Whether or not you’re a participant, the sport of 3-gun is the most exciting shooting competition around. Besides attracting new shooters, it presents competitors as serious athletes who train like Olympic contenders. But there’s more to it than just having fun. While examining the tactical aspects of firearms, and sometimes firearm sports, I started thinking about 3-gun events as other than mere games.
My evaluation process actually started when I had a chance to watch the best 3-gun shooters compete live in Las Vegas, and my first observation didn’t require much thinking. The competitors were great shots with pistols, rifles and shotguns. And if you ever find yourself in a gunfight, what capability could be more useful than being proficient with whatever firearm you might have in your hands? Besides, high-level competition (like for big money and performing on television) creates much more pressure than facing paper or steel targets on your local square range. Sure, it’s not the same as dealing with incoming rounds, but it does create real stress and test your ability to function under duress.
Three-gun is a “run-and-gun” competition requiring contestants to cover ground and make their shots against a clock. When a competitor, particularly a guy over 40, gets his adrenalin and pulse rate elevated and then has to stop midway through a stage and restart, it’s even more of a strain than expected. But again, what could be better training for a real-life incident than encountering the unexpected? Most instructors I know frequently say, “Whatever you expect to happen in a gunfight, won’t.” But let’s get a bit more specific.
The first question that occurred to me was, “What’s the first gun you would, or should, choose in a home-defense scenario: carbine, shotgun or pistol?” Remember, this is in your home, so while there are safety concerns about keeping a firearm out of the reach of children, there’s no requirement for a gun to be concealed on your person or, in the absence of children, that the firearm be made inaccessible. On a recent trip to Gunsite, where a 3-Gun Defensive Class was underway, I asked Training Director Dave Starin which of the three guns he would reach for first. His quick answer was, “If I have to move through the house, a pistol. If I’m bunkered down in my designated sanctuary room, a carbine.”
Starin shoots regularly and is frequently training students for self-defense with different guns. Being proficient with all three firearms, he can make an objective choice based upon a particular scenario. Others, like me, who are not equally competent with all three guns, would choose the firearm with which they are most comfortable and proficient—in my case, a handgun. But since this is your home and your choice, nothing says you can’t bring multiple guns into play.
I mentioned the run-and-gun environment of a 3-gun competition with weapons staged at various waypoints through the course. It would be very difficult (and unsafe) for contestants to race through the entire course carrying three different types of guns and all the requisite ammunition. How is this like protecting your home? Since home-defense doctrine suggests getting to your safe room, calling 911 and hunkering down in a defensive posture until professional help arrives, I saw no defensive application in all the run-and-gun activity, nor any need to stage multiple weapons at different waypoints in your house. I was dead wrong.
If you choose or are forced to change locations in the midst of any kind of attack, odds are you’ll have to fight your way from point A to point B. Unless you spend all your time at home in your designated safe room, any kind of home invasion may find you in a room other than your chosen defensive location. Therefore, by definition, you will be moving and fighting through your house, which means a handgun might be your best starting weapon.
During a recent visit with a friend who is very influential in the personal-defense world, he walked me through his home- defense plan with explanations on his rationale. I’ll stipulate that the plan is over the top by the standards of most folks, but the circumstances are unusual, given the remoteness of the setting and my friend’s high level of expertise. While we may regard the plans as wildly excessive, it’s his life and loved ones at issue. In any event, though we may not develop so extreme and meticulous a plan, there is much to be learned from his efforts.
His house is larger than mine and has multiple levels, so he deals with longer distances to get to his safe room, which is on an upper level. Living in a rural area, he also has a security system that includes alarms and surveillance cameras. When he’s outside the house, he carries concealed, so if caught outdoors, his first option is his readily available handgun. His safe room is the master bedroom, so in the event of a late-night home invasion, he and his wife are already where they want to be. Like many homeowners, however, they spend much of their time in the kitchen area and in their home offices, so the rational assumption is they will likely be in those locations when trouble hits.
Hidden in the kitchen, but easily accessed, he keeps a Colt Detective Special loaded with six rounds as opposed to the five rounds available in smaller revolvers. I mention the Colt model mainly because it sparked a little envy when he showed it to me. Slightly less accessible, but still in the kitchen, is a Smith & Wesson M&P45 pistol equipped with a suppressor. This time-proven, fight-stopping caliber with suppressor may finish the fight, but if not, he and his wife are able to continue effective verbal communications thanks to the diminished audible report.
Down the hall on the same floor are their offices. His office is the main waypoint on their route to the master bedroom, but should his wife be caught in her office, she has a Glock pistol equipped with Trijicon night sights conveniently stored in a desk drawer. She is armed and ready to fight her way to the bedroom on her own or with her husband as he exits his office. Against the wall in his office is a Ruger 10/22 equipped with a suppressor and loaded with subsonic ammunition. Almost as accessible is a Smith & Wesson M&P rifle with Trijicon optics and two 30-round magazines. In the event he has to stay and fight from the office or get to his wife, he has an additional bag of 10, 30-round magazines.
