Self Defense Has Always Been A Concern

The laws in the United States concerning black powder firearms are a bit odd.

cap and ball

They are not considered to be actual firearms in many states, so they can be purchased without background checks or waiting periods most places across America.  One can even buy a cap-and-ball handgun through the mail and have it shipped to your door, as long as the buyer is not unlucky enough to live in one of the few places where such activity is illegal.

Some years ago, a reader suggested  that everyone interested in armed self defense should take the time to learn the basics of using black powder arms.  He said that it was possible anyone could be disarmed by the police if they were forced to defend themselves from violent criminal attack, as the authorities routinely confiscate any weapons used in the incident until after the investigation is concluded.  A cap-and-ball revolver purchased the very same day at a sporting goods store will allow the victim to still be able to legally fend off another attack while waiting for the police to release their property.

Are modern reproductions of antique handgun designs suitable for self defense?  I cannot say, as I don’t have any experience with such devices.  Any opinion I might voice would be nothing more than speculation, and you don’t come here for that.

Lucky for all concerned, a good friend of mine from the United Kingdom named Milo has been putting his own black powder revolver though its paces.  He recently posted two pictures after a trip to the range.

milo in his dont tread on me shirt

Considering his apparel, one would be forgiven if they assumed the picture was taken in the US.  But no, this image comes from the UK.  Milo calls the Tee his “hoplophobe-baiting shirt“.


milo shooting his 36 caliber snubby at ten yards

The target was set at ten yards, and all shots were in the black.  Not bad at all!  Particularly considering how chopped down the gun is, and how rudimentary the sights are.

Enough blather from me.  What are Milo’s thoughts?

I thought that the comparison of the shirt and the target pictures indicated that the gun would have performed accurately enough as a defensive arm. Unfortunately, there’s a high misfire rate (the caps drop off before firing, or spent ones jam the mechanism), so I wouldn’t want to trust that gun for defence without a bit of tweaking.

Of course, for me it’s just a recreational target arm, so these concerns are less important today, and guns like this seemed to suffice for those who used them back in the 1860s.”

So it looks like they would work, but modern arms are better.

14 thoughts on “Self Defense Has Always Been A Concern

  1. In the 1860’s there weren’t any alternatives. Once pistols firing metal cartridges did show up, everyone switched with alacrity. I would venture to say that cap-and-ball revolvers were like hen’s teeth by 1875.

  2. I used to shoot black powder revolvers a bit some years ago. Once you learn proper techniques and get the right size caps they can be reliable. They killed an awful lot of folks in their heyday and cavalry troopers used them as their main weapon for a large part of the Civil War. Cap and ball revolvers were used for decades after the introduction of cartridge pistols because of the cost of the cartridges and guns that used them.
    For the first 5 or 6 shots the cap and ball guns were just fine, but they reloaded pretty slow. One way this was handled was to get a pistol with 2 cylinders fitted to it and just swap cylinders for a reload.
    The sights are crude by today’s standards, but so were most of the ones on the cartridge pistols of the 19th century.
    In my experience, the Remington clones will bind up faster due to powder fouling than the Colts and are more likely to get bound up with spent caps. Proper technique includes pointing the muzzle at the sky to re-cock the hammer for the next shot so that spent cap won’t fall down into the mechanism.

    • Indeed, I think these guns would be reliable enough, and they are certainly an improvement over single-shot pistols. This period text on the use of the Adams revolver makes its utility clear. Like the Adams, my Colt repro has but 5 shots.

      As for the caps, one may indeed attempt to get the caps to fall free of the mechanism after firing; I usually rotate the gun to the right rather than raise the muzzle. I’ve not found either direction of tilting to be 100% effective, but then I’m not enormously experienced in the use of these arms. At present I have two types of cap; one stays on and detonates reliably but tends to split when fired and is harder to clear, even when tilting the gun. The other remains on the nipple when fired but sometimes fails to discharge and may drop off before firing.

  3. Thanks for your comments on the shooting. Of course, I will never be carrying this as a defensive arm for legal reasons, but it is pleasing to know that I can make it shoot accurately enough for that type of gun.

  4. When I was playing with bp, I found that by carefully and gently squeezing the open end of the caps they would tend to seat firmly on the nipple and not blow off when fired.

  5. I think I’d take archery over a black powder pistol. Not fast without a lot of practice, but a plain old practice arrow from a 50 pound bow is worse for the target than ball .45 (and razor tip arrows are worse than hollow point). Quiet too, something that you can practice in your backyard or basement.

      • Well first, nobody has mentioned concealed carry in this thread until now. If you want/need to conceal carry a not-gun, pepper spray and taser?

        Second – most states have laws about crossbows and firearms, but don’t explicitly list bows as dangerous weapons. The only laws are hunting laws.

        So you can conceal-carry a bow by not concealing it – just don’t draw attention to it. As a parallel example, a cop might decide a baseball bat in your car is a weapon (especially if you use it in self-defense). You have better odds if you have a mitt and ball in your car along with the bat. For carrying a bow – maybe an Archery T-shirt and fliers for the next county Parks and Rec archery class?

        Third – From a purely practical point of view, a CO2-powered pellet gun, or paintball pistol aimed at the eyes is in the same neighborhood as a single-shoot black powder pistol.

          • Not in these parts, although I suspect you knew that. 😉

            Technically it would be possible to use a weapon, such as a bow, for self defence in certain very limited circumstances. The habitual carrying of a weapon would be forbidden (see the first link), but if one made use of a bow and arrows kept in one’s house as an axe-wielding assailant came through one’s door then the jury would probably consider that reasonable force. The black powder firearm would not be of use in this circumstance as the law requires that it be stored unloaded in a safe to which there isn’t easy access.

            Of course, opinions are likely to differ on which country’s laws are the more effective at dealing with crime, or more moral; whatever the case the fact remains that one must obey whichever ones are in force where one resides.

  6. Don’t know where the single shot pistol came from, I thought the discussion was about revolvers. The bow versus black powder revolver issue was answered by the Texas Rangers and the Comanches in the 1830s. Once the Rangers got Paterson Colts the days of Comanche victories ended. Prior to this the odds on single shot firearms against bows was all in favor of the bow repeating revolvers changed that.
    The Paterson Colt was the first commercial Colt revolver and far less reliable and durable than the later models, but it still turned the tide. Those Comanches were far more proficient with their bows almost any modern archer just because of the time spent in practice.
    This sorta reminds me of the wannabe ninjas believing that a katana is a better chice than a Glock.

    • Maybe. I highly doubt the span would be long enough to be effective, though.
      Pistols may be hard to use, but they at least have the benefit that if you DO hit someone, he’s likely to calm down in a hurry. Maybe even calm all the way down to room temperature, depending on shot placement.

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