Should I buy a handgun?
August 18, 2005 12:50 PM   Subscribe

Should I buy a handgun? I'm considering purchasing one for home defense.

A couple events have had me a little concerned over the ability of the police to protect me.

The first, and most serious event, was a couple years ago. I lived in on a higher traffic street in a less affluent part of town. A couple cars got into a traffic accident, which escalated into a shooting. Luckily nobody was actually shot, but it scared the bejesus out of me. It took the police about 2 minutes to arrive, but by that time the person with the gun had fled.

This kind of brought it home to me that bad / stupid people have guns and aren't afraid to use them. It also made me realize that police can't be everywhere all the time. They can arrive quickly, but things can get bad very, very fast and when someone is shooting a gun, 2 minutes is a very, very long time.

The 2nd event was about a month ago, and is not even close to being as dramatic as the first. This happened in a much more affluent part of a different town, and is somewhat more remote. Around 11am, I noticed a guy poking around outside the house. He is nowhere near the power/gas/water meters, is not wearing a uniform and isn't holding anything in the way of tools/paper/clipboard. I don't see any cars parked in my driveway or on the street close to my house. I call the city police, and they me I'm out of their jurisdiction (which I now know I'm not) and I should call the county sheriff. The sheriff tells me that it's probably a guy from the cable company checking to see if I'm stealing cable. I agree that this is probably the case, but would still like them to come out and verify that this is true, rather than I go out alone, by my self, with nobody in earshot, and confront this unknown guy. They refuse, tell me to have more important things to do, and ask me to call back if he refuses to leave. I go out and confront the guy, he tells me he is from "peninsula windows" and I could use some new double pane windows. But oddly, he has no business cards, quickly excuses himself, and takes off. I checked, and there is a "peninsula windows" company, but they clean windows, not replace them. I'm convinced he was going to try to break in.

So, I'm a little concerned that the police couldn't arrive in time if something bad does happen, and that they don't even want to try to prevent what now seems like an attempted crime. I think it might be wise to purchase a handgun, in case something more serious happens in the future.

I was raised to believe guns are dangerous & bad, people shouldn't own them since they fall into the wrong hands with alarming frequecy (columbine comes to mind), and a gun owner is 3(?) times more likely to shoot a family member than an intruder (don't remember where I heard this from). I still think this is somewhat true, but as long as I'm a responsible gun owner, does the risk still outweigh the benefits? My wife thinks this is a good idea, but I am unsure that a gun would really increase my chances of not getting hurt in the event of someone breaking in while I am home.

For the record: I live in california, don't drink, and am generally a responsible person, other than often driving a touch too fast. There are no children in the house, but there are other house-mates who are also OK with the idea. I'm really nonviolent, and a vegetarian, hunting with my gun would be out of the question.
posted by darkness to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (76 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Why handgun? Shotguns are pretty much universally acknowledged as being superior for home defense.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:53 PM on August 18, 2005

Maybe you could ask yourself these questions: In the incident you described, what would have been different if you had had a gun? Will owning a gun keep you from getting shot by someone else? Given the choice between shooting--possibly killing--someone or allowing that person to take your gun away from you, what would you do?
posted by scratch at 12:58 PM on August 18, 2005

A gun is just a piece of metal, it wont magically protect you, nor will it fly out of your closet and shoot you accidently.

If you do decide to go and buy one, it is extremely important that you spend some time learning to use it properly, so you will end up shooting the bad guy as opposed to yourself.
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 12:58 PM on August 18, 2005

See previous question for more info about what to buy.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:00 PM on August 18, 2005

Response by poster: I've also considered the following less leathal alternatives, but am not very impressed with them for home defence, although they can be good in other situations:
  • Mace / pepper spray: Limited range, limited accuracy outdoors in wind, hard / expensive to practice with.
  • Mace/ pepper foggers: (the same thing as above, but produce a cloud instead of a stream) Very limited range, limited effectiveness unless very close to target, risk of user also being effected.
  • Tazer gun: Only one shot, limited ability to practice (tazer reloads are expensive)
  • Stun gun: Needs to be in direct contact with target, doesn't work through leather.
  • Baseball bat: Limited effectiveness, need to be close to target, hard to use in close quarters (hallway)

posted by darkness at 1:00 PM on August 18, 2005

I would spend some time (with my wife) at a range before making a decision. Make sure that this is something you are comfortable with and get the proper training. Like any other tool it takes a bit of practice to safely and effectively use a handgun.

You also need to honestly evaluate whether you have it in you to take another life and if you are capable of deciding the point where deadly action is required. Some guy poking around your house is quite different than an intruder in your bedroom.

The housemates thing concerns me. While you may level-headed and suited to gun ownership can you say the same about your current or potential future housemates?

On preview: Mr. Moon Pie has a good point. Racking the slide on a 12-gauge is damn near as effective as pulling the trigger -- if you have never heard it it is a sound that gets your attention like nothing else. Also, you really gotta go out of your way to shoot yourself, or someone else, by accident with a long gun. The downside is it doesn't fit very well in the night table and to be useful for home defense your weapon needs to be both loaded and in reach.
posted by cedar at 1:01 PM on August 18, 2005

Specifically, if you're concerned about gun violence in your neighbourhood, remember that having your own gun means that you have to be ready and willing to use it first, and deal with the legal and moral consequences of that.

Don't get a gun because you think it will deter the other guy that has a gun, because it might just convince him he has to shoot first.
posted by mendel at 1:02 PM on August 18, 2005

As a non-violent person, could you live with yourself if you shot someone?
posted by jrossi4r at 1:02 PM on August 18, 2005

In California, unlike in most other states, you'll need a permit before you can buy a handgun. The good news is that there's a required gun-safety test, which will force you to get the gun safety instruction that would be a good idea anyway.
posted by kickingtheground at 1:06 PM on August 18, 2005

I can't speak to the gun issue, but there is a good alternative. In California, you can get licensed by the state to carry teargas, which is stronger than mace, and the canisters are more effective in wind, and might have a little more range. I carried that with me all the time, and I've used it in the streets against muggers (as I may have said in the related gun thread)--and it also would have been a good, non-lethal but relatively effective solution for a home invasion. The licensing requires a quick couple-hour-long class, and the canisters (even the big ones) aren't terribly expensive.

And if you gas yourself, well, you probably won't have to go to the emergency room. Or die. (Hey, I grew up with guns, I don't mind 'em, but they are a little... intense.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 1:07 PM on August 18, 2005

Why not get an alarm system if you are concerned about a home invasion?

My system cost me about $2000. I have glass break sensors near all my windows, a motion detector in the hall leading to the second floor and alarms on all the doors. I have fire detectors on each level, all connected to the monitoring service.

If an alarm goes off, a police car or fire truck is immediately dispatched unless I otherwise call and cancel the alarm. There's a feature for tripping the system in case of an armed intruder, and I can call for EMT, the fire department or the police simply by pressing one button on the control pad.

