Saturday, May 05, 2007

Theological Firepower

I thought I was done with writing about handguns, but apparently not.

Recently, because of what happened at Virginia Tech and a violent crime at a church in Salem, Oregon that could also have been stopped if anyone was armed, someone asked me what my reaction was as a minister.

It turned out that what the questioner was really asking in that discussion was, "Is there a handgun most appropriate for Christians to carry, or a church to ask an elder to carry?"

That question surely does not have a uniquely correct answer. But the discussion was interesting enough that I thought I should share a few bits from it.

The question itself has merit. With current technology, neither a chemical spray nor a taser can replace a handgun for self-defense. (For more on this, read these posts from Mr. Rummel and their links.) For people interested in effectively helping defend other people from violence, handguns are still an option with a niche to fill. There are crimes worth stopping (shootings, rapes at gunpoint) that can only be effectively stopped with a handgun.

So the first conclusion was that if churches locally become increasingly the targets of violent crime it would make practical sense for congregational policy to request that one elder be armed.

I mentioned Gerald of Aurillac, a count who tried to live according to the virtues of a Benedictine monks. According to his biographer, Odo of Cluny, Gerald and his army fought with the flats of their swords and the butts of their spears to avoid killing and to show that their victories were from God. In the language of today's self-defense culture, they used sufficient force to stop the opponent's attack without trying to kill the opponent, using the least deadly weapons that could be expected to do this.

So the second conclusion was about handgun caliber. The modern equivalent to "the flat of the sword" is a .22 Magnum. This cartridge is nearly equivalent in ballistics to the .380 ACP and these two cartridges are typically considered the minimum reliable in a self-defense situation to have an expectation of stopping an attack with two shots. Of the two, the .22 Magnum is slightly less dangerous (similar velocities but a lighter bullet), has much less recoil (quicker to get that second shot well-aimed), and is one-fourth the cost (more practical to practice with). The CCI TNT cartridge in .22 Magnum has good bullet expansion with a small chance of over-penetration: in other words, it is somewhat less likely to stop an attack with one shot than a .380 ACP in exchange for being extremely unlikely to go through your target and hit something else.

Is there a best handgun for concealed carry using .22 Magnum? There are mainly three alternatives, revolvers from S&W, Taurus, and NAA.

People on internet forums highly reccomend the NAA "Black Widow" with the optional smaller grips (over the smaller NAA revolver offered in .22 Magnum) as the smallest and least expensive practical concealed carry weapon. It is less accurate than the other two guns I mentioned, produces less bullet expansion (average these), and is single-action so it is slower to fire repeatedly. It does have the advantage of also shooting the dirt-cheap .22LR for practice. Thus it might be a better choice for a woman seeking to carry a purse gun to defend herself, but it makes a poor choice to defend a church against a shooting massacre.

The S&W and Taurus are nearly equivalent. The S&W has slightly higher quality (best sights, slightly bettter reliability ratings) and the Taurus is slightly less expensive. Both can be equipped with laser grips, which among other things is extremely helpful during practice to show when a smooth trigger pull is not being used.

Thus we have our final conclusion: The S&W 351PD seems ideally appropriate for a Christian who is relying on God instead of his or her handgun for protection while still effectively offering to be part of how God helps protect other people.

One reason to blog about this, and find those links, is that this conversation is potentially practical. I would not be surprised if one of my pastor friends brings up this topic within the next few months, telling me his church was wanting to ask one elder be armed. Now I can say, "I had thought about this and blogged about it. Go to my blog and do a search."

The only drawback with the 351PD is that the gun can be hard to find: people really want this gun. Since it costs one-quarter as much as centerfire calibers to practice with, weighs so little, and is more reliable than a semiautomatic, even people who want a larger caliber for self-defense have started carrying it as a backup gun instead of a spare magazine for their primary gun.

UPDATE: I realized I should explain why I made the word "purse" a link. A gun carried in any kind of bag (purse, belt pouch, backpack) should have a dedicated pocket. The link was just meant to reinforce this and provide one example (the first Google provided to me). I have no experience, of course, with that linked purse or carrying a gun in any other kind of bag.

UPDATE: I don't have comments enabled at my blog, since I do not have time to moderate them and get rid of spam-bot litter. James Rummel has kindly linked to this article, allowing a place for comments.

UPDATE: To be clear, by mentioning the "flat of the sword" I do not mean to imply an effort to avoid deadly force, which is unwise in an self-defense situation. Fighting with the flat of a sword is not less deadly (a metal baseball bat is plenty deadly) but is purposefully handicapped. That's the point Gerald was making: emphasizing that he was relying on help from God as well as his weapon.