Controlled violence, or pistols and other things that go boom.

Guest commentary
Exclusive to The Zelman Partisans
by William Lehman

Various friends and family have come to me over the years to ask questions such as “What type of pistol should I buy? Should I have a shotgun in the house?” and variations on this theme.

Seems some folks think I know a bit about the subject. Well, after carrying a firearm for more than 35 years, much of it for pay, I suppose they’re right. I was a cop for eight years, and in the military for 20. I’ve owned my fair share of weapons, and though my ankles and knees are not up to copping any more, I stay in the loop. I have drawn a weapon in the line of duty – both police and military – and to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never shot anyone.

Many of the following words of advice are not original to me; some of them are paraphrases of such greats as Col. Jeff Cooper; many of these words are distilled wisdom I’ve picked up from guys that REALY know something.

So, you want to join the members of that most unique society — those who are willing to take personal responsibility for their safety? OK, here are the rules:

First rule: You need to answer the following question: will you actually be willing and able to shoot someone in the head or heart, and watch them die before your eyes, maybe while wiping the blood off your face? (Most gunfights happen at a distance of less than 10 feet.) If the answer is “no,” you shouldn’t carry.

A firearm is not a magical talisman you whip out of your pants or purse, speak the magic words, “I have a gun,” and make evil disappear. You’re going to have to be willing to USE it.

Now, in most instances, merely brandishing a firearm is sufficient to make the bad guy suddenly realize he had an appointment across town that he’s now half an hour late for. But bad-guys are animals, and like animals, they can smell a bluff. If you go waving that Tacticool SIG with the laser sights, extended mag loaded with .45 ACP rounds, sporting the trigger job, flashlight, and bayonet in his face expecting to scare him, but without actually being willing to use it, and you may have just given them a high-dollar present with a lot of stupid baubles on it…

Oh, and probably your life, because after taking your firearm away, he will likely kill you. Of course, he would have probably killed you even if you weren’t armed, but at least you wouldn’t have added to his arsenal.

I understand that some folks are just mentally incapable of taking a life. OK, if you can’t, you can’t. Stay with someone who can, or understand that you take a very small, but existing risk of being robbed, raped, and then killed.

If you would rather be a martyr to the cause of non-violence than a survivor who has to report what happened to the police, and maybe live through a trial for daring to defend yourself, cool. Stop reading now, the rest of this is not for you.

Did the peaceniks leave yet?


I don’t understand that sort of mind set, but I know people, even people about whom I care about very much, who have that outlook. I view these folks the same way I look at those who suffer from a self-inflicted, incurable illness and are doomed to die of it. It’s unfortunate, but ultimately the decision was theirs.

The rest of this essay is for those of who have decided it’s better to be tried by 12 than carried by six.

Second rule: All guns are loaded. Always. Unless you personally checked it, know its condition, and have not let it out of your hand since that time, it’s loaded and there’s one under the hammer.

A while ago, I had an accidental discharge with a gun I always kept loaded. I knew it was loaded, but what I did not know is that my roommate had taken it to the range, and reloaded it afterward with all six rounds, meaning that the round under the hammer was live. When I handled it, my thumb slipped off the hammer and I had an accidental discharge, because I did not properly check my firearm. Best advice is to never assume. Never.

Third rule: Never put your finger in the trigger guard until you have your sights on the target.

Fourth rule: never cover anything with your muzzle that you are not willing to destroy.

These are common sense rules we have all likely heard before, but they bear repeating. Again and again.

Fifth rule: Carry the biggest caliber that you can comfortably control. If the best you can control is a 9mm, I’ll tell you what ammunition will be effective, because only a very few, brands and types of 9mm ammo are effective man stoppers. And if you can’t handle the recoil of a 9mm, start working out, because anything less than a 9mm, while effective under the proper circumstances, will be difficult to use effectively to stop an oncoming threat.

Imagine hitting a moving target the size of an eyeball, while scared out of your gourd, and trying to stay alive. If you can hit a man in the eye, or the bridge of the nose, or the throat, while he’s trying to stick, shoot, or bludgeon you to death, you don’t need to read this, because you’re an assassin.

That said, the prudent pistolero does not get in a gunfight with a caliber that doesn’t begin with a “.4” (.40 S&W, .45 ACP, and .45 LC, .45 GAP, .44, .41. or the two exceptions to the rule: the .357 and the 10mm).

Sixth rule: Try different pistols before you buy one. Shoot a lot, and shoot many different types. Shoot with friends. Try out their firearms. Most gunnies don’t need an excuse to go out and shoot. After you shoot a lot, you’ll find something that fits your hand and that you can shoot comfortably. Buy one just like it. Spend the money to buy a GOOD weapon; you’ll have it for life.

Guns can be heirlooms. Buy a decent handgun, give it a modicum of care, and you will hand it down to your kids, and they will hand it down to their kids, and so on, and so forth. This tool will maintain value better than almost anything other than maybe gold, so buy a good one and take care of it.

Finally: Never plan to get into a gun fight. Pistols are like fire extinguishers. They are there for emergencies. Why would you go anywhere with the expectation of trouble? If you’re expecting trouble, you might want to bring more firepower than just a pistol. Long guns, shotguns, and armed friends should accompany you if you are really expecting problems.

Remember the only fair fight is the one you win. Chivalry is for competitions. In war — whether nationally declared or street — when your life is on the line, giving the bad guy an even chance is a good way to end up dead. And unlike reenactments, movies, or video games, when you’re dead, you’re dead. Your kids get to squabble over your inheritance, and I have to go to your funeral.

I hate funerals, except for those of my enemies.


