The Great Marginal Utility of the First Gun.

A personal weapon is always a gift of trust

To a person who has no food, even a modest meal is a life-saver. To another, well fed and sated, additional food is of little marginal utility. A pair of pants is a boon to the naked, while a whole closet full of outfits is of minor importance to the clothed. It’s the same with defensive weapons: the first weapon is of utmost importance, the rest merely refine the solution. By weapon, I mean both the object and the mindset required for its use. A knife, a stick, or a rock are all weapons in trained and willing hands, while a rifle unsupported by the will to use it is merely a firearm.

An armed person won't be an easy victim
An armed person won’t be an easy victim
A personal weapon is always a gift of trust
A personal weapon is always a gift of trust

Consider this Winchester model 60 bolt action rifle dating back to the early 1930s. It’s almost identical in mechanism and performance to the modern kids’ rifles, the Crickett and the Mini Bolt. It lacks the punch and the rate of fire of dedicated defensive rifles, but it still allows the owner to pose a credible threat to a foe out past a hundred yards. Its performance is mostly independent of the strength of the shooter, and its ability to keep a menacing animal or human at a stand-off range makes it a viable defensive tool though better weapons obviously exist. A thug willing to stand twenty yards away from a victim armed with a knife would unlikely be willing to do the same in the case of a rifle…even a whimpy, slow single-shot .22 bolt action. The same would apply even to the black powder muzzle loading arms — they were a formidable tool when new and have not become less potent since. Even BB guns have been known to suffice for defense when used competently as weapons. Almost any ranged weapon is a greater upgrade from an empty hand than the further degree of improvement from that stop-gap to a proper battle rifle.

The service such weapons perform goes beyond emergency defensive uses. Possessed of a weapon as a specific category of tools, a wise owner will think to the possible uses and what-if-then scenarios. Upgrades of training, of firearm and possibly of the general circumstances become more likely. That is why gifts of weapons — with an explanation of the purpose and function — are so good for making the recipients more independent. A gift of a weapon implies many things, among them the trust for the recipient’s judgment, and a confirmation of the peaceable intentions of the giver. No one gives arms and training to a person selected for later victimization, so a gift of a weapon is a definite peace offering. So give peace a chance — gift a weapon to someone you love.

About the Author:

Oleg Volk

Oleg Volk is a creative director working mainly in firearms advertising. A great fan of America and the right to bear arms, he uses his photography to support the right of every individual to self-determination and independence. To that end, he is also a big fan of firearms.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (6)

  1. I used the single-shot, manually cocked .22 as the bottom of the barrel example…it’s very much sub-optimal but even so a tremendous advance over not having a ranged weapon at all.

  2. But if “self-defense” is one of the roles this gun is expected to fill, a single-shot .22 is not the best choice UNLESS it’s the only gun she can get, or the only gun she loves to shoot after trying several. But a magazine-fed repeating rifle would be so much better, even if it only held 5 or 7 rounds. And a pump action or lever action .22 should be both more fun to shoot for sport and more effective as a weapon, since follow-up shots are so quick.

    I have a stainless-steel Marlin Model 882 (.22 magnum, bolt action, 7-round detachable box mag, black plastic stock) that is almost an “ideal” multi-purpose beginner’s rifle. The 7 round capacity and extra power of .22 magnum rounds (1900 f.p.s. compared to 1200) makes it better for predator control and survival hunting, but it’s still fairly quiet and without recoil. It’s inexpensive, and light weight. Simple to operate. If the barrel were 16″ or 18″ instead of 22″, it would be handier to carry around or wield indoors, but nothing’s perfect.

  3. I gave my girlfriend my S&W model 38 Bodyguard in .38 special caliber as a replacement for a cheap .25 ACP Saturday Night Special (an unreliable one, per our testing) that she had for years. It wasn’t her first gun, but the one I gave her was quite an upgrade in firepower. Later she bought a 13-round 9mm too, for when she wanted more than just the 5 shots that J-frame Smith held.

    But back to the spirit of this article, I agree that the first step is getting qualified and responsible people who don’t own any guns to GET ONE, even GIVING them one. If I were stocking up for doomsday or great civil unrest, I’d buy a case of Mosin-Nagant rifles for $89 each just to give away or loan to unarmed friends who might find themselves desperate and vulnerable when the poop hits the fan.

  4. John,

    Marginal is not minimal. Marginal as in “Marginal Returns”: the amount of benefit received from a one unit increase in an inpute variable with all other inouts held constant.

    In this case, the marginal return of that first gun has more benefit to the new user than any other subsequent: it opens the door to ownership and allows massive increases to some semblance of defense, food procurement, etc.

  5. I’m not sure about “marginal” utility. My first gun was a an old Winchester bolt-action .22. I had to cock it by pulling back on the cocking knob at the rear of the bolt, I remember having a tough time with it as a kid! At any rate, I wouldn’t call it marginal. Despite being a very old and inexpensive gun, I killed squirrel, rabbits, turtles, snakes, and even a perched hawk with it. I fired .22 shorts, longs, and shotshells out of it. And as you say, in a pinch, it would suit as a defensive weapon. Pretty good utility, I’d say.

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