Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Judge and the Governor

I received a great deal of heat for this article from two men whom I greatly respect. One thinks the Judge et al. is too much gun for feminine hands to handle and the other worries that shotgun pellets might miss the intended recipient and fly on to harm others.

And even though they're better shots than I am, I'm gunn'a stick to my guns because my recommendation of the Judge et al. was/is for its use by inexperienced shooters as a home defense and/or anti-carjacking gun i.e. as a close in last ditch defense.

Are these belly guns the right guns for the likes of those of us who know how to shoot? Of course not which is why I initially rejected the Judge; after all *I* (insert macho man phrase here) can reliably hit a target at much greater ranges so why mess with a lump of metal that's about the same size as my carry gun, has fewer shots and worse sights?

I feel my friends are falling prey to the same reasoning that led me astray i. e. thinking, "It's not a gun for me!" and dismissing it from my mind as a contender for personal purchase.

If you've been trained with firearms and practice with them regularly they are correct, these belly guns are not the guns for pistoleros because you'd be tempted to take a shot at a range beyond the gun's capability. But for those who barely know which end of a gun the bullet comes out of the Judge et al. increase hit probability at the extremely close ranges even for those with small hands.

Of course the standard issue "It's not enough to just own a gun; you need to be trained and practice with it." comes with this article, but I know most will ignore the advice which is why the Judge loaded with shot shells is the subject of this article.
So here, without further ado, is the original unaltered article.


I know you! You're just going to go out and buy a "home defense gun" take it home and lock it away somewhere safe. Aren't you? Could you hit the broad side of a barn with it?

When was the last time you went to the range? I thought so. (I may have found the answer for you.)

Most people will not go to the range and fire their home defense weapon on a regular basis. That is why I've long counseled a short barreled, .38 caliber, double action revolver for home defense for people who are not gun enthusiasts.

Even people whose only exposure to firearms is movies and television know how to point and pull the trigger. And with a double action revolver there's no safety to remember to turn off or hammer to remember to cock and the short barrel makes it more difficult for an evildoer to grab the gun. The .38 special caliber cartridge doesn't have the power and penetration of larger or faster bullets yet still packs enough punch to stop an assailant.

There is also the little matter of actually hitting your target. At close range, such as inside of your house or fending off an armed carjacker, barrel length and sights aren't all that much of a factor but with a single projectile per shot properly pointing the pistol becomes very important.

Somehow I failed to realize the potential of Taurus' Judge when the gun first came out. Last year when the little woman and I dropped by a local gun shop to take a look at the Taurus Judge in .410 and .45 Colt I was still unimpressed with the double action revolver.

The gun was nearly as big and heavy as my .45 semi-auto pistol and held only five rounds as opposed to my pistol's seven in the magazine plus one in the chamber.

The only thing the Judge had going for it was the fact that the rifling in the Taurus' barrel helps spread the shotgun load to give a better chance of hits at close distances. A chore I felt I could handle myself.

I didn't make the connection between faulty marksmanship of non-practicing gun owners and the advantages of a shotgun shell in a pistol at close range.

Fortunately for Taurus nobody cared about my opinion and the gun became a phenomenal hit resulting in Taurus cranking out several versions. This review from HANDGUNS magazine pretty much sums up the difference between the Taurus' Judge and Public Defender models while describing the Public Defender:

"The Public Defender is based on Taurus' small-frame Model 85. Though the cylinder is stretched to accommodate 21⁄2-inch .410 shells, the grip frame is the same as Taurus' popular snubby, so it's easier to conceal. Taurus' distinctive ribbed, rubber grips are standard. So is a low-profile cylinder release latch.

The hammer is an abbreviated number with just enough serrations to provide a purchase for cocking and decocking the revolver should you choose to fire it single-action.
The Public Defender's smooth, narrow trigger looks good, but its 11-pound, four-ounce double-action pull is too heavy for fast double-action work.

The single-action pull is also heavy at six pounds, seven ounces.

The Public Defender's barrel is a stubby, two-inch tube with a shrouded ejector rod. A ramped front sight with a red fiber-optic insert is dovetailed into the barrel rib. The rear sight is a fixed notch."

