Preparedness & Survival by Capt. William E. Simpson,
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Firearms and Disaster Preparedness

ith the start of the new-year, there always seem to be several articles that come out promoting guns as part of a preparedness solution. And it’s an unfortunate fact that firearms have become almost synonymous with Preppers and disaster preparedness. I will explain why that is truly unfortunate…

Sadly, thanks largely to movies and bloggers with little or no ‘real’ long-term survival experience, far too much emphasis is placed on owning battle rifles as a primary part of survival or Prepper equipment.

First of all, survival and disaster preparedness really have nothing to do with ‘battle rifles’ or assault weapons as they are sometimes called (AR-15, AK-47, etc.). Having owned and sold many of these guns, as well as many other battle rifles in a past life as a licensed Federal Firearms Dealer, I have to confess that they are fun to shoot and have a certain appeal as collectable representative weapons of many past and current military engagements.

William E. Simpson 1979 - on survival exercise with new son on back

«Capt. Bill 1979 - on survival exercise with new son on back.

And unlike so many other countries, our right to own these and other firearms is protected by our U.S. Constitution, although some states and local jurisdictions have been trying to make the ownership of battle rifles illegal. And it’s my personal opinion that law-abiding American citizens have the right under the U.S. Constitution to own and bear the firearms of their choice. The keywords are ‘law-abiding’ and ‘American citizens’; foreigners and/or illegal immigrants have no right to own any firearms inside the United States, and U.S. citizens who are convicted felons have unfortunately lost their right to keep and bear arms.

At the risk of digressing a bit further, there is another important point that I would like to make: Guns do not kill people, no more so than ‘spoons making people fat’. People kill people. And if someone wants to kill, and a gun isn’t available, police records show that knives, blunt instruments and other items combined kill many more people than do guns! And when law-abiding citizens are deprived of their lawful possession of firearms, then, only criminals will have guns (and all the other weapons), and isn’t that a comforting thought? My father served with the LAPD after WWII, and he was accurate when he said; “the police are not the personal body guards of citizens, you have to be able to protect yourself”.

If you are considering a firearm for personal defense, and you can lawfully carry a firearm in your intended jurisdiction (you may need to acquire a permit), then by all means get the training and ask a qualified firearms instructor to provide you with advice on getting equipped with a firearm that will properly suit you (easy to carry, fit your hand properly, etc.).

All of that said, when it comes to survival and disaster preparedness, most firearms, especially battle rifles, have very little utility compared to other life-supporting equipment and supplies that pound for pound have much more utility than any battle rifle made.

And when it comes to pistols, they have even less utility than battle-rifles. First off, in actual battle, when it comes to firearms used to dispatch an enemy combatant, the vast majority of kills are made with rifles, not pistols. And secondly, when it comes to survival, a pistol is not good for acquiring game animals due to the very short sighting radius leading to poor accuracy at any relevant hunting range (distance), plus a very limited effective range. So unless you truly are a champion pistol shot, forget pistols.

For those readers who feel they must have a firearm, don’t freak-out just yet, a little further into this article I will be discussing the one type of rifle I feel makes sense if you must have a firearm. And when you read why, you may find yourself with a whole new viewpoint on this subject.

People who are considering survival and disaster preparedness from a serious standpoint don’t start their planning by setting themselves up for being caught in the middle of a riot or a post-disaster thousand-man fire-fight over resources. And it doesn’t matter what guns you have, how good a shot you are, or how many people you have in your Prepper group, in a scenario such as that your odds of getting dead or seriously injured are really good!

Military assault rifle

«Military assault rifle

Surviving the violence of a post-disaster scenario is not a function of firepower (unless you are a part of a regiment of U.S. Marines, even then good Marines die), it is however a function of already being in the right geographic location when the disaster or unrest begins. In terms of survival in the woods or mountains, location is of equal paramount importance; the right location can mean difference between survival and death in a long term situation.

Let’s be clear here: this is not a discussion about a few days or a week-long hunting or hiking expedition, although these endeavors can provide the basis for very short-term immersion into what survival is about. When you’re looking at survival for many weeks and possibly many months (years?) the equipment complement that you’ll need varies greatly from the gear that worked for planned short-term outings.

The highest priority in survival is; placing yourself in the best possible location with all of your survival gear as soon as possible. Ideally, being in that location at the onset of a disaster or major civil unrest is optimal. The ‘best location’ is defined as; anyplace where threats against the continuity of your personal safety are minimized to the greatest extent possible, and secondly; where there are abundant resources for continued survival. Obviously abundant resources are useless to a corpse.

Starting-out in an optimal survival location is by far the superior tactic. The use of a work-around that attempts to make-up for bad planning, strategies and tactics are the hallmarks of inadequate commitment and the lack of experience. In this scenario (advent of a major disaster), being far removed from some unfolding disaster gives you many tactical advantages:

‘The farther you are removed from the risks by distance (100-500 miles?) the better the odds that few if any other desperate survivors will encroach upon your position. I talk about this in depth here’:

If your safety is compromised by being in the wrong location (too close or at ground zero) from the onset of a disaster and ensuing civil unrest, then you’ll find yourself in the unenviable situation of trying to make it to safety (targets in the middle of thousand-man cross-fire). People do crazy things when the going gets tough… look at the example of the life guard who swims to the rescue of the downing man only to be pulled-under and drowned himself by the non-thinking desperations of the victim. And as we have all seen on the news, things don’t even need to be that desperate before people act insanely; look at all the people who have been trampled to death or crushed at the door of a variety store when there is a sale! That’s how it is when things get crazy, only much, much worse!