William Lehman is a retired Navy, medically retired police officer, who currently works for the Navy as a civilian and writes the John Fisher Chronicles — an urban fantasy series based in the pacific Northwest.


Ed. note: This commentary appeared first on TZP’s weekly email alert. If you would like to be among the first to see new commentary (as well as to get notice of new polls and recaps of recent posts), please sign up for our alert list. (See sidebar or, if you’re on a mobile device, scroll down). Be sure to respond when you receive your activation email!


9 thoughts on “Controlled violence, or pistols and other things that go boom.”

  1. The only rule that’s OK to “break” is #6. By changing my mind a few times, I now have have 3 pistols ‘m very comfortable with – G30, a 1911 and their offspring, a XD. All in 45.

    And remember, the difference of a few hundred dollars between firearms pales in comparison to the much higher cost of running ammo through your weapon to first become ‘acquainted’ with it and then become proficient with it,

    1. that’s not breaking the rule, that’s a corollary. The corollary being you may find that you are now a shooting enthusiast (AKA gun nut) and that more than one pistol is needed. I have a service pistol (ParaOrd P14, a 1911A1 with a double stack mag in Stainless steel) that I carry when open carry is appropriate (like say while hiking or hunting) and a pistol that was my backup as a cop (Taurus Millennium in 40S&W) and a couple wheel guns that I may also carry hunting or shooting because I used to do old west reenactment. And the wife’s pistol, and……
      and then there’s long guns, which is an entirely different kettle of fish…

  2. One of our readers noticed that the promised advice about the best 9mm ammo is missing. So we asked Mr. Lehman and he emailed back:

    “Golden Saber by Remington in +P (the 125 gr weight are good) is what our Police officers that couldn’t handle a 40 used, and is quite acceptable, Horniday Critical defense in the heaviest bullet weight you can find, Sig Saur elite, again in the heaviest weight available, Speer gold dot in 147 gr (THIS WOULD BE MY FIRST CHOICE) HST in 147 GR Remington HST in 147 gr. Basically you want the heaviest bullet, and largest hollow point you can find in P or P+P rating for pressure.”

  3. “Did the peaceniks leave yet?”

    I’m thinking you are being maybe a little too short with them. I suspect a large percentage of people who would answer “No,” to your first question, actually could shoot a bad guy, under the appropriate circumstances. It’s just that such people are not in the habit of thinking through dreadful scenarios, and finally figure out they want to shoot somebody when it is tactically far too late to do anything about it.

    It might make sense to get a little more probing with our questions, such as “You really would not shoot to save your daughter’s life?” – before writing all of these folks off.

    Strange you left out Cooper’s 4th rule, “Be aware of your target and what’s behind it.”

    As to caliber, since we are talking about newbies, why are we talking about anything but 9mm and .38 Spl? Keep it simple. If they want to go to another caliber later, after they are no longer newbies, it’s a simple matter to buy another gun.

  4. I have to say I am surprised there are not more comments about 9mm being marginal, and anything that doesn’t start with a 4 being wrong, etc. Also, handgun stopping power. These myths have been put to ground for a long time. Handguns don’t have stopping power. They are not rpg’s.
    The difference between a good 9mm and a good 45acp round is not much.
    You just fire until the threat is no longer there.

  5. First I am not as qualified as Mr. William Lehman but here are my couple of cents;

    One of my friends is the county coroner and he tells me (and he should know) that one of the worst calibers he deals with is a 22, now that surprised me but it is due to how it bounces around once it penetrates.

    I carry a G43 which is a low capacity 9mm that is very concealable, I can do the 2 center mass at 12 yards in 1.5 seconds and a follow up with a between the eyebrows & upper lip (the kill zone) a little thereafter. To me a pistol is only a defensive weapon, they are not very effective when compare to a long gun (which is the gun I would always take to a gun fight when I have a choice). A pistol is for backup or for when you can’t carry something more obvious due to where you happen to be going. I try to carry conceal 100% of the time and even when I don’t there is something available not very far out of hand if at all possible even on a plane where you cannot have a firearm there are still perfectly legal weapons (non-firearm or blade) that can be carried that are cheap and effective if you know how to use them.

    IMHO the most important thing is where you place your shots for how effective they are, you can put a couple of quick ones into center mass that may buy you some more time but kill shots in an effective location are really needed to completely take an aggressor out of action. It is important to practices heads and hips (for armor). The two things people don’t practice enough is movement while shooting, understanding the difference between concealment & cover, the importance of fighting your way to cover if you want to live to fight another day which means thinking & not just pulling a trigger, reloading (tactical), malfunctions, and low light when most engagements occur.

    I find that sights & practice are as important as the caliber if not more, if you can’t hit what you are shooting at what difference does a caliber make, night sites on hand guns and optics on long guns as a minimum with iron site backups, then there is also the discussions about lights & lasers too. I think instead of buying only a bunch of guns people should also look into body armor, night vision & thermal as key components of their arsenals. I also try to limit my calibers so that stockpiling ammunition is easier.

    However if you don’t want to conceal carry or prepare for the potential of pure evil raising it head up as it has throughout history and all you are interested in is defending your home and yours; I recommend a 20 gauge camper special( 20 gauge because a women can handle it easy (believe it or not my wife has even effectively shot skeet with hers which blew me & her sons away, a little play on words there.) One time all she needed to do was rack it and a couple of home invaders decided there was better places to invade. I like the pistol grip for making it compact, some may like a small standard stock, but I look at this weapon as a close quarters type weapon.

    However if you want to get good with any firearm these are the three best ways to practice;

    DRYFIRE, DRYFIRE, DRYFIRE!!!! And it is the cheapest way to practice too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *