The Three Basic Firearms for EVERYTHING.
I am the guy who is "Into guns." among those that know me and when people who are not into this sort of thing are wanting a little free advice, they pick my brain. I mean hey, I own a small gun store and training company after all.
I, of course, want to help them out so I give out as much free advice as I can on the subject (I am into free advice, hence these articles).
This usually leads to some interesting conversations that I have enjoyed over the years.
I had a good colleague sit down in my office the other day and ask some questions on the topic. This fellow is, unlike a lot of the people that I have this conversation with, an armed professional. Contrary to popular belief, "armed professional" does not automatically mean "I own a bunch of guns and am proficient with them." That means at a minimum, the individual is required, as a part of their profession, to be able to carry and operate a certain make and model of firearm or firearms as issued by their agency and demonstrate proficiency with them in a ridiculously easy course of fire at some type of interval, usually annually. They then are authorized to carry the issued firearm in the public in the course of their duties.
The subject here had decided to "get a few guns" for his household and asked what he "should get." Remember, this fellow did not own ANY firearms but he knew how to safely operate a handgun and pump action shotgun and was good enough for government work with them.
This got me thinking...
What are the reasons that a person owns firearms?
Reason to own a gun number 1: Personal protection.
Reason to own a gun number 2: Hunting.
Reason to own a gun number 3: Recreational or competitive shooting.
There are other reasons, some buy guns for investments, collections, historical reenactment, because they like them, because fuck you etc. ..
However, as an exercise in pure practicality, I see the three reasons that most households have firearms are for personal protection, hunting and recreational/competitive shooting. There are very specialized firearms for these niches, a bolt action varmint rifle, for instance, is a SPECIALIZED tool designed for a specific type of hunting, while it could be used for recreation purposes, it is very sub par for personal protection. Guns are kind of like golf clubs in that way, you can't play nine holes with a putter, well you COULD but you would not be doing very well by the end. You COULD take apart your car with a set of wrenches, a hammer and some screwdrivers, but it would take a long time and be a HUGE undertaking. We have specialized tools for specialized purposes, Firearms are nothing but tools in the end.
But in the words of Robert Heinlein, "Specialization is for insects."
So the next question is, what type of firearms would do the most to provide the tools for these purposes?
So what follows are the THREE firearms that, if you could only have three, you could do ALL of these things with.
Before we start, one disclaimer, I am by no means advocating that everyone be LIMITED to only these guns. I am simply saying that if you only WANTED three guns as a basic set, start here.
The Glock 19 (Or equivalent)
The Glock 19 has become the standard defensive handgun that all other defensive handguns are measured against. That is hard for some to accept, including me for a long time, because it is about as exciting as watching grass grow, but it has become the standard. The pistol was created in the late 1980s as a "Small" version of the standard Glock 17. By todays standards, it is not all that "small." In fact it is considered mid size now, compared to the tiny, wonderful, high capacity micro blasters that are currently on the market. That being said, there is a thing such as TOO small and while many are calling the 19 obsolete, nothing could be further from the truth.
The Glock 19 is in fact about the perfect size as a dual role handgun. Small enough that it can be carried in a proper holster concealed all day long, yet big enough that it can be used for a thousand round pistol class without you developing a flinch afterward. Small enough to to hide in a glovebox, but wide, big and comfortable enough to put three empty cases in the air at once at a match or use with confidence on the street.
It is the Toyota Camry of the gun world. Reliable, trouble free, and will do whatever you need it to do, but nothing to really brag about.
One aspect of the 19 that truly makes it absolutely my choice is its ease of maintenance. It only has 34 parts total. I was a certified Armorer on this platform and my tool kit for fixing it consisted of a punch. No files, no screwdrivers, no roll pin punches or specialized gunsmithing tools, not even a hammer, JUST ONE PUNCH with a handle on it, stuck on a keychain breaks the whole thing down to the pins. No handgun out before or since can lay claim to that. If you watch a couple of YouTube videos on the thing, you are pretty much able to fix it, replace parts on it (except the sights), and upgrade it using nothing but a punch.
