Is It Really Necessary to Trick Out Your Gun?

This is a guest post by Andrew Betts

Why trick out a gun?trick out your gun

There is a tendency for folks to hang all manner of accessories on a gun until it looks like it fell through a Tapco catalog. Is all that really necessary? Is it even useful? What characteristics should a home defense gun have? What is absolutely mandatory, what is desirable, and what is counterproductive?

There is much debate over what is the “best” gun for home defense, but the best gun for you is the one with which you are most proficient. If the gun with which you are most proficient is a single shot .410 bore shotgun, you might wish to consider getting some training on a more effective tool. This article doesn’t presume to tell you what that tool should be, but it will give you a good idea of what is really important in a home defense gun.

So you have chosen the tool you intend to use for the job, now what do you need to make it effective for home defense? The absolute most important thing you can do to make your weapon more effective is to get training. Software is more important than hardware so train often.

Train with friends. Train on your own. Train under different instructors. Watch YouTube training videos. Add tools to your tool box. Do dry fire training. Do live fire training. After you get some professional instruction, get out to the range and work on those skills until they become natural. If you want to plink for fun, that’s fine, but don’t just “practice.” Training means that you have a plan and a regimen and you intend to isolate and improve certain skill sets. It doesn’t have to mean that you spend hundreds of rounds.

In fact, there are a lot of great drills that take very little ammunition. One example is to have a friend load a random number of rounds between one and five in each of your magazines to force you to reload. Another is to have a friend insert an empty case and/or a dummy round somewhere in the magazine. Whatever your training regimen is, the important part is to constantly work toward improvement. If you think that you don’t need any training, then you REALLY need training. Go fast members of the pipe hitter’s union train constantly. If they need training, then you definitely need it.

One way to polish the skills you get from professional instruction is to compete in IDPA or 3 gun matches. It is one of the easiest, least expensive ways to ingrain skills under stress.

After training, the next most important characteristic of a home defense weapon is that it functions perfectly, or at least as close to perfectly as is possible in the real world. Everything else is of no consequence if your gun makes a disturbingly loud “click” when you need it most.

We can address that in three ways. Start by choosing a weapon that is known by others to be reliable. Confirm its reliability yourself by firing many rounds through it, including the specific ammunition you intend to use for defense. How much ammo is enough to prove the weapon reliable? What percent chance of failure are you willing to accept? One percent? Then fire 100 rounds. Is 0.1% chance of failure acceptable? Then fire 1,000 rounds.

trick out your gun

Even AKs can “jam”

You’re going to fire many, many rounds in training anyway, so don’t get wrapped around the axle on that point. The third way that we ensure reliability is that we train to get a weapon back in the fight if when it experiences a stoppage. No matter what ol’ toothless Joe at the gun shop told you, even Glocks and AKs can malfunction and even pump shotguns can be short stroked.

Your home defense weapon needs to fire effective ammunition. This is a somewhat complicated issue, though. The ammunition ought to be “powerful” but what does that even mean? It might be useful to remind ourselves to compare apples to apples. A .45 ACP pistol is just a handgun and as such it is nowhere near as powerful as a 12 ga shotgun or a .223/5.56mm carbine. A pistol may not be ideal for home defense because it is less powerful, harder to hit with, and harder to retain in a fight, but it might be the only gun you have.

If a person could only have one gun, it would be reasonable to choose one that can be carried and concealed. With that in mind, the ammunition you choose for the weapon you have should be capable of producing the largest wound possible while still meeting the minimum penetration requirement of 12”.

Example of impressive wound with inadequate penetration

Sometimes it may appear that a given load is very impressive but it fails to meet that 12” standard. Beware of gimmick ammo makers that use words like “devastating” or “trauma” in their marketing. The FBI established the recommendation of 12”-18” of penetration based on a study of thousands of shootings. It was found that in many cases, the attacker received wounds that could have stopped the attack quickly if the bullet had penetrated a bit further. The reason is that in the real world, people don’t just stand still when they’re being shot at. Often, the reason that we had to shoot at them in the first place is that they raised their arms with a weapon.

If you picture a man pointing a gun at you or wielding a knife, his arms actually cover a significant portion of his chest. Because they are outstretched, a bullet would have to traverse the arm at an angle and could easily pass through 6” of tissue or more before even reaching the chest. It’s also fairly common for people to have to take a shot from a compromised position (knocked to the ground in the attack or shooting under an obstacle) or for the rounds to strike at an oblique angle because the bad guy is attacking another person.

Then there is the fact that your bullets may need to pass through a kitchen cupboard or a door or your television before striking the bad guy. Add all these factors together and it becomes apparent how important penetration is. Your bullet has to be able to reach vital organs to incapacitate.

Example of good expansion, wound channel, and penetration

The last mandatory feature of a home defense weapon is a light. You may prefer a hand held light over a weapon mounted light and that’s fine, so long as you fully understand the advantages and disadvantages of both. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about how to properly operate a light and they could fill up another complete article. In fact, here is a great read on that subject:  For the time being let’s just take a look at two major misconceptions about, and arguments against, weapon mounted lights.

trick out your gun

A sling secured against the side of a rifle for storage

First, no, you don’t just turn a weapon light on and leave it on, telling the bad guy where you are. The proper use is to flash it on only briefly to navigate through the structure and check areas. Second, no, you don’t point it at everything you look at. The right way to use it is to keep the weapon pointed in a safe direction and use the “splash” off walls, floor, or ceiling to illuminate the area of interest.

In any case, you must have a light for a home defense weapon. Your house is probably much darker at night than you think it is if the power goes out. You need to be able to positively identify the target before you decide to fire and using a powerful light might even give you the chance to avoid using your weapon. No sane person wants to take a life if it can be avoided and a bright light coupled with loud, forceful commands may let you control the situation without firing.

There are other features that might be very useful and strongly recommended like a sling and a red dot sight. A sling for a long gun serves much the same purpose as a holster for a pistol, but we don’t sleep with a belt and holster. We can leave a sling attached to the rifle and held folded against the side by a rubber band. If something bumps, you just tug on the sling and pull it over your head. If you’re in too much of a hurry for that, it’s out of the way. The sling allows you to use both hands for tasks and it helps you retain the weapon in a hands on fight. A red dot sight can help you get on target just a bit faster than irons and is more forgiving of less than ideal sight alignment.

Some people like lasers and they have their own set of advantages and disadvantages but it would be a stretch to say that they are in any way

trick out your gun

Goldilocks. Simple and effective

required. Other accessories like magazine couplers and BAD levers fall into a similar category. Can they be useful? Sure. Are they likely to make much difference in a home defense fight? Probably not. They add weight and complexity, though. Is the extra weight and possible point of failure worth it for that gizmo? You’ll have to answer that for yourself. For me, the best balance of simplicity and utility is an iron sighted short barreled AR-15 type rifle with a light, a sling, and a sound suppressor.

Andrew Betts served with the Arizona National Guard for over 12 years, including a tour to Afghanistan.  Visit his YouTube Channel for more great shooting information.Andrew Betts served with the Arizona National Guard for over 12 years, including a tour to Afghanistan.  Visit his YouTube Channel for more great shooting information.

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