But all that sellin' by Taurus didn't go unnoticed. There are now three pistols on the market (doubtless there will soon be more) that are short barreled with double actions that, thanks to the shotgun option, have a better chance of scoring a hit on an intruder or carjacker at close ranges.

Fast forward to the 2011 SHOT Show where I was when Smith and Wesson introduced the Governor.

Aside from the added .45 ACP caliber and the sixth shot the Smith and Wesson Governor is pretty much the same gun as the Taurus guns but it caused me to reexamine my thoughts on the hand held shotguns.

Came the epiphany! (dark/BRIGHT Lightning/dark!)

I said to myself, "Self."

Self said, "Huh?"

I said, "ya' know them thar' little handheld shotguns could turn a non-shooter home invasion or carjacking victim into a passable shooter even without practicing which we both know they ain't gunn'a do!

Self said, "Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz."

Nowadays I feel comfortable recommending the Smith and Wesson Governor, the Taurus Judge or the Taurus Public Defender as a home defense or car gun. I just ain't agunn'a carry one myself!

OZ writes:
During the epiphany, the very wise "Self" realized that a patterned shotshell might be a good thing for the less than proficient shooter. The less than proficient shooter is most likely, and I don't think I am going out on a weak limb here, a woman. Women, thank God, have differences than we testosterone-laden bears possess.

Those differences being in mind, did Mr. Self ever pull the trigger on those revolving behemoths, or were they trigger locked in the glass case at Ye Olde Gun Shoppe? As if Taurus or S&W's even remotely have good triggers from the factory on their target guns - which they don't unless they have been customized - did Self ever consider that rotating that HUGE cylinder with merely the distal digit of the index finger takes quite a bit of strength? A significant amount, really. More so than most little ladies probably have, and even more than most egotistical, testicle-bearing men would realize.

Now, Mr. Self may counter with: "Then they can simply cock the gun and fire single action!" To wit, I would parry that rapier's thrust with: "Adding yet another manipulation to the already un-practiced manual of arms...regaining a firing grip after using BOTH hands to cock the damn thing... in the dark, when startled, and likely confused with an adrenaline dump, and someone trying to hurt them or their poodle Fifi... No way in hell. Ain't happenin', bro."

It isn't really feasible in application. The first shot out of either of those guns will A) be really damn loud, B) recoil significantly and whack the Less Than Proficient User's hand, C) probably not be shot again, and D) maybe not be very effective past about 2 yards. I can discuss the ballistics of a short-barrelled wheelgun and .410 shot for a fee...

A .22 that they can use easily is probably better than the Howitzer they can't. My other half fell in love with a used 3" S&W Model 65 (K-Frame,) I bought a few years back. I slicked the trigger some and she can make it go bang in DA mode just fine. It really is a simple "Point and click interface."

But I do like the fact that you are still thinking! Keep up the good work!

As you saw in the article I was thinking of the Judge as a concealed carry gun when I dismissed it (and later the Taurus Public Defender) for EDC (Every Day Carry), because of their size and weight.

It was only when Smith & Wesson came out with the Governor that I saw the error of my ways. These three guns, in all their barrel lengths, provide near can't miss "accuracy" with .410 at extremely close ranges due to the rifled barrel spinning and spreading the shot as it exits the barrel. That plus their double action capability and short barrel make them great for home defense and defense against carjacking.

And, yes, these ain't no plinkin' guns. Size, weight and trigger pull must be taken into consideration for each shooter. But since most people (the shooters I'm talkin' 'bout) don't take the gun to the range having something they can hit with for that first shot is important.

Will the little lady in your scenario fire a second shot with a Judge, Public Defender or Governor? My reasoning is she won't have to (but she will be upset about the burglar's blood on the carpet).

Taurus Video

Because of the gun's popularity the accessory makers have jumped on the bandwagon. Concealed and regular carry holsters, of course. But laser sights on such a short range weapon? For intimidation maybe?

Speedloaders have come out since the guns are so popular and you'd need a full or half moon clip to fire .45APC in S&W's Governor in any case. However a full moon clip of .410 would be almost as big as many guns, again making them impractical for concealed carry and downright awkward even if not concealed. But a full moon clip of .410 in the drawer beside the gun...