That said, there's nothing that unusual about my system. It's a step up from a standard system but it didn't take a rocket scientist to put it together.

You may want to consider it if you're trying to get some peace of mind. From your post, it doesn't sound like a gun is going to give you that.
posted by Sully6 at 1:09 PM on August 18, 2005

If someone breaks into your home with a gun, are they more or less likely to use it if you have one too? I think the answer is "more likely", since they can either shoot or go to jail. If you didn't have a gun, they would most likely take some of your possessions and leave. Murder between strangers is rare. I don't consiider my possessions worth the possibility of taking someone's life.

I would get a guard dog.
posted by cali at 1:10 PM on August 18, 2005

You might also consider getting a dog. They are more effective than guns at keeping people out of your house. If you do get a gun, get lots of training so you know exactly how to use it, and use it safely, in a stressful situation.
posted by caddis at 1:13 PM on August 18, 2005

Live preview is great, but it doesn't show you what others are posting while you type.
posted by caddis at 1:13 PM on August 18, 2005

Response by poster: Scratch: In the first incident, nothing would change, I'd run and hide. In the 2nd incident, I'd have a gun in a pocket, under my shirt, etc. If the guy had turned violent (likely if I'd been 10 min later and he had already broken a window), I'd draw my weapon and ask him to leave. Yes, I think it would be able to prevent me from getting shot / stabbed / beaten. Yes, if it ever comes to me pointing a gun at someone, I'm fully prepaired to pull the trigger.

MrMoonPie: Take the 2nd incident as an example, where I need to confront a suspicious person. If I walk out holding a shotgun and he is not a criminal, I've needlessly scared the poor meter reader or guy who's kid lost a ball over the fence. If he is a criminal and he also has a gun, he needs to decide very quickly between playing it cool, running away, or shooting me. But if I have gun on me that isn't in plain sight, the situation is much less likely to escalate, which none of us wants.
Another thought on this is that I can buy a good safe to store a pistol for a small amount of money. I safe that can hold a shotgun is much more expensive. I feel that a trigger lock is insufficent as it's important to me that my gun isn't stolen while I'm not home and used to kill someone else.
posted by darkness at 1:15 PM on August 18, 2005

I recommend a dog, a fence, an alarm system, and motion sensing outdoor lights. If someone gets past all of that, they're pretty serious about their mission. Most burgulars aren't that determined.... they'll pass you by and go for something lower hanging fruit.
posted by spilon at 1:16 PM on August 18, 2005

If you're not intending to carry outside the house, I'll second-third-aye the recommendation for a shotgun instead. Aside from the other benefits, a load of shot loses energy a lot quicker than a bullet--it's going to punch through a lot fewer walls and be a lot less likely to do things like still be going strong through a neighbor's house.

Whatever the weapon, definitely spend time at a shooting range with it. Not just once either, go there fairly regularly and stay in practice--a big part of this, beyond simply gaining confidence in safely handling and firing, will be in losing the mythology that the whole gun-concept tends to unconsciuosly accrete around itself among folks who've never really handled one before. They're really very simple machines, elegant in their own way, nothing romantic about them.

The common question of whether or not you're prepared to pull the trigger on another human being is a good one, but it's easy to put far too much weight on it. My suspicion is that there's really absolutely no predicting how anyone--from an every-weekend-at-the-range to an eep-it's-a-scary-metal-thing--would react when it comes right down to the moment. And of course it's the sort of moment that hopefully won't come about.
posted by Drastic at 1:17 PM on August 18, 2005

A shotgun and a gun safety course would be the right way to go. It doesn't require as much practice for accurate fire as a pistol does, and it looks a damn sight more intimidating if you are planning on using it to chase people off your land.

But honestly, from your description of the situations, you don't seem like the kind of person who would actually _use_ the weapon if a situation came up. Being comfortable enough with guns to conceive of using them on another human requires a certain familiarity that can't be achieved by buying a gun and sticking it in a drawer.

My advice would be not to do it lest you end up a statistic as well.
posted by madajb at 1:19 PM on August 18, 2005

I would spend some time (with my wife) at a range before making a decision.

That's pretty cool that you're letting him take your wife to a range.

This may be in the other thread, but maybe get something that won't kill your sleeping roommates if you miss. There are also non-lethal shotgun loads that seem to be able to incapacitate anyone, in my uninformed opinion (industrial pepper spray loads, rubber slugs, etc.)

shotgun loads

In a situation in Oregon recently, a home break-in occured and the couple had a shoot out. The owners were killed. It happened in rural Oregon, and I suspect that there was more to the story.

My SIL just got broken into in SF. Someone else in the apartment building pulled a pistol and caught the guy.

Just some random anecdotes. I like guns and shooting, but I would surmise that a dog would provide more protection against burglary.
posted by mecran01 at 1:20 PM on August 18, 2005

Response by poster: Cedar:

Yep, co-workers have taken me to the range, I've gone through about 3 boxes (150 rounds), I'm not scared of guns, and shooting is enjoyable enough to be that I'd probably return with my own gun for fun, if not to just keep in practice.

My housemates wouldn't have the combination to the safe where my gun was stored. I'm not even sure that my wife would, until she can demonstrate the ability to operate it safely.

Good point about keeping it in reach. A safe for a handgun that fits under the bed would be easy to come by. A safe for a shotgun that fits under a bed? Does such a thing exist?

The people that recommend dogs: Yep, a dog probably would be best. Problem is, I hate dogs. Dirty, smelly, loud creatures. Give me a cat any day. ;)
posted by darkness at 1:25 PM on August 18, 2005

I think that it is possible for someone to be safer with a gun than without one, but, that statistically, it is not a big difference either way. Hear a noise at night, and you'll wish you had one, shoot your roomate going to the bathroom and you'll wish you never heard of them. A gun does not make you bullet proof and will only help you out in the situations where someone is trying to kill you and you can't run away. (an interesting aside, in some combat simulation contests (ones with real guns), people are winning by running away)
I would recomend that you become familiar with guns before buying one (which one is best has been previously argued here). I'm also in CA, drop me an email.
Go to a range and shoot some rented guns, and, if you are of an intellectual bent, read up on how they work (my reloading manual shows the system of coupled differential equations that needs to be solved to calculate a bullet's path, so you can go as in depth as you want).
posted by 445supermag at 1:26 PM on August 18, 2005

In the first situation, the gun would have made you a target, not a bystander. More dangerous, not less.

In the second situation, yes he was probably intending on breaking in, in which case you need to have some form of protection. That means either an alarm, a dog, or a weapon. An alarm would be the best choice since it's there protecting you when you're asleep or away and may not notice someone entering your home. A dog can be poisoned or tricked or just not do his job. A weapon, again, may make you a target...both of a criminal who realizes he needs to shoot before you do, or of a criminal who learns of your gun ownership and wants it for himself.

