Personal Defense Weapons Basics

FIRST, research personal defense, get books and search the web you have many inexpensive resources that could help save your life. To get you thinking, here are a few key concepts. It is likely this review will leave you with more questions than answers, but that is the intent. Personal defense is not an easy subject, and if there were one best way everyone would be doing it.

3 Principles of Defense

Learn. Your brain is your weapon. Educate yourself. Remember, any object you buy can be broken, lost, stolen or destroyed.  Education can be passed down and cannot stolen.  

Prepare physically. Learn Judo, Taekwondo or other personal defense arts. Get yourself in shape, and prepare supplies for every day and even uncommon emergencies.

Practice. A skill learned or weapon bought and never used is a complete waste. With weapons it is worse because the bad guy could use the weapon against you.

Quality Matters 

Buy quality items.  That doesn’t mean you don’t buy inexpensive backups, but it does mean purchasing good knives, rifles, shotguns and pistols you can pass down to your grandchildren.  In the whole scheme of things, you might be planning for a SHTF/TEOTWAWKI situation, but odds are it won’t happen.

A SHTF situation will more likely impact your kids or their grand-kids, so you could be making a purchase that will save your family 50 to 100 years from now.  Buy with the long picture in mind, buy stuff that can be repaired.  If you don’t have this perspective, go ahead and buy inexpensive alternatives.

Defense Considerations

If you are uncomfortable with the idea of a weapon such as a gun or knife, consider getting training in any number of self defense programs from Jujitsu, Judo, Boxing or Karate to more intense programs such as Krav Maga (Israel personal combat training). 

Alternative Defense: You could select other techniques such as loud personal alarms, pepper spray, tasers or a guard dog.  Research your options.

Responsibility.  Any weapon increases YOUR level of responsibility.  Even a knife increases responsibility, risk and need for control.  If you have a knife, pistol or rifle it could be used against you, or against those you intend to protect.   If you are armed, in a defense situation with multiple people, you will likely be the leader by default.  Simply being prepared may put you in a leadership position.  Being armed will make you a target.  The decision to arm yourself has ramifications, and even the simple act of purchasing a weapon is a big decision.

Laws.  Although this is probably the last thing you would think about when being attacked, especially in a SHTF situation, you should research the laws.  In some areas your only legal option is to run, in other areas you can stand your ground through laws that support “castle doctrine” and self preservation.  You need to research what applies to you.  Research the facts before you support any pro or anti-gun group.  Some facts are not pretty and may feel counter intuitive, but knowing the facts is like having a weapon that no one can take from you.

Situational Awareness: Choose a weapon for the situation.  If a gun is illegal or requires unmanageable controls or you cant deal with it or the gun cannot be carried in a particular situation… skip it and carry the knife or pepper spray.  If you are likely to be in wet/snow, dry/hot areas consider the weapon and its requirements.  If you have to carry a weapon long distance consider weight, reliability, maintenance, ammo weight and cleaning requirements.

Proportional Response 

The idea of proportional response is to match your aggression and weapons to that of the opponent.  Forget it, avoid it, never follow it. This is NOT a safe solution for an individual or group.  Dropping to a knife if the other guy has a knife (when you have a gun) creates the maximum risk for everyone involved.  This creates a situation where there is no clearly superior force.  

To say I strongly disagree with the idea of proportional response is a complete understatement.  Follow the logic.  If a person fights you with their fists, you don’t pull your knife or gun, but instead you just give them a fair fight.  This gives the person the idea they might win, when in reality you have two more levels of defense.  Another theory is that you only pull the knife, again bad idea.  Using maximum threat and force is safer for you and the aggressor.  Stop threat escalation if at all possible.  Reducing the combat situation protects everyone.  If you go to the highest point the aggressor is likely to retreat and you end up controlling the situation.  Overkill is good.  But overkill requires you to be trained and capable of using & controlling the weapon AND you must be able to manage the situation.

