Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Case for Cheap Guns

I spend a lot of time with firearms enthusiasts or gun nuts, depending on which way you vote.  As with any topic focused peer group they can trend towards elitism.  People who race cars or bicycles, folks that climb mountains, people who use power tools for their job all tend to have strong opinions about using quality gear.  So it's reasonable that people who are enthusiastic about shooting, who shoot in competitions or use guns in their career would be passionate about selecting quality gear.

But just as a regular joe would be better served with a Toyota Corolla with all-season tires instead of a Porsche with track tires on it for daily use, I think a neophyte or occasional shooter can be served with a firearm that isn't class leading in performance.  Too often I see people who try to talk friends and strangers out of buying X model of gun because it's not going to hold up as well as Y model.  Or suggest X is not as accurate, or has a worse finish, or is just a piece of crap compared to Y.

Lots of those things are true.  A Smith and Wesson revolver is likely to be more accurate, more durable, have a better finish and a nicer trigger than a product from Taurus.  A 1911 from Springfield Armory is likely to be a better gun overall than one from Rock Island.  A AR-15 from Noveske is going to be superior to one from Bushmaster.  But to a person who is building skills, any of these tools will work well for practice.

But I suggest a person who is just getting into shooting or doesn't shoot much shouldn't be overly focused on that.  I will admit it's easier to shoot well with a good trigger and certainly recommend a gun with a good trigger.  I also believe in buying a quality 22 because that is the best way to build up skills.  But for a person who isn't going to shoot much, suggesting a $1,000 Kimber over a $450 Rock Island seems foolish.   Sure that Kimber may be more accurate but not to the point where 90% of the shooters will ever notice.  The vast majority of handguns on the market are capable of significantly more accuracy than the people shooting them.  Lots of people buy centerfire guns and shoot a couple hundred rounds or less through them each year.  A $250 used Taurus revolver or Ruger P-95 will serve them fine.  Neither is the best choice for shooting in competitions or carrying in war, but that's not the purpose they are being purchased for.

If I'm serious about hunting Elk and spend $5,000 on a hunting trip, then a high-end Remington 700 with a $500 (or more!) scope makes sense.  If I just go deer hunting in the woods with some buddies every few years a $100 surplus Mosin Nagant with iron sights will do the job just fine.  Of course the Remington is a better rifle, but why spend a grand to deliver the utility and outcome that can be achieved for $100?  But go to many firearms forums or gun shops and people will tell you a thousand dollar rifle and scope package is the least amount you should spend for large game hunting.  It's quite simply untrue.

If a person takes a shooting sport or get more serious about shooting a lot, the cost of the gun becomes more inconsequential compared against the investment in ammo, gear and time.  If a person buys that $250 Ruger and starts shooting $100 worth of ammo a month, then they will likely naturally gravitate to a better gun.  Then they can sell that first gun for $200, or keep it because it has sentimental attachment as their first gun.  If a person starts off with a $400 1911 made in the Philippines and starts putting 200 rounds a week through it, they'll have spend a thousands on ammo before their gun wears out or breaks parts.  If they are shooting that much they will likely want to invest in something nicer to use.  But if a person shoots 200 rounds a year in a gun that has a maintenance interval of 2,000 rounds, it's not a big deal.  They may need to replace a couple parts every decade.  Or maybe they buy a gun and after a couple years stop going to the range at all.  I assert they are better off having a cheap gun than no gun at all.

Lots of people are occasional shooters.  That's perfectly OK.  Having a gun and knowing how to use it is a big benefit, even if you aren't rocking world class equipment and shooting every week.  I'd go as far to say that most gun owners are occasional shooters.  I know a number of deer hunters who shoot less than 20 rounds each year.  I know cops that only shoot 50 rounds once a year when they qualify.  I know people with their CCW that only make it to the range once or twice a year.  I also know people who shoot every week.  It's silly to recommend the same gun to all of them.  But on gun forums you see people who will scoff at any handgun that's "less than" a Glock.

I often hear the argument regarding fine guns that "it's a critical piece of machinery and it working could mean life or death".  I agree.  I agree wholeheartedly.  But a failure of a car to protect you in a crash is much more likely to result in your death than the failure of firearm to work in a defensive situation.  If you are talking about buying the best when it comes to guns but you aren't driving a vehicle with a 5 star crash rating and the most modern traction control systems putting it's power to the ground through the best tires for the weather in your area but you are preaching to people they need a Kimber instead of a used EAA Witness, then you fail at reason.

If you understand math and statistics you realize the chance of dying in a car crash or from a behavior related (being fat and lazy or smoking) health problems greatly exceed the chance of dying in armed conflict in the US.  And the chance of one's gun not operating correctly in an armed conflict is due more to training than equipment failure.  Focusing on the equipment in this case isn't the correct priority.  It boils down to elitism, pure and simple.  It's not a rational review and prioritization of potential harmful factors we face today.

Elitism turns people off.  I can only imagine how many people wanted to buy their first gun with a budget of $300 and end up not buying at all because of all the elitist advice on the internet.  They just want to know if a Bersa is a decent gun and they get greeted with page after page of people saying they need to spend twice as much and go to shooting school and shoot a thousand rounds a year.  Hey, all of those are good things, but they aren't for everyone.  To go back to the car analogy- a lot of people have bus passes.  Any car is better than no car.  Sure, it would be great if everyone has the desire and resources to buy a new BMW and go to driving school and track days to brush up on their skills.  But a person in a 10 year old Buick with mediocre skills certain has mobility advantages over somebody with no car at all.

So if you are new to firearms take what you read on gun forums with a grain of salt.  Don't let people discourage you from buying a cheap gun.  And if you're one of those gun forum people saying things like "45 is the only proven man-stopper", or "God himself and John Browning say that 1911's are better than everything", or "A S&W Sigma is like having no gun at all", then you need to stop being an elitist dick.  Get your fat ass off the couch and do something productive with your time.

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