Saying this, I have been, and will again be, a gun owner. But I'm sane and realistic about it not being the be-all and end-all of personal security.
posted by Kickstart70 at 1:27 PM on August 18, 2005

one more thing: shotguns are incredibly fun to shoot recreationally.
posted by mecran01 at 1:28 PM on August 18, 2005

I second the suggestion to spend some time at a gun range first before you even think about deciding to buy one. My boyfriend and one of my cousins, for example, both keep guns at home because they literally grew up around them, and both are adamant that having a gun in the house isn't something for everyone, isn't a guarantee of personal security/safety, and isn't a decision to be made lightly.

After spending most of my life very anti-gun, I decided recently (for a couple of reasons) to learn how to shoot. I spent a day at a local range with my boyfriend (and later spent time with my cousin) who very, very, very patiently and calmly showed me the very basics of holding a lethal weapon, loading it, and firing it. Literally holding the power of life and death in in my hand was terrifying, empowering, and utterly sobering at the same time -- in an instant, I learned a much more profound respect and awe for lethal weaponry than I ever had in all my years spouting off about "gun nuts" or feeling skittish at the very idea of being in the same room as a gun.

I have no idea if I'd ever actually buy a gun, but I do know that A) I intend to continue to go to the range, and B) starting to learn how guns actually work has been important in demystifying them (i.e., I always had this superstition that a gun would go off if I just touched it) in order to understand soberly and realistically how powerful they really are.
posted by scody at 1:30 PM on August 18, 2005

If you can, get a dog. I had a German Shepard that I taught to bark - loudly - when I gave her a silent hand signal. Her bark alerted anyone to HER presence, but not to mine.

Motion sensor lights, a security system, and a dog. That's the way to go.

Guns are serious tools. I own one, but I wouldn't shoot it unless my life was in immediate danger. If you do buy one, take a gun safety course, and practice at a range. I was surprised how heavy the darn thing gets after just a few rounds.

Oh, I'd write letters of complaint about your 'police' department, too. I wonder if their reaction would have been different if it had been a woman calling about a strange man outside her home?
posted by Corky at 1:32 PM on August 18, 2005

Safe for a shotgun- you can get a mounting bracket that has a combination lock and only covers the action of the shotgun and is bolted down so a burglar can't run off with the whole thing.
posted by 445supermag at 1:32 PM on August 18, 2005

The answer is no. What are you going to do, walk around strapped all the time? The home invasion fantasy of NRA members is a farce, it does not happen. If you had a break in, most likely it would be when you were not home, unless you plan on carrying your gun all the time, then the intruder is going to have better access to it than you.

I say this, and yet I am a gun owner. I grew up in the deep south. I hunt. I also realize that it would be moronic to think that having guns makes you somehow safer.

Next time there is a strange guy walking around your property conspicuously take his picture then talk to him with a phone in one hand and a golf club in the other. He'll either get the message or show you his official credentials.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:33 PM on August 18, 2005

Response by poster: About alarms; it's a rented house, so we can't install one. But we already had those fake alarm system stickers. I think your average bad guy probably knows which ones are fake, and the existance of a fake one only tells him that he can be 100% sure the house has no alarm.
posted by darkness at 1:34 PM on August 18, 2005

If you live in the District of Columbia or in a sizable city in one of the 15 states NOT on this list you'll find it difficult, or impossible, to get a permit to carry your weapon with you on the street or in your car unless locked away.
posted by MattD at 1:37 PM on August 18, 2005

If you have to wave a gun around to scare off someone casing your house, then you aren't the type of person who should have a gun.
posted by rdr at 1:40 PM on August 18, 2005

another digressive comment, but a kevlar bathrobe would be incredibly useful if someone broke in. Expensive, but useful. The gun buddies that I know are also really into tactical flashlights that blind the intruder. That could give you a slight advantage, keeping in mind I have no idea what I'm talking about. And while I'm rambling, there are air rifles that shoot slugs that would allow you to stop an intruder without waking the neighbors, and I'm sure a crossbow would be relatively quiet as well.

another "non-lethal" shotgun round
posted by mecran01 at 1:41 PM on August 18, 2005

chinese ak-47 trainer/air rifle

Same look and feel as a real ak-47. $60. A .22 pellet to the head of an intruder could be lethal, depending on the shot. Or it could get you killed.

I realized at some point that I was valuing *feeling* safe and in control more than actually *being* safe and in control.
posted by mecran01 at 1:45 PM on August 18, 2005

Response by poster: rdr: No, I don't want to scare off a person, (see my comments about not being so into a shotgun) but only defend against the prowler, should he turn violent. One shouldn't point a gun at someone to scare them, it's for stopping them, one way or another.

MattD: I'm not considering a concealed carry permit.
posted by darkness at 1:47 PM on August 18, 2005

As a gun owner, I'd strongly recommend that you not get a gun, unless you make a serious commitment to being an informed and responsible owner.

First, find a shooting range that will give you some lessons (and provide several different types of weapon to try). If it doesn't completely scare the hell out of you, continue.

Next, take a safety course and a few more lessons.

Third, when you purchase your gun, purchase a gun-safe. If not that, purchase a serious safety-measure. And make 100% sure that it is not available to your housemates.

Finally, make target-shooting and gun-cleaning a regular routine. If you don't practice, feel comfortable, and respect your firearm, you will misuse it somehow.

If you are ready to do all of these things, I applaud your choice to be a responsible gun owner. If you aren't, then I encourage you to find some other solution. Guns deserve your full attention and respect. Owners that give them anything less give the rest of us a bad name, and endanger everyone's safety.

Try some of these non-lethal measures first, while you are building up the experience necessary to bring a gun into your life. You might find that you don't particularly need a gun, or want one.
posted by MrZero at 1:50 PM on August 18, 2005

Let's think for a moment rationally about situations where a gun would be useful.

On the street, you are jumped. We can all see how it might be useful here, but how often have you heard of muggers giving the mugee time to pull out a gun? Doesn't this also mean you are now having to walk around with a loaded gun? Won't you have to be able to get at the gun before the mugger?

In your house, there is a break in during the night. First, you have to wake up. Then you have to be sure it's really a burglar and not your daughter taking a piss. Then you've got to, in you half awake state, shoot a human that is not fleeing, because you'd better be damn sure there is no entry wound in his back. This also means that you have to keep a loaded gun in your room with easy access at all times.

Home invasion. Happens so rarely it's mostly fantasy and fiction. So let's think about what would really transpire here. Thugs kick in your door while you are watching Cops, and hogtie your family. Do you really think they are going to wait a sec for you to go grab the .357 from the night stand? No way Charleston. Again you are faced with the constantly locked and loaded situation.

Let's also think about what happens to a slug when it leaves a rifled gun. Two things, it keeps going after striking an object or it ricochets. If it keeps going, say, through a wall, then you've got to worry about what or who is on the other side. If it bounces, well then god knows where that thing is going.

If you really must buy a gun. Buy a pump-shotgun. The chuck-chuck sound of cycling a pump is universal language for "please go away." The added convenience of not killing people in other rooms/apartments/three-houses-down-and-across-the-street makes it a much better "home-defense" choice.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:53 PM on August 18, 2005

Make that Charlton, damn spell check!
posted by Pollomacho at 1:56 PM on August 18, 2005

I own shotguns and a handgun. I'm proficient with all of them. I'd probably go for a shotgun for home defense, but I'd probably hide or run before using any weapon to defend possessions against an unknown assailant. If I were to shoot someone in a dark house and that person had a gun and was not killed or incapacitated, I can bet that that person would shoot back, endangering me, neighbors, family, friends, whatever. I'm prepared to do it, but I'd rather trust a layered defense as people have been describing.
posted by socratic at 1:57 PM on August 18, 2005

Response by poster: General people talking about non-leathal rounds, toy guns, etc:

If I'm going to confront someone who also may be armed, the last thing I want is for him to pull a wepon more leathal than mine. If he decides to stand and fight, I want to be able to end the fight, before he has time to respond. What I don't want is to have a shotgun with rounds only capable of breaking his ribs, while his saturday night special is capable of doing much more damage to me.

Non-leathal rounds are great if you are the police, have backup and perfectly lethal rounds available to you. Look at when police use them, on crowds that are armed with rocks and bottles, not when they have any doubt if the suspect is armed or not.
posted by darkness at 1:58 PM on August 18, 2005

I am not sure that it would be legal to conceal a loaded weapon on yourself in your own yard. Here are some CA laws you might want to read carefully. (I have only browsed them quickly and it looks like it's OK to carry a concealed unloaded weapon on your property, but not a loaded one, unless you perceive yourself in grave danger, which does not really make sense to me so I may have it wrong.)
posted by caddis at 1:59 PM on August 18, 2005

I have a feeling that our non-gun owning friend would want to go through the training and up-keep training to be able to shoot an intruder in the head. If you go the air gun route you should at least get a competition one. Anywhere but the head or major artery and you'll end up dead yourself (assuming he has a gun or other means of attack).

A mean dog is your best bet, but the shotgun idea comes up next. You don't have to even aim well to badly injure/kill the attacker. It also has the benefit of shooting through doors if you want to be Mr. Action Star. Which brings me to the point that having a gun in a house where people come and go as they please is a bad idea. If you're a family you at least have a good idea that Jimmy went out with his friends and is coming back soon, where roommate John might have had a booty call and come back to find himself with a hole in his torso. Of course nothing beats feeling safe like a 357 in your nightstand.
posted by geoff. at 2:00 PM on August 18, 2005

First, the "3 times" statistic usually quoted is that a gun in the home is 3 times more likely to kill a family member than kill an intruder. It includes suicides, and excludes uses of the firearm for defense that do not kill the intruder (which is the vast majority of cases).

Second, before you get a gun for protection, as yourself some things:

- Are you really, honestly, willing to kill another human being to protect yourself? If not, get something else. Really. Don't think "I'll just wave it around to scare them off." You must decide beforehand that you are willing to take another human being's life in order to save your own. Your purpose is not to kill somebody endangering your life, but rather to stop them. Unfortunately, effectively stopping someone intent on violence may result in their death.

- Are you really, honestly, going to be a responsible gun owner? Will you keep it locked up or on your person at all times? Sure, your roomates seem responsible, but are they or any of their guests really, honestly, always going to resist the urge to play with it? Are you going to resist that urge? Are you going to leave it on a shelf or in a drawer when nobody's home?

- Are you going to learn the deadly force laws in your area? There are some basic tenets, such as the generic standard for use of deadly force: you may use deadly force in the case of an otherwise unavoidable threat of death or grave bodily harm to the innocent. Your area may have other laws.

- Are you going to get any professional training in the mechanical operation (how to shoot) and in the legitimate self defense uses (when to shoot) of your weapon? Training for target practice at the range is different than training for use of deadly weapons for self defense. Most good deadly force training I've taken revolves around avoidance and deterrence first; weapons come into play after the first layers have already failed.

- Are permits to carry concealed weapons available in your area, and do you want one? Urban California is notorious for refusing to issue such permits, but many areas outside of LA and the bay area apparently do issue permits.

The bottom line: keeping deadly weapons explicitly for self defense purposes is a serious undertaking. Many firearms training facilities offer "introduction" type classes that can help you answer some of these questions for yourself; I'm in Washington state, so that's the area I'm familiar with. Some firearms training schools focus on aspects that are not relevant to your situation (improving your skills for dedicated competition, for example), or are run by instructors with a rigid program which may not suit your needs.

Weapon choice depends upon your circumstances; if you want to carry it around at home, a handgun is the logical choice. Long guns (shotguns) have superior firepower, but can be more complex to operate than, say, a basic revolver. They're great for ensconced positions (hiding out in your bedroom), but difficult to move around with in close environments.

Are you concerned about shots leaving your home through the walls and striking others? Sheetrock is incredibly poor at stopping bullets; the rounds from most defensive use firearms will travel completely through the average wood frame house. If you live in a dense apartment complex this may be of extra concern.

If you decide to buy a gun, don't listen to anybody who tells you "you must have X" where X is either a particular caliber ("anything less than a .45 is worthless") or type of weapon ("Get a Glock"). Find out what works for you. A .45 might have more recoil than you are comfortable with; a Glock might not fit your hand. Try guns and see what feels natural for you; under the stress of a violent conflict, you will not be able to think about operating it. Gun stores sometimes like to push the ultralightweight revolvers, which feel great in the store, but are very difficult to shoot well. Look at prices; .45 ammunition costs more than 9mm. For shotguns, a 12 gauge packs considerable recoil; perhaps a 20 gauge is more suitable? Either size of shotgun is effective for self defense purposes.

Don't pay much attention to arguments about "stopping power." All handguns are relatively weak, and with modern self-defense ammunition the .38, .357, 9mm, .40 S&W or .45 ACP are more or less interchangable. Most people who are shot with handguns survive. That said, handguns smaller than those I listed have notable difficultly in immediately causing physical incapacitation of people when.

Lastly, a book recommendation. It's not about guns, per se, it's more about the mindset of survival and defense: Strong on Defense

A firearm kept for defensive purposes is not a quick and easy solution. It is expensive, requires maintenance training, and practice to maintain proficiency. You may need a license or permit to own or carry it in public. You as the operator have the burden of knowing the limits under which you may employ it.

