Emergency home defense…and the importance of a flashlight

To begin with, unless you live in a grass hut or other dwelling that doesn’t have doors, then don’t even consider shoulder-mounted weapons. We’re not talking about movies here with SWAT guys bashing down doors and blowing away bad guys with M4 Carbines and shotguns. We’re talking about your house. And if it has doorknobs, and I really hope it does, you are going to want to use them (unless you really like replacing doors all the time). Now, to convince yourself, go try and open up a door while maintaining secure, safe control of a shoulder-fired weapon. It’s hard enough to go over fences with shoulder-fired weapons, or up a ladder, the kind of stuff you might need to do on a farm, but the doorknob, especially the ubiquitous round one, can be more challenging than both. There are so many things you want to have the use of at least one hand in these situations.

The advantage of concealment is a considerable one, too. Often, you want to be prepared for a threat, but you don’t want to be threatening. Most of the time a trespasser is just that—a trespasser—and they mean no harm. There is no right in law to harm a trespasser. Many people have appeared in my driveway (even at midnight) that were simply lost (GPS signals seem to drop off at my place). Some worked for utilities. Some have been government surveyors. I approached them armed with a holstered and concealed handgun, but they didn’t know it, and still don’t. They would have known, and possibly would have reacted dangerously, had I been carrying a shoulder-fired weapon. This, of course, is all the MORE true if the person presenting is a police officer. Under no circumstances do you want to present visibly armed to any police officer, even on your own property. In fact, in the instance when I called for police and dogs, because I had a recalcitrant intruder in my barn, I told the dispatcher that I was armed so she could forewarn the police. In this case, it was holstered handgun, and the rural County Sheriff’s Deputy and Indiana Trooper (who had the dog) didn’t bat an eye (don’t assume this if you live in a city or suburb).

An intruder (entering the dwelling) is a different story. Intruders are assumed by most “castle doctrine” laws to be a threat. Crossing the threshold is a serious matter, and the point where a police officer would require a warrant, too. Once the person has entered the domicile, having the weapon visible is reasonable, because you can consider the person a threat and respond with deadly force. Still, try whatever means possible (like yelling at them) to get them to flee. At indoor distances the effective range advantage of a shoulder-fired weapon is largely obviated. The ONLY advantage of a shoulder-fired weapon indoors is its considerable power. Even a 20-gauge shotgun or .223 rifle is more powerful than any normal handgun.

Finally, it is difficult to hold a shoulder fired weapon and a light at the same time. It is really necessary to mount the light on the weapon itself, which requires some means of turning the light on and off and also restricts where the light can be pointed (you will always be pointing the muzzle and the light on the same thing, which is not always desirable and can be dangerous).

Now that the matter of shoulder-fired weapons has been dispensed with, I would suggest that one have a dedicated house handgun for the home and not simply use the concealed carry piece, thought this is a workable choice, which will have to be decided by the practitioner. To my thinking it comes down to how much time is spent at home. I spend much more time at home than away, so I am biased towards having a weapon suited to home use. Also, I have had far more need of a weapon at home than out. If I spent most of my time out, or lived itinerantly, then I would be biased towards having a weapon suited to carry use, especially if this is where I anticipated most need of a weapon.

I would also give the revolver strong consideration. I like to keep a powerful, large revolver loaded and locked in a keyed steel box, hidden, around my house. I bring it bedside at bedtime or wherever I will be for a while. My wife and I keep around our necks a leather shoelace with the key, even in bed. I prefer a revolver for this situation for a few reasons. One is that large revolvers, chambered in .357, .41, or .44 magnum, are simply more powerful than the lighter everyday carry automatic pistols popular today. Even 45 ACP, the most powerful cartridge practical for everyday carry in my opinion, has considerably less power than a full-powered .357 magnum. Another reason is large revolvers have fixed barrels connected directly to (usually) very good adjustable sights, and so have more inherent accuracy and can be used at greater ranges. It is far more likely you will use your weapon on a dangerous dog, or a coyote, or even a skunk or raccoon assailing your pets or livestock, than you will use it on a human. This extra margin of power (especially on dogs) and range and accuracy can be decisive. I shot a skunk once fleeing the scene with my revolver that I feel like I wouldn’t have managed with my 9×19 carry pistol (Kahr K9). The fact that double-action/single-action (the obvious choice) revolvers have a single-action mode that allows for very careful aimed fire is another advantage. Of course, many auto-pistols have this too, but they usually lack the inherent accuracy to take advantage of this. Another potential advantage to the revolver is that it doesn’t have a compressed magazine spring that weakens with time. I believe this may be a concern with old or low quality magazines, but I doubt it matters much today. A more ancillary benefit is that revolvers can be loaded with birdshot and make effective rat/snake killing pieces. I have loaded my .357 mag revolver, a S&W Model 28, with the first chamber (to fire) loaded with 38 Special snake-shot and the other five chambers with 158 grain Hornady XTP full-house handloads that I wouldn’t hesitate to use for deer hunting. If I didn’t want to take that first shot, it isn’t hard to thumb the hammer down and advance past that chamber. This is simply not possible with an auto-loader. I think that the Taurus and S&W revolvers chambered in .410 Shotshells are interesting for this reason, though I’ve never fired one.

It is important to learn to use the handgun you’ve selected with a powerful flashlight. More than half the time I have felt the need to respond to a situation on my homestead/farm with a weapon, it has been at night. I don’t have or like lighting all over my property or in my outbuildings. It is necessary to have vehicle lights or a flashlight on most of my farm at night if the moon isn’t all crazy like it’s been lately.

It took me some time to find the right flashlight for the job. My carry flashlight, the Coast HP-1 (1xAA), wasn’t cutting it. Then I discovered the Maglite ML50L (2xC).

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I like the Maglite for the home job for a few reasons besides its very impressive brightness of 490 lumens, which combined with its reflector projects useable light from one end of my property to the other (900 feet). I have found that the D-cell sized Maglites are too large. The diameter of the barrel doesn’t allow me to completely wrap my hand around it. I cannot easily open doorknobs or climb ladders while holding it. It is also too long and heavy when one is holding a handgun with it. The C-cell Maglite is pretty handy by comparison, yet maintains comparable power and economy compared to the D-cell. And like the D-cell sized ones, it features the switch on the body of the light and not on the tail cap or activated by twisting the lens (a very stupid way to turn on a flashlight, requiring two hands). Tail-cap switches are great for small pocket-sized lights, but don’t work well on medium sized or larger lights, and I really like being able to maintain a grip with all my fingers and thumb constantly.

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Notice how I am holding both the revolver and the flashlight. One could, of course, mount a flashlight to a handgun. But I have found sometimes you want to point them in different directions, and for a number of reasons.

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And weapon mounted lights that withstand recoil are much more expensive than ordinary handheld flashlights, and are awkward to turn on and off. Despite the somewhat ungainly appearance of this hold, it braces recoil reasonably well, and I am nearly as accurate this way. Because of the position of the switch, I can operate the light easily with my pinky finger. I could tap out Morse code with it if I wanted to. I can also open a doorknob this way without separating my hands, and I can climb a ladder with them separated. The light could also be used to strike things. Sometimes you don’t want to bash a layer of ice in a stock tank with the butt of your revolver or your knuckles, and the tailcap of the light works for this. And if I want to, I can stuff it all in my pants. Try that with your 12 gauge or AR-15! At just $34 the ML50L is very reasonable, and I would recommend it for just about any purpose except pocket carry. It is too large for that.

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