John Johnston of Ballistic Radio on Trends and Training

Once a week for the past several years, John Johnston of Ballistic Radio digs deep for truth when it comes to firearms.  For years now, John and his co-hosts at Ballistic Radio have scoured the country for the absolute best guests, and have explored, in-depth, almost every facet of the firearms and self-defense industry. was recently fortunate enough to sit down with John Johnston of Ballistic Radio for a wide-ranging, eye-opening interview, where he discusses industry trends, thoughts on training, the real meaning of ‘tacticool‘, his love of shotguns, AR’s for home defense and much more.

Q:  John, thanks for sitting down with us.  Can you give our readers a brief background on who you are, should they not be acquainted with Ballistic Radio?

John Johnston of Ballistic Radio: Ballistic Radio is on its sixth season now. I have always just wanted it to be a place where, whether we agree on politics, lifestyles…whether we agree on anything…we could come and ask questions about self-defense.  I would give you my best answer, or the best answer of people who were experts in whatever specific field of self-defense we were exploring on a given episode.

I don’t get into any of the other stuff, not that I don’t have opinions on it. I certainly do. I just wanted it to be something where it was open to anybody.

I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that, and I think in the long run, it helps convince more people that “hey, maybe this stuff isn’t that scary, and maybe this is something that I can be interested in.”

John Johnston - Ballistic Radio

Q: In the firearms industry, and especially when it comes to building an AR, we hear that “you get what you pay for.”  Is that true in your experience?  Just what is it that we’re getting? 

John Johnston of Ballistic Radio: It’s a two-part question really. Number one is: by virtue of it being expensive, does that equal quality? The answer to that is ‘no.’

I can think of quite a few things that cost more than other options, and I wouldn’t buy them. Just because something is expensive does not automatically make it better than a less expensive option.

However, there are certain things that you are not going to get unless you pay for them. So, I guess the way to think of it is just because it is expensive doesn’t make it awesome, but awesome does often times cost money. Does that any sense?

We did an article with Jack Leuba with Knight’s Armament recently.  Some of the reason that article was done was to look into the premium they charge and why it is perhaps worth it…

John Johnston of Ballistic Radio: So full disclosure, I am friends with Jack (Leuba). He is one of my longer industry acquaintances. Also, full disclosure…I have gotten two test rifles from them that I did not pay for. I have also bought quite a few rifles from them in the past that I paid retail for…so just for the readers, just so that is disclosed, if there is any bias possible, they know about it.

Knights Armament SR-15 E3 Mod 2 

But Knight’s to me, has always been the “if I could only have one AR, I want that one.” The reason I want “that one” is because I believe their quality control to be some of the best available.  I believe some of the specific things that they’ve done with their proprietary parts, the E3 bolt especially, just really make the rifle better.

The other thing I dig about the rifle is that, out of the box, they have pretty much everything I want.  I really don’t have to mess with them that much.  A rifle for me is very much a work thing. They are not my “I do this for fun” thing. Pistols are my “I do this for fun” thing. With rifles it’s more “I need a rifle and I need it to work and I need it to cause me the least amount of consternation possible.”

There is no other weapons platform that I trust to work more than an SR-15 Mod 2. I’ve got the most personal experience with it as well.

Q: I think maybe my first experience with you and your show was that SR-15 torture test…

John Johnston of Ballistic Radio: When I did the video, I think we ended up around 21,000 rounds. I had one magazine failure that I didn’t count against the gun.

I didn’t ever clean the gun.  I just lubed it and it went 21,000 rounds with maybe one failure…maybe. I determined it was the magazine. Other people are like “yeah, I don’t think so.”

Well, ok. Either way, we’re either at zero or one. And when the industry standard mean rounds in between failure is 2,500…well, to hit 21,000, that’s pretty impressive.

Also, what’s the average longevity of a bolt before you break a lug off? 5-10,000 rounds usually? 10,000 on the high side.  5,000 to start to see them shearing a little bit…especially in M4 pattern guns, which arguably are not set up the best, but it’s kind of still the industry standard, right? Whereas the Knight’s has a bolt life that, in my example of one, is up around 20,000. That’s good.

So what else am I paying for? Well, I don’t have to put a trigger in it…its already got a very nice match trigger. I don’t have to mess with the barrel any because its around a 1-MOA gun. It’s relativity light, reliable and it has ambidextrous controls. I don’t mind LMT SOPMOD stocks. I’m know I’m kind of weird, but I don’t mind the Government grip. So, its like alright, this rifle is done. I pressed the ‘easy’ button on it. I bought a Knight’s. I didn’t have to mess with it.

