"Bare Minimum"

Written by Scott Fuller on . Posted in Blog

My article on Assembling an Arsenal got me thinking about the bare minimum. What is the least amount or quality of gun required for a particular application. As an enthusiast we get caught up in the best value to us as a gun nerd. We get all worked up about nuances of barrel twist rate or the type of sights a gun ships with when in fact most applications would be well served by a gun we enthusiasts would consider very sub-par.

The interwebs is full of folks who buy a ”just as good as” blaster or a firearm that is a better perceived value, due to a low price. Many of them regret picking up that first cheap handgun or not spending the coin on a quality scope, but honestly most of these “value shoppers” are perfectly happy with their choices and they go on to enjoy the ownership of guns and optics that I like to turn my nose up at.

I can and do argue vehemently that if your life or the life of your family is on the line there is little to no reason to take shortcuts, but I understand that not everyone shares this belief. To be brutally honest, if your gun works 99.9% of the time, or perhaps even 96% of the time, it might make for a perfectly adequate defensive arm. This of course assumes that you know how to clear a malfunction and that you have spare magazines on hand for such occasions. Then there are the guns that function 100% of the time, but have attributes or ergonomics that make them less than optimal choices. Some of these guns are perfectly adequate for the task.

As we always say on The Gun Show Podcast, if you are buying a particular gun for fun or a range toy, buy whatever strikes your fancy. The worst thing that could happen is a crappy day at the range. However there are bare minimums when you need to count on your rifle to put food on the table or save your families lives. Let us look at some super-cheap, but probably adequate guns.

Home Defense
The number one reason for a person to buy a gun is protection or defense of the home. The best firearm for this is of course the AR-15 in .223 Remington / 5.56 NATO. It just is. But if you read my AR-15 buyer's guide you know that I recommend spending almost $1000 on a blaster for the house, so let us look at the less expensive side of things.

The pump-action shotgun is still touted by firearms enthusiasts far and wide as the best weapon for home defense. It is not the best weapon for home defense, but I would not hesitate to use one for such an application. The pump-action 12 gauge is a perfectly adequate truck gun, trunk gun or home and hearth gun that can do double duty as a deer gun or a bird gun. The Mossberg Maverick 88, made right here in Texas is probably the bare minimum for this choice. I have seen these guns go on sale for well under $150 not that long ago at the big box stores and a quick check of the internet reveals a normal retail price well under $200 for the 18.5” and extended-mag 20” models. Add a bright light and some #1 buck ammo and you will be just fine for almost any home defense scenario.

While the $1000 AR-15 is the best choice for home defense, it also makes a really nice truck gun or homeland defense rifle. What about going with a rifle that is a bit more budget friendly? There are many folks with $500 ARs that have little to no problems with their guns, but at this price point I would probably go with the Kel-Tec SU-16. With a street price around $460 this little carbine takes AR-15 magazines and shoots AR-15 ammo while weighing in at a handy 4.5 lbs. While this poor man’s AR-15 may not be perfect, it will do the job of flinging 55 grain pellets of death at any intruder. Dont leave the budget AR-15 out of this scenario. While a polymer receiver gun may not be a good choice for a combat or a patrol rifle, one could argue that they are “good enough” for this job. My own little NFA brand plastic fantastic has had zero issues so far. I could be convinced to call either the Kel-Tec SU-16, the DPMS Oracle or the Del-Ton Sport as a bare minimum home defense rifle.

“But Scott!” you say, “Five hundred clams seems like a lot for the bare minimum, what else have you got?” Well, how about the Hi Point Carbine in 9mm, .40 S&W or even .45 ACP? While the enthusiast is quick to turn up his nose at a Hi Point, for $260 you get a rifle in a combat handgun caliber. The Hi Point Carbine may indeed be the bare minimum in a home defense rifle. I know I would rather have the Hi Point loaded with quality duty ammunition for home defense than a handgun, all else being equal..

Homeland Defense
Another option for a truck gun or a homeland defense rifle would be the AK platform. While most “affordable” AKs are not suitable for heavy use there are a few in the $500 to $600 dollar range that will do the job. A quick peek at the world wide web finds Saiga’s and some other choices in both 5.45x39mm and 7.62x39mm calibers. The Serbian (formerly Yugoslavian) M77 or the CETME are both available in .308 Winchester for under $600. While this is a pretty good bargain I don't think the AK or CETME is the bare minimum truck gun.

If you do some shopping you can find a perfectly serviceable SKS for less than $400. The SKS with its 7.62 bullet makes a very nice gun for use around and through cars. One could make a very good argument that the SKS is the bare minimum homeland defense gun, but $400 seems high for our parameters.

Why not the ubiquitous deer rifle? Savage, Winchester, Mossberg and Remington all have entry-level, value-slotted, bolt-action rifles available in every hunting caliber that Wal-Mart sells ammo for. You can get into a brand new bolt gun for $250, and easily find a scope/rifle combination for under $300. I found a new Remington 770 with a 3-9 scope in .243 Winchester for $275. That seems like it has to be the bare minimum patriot rifle. While the bolt-gun may not be the best fighting long gun, and the lightweight barrel profile may not make it a fantastic sniper rifle, no one would argue the American deer rifle wouldn’t work in a pinch. I have put a 175 grain pill into a LaRue target at 300 yards with the first round out of a Howa 1500 I had just paid $300 for, complete with a Tasco scope. you really cannot ask for much more out of your rifle.

Now here I could make some argument that you simply cannot carry the bulky and hideous Hi Point, but I would be lying to you. There is a whole Hi Point Forum chock full of folks that trust their lives every day to the cheap, ugly blaster. We have to face the fact that the first rule of a gunfight is “have a gun”. A Hi Point fulfils that rule. For less then $140 I must say that the Hi Point is the bare minimum carry pistol, and you can use it as a bludgeon in a pinch. For the love of all that is holy do not get .380 Auto version. It seriously should not exist.

If you want to take a step up from the bare minimum for a carry gun you basically fall right into what I call the $250 sweet spot. This spot has the terrible-trigger-but-perfectly-serviceable Kel-Tec P11 and PF-9 9mm handguns, the heavy-for-their-size Taurus and Rossi .38 Special 5-shot revolvers and the very Witness-like Turkish SAR CZ-style pistols being imported by EAA. Any of these would make very adequate handguns for carry.

What do you consider the “bare-minimum”?

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