to spend time training everyone on how to deal with that trigger pull.

I realize the 9mm is not a caliber some preppers would choose, but I made the choice after a lot of deliberation. I hope this sparks some discussion outside of the normal caliber debates. My next installment will talk about rifles.

*One of my gripes about people bad-mouthing the 1911 as a defensive gun is the fact that many instructors talk about the guns having stoppages during their classes, most of which deal with non-SHTF shooting situations, like using a CCW during a robbery on the street or in the home. During many of these classes, the guns shoot several hundred rounds with little to no opportunity to clean them. Most modern 1911s are built with tighter tolerances than the plastic guns do, so they gum up faster. When viewed in this light, the bad-mouthing is inappropriate. Most people who carry a gun on a daily basis are not going to go hundreds of rounds between cleanings, which means the stoppages induced by firing 600ish rounds before a cleaning won’t happen. In my competition guns (custom built and very tight), I can generally shoot a large match (300 rounds) without worrying about a stoppage of this nature. The bigger danger with a carry gun is the accumulation of lint and skin cells (depending on how the gun is carried), which can gum up any gun. Note to people who carry guns: clean them regularly, even when you’re not shooting them.