Q:  I’m interested in trends you see in the industry or in the gun culture at large.  I had a conversation with a very respected industry person and something that irked him was this hipster, knee-jerk reaction that “tacticool” was this thing to be mocked and avoided with no regard for context…I’d love your opinion on this.

John Johnston of Ballistic Radio: “Tacticool”…this is an area of particular interest for me. If you are doing something and you can’t tell me why you’re doing it, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

With guns and setting up guns…there’s that really fine line between “I’m setting up a gun because a dude I believe to be incredibly skilled or talented sets their gun up that way, and they must know what their doing” versus “maybe they are setting their gun up that way because of specific problems they’re trying to solve and they are not problems that you are going to encounter in the context you find yourself in.”

I think that for anyone doing anything gun related, you need to have an understanding of why you are setting it up the way you are setting it up.

An Optics Example

A good “for instance”… I love low powered variable optics on pretty much any rifle I’m going to run. I think that for what I’m doing with the rifle, specifically if I’m going out to carbine classes or if I am concerned about responding to an incident in public with a long gun, I would like magnification to be available to me for multiple reasons. That could be a whole separate article, and there are people way better qualified than I am to list those reasons.

However, for the reality of when I am likely to deploy a long gun, which is inside of my home or on my property, the longest shot I have on my property is under 100 yards. So, at that point, if I have a low powered variable optic on my gun, it’s because of reasons that are not directly tied to the mission of self-defense at my property, which is where I am most likely to employ that long gun.

So when you are starting to make decisions and you’re doing them for reasons that maybe don’t necessarily fit how the gun will actually be employed, I think that is where you need to be able to say “well here’s why I’m doing this.”

“My delineation between good tacticool and bad tacticool.”

Once again…tangential, but I’m one of the younger people I know that are still into shotguns. Everyone’s like “well the carbine is so much better.”

Well, the carbine is better in a lot of areas for a lot of specific reasons…depending on what your context is. However, there are contexts where the shotgun is, at least, an appropriate option.

Whether you agree it’s a good option or the best option, that’s a different conversation entirely, but what people really need to have an understanding of is “what is your context?” and “is this thing that I am putting together…am I putting it together in a way that helps support my mission in that context?”

John Johnston of Ballistic Radio…“Because I want to”

And here’s another thing too…“because I want to” is a perfectly acceptable answer, and all the answer you need.

So if you are putting together something and it has no bearing on your reality and I see it and ask why are you doing that? You respond “because I want to.”

Ok, cool.

You respond “Because I think this is cool and I enjoy it”…again, ok cool.

But If I ask you why you have all that stuff on your gun and and you say: “it’s in case ninjas come”…its like No. Stop. Full stop.

So that’s my delineation between good tacticool and bad tacticool.

Q:  I’m curious what you think about the idea of the AR carbine being “the ideal firearm for self-defense.”  Do you find this statement to be accurate, or as you mention, it depends on context?

John Johnston of Ballistic Radio:It depends.

Here’s something that we don’t like to talk about…If I don’t enjoy what I’m working with, I’m not going to work with it. And if I’m not working with it, it means I’m probably not good with it. And if I’m not good with it, I’d say that can have direct negative impact on my outcome.

As much as I dig carbines, I am more inclined to use a shotgun inside of my house for multiple reasons. One reason being I enjoy them more. Which means I have worked with them more in a capacity where I am doing this where I want to, versus where I feel like I should. So, the answer there is: which one are you going to work with more?

John Johnston, a fan of the shotgun, is featured in this recent shotgun-centric video from Lucky Gunner…

Here’s another thing that we don’t like to talk about. How much ballpark would you say – and lets see if we come up with the same number – to get a carbine set up in a way where you would trust your life with it?

Q: Bet my life? I’d say around $2,200.

John Johnston of Ballistic Radio: Ok…how much does it cost to get a shotgun set up in a way that you’d trust your life to it?

Q: Well, I was at one time partial to Benelli Super 90…so what’s that run? About $1,200?

John Johnston of Ballistic Radio: Ok. So….alright. I can do it for $400 with a shotgun.

Q: For $400? So, what would that be? A Remington 870 or something like that? Mossberg?

