2005-09-27: A shopping list for post disaster San DiegoUpdated as of 2/29/08 due to changes in the law, opening up more options
Well, something good has indeed come out of the New Orleans flood disaster: a fair number of folks here in America are realizing that their fellow Americans are very dangerous folks whenever disasters hit. New Orleans had plenty of variables among them, but one of the ones which reduced the severity of looters is that Louisiana is in the South, where most households have at least one gun.
California, if a really nasty earthquake hits, would suffer the same breakdown of law and order - but with a MUCH lower gun ownership rate, looters are likely to be far more brazen. Because of this, I've had three or four folks ask me for advice on firearms purchases, with an eye specifically to post-disaster San Diego area survival.
First off, I do not anticipate that we'll have problems of alligators swimming in like I imagine may have happened some in New Orleans. That's definitely a Louisiana thing. However, we're at a far greater risk of looting, and by much more dangerous looters than the poor folks and general low-lifes who were doing it in New Orleans. Consider this: San Diego is surrounded by marine bases. While most of the active-duty guys would probably be involved in relief efforts and keeping law and order, any deserters or ex-military guys who want to haul off a bunch of $3,000 LCD TV's may also possess one or two Iraq tours' worth of urban warfare experience. Add in the variable of post-traumatic stress disorder and you have a very serious risk from the ones who DO turn rogue.
When choosing your weapons, you should take into account the worst-case realistic scenario: attack by Marine deserters wearing standard issue Interceptor body armor, minus rifle plates (rifle plates are issued when you deploy, but your Interceptor is typically kept with you from what I understand), armed with AR-15's or AK-47's. So, your worst case far-side-of-possible scenario will include being attacked by a small group of Marine deserters wearing soft body armor, carrying AK-47s, and tripping out on PTSD enough to think everyone is an Iraqi insurgent.
Realistically, no matter how well you equip yourself, staying within the law, you will probably not make it out of that scenario alive. However, if you're willing to spend the money on it, you CAN be well enough equipped to address almost any lesser threat and stand a decent chance of taking out one or two of these prospective 'super-looters' if you have surprise on your side.
Granted, if you really want to spend money, a semi-automatic rifle in 50DTC will happily drop the entire group... but most people don't want to buy an $8k rifle for a far-edge "maybe" condition.
One good point is that you may legally transport long guns in your car, as long as they're unloaded. California forbids loaded weapons in vehicles, as well as handguns (unless you're going directly from point A to point B). However, an unloaded shotgun or rifle may be legally left in your car any time you want, for as long as you want. Given that we're at greater risk for earthquakes than anything else out here, and they don't exactly give advance warning when they strike, you may want to consider keeping a weapon in your vehicle.
Bear in mind, that in California, you do not have the right to refuse the search of a gun case under any circumstances. What this means is, if you have a gun case in plain sight, you can't refuse the search of the case. You may still refuse search of the rest of the vehicle, however. This is why, if you're going to keep a long gun in your car regularly, it should be out of plain sight and unloaded. If you're going to transport a loaded magazine, it should be as far from the weapon as possible, and you may want to keep an empty magazine in the weapon to keep dust and cruft out of the magazine well.
First off, I would strongly recommend purchasing six specific items, in the priority order below:
Mossberg M500: Pump-action shotgun available in a variety of barrel lengths, with lots of after-market parts.
Mossberg M590: Pump-action shotgun with an 8-round magazine and extra reinforcement in its design. It's essentially an M500 that can be used as a club, and then used as a shotgun again.
Remington 870: Very popular police-issue shotgun; does its job well. About the same things can be said for it as for the M500.
Sig Sauer: The Sig semi-autos are reliable, and can take laser grips.
Single-stack 1911: The single-stack 1911 design is available from a huge number of vendors, and generally have secondary safeties. They're a veritable legend that it's impossible to go wrong with. If concealment is a consideration, the Colt Commander form factor is a good choice and is also available from a wide array of vendors.
The Body Armor
Interceptor workalikes: I've tried on Interceptors, and they're quite nice. You can get practically identical vests from Bulletproofme.com.
Russian titanium-reinforced vests: These things are pretty cool - they've got 14 titanium segments for mobility, and will happily stop 7.62x39mm rounds. I'll dig up a link later, but they're kinda hard to find. Very cheap for what they provide, too.
Concealable vests: I bought mine from a guy at the Del Mar gun show, but Bulletproofme.com has a fair assortment of them as well.
Springfield Armory SOCOM series: These rifles may be pricey (~$1,500), but they have semi-automatic operation, detachable magazines, scope mounts, and are available in two highly effective calibers: .308 and 30'06. If price isn't an object, this would be my top recommendation if you want your rifle to look politically correct.
Saiga or AK Rifles: Based on the AK-47 action, the Saiga is a sporterized rifle in a Monte Carlo stock. I personally do not recommend the 7.62x39mm or 5.56mm versions, as the trigger pull is sloppy (no mechanical way around it with the transfer mechanism) and they use proprietary magazines (you can modify the 7.62x39mm version to take AK mags, though). But the Saiga 308 with a 16" barrel is an awesome weapon. It combines a reliable action, powerful caliber with available (and CA-legal) armor piercing rounds, a fairly short barrel, detachable magazines, and a price tag of around $400. It's also slim enough to fit underneath the rear seats of many popular SUV's, so it makes an ideal take-everywhere gun. AK's are also available, and if you want 7.62x39mm I strongly advise you to get an AK-47 instead of a Saiga.
AR-15s: AR-15's are available in a wide variety of calibers and configurations. As long as your AR is California-legal, life is good. As a survival rifle, you more or less have to drop the "cool" pistol grip, collapsible stock, etc and go with either a Monsterman grip or a U-15 stock, so that you have detachable magazines. You could go with 5.56mm, 9mm (really good for close quarters vs unarmored targets), 6.8SPC (a little short of 308), or lastly 50 Beowulf (which serves the same role as a shotgun slug, out of a more accurate platform). There are also some 308 variants, with a fairly high price tag.
Kel-Tec SU-16: While it violates the 5.56mm rule, the Kel-Tec represents a good compromise between budget and tactical power. It comes standard with a Picatinny rail to mount scopes on, and accepts standard AR-15 / M-16 mags which you MAY have lying around from the pre-ban days. It's not an AR-15, but it's politically correct.
SKS: It's hard not to mention the SKS rifle, although it doesn't match the criteria of detachable magazine or decent scope availability. While you can have a gunsmith drill and tap your receiver, you may as well go for the SU-16 instead. It does have the advantage of being available at a VERY low price, however. You can typically get one for around $180 online, or in the mid-$200 range locally. It DOES come chambered in the very effective 7.62x39mm caliber, which is the main reason it makes the recommendation list. If you get one as a tactical rifle, leave the iron sights on it and don't mess with receiver cover scope mounts.