If you're buying a new handgun, it's good to approach the process with just a bit of strategic planning. The more you can think through some basic decisions, the better the choice you'll make. Not only will you be happier with your purchase, but you also won't experience the dreaded buyer's remorse. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Try before you buy!
The very best way to buy your first handgun is to hire an instructor for an hour or so and ask him or her to bring a few different guns. Any experienced instructor will have a variety of handguns in their personal stash. If they don’t, look for a new instructor! Have them show you some of the basic shooting skills with a couple of different gun types and brands. You’ll quickly see what you like - and what you don’t. As an added bonus, having a qualified instructor supervise your testing and evaluation will ensure that you are handling each type of gun correctly so you can make a fair appraisal. Many a fine gun has been tossed aside when a new shooter didn’t know how to handle it properly or the nuances of how to make it run just right.
What defines the “right” gun for you?
For defensive purposes, the “right” gun is the most powerful one with which you can hit your target quickly and consistently. If that’s a .22 caliber pistol, then so be it. A .22 pistol that gives you the confidence that you'll hit your intended target is more effective than a .45 caliber with which you miss. Make no mistake; bigger and more powerful is always better for self-defense, right up to the point where you can still safely and properly handle the gun and engage your target with confidence (you may also want to learn about our viewpoint on the much-discussed "stopping power" in this article). But many new shooters need time, training and experience to reach their “full-power” potential. Start with what you can control and move up from there over time.
Bigger is actually better.
There is an assumed myth that large guns are too much for newer shooters to handle. First, let’s define two types of “large.” The first type is large size - as in length, height, width, and weight. The second type of “large” refers to caliber or power. For the first type of “large” bigger is actually better. Here’s why.
Remember that guy Newton? Not Wayne Newton, the older, English one. He determined that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So let’s consider an example. If you fire, say, a 9mm bullet from a one-ounce pocket wonder gun, the force generated by that 9mm bullet going 1,200 feet per second forward will be transmitted backward towards your hand and body. Weighing only one-ounce, the gun is probably going to fly at you like a drunken pterodactyl. Now, think about firing that same 9mm bullet from a 20 gajillion metric-ton pistol. The same amount of force is transmitted backward, but you’re not going to feel that gun move very much. All this goes to illustrate that while the recoil force of a given cartridge is the same, a larger gun will “soak up” the recoil and the shot will feel less forceful to the shooter.
Here’s how it all nets out. A cute and portable 10-ounce pocket pistol chambered in a powerful caliber will kick like an ill-tempered mule. The same cartridge fired from a full-size handgun will be quite comfortable to shoot. Make sense? So, don’t choose a smaller caliber just because you tried a pocket cannon that weighs four ounces. Try a larger gun in the same caliber first. As you become more experienced, you can reduce the size and weight of the gun you carry with your chosen caliber as you learn how to make recoil work for you.
Choose your own gun!
Husbands, boyfriends, best friends and relatives are not allowed to choose your gun for you! It’s important for you to choose your own. The very best way to do this is to invest a few dollars into item number one in this list - spending some quality time with an instructor. Preferably, do this without your significant other there.
Try it on for size.
Just like a pair of boots, you’ve got to try it on before you buy. The gun has to feel great in your hand. Even if you are not able to test shoot it, check to make sure that the grip fits your hand comfortably. Can you reach the trigger without stretching or changing your grip? Does your trigger finger rub along the side of the gun when you press the trigger? If so, the grip is too large for you. Find a gun where you can operate the trigger freely without adjusting your grip or touching the side of the gun. Can you operate the controls easily without changing your grip? Can you rack the slide without embarking on a pre-range conditioning program? If the answer is “no” don’t rule out that gun just yet. See our tips on racking the slide like a pro to learn the right technique.
Carefully consider whether all of the prices are right.
Most consumer product buying decisions don’t have life and death consequences. With guns, your life may very well depend on the quality of gun you buy. This is not a place to save a few bucks buying the cheapest gun on the shelf. The good news is that modern gun manufacturing techniques allow gun makers to produce fantastically reliable guns at very reasonable prices. If you stick with a big brand name, it’s hard to go wrong these days.
Think about ammunition availability.
We’ve run across a lot of people who have bought some super-cheap surplus gun for self-defense use. At the deal time, buying a gun that was used in the battle of Stalingrad sounds charming and pocketbook-friendly. However, when it comes time to find self-defense ammunition, things aren’t so glamorous. Sure you can get 64-year-old crates of surplus war ammo, but finding modern expanding ammunition that is safe and reliable is about as easy as getting Dianne Feinstein to speak at the NRA Annual Meeting. Not to mention the fact that modern hollow-point ammunition may not work reliably in that old gun.