Firearms And Your Disaster Planning – Part Two: Handguns


In part one the topic was about including rifles in your disaster planning. Part two is going to be about handguns. Unfortunately I have had limited experience with revolvers in regards to personal defense and advanced training, so this blog will focus on semi-automatic handguns, primarily on the three most widely used calibers; 9mm, .40S&W, and the .45ACP.  The detail offered here is purely meant to be at a basic introduction level; cartridge pressures, muzzle energies, bullet drop rate, penetration statistics, etc… will be left for future blogs and conversation.

Lets face it, the whole point to having guns in your survival planning is in case things get really bad and there is a total collapse of society. Guns will allow you to hunt for food and just as importantly they will help you to defend yourself and loved ones in a world without law and order. Again, that is a worse case scenario, but something all preppers should think about. Guns are tools and just as important as your survival knife, supply of survival food, and your other survival gear items.

Handgun are not nearly as affective to hunt with as rifles or shotguns. They are also not nearly as affective in situations of self defense against another person. The fact of the matter is that rifles and shotguns are better suited for both of the above situations. The reason we use handguns to hunt and for personal defense is because they are small and easy to carry with us for very long periods of time. They are convenient.

For many long years now the discussion about ‘knock-down’ power of the 9mm, .40S&W, and .45ACP has been a point of argument of handgun enthusiasts everywhere. People like to cite the failure of the 9mm round in the infamous FBI Miami shootout in the 1980s, while others cite the stopping power of a heavy 230grain .45ACP bullet. The truth is this: you want to be able to open up as wide of a blood channel as possible, and typically the heavier and wider the bullet the better of you will be to do just that. That comment defaults automatically to the .45ACP as being the better round of the three. Most people would tend to agree with that. However there are various degrees of compromise when selecting a handgun caliber for personal defense reasons. Some people want to carry more rounds of ammunition than what a .45ACP chambered pistol usually allows, and some people want a handgun with less recoil than the .45ACP, and there are others who like to compromise between 9mm carry capacity and the effectiveness of the .45ACP and go with a .40S&W. Some people want to carry a smaller sized gun which is better suited to the 9mm. Then there are others that like to use whatever their local police departments use.

Really, there are many reasons why people like to carry one caliber over another. The best thing you can do for yourself is forget about which round is supposed to be better and buy what you are comfortable with. I’ve taken many defensive handgun courses over the years and most defensive handgun instructors will tell you to by the gun with the largest caliber you can control and learn to use it affectively. Affectively means learning to make well placed shots in locations that will do the most towards stopping a bad guy, and it also usually means making such a shot at least twice in a row as fast as you can as accurately as you can (double-tap).

Today’s modern ammunition manufacturers have come a long way in provided hollow-point handgun loads that are highly affective in all calibers. Personally I own a 1911 model pistol in .45ACP and an XDm 9mm, and am comfortable with using either as a concealed carry weapon or home defense pistol. When selecting ammunition for the .45ACP I look for the standard 230 grain hollow-point loads. For the 9mm I will only purchase 147 grain+P hollow-point loads. Grain is the weight of the bullet in the round. Heavier bullets tend to have better penetration and better mushrooming affects in hollow-point ammunition. The larger the mushroom affect of a hollow point, the wider the blood channel. There are so many other statistical bits of information that we could get into here on handgun cartridge loads, but we’ll save that for other blogs. For now we are going to keep things simple.

9mm (9x19mm Parabellum)

Developed in 1902, the 9mm round is by the far the world’s most widely used handgun cartridge. It is both popular with police and military units, and is the United States military standard issue cartridge for the M9 service pistol (since 1985). Slightly more than sixty percent of the police units in the United States carry weapons chambered for the 9mm. It has a lower purchase cost than the .40S&W and the .45ACP, which also makes it popular with civilians. Another point that makes this round popular is that most guns chambered for this round can carry large capacity magazines and still maintain a compact size.

.40S&W (10x22mm Smith & Wesson)

The .40S&W was designed for use as a law enforcement round by a joint effort between Winchester and Smith & Wesson firearm manufactures, and was intended to duplicate the performance of the 10mm cartridge but with reduced velocity and recoil. Creation of this round was a direct result of the 1986 FBI Miami Shootout.

Since the .40S&W cartridge debuted in 1988, it has seen successful integration with law enforcement agencies in the United States, Australia, and Canada. It has an energy advantage over the 9mm, near identical accuracy to the 9mm, and more manageable recoil than the 10mm auto cartridge it was derived from. Typical guns chambered for the .40S&W have magazine capacities that are less than the 9mm and more than the .45ACP.

.45 ACP (11.43x23mm – Automatic Colt Pistol)

Not to be confused with the .45 colt, the .45ACP was designed by John Browning in 1904 for use in his prototype Colt semi-automatic pistol, which was adopted by the United States Army in 1911, and issued with the M1911 pistol. The .45ACP had been used by the United States Military up until 1985 when it was replaced by the 9mm cartridge for its light weight and higher magazine capacities. Some special force branches of our military still use the .45ACP as their sidearm cartridge of choice.

In the late 1890’s the U.S. Cavalry switched from the .45 long colt to the .38 long colt. Then, during the Philippine-American War, the standard issue .38 long colt proved to be less effective when used against the enemy; enemies that were shot once or twice kept on fighting. The experience from that war led the Army to decide that a minimum caliber for their handguns had to be .45 caliber. Through testing and many trial and error accounts, the .45ACP came into being.

Testing had shown that the .45ACP was an effective combat cartridge that combined accuracy and stopping power for the use against human targets. Because of its large diameter combined with muzzle energy and bullet weight, the cartridge gained a reputation for effectiveness in creating substantial wound channels, which of course lowers blood pressure more rapidly (bleed out faster). The recoil of the cartridge is more than the 9mm and less than the .40S&W, has a low muzzle blast, and also holds less ammunition in magazine capacities for handguns chambered in .45ACP.

Wrapping Up…

Keep in mind that handguns are considered a close range weapon. Most tactical handgun instructors will teach you that their effective ranges are 25 yards and less. I have seen people shoot them accurately without a rest device as far as 50 and 70 yards, but that is not the norm.

For any firearm that you own, if you have not already done so, go and get instruction on their operations and safe use. I cannot stress that enough. A firearm is like any other tool you include in your survival gear in that you need to know how to use it. Practice with it to become affective with it in a self defense situation. Become comfortable with it. Make sure you know how to store it and handle it in a safe manner. I usually do not go far out my way to make recommendations as I try to suggest people research and find their own best fits for anything and everything. However, I do highly suggest people look at FRONT SIGHT gun training for your intermediate and advanced gun training needs. They tend to cost more than most other training facilities, but they are worth it, and you will walk away better skilled and prepared. Sign up for Front Sight’s emails and newsletters and you will see some amazing offers come from them. Find somebody local in your area for beginner level instructions.

Do not let anybody pressure you into one manufacturer over the other, or one caliber over another – There are many fantastic handgun manufacturers out there today, and the ammunition manufactures make excellent self-defense rounds in all calibers. I would feel comfortable with any 9mm, .40S&W or .45ACP weapon as long as I could choose which ammunition I could load in it. Always get what is the best fit for you and you will be happier in the long run. Do the research and shop around.

Hopefully once this blog gets a little further off the ground, we’ll get some people to post some introduction comments on revolvers. While I have owned a few larger caliber revolvers that were used for backup weapons when hunting bear, I do not feel experienced enough to provide good information on them.

Part three will be on shotguns