Armed (non-gun) defense

Other non-firearm options include: a knife, club, pepper spray, mace, paintball gun (with stink/skunk rounds), brass knuckles and numerous other options.  There are crossover items such as the stun gun which is incapacitating but also more risky than pepper spray.  Pepper spray is an inflammatory, mace is a irritant.  Pepper spray is the more effective of the two.  There are laws in many states regarding purchase/use of mace & pepper spray, it is not legal in many states.  RESEARCH BEFORE BUYING.  

For pepper spray consider the Sabre Red or Bear pepper spray, it is the right size, has good range and is effective and has good reviews, even by people who have had it used on them.


Weapons (having them accessible and ready to use is the key).  Owning a pistol, rifle, knife, shotgun or pepper spray and having it locked away in a safe, does you no good in an emergency situation. 

Comfort & Confidence

Choose a weapon you are comfortable with and a weapon you are truly willing to use.  Pulling a gun, knife or even pepper spray and being afraid to use the weapon in a confrontation is worse than not having it at all.  It makes you a target, and can result in that weapon be used AGAINST you.


You practice dancing, driving, sports, games, swimming or scuba diving.  If you have chosen to use a weapon and/or physical self defense; you need to practice. It is not an option.


Even a simple knife requires sharpening and cleaning.  A firearm such as a revolver, semi-auto pistol, rifle or shotgun will complicate maintenance – and may pose legal/operational challenges.  Remember you must maintain whatever you purchase. It even applies to martial arts, refresh, retrain, practice.

By in pairs or multiples

When considering weapons consider buying them in pairs.  Why get two of everything?  Because if the SHTF situation occurs you won’t easily be able to get parts.  Having two (or more) allows you arm yourself and someone else, and a team can defend better than an individual.  Two people practicing can encourage each other train, when alone either might skip the training/practice.   

Even without a SHTF type situation, things break, parts fail and things get lost.  If you find something you like, get two (or more).  Manufacturers stop building a model and having a few means you have parts.  Even if you have a problem with a particular weapon you would likely have the same problem with the various “duplicates”.  This makes maintenance, spare parts, and handling easier to deal with. 

Also if one is damaged, lost or must be abandoned, you have a backup that you are familiar with.  If you have close family or friends consider everyone purchasing the same items (if they are proficient with the weapon).  Groups can share maintenance parts, tools, ammunition and most of all expertise.  This is true of all devices, tools and weapons AND even martial arts.


Many people carry a pocket knife.  If you don’t have a pocket knife, get one.  If you have a pocket knife, consider upgrading it.  Find a knife you are comfortable carrying and using.  Practice with it, use it, and have at least one spare.  The knife can serve multiple purposes. 

For a first time buyer consider one that is lightweight, a small folding Spyderco or Buck are good starting points.  If you are willing to invest a bit more, consider a Benchmade, Kershaw or Ontario. Consider keeping one the same as your EDC permanently in your car kit, or at least an Buck emergency knife with a seat belt cutter and glass punch.

Guns, Rifles and Shotguns. 

Before you buy any firearm, get training.  Take classes, learn from someone who has experience.  Try out various weapons you would consider purchasing, fire the weapons as much as possible.  Define the purpose and use of the weapon, before you buy it, hunting defense or both.  Are guns legal where you are?  Are there rules in your city that might limit your choices?  Consider where you will store it, protect it and keep it out of the hands of children and others you would not want to handle it.  Where will you practice with it?  Consider if you can afford ammo and how you will acquire ammo, and consider the legal and personal moral feelings of taking action whether hunting or self defense.  Will you carry the weapon all the time? Remember if you don’t have it on you, you cannot it use for defense – whether that is around the house or full time conceal carry.

Consider ammunition

Sticking with specific type of ammo across your weapons allows you to stockpile.  Also if you are truly preparing for a highly unlikely SHTF situation or Zombie apocalypse, you might already be thinking about reloading your own ammo.  If you reload you probably want to select weapons based on the ammo you can reload.  Remember though, that the various ammo types were created for a reason. 

