Been There, Done That

Forget Assault Rifles, Shotguns Are the Way to Go

By RICK MELLERUP | Apr 04, 2018

I hate to brag, but I’m confident I could disable an armed attacker using just one finger thanks to having once practiced an ancient Chinese martial art.

“Shot Gun!”

In the ninth century, the Chinese mixed saltpeter, charcoal and sulfur to create a powder to treat skin infections. It was soon discovered – I’d bet quite accidentally, a la penicillin – that the blend was explosive. And so gunpowder was born.

By the 10th century, the Chinese had found a way to capture that explosive force in bamboo or metal tubes that could project shrapnel. To keep the user from blowing off his hands, the device was attached to the end of a long spear. The weapon was called a fire lance and most historians credit it as being the first gun. It is the direct descendent of the modern smoothbore shotgun.

Over the centuries, the shotgun has remained the most versatile personal weapon ever invented.

You can use one for sport, skeet shooting, which, unknown to many, is an event in the Olympics. You can use one to hunt small game, wild fowl and, loaded with buckshot or a slug, deer or even bear. And you can use one for home defense.

I am no firearms expert. But I’ve had enough experience with them to know that if I heard somebody creeping around my home at night while I was upstairs snug in bed I would want to have a shotgun handy more than any other weapon.

I know the exact date my father brought home my first firearm, a Marlin .22 bolt-action rifle. It was Oct. 2, 1968, and I was watching Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals strike out 17 Detroit Tigers, still a record for a World Series game. I was thrilled, but not nearly as much as a couple of minutes later when my parents walked in the door and said they had a present for me.

To give a 13-year-old a .22 rifle in 1968 in the tiny Adirondack Mountains town in which I lived was not unusual. My high school had an inside range where students could join a gun club. Plus, just about all of the boys hunted.

That’s why, a year later, the second and last weapon that I ever owned – for reasons to be described later – was a shotgun, a Mossberg bolt-action 12-gauge.

As I already said, a shotgun is the perfect all-round hunting machine. I was never lucky enough to get or even see a buck in the short time I was a hunter. By the time I was 14, you see, I was heavily involved with basketball and what turned out to be my lifelong hobby, theater. Deer season coincided with practices, games and Christmas play rehearsals. I bagged plenty of small game with that veritable blunderbuss but soon lost interest in hunting, especially after going away to college, joining the Coast Guard and eventually moving to New York City.

But let’s get back to home defense. You can shoot a handgun at a range all you want, but targeting a real person (I assume, because I never have) isn’t firing at a silhouette. You’re going to have adrenalin, uh, shooting through your arteries, more than likely leading to a high shot. And if that opponent is armed, well, having had a handgun pointed at me twice in my life, including once directly at my head from inches away (fodder for another column in the future), I can guarantee you are going to be shaking.

Even a trained shooter with a handgun is likely to miss a human target, or at least not hit the critical center of body mass, in a highly charged situation. A December 2007 article written by Al Baker in The New York Times used official New York City police statistics to show than in 2006 NYPD officers fired 364 bullets at human targets but hit those targets only 103 times, a hit rate of a mere 28.3 percent. The NYPD’s hit rate apparently improved by Aug. 24, 2012, when police fired 16 rounds at an armed man in a busy midtown street. They hit him 10 times. But they also injured nine bystanders.

Besides, even if you were to miss an intruder with a shotgun blast – unlikely if using buckshot at very close range – he would probably run for his life after a discharge. The noise would temporarily deafen him; the muzzle blast alone, at night in a darkened house, could give him cause to soil his pants.

No, forget handguns or rifles. That reliable ancient Chinese art of self-defense, “Shot Gun,” is the way to go.

There are also some, if fewer, good reasons, to own rifles and handguns. But semiautomatic assault-style weapons? Not if you are a civilian.

I have to admit the Mossberg 12-gauge was overkill. Chris Eger, writing for, described it:

“It looks like a rifle large enough to part a meteor, sink a battleship, or down a MIG with one shot. The reason is, it’s actually a shotgun, which explains the huge barrel but not the action. Yes, it has a bolt-action, and Mossberg has been the master of these oddball guns for decades.”

A 20-gauge pump-action would have been lighter and more practical and is still a fine home-defense weapon. Lordy, that Mossberg kicked like a mule!

I think I might have been trying to impress my friends with the Mossberg’s size. Hey, I was a child. I’ve put away my childish ways. If I ever do purchase a shotgun again, it will be a 20-gauge pump.

But some men never stop being boys. They think assault-style semiautomatic rifles make them look like warriors, even though many, maybe most, of the owners I know were never in the military.

In my next column, I’ll explain how a weapon such as an AR-15 actually isn’t a great rifle. And I’ll show how men who have never grown up – “boys and their toys” – are the reason, even more than the NRA, that actual kids like the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter can get their hands on such a deadly, if inferior, weapon.


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