Speaking of upgrades, if you wanted to, you could build up a Glock 19 and literally NOT HAVE ONE Glock part in it. That is how many different parts are available for it. The patent is up for this firearm now, so stay tuned because we are just seeing the first of many STRAIT COPIES of the pistol starting to hit the market. Before too long, I suspect there will be as many 19 clones on the market as there are 1911 clones. One day we may see a something like a "Ruger SR19," which will be a fully interchangeable Glock 19 copy,
The gun is simple to use. It has no manual safety, always has the same trigger pull that is around 5 1/2 pounds and its manual of arms can be understood in less then an hour of competent instruction. I can have a person with no experience, no interest in firearms, who does not want to learn to really shoot well and is nervous about shooting, hitting a 3x5 card consistently from the holster multiple times from 3 yards in about 2 hours time.
It also checks all the boxes on our list of general purpose firearms. As a personal protection piece, it is superb and has been protecting cops, soldiers and everybody else for decades. It will be competitive in most formal competitions that one could enter with a handgun, such as IDPA and USPSA, hell most formal modern competitions were MADE AROUND the Glock 19 as the standard. While not great as a hunting piece, the 19 could work for small game hunting such as Rabbits or pest control such as racoons or varmints. I have also used a Glock 48 (a slimmed down Glock 19) to dispatch a wounded deer on one occasion.
If you just cant handle owning the Glock, the following are essentially tweaked copies of it that I have personal experience with and are a recommend:
Smith and Wesson M&P 9 2.0 Compact
Sig 320 Compact 9mm
Walther PPQ 9mm
Canik TP9 Compact
and as some budget options:
The Remington 870 (or equivalent)
The Remington 870 has been around since the late 1950s and is still in production today. It is by all measures, a smashing success story in post World War 2 manufacturing and literally millions of them have been made. In it's basic form, it is a simple and robust shotgun designed for the masses and as such it is a absolute must as the general purpose shotgun. It really marks the beginning of the "Modular" concept of firearms and has a entire cottage industry built around it.
The 870 is well familiar to everyone from hunters to special operations teams and everything in between. It has a fiercely loyal following by all who have used it for generations now and will continue to be the standard that all other shotguns have been judged by for the foreseeable future. I personally have had and used 870s with THOUSANDS of rounds fired through them for DECADES and they still continue to shuck empties out of the side of the ejection port and feed shells off the carriers year after year.
My own personal 870 (Pictured here) dates from 1988 and was used by the Georgia Department of Corrections. When I got it, it literally looked like it had been drug behind a truck for most of it's life, with the finish mostly gone and its stock being the equivalent of firewood. That being said, it still managed to put rounds downrange and seemed to ask, "Is that all you got, motherfucker?" Some tender loving care in the form of a Duracoat job to the metal and a used synthetic stock and it was as good as new. If I have need of a shotgun, that 870 will deliver the goods, all day, every day.
One reason that the 870 makes the top three list is the modularity of the design. Because of a brilliant piece of engineering, Remington designed the bolt to lock into the barrel, not the receiver. Because of this, they could make it be a sort of "Takedown" model, with the barrel being easily removed. The real benefit of this is that it allowed the user to buy extra barrels and be able to easily switch them, allowing one shotgun to cover many roles. Need a scoped, rifled slug gun for Midwest "shotgun only" deer hunting? The 870 can be made to do it by slapping on a cantilevered rifled slug barrel. Need a longer barrel with a smooth bore for going after Pheasants? No problem, grab the barrel with the vent rib and interchangeable choke tubes and hit the field. Need a magnum barrel for longer shots on waterfowl? Yep we got you covered there too. Need a short handy smooth bore for self defense? No problem, grab a short defensive barrel. On a Tactical team and need a stand off device for breaching doors? Yeah, grab the barrel for that and slap it on there.
Other accessories abound Need more ammo in it then the standard 4 rounds? Add a magazine extension to it. Need an adjustable stock to fit more shooters? Add one using nothing more then a long screwdriver. Want to make it as short as possible and look like an action movie star from the 1980s? Not recommended, but OK, add a pistol grip in place of the stock. Need a better sight set up? OK, Can be done but that may require some gunsmith modifications, but it will cost you very little all things considered. Want on board ammo capability? Add some shell holders to the side of the receiver and\or stock. Need to sling it? No problem, add a sling. Need a light? Cool, clamp one on it.