There's a lot of hype on both sides of the gun argument; think about your level of committment and need, and decide for yourself whether this is really the right course of action for you.
posted by doorsnake at 2:02 PM on August 18, 2005

another non-lethal choice would be to get a can of bear spray. It is similar to pepper spray but covers a much larger area and is commonly used to deter all kinds of bears. If it can stop a grizzly, then I would suspect that it could stop an intruder. Although it can be argued that a person who has just been sprayed with such a substance would still be able to fire a gun at you, atleast you know they won't be able to aim and you won't have to think about killing someone.
posted by Bengston at 2:03 PM on August 18, 2005

Response by poster: The "before he has time to respond" in my last post wasn't phrased very well. It doesn't mean shoot first and ask questions later, it means if you are between me and the door, I say "Stop, I'm armed" and you run at me with a knife, I'm gonna shoot you. If you walk out the door, I'm gonna lock it behind you.
posted by darkness at 2:06 PM on August 18, 2005

The thing you have to ask yourself before buying a gun is "Would I hesitate to use it?"

Most bad situation I've been in start out rather ambiguously. They are the kind of situation where you know something is off but you talk yourself out of it and into a crappy situation.

Just like the guy at your window, you had no idea what was going on. Now imagine that same situation and add in the fact that you have to make a decision about going to get your gun. What would you have done?

I fully support the rights of gun owners and am one myself but for self defense I have a big bottle of pepper spray and a baseball bat. I have those because I feel they give me the power I need, they are nice and cheap and I will never hesitate to grab them and use them.

The worst kind of weapon you can have is one you are unwilling to use.
posted by 517 at 2:16 PM on August 18, 2005

A couple of responses to things that came up while composing...

* Mace / pepper spray: [...]

Both of these are largely just pain-inducing. A determined individual can operate very effectively while under the influence of either, perhaps with some reduced vision if it gets in the eyes.

* Stun gun: [...]

Like pepper spray, it's just pain, and you have to keep it in contact for a long period of time for maximum effectiveness (a couple of seconds).

A mean dog is your best bet, but the shotgun idea comes up next. You don't have to even aim well to badly injure/kill the attacker. It also has the benefit of shooting through doors if you want to be Mr. Action Star.

You do have to aim a shotgun; at "inside the home" ranges, shot spread is only a few inches. It's not a magical cone of doom. Also, the majority of firearms will go through interior doors with little difficulty.
posted by doorsnake at 2:21 PM on August 18, 2005

I think the fact that you related the earlier shooting incident in your story despite knowing having a gun wouldn't have helped is something you should ponder. Why does that impact your decision if it wouldn't have helped? Did you go out today and buy a blender because the phone rang?

Let me ask something nobody else has: why did you confront this person outside if they were snooping around windows outside your house? You should have gone to the window and made yourself seen (preferably with a phone in your hand) while still keeping yourself safe. Yell through it if it doesn't open. Feeling like a jackass is better than feeling dead.

If you're going to give me some answer about it being outside your housemate's windows you need to walk away from the keyboard right now and instead talk to them so you can all give each other permission to step on each other's dirty laundry in these situations. If it's necessary to do this to stop burglaries I suspect you'll all agree it's better than getting robbed.

If you're unwilling to do this you should check on the laws regarding the use of deadly force in your area. I am in Virginia now and was in Florida. In Florida if I had carried my pistol outside in the circumstance you describe I would have been obligated, if it was possible, to retreat to my home before I could use deadly force against a hostile individual unless he came up with a gun too. Here in Virginia, surprisingly, the law is even more vague and I might in some circumstances have to leave my own home if I could do it without immediate physical danger.

But again, I would never have put myself in the position of needing to retreat. If I couldn't have yelled at him from inside, I would have stood at my door and yelled for him to come around where I could talk to him and demanded he stayed at a distance - me might not have a gun already and I'm not intrested in providing him with one. If that seems undignified or rude, get over it: if it really is a meter reader I assure you they (a) deal with this all the time and (2) are very interested in being careful and answering your questions so they don't get shot.

Don't get yourself a gun unless you're prepared to sit inside and wait till someone batters in the door before you shoot them. If you'd gone outside with a gun and that guy had lunged at you and you shot him I guarantee you'd be answering the cop's question "why didn't you just stay inside?" (Anyone interested in going on about how unfair that is can take it up with their local lawmakers; I deal only in reality, good or bad)
posted by phearlez at 2:30 PM on August 18, 2005

Go to one of the modern indoor shooting ranges where you can rent and fire different arms. Take a shotgun for a test run, then some various pistols. See what fits in your hand and also with the rest of your physique.

Revolvers don't jam and the hammer can be resting on an empty cylinder. Even the best automatics require a deal of finesse to prepare to fire.

The has a sloppy front page, but it would be a good place to do some reading and locate local dealers and shooting ranges.
posted by buzzman at 2:37 PM on August 18, 2005

You said you can't install an alarm in this rented house. In my experience, a deal could well be worked out with the landlord to split the cost of the installation of the alarm.

I wouldn't assume that since it's a rental that this is an impossibility.
posted by Kickstart70 at 2:55 PM on August 18, 2005

I think a big issue to consider with any form of self-defense is knowing if you are capable of using it before you use it, and if an event occurs before you are ready, having the self control NOT to use it. I think most of my feelings towards guns have already been expressed: that they can make more situations worse than good even though they can help with some really bad ones, so I say this more towards another thing I’d recommend. As I understand it, California has become a very popular spot in the last few years for Krav Maga Dojos. I offer this not as an alternative per say, but as something to consider along with a security system and whatever you ultimately feel is necessary. I must stress again that any means used before truly skilled in, be it hand to hand or a gun, will most likely result in very unfavorable consequences.

Can’t say I like the spray/gas ideas if you are using them on someone that has a gun. Might result in manic shooting, which could end badly. Mace and friends are good to have though, just don’t bring them to a gun fight.

posted by Neosamurai85 at 3:20 PM on August 18, 2005

First read this entire site. Discusses crime, rape, what criminals are like, protecting a house, etc. There is not a lot of gun discussion, at least the last time I read it. But I think it's a must-read for anyone interested in self defense or personal safety. Also offers classes in Colorado, but I have not taken them.

More range time is a good idea as others have said.

I would also recommend a pump shotgun; as noted, the pump action noise can be a good deterrent. The Remington 870 and the Mossberg 500 are very popular. Having said that, I don't own a pump shotgun but it's on my list of guns I'd like. I think you can find the 500 at walmart for $200.

If you are still set on a handgun, I would recommend a revolver. Autos are a lot more popular these days but revolvers are considerably easier to use. You can find a range that rents both types and see what you prefer. .357 mag* is probably what to get in a revolver with a 4 to 6" barrel. .44 mag is too much, .44 special is hard to find. S&Ws are good. Supposedly Taurus has improved a lot in the past five years or so. I personally like Ruger best and have a 6" GP-100 myself. They make rugged revolvers at decent prices. More than Taurus but less than S&W. You can find lightweight revolvers made out of things like scandium, titanium, maybe more. These are probably great for carrying but are going to less pleasant to shoot and more expensive than steel guns.

