June 11, 2005

Get Ready World

My mother was widowed about six months ago. With the death of my father, she has learned for the first time in her life to live alone.

My father was a dominating figure, in stature and presence, as well as personality. Despite the problems in their relationship, Mom has been adrift and horribly depressed since my father died.

Only in the last couple of weeks have I noticed that she has finally begun to get her feet back under her. Last week I said something to make her mad, but instead of taking it quietly, she came back and took me on. I was never more pleased to see her spunk was returning.

A couple nights ago, one of the outbuildings on my Mom's property was broken into and vandalized. Alone, my mother heard the commotion, but was so frightened she did little more than huddle in a corner, too scared to even turn lights on indoors or out. The morning light revealed the damage done and things were stolen.

I was concerned this might "break" her spirit and send her even further down the road to despair and depression. Against my nature, I resisted the urge to jump in, take over, and tell her what I thought she needed to do. I merely kept quiet and waited to see what she would do.

Mom has never liked guns. They have always frightened her.

My father left all his weapons to me and on my last trip home I retrieved the last of the rifles and a shotgun. My mom had already sent a suitcase full of handguns with me on an earlier trip.

Well, a phone call from mom today left me tickled and completely delighted. It appears the little ole' gal is ready to exchange her trademark machete for a pistol. She has signed up for a handgun course with the local sheriff's department.

I could not be more pleased.

I'm trying to decide with what she should be outfitted. My father carried a Browning 9 mm with him for the twenty-something years he was overseas. It is way too much firepower for her. Ditto with the .357 mag. We won't discuss the .45.

My .22 mag Derringer is really loud and extremely difficult to hang onto once discharged. It's also not the most accurate weapon with which to learn. I also have a .22 six shooter that is easy to load and operate. It has a rather long barrel for a pistol and just may fit the bill.

I'm seriously considering sending Sweet One to Louisiana for a week or so to avail herself of the same training.

I know a lot of you guys out there have a lot more experience with this stuff. Any suggestions?

Posted by Christina at June 11, 2005 07:48 PM


The six-shooter sounds like a good one to start with. She should probably start with a pistol that won't scare her when she fires it.... ;)

Posted by: caltechgirl at June 11, 2005 11:20 AM

No half measures: shotgun.

Posted by: zonker at June 11, 2005 11:49 AM

I agree with zonker, a shotgun....very easy to learn how to "point and shoot". However if your mom will not go that route (at least at first) perhaps something along the lines of an S & W .38 special? Big enough round to drop bad guys, but not as intimidating as a larger round. Just my 2 cents your mileage may vary. Good luck, and who knows, your mom may get a kick out of going to the range!

Posted by: Guy S at June 11, 2005 12:04 PM

Give her the 22 six shooter. My Mom had one she kept under her side of the mattress and loved it! As far as power, a 22 hollow point makes a big hole. Plus--a shooting range makes for some quality Mother-Daughter time. I have a 410 Snake Charmer next to my bed. Point and shoot but single shot. I can't see without my glasses and with the 410 I can just aim at a shadow and know I'll hit something. Maybe she would like both a pistal and a shotgun.

Posted by: Junebugg at June 11, 2005 12:23 PM

Check some of the firing ranges near you or her. A lot of places will let you rent different guns. It might be a little pricy to rent several, but it'll be cheaper in the long run to buy the right one the first time.

Personally I'm something of a Glock-aholic so you may want to check out this forum: http://www.glocktalk.com/

Posted by: Telebush at June 11, 2005 12:45 PM

Forget long guns. Yes, they're great for self-defense. No, your mother will not get sufficient training in either defensive shooting, tactics, or weapons retention to make her ready to face a bad guy. Most untrained people benefit more from good handgun training, and most handgun training is geared towards defensive use.

Forget semi-auto pistols like the Browning Hi-Power and the Glock. They're great self-defense tools in well-trained hands, but your mother isn't likely to want to spend the time and money to become well-trained. Semi-auto pistols are for gun enthusiasts -- people who are into guns. Revolvers are the best choice for gun owners -- people who own a gun for self-defense but aren't really into guns.

