Reality Check

Reality Check

Answering an obvious question

By Dennis Adler

It’s time for a reality check because we seem to be living in a surreal moment right now, one that appears to be unraveling daily, sometimes hourly, as our nation and the world faces a global health crisis. The reality check here, however, is not political or medical, it is airgun related. Why in a time of national crisis do we need a reality check on airguns? Because in times like these, when we become unsettled by events around us, events that can spiral out of control, people can do the wrong thing, seemingly for the right reason.

In the past, people have asked columnist Tom Gaylord if the large caliber, high-power PCP air rifles used for hunting are also suitable for self defense. That was years ago, but I’ll tell you now, the answer was no. I have been asked the same question more recently, and the answer is no. It is no for very straightforward reasons, even with the largest caliber single shot precharged pneumatic air rifles. It is no for smaller .22 and .25 caliber multi-shot precharged pneumatic pellet rifles, and absolutely no for air pistols!

One Sig Sauer WTP 1911 is for training, one is for self defense and you can’t easily tell them apart. That is what a good training gun is supposed to be. The problem is that no one else can tell them apart at a glance either. You need to be just as responsible for the CO2 pistol as the .45 Auto. I can never stress this enough.

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In most cases (and there are noted exceptions in home defense accounts) it is even a no with .22 LR pistols or rifles, which are far, far more effective than any .177 caliber BB or 4.5mm pellet gun because of their velocity and grain weight (40 grains on average for a .22 LR at over 1,000 fps). Any kind of CO2 pistol or rifle, no matter how authentic it may be in appearance, is not a defensive weapon in any sense; it is, rather, a bluff that cannot be backed up.

Guns like the Glock 17 series from Umarex have raised the bar on authenticity to new levels, and with it an individual’s responsibility for their handling and use. The safety we practice with centerfire guns is equally important with their CO2 understudies as part of the learning experience. They are perfect for training, but never as a bluff in place of a real gun.

Bad times

I hate to bring these things into the column because Airgun Experience has always been for enthusiasts, collectors, and those wishing to use authentic air pistols and rifles for fundamental training. That purpose is proven, proven by individuals, by law enforcement and military use of CO2 powered training guns. But that is the extent of it.

What I do not like writing about is the darker side of airgun use, or rather, misuse. It is in the news too often and tragically; cases of young individuals brandishing airguns in public and being shot by police. That is the down side of authenticity when it is misused, either by unsupervised children (who really should not have access to them at all), young teens, and worse, by adults. The latter is accounted for in police reports of criminals who tried to commit robbery or assaults with authentic looking airguns. Prisons and cemeteries are usually the final arbiter of that notion.  

When you can mix and match a CO2 pistol with accessories from its centerfire counterpart, like the Air Venturi Springfield Armory XDM 3.8, you have a level of authenticity that demands treating both with the same respect.

But now we have people of no ill-intent asking the question, readers of columns like Tom’s and mine, people who may not even own a “real” handgun or rifle. I hate to denigrate the beautiful workmanship that goes into the very best and most authentic looking airguns we have today, but they are not real guns in that most important sense, and they are not suitable for any kind of defensive use aside from training (and of course, just good old fashioned sport shooting).

When I write, “…never brandish an airgun in public” in my A Word About Safety warning at the end of articles, it should be taken to heart because no one can tell it isn’t a real gun. You can’t threaten or menace in public with an airgun any more than you can with a real gun. It is a bluff. If you bluff playing cards, the worst case is you lose your money. If you bluff with an airgun, you can lose your life.

Even a larger caliber, multi-shot precharged pneumatic is not a suitable defensive weapon. You can effectively hunt with them (larger calibers, even larger game like deer), but don’t fall into the belief you can defend yourself with one, if you become the hunted.

