The 5 Kinds of Guns You Should Avoid Like the Plague

by Tim Makay.

It’s true that having a gun beats no gun at all, but that does not mean that any gun will do as well as another. In fact, guns, as with all tools and products of man, suffer from their fair share of losers, lemons, bad-ideas and poor performers. In fact, just like three-wheeled cars and submarines with walk out screened porches, some entire categories of firearms are just plain bad ideas.

Used for anything but self-defense, these guns may be ok. For occasional hobby or sport use they will probably serve the average low-volume shooter just fine. But for self-defense a crap gun can spell disaster with a capital ‘D’. That’s especially bad when there are so many great guns to be had for prices high and low.

Some folks may wind up with a poor- quality gun because they were gifted it, inherited it, or bought it when they just flat out did not know better. After reading this article, you will not have that excuse, as least when it comes to a few kinds of gun. Below you’ll find info on what makes bad guns, well, bad, and a few categories of guns you should avoid at all costs unless you are a glutton for punishment.

What Defines a Bad Gun?

Whether a gun is good or bad will many times boil down to opinion. Guns have objectively measurable characteristics, both as individual pieces and as designs, that can be assessed and analyzed to see how they measure up to competing designs. Accuracy, reliability and durability are all important for any gun. Other factors like ergonomics and ease of servicing also play a part.

How easy the gun is to use, and how suited it is to its intended role are also big elements in the broad rating of a gun. A target rifle that can barely hit a pie pan at 100 yards will never be seen as anything other than a terrible target rifle, no matter how exemplary any of its other qualities are. That same rifle, if incredibly reliable, light and easy to maintain could be seen as a good, even great close-quarters combat rifle.

Of course, professionals, enthusiasts and connoisseurs will argue merits endlessly over seemingly tiny or inconsequential perks and quirks, but the motto for judging a gun will often boil down, simply, to this:

How well can this gun do what it is intended to do?”

Isn’t it all just preference? No. Preference does play a part in all of our choices, even when what we prefer is not strictly logical and rational. Sure, some knowledgeable, competent shooters may detest a well-liked and successful design over intrinsically personal or emotional reasons, but that does not change the fact that a good gun is a good gun.

Similarly, our skilled, savvy shooter may have a fondness, even a soft spot, for a certain gun that is known to be a bit less well-regarded by the rest of the shooting world. That does not smooth over that lesser guns flaws, either. “A pig by any other name…”

Do keep in mind that when a gun is declared bad, it may refer to an individual or a design as a whole. Even the finest manufacturer that spares no expense in meticulously producing guns of legendary quality will, every now and then, turn out a lemon. That lemon does not make the line bad. The reverse is also true, as some designs are so poorly thought out, made or otherwise devised that there is no amount of master-craftsmanship that will make it perform well.

Then you have a “false positive” situation: a gun of known lame design, made by a manufacturer with a poor reputation for quality that, against all odds and common-sense, runs very well, and even endears itself to its owner. Sadly, that one black sheep does not make the other 4999 bad guns to roll off the line “good.”

In this article today, we are referring to guns that are bad, bad, bad as a class, not individuals that I had a bad time with once somewhere.

What Flaws Might a Bad Gun Possess?

A bad gun or design may be obviously deficient in some essential way; fussy or general lack of reliability being major flaws. A reputation for breaking easily, having a short lifespan or being hard to use well (if it can be used well at all) are others. Another common culprit is lack of human engineering: hard-to-actuate controls, triggers and the like.

Guns intended for sector where accuracy is a must will be harshly derided if they fail to meet the standards of the day. Some guns may not seem to be lacking in any significant way, but are a case of being a “solution looking for a problem,” a gun that is too far outside common sense or conventional design as a tool intended for a specific set of circumstances.

A gun’s flaws and failings may not be readily apparent just by picking it up and running the action dry a few times, or even shooting it. Some flaws take time to manifest, or even become visible, and that may mean many hundreds or even thousands of guns in the wild, in the hands of shooters, for them to be discovered.

Some problems are retroactive, meaning what might have been a perfectly acceptable gun at one point in time is now rendered hopelessly terrible next to more modern or improved relatives in its category. The state of the art having changed so much, improved so radically, that the older alternative is now so out-of-date willfully choosing it is tantamount to negligence.

A Note

In the next section, we’ll take a look at some categories of guns you should absolutely positively avoid no matter what. At least, you’ll avoid them if you know what is good for you! It never fails though that even the most irredeemable category of guns has its users, even admirers and fans.

One of your guns may be on this list. It might hurt to hear it, or may make you angry. You will probably want to tell me off. That’s fine, and your right, but let me explain my intent. Again, if you own or use one of these guns for fun, as part of a collection or whathaveyou, feel free to ignore me and go on happily. I am not the one to tell you how to enjoy yourself, and I have been known to collect a few odd ducks and poorly conceived weird ones myself!