I obviously don't know much about your mother's physical condition, but if she is otherwise healthy and has a good grip (she must have if she can swing a machete), then I'd recommend a mid-sized 3" or 4"-barrelled revolver chambered for the .357 Magnum. I think S&W K-frames are the best mid-sized revolvers out there, and my recommended revolver would be the Smith & Wesson Model 65 3" or 4", with fixed sights (because you don't need or want adjustable sights on a defensive pistol). If you already have a K-frame (Model 10, 19, etc., you mentioned you had a .357 revolver) with a 4" barrel, then that would be the one to give her.

Have her load and shoot .38 Specials in it. Federal makes some good defense rounds line in their 'Premium Personal Defense' line, and I'd choose their P38HS1 129gr load (preferred) or their PD38HS3H 110gr load. Either of these, and especially the 110gr load, will have very little recoil in a Smith & Wesson K-Frame... certainly less than shooting .22 Magnums in your little derringer. They'll be loud, though, and they'll get a bad guy's attention muy pronto.

Don't give her a .22 for defense unless that is all she can handle because of physical infirmities or limitations, e.g., arthritis, or extremely small hands. Sure, a .22 is better than nothing... but not much better. It will kill a bad guy but it most likely won't stop them, and your goal isn't for the police to follow the blood trail from a dead guy outside the house to your mother's body.

Speaking of training... this is the most important aspect of self-defense. Self-defense training doesn't start and stop with the mechanics of handgun shooting. As an attorney, you understand the amount of legal trouble that your mother would be in if she shot someone without due cause -- even if they were breaking into her shed. I'm not trying to rain on your parade, but the training given to non-police ("civilians" in the LE parlance, although we are all civilians, even the police) will probably be rudimentary at best. It will hopefully make her safe with a gun, but I don't know if it will give her the capability to hit anything with it.

If you have a synopsis of the handgun course, send it to me via email and I'll be glad to give you my opinion of it. Also, I have a couple of books that I've written that cover these subjects. "The Beginner's Guide to Handgun Selection" is published, "Thirty Minutes to Better Handgun Shooting" has been written but I'm still editing it. Contact me if you'd like a copy.

- jgc

Posted by: johnclif at June 11, 2005 05:07 PM

I'm with Zonker...get her a 20 ga. if need be.

Posted by: Sam at June 11, 2005 05:10 PM

... recoil is something that you get used to... a .38 revolver is perfect for any woman... it's loud, it's effective, and it is incredibly easy to shoot, clean, load, and maintain... of course, the key to any weapon is practice, practice, and more practice.. keep it close by (or on your person), and know it like the back of your hand... the gun course is a wonderful start... but, it is just that.. a start..

Posted by: Eric at June 11, 2005 07:08 PM

I agree with Eric on the .38. I went shooting in April and found the .38 to be very effective and manageable, although I really liked my Dad's .45.

I'll tell you what the guys told me and it was good advice... you need to get her to a range and have her rent and try them out. A Lady Smith is made for our size hands. Have her rent and shoot a couple.

I found my Dad's .45 was easier to shoot, but it's too big for my hands. As Eric says, it takes practice and for the .38, I'll be practicing a lot.

Posted by: Bou at June 11, 2005 09:21 PM

I can't offer any advice on the weapon of choice, but I'm glad to hear that she is taking it into her own hands....literally.

It seems that Mr. Cliff has a total grasp of the subject.

Posted by: jmflynny at June 11, 2005 09:48 PM

Johnclif pretty much speaks my mind.

Semi-automatic handguns have too much to remember and too much to go wrong for this application. Whereas an old-fashioned, double-action revolver is rock simple. Not a cowboy-style, single-action. The key is simplicity and safety of action. Point and squeeze.

If what is available is a Smith and Wesson, ok. But if a purchase is indicated, look at Rugers. Their "transfer bar safety" doesn't require keeping an empty chamber under the cylinder to prevent the gun from firing if dropped on the hammer.

.38 special or a .357 loaded with .38s. Nothing smaller.

And at the same time... Make sure that there is a cell phone and flashlight in/on the night stand. If the budget can stand it, look into the high intensity tactical flashlights such as Surefire. Those are so bright that it hurts to look into them in the daylight. At night, shooting might not be necessary.