No air pistol is a defensive weapon, no air rifle, and not even a high power, large caliber precharged pneumatic that can take down a deer, is a good choice for a defensive weapon against a human threat, particularly one that is armed. The odds of a precharged pneumatic being ready and loaded for such an altercation, is unlikely. I know there are a hundred arguments that support a show of force as a means to deter a threat, arguments that a face full of BBs or pellets is going to turn an attacker on their heels. It might, but if it doesn’t, you have nothing to fall back on. Not wanting to sound like an old movie cliché, but it might be the one case where throwing the gun at someone could be more effective.

Having to use any weapon for self defense is about as serious as it gets, and there is an awful lot to be serious about right now. Thinking about using an airgun for self defense isn’t one of them.

10 thoughts on “Reality Check”

  1. U.S. citizens, at least for the largest part, are fortunate enough to live by the principles you stated above Dennis.
    But what about the rest of the people?
    I for one, have always used the same “bluff” argument to anyone who asked for my opinion knowing my, whatever is worth, engagement to arms, about using a less than lethal weapon for self defense. THIS BLUFF CAN COST LIVES.
    On the other hand, as a European citizen if everything goes down, I think that one should use anything at hand. Even throwing that BB gun to the opponent, after emptying it on his face, just before grabbing the nearest pencil to go for his eyes, if still alive off course. The instinct of survival guides a human to strange paths…
    Now I’m going to check the mags of my trusted Saiga.
    Be careful, reasonable and safe everyone.

    • Bill:

      Yes, survival instinct makes whatever is at hand viable for self defense. My only argument is that CO2 guns have a limited use time once CO2 is inserted. One would have to do as Wild Bill Hickok is reputed to have done every day, clear his 1851 Navy percussion pistols (i.e. shooting practice), clean the guns and reload. Hickok didn’t switch to cartridge loading Colts until late 1875 or early 1876. Back to my point, after a few days, CO2 pressure can begin to fall, a week, even more so, and velocity declines, the gun might not even fire. Same for pressurized (PCP) airguns, time is not on their side. One would have to be very fastidious about having airguns charged and ready as any kind of potentially non-lethal defense. But as you say, “…if everything goes down, I think that one should use anything at hand.” Hopefully, none of us will be put into such a situation. Everyone stay safe and stay well!


  2. Serious topic for a serious time. As to BB guns for defense or any pellet gun for bluffing, the answer is no. As to 22 rimfire I am not as negative . It is a burst fire weapon , that even though without much stopping power, can reach vital organs . A 22 can be a brain buster, as well as a nightmare for abdominal surgeons. That being said it requires a cool , steady hand . The first successful repelling of an armed hijacking was by a 27 Israeli security agent. He took on 3 hijackers armed with pistols and submachine guns. He ran at them firing a 22 caliber Beretta Jaguar pistol. He repeated that feat again on an airliner. As stated this is not a first choice option for most ., and the place of a replica airguns is to practice techniques that will transfer to a true fighting firearm

    • A .22 LR can be quite effective as your case points out. During WWII, FDR authorized the creation of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, which was the predecessor to today’s CIA) and agents were issued specially built High Standard .22 semi-autos with silencers, designated Model HD-M/S. Silenced .22s have been used by various military units the world over. You can’t sell the .22 LR short for its capabilities in the right hands.

  3. In the pre small 380 era, the Colt 25 and the WaltherTPH, in both 22 lr and 25 acp were lifesavers.Before Interarms tooled up for USA production, waivers were given to law enforcement to import German pistols. I have a TPH and can testify to its, reliability and accuracy. To show how deadly a 22 Beretta Jaguar would be at airplane shooting distance as done by the aforementioned Israeli agent with the identical Jaguar, I shot a target a few years back at 10 yards , rapid fire

  4. Another great little gun used by OSS agents during WWII (and still carried by some people today as a pocket-sized backup) is the Baby Browning .25 ACP. This is a palm-sized powerhouse for close range defense. There is nothing this small in an air pistol, but as you say, the Beretta 84 FS is a good CO2 pistol for practice with a small semi-auto. So, too, the new Sig Sauer P365.

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