From The TSP Survival Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Firearms are one of the many types of tool which an individual can use to increase their odds of survival in many types of emergency. Firearms can be used to hunt and kill animals for food, as well as for defense against violent-minded humans, and feral dogs. Firearms can be carried on one's person, lawfully concealed, for everyday defense against criminal attack. They can be kept in the home, properly secured, for defense against a home invasion robbery or burglary. Should one be forced to evacuate one's home in the event of a natural or man made disaster, firearms can be carried along to provide protection while on the road. The Henry U.S. Survival Rifle, pictured at right, is a portable .22 rifle that can easily be included in a Bug-out Bag or BOB to provide a means of taking small game to supplement the food one carries. The Kel-Tec Sub 2000, also at right, folds in half for easy stowage, and could also be carried in a BOB for defense.

Many firearms can fill a variety of roles, but every firearm has its strengths and weaknesses. Some people, for reasons of local laws or personal preference, avoid firearms altogether, preferring to rely on other weapons such as pepper spray for defense, bows for hunting, and baseball bats for protection from the living dead. A thorough understanding of the differences between the various kinds of firearms will enable you to make an informed decision as to whether a firearm is right for you, and what kind of firearm or firearms will assist you in your preparations.

Henry's Survival Rifle

FN Tactical Shotgun.jpg


Gun Safety Rules

The first step in learning about firearms is learning safety.

The NRA puts forward what might seem one of the most conservative sets of rules:

  1. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction (example).
  2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
  3. Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

Yet they have a number of defects. For example, when a gun is not in use one tends to think that it is not loaded -- a surprising number of accidents happen with guns that were "not loaded" (example). The presumption ought to be that all guns are loaded until you have personally checked and rechecked their condition. Likewise an officer holding a suspect at gun point may arguably be "ready to shoot". That would be a very poor choice of where to keep your finger in such a situation (example). Another instance of this behavior is "shooting on the move" drills where students frequently perform the required behavior with their finger on the trigger as they await the fire command.

In contrast modern gun safety rules are variations of those proposed by Jeff Cooper. Jeff Cooper in the 70's redefined armed combat from a civilian perspective. His rules are significantly more resilient while allowing for firearms to be operational at a moment's notice. An example of Jeff Cooper's inspired rules might be:

  1. Treat all guns as if they are always loaded.
  2. Never let the muzzle cross anything you are not willing to destroy (think laser beam).
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you have made the decision to fire.
  4. Be aware of your target and what is around it (in front of it, behind it, at its sides, above it, moving towards it, etc.)

Gun safety is paramount and the consequences can be severe.


Although handguns are suboptimal man-stoppers they are often the most practical weapon for personal defense. This is due to their relative small size when compared to long guns and the fact that many can be easily concealed. Handguns can be legally carried in most US states often by use of a Concealed Carry Weapons permit or Carry Concealed License (CCW or CCL for short). Besides size and the ability to be concealed the primary advantage of a handgun is that it can be operated single-handed leaving your other hand free to open doors, hold a child, operate a cell phone, negotiate other challenges, etc. This is a very significant consideration for home defense.

A wise man once said, "If there is a chance that I'll be in a fight I'll carry a rifle. If there is no chance that I'll be in a fight I'll carry a pistol." Although it varies with the type of the unit and mission, servicemen are often not issued pistols, only rifles -- they are the ones expected to be doing the fighting. Pistols are normally issued to officers. Law enforcement officers usually carry pistols. However, when there is a higher chance of armed conflict rifles and shotguns come out.

In addition to personal defense, handguns are also used by non-law-enforcement civilians in sports, some niche types of hunting and re-enactment activities. Handguns can be small enough to fit inside a coat or trouser pocket. Others such as a S&W Model 500 or Desert Eagle can be almost impossible to conceal.

Regardless of size or function a handgun must always be in a holster when it is being carried. This avoids lint and debris interfering with its function and most importantly it makes negligent discharges much more difficult. A good holster will always cover the trigger guard making the trigger inaccessible until the weapon has been drawn. Typical holsters for EDC (everyday carry) include IWB (inside the waist band), OWB (outside the waist band), appendix carry holsters, ankle holsters, drop-leg holsters, inside the thigh holsters, bra holsters, pocket holsters, off-person holsters (to be used in purses and such). Shoulder holsters are no longer popular for everyday carry.


Revolvers are simpler weapons than semi-automatic pistols. Cartridges are held in a cylinder which rotates as the trigger is being pressed. The action timing is responsible for aligning the new cartridge with the barrel as the hammer strikes the primer and ignites the propellant (typically smokeless powder). The propellant burns producing hot gasses causing the pressure inside the cartridge to increase and propel the projectile.

