One of the most common questions I get from friends and family who don’t already own a gun is, “What should I buy?” It’s a difficult question to answer because there are so many guns on the market and everyone has a different need.
Guns are tools. And each tool has a place where it excels, just like hammers. Even though both are technically hammers, you wouldn’t use a sledge to drive finishing nails when a tack hammer would be the best choice. Could you use a sledge to do the work? Sure, but it’ll be awkward, cumbersome and it won’t do the job very well.
In this article I hope to shed some light on what to look for when deciding your first purchase. There are many different types of firearms on the market, and wading through the choices can feel daunting if you don’t know much about them. There are also some choices in brands and calibers which are reliable and would make a good first choice.
While these examples are by no means the only quality pistols on the market, they will do the job you want them to do and a great place to start. Chances are that as you learn more about guns and how to use them, you will develop your own opinions. But first you need a base from which to form your opinions.
There are three main reasons most people would like to purchase a hand gun.
- Target shooting and learning to shoot. Shooting is fun, it’s relaxing and it gets you off the couch. Watching tin cans jump around is something I spent countless hours doing as a kid. And, if you do it right, shooting for fun can be an exercise in discipline and consistency.
- Home defense. This is probably the most common reason for wanting to purchase a handgun. Handguns are small, they store easily in a drawer or small safe, and are easier to maneuver inside tight spaces, like an apartment.
- Concealed carry. If you have been thinking you would like to obtain your CCW (Concealed Carry Weapon) permit I will go over some considerations to help you decide on what is right for you and your individual situation.
Reactive targets (targets that are meant to move when you shoot them) add a certain amount of pleasure for someone learning to shoot. Reactive targets provide that instant gratification and feed back which helps to enhance the learning experience. Shooters want to see the target move or jump or spin and will be more likely to concentrate on fundamentals to ensure accuracy. This makes target shooting a great way to become introduced to the world of firearms.
It’s a great hobby and while it can certainly get expensive, starting out doesn’t have to be. A good caliber choice for target shooting with a handgun is .22. .22s aren’t very loud or scary, and don’t recoil as much as larger calibers, making them more fun to shoot for new shooters.
.22 ammunition is also very cheap compared to all other types of calibers on the market. This helps to lessen the impact to your finances for your new hobby. You can shoot many hours for very little money which makes everything more enjoyable since you aren’t wincing at the cost every time you pull the trigger.
.22 pistols are notorious for not feeding the ammunition well. They tend to get jammed often if the pistol is not of high quality. The biggest reason for this is because the .22 primer is located in the rim (rimfire). The larger rim does not allow the bullets to stack well inside a magazine. A way around this may be to purchase a .22 revolver like the Ruger Single Six
One of the most reliable, and therefore one of the most popular semi-auto .22 pistols on the market is again, made by Ruger. The Ruger Mark IV is well made, feeds reliably and has a huge number of aftermarket products for customization.
Probably the most common reason for someone wanting to purchase a handgun is for home defense. The small size makes pistols easier to store and maneuver within the tight confines of a house or apartment.
There are a number of things to consider when purchasing a handgun for self-defense. Fortunately, a detailed E-book is available for free from Concealedcarry.com.
The Purchasing Guide for First Time Gun Owner covers the following topics:
- Private Sales VS Retail Sales
- Checklist for buying used guns
- How to Select a Retail Store
- Whose advice you can trust
- The best places to get input and feedback
- Understand Calibers of handguns and stopping power
- Differences between revolvers and semi-automatic pistols
- Legal considerations
- Three Steps to Saving 20-35% off any gun purchase
- The Ten Accessories You Need to Purchase with Your First Gun
Some quick ideas of what you want to look for in a home defense pistol includes:
You want your new gun to work when you need it to, your life may depend on it after all.
The most common caliber for handgun home defense, and most other applications, is 9mm. It packs enough punch to get the job done, without limiting controllability or ammunition capacity. Both of which will improve successful self-defense. There are, of course, many varied opinions on this, but 9mm is a good base and you could do worse.
Since your home defense gun will most likely be in your home, the size of the pistol becomes less of a concern. Carrying a pistol on your body has different considerations for size, but a pistol intended only for home defense can be larger then a CCW pistol. The larger size benefits the home defender by increasing capacity (more ammo in the gun is almost always a good thing,) and helping to reduce felt recoil, thereby making it more controllable.
It’s understandable to think that the smaller a gun is, the easier it is to handle. Unfortunately, this is almost always the opposite. The smaller a gun is the harder it is to hold onto through recoil in handguns chambered in .45, 9mm, and even .380. Not only harder to control, there is little joy in shooting a “Pocket Size” pistol. Many husbands looking for a good home defense weapon for their wife make the same mistake, thinking, because the gun is small it will be better for her. Only to discover she won’t train with or use it because of how unpleasant it is to shoot.
