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I’ve been writing about guns for almost 20 years now, and a question that comes up way more often than it should goes something like, “If you could have only one gun, what would it be?”

The question is thought-provoking—but rather cruel at the same time. It is something akin to asking a parent with multiple children, “If you could only keep one of your children, which one would it be?” While I know with certainty that my parents would have chosen me, they would surely miss my three brothers a bit, if only on their respective birthdays.

However, for most parents, it would be a hard choice, and that is the way it is for a gun owner who owns a few firearms. For me, if I only wanted one gun, I would not have acquired the others that have found a home in my vault. Still, while somewhat depressing, the question does provoke thought, and it is sometimes good to ponder such things in the rare event that one had to abandon everything and suddenly leave home with just one gun (or one child, whichever the case may be).

Because I have only assisted in producing one child but have accumulated a few guns, we will focus on the idea of having but one gun with which to do everything a firearm might be called upon to do.


Whenever I am asked such a question, I give an answer … and usually leave the questioner disappointed. Most people seem to expect me to name a very powerful, flame-throwing weapon that fires something like an .86 Dreadnought Magnum. But when I tell them that my choice would be the lowly .22 Long Rifle, I can see the wave of disappointment flow across their anxious faces. (I don’t like disappointing people, but after 38 years of marriage to the same woman, I have gotten used to being a disappointment on a daily basis.)

While I own shotguns, rifles and handguns in various calibers and gauges, I can do 99 percent of everything for which I need a firearm with the .22 Long Rifle cartridge. My choice of “one gun” might be different from yours, and that’s okay. Living in the woods of Tennessee, I have no need for a weapon to stop a charging grizzly bear in its tracks as might someone living in remote Alaska. If I lived in big bear country, my choice would be different, as it would if I lived on a boat in Florida or in an apartment in New York City.

If in Alaska, the firearm-of-choice would likely be a .45-70 levergun. On a boat, probably a stainless Mini-14. In an apartment in NYC, probably something I could brandish to highjack a moving van and get out of the city. While I own several firearms, I seldom get to use them, because I am usually firing a gun that belongs to someone else—either a firearm that is here on loan for a review; at some writer’s event sponsored by a gun manufacturer; or even sometimes just wringing out a new gun to see if it has any problems before a gunmaker puts it into production.

Yeah, I know: You’re starting to feel sorry for me. However, there can be made a solid case for just owning one gun; one gun a person could use for everything and get really good with that one gun. For me, that one gun would be a slick little lever-action .22 built by Marlin in 1970 to commemorate its 100th anniversary: the Marlin Model 39 Century Limited. While I love Marlin Model 39 lever guns, no matter the configuration, the Century Limited was something special. The trim little carbine wears a straight-gripped walnut stock with a brass buttplate, squared lever and a delightfully tapered 20-inch octagon barrel. This little carbine will handle .22 Short, .22 Long and .22 Long Rifle and is superbly accurate. It wears a set of brass aperture/post sights from Skinner Sights, is lightweight and handles like a dream.

While not ideal for home defense, it is certainly up to the task, because the little carbine can quickly deliver multiple hollowpoint bullets into a target, and people do not like having extra holes poked into them without their consent.


While the .22 Long Rifle cartridge would not be my first choice for all situations, for me, it will suffice for most. It is ideal for small-game hunting and adequate for predator control. It would even work for larger game when in a survival situation, such as deer—meaning a carefully placed shot at close range. While not ideal for home defense, it is certainly up to the task, because the little carbine can quickly deliver multiple hollowpoint bullets into a target, and people do not like having extra holes poked into them without their consent. So, there you have it—my answer to the “only one gun” question. While I don’t want to pare down that far unless I have to, if I ever do have to start thinning the herd, my little Marlin 39 Century Limited will be the last gun to go.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the March 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.