*There are lots of good cartridges out there: 9mm, .40, 45 ACP, .38 special, .44 special, 10mm, and so on. But in a revolver .357 mag is the most popular and has the most choices in ammo and guns which is why it's my top pick. You can shoot .38 special for cheap practice in a .357 mag, also.
posted by 6550 at 3:20 PM on August 18, 2005

I know the asker isn't getting a dog, but:

Dogs are deterrents, not protection. A sane dog that hasn't been specially trained as a protection dog will almost certainly either run away when presented with real danger to itself, or do a bite-and-run. If you watch enough Cops, you'll see more than a few police dogs turn tail the instant a Bad Dude actually delivers a good solid hit to them.

If you abused the dog into viciousness, it might actually attack. You couldn't live with that dog, because it would be vicious.

If you had a real no-shit protection dog, that might work. But those dogs are fantastically expensive, up to the tens of thousands of dollars, and usually require professional handlers.

If a Bad Person hears a dog barking and enters your house anyway he's probably equipped to deal with any canid this side of a dire wolf.

The upshots:
(1) Don't get a dog for protection. If you get a dog for deterrence, have that be only a small part of why you're getting the dog.
(2) Get the breed you like, not one that seems BIG AND SCARY. So long as it's not obviously a toy breed from its bark, any barking dog is as good as another for deterrence.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:22 PM on August 18, 2005

Buzz man said Revolvers don't jam and the hammer can be resting on an empty cylinder. Even the best automatics require a deal of finesse to prepare to fire.

Modern revolvers don't need to have the hammer down on an empty cylinder. Revolvers are much less likely to fail than autos but autos are easier to quickly fix than revolvers.
posted by 6550 at 3:24 PM on August 18, 2005

I strongly second those who suggest you learn how to fire a gun before you decide if you'll buy one.

another great suggestion given above that I strongly second, if you learn the basics and then figure out you won't have in you to actually use the gun if needed -- with all the responsibilities it involves, namely taking somebody's life, and not necessarily a burglar's, given the vast number of home accidents involving guns -- if you don't feel like really using it, buy something else -- mace, tear gas, pepper spray, a katana, whatever. buy something you'll have the ability, and the necessary cold-blood, to use in a moment of actual danger. good luck.

If you live in the District of Columbia or in a sizable city in one of the 15 states NOT on this list you'll find it difficult, or impossible, to get a permit to carry your weapon with you on the street or in your car unless locked away.

darkness wrote in the more inside part of the post: "I live in california". California is not on your list, MattD. but thanks for the link, it's a blast lot of fun.
posted by matteo at 3:26 PM on August 18, 2005

The cost of the gun would be the same as your insurance deductible, and you only have to pay the deductible if you actually get robbed.

Oh, and statistically speaking people are more likely to commit suicide if there is a gun in the house.
posted by furtive at 3:48 PM on August 18, 2005

posted by sled at 6:09 PM on August 18, 2005

The cost of the gun would be the same as your insurance deductible, and you only have to pay the deductible if you actually get robbed.

But you can't shoot skeet with your insurance deductible.
posted by caddis at 6:20 PM on August 18, 2005

Too true 6550, some upscale modern revolvers will not fire if the hammer is on a loaded cylinder. I also forgot that some of them don't even have traditional hammers anymore.
posted by buzzman at 7:26 PM on August 18, 2005

True story:
Years ago a friend lived on the bad side of town, and pondered the same question you posed. He mentioned the buying of a handgun to his landlord and was told the following.

Said landlord lived in same apartment for a while, and after pondering the selfsame question, DID in fact, purchase a gun. A few months go by uneventfully, when one night he hears a disturbance outside his door (on the street to be exact).
He looks out the window to see a man beating the shit out of a woman.
He goes and gets his gun, opens his front door, and with the gun hand down but visible yells "Hey! "
The man beating up the woman stops in mid-swing, sees the guy with the gun, and immediately starts running RIGHT TOWARDS HIM!.
At this point, the landlord looked at his own gun, and at the man running his way, went inside and called the cops.
He sold the gun a few days later.

We never have an idea about what we might do when push comes to shove, but many criminals actually DO.
posted by asavage at 8:53 PM on August 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

Have you thought about a security patrol system--where they drive past every hour or so. Would your landlord be amenable to this, or your neighbors willing to chip in?
posted by brujita at 9:32 PM on August 18, 2005

About 4 months ago, I purchased a handgun for self defense (originally home defense). Here's my logic:

First, I chose a gun over non-lethal weapons because I would prefer not to be outgunned in any reasonable situation. If my attacker has a ballbat, and I have a firearm, I outgun them enough that they may surrender before I need to fire. If they do not desist, then I fire and rapidly end the threat before they come close enough to hurt me.

If I should be armed with a can of mace, and my attacker has a firearm, I have only the option of retreat. Spraying him with mace does nothing but cause pain. Many people find pain relatively easy to ignore, and I know that I could probably shoot through it at a few yards' range. So, I can only run away... his ability to strike me down decreases linearlly as I retreat, but does not hit zero until I'm probably fifteen to twenty meters from him. Thus, even if I choose to retreat, I would prefer to have an equal class of weapon.

Also remember that additional attackers should be considered multiplicative when assesing threat. That is, the threat of a batman, a knifeman, and a gunman is not a sum, but a product. I would far rather have a highly-lethal weapon when confronting a group that seeks to do me harm. I want the ability to permanently reduce a group's ability to attack; I don't want people getting back in the fight. Especially since, in a group situation, part of the process is non-verbal social negotiation: "I killed him, leave before I kill you."

Next, I asked myself if I could actually take a life. This was easy. Since the natural inclination in a life-threatening situation is the fight-or-flight response, I knew that I could take a life if I linked my firearm into the fight portion of the response.

Next, could I live with myself if I did take a life? Well, anybody I feel the need to shoot will have broken some portion of my social contract with him (or her). By threatening my life, he agreed to wager his own. Consensual.

Could I live with shooting an innocent? Irrelevent, nobody sane could. So, could I devote the effort to assuring I did not harm an innocent? Yes.

Then, the question became which gun to buy?. I went for a fullsize handgun (the Heckler and Koch USP chambered for 9mmP) over a shotgun for the following reason: a handgun is very difficult to outflank.

Imagine that you are in your living room with an attacker. You have a shotgun, and he has a knife or some other contact weapon. All he must do is step past the muzzle of your shotgun, and he is safe from its effects. If you have the weapon properly welded to your shoulder, the muzzle can cover a circle with a radius of about four feet. Once an object is inside that radius, you must move your feet to bring the muzzle to bear on it.

So, once the attacker is within four feet of you, there's nothing you can do to him but engage him in hand-to-hand combat.

However, the flanking radius for a handgun is much, much smaller. It's made almost irrelevent by the wrist, which can point the weapon anywhere you can see. I can shoot a man next to me as well as I can a man across the room. This is important.

