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Leon's Blog

Before you buy a gun | Here are some things to think about

Before you buy a gun | Here are some things to think about

Few actions require more fore-thought than purchasing a firearm. But more important than the style, caliber, action and size is the reason for buying  one in the first place. Why do you want a firearm? Do you really need it?  Would you be better off without a gun? You might be surprised.

by Leon Pantenburg

For me, owning firearms was never a consideration. I come from a long line of hunters and shooters, and some of our firearms have been passed down for generations. I grew up on an Iowa farm, and all my peers hunted. Some of my first memories include my dad teaching me gun safety and how to shoot. The first item I saved up to buy was a Ruger 10/22 rifle.

These three long guns are good, reliable choices for the beginner with no experience.

The Ruger 10/22 (top), Remington 870 pump action shotgun and Remington 700 bolt action rifle are good choices for the beginner. (Leon Pantenburg photo)

In my Dad’s locked gun cabinet were firearms of many configurations, ranging from pistols to shotguns. Dad, a World War II infantryman, had an M1 Carbine, and a couple loaded magazines. That was the weapon he reached for when things went bump in the night on the farm. I never occurred to me to use that M1 “assault rifle” with the extended magazines (sometimes referred to as clips) to do harm to anyone.

But suppose you have no firearms background whatsoever, and are considering buying one. Let’s say you are concerned about self defense, and want to be able to protect yourself and your family during a potential disaster or emergency. As a side benefit, you may want to eventually get into hunting, or think it might be a good idea to learn how to shoot accurately.

Buying a firearm is not something to take lightly. Here are some of my opinions, based on experience, that will hopefully impact your decision process.

  • I support the National Rifle Association and believe in the Second Amendment right to bear arms. But I don’t think everyone should own a firearm! Anyone unwilling to invest the necessary time to become proficient with a firearm, could become a danger to himself or others. If you are mentally unstable, a convicted felon or otherwise impaired from the responsible use of a firearm, you should not have one.
  • Before you buy any firearm, take a gun and/or hunter safety course or a concealed weapons class, even if you don’t intend to carry concealed. There are many educational opportunities available, and contacting the sheriff or local Fish and Game Department is a good way to locate a class. Have a safe, secure place to store the firearm and ammunition before you go shopping.
  • Why are you buying a gun? Self defense? Hunting? Recreation? Target shooting? Learn the differences between firearms – a .38 caliber snubbie for self defense will not work very well for deer hunting. And that scoped, bolt action hunting rifle might not be the best choice to repel intruders inside your apartment.

Here are some things to think about as part of the gun-buying decision process:

Where will you secure the gun? Owning a gun that can’t be stored safely is irresponsible, and in my mind, is a good reason NOT to have one.

A firearm is neither good nor evil. It is an unthinking machine until someone picks it up and decides how it will be used. Possessing a gun won’t keep you safe. Like anything, you must develop the skills to use the weapon.

A semi-automatic weapon, with  high capacity magazine, does not make the best self defense weapon. Large capacity magazines encourage a lot of “spray-and-pray” IMHO, and the only shots that count are the ones that hit the intended target.

A few years ago, I interviewed U. S. Marine Kyle Thompson of La Pine, OR. Thompson had just come back from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he had served on Recon teams. The Marines, all of whom were sniper school graduates, were frequently dropped in Taliban territory to track down terrorist bands and help defend isolated villages.

With any weapon at their disposal, Thompson said the Marines frequently relied on the bolt action, .308-caliber M-24 scoped sniper rifle. The Taliban were armed with

My Remington 700 in 7 mm magnum caliber is my choice as an elk hunting rifle, but it is not the best choice for an overall self defense weapon.

My bolt action Remington 700 in 7 mm magnum caliber is my favorite elk hunting rifle. It is not the best choice for an overall self defense weapon.

fully-automatic AK-47s. A common ambush situation, Thompson said, was that a Taliban terrorist would open up on a patrol and empty a 30-round magazine in a continuous burst. The Marines could stay out of AK range and respond with a M-24. Results were predictable.

Probably the most important self-defense question is this: Are you willing to kill someone to keep yourself or loved ones safe? This question needs to be answered honestly before you go any further on the self-defense firearms purchasing path.

In his book On Killing Lt. Col. Dave Grossman argues that many people could not kill someone, even when threatened with lethal force. Killing from a distance, Grossman writes, such as artillery or  bombing, can be relatively easy. But a close encounter, where you can see the other person and witness the affects of pulling the trigger, he comments, can be extremely difficult for most people.

Brigadier General S.L.A Marshall discovered this in surveys of combat military personnel.

“In World War II, only 15 to 20 percent  of combat infantry were willing to fire their rifles. In Korea, about 50 percent,” Marshall writes. “In Vietnam, that figure rose to more than 90 percent.”

If trained military people have problems pulling a trigger during combat, what will your chances be?  Your unwillingness or inability to use your gun under dire circumstances could cause you to be disarmed. Then you have armed a perpetrator.

If your mind in not made up on these points, don’t buy a gun. It will do you no good, and may cause harm.

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View Comments (8)

8 Comments

  1. Rachel

    06/30/2016 at 08:14

    Like you said, these are all important things to consider before buying a gun. I think the safety classes are a must, especially so you can keep yourself and your family safe. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Leon

    01/06/2016 at 19:47

    Nobody said anything about a two-shot derringer versus a Glock 19. I would not advise a newcomer/beginner – who is the target audience for this article – to buy a semi-auto with high capacity magazine as their first choice for the best defense weapon.

  3. MrApple

    01/06/2016 at 17:03

    “A semi-automatic weapon, with high capacity magazine, does not make the best self defense weapon. Large capacity magazines encourage a lot of “spray-and-pray” IMHO, and the only shots that count are the ones that hit the intended target.”
    >Bullshit. So I’m better off with a 2-shot derringer instead of my Glock 19? Again, BULLSHIT.

  4. Cabinfever

    01/06/2016 at 11:31

    Leon is right on the money here. Personally, the Ruger 10/22 is one of the most verstile and dependable rifles ever made. I own several of them. It is a great training rifle for teaching the new shooter, it’s very dependable and well constructed. Most important, try before you buy.

  5. Taxdn2poverty

    01/06/2016 at 11:27

    Every law abiding citizen needs guns. It is not a matter of why they need guns: They need them. The only decision making process is to determine type and caliber. An armed law abiding citizen keeps the others law abiding. ’nuff said, thanks for the article.

  6. David

    01/06/2016 at 07:07

    Great post, and very good advice.

  7. Pete M

    01/05/2016 at 14:08

    Good stuff Leon! I would add that if someone is new to guns and shooting consult an expert before buying anything. A personal protection pistol course or a long gun course will help a potential gun owner figure out what they need or don’t need. Some offer weapons to rent or use for this purpose.
    By the way, not all Recon guys were trained snipers when I was in but, the M-24 is an easy weapon for any Marine to use. And it does weigh a ton like some of the “fancy” stuff out there. It’s just a good, bare bones, 7.62. Sometimes the simplest solution is also the most effective.

  8. Bill

    01/05/2016 at 11:40

    I would agree with you on the first opinion. I think that knowledge of how and when firearms can and should be used is extremely important to firearms owners. But then, who determines whether a person is qualified to own a firearm? Criminal record is just about the only thing that we have to go on. It’s like the idea that people who are on the no fly list shouldn’t be allowed to own guns. On the surface, it seems like a good idea, but who determines who gets put on the no fly list and how do you get off the no fly list? If a five year old Canadian can get put on their no fly list, how do you or I know that we won’t get put on the no fly list by some bureaucrat?

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Leon's Blog

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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