Weapons for the 'Generic Catastrophe'
By Claire Wolfe
Jeb Stuart Stallings leaned back in his chair, folded his hands over his belly and drawled, "I don't have to worry about what kind of rifle to get. I just bought a SuperBad WhizWhacker Deluxe."
A little murmur of ooohs and whistles massaged Jeb Stuart's ego.
He didn't actually say SuperBad WhizWhacker Deluxe, you understand. But let's not name the fancy battle rifle for which he had just plunked down $3,500. Suffice to say it's a mean-looking black semi-automatic with high-tech construction and lotsa doo-dads. The kind of rifle that gives Sarah Brady the vapors and gun writers serious cases of equipment envy.
At the front of the room, Michael Harries just smiled a wry little smile.
You remember Michael. A couple of weeks ago he was here giving shooting lessons to the women of the Hardyville Literary and Social Betterment society. Well, during that same visit, he took time to speak to a meeting of the Hardyville Sportsmens Club on the topic: "Firearms You Can Bet Your Life On." The idea was to talk about weapons -- and skills -- you might need during what Michael calls "the generic catastrophe" -- whether that be a riot, the Great Earthquake, Y2K chaos, WWIII, or an invasion of vertically-challenged persons-of-green-color from Mars. In other words, dire emergencies whose nature and demands may be unpredictable.
So on this night a big crowd (by Hardyville standards) was sitting in the back room of the Hog Trough Grill and Feed. Most of us were listening raptly to Michael. Except Jeb Stuart, that is, who tends to listen raptly only to himself.
"Before we get to the SuperBad WhizWhacker Deluxe," said Michael, "there are a few other things that have to be taken into consideration when choosing firearms for save-your-life shooting. Time and lifestyle, for instance. Intelligence and motivation.
"Let me give you some questions to think about.
"No matter how much money you spend on weapons, you cannot relieve yourself of the responsibility to practice and become good enough to save your life against dangerous people.
"Besides that," Michael added, casting a glance at Jeb Stuart, "In general, matching people and effective firearms for them is an exercise in fighting the twin demons of myth and ego -- plus all the hype and promotion of advertisers that creates a desire for their products. It requires a lot of education to allow most people to see their own primary needs realistically."
That said, Michael went on to describe some ways to go about choosing three essential weapons for a hard-times arsenal.
Your full-power rifle
"This 'latest, greatest' gun may be cute. But the question is, what are you going to bet your life on in a battle? And the answer is usually a full-power bolt-action or semi-automatic rifle, with telescopic sites, in .308 or .30-06." Military (or former military) calibers, both are familiar and readily available. They're also powerful, long-range rounds.
"Now, there are two schools of thought on battle rifles. One is, 'I'm going to have this super-duper sniper rifle and pick off all my enemies at half a mile.' That's what some people think they're going to do with those .308s or .30-06s. The other -- you guys who go for the intermediate caliber AR-15's, Mini-14s and SKSs -- says, 'No, I'm just going to shoot 'em to pieces when they get within 150 yards.'
"Both concepts are dead wrong. The guy with the long-range plan is going to be mighty surprised when the enemy swarms out of a ditch at 25 yards. And the guy who thinks he's going to let everyone get into close range may find himself outnumbered.
"But the important thing is, you can learn to shoot a full-power rifle quick and close, while you can't increase the range of those 'mouse guns.' Which is why it's better to stake your life on a full-power rifle."
Michael talked a while about traditional rifles, like the M1 Garand and M1A, and about "new-breed" rifles like the AR-10/SR-25, which feature high-tech design. A lot of guys like the new-breed rifles, and Michael doesn't necessarily have anything against them. But he does point out that you can run into unexpected pitfalls with new and untried weapons. The SR-25 for instance, requires $80 custom magazines. That can eat up bucks that might otherwise be spent on ammo or a better scope.