The primary advantage of a revolver is its simpler mechanism. There are no external safeties, though a partially cocked hammer can act as one. Some of the disadvantages when compared with more modern designs include: limited capacity (5 to 8 rounds in personal defense calibers), slower reloading, increased bore height in most models, wider frame due to the cylinder girth, and the fact that it can be prevented from firing by ones opponent grabbing the cylinder and not allowing it to rotate.

The trigger pull in a revolver can also be quite significant as the cylinder is being rotated and the hammer cocked with each trigger press. Reloading is done by manually ejecting spent cartridges and then inserting new ones either individually or using moon clips or speed loaders.

Popular personal defense calibers include .38 S&W Special, .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum. Hunting revolvers are a niche market where very powerful cartridges can be found. The most powerful popular production revolver is the S&W 500.

Revolvers are capable of employing various attachments to increase accuracy, decrease muzzle flip or reduce recoil. Most hunting pistols and long range target pistols come with a scope base for mounting a red dot or optical scope. Some have target or bull barrels, or have ported barrels, compensators, or even muzzle brakes. Police or "combat" revolvers may be equipped with tritium night sights.

Semi-Automatic Pistols

Semi-automatic pistols are by far the most popular type of handgun in use today. They are carried daily by most LEOs, security personnel and armed citizens. Cartridges are held in a magazine. Pistols are loaded by inserting the magazine forcefully in order to ensure it is seated properly. Then pulling the slide all the way back and let it go forward on its own power (alternatively some prefer to release the slide lock to let the slide go forward instead of pulling it back). As the slide goes forward it pushes the cartridge at the top of the magazine onto the feeding ramp and into the chamber. Once fired the combustion gasses that propelled the projectile are harvested to cycle the action which pushes back the slide, ejects the spent cartridge, re-cocks the hammer (or its equivalent) and loads a new round into the chamber. As you reset the trigger and press it again the whole process repeats itself. This can continue until the magazine is empty and the slide locks open.

Pistols without external safeties such as Glocks are very easy to operate ("put the thing on the thing and press the thing"). Magazine capacity in personal defense calibers is around twice that of revolvers. For example a popular CCW pistol in 9mm is the Glock 19 which holds 15 rounds in the magazine plus one in the chamber. Popular law enforcement models in 9mm, .40 or 45ACP hold 17+1, 15+1 and 13+1 respectively. From that perspective a person that lacks the ability to pull the slide back has over twice the fire power with one of these pistols than he/she would have with a revolver.

The primary disadvantage of pistols in relation to revolvers is arguably reliability. Malfunctions can usually be traced to particular weapon/ammunition combinations or user error. Models with external safeties or decoking mechanisms also necessitate increased training to ensure that the user can operate them properly under stress. Common user errors include improperly seating magazines, not pulling the slide all the way back, easing the slide forward instead of letting it go on its own power, shooting with a limp wrist, obstructing of the ejection port, and babying weapon manipulation instead of acting decisively. Additionally many models suitable for range use or as display pieces do not do well in "real world" applications where sand, grit and poor lubrication ought not to impede a weapon's operation. It is a myth that storing a magazine loaded will weaken its spring. Springs weaken by compression and extension cycles (loading and unloading), not by keeping them compressed/loaded.

If revolvers can be prevented from firing by not allowing the cylinder to rotate most pistols can be prevented from firing by pushing the slide backwards so that the gun is out of battery. In which case you can either pull the weapon back or push the slide forward with your support hand as you attempt to press the trigger. This will get the weapon into battery again and allow it to fire.

Besides increased capacity other advantages include faster reloading, lower bore height (better recoil control), reduced trigger pull, and if there are no external gizmos (safeties and decockers) they are simple to operate. Modern design pistols also tend to be drop safe and will not fire if dropped.

Popular personal defense calibers include .38 Auto, 9 mm, .357 SIG, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. The most powerful popular production pistol is the IMI Desert Eagle in .50 AE.

Semi-automatic handguns are also capable of receiving attachments and accessories that increases the handgun's potential. Such accessories include sound suppressors (i.e. "silencers"), tactical flashlights, laser aiming devices, red dot and optical scopes, tritium night sights, ported barrels, muzzle brakes and barrel weights to control muzzle flip. Semi-automatic handguns are perhaps the most popular form of firearm in the world for use as a personal defense weapon.

Long Guns

The defining characteristic of long guns is that they are primarily designed to be fired from the shoulder. In practical terms they are divided into shotguns, rifles and muskets. Rifles have rifling (groves in the bore that impart rotation to the projectile and stabilize its flight greatly increasing accuracy and range). This is in contrast to muskets which have a smooth bore. Shotguns usually have smooth bore and the ability to shoot cartridges that hold multiple projectiles as in birdshot or buckshot.

For a legal definition of long guns vs. handguns and rifles vs. shotguns please check your local jurisdiction. There are significant differences in how and when you can carry or use them.