Limiting your ammo to two or three types of rounds makes stockpiling easier, and gives you more flexibility in ammo use.  The 45ACP has great stopping power but weighs 4.69lbs vs 100 rounds; for 9mm it weighs 2.63lbs.  In simpler terms the 9mm is a lighter round from a stopping power perspective than a 45ACP but its also weighs nearly 44% less, so you could physically carry more rounds.

Limiting your ammo, also limits the tools at your disposal.   You might need 380acp for conceal, 9mm for bulk carry and want 45 for open carry, plus shotgun, 223/5.56, 7.62×39, 308/7.62 or 30-06.  Match the tool (weapon) to YOUR need.

A couple years ago I came across a study by Greg Ellifritz on the web, it was eye opening.  In Ellifritz’s words “there really isn’t that much difference between most defensive handgun rounds and calibers. None is a death ray, but most work adequately…even the lowly .22s.

I’ve stopped worrying about trying to find the “ultimate” bullet. There isn’t one. And I’ve stopped feeling the need to strap on my .45 every time I leave the house out of fear that my 9mm doesn’t have enough “stopping power.” Folks, carry what you want. Caliber really isn’t all that important.”

Greg Ellifritz

Based on this, I recommend you get the highest caliber that you can shoot well and meets your needs.  That might mean you have 380acp for conceal carry pistols, 9mm or .40cal or 45acp for holster carry, and shotgun for bird hunting, and 223/556 for home defense and medium game.  You might have 308/30-06 for deer and large game at distance.  Know what you need to do and match the tools to the need.  An original copy of his posting

From my perspective, Greg Ellifritz study, means you will likely need 2 to 3 rounds in a stressful situation to stop the target (regardless of the ammo type).  The smaller and lighter 9mm round allows you to carry more rounds, in a smaller lighter space. So you can get more rounds off, and might be more accurate with the lighter round.

Personally the 45ACP was more appealing to me, as we were looking to it for stopping power, but the % fatal shots challenges my belief.   It is 29% fatal while the 22short/and LR is 34%.   This resulted in my change of opinion on weapons and caliber.

I switched to focusing almost exclusively on the most accurate largest round we could manage.  Instead I moved to 380acp/9mm for conceal and manageable recoil, and the AR/AK for adults that can manage the recoil.  

Rifles vs. Pistols

The rifle and shotgun are obviously heavier than pistols and more accurate over a greater distance.  Again you need to consider what your purpose for the weapon is.  In self defense situations rifles are 30% to 40% more effective in self defense (per Elifritz study). 

A pistol is less likely to stop an aggressor, or kill prey when hunting than a rifle.  The longer barrel results in higher velocity and better aim.  Better aim means better knockdown. 

Looking at head shots in Elifritz’s table; a rifle is roughly 10% to 40% better for accuracy on a head shot and measurably better for fatal shots (roughly double that of the pistol).  Overall the pistol is used for retreat or get to your long gun; alternately as a last resort. The pistol is not the 1st choice if a long barrel weapon is available.

Pistols – Semiautomatic vs. Revolver

The simplest most reliable weapon is the revolver.  In a risky situation, with one on one, it is most likely to fire and recover from a jam or misfire.  The semi-auto generally gives more rounds, is easier to conceal and allows for faster reload if you have extra magazines.  The semiautomatic pistol and rifle are widely available as is the revolver and single shot rifle. 

In SHTF the revolver tends to be the best as there aren’t many moving parts to fail.


Purchase a gun that you can fire accurately. Purchase what meets YOUR needs (not mine or someone else’s).   Accuracy is more important than caliber, and practice makes perfect.  A good small gun in your pocket is much better than a great or perfect gun in your safe.  A low caliber that can hit the target is far more valuable than stray shots from a larger pistol.

Good luck and keep your powder dry.

WeAreTheBackupPlan and James Franklin provides this information as reference only.  James challenges you to do your own research, educate yourself and confirm anything you have questions on.  Educating yourself is KEY!


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