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First gun for prepping in California

If you were to buy only a single gun for prepping in California (which has the strictest gun laws in the US [0]), what would it be? I’ve been researching what my first gun purchase should be, and it looks like the options at a high level are:

  • A handgun
  • A shotgun
  • A featureless AR-15, meaning it lacks certain features like a pistol grip or vertical foregrip [1]
  • A maglock AR-15, meaning the top and bottom halves of the rifle have to separate for reloading [2]
  • A “traditional” rifle (for lack of a better term), meaning something that’s not an AR-15, like an M1A [3]

I think the ideal would be to not have to choose, and instead have a rifle + a handgun. But that still leads to the question of which type of rifle to have.

My primary worry is worsening civil unrest as the election approaches, but in keeping with the Sane Prepper Mantra [4], it would ideally be a generally useful firearm: home defense, self-defense while bugging out, even hunting. I plan to take multiple classes with whatever I end up getting.

(And if you’re new to guns altogether like me, I highly recommend The Prepared’s guide for basic background knowledge: https://theprepared.com/self-defense/guides/beginners-guide-to-guns/)

[0] https://www.reddit.com/r/CAguns/comments/h03tti/faq_of_california_gun_laws_last_updated_692020/ is a good overview

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/CAguns/comments/9nibj7/here_are_my_california_adultlegos_for_featureless/

[2] https://www.80percentarms.com/blog/the-best-maglock-options-for-california/

[3] https://www.springfield-armory.com/m1a-series-rifles/

[4] https://theprepared.com/prepping-basics/guides/sane-prepper-mantra-common-sense-rules/

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  • Comments (9)

    • 4

      I’m in California, too, and I’d probably start with a handgun again as my first centerfire weapon.  I like Glocks.  I tried some fancier brands with German names before I finally had to admit to myself that I actually hit stuff better with the homely little plastic buggers.  I don’t think you could find a better SHTF weapon given how ubiquitous they are and they just plain run well.

      It’s hard to beat a 12ga shotgun if you only want one gun that can do a lot of things reasonably well.  It’s not fun to learn on if you’re new to firearms, though.  The Benelli M4’s superb gas auto is actually quite pleasant to shoot, but you could buy 3-4 pump guns for the price.  Their Nova pumps can be fitted with a recoil reducer in the stock that tames them down to a very reasonable level, too.  The 870s and 500s work great but will beat you up more.

      I avoided going the AR route here in Cali because I just don’t see the benefit of relying on a weapon that has most of it’s useful features neutered. You might look at some of the KelTec models that have been designed to skirt CA rules, the SU16 is handy little utility rifle that uses AR mags, they have a funky bullpup, too.  Troy sells a pump action AR that’s super accurate, if you really want the pistol grip.

      I like the M1A for this state because optically it’s not “scary” and, as long as you don’t plan on humping its 10 lb weight too far, it’s a joy to use.  Super easy to learn because you can look right down into the action and see what’s going on and the iron sights are arguably some of the best ever fielded on a military rifle.  They’re not cheap, they’re heavy, and they’re older than dirt, but I love ’em.  I buy spares when I can because someday I may need to outfit  some of my friends and neighbors who don’t quite understand (yet) why they might need a gun someday.

      • 4

        Handguns are definitely appealing for their portability, and they’re also the cheapest entry-level option here, sub-$500 in some cases. Thanks so much for the specific recommendations, it’s helpful to see the range of options out there.

    • 5

      My inner nerd adores that you sourced your post 🤩

      I was in CA for a long time and dealt with all that silliness. Even though it’s understandable to wince at the thought, I think it’s still worth it to go with a “featureless” / non-mag-lock AR platform that meets the law vs. going with something that would be exempt. Some reasons:

      • The near-universal availability of parts and accessories.
      • You can be legally compliant today but… be ready to make it what it should be after SHTF.
      • It’s relatively easy to de-California a featureless rifle if you move out of state or come not to care about the law.
      • The AR platform is generally good at the wide range of use cases. A larger rifle, for example, might be great at hunting but very poor inside your home during a defense situation.

      Normally brand-new firearm owners should also consider a .22 LR rifle. But if I remember correctly, that’s less attractive in CA because if you’re going to deal with the hassle of a regulated rifle, may as well skip ahead to the AR.

      So: Skip the shotgun, and do either or both of a pistol and CA-compliant AR that you know how to make proper if need be.

      Strong advocate of 9mm pistols. Check out a Glock 19, Sig 226 or 320, etc.

      • 5

        The ecosystem around the AR-15 is definitely the biggest selling point for me. From past experience, I know that when I geek out on something hard (as I intend to do with firearms), I take time to develop knowledge + preferences, and so I expect that what I think is the best choice now is likely to change significantly later. To that end, I’ve learned to try to make decisions that are reversible or offer optionality for later decisions.

        Thus the appeal of the AR-15. I don’t have to pick out the perfect barrel, stock, handguard, etc. right now. I can always decide later, when I know more and can actually appreciate/make use of the enhancements. Put another way, it’s hard for it to turn out to be the wrong gun, because of how much I can transform it down the line, including as needed for SHTF. Thomas’ reply at https://theprepared.com/forum/thread/guide-to-buying-an-ar-15/ was also super helpful, to let me know what a quality baseline looks like.

        Writing this out, I think I’ve made my decision. A featureless AR-15 allows regular reloads, and with later modification, can become “featureful” fairly easily. A handgun is a complementary follow-up acquisition. And both will need classes to make proper, safe use of them.

        Thank you for the recommendations and an even bigger thank you for making The Prepared a thing overall. It’s truly transforming my life for the better.

      • 3

        I would also NEVER recommend that you buy standard capacity mags out of state and write .458 SOCOM on them so that they are then magically only capable of holding 10 rounds of .458 SOCOM and nothing else. Would never say to do that. Nope

    • 4

      I’m not sure how soon you’re planning to purchase, but I just looked at Turner’s inventory online and they’re still cleaned out of new stuff, only a couple 44 mag S&W revolvers was about all I could find.  There’s a tiny bit more in their used inventory.

    • 4

      Thanks so much for this post and references.  I’m also in California and frankly overwhelmed by all of the gun options and rules.  I’ve delayed this part of prep so far as others are higher priority.  And this is one that I may be able to assign to my husband as he has more interest.

      I also second the kudos to @John Ramey for this site.  It has been impactful on so many ways/topics.

      • 2

        Very kind of you to say, thank you Alicia. At the end of the day, though, it’s you and other people in the community making this happen! Modern preparedness won’t grow unless we keep helping each other and sharing / recruiting.

    • 4

      If I was limited to only 1 firearm I’d probably go with a handgun, because that’s the one you can conceal on you every day.  It’s there when you actually need it instead of at home in the safe.  California may make it hard to CCW but not impossible, esp if you don’t care about following laws.  I’d probably be paranoid enough to take the extra steps of sourcing from out of state even if that means an 80% glock frame shipped to a friend.  Use a prepaid card or something that isn’t tied to your name and address.  etc.