Shotguns are unique among firearms for the variety of ammunition types they employ which allows them to fulfill many purposes. Most shotguns are smoothbore and can fire bird shot up to BB shot, multiple sizes of buckshot, slugs, breaching rounds, electric stun rounds, gas rounds and many other types of ammunition. Shotguns come in a series of bore sizes[1] ranging from .410 caliber to 4 Gauge. The downside to shotguns is their limited range when compared to other long guns (e.g. rifles). However, it is this same limitation that makes them suitable for use in areas that are more densely populated.

Despite their limited round capacity, within typical indoor distances and with proper ammunition shotguns are the most powerful weapon available for home defense. Popular gauges for home defense include the 12-gauge and 20-gauge. The 20-gauge, being a bit smaller, could be a better choice a person sensitive to recoil. Double ought shot (#00 shot) or slugs tend to be the usual choices of ammunition by law enforcement. A few homeowners propose the use of birdshot or smaller buckshot for home defense arguing that it diminishes the danger of over penetration. Detractors say that these lack power to effectively stop a determined assailant. The debate goes on.

It is a myth that shotguns do not have to aimed. Shot will spread at about 1 inch per yard. At 6 yards (18 feet) the nine .33 caliber pellets of a usual #00 shot will be somewhere inside a 6-inch wide circle or about the size of a human head. If you and your family were barricaded in a bedroom the distance to your door might be 10-12 feet (4 yards). That is a 4" circle or about the size of a fist. Shotguns need to be aimed just as carefully as any other firearm.

Many shotguns are not drop safe. That is, if they drop a certain way, muzzle up for example, they may fire. This is the reason why police often transport them with an empty chamber while in the car.

Another point of debate is the possible intimidation factor of the sound of a pump shotgun loading a shell. Whether you leave your shotguns loaded and whether you keep a round in the chamber are things that will demand your careful consideration. However, the life of a seasoned criminal has trained him/her to be an expert at distinguishing prey. He/she will know how committed you are.


Rifles are firearms with a rifled barrel (as opposed to most shotguns) and a shoulder stock (as opposed to pistols). Rifles are generally longer-ranged and have greater accuracy than either pistols or shotguns.

Rifles are available in a wide range of chamberings, from the small .22 LR which is ideal for hunting small game as well as economical target practice, to the huge .50 BMG which is good for long-range shooting and penetrating heavy cover or armor. In the middle are popular and powerful hunting cartridges like the .308 and .30-06, which can be used to take most North American game, and intermediate military cartridges like the 5.56mm and 7.62x39mm Soviet, which are well-suited to use in semi-automatic rifles for defensive purposes.

Rifles can be muzzle-loading, black-powder weapons, such as the famous "Kentucky" or "Pennsylvania" flintlock rifles used for hunting in Colonial America, and later pressed into military service in the Revolutionary War. They can also be fully-automatic military "assault rifles" like the M16 and AK-47, which are intermediaries between the machine gun and submachine gun. There are also semi-automatic versions of these assault rifles, often also (inaccurately) called "assault rifles" by the media. Rifles are available as single shot breechloaders like the NEF Pardner, as bolt-actions like most military rifles of WWI and WWII as well as most of today's hunting rifles, as lever-actions like the famous Winchester of the Old West, and even as pump-actions like the Colt Lightning and Remington's pump-action, magazine fed rifles.

Some, especially those from a military background, tend to think of the rifle as their primary weapon, and that "the function of the pistol is to fight my way to my rifle." This is because of the rifle's superior range, accuracy, and power. Others, however, argue that the pistol is more essential because it is the one firearm you can always have with you, when a rifle might be too bulky or attract undue attention. Still others prefer the versatility of the shotgun.

Against multiple, armed attackers, at varying ranges and possibly wearing body armor, a semiautomatic, magazine-fed rifle such as the civilian versions of the AR-15 or AK-47 probably represent the best means of defense available to an American citizen today. For hunting small game, any rifle chambered in .22 LR is an excellent choice. For precision shooting at longer ranges, a variety of highly accurate rifles, both bolt-action and semi-automatic, are available in a variety of calibers.

A rifle is an extremely useful tool for the survivalist, and great care and consideration should be taken in selecting one appropriate for one's needs.


Main firearm action article Firearm actions

The term Action in relation to firearms refers to the method used by the firearm to load, hold, and fire that ammunition used within it. Here are some samples of typical firearm actions.

  • Muzzle Loader
  • Break Action
  • Pump
  • Bolt Action
  • Semi-Automatic
  • Automatic
  • Revolver

See Also

Second Amendment Defenders of American Liberty


Find the corresponding Survival Podcast episode

Relevant TSP Episodes

External Links

Personal tools