Are airguns a viable option for self-defense or home protection? The short and sweet answer is no. I’ve decided to address this issue because it’s one of the most commonly asked questions I’ve been asked over the years. Now some may want to argue the point on a philosophical level, which I’ll be more than happy to do over a few cups of coffee sometime, but I’m more interested in the logical and practical arguments about why airguns are NOT suitable for self defense.
I’m going to try and paint a picture here. From my experience, people consider using airguns as self-defense for a few different reasons. The first reason that I hear most often is that they are afraid of “real” guns. Next would be that they don’t want to bring lethal force to bear on another human being. Another reason is the cost of a “real” firearm and trying to save money by purchasing an airgun.
Let’s go ahead and address the first two reasons as from a logical perspective. Trying to use an airgun as self-defense is essentially a bluff, but a bluff that your life may depend on. The underlying cause behind the first two reasons is fear. When you bluff, the mindset that you probably NEVER want to emote is fear. Your only hope of success is the chance that the attacker is not really committed, since you really don’t have an effective means of deterring someone that’s truly intending to follow through with their plans.
During my concealed weapon training class, the instructor was going through various situations that may occur during a home invasion. In one scenario, the home owner had caught the intruder and was detaining them at gun point until the police arrived. During the interim the intruder figured he had nothing to lose and began to get up off the floor to challenge the home owner. Our instructor’s recommendation in this situation was to fire on the intruder, the moment he began to get up off the floor and do anything but flee. Essentially the intruder in this case, was going to call the homeowner’s bluff. If you were in this situation with only an airgun as a weapon, you would be in real jeopardy.
Now let’s look at a practical side of this question. Firearms generate an enormous amount of energy on a given target. While there are some exotic airguns that can put 200, 300, and even 400 foot pounds of energy downrange, I’ve never had anyone ask me if one of them was practical for self-defense. The airguns people are most curious about are the $100 +/- CO2 pellet pistols or bb pistols. Now these products certainly have their place, but it’s not in a personal defense role.
Here are some basic numbers that can help demonstrate the practical differences between a standard firearm and your standard bb pistol. We’ll start with the energy created by a powerful bb pistol shooting at 500 feet per second. I say powerful because most co2 bb pistols shoot well under that velocity, so we’re giving this one the benefit of the doubt here. When you take the weight of a typical bb at 5.1 grains and add in a velocity of 500 feet per second, you come up with a whopping 2.83 foot pounds. Now let’s put this in perspective even further. The commonly agreed upon minimum humane energy necessary for small game like squirrel and rabbit, is about 8 foot pounds. So if a bb pistol has only 1/3 the necessary energy to put down a squirrel could it ever be practical in deterring someone intent on criminal activity? The answer is a very simple “no.”
“But what about those powerful PCP airguns I always hear about?” Well here’s where we address the final reason head on, cost. Any airgun that would be capable, at least on paper, of generating sufficient energy, would cost well over $1000. While the airgun alone may be $700 or $800, the means to fill it would certainly take you way past the $1000 mark and the usability of such an airgun for a home defense or self-defense situation would be totally impractical. So what is the answer?
The best solution is really some internal soul searching. If you are concerned about needing a weapon for defense for your home or person, you need to really decide if you are going to be capable of bringing lethal force against someone if you were to be put in that situation. It’s not an easy question. If you don’t feel that you are going to be able to do it, then the best choice for you would be to not own a gun at all.
On the other hand, if after careful consideration you believe that you would be willing to do whatever was necessary to protect your person, family, and/or property, then there are several things you can do to prepare yourself. The first steps that I would recommend, would be to find someone that can help you understand the nuances of the laws in your area concerning use of a firearm for self-defense. Next, don’t run rush into a purchase. Rather, spend some time at your local gun shop and/or range and really research what you feel is going to be the best fit for you. Finally, get training on whatever product you choose; the more training the better.
And, here’s where airguns can really help. More than likely there will be several different airguns that will be similar to what you choose for your personal defense weapon. Umarex manufactures many different replica airguns that have the same weight, feel and function as their “real” firearm counterparts. The more trigger time you can gain, the more proficient you’ll become. Proper use of airguns can really help in this arena. We’ll talk more about how airguns can help with training and proficiency in our next article.