So, here's my current setup, with breakdown: Heckler and Koch USP 9mm Fullsize. I like the weapon, it points and shoots well for me, and has a large capacity. 9mm because training ammunition is cheap, recoil is low, and ballistics are decent enough. Fullsize because I like the control.

I load it up with Federal Premium Self-Defence (124 gr. Hydra-Shoks). I go with hollowpoints not only because I wish to do more rapid damage to soft targets, but also because I would prefer that my bullet not overpenetrate and strike someone behind my target.

While handguns are weak, compared to longarms, they are specifically designed for combat at "social distances". They are easily concealable, easily handled, and easily controlled weapons. You don't need a sniper's clean kill, you need only do enough damage with enough celerity to end an attack before you are gravely harmed. Any handgun of 9mm or above should do this, given a skilled operator.

I'm not saying my choices will work for you, by any means. But, you seriously need to think about things at this level. You're buying a weapon (I actually suggest that you adopt the military tradition of refering to your firearm as your "weapon"). Once you have decided that you can accept the moral contracts that accompany owning a weapon, you must turn your mind to using it effectively.

I'm not saying that you need to turn into Rambo, but I am strongly suggesting that you learn more than "firearms safety". These aren't devices intended to be safe for any but their operator. They are intended to do grave bodily harm. By owning one, you have accepted that, and I think you do everyone a disservice if you do not train in that aspect.

You need to learn the laws of your location as they relate to self defense and lethal force. However, you also need to learn more practical rules of engagement. As many folks who take their defense seriously say, "It's better to be tried by twelve than carried by six."

Many of my opinions on weapons come from eastern marshall arts books. For instance, Musashi's Book of Five Rings offers a good idea. Much of my reading on Tai Chi Chuan also colors my feelings on firearms. Approach this decision philosophically in all aspects, and you should find a good answer.
posted by Netzapper at 9:49 PM on August 18, 2005

There is no need for a gun. Guns have one purpose and that is to kill.

Getting a dog is a good idea. The downside of a dog is that they require an immense commitment which is compounded by the need for proper training if they are to be truly effective.

A proper security system is also a good idea. Creating a safe room where it would be impossible for any intruder to enter would be something I would create. Reinforced door and window in that room might do the trick.

Personally I would rather not kill someone for coming into my house to steal my iPod.
posted by cmacleod at 10:00 PM on August 18, 2005

cmacleod: A weapon designed only to kill would have some neurotoxin dart guaranteed to kill in seconds. A handgun only kills at about 30-40%. That means between 60-70% of handgun wounds do not result in death. Handguns are designed to neutralize: a very militaristic term for a very specific concept. A threat can be considered neutralized when he no longer poses a threat to you.

A handgun is designed to deal at least enough damage to an attacker that he must regroup for a period of time great enough for you to make your escape. You shoot and run, or if you can't run, you shoot until he's incapacitated. Guns do kill, by all means, and one should consider them a lethal weapon.

However, to argue that the design and statistically likely uses of a tool somehow create motivations within the mind of the tool's user would also require you to agree that holding a wire whisk really makes you want to make whipped cream. Give me a break.

Security systems and dogs provide warning that somebody has entered your property. With an average police response time of 8 minutes, plus several rulings by the supreme courts showing that cops have no responsibility to protect you as an individual, you can't expect the cops to arrive before your invader has discovered you.

Dogs specially trained to attack require the same care, attention, and responsibility that a firearm does. An attack dog that you fail to control properly has as a greater chance of harming an innocent than an inanimate object. Can you train the dog to respond appropriately and obediently to your entire family? Would your wife be capable of restraining him against, say, the cable guy when he arrives?

I'm sorry, but adding another dangerous entity to the equation seems very disadvantageous.

Also, tell me about this house where I may break in and steal your iPod without fear of violent reprisal, please.

For me the impetus to fight in this situation would not come from fear of losing my iPod, but rather from the fact that a dangerous person had entered my home. How much more of a violation of the social contract can you find than someone coming into your home uninvited to deprive you of your property? This person has, by breaking the contract, consented to whatever the hell you do to them in return.

My house is click-wrapped, thank you very much. By breaking in, you have agreed to forfeit your life. Nearly all of human history backs me up here.

Furthermore, how would I know he only wanted my iPod? Do I ask him? Because I should seriously believe the word of somebody who breaks into houses.
posted by Netzapper at 10:53 PM on August 18, 2005

[threadjack] wow, dangerous place. where i live is a bit odd -- million dollar homes one block west of me and a crack house one block north. one develops an unique appreciation for the mixing of socioeconomic classes here but there's rarely problems. except for the guy who ripped apart the tim hortons sign apart with his bare hands. hell, my 2nd floor apt balcony sliding door has been wide open 24x7 since victoria day.
posted by angrybeaver at 10:56 PM on August 18, 2005

a) Your guy in case #2 was almost certainly a Peeping Tom - creepy, but mostly harmless.

b) You note that the shooting you describe in case #1 upset you deeply.

c) A handgun is only useful for home defense if you thoroughly intend to use it to kill someone. If you have any other purpose in mind, or a vague, nebulous feeling that the gun will somehow increase your overall total security, or you have no purpose in mind for it, I strongly advise you not to obtain a handgun.

However, if and only if you are concerned that there might arise a specific scenario in which you absolutely needed to kill someone immediately, ending their life permanently and risking imprisonment for murder - then obtaining a handgun might be the sensible thing to do in that case.

I strongly recommend against the use of firearms as visual or auditory deterrents. Once you display a firearm, you have threatened deadly force, which in many settings is legal grounds for return use of deadly force against you. More practically, if you pull a gun on someone, they become much more likely to try to kill you.

Probably best to think this one over pretty carefully before you arrive at a decision.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:32 PM on August 18, 2005

Oh, and good heavens, where did you get the idea that a shotgun will only break your attacker's ribs? At home-defense ranges, a 12 gauge shotgun will make a hole in a man big enough to throw a dog through. If you make this hole in the general vicinity of the brain, neck, heart, lungs, spleen, liver, kidneys, aorta, or femoral arteries, that person will die in short order.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:41 PM on August 18, 2005

I've had a home invasion. It was a robbery which almost turned into a rape. The only reason that it didn't turn into a rape is that when the thug threw my wife on the bed, I was in it. I tried to kill him. Too bad I didn't catch him (he threw a VCR at me as he ran away. That's the sort of thing which makes you lose your momentum).

If I had a gun, I don't think I would have had the presence of mind to grab it. I wish I could say I would have. My mind "went primitive" at the moment. All I could have done at the moment to increase my striking power would have been to grab a baseball bat or something like that.