But, if you use, or are thinking of obtaining one of the following guns for self-defense or overall readiness, you must read and heed: each of the following categories of guns have associated with them serious pitfalls when it comes to buying and relying on them. I will explain each of those shortcomings in detail in the corresponding sections, so don’t go for my throat should you see your pet favorites name in a header.

Try to keep an open mind, and you might learn something the easy way before you have to learn it the “fun” way.

Without any more disclaimers, disavowing or disowning, enjoy the list of guns you should avoid like the plague below.

#5 – Cheapo AK Variants

“Gasp!” you say. “How can he disparage the most reliable of reliable gun, the vaunted and loved AK?!” “Why, an AK hammered together over a campfire is the most reliable artifact of man ever created, and will outlast even the pyramids!”

Easy does it there, and I hate to rain on your parade but AK’s, especially cheap AK’s, are fallible because they are made by man, and their reputations as universally invincible and reliable rifles is what makes guns in this category so dangerous.

Yes, it is generally accepted (and correct) that you can get a quality rifle of equivalent grade cheaper in the form of an AK than you can an AR. But the trouble starts when folks head out to their local gun shop or gun show and start thumbing through racks of $325 AKs thinking they will get a rifle that will carry them to the end and then some.

The plain truth is that you can make anything too shoddily to work, even a design as robust, simple and amicable to rough production as an AK. Guns in this class, as typified by the abysmal IO Inc. toasters, are simply made too poorly to be worth anything. Yes, they may shoot. Yes, they may even get through a whole magazine, but I can solemnly assure you the honeymoon period will be short lived, due to poor assembly, improper heat-treating, mismatched parts, and a host of other issues.

Companies like this frankly live and die off the backs of the romantic AK fans, the ones who think that you can put a bag of AK parts over a fire, hammer it good, poor it out and enjoy a hard-running combat rifle after you spit on it and wipe it down with a greasy rag.

You can make a primitive gun out of scrap and in short order with completely unskilled labor, but an AK is not one of them. Spend a little more and enjoy a rugged, reliable rifle that Kalashnikov intended.

derringer

#4 – Derringers

And I am not talking about just any small guns, as they are often coined. Derringers, the real thing, are typically two-barreled, break action guns chambered in a variety of calibers that are intended for use as hold-out or defensive pistols. They were at their most popular back in the days before the Wild West was tamed, and have, for whatever reason, stayed with us today. I’ll put my money on mystique and nostalgia alone.

The problems with derringers for defense today however are, well, the problem with them is pretty much everything about them. Derringers are smallish, suffer from absolutely horrid ergonomics, and are single-action, meaning they must be cocked for every shot. Once you have fired your piddly payload the action is broken open with the barrels pivoting upward from the rear, and you must the deal with getting two chambers clear of brass and two live cartridges into them before closing the whole contraption and reacquiring a tenuous grip on the thing.

These sins are compounded by many derringers being made to terrible standards, meaning that even these two shots will not be for sure. Caliber selection is anything from .22 all the way up to big .45’s. That being said the manufacturer of what is in all probability the most popular derringer today, Bond Arms, makes very, very high quality examples from good materials and by skilled craftsmen. That does nothing to alleviate the laundry list of flaws inherent to the derringer class itself.

If you need a tiny gun, other guns are smaller, and still hold more ammo while being easier to shoot. If you don’t mind the size of a larger derringer, a modern revolver or pistol is light years ahead of them in shootability and will have triple to nine times the capacity.

Derringers may be neat, cool and historically significant, but they belong in the past, not in your holster.

Walther's_Patent Mod 9 103

By Jwh at Wikipedia Luxembourg, CC BY-SA 3.0 lu, Link 

#3 – Any .25 ACP Pistol

In a word, .25’s are the single worst caliber for self defense. Even the diminutive .22 LR is a better performer than this wimpy thing. The quality of .25ACP guns varies as with all guns, but their standing as worst of the worst is not helped by the typical class of guns chambering it: tiny, diminutive pocket guns that are usually possessed of terrible triggers.

So in addition to having lackluster ballistic performance- and that was not hyperbole, .22LR’s actually penetrate more deeply and do so more consistently than .25’s across most loadings- it will be very, very tricky to shoot them well enough to deliver even that miniscule wound to a perp.

Even when encountered in the highest quality example of the breed, the Beretta 950 Jetfire, it is not enough to save this cartridge as anything but Worst. If you are considering one, and need a tiny, low recoiling pistol get a .22 version instead, as most companies that offer or offered a .25 made a .22 also. If you are looking at larger .25, get either a .380ACP or 9mm. If you still need lowered recoil, go ahead and get a large .22.

