By Personal Defense World staff
When disaster strikes, you may have all the food and supplies your family needs for a decade, but without the proper firearms in your bugout bag, some thug could easily take all your gear.
Iran and Israel trade nuclear weapons, and the Straits of Hormuz, a conduit through which 25 percent of the entire world’s oil supply flows, are irradiated. The price of gas trebles overnight. After one final wheeze, the long-suffering U.S. economy sputters and dies. With spiraling inflation and no fuel, the trucks stop rolling. Forty-eight hours later, the only items left for sale at the local supermarket are gossip magazines and soap. For the first time since the Great Depression, Americans know real hunger. Governmental response mechanisms are utterly overwhelmed.
Small communities devolve into armed camps, self-contained bastions of enforced civility wherein skill sets necessary to produce food, procure water and maintain security are tapped to keep the corporate entity alive. Urban centers resemble hell.
Your situation becomes untenable. Moving to Grandma’s rural farm with unlimited well water and a lake full of fish is your only remaining reasonable course of action. You load up as many MREs and water bottles as you can in the minivan and prep the family for immediate evac. You empty the lawnmower gas into the tank and calculate that you can just make it there—so long as nothing slows you up in transit. You stare into the open maw of your gun safe while your frightened daughter clings to your leg and realize that your next decision carries consequences.
Even if our great nation never descends into post-apocalyptic chaos, any self-reliant American citizen faces the possibility of having to move his family in a crisis. Hurricanes in littoral areas, or tornadoes and earthquakes everywhere else can necessitate evacuation. While disaster inevitably brings out the best in some and the worst in others, nothing says “leave us alone” like a nicely equipped rifle and a half-dozen mags. Though the eccentricities of caliber and accessories have been debated into the dirt, there are some unique tactical considerations that feed into optimizing a weapon for use in and around a vehicle when space is tight.
Size Does Matter
The FN FAL .308 is a magnificent battle rifle, but trying to manage one of these boat anchors inside an automobile is akin to trying to operate an extension ladder in a phone booth. The ideal bugout gun needs to find that sweet spot between firepower and portability, and the inevitable starting point is a handgun. The particulars of handgun selection for tactical use are beyond the scope of this article. However, there are several lessons that can be gleaned from the after-action review of the Dade County FBI shootout.
Any handgun set on the car seat or dashboard for easy access ends up irretrievably lodged under the seat or in the luggage compartment as soon as you rub bumpers with the bad guys. The same thing can be said for eyeglasses. As such, an eyeglass retaining strap and a comfortable shoulder holster can ensure that, come what may, you will not be blind or unarmed when unpleasantness arises. A shoulder rig also means you do not spend three stressful hours sitting atop an uncomfortable bulky handgun while your four-year-old regales you with interminable iterations of “Are we there yet?”
Penetration that might be deemed excessive between rooms is desirable when car bodies are involved. Fast, lightweight rifle rounds that do magnificent things downrange can often be remarkably vexed by safety glass and car doors. On the other hand, simple, pedestrian hardball handgun ammunition can be unexpectedly effective.
When I worked in an urban ER, I met a gentleman who had undertaken an ill-advised financial transaction with an illicit pharmaceutical retailer. While our hero vigorously extricated himself from the situation, the amateur pharmacist fired a single 9mm FMJ round to seal the deal. The projectile punched through the trunk of his ’80s-era Cadillac, passed through the backseat as well as the front, and ended its transit buried in my erstwhile friend’s shoulder. The round was sufficiently spent so as to not unduly impede our hero’s escape, but it still made quite a mess. That experience left an impression on me.
In that vein, semi-auto versions of the 9mm Uzi and HK MP5 are still commercially available, and it is amazing the volume of ammunition that may be carried in a sackful of those little stick magazines. This particular option allows for potential ammunition commonality with a primary handgun as well.
The recently rereleased Steyr AUG, the MSAR STG-556, the Israeli Tavor and the FN 2000 all represent rifle-caliber firepower solutions in a bullpup package. These designs provide optimal barrel lengths for minimal space constraints. The detriments typically include mushy triggers and, in some cases, difficulty firing from the weak side. While the space benefits are indeed desirable, you cannot engage a target to the front from the left side of a vehicle without shooting left-handed. If your rifle is incapable of effective left-handed operation, this is a significant consideration in a vehicle-driven scenario.
For most American shooters, the AR-15 is the typical go-to gun when the brood jumps into the family fun-mobile to beat feet for greener pastures. While an AR with a rail full of widgets is definitely the piece to keep you company when investigating breaking glass in the night, it may not be the ideal solution inside the minivan. The legal minimum 16-inch barrel on an M4 clone still results in an overall length of 32 inches with the stock collapsed. The only legal way around this is to suck it up, do the paperwork and build yourself a short-barreled rifle (SBR).
The paperwork required to shorten a rifle barrel to less than 16 inches is expensive and onerous. The upside is that, once it is done, the rifle in question can sport any length tube you might want. As commercial AR barrels are available in lengths down to 7 inches, this provides a wide variety of excellent options. However, in my experience ultra-short barrels can be notoriously finicky, and it behooves the responsible operator to invest plenty of range time when it is peaceful to ensure that his or her rig will run reliably before having to rely on it in a crisis.
The SBR option is a legitimate consideration for a variety of reasons. The aforementioned Uzi and MP5 clones become ridiculously compact when the tubes are cut down to their original length, and an AR with an 11.5-inch barrel is right handy in close quarters. As such, if this seems interesting, go to the ATF website, download the Form 1 and follow the instructions to do it right and make it legal before buying a short barrel.
Now consider your ability to communicate. If you have ever actually fired a high-velocity weapon indoors or, Lord help you, within an enclosed vehicle, you know that without hearing protection you will be answering the phone for a week when it is not ringing. While that is acutely painful and causes serious problems in later years, the inability to communicate effectively when the rounds are actually flying can be catastrophic. As a result, sound suppressors may add a little length but can potentially be game-changers. The market is fairly saturated these days with high-quality sound suppressors, and finding a good one is expensive but easy.
Instead of an SBR, you can opt for a pistol made from rifle parts. I myself may have finally found a legitimate use for those ridiculous 5-pound pistols that look like HKs, ARs and AKs. When operating out of a vehicle, the C93 or PAP-series pistols from Century Arms, or a similar home-built rig on an AR chassis, can provide prodigious magazine capacity and splendid maneuverability in tight spaces. As a serious gunman, I am ashamed to admit that I own several of these guns, but they are surprisingly effective both from a vehicle and off-hand in circumstances where great precision isn’t required.
I want my gun collection to waste away three generations from now, never having been used for anything more serious than an afternoon’s recreation and regular training. I want our elected officials to resolve their differences, solve our problems and bring peace and harmony to the planet. I want to start unexpectedly finding gold nuggets in my mailbox as well. However, I would not bet hard money that any of that might actually happen in the near future.
In the realistic probability that we might have to move our families under stressful circumstances, it behooves us to put a little thought into maintaining our security while on the road. While food, fuel, diapers and water are important, none of that matters if some unscrupulous parasite decides to take it all away from you. Under those circumstances, the right gun can solve problems before they get out of hand. Just like the two friends being chased by the bear, you do not have to be the best-equipped tactical operator in the free world; you just have to be pricklier than the next guy. With a little forethought, it is not hard to get there.
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