John Johnston of Ballistic Radio: Well, here’s the problem. I know this isn’t, but new Remington shotguns, Freedom Group quality control is the spottiest thing in existence. I would trust a condom that a stranger gave me before I would trust a Freedom Group shotgun, new off the factory line. I don’t know if I can put it that way, but hopefully you’ll publish it because I like that analogy.

Yeah…so if you’re going to buy a Remington shotgun, you’re probably going to want to look for an old police model and make sure its refurbed. So anyway…Remington shotguns, new ones…questionable.

Mossberg shotguns, their QC is better but they break easier than Remingtons do. So the failure points on them are more numerous but they are more likely to work out of the box. Regardless…You need to know more about shotguns if you’re actually going to practice with them in any meaningful way because they require a lot more maintenance.

John Johnston of Ballistic Radio working with a shotgun.

John Johnston of Ballistic Radio…Carbine vs. Shotgun – Context Matters

But here’s the deal. If someone is going to have a long gun in heir home for self-defense, and we’re actually telling them to buy something that is likely to at least make it through a training class, yeah you’re right…you’re spending four figures on a carbine set up…at least. You’re up into the thousands of dollars area. Whereas the shotgun, that is a low-cost option and remember, this is not everyone’s hobby.

Now I know “flex on poors is the cool thing to say on the internet right now, but if you’re reading this web page and this interview right now, you are already in the top .1 percent of the gun buying public.

“flex on poors”

Giving answers to the top 1% of the public while ignoring the other 99 percent of the gun buying public…well, I don’t find that to be “super cool”, because I think the other 99% of people matter too.

John Johnston of Ballistic Radio…On “It Depends.”

You just need to be able to understand that everyones context is a little bit different. Everyone’s resources are a little bit different. Allocation of time and also too what they enjoy…so yeah, man…I don’t think the carbine is the best choice. I don’t think the shotgun is the best choice. I don’t think the handgun is the best choice. I think “it depends” is the correct answer and it depends on a lot of things. And that’s for home defense.

Now if we’re talking about hw I have to outfit and train an agency? Then, yeah, I can now start making blanket statements that maybe lean one way or another. And if we’re talking about outfitting and training an agency, especially when the vast majority of that agency doesn’t want to actually carry a gun as a part of their job – it just happens to be a part of their job requirement…well, yeah, a carbine makes more sense.

That’s kind of a very long way to say “it depends.”  I could have just stopped at “it depends” but then there would have been no interview.

Q. Before I move on…I know this isn’t shotgunbuildjunkies, but if you don’t mind, I’m curious…what would be your choice of shotgun?

John Johnston of Ballistic Radio: The Beretta 1301 is the best fighting shotgun ever made up to this point. There is no better option right now. And I’m saying if money were no object, there’s still no better option. The Beretta 1301 is not the most expensive option.

Overview of the Beretta 1301

One of the things that makes the 1301 nice to me is that it handles like an AR-15. The control is not the same. The manual of arms is not the same. But as far as the handling goes, it’s hard to distinguish it from a carbine.

Like, if you told me I had to get into an engagement inside of my home tomorrow, and I couldn’t avoid it and it was an unknown number of attackers….it was like “hey, you’re going to get into a shooting in your house, tomorrow”…the Beretta 1301 set up the way I would set one up would be my very first option.

Q: I know from listening and from your writing that you have an interesting perspective on defensive firearms training.   How much training do you think is necessary for someone who has decided to use a carbine as a home defense weapon, for instance?

How much training do you need to have? Zero. You don’t need any. You don’t…and I can point to any number of people who had zero training and prevailed.

How much training should you have? You should have as much training as your resources and time allow for. And the reason for that is if you choose to arm yourself you have the responsibility to not fuck up.

John Johnston of Ballistic Radio…on Life and Death Decisions

Here’s the deal…there’s a quote from Wayne Dobbs and Daryl Bolke at HTS Training and I want to say it originates with Wayne specifically…and the quote is “every time you handle a firearm you are making a life and death decision.” So, we’re talking from a home defense scenario …there are two competing probabilities when you grab that firearm.

The competing probabilities are someone is in your home to do you harm, and you need to defend yourself and your family with deadly force. That’s probability number one.

Probability number two is when you decided to arm yourself and investigate whatever that is, is that there is someone there that does not need to be shot. And high likelihood, it is someone you know and care about that does not need to be shot.

So, really what you need to have done is primed yourself for that possibility. I say this because one of the things that I hear a lot of is “if someone is in my house they are bought and paid for.” That’s not true, at least not from a moral standpoint…and certainly not from an ethical standpoint.

