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The L.A. riots: echoes in the gunshops.

How Long Can A Handgun Hold Back A Riot?

For three days in April and May of this year, the city of Los Angeles erupted in a spree of violence and looting that will change the face of our country for years to come. No longer will citizens living in the inner cities be content to leave their safety in the hands of the police who, at the first sign of chaos, may turn tail and run.

Following the L.A. Riot, California citizens flocked to area gun stores in record numbers, ready to purchase the guns that they had so long blamed for social ills and rising crime rates. Gun store owners were nearly buried by the avalanche of 4473 forms, and they worried with each gun they sold that they might be putting a deadly weapon in the hands of someone who had no idea how to use it.

As gun dealers try desperately to steer hundreds of first-time gun owners toward self-defense and gun safety classes, and try to help still more customers choose the right gun for their needs, Massad Ayoob examines the handgun options available to the customer who fears a repeat of the violence in L.A.

The legacy of fear that was cast over the nation by the "Rodney King Riots" will not be easily or quickly dispelled. Some predict that similar violence will follow if Officer Powell is acquitted in his second trial. Meanwhile, many knowledgeable observers in Florida warn that the same mass violence may result from an acquittal of Miami Police Officer William Lozano, being retried for manslaughter in the on-duty deaths of two black men this past fall. Hurricane Andrew swept through Florida in September, and as the police were immobilized and overwhelmed, chaos followed in the wake of the storm, proving that natural disasters, too, can render the police ineffective.

A nation has learned that its police cannot always be there to help them. A nation has come to realize that they were lied to by those who told them, "Only police and soldiers need guns, and you need police and soldiers instead of guns." In Los Angeles, that nation saw the police and the soldiers arrive altogether too late, in a scenario that left more than 50 dead and more than 2,000 injured, many severely.

This means a lot of people you haven't seen before will be coming into your shop to purchase some control of their own destiny.

One of the most popular choices for this is a handgun -- perceived as inexpensive, easy to carry, and effective. Let's take a look at the handguns you can offer your customers and see if these perceptions are myth or fact.

Why A Handgun?

In many jurisdictions, concealed carry is not among the rights extended to law-abiding citizens. Therefore, many feel, there's no need for a defensive handgun to be compact. One could certainly argue that a large, bright-finished, long-barrelled gun in the hand or in an exposed holster at the hip would be sufficient to make your typical opportunistic parasite decide that a home or business so guarded is not worth looting.

Others would make the point that if you ever needed a gun with high cartridge capacity, a raging riot would be the time. I find this particularly hard to argue with.

While training in Miami, I saw film footage of what was done to some of the motorists who were literally mangled to death by crowds of rioters in 1980 solely because they were the wrong color, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. If I sensed a riot in the wind where I was going, I would make every effort to pack my 16-shot 9mm, SIG P-226, or Beretta 92, with multiple magazines, including 20-round extended sticks.

This increase in firepower could have another benevolent effect. It is well known that rioters are aggressive in the collective but often cowardly in the individual. Facing a frenzied crowd with a five-shot .38 would make me worry about the dirtbags in the back of the crowd pushing the others forward, knowing that the ones in front would take the bullets and the gun would be empty by the time they got to their victim.

The same selfish and vicious coward, facing a large semiautomatic pistol with a long "clip" protruding from the butt, would be more likely to realize that there were quite enough bullets to go around in the next few seconds, and movement in the other direction might suddenly seem an awfully good idea.

Deterrence without bloodshed is always the ideal, and a large capacity auto pistol with an extended magazine might well have the advantage over any other handgun in such circumstances.

If yours is one of the many shops where once red-hot 9mm sales have gone soft, with the trend going instead toward lower capacity guns in .40 S & W and .45 ACP, the buyer motivated by the spectre of the next riot may be the answer to clearing the cobwebs off the double-stack 9mms in your inventory.

To Go With That Pistol?

Don't forget accessories: spare magazines, holsters, the lot. Were I without a gun in Los Angeles and gearing up for the next riot, I'd put my in for a good high-capacity 9mm ... several spare magazines, including a few of the extended variety, and at least two holsters. One would be a "field holster" for conspicuous "warning wear," as when guarding one's retail establishment when the cops are under siege. The other would be a "concealment rig." As John Farnam points out in his excellent text The Street Smart Gun Book, there often comes a time when the gun bought for premises defense has to be carried discreetly in public during an emergency. Some of the jurisdictions that normally forbid concealed carry have wordings in their laws that do permit the practice in times of life-threatening emergency. This is a variation of the common law principle of "doctrine of necessity" or "doctrine of competing harms."

Have the designated attorney for your state's grassroots firearms rights association check this out for you, or call the state attorney general's office for an opinion.

Coming Around Again

Many of your first-time customers will be people who cannot afford to buy high-priced guns. Keep your eye out for traded-in police service revolvers, which can be had at excellent prices. Even if you don't go for police department bids, some nearby distributor probably does and has plenty of trade-ins you can profitably sell while giving the needy customer an excellent dollar value.

Some experienced self-defense shooters will argue in favor of a revolver over an auto loader in a riot situation. When facing one or even a handful of punks in an alley, a high-capacity pistol is ideal, but even the longest magazine runs dry. For reloading a magazine, both hands are required, and that leaves the pistol on the ground, on a table, between the knees -- in short, out of action.

A revolver, however, can be reloaded one round at a time, and the weapon can be kept ready in the right hand while the left does the recharging. If there is a need for defense before the reloading is complete, the cylinder can be locked back in place with one or two -- or even five -- chambers empty with little or no tactical inconvenience. (A similar argument can be made for a lever-action, tube-fed rifle over a box-magazine semi-auto!)

Remember the terrifying spectacle of the truck driver dragged into the street and nearly killed? Can anyone doubt that even a five-shot revolver would have saved him? Teach your customers that time-honored doctrine: Revolver or auto, high-capacity or big-bore, high-tech or ol' faithful -- any gun is better than no gun.
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Title Annotation:Lethal Force; firearms ownership
Author:Ayoob, Massad
Publication:Shooting Industry
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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