Safety and Training

5 Self-defense Gun Myths

Gun and bullets meme

There are many self-defense myths that continue to make the rounds. I am going to pick five of them and explain why they are not true and why you should politely ignore or walk away from any trainer mouthing them.

Man drawing a pistol from under a suit jacket for self-defense
Myth: You should carry a self-defense pistol without a cartridge in the chamber.

#1 – You should carry a self-defense pistol without a cartridge in the chamber.

This is touted as being a much safer way to carry, as there is zero chance of a negligent discharge. As far as that goes, it is completely true. However, the most likely place for a manual of arms error is a high-stress, quick slide-rack attempt. By carrying an unchambered gun, you have effectively disarmed yourself—unless everything goes right.

This additional step slows down and complicates bringing the gun into action. When fractions of a second may count, at least one second has been added to the process, and a fine motor skill has also been introduced. Not to mention you are assuming unfettered use of both hands. Quite often one hand is required to provide standoff distance for the draw. In my estimation, empty chamber carry is not a recipe for success.


Sale ends July 28, 2019


Sale ends July 28, 2019


Empty gun carry is a great idea—as long as you don’t leave the house. By limiting yourself to the living room, you can practice carrying and drawing your gun without the risk of an accident.  Going out in the wild unchambered is only slightly better than going unarmed. You create the perception of safety, but the reality is likely quite different.

#2 – No self-defense caliber can start with a number lower than 4.

SIG Sauer P238 pistol with Crimson Trace laser
Myth: No self-defense caliber can start with a number lower than 4.

In no way am I knocking .45 ACP, .44 Magnum, .41 Special, .40 S&W, or their brethren. In theory, each of these rounds has a great place in the self-defense arsenal. On the other end, the .22LR and .22 Magnum are far from the most optimal choices, but they are far better than a harsh comment.

Different people have different abilities to handle recoil. This may be due to arthritis or any other malady. It may simply be that the shooter’s hand can’t properly manage the grip of a gun chambered in .4x uberthumper. The best gun for self-defense is the one you can control in the largest caliber you can make quick follow-up shots with.

For any who tell you that .22LR, .22 Magnum, .32 ACP, or .380 ACP are worthless as self-defense rounds, ask them to prove it by letting you shoot them as they charge. I think you will find few takers.

If they tell you .25 ACP is worthless for defense, they are probably right.

The sweet spot for doing damage is certainly .380 ACP and up. The sweet spot for minimizing recoil is usually 9mm down. As you may surmise, a significant portion of people end up with a 9mm or .380 ACP as their primary carry gun. Your mileage may vary.

#3 – Just carry a revolver. They never malfunction.

.22 caliber revolver in a ladies leg holster
Just carry a revolver. They never malfunction.

It is true that a revolver is not sensitive to primer failure, as pulling the trigger on a dud round will rotate a new round into position. This means a second trigger pull will drop the hammer on a different round. The odds of having back-to-back factory rounds fail is pretty close to the odds of winning the Lotto grand prize.

For many who refuse to train, this is a comfort. However, revolvers are machines and have all kinds of issues that may render them useless in a self-defense situation. Depending on how tight the tolerances are on the cylinder, an improperly seated primer could stick up enough to lock the cylinder.

A cylinder can get out of timing and not line up the cartridge and the barrel properly.  Grit and varnish can gum up the action and create a light hammer fall. The list goes on.

Like with a semiauto, most of these issues can be prevented with proper gun maintenance. However, those most likely to be told, “Buy a revolver. They never fail,” are the ones least likely to know how to prevent those failures or fix them.

#4 – On a home defense shotgun, just rack the action. Bad guys will run away.

Woman wearing a dress aiming a shotgun
On a home defense shotgun, just rack the action. Bad guys will run away.

Much like #1, why do you not have a round chambered? The most likely place to have a malfunction is in the reload phase. If your shotgun is already chambered, barring ammo malfunction you will get at least one shot.

I guarantee the discharge of a 12 or 20 gauge will have a greater fear-inducing impulse than merely chambering a shell. Not to mention, the gun is not meant to scare them. It is meant to stop them. If you have the scare mentality, you are very likely to be disarmed and have the gun turned on you. Someone in your house without permission is a very dangerous person, so act accordingly.

#5 – Use a shotgun. You don’t even have to aim it.

This is my favorite. Anyone who has ever shot skeet or trap knows quite well how ludicrous this concept is.

Depending on the load you are shooting, the shot may not even begin to spread at home defense distances. Almost every 12-gauge buckshot round has a wad. This is a short plastic cup that holds the pellets together when the cartridge is fired. Depending on design, the wad falls away at a certain distance. Prior to that occurring, there is very little spread of the pellet pattern.

Gun and bullets meme
Truth: A small gun in your hand will always prove better in a self-defense situation than the one you left at home in the safe.

