Someone under those circumstances should not simply give up on coming up with a feasible means of defense. While modern firearms are clearly going to be superior to old school methods, that doesn't mean a survivor should give up and trust his family's defense to a Louisville Slugger or $10 machee.
Melee weapons are of course the easy answer--every home in America has at least a few potential improvised weapons. Unfortunately, that means that by default, anyone and everyone post-collapse would at minimum have some kind of melee weapon. And many will have ranged weapons, mostly in the form of modern firearms.
We've all seen the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where the trained swordsman spins his giant sword around menacingly...then Indy shoots him dead. Don't be that guy.
Beyond conventional firearms, there are actually some fairly decent ranged options--including black powder firearms, antique firearms, bows and crossbows. This entry focuses on options for black powder weapons, and I'll have entries in the future on other options.
Black powder guns aren't considered firearms by the BATF, though local laws may place some restrictions on them. You can purchase black powder weapons through mail order and have 'em shipped right to your front door, no questions, no paper work. About as tough as buying a chess set or spare socks off the internet. Sporting stores will usually have some options too--in particular, Cabela's generally has a pretty good selection.
Modern black powder rifles are quite popular for hunting purposes, and benefit from modern bullet design and technology. With the right rifle and bullet, you can get great accuracy--under 2" groups at 100 yards--which is more than enough for hunting and dealing with a 2-legged threat at distance. Muzzle loaders have been used to hunt elk, moose and bear, so stopping power is not an issue, either.
While your rate of fire with a muzzle loader will never be exceptional, there are speed loaders available to help give you a bit better reload time. Multiple rifles and a reloading assistant could also help. A muzzle loader would not be my choice for up close fighting, but it could certainly be made to work in a standoff or sniper capacity.
|Stock image from Cabela's.|
As a secondary weapon and for closer quarters purposes, a reproduction cap-and-ball revolver would be the way to go. Again, six shots of lead ball is nothing to sneeze at, and a big Colt Dragoon revolver has to rank pretty high on intimidation factor. Again, due to slow load times and limited capacity, an extra gun or two could be an asset. There's a reason many in the Old West carried multiple guns, and not necessarily for cool-guy dual wielding.
|A reproduction LeMat revolver from Dixie Gun Works.|
In the Deathlands series, Doctor Theophilus Tanner carries a LeMat revolver, which is a beast of a gun--9 rounds of lead ball AND a single 20 gauge smooth bore barrel. A very cool gun and a lot of fire power. Reproductions are available, though they aren't cheap.
One advantage of reproductions of old firearms is that they can easily be passed off as non-functioning collectibles. Pick your time period, add some other collectibles and you're good. A guy interested in history, with some fake cowboy guns and a collection of Louis L'amour books is hardly threatening, even in the most paranoid society.
Another advantage of black powder weapons is that they can be sustained post-collapse. You can cast your own lead ball and, with proper ingredients, make your own black powder. Percussion caps and primers would be an issue for non-flintlock guns, but they can be purchased relatively cheaply for stockpiling (around $3-$6/100).
While black powder firearms will never be the ideal, they are certainly an option for those who can't own modern cartridge-fired firearms. A black powder rifle backed up by a revolver or two would give a survivor the ability to hunt, deter aggression and fight at range--a great advantage over attackers with melee weapons and the ability to at least return fire against aggressors with modern firearms.
Rule #1 of a gun fight is to bring a gun. If you can't bring a cartridge fired gun, black powder is going to be your next best option.