Choosing the Right Defensive Handgun

Choosing the right defensive weapon, when children are in the home.

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One would think that the choice of a defensive handgun (and it has been stated before by many in the firearms media, maybe even me) is a highly personal one. A decision that centers around which handgun feels the best, and is the easiest to use for the purchaser. And while that overall premise is basically true, it doesn't take everything into consideration.

This topic came to mind after I read the news of yet again, another terrible tragedy involving a young child and firearm. This horrible accident shows that when it comes to your defensive handgun choice, it isn't, or shouldn't be, all about you. It shows that your defensive firearm choice needs to be less about personal preference and more about the safety of those around whom you will interact with on a day to day basis.

TAMPA (FOX 13) - A Tampa family was forced to bury their child today. Yanelly Zoller was killed last week after police say she was rummaging through her grandmother's purse and grabbed a gun, then accidentally shot herself.

Her 22-year-old father Shane Zoller told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday that she just wanted candy.

Police aren't saying who owned the gun involved in the shooting, but they do confirm it was owned legally.

"Right now, the case is still under investigation but everything we've looked at makes it appear as a tragic accident, so no charges at this point," Tampa police spokesman Steve Hegarty told FOX 13 News.

"We'll bring it over to the State Attorney's Office to make sure that they sign off on it, but like I said, all the signs seem to indicate it was just a terrible accident".

This situation could have been prevented by choosing a handgun that was more difficult for a 4 year old child to operate. It sounds to me like the grandmother had chosen a firearm that was easy for her to operate, one with a light trigger pull. The gun was likely a semi-automatic pistol with an automatic safety that is part of the trigger mechanism. Typically this type of handgun design provides an easy to manage 5-6 lb. trigger pull for the authorized user that is also easy to accidentally discharge by an unauthorized user with the limited hand strength of a four year old child.

Don't get me wrong, guns with the modern automatic trigger safety mechanism are great defensive firearms. That lightweight trigger pull, which is perfectly safe in the hands of an adult, properly trained lawful user is easy to shoot accurately and quickly—characteristics helpful in decisively defeating a threat against your life. But if you are in a situation like I am with a very young child at home, you may want to consider a different type defensive handgun—at least temporarily—until the child is old enough to fully understand the dangers inherent in firearms.

Even though I keep my firearms locked up in my safe when not in use, I do have a loaded off-duty handgun around. If it's not on my person, I keep it out of reach in a locking box, or in a secure holster out of reach, just in case I have a momentary lapse in attention. A properly secured holster (with thumb break or other security mechanism) limits access by young children to the firearm. It seems likely to me that the grandmother in the news story had her gun loose in her purse or only "secured" in a zipper or snap pocket.

Had her handgun of choice been a double action revolver, like a Smith and Wesson J-Frame .22, .22 Magnum or .38 Special or a similar chambered Ruger LCR, the tragedy could have been avoided. The standard trigger pull weight on a double action revolver is in the 10-12 lb. range. The four year old granddaughter would not have had the necessary hand strength to pull the trigger after find the gun in the purse.

There are some other firearms options in addition to double action revolvers that are more difficult for young children to operate. A number of semi-automatic pistols have heavier trigger pulls and manual safeties that can reduce the chance of an accidental discharge by a child. Smith and Wesson offers additional manual safeties on the pistols in their M&P and Shield line, the Springfield Armory XD lineup features a grip safety in addition to the trigger safety, 1911 type semi-automatics that have both a manual thumb safety and a grip safety offer a double layer of protection from unauthorized small hands, and Ruger offers additional manual safeties on most of their semi-automatic handguns. Even better in my book are Double Action/Single Action semi-automatics like the Walther PPKs or the Beretta 92, which have a 10-12 pound trigger pull for the first shot, followed by a lighter pull for subsequent shots. Both of these guns also feature a manually applied safety for an extra layer of safety. Bersa also makes a .380 pistol similar to the Walther PPKs with the same safety features for less money. There are also Double Action only semi-automatic pistols like the SCCY CPX-2, which features a heavier 10 lb. pull for each shot. The SCCY CPX-1 features an additional manual safety to back up the double action trigger.

Young boy trying to touch gun Parents should be aware of a childs curiosity, while considering a defensive weapon

My current off-duty guns of choice all have either a 10-12 lb. trigger pull, or a combination of multiple safeties. While on vacation this summer I carried my Bond Arms Bullpup 9 as my off duty gun. The Bullpup 9 has a constant 9 lb. trigger pull that is very smooth, but too difficult for my 3 year old son to pull. We have been working with him since he was 2 to never touch daddy's "boom booms", and he has been very good about it. I had taken the Bullpup 9 (which was holstered in a secured DeSantis Apache ankle rig) off for the evening, and set it on the end table in our bedroom. My son had come into our room while I was standing there and noticed the gun, and touched the butt of it with his finger. This was the only time he has ever done that and he was quickly corrected. This happened in a split second, and I was very glad for the double layer of accident prevention—the gun was in a secured holster, and the trigger pull would have been too difficult for his three year old fingers to pull. After that I kept the gun secured higher up as third layer of precaution.

I can only speculate what type of gun the Florida grandmother (who is now forever without her granddaughter) carried, or how it was secured in her purse. But in the end, it seems to me this horrible tragedy could have been prevented by the selection of a firearm and carry method that took more consideration of the presence of children in the home.