In the master bedroom, the sanctuary room from which they will make their stand, he has staged the serious hardware. By the bed he has two Colt LE6940s with suppressors and two Glock G19s with suppressors and SureFire weaponlights. In addition, he has a night-vision device and extra lights and magazines. He stressed the importance of having the same guns and interchangeable magazines, so there is no confusion regardless of which gun either person grabs.
As previously indicated, it seems a tad extreme. However, if you think these measures are a bit much to defeat a home burglary attempt, keep in mind this home is located in a rural area several miles from town. Given a determined adversary, the residents may endure a prolonged fight before help can arrive. That said, his approach contains all the provisions and rationale any home defender might want to consider—even if the plan is a bit more intense than the average homeowner might be comfortable with—and many of the components are found in 3-gun competition: Stage your firearms where you think you’ll need/want them. Have extra ammo available. If you and your spouse defend as a team, consider the old military concept of having everyone equipped with the same gun(s). Have weaponlights mounted or hand-held lights with which you’ve practiced immediately available, because bad things most often come out at night. Suppressors are nice, but are not an option for every shooter. Perhaps most important, make sure these ideas fit your scenario before blindly implementing any or all of them.
In my case, I’ve done several things differently. First, I live in a Southern California neighborhood with a sheriff’s office about 2 miles away. Second, my house is smaller and all on one level. The longest indoor line of sight available is about 20 yards, but when doors are closed—something we would accomplish in our retreat to the sanctuary room—realistic shooting distances are considerably shorter. I’m definitely more comfortable in close quarters with a handgun than a long gun, particularly if I’m going through doorways and looking for threats en route.
Like my expert witness and his wife, much of our time is spent at our desks or in the kitchen/family area. My staged firearm is a .45-caliber handgun next to my bed. My wife keeps a Springfield XD in 9 mm with an XS Sight Systems’ Big Dot sight installed next to her side of the bed. (If I had a second XD chambered in 9 mm, I’d keep it ready on my side.) Both pistols have SureFire X300 weaponlights mounted on the dustcover rail.
I also have a Remington 870 modified by Vang Comp and sporting XS sights and a SureFire integral forearm weaponlight, but it’s not instantly available next to the bed. The 870 is loaded with birdshot, both because of the short ranges involved and the immediate proximity of neighbors. Rifles are not part of my home-defense plan. If I lived in a rural area, I’d definitely include a rifle given their usefulness in handling four-legged varmints as well as two-legged ones. Sadly, living in California, suppressors are not an option.
Penetration—or more accurately, overpenetration through structures—is a major concern to those of us who live in densely populated areas. I talked to the facilities manager at Gunsite who conducted some penetration tests a while back using different self-defense loads. His exterior test media consisted of Masonite insulation and sheetrock on 2x4 walls while interior walls used just two layers of sheetrock. In his tests, interior walls were located 10 feet from the exterior wall. Fired from an AR-style rifle, .223 Rem. ball ammo penetrated the exterior wall, but then stopped in the interior wall. Interestingly, 9 mm ball ammo penetrated both walls and was still traveling fast enough to inflict serious damage. Jacketed hollow points in both .45 ACP and 9 mm penetrated both walls. Meanwhile, buckshot fired from a 12-gauge shotgun, like the hollow-point pistol bullets, penetrated both walls. Shotgun slugs were in another league entirely, smashing through both walls and then some. Results were mixed with frangible ammunition due to differences in construction between brands.
There are no guarantees or absolute answers with regard to penetration, just as there are no guarantees regarding terminal-ballistic effects. To paraphrase what one of my instructors said in class, not every bullet fired has someone’s name on the front end, but every bullet you fire has your name on the back end. My recommendation is to select a factory load used by your local police. That way, your selection has the endorsement of provincial professional law enforcement personnel.
I’ll admit my choice of guns for my home-defense plan is as much based on my familiarity, comfort and hopefully competence with a handgun compared with any long gun. In addition, regardless of local concealed-carry laws, when I’m on my property or in my house, it’s legal for me to have a small pistol stashed in one of my pockets. Admittedly, it will be slightly smaller than a Colt Detective Special and have one fewer round, but it will be immediately available in case of a home invasion and hopefully provide me enough time to safely reach my sanctuary.
Your choice will likewise be unique to your circumstances, both in terms of firearm selection and staging location. If you have young children in your home, you will want any guns stored in a manner whereby the kids cannot access them, but you can quickly get to them in an emergency. Furthermore, consider how you plan to round up the family and get to the safe room, and do so during different times of day, when people could be all over the house. If you live in an apartment, consider how potential overpenetration might affect your neighbors when selecting firearms and ammunition. The list goes on and on, but the ultimate lesson is to have a plan based on your needs, like a 3-gun shooter performing a walk-through of a stage.