Home Product Reviews What’s Your Primary Survival Firearm? By: Jim Davis

What’s Your Primary Survival Firearm? By: Jim Davis

What’s Your Primary Survival Firearm?   By: Jim Davis

When someone mentions a “Survival” scenario, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? For a long time, I always pictured a scenario unfolding in the deep woods, or maybe the desert. It’s isolated, with little chance of outside help and someone is trying to find his or her way back into civilization.

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Discussing the matter with friends, though, got me thinking. Survival takes place everywhere, in all types of environments. I’ve been in urban survival scenarios that proved to be quite deadly. Certainly, these scenarios could take place in remote, desolate locations. Often enough, though, they take place where there are people—sometimes too many people, oftentimes, the wrong sort of people.

Could a “Survival” scenario unfold in our living room? Without a doubt, if we were attacked in our home, it sure would! Or how about out on the highway when our vehicle breaks down and we’re stranded? Of course, the same could happen on an inner city street as well.

Stranded family.
Being stranded along the highway can certainly present us with a survival situation. A handgun would go a long way in providing peace of mind here. (Photo: Amy Stein)

What if we’re in a grocery store or the mall when some lunatic decides it’s “Range Day” and we are all moving targets? Maybe you’re out walking the dog, relaxing after a long day of dealing with your job, and you run across “That Guy.” You know, the guy that makes your weird-meter needle nearly jump off the chart.

It seems I was locked into thinking “Survival” scenarios involved the wilderness. Man, was I mistaken! Given that, let’s take a look at the best tools and firearms we might have access to.

Is this what you picture when someone mentions a Survival Scenario? I used to.

A Long Gun

“What’s the best survival firearm?” Under my old thinking, it would have been a pistol and rifle. For my taste, the .22LR because it’s light and I can carry a lot of ammo for that (not necessarily) scenario in the Great Wilds.

It’s long since been established that a long gun is the way to go for any serious task. Rifles and shotguns just simply have more power and reach, and any sane person would use one of them to address a “real” survival situation.

Except…we really can’t go to the grocery store with an AR-15 slung across our back, can we? I mean, you could, if you wanted to clear out the store and meet up with a SWAT team within a few minutes. Such festivities always complicate my daily chores, though, so it’s something that I strive to avoid. That whole, “Drop the weapon or we’ll shoot!” thing really tends to dampen the shopping experience.

Except…we really can’t go to the grocery store with an AR-15 slung across our back, can we? I mean, you could, if you wanted to clear out the store and meet up with a SWAT team within a few minutes. Such festivities always complicate my daily chores, though, so it’s something that I strive to avoid. That whole “Drop the weapon or we’ll shoot!” thing really tends to dampen the shopping experience.

DSA-58 Para-FAL.
Toting a rifle into public places tends to upset the local populace. Although, this DSA-58 Para-FAL sure does look pretty!


Assuming it is legal, what’s the one gun we can have with us all the time, for the most part, regardless of where we are at? Yes, the handgun. If you’re broken down on the freeway or in the city (or wherever, for that matter), you can have a handgun with you. If you carry it concealed (you should), no one will be the wiser that you are armed.

Concealed Carry versus Open Carry

Many states, mine included, permit open carry. If I’m around people, I carry concealed, because it’s nobody else’s business what I have on my person. An openly visible firearm always seems to raise controversy among those who don’t like it. Am I within the law? Yes. Do I need the extra drama? I sure don’t!

Beyond that, we have to consider the “Shoot Me First Factor.” Let’s say I’m in a place that’s being robbed, and the thieves see that I’m armed. They may assume that I’m law enforcement. Or, maybe they’ll just assume that I’m going to shoot them at my first opportunity (a good assumption on their part, too). So, just to be safe, they put a few bullets in me.

Or maybe Mr. Criminal sees my gun hanging off my hip and decides that he needs an extra gun to sell down on the corner. So he comes up and shoots me from behind and takes my gun.

An openly displayed firearm makes you a target of all sorts of people, ranging from gun control advocates who are saving the world to criminals who are up to no good. Do yourself a favor and keep your firearm concealed. That’s just my opinion, you can take it or leave it.

Are pistols undesirable?

Because of the low power of pistols, they often do not stop threats. This is why they’re typically low on our wish list for serious defensive use. Most people would much rather have a rifle than a pistol for defense. This is where the oft-heard axiom, “A pistol is used to fight your way to a long gun” comes from.

