Survival Guns, by Mel Tappan, Los Angeles: The Janus Press, Inc., 1976, 458 pp., $7.95.
The cover claims that this is "a guide to the selection, modification and use of firearms and related devices for defense, food gathering, predator and pest control, under conditions of long term survival." That is the most modest claim that could have been made for this fine work. Survival Guns is that rarest of books, an expert discourse which is a good introductory work and yet valuable reading for those who are long past the introduction phase.
Tappan completely avoids the traps most firearms authors fall into; he never talks down, uses statistics only when necessary and does use them where their use is necessary to the reader's understanding. He does not ramble or reminisce.
The sheer readability of Survival Guns almost masks the astounding volume of information the author has to convey. Weapons and accessories, tools and tricks, tactics and timing; all are discussed in relation to a theme. And that theme is survival.
What are your weapons requirements for long-term survival? Tappan puts them down systematically and logically; he presents his readers with the information necessary to decide in each individual case. This is no "formula" book, and the author does not presume to do your thinking for you. He differentiates clearly between researched fact and opinion. And he tells you the basis of his opinions.
Weapons are examined for their conformity to the needs of the user, his intended environment, and his anticipated requirements; they are never discussed simply as catalog items to be memorized. Anyone who has ever fallen asleep over one of Jack O'Connor's valuable but dry as dust ballistics analyses can appreciate my enthusiasm for Tappan's approach.
Did you know that there is a modified version of the old reliable Garand that uses a handily short barrel and a 20-round magazine? I didn't, and I've been a fan of the Garand for 15 years, 15 years I've spent lamenting the Garand's unfortunate length and limited capacity.
What would you pick for a lady's sidearm? Tappan rightly points out, "Armed attackers are no easier to stop just because a woman is shooting at them…" This is the first time I have encountered a firearms writer honest enough to acknowledge that handguns are modern, technological appliances that don't require 200 lbs. of muscle to employ. Most of the writers in this field apparently regard decently heavy handguns as being on the same plane as a broadsword.
Survival Guns is more than a "gun book." It includes a good bit of relevant philosophy, discussion of the uses of meditation in the development of a combat-level awareness, an extensive bibliography, basic instructions in everything from patterning a shotgun to how to throw boleadoras—in fact a bit of everything germane to the subject of survival in the face of hostile action or food scarcity.
There are writers now cashing in on the retreat idea, people writing "physical survival" material on the order of "Store lots of food and stay off skylines during firefights," people imparting information gleaned from reading a lot of combat fiction…but Tappan is not one of those. He has obviously spent many years of diligent research on the subjects in his book. I recommend it as a textbook, for general enrichment reading, or simply for what it is designed to be: an aid to long-term survival planning.
Buy it now; reading this book after a crisis could be the most futile thing you ever do.
David Sutton is a farmer, craftsman, and writer, and a long-time student and user of weaponry. He is a former regional chairman of the California Libertarian Party.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Survival Guns".