I prefer the 12 gauge "Police Magnum" version of the 870, as the one to look for. The "Police Magnum" was and is always made to the highest of standards. No other model kept the higher end parts in them through the years. These parts included a MILLED extractor instead of the cheaper MIMed versions added to the "Express" and then even "Wingmaster" versions in order to cut costs. In addition the "Police Magnum" always retained the aluminum trigger housing as opposed to the polymer ones that were added later. They simply kept the best specifications on the ones designated for Police service as the rest were cheapened for the masses. If you get a lesser one, the parts are easy enough to add and upgrade as well.
Basically the Remington 870 can do it all. Any hunting that requires a shotgun, it can do and do well, hell it was designed for that. Personal Protection? I don't know anyone who would not feel well armed and protected with a Remington 870 in his or her hands in a fight. The 870 does not even get into fights, it STOPS fights RIGHT NOW and has saved the lives of everyone from Cops to FBI agents to regular citizens for GENERATIONS. As far as a shotgun to hit the trap or skeet field with, it will give you everything you need and might just beat the guy with the 5000 dollar Italian shotgun doing it.
There is one other model that pretty much matches the 870 and has been doing the same thing for about as long, the Mossberg 500. I own and have owned several copies of both of these firearms over the years and it truly is a Chevy/Ford debate. Some people will only buy one or the other. The Mossberg is superior in that it is easier to service if something ever breaks, but most users will never know because they would take it to the gunsmith anyway. If we were talking long term Prepper, end of life as we know it, the edge goes to the Mossberg for that reason alone. However, the addition of a magazine extension on the Mossberg is not an easy task and the top mounted safety means that adding a pistol gripped adjustable stock is pointless.
There are also several "sort of copies" of the 870 that are coming from China and are serviceable. The H&R comes to mind, as does the CIVET 12. However, the lack of standardized parts compatibility and thus the ease of interchangeable barrels means that they are a non recommend, although some of the prices make them tempting. They are just not the "only three you need" worthy.
The AR 15 has been praised and denounced, served heroes and villains and has become the standard of the American rifle. It is by far the most popular American rifle today and whether loved or hated, will continue to be the standard for the foreseeable future. Developed in the late 1950s as a lightweight combat rifle, it got off to a rocky start when subjected to the wheels of bureaucracy in its development, thus creating serious problems for those that served with it early on. This later was rectified, and the AR-15 has soldiered on in military service in one form or another throughout the last six decades.
Being available for the civilian since the 1960s, the AR 15 has moved from the outer limits to the mainstream, with dozens of manufacturers cloning the design and producing it in vast numbers. Once considered an expensive rife, the prices have come down and the quality has gone up across the board due to good old fashioned capitalism. Quite frankly, 20 years ago you were often rolling the dice on a reliable rifle if you bought a model made by anyone other then Colt, now days that is no longer the case. If a company produces a crappy rifle, the internet will destroy them. When you buy a new AR 15 now days, you can expect it to work right out of the box. This is one of the main reasons that no other rifle can compete.
Yet the reason it is recommended as of the three basic guns is, like the 870, its modular design. Forty years of civilian development has led to the AR15 becoming an erector set for the firearm owner. There is nothing on an AR15 that, if the user does not like or is not fitting the needs of the required goal, cannot be changed. Because the Federalaes have decided that the lower receiver of the AR15 is the actual firearm, the user can switch out the entire top half of the rifle in seconds using nothing but a bullet tip to change calibers, optics, barrel length, weight and characteristics. There is also a dizzying array of stocks, grips and attachments that can be added or removed with simple tools for whatever you may need a rifle for or prefer it to have.
If one were to buy a simple, entry level AR 15 in the .223 caliber as standard, he has a basic defensive and competitive tool with nothing but the addition of magazines and ammunition. Again, I don't know of anyone who would not feel well armed in a fight with even the most basic AR15 in his hands. Most of the rife shooting sports, such as high-power competition to three gun matches use the AR15 as standard. It has low recoil and even children can handle it if it is equipped with an adjustable stock. It is a fun to shoot firearm that will give years of reliable service with basic maintenance.