I know I would have killed the thug had I been able to catch him, and I am certain that I would be morally fine with it. Netzapper is correct, how are you to know that the person breaking into your house merely wishes to "take your iPod"? Deadly force is a reasonable, moral, and human response to that situation, and I'm glad to have proved to myself that I am capable of it, just probably not with a gun.
posted by Invoke at 11:48 PM on August 18, 2005

I'm surprised it hasn't been mentioned before but "only a fraction of soldiers kill during warfare (and feel revulsion when they do); the rest (about 85 percent in World War II) resist by missing the target or refusing to fire".

It's a very interesting read whether or not you are buying a gun.
posted by 517 at 2:54 AM on August 19, 2005

netzapper, dogs do more than warn of someone already in, their barking keeps most potential intruders out. You do not need a trained attack dog for this. If a potential intruder decides to enter anyway you have a pretty serious bad guy on your hands. He is entering with full knowledge that the residents know he is coming in. He wants more than your iPod. Shoot to kill.

For those with the money, and lack of desire to kill, a panic room is another good alternative.
posted by caddis at 5:07 AM on August 19, 2005

I'm with the crowd who says having a gun would not have changed either sitiuation. In the first you would have been a target. In the secondI would have called the police and said "someone is breaking into my house". If I'm wrong, let them come and find that out. In the meantime I (and anyone else home) would have been leaving the house by another exit and going to a neighbours. If someone is trying to break into your house, you don't confront them (inside the house or out, with a gun or without) or ask if they only want your i-pod. You get out. Getting out if at all possible is what you should be doing even if you do have a gun (it's not self-defence if one of your options was to leave).

Maybe they don't just want to steal my ipod, but since nobody will be there to hurt, they won't be able to do anything else. I also don't consider my posessions worth shooting someone over.
posted by duck at 7:55 AM on August 19, 2005

Lot of good thoughts here, both ways. You use a gun for the same reason we use a lot of tools, it extends your reach. You have to be absolutely willing to shoot someone who doesn't belong in your house before they can get in close enough to hurt you, possibly with the gun you have just provided. If you stop to think about it, you've lost the advantage provided by the gun.

Whatever you decide, consider placing a nightlight in each room with a red bulb in it. If you've been asleep, you're night-adapted, and the red light will provide enough illumination to see what's going on, or who is in the house, without losing the night adaptation. Chances are fair whoever just came in has been around street lights or headlights, and won't be able to see nearly as well as you can. Whatever weapon you chose, since you do have housemates, it's a good idea to be able to identify them if you need to. Don't forget the bathrooms, hallways and foyers. You can get nightlights on a sensor that shut off during the day, and the red bulbs come from Christmas tree lights, buy a ton of them in season, they do burn out.

If you want to make really, really sure they're night-blind, stick a big yard light in the front and back, and it's good security anyway, they're less likely to invade a home that's well-lit.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 8:00 AM on August 19, 2005

RJ Reynolds, is tear gas better than pepper spray? We've been able to buy pepper spray at basically any store for years now.

Maybe I remember this wrong, but I remember Johnny Knoxville getting rocked by a taser, a stun gun, and pepper spray on that show Jackass. When asked which one was the worst, he said it was pepper spray. Even just being downwind from that stuff can ruin your whole entire day.

And darkness, I put my vote in for a shotgun. That loading sound is the scariest thing ever.
posted by redteam at 9:06 AM on August 19, 2005

Another thing, darkness. I think that pepper spray is perfect for the confrontation or "feeling the situation out" scenarios that you mentioned. If someone comes to your house to buy a computer that you put for sale on craigslist, have a small can of pepper spray handy. Don't like the look of some guy who's knocking on your door? Pepper spray.

I've actually had a revolver handy in a craigslist/recycler sale situation where a lot of money was involved. It was in the back of my pants at the waist. Another time, I decided to put it in the couch where I could easily get it. It made me feel safe, but I still think that pepper spray is more practical and has usage consequences that are much easier to stomach and deal with. That stuff is incapacitating. While your target is writhing on the ground screaming, you can basically do whatever you want, be it running away, locking him in that room, calling the cops, or kicking/beating him repeatedly. Plus, there are so many more situations you can effectively use pepper spray in. Also, you can have that be your first line of defense, with a shotgun nearby.

Whatever decision you make, I wish you luck in life and hope that you never run into any trouble that requires more than words and gestures to resolve.
posted by redteam at 9:34 AM on August 19, 2005

By breaking in, you have agreed to forfeit your life. Nearly all of human history backs me up here.

But not the laws in all states. It won't stop me from shooting someone who confronts me in my home but someone's presence, absent violent behavior and/or armament isn't presumed to be full justification in a lot of states, mine (Virginia) included.
posted by phearlez at 11:01 AM on August 19, 2005

Oh yeah, like that matters. "He was threatening me" - BOOM. Once dead, it's pretty hard to refute that testimony. Of course, the shooter might have to take this issue up with his or her God, or lacking faith, their own conscience.
posted by caddis at 3:22 PM on August 19, 2005

redteam sez:
but I still think that pepper spray is more practical and has usage consequences that are much easier to stomach and deal with. That stuff is incapacitating. While your target is writhing on the ground screaming, you can basically do whatever you want [...]

Having been sprayed with pepper spray (for training, not cuz I was being obstreperous) I agree with you that it can be more practical, etc, but it's not reliably incapacitating and the target will not magically be "writhing on the ground screaming."

Pepper spray can cause some breathing difficulty, interefere with vision (due to eyes tearing up and closing) and induce some pain, but in of itself, pepper spray is not physically incapacitating to the point of writhing, et al. It may affect some people to that degree, but I'd expect that to be the exception rather than the norm.

Plus, there are so many more situations you can effectively use pepper spray in. Also, you can have that be your first line of defense, with a shotgun nearby.

This is also right on the money; if you have a deadly weapon available, have a less- or non- lethal weapon also available. Not all confrontations that escalate will justify the use of deadly force, but many will justify the use of intermediate force such as pepper spray.

One downside to pepper spray is that if you spray somebody, you will get some on yourself. In an enclosed area or if the winds are against you, it may hit you just as hard as whomever you're spraying. The way to prepare for this is to be sprayed yourself, with the spray you intend to use (there is some variation between brands in terms of spray pattern and concentration of capsaicin, the "pepper" part of the spray).

Pepper spray is best used as a "spray & go"; hit them with it, then run away and call the police. As with any other weapon, know the laws; absent some legitimate justification like self defense, you are committing an assault by spraying somebody with pepper spray.

It can be effective on dogs, too.
posted by doorsnake at 4:52 PM on August 19, 2005

Wow, thanks for the input, doorsnake. I think I might get one of my friends to hit me with pepper spray to see what it's like. I always thought it was just absolute horror and pain for the target. I don't have asthma, so I don't think I'll be in too bad shape. I'll take other precautions as well.
posted by redteam at 7:36 PM on August 19, 2005

« Older Why do bar chords hurt my hand?   |   Bad Gas Mileage Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.