"A lot of people also think they can't fight any kind of battle without a drum magazine or other high-capacity feeding device," Michael concluded. "But remember, Jeff Cooper points out that the greatest feats of rifle and pistol work in history were both performed by one man on one day, using a five-shot rifle and an eight-shot pistol. It was Alvin York, in WWI. He defeated a battery of more than 30 machine guns and won the Congressional Medal of Honor. Skill mitigates circumstances."
In the back of the room, Jeb Stuart Stallings was beginning to look a little disgruntled.
The AR-15s, Mini-14s, and SKSs Michael dismissed as "mouse guns" are carbines -- small rifles -- that use either the .223 caliber or 7.62x39mm cartridge, both of which are considered intermediate rounds. A lot of us happen to like those calibers. For one thing, they're plentiful and easy to shoot. (No big mule-kick, as is typical with the .308 or .30-06.) Anybody who's been in the modern military knows them well. For another, there are a lot of really cool-looking and cool-functioning rifles of that type.
Me, I was disappointed to hear Michael imply that my favorite plinking rifle was a waste of time.
Except, he didn't exactly say that. "A mouse gun," he continued, "has a value and a place. It can be a primary weapon for smaller, weaker people or teenaged children. Another use is as a house-ready gun that any trained member of the family can use. When the Hells Angels are dismounting on your front lawn, you're not going to make those five- or six-hundred yard shots, and in that circumstance a carbine is much easier to shoot than a pistol."
A specially equipped carbine can also be handy if you happen to have a lot of different sized people in your house. "One couple I trained was a husband 5'10" and a wife 4'10". They got a CAR-15, which has a folding stock. With the stock collapsed, it was perfect for her. She could grip it like a pistol. I taught him a three-part drill for opening the stock and putting it on his shoulder."
Your primary pistol
"Even if you're going into battle with a full-power rifle," Michael says, "there's a definite requirement for pistol skills, too. When you're doing maintenance...when you're carrying a shovel and toilet paper into the brush...or when your rifle is out of reach."
And, of course, battle aside, a pistol is often the handiest self-defense tool against two-legged or four-legged varmints. Unfortunately, there ain't nothin' that rouses disagreements quicker than the proper choice of self-defense pistol.
It wasn't too bad when Michael said the minimum calibers he'd recommend would be .45 ACP for semi-auto pistols or .44 Special for revolvers. Those are both big calibers, which scare off many people. But they're also well known for their stopping power in a fight. (And it's stopping power, not necessarily killing power, that counts. An attacker might die -- a day later -- if you shoot him in the gut with a .22. But what you want most is for him to quit coming at you; best to hit him with something big.) Even the guys who prefer European calibers, like the popular 9mm, didn't grumble too loudly at that recommendation.
But when Michael said he favored old-fashioned steel single action semi-autos (like modern versions of Alvin York's Colt 1911) over the new European, high-tech polymer handguns such as Austria's Glock, well, Jeb Stuart Stallings wasn't the only guy making noises. Secretly, I thought Michael was just being old-fashioned.
Then he gave a little demo that showed something about relative power and sturdiness. He asked me to clear (unload and check) both a 1911 and a Glock. Then, with the gun pointed at the ceiling (and nobody overhead), to insert a pencil, eraser-end down, into the barrel of the 1911. When I pulled the trigger, the pencil headed for orbit.
A pencil stuck into the Glock, on the other hand, only bumped half an inch then settled back, downright ignominiously. I repeated the demo three or four times before I'd believe it. The difference in impact really got me thinking about which gun I'd want to have if I wasn't sure how good my ammo was. That extra strike could also come in handy if your gun had some grit or something in it.
The demo apparently just got Jeb Stuart -- a Glock owner -- mad. He left about then. The rest of us stuck around. We came away with an awful lot to ponder -- and the sense that no matter what decisions we made about equipment, we'd all have a lot of practicing to do to use it well. We just have to keep remembering: it's for life and freedom.
Hardyville is a state of mind. But Michael Harries is a well known firearms trainer and consultant in the real world, who shared his expertise (and walked me through that demo) for this column. You can contact Michael at: 3017 Reid Avenue, Culver City, California 90232, (310) 202-9020.
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