“May you live,” the ancient curse goes, “in interesting times.” We certainly live in days that are anything but boring. The word is, politically, figuratively and, in the case of Japan, literally on fire. We mere mortals, the common citizens, the working men and women of the United States, must stand by and watch it burn down around us. Or must we? With the increasing instability of our politics, our economy and even the physical world itself, only the insane or the stupid would fail to prepare.

Westerners have always been prone to technological pseudo-preparation. By this I mean that we, as modern citizens of the West, tend to think that once we acquire a tool, the potential problem is addressed. I may need to drive a nail, so once I buy a hammer, the problem is solved … right? Well, yes and no. I have the tool I’ll need to do the job, but if I’ve never driven a nail before, I can’t assume my work is done. If I want to do the job properly, I’ve got to make sure I acquire the skill to use the hammer effectively.

Given this and despite it, I can’t properly drive a nail until I buy that hammer. The time to purchase a hammer is not the moment you start your work; you should be prepared ahead of time. The time to prepare for social upheaval, civil unrest, economic uncertainty and simple self-defense is not when an emergency happens. It is now or, preferably, weeks, months and years ago. As you can’t go back in time, you’re left with now. Don’t delay. There’s a piece of technology you need to have on hand, and while you’ll need to get an education in the use of that tool, you can’t hope to start until the tool is in your possession.

That tool is a shotgun.

Shotguns are among the most common firearms in the United States. They’re typically less regulated than almost any other firearms, such as handguns and even rifles, although minimum barrel lengths and minimum overall lengths are governed by federal law. Seen primarily as hunting and sporting tools, they are nonetheless incredibly effective short-range self-defense weapons. If you don’t own a shotgun, get one.

You need to know more about that shotgun than you can read in a column of roughly 1,000 words, but if you read and learn nothing else, take this to heart: A shotgun could save your family and your own life, protecting you in times of great trouble. Those times are not on the horizon. They’re with us now. The world is burning and the smoke from that fire is growing thicker, darker and closer.

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The shotgun is a commonly found, relatively inexpensive, smoothbore weapon that has adequate range for self-defense and that is, as a long gun, comparatively easily purchased and possessed. It is probably the simplest firearm solution for the most number of now-unarmed Americans. Every home should have a shotgun. Every responsible citizen should be prepared to defend his home and his family. The shotgun is not just a useful tool; it is a necessary tool. Not to have one, and not to acquire the knowledge needed to use it, is to shirk your responsibility as an American. Training and education you can acquire from a number of sources; shotguns themselves are available widely. Before you put your money on the counter, however, there are some concepts you must consider. To this end, I offer what advice I can after two decades as an armed citizen.

First, stick with 12-gauge. There are other calibers. Many are less powerful; some are more powerful. For the defensive shotgun, 12-gauge is adequately powerful without being more than you need. It is very common, which means the widest array of shotguns and accessories are available for it. It is the common denominator in self-defense and law-enforcement shotguns; there is no need to complicate the issue further.

The choice of ammunition is more complicated. Louis Awerbuck, something of a legend where teaching the use of the combat shotgun is concerned, gave an interview with the International Society of Close Quarter Combatants in which he advocated using only slugs. His logic, which is difficult to refute, is that with a single slug, you can be certain of your target. With shot, you never quite know exactly where the pellets are going to go if they spread.

Immediately disregard any notions about loading birdshot or other light pellets on the theory that you can use the weapon indoors without penetrating the walls of the home. Most bullets and most shotgun loads will penetrate drywall easily. Exterior walls of most structures are only slightly more difficult to penetrate. Birdshot and other light shot is not adequate for human opponents. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar or a fool.

Choose a name-brand pump action shotgun for ease of use and adequate firepower. The Remington 870, Mossberg 500-series and Winchester Defender are all good choices. Avoid used guns or bargain-basement imports unless they’re all you can afford. Barrel lengths of 20 inches are common, and that length is OK for a home-defense shotgun, but don’t go longer or you’ll find the weapon awkward.

In his interview with the ISCQC, Awerbuck mentioned that he personally has tapped mounts for a flashlight on all his shotguns. There are multiple ways to mount a light on your weapon. At the expensive end, you can replace the pump handle with a foregrip integrating a high-end combat flashlight. At the low end, you can attach a flashlight to your gun with everything from commercial mounts to hose clamps. Whatever you do, a light mounted on a self-defense shotgun is a great idea. Night is, of course, when more crime and violence occur.

That’s it. That’s the least I can tell you in good conscience.

Buy a shotgun. Do it now. Don’t wait.

The world is burning. The shadows cast by those fires are long and dark.

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