Before some of you chime in about the purported reliability, rather lack thereof, of rimfire cartridges and see the centerfire .25 as the heir apparent in the mousegun class, understand that ammunition quality not priming system is today the single greatest earmark of cartridge reliability. It might have been different 60 years ago, but a modern .22 pistol firing high quality loads (NOT bulk pack fodder) is shockingly reliable under most conditions.

At any rate, this does nothing to help the poor, downtrodden .25. Avoid this one.

#2 – .410 Shotshell-firing Handguns

These have been around a little longer than most people think, but have been made wildly popular by the Taurus Judge, Raging Judge, Circuit Judge and whatever other variants as well as the me-too competitor from Smith & Wesson, the Governor. On paper, these handzookas look like terrific defensive implements: the hit potential afforded by shot, with the capability afforded by .45 Colt. What a combo!

The reality is bleaker: very wide, sparse patterns and significant liability when utilizing shotshells, and an overly large, clunky, five shot .45 when using bullets. The Taurus versions are additionally not renowned for durability. The S&W Governor is made better, but both suffer from heavy triggers, great bulk and significant weight.

Still, these guns have their advocates. Some people are mesmerized by the idea of a .410 shotshell issuing forth from a handgun, and are zealous believers in it as a manstopper, even though those same folks will likely turn their nose up at the idea of a .410 shotgun for home defense. Ammo companies, being enormous capitalists and eager to sell ammo, responded with a line of “optimized” .410 handgun loads, featuring zany combinations of buck and ball or even little discus-like projectiles.

The idea is, plainly, a poor one. If you desire a shotgun for home defense, get a shotgun, not some bastardized handgun shooting snake-oil shells. You could carry one of these off stoked with proper .45 Colt loads, and have a good time of it, but in that case you are still left adrift with a gun entirely too large and awkward compared to virtually every other competitor.

#1 – Pistol Grip-Only (PGO) Shotguns

Oh no he didn’t! Yes, I am afraid I did. The stockless shotgun has long been the guilty pleasure and apple-of-my-eye of much of the shooting world since, well, since forever. There is something undeniably attractive about a short, handy, nimble shotgun that can blast forth a storm of deadly buckshot. The relatively recent introduction of the Mossberg Shockwave and Remington Tac-14 series is all the proof you need; these things sell like crazy!

Maybe it is all of their cumulative appearances in movies, TV shows and videogames. Maybe it is the raw appeal of lightness and raw destructive capability. Whatever it is, it is universally a poor choice for defense.

There is nothing mechanically wrong with PGO shotguns, and they will in general be as reliable as a given make of their long barreled and full-stocked brethren. Even cries of poor patterns and velocity loss fall short (sorry), as a properly shortened barrel or factory made one can still produce shockingly good patterns with appropriate load selection.

No, the issue with PGO shotguns is that they are very, very difficult to shoot well without a ton of practice, even at their intended optimum range, which is nearly bad breath distance. Without a stock to provide a third point of contact stabilizing the gun enough in front of the shooters face for aimed fire is challenging, requiring both a fair bit of strength and nerve; recoil with these little guns is stout and a failure to manage it well will result in a loss of control and perhaps even striking yourself in the face.

The obvious cool-guy alternative is to shoot from the hip. After all, how can you miss when you are so close, and the spray of pellets is nearly unavoidable, right? Wrong: unlike the Judgernors up there, these short-barreled guns still require a pretty surprising degree of precision to hit with at close range, and shooting from the hip is a poor plan for delivering that precision. Even with considerable practice, most shooters will not attain speed and accuracy enough to make that a worthwhile endeavor.

They are incredibly cool, and have utility as breaching tools, but for most shooters, they are a bad idea for a defensive piece unless you plan to put an appropriate pistol brace on them.

Conclusion

Not all guns will make the grade and pass muster to serve their owners well in the brutal intricacies of a fight. If you are choosing a gun for self-defense, you must be calculating and logical in your selections. Do not let a bargain, sentiment or glamour sway you into picking one that will set you up for failure. The stakes are too high.


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9 Comments

  1. Tom, thank you for a stiff dose of Dr. Tom’s Clear Thinking Oil. I have an AK, but a genuine one. The differences between the real McCoy and the cheaper knock-offs are simply amazing…if you know what you’re looking at and it matters to you. And for more discriminating handlers, the AK is not a tool for everything. A hammer can make a hole just like a drill and a screwdriver; but it’s not the tool for every job.

    Insofar as the other handgun weapons you mention, I will always remember an observation by Gordon Liddy: “If the caliber your personal defense weapon begins with a number below 4, you are under-armed and in danger. The only exception I make for this, for obvious reasons, is the .357 Magnum.”

    I own a S & W 9mm, but the only rounds I will use in it are 9mm +P+ rounds with the jacketed hollowpoint. I know, I know, the 9 is growing up and coming of age, and to trump it all, the SEALs use ’em. Those guys could use rocks and be every bit as deadly as they are right now! The rest of us…we ain’t quite so good. [I already have donned my armor plate for having said this.]