In a very shallow cup designed to open and drop away early, this expansion begins at 1 to 3 yards. Other rounds are built with taller, sturdier cups, and the wad may stay with the shot for well beyond 30 yards. Think long-range turkey rounds. Once the wad falls away, a rule of thumb for expansion is a half-inch per yard of travel.

This means at 10 yards, the most expansive patterns will cover roughly 4 to 7 inches.  This creates a very powerful hit, assuming you do. But most of us do not have 10-yard/30-foot distances within our houses.

At the more realistic distance of 5 yards (or less), that same shot shell will likely see 2 to 4 inches of spread. If you do not have a wide-spreading wad, the shot column is likely to be just over bore diameter (.729 inch). I am going to suggest that in either case there is a definite need for aiming.

I am also going to suggest patterning your shotgun with a variety of loads. Shoot a paper target at ranges of 2, 4, 7, 10, and 15 yards to see how each load patterns. While you are at it, shoot a pumpkin with 7.5 birdshot to see why that is not the best choice for home defense.

If you think it does a good job on a fresh pumpkin (or cantaloupe) try again with a pork butt. Spoiler alert: You will see massive superficial damage but very little deep penetration. Penetration is the key to stopping aggression in something more animated than a piece of fruit.

Which gun myth do you most often hear that needs to be dispelled? Share it in the comment section.

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Comments (35)

  1. #1 – The 1911 was originally designed for cocked and locked carry. Just because it looks like a 1911 does not mean it works the same way (how many times have we told the opposition this about the AR-15?).

    The USAF in the 1960s issued a revolver whereas the other services issued 1911s. Then they mandated that only 5 rounds be loaded and the cylinder aligned so that an accidental trigger pull would land on an empty chamber. So many accidents resulted from people not thinking about which way the cylinder rotated.

    #2 – The vast majority of confrontations are up close and personal. Law enforcement data lists between 3 and 15 feet. That close, my .380 will meet the challenge. A lot of people kill themselves when they are shot because they believe they are going to die. In the academy they stress ‘keep fighting to live’. One you accept you are going to die you probably will.

    #3 – Revolvers do have lower malfunction rates so long as the user maintains it in tip top condition, and good ammo (often recommended by the weapon manufacturer) is used. This is because there are fewer steps and parts involved. Using a semi-auto will seldom fail as long as the same procedures as for a revolver are followed. The military and police have been using them for decades; the latter since we moved away from the .38SPL/.357 of the 1970s; with very low malfunction rates. In the advanced officer course at the academy, we trained with Marines and LEOs armed with semi-autos. We, with our revolvers, out shot both due to malfunctions which may or may not have been due to lack of proper maintenance.

    #4 – Racking a shotgun WILL have an impact upon an opponent, contrary to some views. I’ve seen combative drunks suddenly go quiet at the sound. Why? Because the sound has become quite familiar thanks to movies and tv, and nobody wants to be hit be a 12 gauge round. With 00 Buck you’re talking about being hit by up to nine (9) .38 rounds. Common view is that few survive being shot.

    Now, I do not recommend having an unloaded shotgun to start with, as Uncle Joe Shotgun taught his wife, but police officers have been known to use the barrels as ashtrays and places to stuff candy wrappers. Fortunately, training with shotguns improved greatly following the The Newhall incident, also called the Newhall massacre, a shootout on April 5–6, 1970, in the Newhall unincorporated area of Los Angeles County, California, between two heavily armed criminals and four officers of the California Highway Patrol. The officers were unfamiliar with the 12 Gauge and ended up being executed by the perps.

    #5 – Too many people, if handed a shotgun, would have the same view… until the shoot one and look at the pattern on the target. This is especially true if they have a good instructor who has them discover the pattern they get at different distances. In the advanced academy we didn’t shoot “targets” except one steel target placed at distance on the hill side. We went to the range and shot skeet. We learned detection, tracking and shooting.

    I kinda like the 1.5 inch shells for home defense. A lot of people think you only have 4 to 6 rounds available. You can double that with the shorty rounds and give the bad guys a heck of a surprise.

  2. If you do shoot an attacker , your next fight is trying to convince your County Prosecutor you did not break any laws or you will be sent to court and tried for a variety of criminal offenses. If you every plan to use any type of force , from knuckles to firearms, you better have a legal defense fund already set up for your defense from government as they only care about what laws were broken. The best protection I have found is the Armed Citizens Defense League , just see their website. Legal experts say that do everything possible to repel the attacker before pulling the trigger ; once you shoot anyone you are now going thru a living hell with the law enforcement and then the prosecutor. Both your attacker and yourself can end up in prison. You are a free person until you tangle with government , then you will see just how much power they have over anyone. There are thousands of gun owners who have gone bankrupt after a shooting , which had to be proven to be legal at the shooter’s expense.

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