How to know if you carry “enough gun” to face any threat

by Greg Ellifritz

Last week, I [wrote about] a news article describing the guns used by the terrorists in the recent attacks in France. Here’s an excerpt from my commentary on the article:

“Let’s total this up. The four attackers had body armor and radio communications. They were armed with numerous 9mm handguns, Kalashnikov rifles, a rocket launcher, 10 Molotov cocktails, 10 smoke grenades, a hand grenade, and 15 sticks of dynamite. These are the people we will be fighting in the fourth-generation warfare of the future. Why do you feel comfortable leaving your house armed only with a .38 snubnose and no spare ammo? “

That comment led one friend to ask me what type of weapon I carried when I go to the gym and how I conceal it. When I go to the gym, I carry a Glock 26 and spare magazine in a Desantis nylon fanny pack. I carry it around with me as I move between pieces of equipment and it is never out of my reach. This method of carry goes unnoticed by the rest of the gym patrons.

When I informed folks about the gun I carry at the gym, it led to a robust discussion concerning what guns are “enough” to carry for defensive purposes. Here are my thoughts on the issue:

I don’t think we should get all wrapped up in the issue of the “right” amount of gun and ammunition to carry. There is no “right.” It all depends on your abilities, goals, and risk assessment.

Skills – Look at your abilities first. I can make 100 yard hits with a .38 snub. I can shoot a .38 snub better than most CCW licensees can shoot a full sized pistol. I can shoot a Glock 26 better than many cops on my department can shoot a carbine. That isn’t bragging. I’m middle of the pack in shooting abilities among my instructor friends. I know lots of people who can shoot way better than I can. The point I want to make is what I carry doesn’t have to be the same thing that you carry because we have different skill sets.

With that said, the lesser skilled among us need bigger guns and more ammo. The larger gun will enable more accurate and controllable fire. More ammo will allow them to stay in the fight longer if they miss more shots. The problem is the Dunning-Kruger effect… the lesser skilled folks don’t recognize their lack of skill and carry guns they don’t shoot well and often go without a reload. That’s the problem I was hinting at in the article link. Take time to honestly evaluate your skills and abilities. If you shoot once a year, you’re probably not going to stop multiple ISIL terrorists with your KelTec .32.

A highly skilled shooter with a small gun can be a formidable adversary. I’m not saying that small guns don’t have a defensive role. They do. They just aren’t good for counter-terrorism purposes in the hands of a marginally skilled shooter and tactician. And if the only training you’ve received is your CCW class, you ARE a marginally skilled shooter and tactician. You just may not know it yet. Hopefully you will figure it out before you take on a bunch of terrorists armed with rifles using your five-shot revolver.

Goals – Is my goal to seek out and destroy ISIL terrorists as part of my job? If so, I’m going to kit up with rifle plates, a carbine, 8 spare magazines, and a full sized pistol. If my goal isn’t to seek and destroy, but only to get myself and family to safety during an unexpected ISIL attack on the shopping mall, a Glock 26 might be just enough gun to provide some cover fire in order to get away.

If my goal is to escape and maybe take a few terrorists out if given the opportunity (a goal which I suspect most readers would likely resonate with), I might want a gun with a longer sight radius than a Glock 26 and some extra ammo. What is your mission? Does your gear support it?

Risk assessment – Finally we have to look at risk profiles. When I’m out mowing my grass in my nice suburban neighborhood, I’m not likely to come under fire from ISIL. I may have to deal with a single burglar who thinks my house would be a good target because I am distracted doing yard work. Would my 8 shot .22 airlite snub be enough to handle that problem? For me, it likely would. But that doesn’t mean I carry a .22 snub in my cop job. The risks are very different.

When I go to the gym, I am more likely to be attacked than when I’m mowing my grass, but being attacked is still an exceptionally low probability. I think most likely a Glock 26 with a spare mag will be enough to win the fight, so that’s what I carry.

If I’m shopping at Wal-Mart or in a shopping mall, I recognize my risk is higher than it might be when I’m in my car driving the five miles to my gym. There’s a better chance of encountering a terrorist attack or a long- range active killer. In that scenario, I don’t feel as comfortable with my Glock 26. I’ll probably be carrying a Glock 19 with two spare mags and maybe a backup gun.

When going out to work in a patrol car, there is an even greater chance of encountering violence. I wear body armor, carry a Glock 21 with spare mags, a backup pistol, a Benelli 12 gauge, and an AR-15 with 10 extra magazines. That seems like a good choice to me for the work I do…but I don’t run around wearing all that stuff while mowing the grass.

I carry different weapons to protect myself from different threats. What I carry may not be appropriate or necessary for you. Evaluate your own skill levels, goals, and risks and choose your weapon based on your individual needs.

One gun for everything?
– As you might have figured out, I like guns. I make a good living and can afford to buy a few extras. I carry different guns for different jobs because I can. I’m not saying that you need a different gun for every activity you pursue. You can do everything with one handgun. Choosing a single handgun that is suitable for any possible mission should depend primarily on the shooter’s skill level and concealment needs. For most shooters, a mid-sized 9mm will be the best choice.

I like Glocks, but an M&P, XD, H&K, or Sig will probably fit the bill. I like Jeff Gonzales’ advice that your primary handgun should carry at least 10 rounds and that you should carry at least one reload. Certainly some can get by with less and some need far more, but most shooters will be best served if they follow Jeff’s advice. If I could only carry a single gun for defensive purposes, it would be a Glock 19. I love my M&P Shield and my .38 snubs, but if things go bad, I have to admit that I shoot my G19 better than I shoot those other guns.

Be honest with yourself. What’s the most concealable gun that you shoot well with? That should be your baseline CCW piece.

Greg Ellifritz is the full time firearms and defensive tactics training officer for a central Ohio police department. He holds instructor or master instructor certifications in more than 75 different weapon systems, defensive tactics programs and police specialty areas. Greg has a master’s degree in Public Policy and Management and is an instructor for both the Ohio Peace Officer’s Training Academy and the Tactical Defense Institute. For more information or to contact Greg, visit his training site at Active Response Training.