John Johnston of Ballistic Radio…the wrong house at the wrong time

The best example I have of that is every year there are all these stories of so-and-so shoots their family member who they didn’t know was there…or so-and-so shoots the neighbor who comes into the wrong house.

Every person reading this has been young at some point…and I could argue that I am still stupid, but I was definitely dumber when I was younger. And I made poor decisions. And I can’t say that I never drank before it was legal to do so…

Now, I never accidently made it into someone else’s house, but I’ve heard of instances where someone gets dropped off by their friends at the wrong house, and all of a sudden there’s a teenage kid in your house that is drunk for the first or second time, and its like what? You’re gonna do an NSR on that kid and then feel good about it afterwards? No you’re not. If you think that, you’re lying or a sociopath…

The point being that all of these conversations stem around “what training do you need?” You don’t need any. How much training should you have? A lot. But the idea that you need to be trained to successfully defend yourself, that’s factually inaccurate. I can prove it. I say that as someone who makes a portion of my living off of offering training to people. So I have a vested interest in people getting training, but this fear-based argument…that is fear based marketing essentially…that if you don’t go get trained then you don’t love your family and you’re going to get killed in streets. That’s not true.

John Johnston - Ballistic Radio

Negative Outcomes

Now, if you don’t get trained, you’re much more likely to experience what Claude Werner would call a “negative outcome.” I’d argue that you’re opening yourself up to things that you’re not considering as far as making poor decisions.

Also, if you go and get trained…o.k. cool. But lets say  I want to go to a scoped carbine course with Kyle Defoor. He’s on my bucket list of trainers who I have not gotten to train with. Well, tell me…how much bearing does using a scoped carbine at 100-600 meters have on “I need to shoot a dude in my foyer at 9 yards?”


(Editor’s note…If you’re not familiar with Claude Werner, you should definitely give him a look.)

Q: So, another question then is just what kind of training do you go with?

John Johnston of Ballistic Radio: The problem becomes if you are going to go and train with a carbine is what training are you going to go do? I guess what I’d leave people with is, just understand what you are doing when you do it.

So if you are building an AR, understand what parts you are selecting and why. If you are getting trained in how to utilize that AR, understand what the training is giving you and what it isn’t. If you’re going to go and train scoped carbine stuff, that’s cool…but how much carry-over is there going to be for a home defense scenario?

Well, if you live on the southern border and part of your home defense scenario is you might need to shoot someone at 150 yards who is engaging you with a long gun, and that’s a realistic thing, then ok, cool. But, if you live in a metropolitan area in a high-rise apartment, what is your home defense scenario? It’s a different thing. That depends too.

We can get into what if’s…what if your apartment overlooks downtown Dallas when, at the BLM protest, someone decides they’re going to shoot a bunch of DPD, and instead of a cell phone you have a rifle?  Then all of a sudden, that scoped carbine course makes more sense.

Just understand: why am I doing what I’m doing? Do I have the resources to be doing it the way that I’m doing it, and getting the value out of it I want to get? And, at the end of the day, it’s like I said earlier…because I want to” is a perfectly acceptable answer.

Q: John, as we wrap up…can you tell our readers how they can find out more about what you’re up to?

John Johnston of Ballistic Radio: is where the show is at. You can get us on Spotify, iheartradio and iTunes. And if you are interested in contextually appropriate training classes, the training outfit that Melody Lauer and I co-own is Citizens Defense Research.

John Johnston - Ballistic Radio

Right now, that is focused primarily on pistol stuff, but at some point, there will be a contextual long gun course, we just have not gotten around to it yet.

Q: Final question…Any training that you’ve been to recently that you might recommend…perhaps just a good overview course?

John Johnston of  Ballistic Radio: One of the most interesting and best overview courses I’ve ever been to as far as carbines would actually be Pat Goodale’s training in West Virginia…it’s called Practical Firearms Training.

John Johnston - Ballistic Radio Pat Goodale training

It’s probably one of the better zero to 400-meter classes I’ve ever been to. They’re not spending a lot of time on any one area, but it has everything. You get a taste of being inside a structure, you get a taste of vehicle, you get a taste of unknown distance on a scramble…just a super good overview. 


A huge thanks to John Johnston of Ballistic Radio for taking the time to sit with us for this discussion.  As mentioned, be sure to check out a podcast over at

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2 years ago

Been thinking of building my own, but it’s way easier to buy them. Thanks for a great read!

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