Posted by: homebru at June 12, 2005 08:14 AM

I have a .38 and two .22 one short barrel, not accurate at all, and one 6-shooter which I absolutely love. The .38 is easy to handle and very accurate. But I'd also go for the trusty shotgun too. There is just something about a good shotgun, gives me a picture in my mind of the little ole lady in Every Which Way but Loose, letting loose and flattening those bikers, I love it!

On another note, I am so happy to hear that your mom is getting her feet under her again. I knew it would only take some time. Now, that she is letting some of that fear go too. Sweet One should take the class. Nothing does confidence better than knowing how to handle oneself on a range!

Posted by: Oddybobo at June 12, 2005 10:01 AM

Get her the Lady Smith and Wesson light weight 38 pistol. Plenty of killing power,it's loud and any lady can clean, load and handle it very easy. Cat

Posted by: catfish at June 12, 2005 05:24 PM

A pistol is not very intimidating to an intruder bent on trouble. A double barrel shotgun, on the other hand, is a real attention getter. And the sound of a shell being chambered in a pump shotgun, especially in the dark, is enough to make anyone's blood run cold. Besides, you don't have to be a good aim to hit.

Posted by: Howard Larson at June 12, 2005 08:13 PM

Well done to your mother. Six months isn't very long...

Posted by: Ruth at June 13, 2005 02:54 AM


johnclif has an excellent post. I'll add my $0.02 and chime in on the side of the 4" barreled .357 Magnum firing .38 special, at least at the start.

Get Mom a medium framed Smith & Wesson (K frame, look at the model 686) or a Ruger GP series. Either gun is extremely well made, won't set you back a fortune, and will still be around for Wee One's grandkids.

Start her off shooting with a .22 revolver, yes. But do NOT stop there unless that's all she can or is willing to handle.

Ballistics of a .22LR vs even the lowest-power .38 special are night and day - like comparing getting hit by a bicycle vs. a Toyota. Yes, .22LR bullets can and do kill many people and are not toys; however in the home invasion scenario you want a bullet that will cause significant damage to an intruder before they can cause you harm.

A 20 gauge shotgun would another choice if your Mom is willing to give it a try. Now, you could look into a semi-automatic version - recoil is significantly reduced in the cycling of the action. However, as has been pointed out already, semi-automatic firearms require greater care and practice. A pump-action shotgun is going to work every time you pick it up.

Here's another option no one else has mentioned: a lever-action rifle chambered in .357 Magnum/.38 special. It's very easy to load and get ready to fire; the weight of the gun will tame the recoil of even the .357 Magnum rounds; the lever action is not only rock-solid reliable, but also makes a distinct sound that screams "GUN" to intruders.

Again, I wouldn't start Mom off on anything other than the .22 revolver. Once she's comfortable with that, move up to a .38.

Feel free to shoot me an e-mail if you have any other questions.

Posted by: Jay G at June 13, 2005 08:06 AM

I vote for the shotgun. One, the noise it makes is huge. Two, you don't have to aim it very well to hit something, unlike with a handgun. Three, you can fire it while holding it with the butt next to your hip so that the recoil will simply cause the gun to swing back without hurting her. That's important if she's a small woman. And you can be very accurate while pointing from the hip, actually.

Posted by: RP at June 13, 2005 09:35 AM

S&W model 637 in .38 special. I bought one for the wife when she went back to work. We took the concealed carry class together. The problem is, I fell in love with her gun, so we fight over who's gonna carry it even though I have a dozen others.

BTW, what was in that suitcass of handguns?

Posted by: at June 13, 2005 10:45 AM


A brief inventory showed it included a .22 cal Derringer (my absolute favorite!!); a .357 Smith and Wesson revolver, a .22 Harrington and Richardson revolver, 9mm Browning semi-auto, and a Crossman pellet pistol. All to go with my Walther P38 9mm.


Posted by: Christina at June 13, 2005 01:17 PM

The best thing to do would be to have your mom try a few and see what she likes. 9MM may be to much to start, but if she were to work up to it, she might be OK. I would guess she could at least handle .380 ACP.

The gun also has to fit her hand. If it is too big, then it will seem like the caliber is too big. The gun will be hard to hold.

I don't really consider .22LR to be strong enough for a defensive load. If that is all she can handle, well then. But find out what she used in that class.