    The PGO shotgun is still to be checked out in real experience. If a person is adequately instructed in the various ways the shotgun appears to be deadly from the perspective of the person who has one for coolness’ sake, he or she may be able to count on it. One matter that comes to mind is that the shooter must hold the muzzle seemingly high in order to effect a killing shot if firing from the waist. The tendency of an uninstructed / untrained shooter is to hold it muzzle-low because it ‘seems like that will be accurate.’ There are a host of other peculiarities.

    If you must have a short-barrel shotgun get a coach gun, a normal stock on a 20-inch weapon. It is a deadly weapon. But you’d better be accurate and have a good backup piece.

    Even better, simply heed Tom’s advice and don’t go this route at all.

    Again, Tom, thank you.

  2. I own a derringer, and carry it sometimes – but for slithering snakes, not the 2 legged variety. Two .410 loads from a really short barrel has done a real good job on several snakes I got too close to while fixing fence, etc. Never has been, and never will be my primary carry, though!

  3. Finally! Someone has written an article espousing what I have believed/been teaching for many years. I have, being an old guy with an “interesting” past have had occasion to use many different types of firearms. Always I have used guidelines as you have mentioned to select/choose/procure firearms that were effective for the job at hand. Obviously, it worked – I AM an old guy! Yes, 9mm ammo has evolved into a much more effective load and I have used it to good effect – but I still feel more comfortable with my Sig/Colt/Glock in .45acp. or 10mm. The same technical advances apply to some degree to the .45 & 10mm ammo as well as the .40 and 9mm. Shotguns. Hmm. Love ’em. With a full stock particularly. They would be even better if I had someone to carry the ammo I would require to feel comfortable on an “assignment”. Great for home defense – just don’t go looking around for the bad guy – a trained 10 year old can disarm most people carrying a shotgun. Yes, there are inferior firearms. Please, listen to Tom on this. To be effective, you not only need a good firearm, but you need quality training, good ammunition and the proper mind set. Anything less is dangerous! Art – retired trainer, protection agent, soldier and adventurer.

  4. sorry guys but any break open shotgun should be on that list – I love my double barrels – especially my family inherited ones >>>> come SHTF time my DBs will loaded up and positioned to be used as a last resort type use …..

  5. A shotgun with a buttstock has much value. Take away the buttstock and it is a master key useful only for separating a locked door from its frame and hinges.

  6. I must agree on some of this but and that is a big but, I have a Bond Arms derringer while I would not use or rely on it for my only means of self defense it does make a good backup for times like when you are in your car and cannot get to your main gun there are cross drawl holsters called driving holsters that make these an ideal weapon for use in your car, next would be the shotgun pistols and shotguns with only a pistol grip, I have both and they are excellent choices for home defense, a pistol loaded with 00 buckshot or a short legal length barreled pump shotgun with a pistol grip are excellent home defense guns, both are easy to swing in an enclosed area and last I do agree on the .25 but don’t agree the .22 is better, the .22 is known for misfires due to the way the primer is placed, is too small to have enough stopping power and the speed is just too fast unless the bullet hits substantial mass they usually pass straight through doing little damage, yes they are great for hunting small game and yes if you get a well placed shot they are just as deadly as larger calibers but anyone that actually has been in a active shooter situation will tell you there isn’t much time to aim it’s more point and shoot, that is why we practice shooting what I call off hand shooting, where you drawl your gun point and shoot.

  7. Cheapo $325 ak variants do not exist. You failed to provide a single example of one of these cheapo AK variants. It is almost like you just made this up and have no facts or experience with such an AK. I have not seen an AK clone on the shelf for that cheap in over 20 years. The cheapest century arms surplus Romanian WASR-10s used to be $400 and now run $700 to $800 and have been nothing but reliable for me. Thousands and thousands of rounds. Unless someone completely botched a home build (they are much more difficult to build than ARs) there shouldn’t be much of an issues with any AK.

    • Oh, Alex. Nerves, much? Companies like IO Inc and Red Army Standard really did make trash AKs as cheaply as possible and relied on consumer ignorance to sell them. “Oh, it’s an AK, you really can’t go wrong with one of these because of everything I read on the interwebz!”, and IO laughed at them all the way to the bank. Don’t believe me? Go look up the AK Operator’s Union on the ‘Tubes. Well, any honest review of IO AKs will say the same thing, they just did it best. The designation of “AK” does absolutely nothing to fix bad metallurgy. You could make an AK-47 out of paper machete and it would still melt in the rain.

      Now, maybe they weren’t $325–the last AK I saw that cheap was an AMD-63 kit a year-ish ago–but that just makes what IO and RAS did even worse.

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