KC writes:
FYI – If you go to the Taurus USA web site there are several videos available regarding the Judge, including one where someone test fires at a range and show the results. Looks like there are some hits, but there is also a likelihood of collateral damage beyond the target. I don’t see the Judge or Public Defender keeping with the rule “Know your target and what is beyond” since the shot spread in the video indicates a pretty wide margin of error. Just my 2 cents… -- KC

Thanks for your input, KC:
I found this one, which I'd seen on the sportsman channel awhile ago, it's probably similar to the one you saw.

Taurus Video

Even at across the car distances it looks like there must have been some flyers that went past the target however it looks like they'd be small shot pellets which wouldn't travel all that far and, to be fair, in a carjacking situation (red light, stop sign or your driveway) a few shotgun pellets flying past the target is less dangerous than a .38, 9mm or .45 slug that misses and flies on for up to a half mile or so.

I'm sure you could hit a man sized target with one of those pistol calibers at that range and I'm pretty sure I could too, but the novice shooter (for whom I'm recommending the gun & .410 shells) is not all that likely to get hits with a regular pistol in such a stressful situation.

Also, the other situation for which I think the shotgun load would be better is for home protection. You can almost guarantee none of the .410 pellets will leave the house.
J.R. writes again:
I’ve seen these Taurus revolvers and (to me), think them too bulky. I think you are better off with a .38 or .44 special revolver loaded with a load of snake shot and call it good. A full load of .410 shot at very close range wouldn’t open up very well at ranges inside 5 yards anyway – the .38-.44 would do fine. Now at ranges past 15 yards, that higher .410 payload would be more useful than handgun loads. Just sayin’ is all.

It seems everyone is thinking the same way I did when I first saw the Judge i.e. thinking of it as a carry gun FOR THEMSELVES. It was only when I finally started thinking of it in terms of a house gun or car gun for novices and people who don't/won't take the time to become proficient with any handgun that I saw the advantage of the Judge et al.

It all comes down to a basic rule of combat that is taught in the Army, on shooting ranges and at combat pistol matches around the globe: "You will do under stress what you have trained yourself to do in practice."

Those who have not practiced will have no plan, no muscle memory and no clue of what to do when suddenly facing a deadly attack. If they have a gun they'll grab it, point it at the attacker and pull the trigger.

The lands and groves impart some spin to the .410 buck or birdshot as it leaves the barrel (that is frequently shorter than the cylinder of the gun that's firing it) hence spread and a better chance of hitting the attacker than with a single bullet.

Yes, a .38 or .44 caliber round in a "snake" load would probably spread as much or more, but you're pretty much limited to birdshot with them (unless you load your own, but novices by definition don't) and a smaller payload of shot at that.

So yes, you and I and the pistoleros who've written in on this subject could/would shoot'em in the eye with our chosen carry gun. BUT the untutored shooter bereft of practice and instruction will be lucky to get a hit with a single bullet.


TW writes:
Read your blog on the Taurus Judge et al. because I started looking up information on .410 type guns after first reading this Armed Citizen article in the April 2011 issue of America's 1st Freedom (Official Journal of the National Rifle Association of America). Helps make your case for self-defense I think:

"Housing manager Dihanna McCullock said she is a fighter, and police said she proved it one morning when a man broke a window, entered her office and tried to stab her with a butcher knife. A second assailant, who carried a gun and wore some sort of badge on his shirt, also entered the office and fired a shot, grazing McCullock's right arm. That's when she drew the Taurus Judge revolver she carries daily and unloaded on the second suspect with a .410 shotshell. The robbers fled, dropping McCullock's wallet and the knife in their haste. 'Wherever he's at he's wounded, somewhere,' McCullock predicted. 'My husband taught me well.' (WALB-10, Albany, Ga., 01/06/11)"

Hope you enjoyed that,

I'm a Life Member of The American Rifle Association and I read the Armed Citizen column in the American Rifleman every month. Firing a shotgun shell from a (convenient to carry) pistol will, I think, increase the number of crooks shot by their victims during violent crimes.

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