We are approaching year end, and I have some time on my hands. So I may as well tackle one of the enduring firearms industry myths. It’s a pet hate of mine, and every time I hear it I have to restrain myself from bellowing “BULLLLSHHHHITTT!” Despite being confronted with facts, the offending party usually gets a serious dose of butthurt. Look, sometimes I come across as a bit of an arsehole, but considering that bad advice can cost somebody their life and hard-earned money, I stick to my guns. And honestly, I don’t care much for some random person’s feelings when they give bad advice.
Addressing the mythology
OK, so what is this myth I am talking about? When a prospective firearm owner asks which gun to buy, they frequently get a little brown nugget of bad advice: “Buy what feels comfortable in your hand”. Whenever I come across this I get a little twitch in my eye, and I start shaking like Inspector Clouseau’s nemesis, Commissioner Dreyfus. No other important factors get mentioned at all. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Boggerol. “Just buy what feels nice”.
Consequently, if you put the choice into a hierarchy of needs it would look something like this:
Now, I am not saying comfort is irrelevant. It’s just not the most important factor to consider when buying your first self-defence firearm. So why is this bad advice? Let’s rewind and start at the beginning.
The CFR and FCA inhibits your options
The first thing you need to keep in the back of your mind regarding buying a firearm in South Africa, is the ever-present Central Firearms Registry and the Firearms Control Act 2000. Because of those two variables (yes, variables, because you never know what they will do) many firearm-related problems cannot be solved as quickly as in the US. Licenses take months to be approved, if they get approved. But that is a discussion for another day. Simply, if a gun doesn’t work you cannot replace it quickly. You need to get it right from the start.
Limited agency support
Secondly, not all firearms available in South Africa are supported by factory-backed agencies. This is very important. If you shoot your gun regularly, it will require scheduled maintenance. Aside from that, guns break. Extractors chip. Springs wear out. Slide-stops break. If there is no agency back-up to supply you with spare parts for when your gun breaks, you have bought a R10 000 paperweight. A perfect example of this is Walther. They are beautiful guns. Comfortable to shoot, reliable, accuarte, the whole nine yards. Except that you cannot find magazines or spares anywhere. And if you managed to, you’d pay stupid prices like R1500 for a magazine. So you have a comfortable gun that feels lekker in your hand, but that can turn into a Tupperware tub in a split-second if something breaks. And stay that way for months untill you maybe find a replacement part.
Accessory and equipment availability is important
Thirdly, equipment and accessories. Without agency-support for a brand, most gun shops won’t stock the product. If a sufficient amount of the gun doesn’t sell, there isn’t motivation for dealerships to stock the items you need. So now you have a death-ray plasma blaster that you cannot carry because nobody can supply you with a holster. Sure, you can pay for a custom job, but you still need to drive to the manufacturer and wait while they make your holster. Never mind replacement sights or springs: you simply won’t find them. If you own a Glock or CZ, finding what you need is a phonecall away.
Your knowledge determines your choices
Lastly, new shooters simply do not know what they don’t know. So they walk into a gun dealership, fondle a few guns, and pick purely on how it subjective feels. Their “feeling” is based on nothing but tactile sensation. The shooter’s grip is wrong, their stance is wrong, they don’t know how to aim properly…you get the picture. So they buy that gun and go on a real training course. They fix their bad technique, but all of a sudden their comfortable gun isn’t so comfortable anymore. Do not confuse comfort with ergonomics. Most guns by design are reasonably ergonomic. Unless a person suffers from genuine problems like having very small hands, or some other physiological issue, they can surmount most obstacles by learning proper technique.
Imagine this: it’s 2AM in the morning and you hear something go bump in the night. You get up to investigate, and you walk into a 2-way shooting range in your hallway. Do you really think how comfortable your gun feels matters right now? Will you enjoy the ergonomic palm-swell of the L-size grip panel while you are evading incoming fire and diving behind the couch? Will the just-right grip texturing caress your moist palm during your grapple with the person trying to kill you? Of bloody course not.
All of that said, what are the most important factors when you consider buying a self defense gun in a South African context?
I believe the pyramid needs to look something like this. Reliability should be the foundation on which everything else is built.
Each of these are worthy of an article in their own right, but I`m going to run through each only briefly.
Reliability is the foundation on which self-defence guns are built. If a firearm doesn’t go bang when you need it most, it defies the whole point of having it in the first place. Hugs and cuddles need to feel good. Guns need to work. Buy a brand that has a reputation for reliability. Glock, CZ , S&W,Beretta, and the like will serve you well.
There are two elements of effectiveness in my opinion: caliber and shootability (I made that word up). Sure, a Beretta Model 71 is very reliable, but it shoots a .22 round. It’s better than nothing, but when you consider that handguns are already bad manstoppers, shooting a sub-optimal caliber with limited capacity isn’t helping your situation. 9mm Short or 9mm Parabellum should be the bare minimum. You want a gun that is easy to shoot. Not comfortable: easy. There is a difference. By easy I mean you need to be able to grip the gun, see the sights, and reload without disassembling the whole weapon. A North American Arms .22 might be really comfy for you, but it’s still a stupid little gun that’s one step away from a fly swatter.
I spoke about this earlier in the article. Guns need spares and mags. If you shoot you gun as much as you shoot something will break or need replacing. No matter what the guy in the gunshop or around the braai says, guns do and will break if used.
Equipment (and accessories)
Comfortable Every Day Carry is like a little potjiepot. It has three legs: the gun, the holster, and the belt. If you cannot find holsters and magazine pouches for your choice of gun, you will either have to Mexican-carry or buy some generic job from the gun shop bargain box. Both a bad idea. If you buy an established brand, you will have a variety of choices varying from off-the-shelf products to custom-made local stuff.
Finally, what everybody has been waiting for. Once you have a list of reliable, effective, agency supported guns with easy to find equipment, then you get to pick the one that feels most comfortable.
In SA we are more spoiled for choice than ever before, but as a CZ fanboy it pains me to say Glock still tops that list. With CZ a close second. Smith and Wesson, SIG Sauer and Beretta are giving it a good run too. Start at the bottom and work your way up the pyramid. Even if you completely ignore everything, you will have a gun that will do exactly what you want when you need it to.
Written by Rouen Heiberg
Rouen is involved with integrated security solutions for various commercial applications. In his free time he shoots IDPA and takes part in various forms of combatives training. He drinks too much coffee and doesn’t like raw tomatoes. He thinks CZs are more comfortable than GLOCKS.