Before choosing a new gun, see if you can try it out first. Many gun ranges offer rentals of popular models and calibers. Try them for yourself if you can, but chances are good you will agree after a few magazines.
- Here are some good choices to get you started:
Glock 19/17. This is chambered in 9mm, easy to control and operate with a little practice. The large magazine capacity of between 15-17 rounds per magazine make it a great home defense choice, with plenty of aftermarket products for customization if you later decide. The G19 is also a good choice for CCW and could fill two separate roles for greater adaptability.
Springfield XD. Available in calibers such as 9mm and .45 and has a lot of the same features as Glocks. XDs tend to be more expensive then Glocks but are also a fine choice.
Smith & Wesson M&P. M&Ps share many of the same features as the previous two examples and are priced similarly as the Glock. Some people prefer the ergonomics of the M&P over that of Glock, but either will perform reliably.
Never let anyone tell you the only choice you should make is Glock, or .45 caliber, or anything else that limits your ability to choose for yourself. Understanding why these choices are made will help you to make an educated decision that is best for you. What works for me may not be what will work for you.
The next most important part of having a home defense gun is having a light to go with it. Since most home defense situations happen during hours of darkness, having a light to identify the threat is essential. There are many models of weapon mounted lights which helps to free up your other hand to open doors or whatever else you need to do.
At the very least, having a flashlight next to where you store your pistol is a great idea. You must be sure that what you are shooting at is actually a threat and not a loved one.
Some light manufactures who produce quality flashlights for self-defense include, but are not limited to:
Using a flashlight for home defense can either be a great asset, or a significant liability. Make sure you are seeking out the training needed to employ a light in a way that will benefit you.
A good pistol for concealed carry shares many of the qualities of a good home defense pistol in reliability, caliber, and capacity.
Size of a good CCW pistol is important to consider when choosing the right one for you. A good rule of thumb is to carry the biggest gun you can comfortably. As already discussed, the larger the gun the easier (generally) it is to control. But carrying a Desert Eagle and keeping it hidden comfortably is not possible for 99% of the population.
Comfort is important because the more comfortable it is to carry your pistol, the more likely you will put your gun on and keep it on, instead of leaving it in the safe when you go out. If it becomes too much of a hassle, odds are good you won’t keep doing it.
Not only does a good holster help to encourage you to carry your pistol, it’s also a safety issue. Poorly constructed, low quality holsters could cause a negligent discharge while the gun is in your pants. And no one wants that.
Keeping a gun on your body is something you will have to get used to no matter the quality, but the higher the quality, the more comfortable it will be. Spend some time wearing your pistol and you will eventually get used to it. Don’t get discouraged after just a few days. Stick with it.
Since people come in all shapes and sizes, there is no perfect choice for everyone. If possible, find a store that carries holsters which appeal to you and try them out, so you can find the right one for you. Read here for the Top 21 Concealed Carry Holsters to help you pick the one that’s right for you.
You will want to purchase some range ammo, so you can train and have fun with your new purchase. You might want to steer away from re-manufactured ammo as the quality level can drop significantly. Get some ammunition that will feed reliably, and you lessen the risk of defective ammo damaging your gun.
Self-defense ammunition is more expensive but essential for stopping the threat without excessive over penetration. Hollow points and frangible bullets (bullets that break up when they hit something) are reasonable choices for stopping a threat.
Revolvers for Home Defense or CCW
You might be thinking to yourself, “What about Revolvers?” There are some opinions that revolvers make the best choice for female shooters because of their simplicity and the fact that it doesn’t require much upper body strength to reload the weapon.
If you’ve been thinking about purchasing a revolver for home defense or CCW, read here for Josh’s opinion on why revolvers may not be the best choice for smaller shooters.
Do revolvers make good self defense weapons? The short answer is yes. If it is what you have and it works for your situation, more power to you. The gun you have is better then the gun you don’t.
Most revolvers have between 5-6 shots available. Compared to a Glock 19, you will have to reload around 3 times to equal the ammunition capacity. Reloading with revolvers is also slower and requires more practice then that of a semi-auto. Certainly, with enough training and practice it can be done. But know that there are other choices which might give you a tactical edge in a fight.
As I have stated many times in this article, there is no one choice which is perfect for everyone. If you feel a revolver is the best choice for you and your situation, then go for it. Just make sure you understand the pros and cons of each weapon to ensure the greatest possible success.
No one should purchase a firearm without learning to use it safely and correctly. It’s not enough to purchase a firearm and leave it in the safe for when you need it. Spending a little extra for a quality class on how to use your new gun goes a long way. It’s essential and part of being a responsible gun owner.
At the very least you should take a course on safe gun handling. But classes on understanding the laws behind self defense will help you to make the right decision and keep you out of trouble with the law if you find yourself using a firearm to defend your home and loved ones. Find a class in your area.
Do you have anything to add? Let us know in the comments below.