Go Long

One of my major frustrations with the majority of my students s the high regard they hold for handguns, and the lack of interest they displayed for long guns.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  There are plenty of good things I can say about handguns.  The only problem is that comparable long guns are much, much more powerful than their handgun counterparts.  Handguns are the perfect size for go anywhere emergency defense tools.  A carefully chosen long gun is perfect for just about everything else.

But why would that be?  How much more powerful are long guns when compared to handguns, anyway?

To illustrate what I mean, let us take a look at the main US infantry battle arms for both World Wars and Korea.  These were the M1 Garand rifle, and the M1911 handgun.

m1 garand with clip

1911a1 with holster and magazine

(Pictures source.)

The rifle is chambered for the .30-06 Springfield round, while the handgun is chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge.  This means the rifle produces about 2,800 ft/lbs of muzzle energy, while the handgun delivers a mere 350 ft/lbs.

There are a great many factors that contribute to the effectiveness of firearms, of course, just as there are a great many loads available for every popular cartridge which changes the performance of the gun.  But comparing muzzle energy is a fairly reliable quick-and-dirty method, and it is very clear that this particular long gun far outclasses that handgun.

Okay, so what about the present day?  New weapons have replaced the old and boring guns that are pictured above.  What are the standard infantry weapons of today, and how do they stack up?

The standard US infantry rifle today is a variant of the M16 called the M4 Carbine, and the standard handgun is the Beretta M9.

tricked out M4 carbine

beretta m9

The rifle is chambered for the 5.56 NATO round, which produces something around 1,600 ft/lbs of muzzle energy. (guy in the comments points out that the muzzle energy is 1300 ft/lbs.  Thanks for the heads up, guy!)

The handgun is chambered for the 9mm Parabellum cartridge, which delivers about 420 ft/lbs of muzzle energy.  Once again, the rifle leaves the handgun in the dust.

Are there handguns which approach the performance of battle rifles?  Sure, you bet!  The larger Magnum calibers will do that.  But the vast majority of students were not interested in such large and expensive guns, opting for something similar to the handguns listed above.

I also haven’t mentioned shotguns, which certainly are long guns.

remington 870 pump action shotgun

This website gives the lowdown on the muzzle energy produced by the various shotgun gauges, stating that the popular 12 gauge delivers around 2,500 ft/lbs of muzzle energy.  I cannot swear to the accuracy of the numbers listed as I have not tested shotguns to find the exact data, but it certainly sounds about right.

So while handguns are essential for concealed carry, why did my students concerned about home defense turn their nose up at long guns?  Mainly because movies and TV almost always show their favorite characters using handguns against the bad guys.

black widow with two glocks

clint eastwood as dirty harry

colin firth as a kingsman

daniel craig as james bond with a walther ppk

So I might have the skills and experience but I don’t have the glamour, ad glamour wins every time.

9 Responses to “Go Long”

  1. The M4 is usually set to fire a triple-shot per trigger pull, isn’t it?

    • James Rummel says:

      “The M4 is usually set to fire a triple-shot per trigger pull, isn’t it?”

      You are correct that the selector switch on the M4 has 3 settings. Safe, Semi-auto, and 3-Round Burst.

      The M4A1 also has the Safe and Semi-auto settings, but the third position is for Full Auto. I suppose the 3-round burst proved to be less useful.

  2. knirirr says:

    I always thought that using a pair of handguns to battle alien invaders (Black Widow photo, above) seemed a bit dodgy, but, as you say, it presumably looks cool. I’ve never tried, but I suspect it’s quite difficult to shoot that way if one isn’t a superhero of some sort.

    Not wearing helmets in combat is another silly practice in which action heroes often indulge.

    • James Rummel says:

      “I’ve never tried, but I suspect it’s quite difficult to shoot that way if one isn’t a superhero of some sort.”

      Those of us in the firearms instruction biz can always spot someone who has tried the Two Gun Salute. If they are missing fingers, they let what they saw on video games trump reality.

  3. Jordan says:

    Definitely some interesting thoughts here! There are a few action heroes who use some long guns – I’m remembering the lady in Terminator 2 in that last scene, mostly. But it is a little silly that smaller guns got to be the glamorous ones!

  4. guy says:

    Picking nits: “The rifle is chambered for the 5.56 NATO round, which produces something around 1,600 ft/lbs of muzzle energy.”

    More like 1300ish – 5.56 NATO

    Still double to triple most handgun rounds.

    • Bram says:

      Actually the M4 will be lower still. Those numbers are for an M-16A2/4 with a 20-inch barrel. The shorter M4 is something like 250 ft/sec less in muzzle velocity.

  5. guy says:

    Also funny to see Harry Calahan with his magnum, since he mentioned he downloaded his rounds to be more controllable. 😛

  6. […] Handguns fill many roles, but their main purpose is to provide a portable, go-anywhere self-defense tool.  Long guns will do better in just about every other job. […]

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