One of the three reasons for firearms ownership is hunting and here the AR 15, as standard, can bag varmints at relatively long range and even big game with the right ammunition, but here is also where it's modular design shines. For instance, if one needs to use strait-walled rifle cartridges for deer hunting in the Midwest, there is an upper half for that, using either .350 legend or .450 Bushmaster caliber. If someone needed a longer range rife for big game hunting with more stopping power, there are upper halves chambering cartridges such as the 300 Blackout, 6.5 Grendel, or 6.8 SPC for this. If you are going after squirrels or rabbits and need a 22 rimfire, a conversion kit or upper can be had for less then the cost of a entry level semiauto .22 rifle. If someone wanted a pistol caliber Carbine that uses the same magazines as his Glock 19 there is an upper and a magazine conversion block for that purpose too. Basically, if you can think of it, there is somebody out there that has made it for the AR 15.
The AR 15 market is flooded with choices and can send one down a rabbit hole that could lead to days of research to determine what to buy, with that said, the following is my guidance on the matter. As a minimum amount of fuss, I recommend that a person buy a new rifle from a reputable company, such as Smith and Wesson or Ruger as they can be covered under warranty if you have issues and will not break the bank on the cost.
If you want to dig a little deeper here, I would say that one should look for the two following features in an AR15 that are must haves:
A chrome lined Barrel or one that is Melonite (QPQ) Coated. Avoid Chrome-Moly or stainless for a general purpose rifle.
A Mil-spec, Carpenter 158 steel bolt and properly staked bolt carrier, that has been Magnetic Particle Inspected (MPI).
The Barrel and Bolt on the AR 15 are like the engine and Transmission on your car, you want the best ones you can afford of the best quality. If you skimp on these two items and they start to fail, they will be expensive to upgrade.
The rest of the stuff you want on the rifle is just preference and can be easily fixed or changed if you have issues. I would also avoid "Wish" level AR 15 parts. If it SUPER CHEAP on E-BAY, take it as a hard pass and spend a few bucks on the better parts. I could have bought a buffer and spring for my last build for about ten bucks, instead I bought the best on the market for 60, that is cheap peace of mind all things considered. If the engine and transmission are good, I really don't give a shit what kind of fluffy dice you picked to hang off the rear view mirror.
Notice on this I have no "Equivalent" Models, there really is no other rifle that is it's equal in terms of modularity and cost. Every other rifle out there will not cover the ground that the AR15 will. Rifles get specialized really quick. The AR 15 does not. If you can dream it, you can do it to an AR 15.
In Conclusion, I am sure some would disagree with me.
There is no way that this article would ever wind up in the latest gun magazine because it is not designed to sell you a bunch of guns. The purpose here is to answer the question of "What should you get?" when it comes to a basic set of guns. Notice that these guns look sort of BORING, no fancy stainless steel, no flashy finishes and swooping lines, just basic. (OK The AR 15 looks kind of exotic with the optic, but it is not really compared to what is out there).
MOST importantly training with these three firearms is a mandatory minimum. Just because you buy a circular saw, jig saw, and reciprocating saw does not mean that you can build a house with them. You will have to learn how to use them to make them work for you
I didn't pen this for people who already have strong opinions on firearms and have spent many years buying and trying multiple guns. I wrote it for the person who has decided that gun ownership is something they wish to exercise and want to know where the hell to start. I have seen people walk up to a well stocked gun counter the first time and can literally see them become overwhelmed in the choices that sit in front of them.
Also, after doing this thought exercise for a few months now and finally writing it down, I really believe in this list. I am to the point that, as soon as I get able to re-stock my store after the latest panic shortage, I will try to have a variation of these three firearms in stock at all times. If one were to start cold and set out to buy all three, they could likely have them ALL for less then a new high end flat screen television or washer and dryer set.
These are the three general purpose firearms that everyone who needs a basic set should start with. It is not the end, it is simply the beginning. If someone decides that they want more specialized tools, they can certainly add to them. If someone just "Likes" certain models of guns, by all means they should get them. But these are the three basic guns for EVERYTHING, and hopefully you find yourself having all of them in your possession.
And if you are a fellow with many firearms that is missing one or all of these three, I return you to Mr. Heinlein: "Specialization is for insects."