Sounds like she has a large property. Don't overlook a shotgun - though 12 gauge may be too much - or a rifle or a carbine.

Posted by: Zendo Deb at June 14, 2005 06:53 AM

I agree with the double-action .38 idea. Just point, and click. But for someone who isn't used to shooting, a .22 might be a good bet (a Ruger revolver perhaps).

Stay away from an automatic, unless she can use a double-action first shot like a little Beretta or Taurus. Once they're broken in, they are pretty reliable, and small enough to be easy on small hands.

The key is that she has to practice and get comfortable with the gun. .22 ammo is cheap, and easy on the wrist.

Posted by: finboy at June 15, 2005 01:33 AM

The 9mm is a perfect gun for anyone new to shotting or for protection. It is light weight, easy to load nnd the kickback is very mild.

Posted by: raynman at June 15, 2005 11:53 AM

The 9mm is a perfect gun for anyone new to shotting or for protection. It is light weight, easy to load and the kickback is very mild.

Posted by: raynman at June 15, 2005 11:53 AM

No shotguns for beginners, especially little old lady beginners. At home defense ranges (10 yards and under) the pattern will be very small and you will have to aim, or you'll miss... conventional wisdom to the contrary.

I generally recommend against long guns as home defense guns for beginners. Again, maneuvering them in a house is more difficult and an intruder who manages to grab the gun WILL be able to take it away from a nice little old lady. I like .357 Mag lever actions, especially with .38s... they're as quiet as a .22 with no recoil... but your mother isn't out riding the back 40 on horseback. Get her what she is going to use.

Your mother has strength/grip issues (and so do many other people) so a semi-automatic will not be a good choice because she will have a hard time racking the slide, and limp-wristing the pistol is a real probability. Take the case of the handicapped store clerk who pulled a Glock 27 (an excellent small .40 S&W pistol, but not for a handicapped individual or a beginner) on a robber, got off one shot but his pistol jammed due to his weak grip (pistols must be held firmly so the slide can retract fully, otherwise they jam)... and the bad guy shot the crap out of him. Not what you want to happen to your mother.

Get a S&W K-frame 3" or 4". Find a good gunsmith who can do a good trigger job on it so it's easy to fire double-action but will always fire (I've got a source). Start shooting with .38 Spl wadcutters, and work up to the 130gr FMJ "Air Force Ball" equivalent loads as practice rounds... and carry 125gr JHPs for defense.

If your mother (or anyone) gets into a situation where that 4" .38 Special K-frame and that ammo won't save their life -- say, a crank-crazed gang of Hells Angels decides to bum-rush your mother's house en masse -- then NO gun will save their life (well, maybe a belt-fed light machinegun, but it had better be set up behind sandbags on the front porch already).

I second the cell phone and flashlight suggestion, and would add that she have a deadbolt installed on the bedroom door. No gun will work if you wake up with the bad guy's fingers around your throat.

Posted by: jgc at June 16, 2005 02:32 AM

Good for her!

Posted by: WillyShake at June 16, 2005 09:55 AM

First suggestion: secure the doors and windows. The best defense is a good defense.

Secondly, I always recommend a shotgun for several reasons. The stopping power -- in a life or death situation you can only count on getting one shot and if the intruder takes ten minutes to die you've done yourself no good. In the dark, the muzzle flash will blind you anyway. The scatter gun does have a small spread at close range, but it's still a bigger spread than a handgun. They make short barrel security models for this purpose. Get as wide a choke as possible. Finally, a shotgun is less likely to kill an innocent bystander in the next room or across the street. A high powered handgun or rifle round will go further, and poses more of a risk to the neighbors. Yes, stray bullets have killed people in this way.

Of course, a taser will also drop a guy right quick, with less dire consequences in cases of mistaken identity (it happens).

But if what you're looking for is primarily a security blanket, a right wing statement of principle, or a scare device, then any gun will do.

Posted by: t0m at June 19, 2005 03:03 PM

She needs two weapons:

1) A shotgun. That has a wide pattern so the first shot she takes at an intruder at a distance in the home will give her a greater chance of hitting her target.

2) In her room, she needs a pistol. One that she is comfortable shooting without a lot of kick. At that close range even a 22 will do the trick.

Posted by: RG at June 20, 2005 02:29 AM

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