The logic of remaining in a bad location and attempting to improve the odds of survival through the use of lots of firearms and ammo is simply an obtuse strategy, especially if you have the opportunity to improve your odds for survival by relocating before any problems materialize. I.E. establish your homestead in a safe off-grid area!

If you aren’t already living off-grid, then mobility during and post-event is critical and is a function of weight: It’s not wise to assume your bug-out vehicle will be useful. Things happen; it can be commandeered, damaged during riots, burned, blocked-in by other stalled vehicles, rendered useless by EMP, etc… then you’re on foot. How far can you run with 50 pounds on your back and bunch of crazed maniacs chasing you? Really?

Most average Americans are lucky if they can run a ¼ mile with 25 pounds on their back before they are ready to blow a gasket! Many people don’t even know what their limits are! They have never tried to run with various amounts of weight, so they are just guessing! And guessing can get you dead during a real emergency.

So, as we see, the total weight of your bug-out gear is really important, especially if you’re on foot. I am not going to go into all the stuff that should be in a long-term survival pack; this article is about firearms. So let’s look at the options and pros & cons of rifles:

Instead of spending $2K or more on a battle rifle (more with optics) and the ammo needed, I would rather spend that money on 5 years-worth of rice and beans ($500.00) and a good .22 rifle and ammo. And not just any .22 rifle; I prefer the take-down models that are readily available and reasonably priced at about $300.00.

Rugger 22 Takedown
Ruger 22 Takedown

For instance: The Ruger 10/22 take-down rifle plus 500 rounds of .22 cal. long-rifle ammo has a total weight of about 8.5 pounds (rifle plus ammo)! This rifle and ammo combo is my personal recommendation for those Preppers/Survivalists who feel they need a firearm.

Selfloading Model 70PSS case
«Selfloading Model 70PSS case

Another good light-weight take-down .22 caliber rifle is the Marlin model 70PSS (‘Papoose’). It weighs a mere 3.25 pounds. Both of the foregoing rifles are semi-automatic; the Ruger holds 10 rounds in the magazine and the Marlin holds 7.

To contrast that; just the ammo (500 rounds) for an AR-15 weighs nearly 13.5 pounds, and if you add the unloaded rifle, that’s another 8 pounds, which brings us to a total of 21.5 pounds for an AR and 500 rounds of ammo! That almost 3-times the weight of the Ruger 10/22 rifle and 500 rounds of ammo! And you can almost double that total weight for any decent .30 caliber battle rifle (Ouch! 30-35 pounds just for a battle rifle and ammo!)

The problem most Preppers face is that they are strapped with the task of trying to figure out who to listen-to when it comes to preps. Too many bloggers have no actual long-term survival experience. In other cases, we have returning hero-soldiers, and their take on prepping usually involves military solutions. You can’t blame them, that’s their training.

However, the training and tactics for battle which are orchestrated around a huge logistics effort in support of the battle are not appropriately designed for survival and disaster preparedness. Preppers who have to bug-out (alone or in small groups) are on their own. Nobody is going to ‘chopper-in’ another case of ammo, water and food when you need it! What’s on your back is all you have for the foreseeable future, which could be months or more, so it better be the right mix of gear and supplies.
Military man leaning on the heavy back that pulled him backwards

And if you’re an average American (physically) like most of us are, then we are likely talking about a 25-50 pound pack depending on the individual. Who in their right mind wants all or most of that weight committed to a single gun and ammo?

When it comes to survival and disaster preparedness; water, food and survival gear need to make-up the majority of the load in your pack. And if you need a rifle, then maybe you can budget the 8.5 pounds for a .22 rifle and 500 rounds of ammo.

Conflict leads to casualties… that’s not survival. Smart Preppers don’t get dead!

Cheers! Capt. Bill

William E. Simpson spent his formative years growing up on a working ranch in the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon. William (aka: 'Capt. Bill') is a retired U.S. Merchant Marine Officer with decades of boating and expedition sailing experience, having logged more than 150,000 miles at sea. Capt. Bill has successfully survived long-term ‘off the grid’ at sea and at remote uninhabited desert islands with his family for years at a time. In early 2013, he appeared on National Geographic’s hit TV show Doomsday Preppers (Season-2 ‘A Fortress At Sea’) and received the highest score in two seasons for disaster preparedness and survival, earning the title of ‘Best Prepper’.

Capt. Bill is also a commercial airplane and helicopter pilot and a PADI DiveMaster. Simpson is an accomplished writer covering all aspects of disaster preparedness, including a recent book ‘The Nautical Prepper’ (Ulysses Press). His articles have been featured via numerous magazines and websites and he has been a featured guest on various disaster preparedness radio talk shows. More info at

More columns by Captain William E. Simpson


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