I personally know a lot of people who have been shot by pistol rounds (and even some who were hit by long gun rounds) who did not stop doing what they were engaged in when they were shot. So, it’s not an urban legend to say that pistols are among the least effective defensive arms. It is an established fact.

Even so, when I’m working at my desk at home, driving in my car, watching television in my living room, waiting to have the oil changed in my car, shopping, or doing any one of a myriad of tasks, my pistol is at my side and instantly accessible.

The weapon we are most likely to have close at hand at all times is the pistol. For that reason, I’m going to call it the Primary Survival Gun at this point. If, for no other reason, it’s available.

Revolver or Semi-Auto?

Revolvers are simple to operate and are generally reliable. However, if a revolver does develop an issue, it’s going to probably take a gunsmith to solve it, due to the nature of their action.

Also, they can be had in some very serious calibers, from self-defense to hunting, so they are versatile. If you live in an area inhabited by grizzly bears, a heavy-caliber revolver would make perfect sense as a survival handgun.

S&W 642 revolver.
The Smith & Wesson 642 in .38 Special is a solid choice for defense. It’s very light and compact and has adequate power, considering it’s just a handgun.

Semi-autos enjoy the advantage of being reloaded more quickly with a magazine and they very often have a larger capacity than revolvers. Semi-autos are also normally simpler to fix than a revolver. If they develop issues, you can get parts to swap out, for the most part. Glocks are great for this, given that they are among the most popular guns in the country and parts are available everywhere. And they’re easy to work on.

My pistol battery consists of guns mostly from Glock and Smith & Wesson.

The Glock 19X is a full-sized handgun that holds 19+1 rounds of 9mm, so it offers a lot of firepower. It’s also extremely accurate for a service-grade handgun. It’s heavier than my smaller pistols, so I don’t carry it as often.

The Glock 43X is slimmer and smaller. Not exactly a pocket pistol, but it’s among the smaller pistols on the market while still filling the hand nicely. It carries 10+1 rounds of 9mm and is also fairly accurate.

The Smith & Wesson CSX holds 12+1 rounds of 9mm, which, considering the pistol’s extremely compact size, is extraordinary! Currently, it is my favorite carry pistol because of its tiny size and capacity, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

I also enjoy the small size and light weight of my S&W 642 Airweight revolver, and carry it from time to time. It fits into my pocket very nicely.

Pistols are light and convenient to carry. This new micro-9mm, the Smith & Wesson CSX, carries wonderfully. Pistols, however, are not great at stopping bad people.

That’s most of what I carry for defensive use. It’s simple and it works. My recommendation is that you don’t skimp on quality. If you need that handgun, you’re going to need it very badly. Going the cheap route is not advisable because reliability will likely suffer. The old adage, “Buy once, cry once” certainly applies here.


Modern ammunition has come a very long way, so most of the major defensive calibers these days are going to be about equal to one another, generally speaking. For defensive use, I’ve settled on either the 9mm or the .38 Special. Not because they are magic death rays, but because they offer relatively low recoil and I can shoot them well. As far as effectiveness, they are just about as good as any other realistic caliber that is available.

I like the fact that all my semi-auto pistols fire the same round, 9mm. It makes purchasing ammo easy and less complicated. Others make the good point that having pistols in a few different calibers is a good thing in the event ammo becomes scarce. If you can’t find one caliber, you may be in luck finding another one. 


I know quite a few people who keep a long gun in their vehicle, “just in case.” Some have AR-15s (with AR pistols being a popular choice), and a few like AKs. Some are shotgun guys. One or three still pack the venerable lever gun. Each is convinced that having the long gun along offers versatility and adds to preparedness. They like to have options and I cannot disagree. I personally don’t normally bring a long gun along unless I’m traveling to a remote area and want that extra bit of “just in case” with me.

Marlin .30-30 lever action carbine.
The Marlin .30-30 lever action is a comfort to have along for the ride.

Personalize It

I’m willing to bet that a pistol will cover a huge portion of your possible needs, but your situation might be unique. You may want to personalize your battery of defensive weaponry to suit your particular needs. With a handgun that’s always available, you can build from there. Flexibility is key.

We’d love to hear your ideas about the topic, so feel free to leave a comment and let us know about your ideas.