How To Choose The Best Handgun For You

The good news? There are lots of excellent handgun choices. The bad news? There are lots of excellent handgun choices!

The good news? There are lots of excellent handgun choices. The bad news? There are lots of excellent handgun choices!

What defines the “right” gun for you?

The “right” gun is the most powerful one with which you can hit your target consistently. If that’s a .22 caliber pistol, then so be it. A .22 pistol that hits your intended target is more effective than a .45 caliber that misses. 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. 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.

Bigger is actually better.

There is an assumed myth that large guns are too much 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 figured that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So let’s consider an extreme example. If you fire, say, a 9mm bullet from a 1 ounce pocket wonder gun, the same force as the 9mm bullet going 1,200 feet per second forward will be transmitted backward towards your wonder gun. Weighing only 1 ounce, it’s probably going to fly at you like a drunk pterodactyl. Now, think about firing the same 9mm bullet from a 20 gajillion metric-ton pistol. The same force is being transmitted backwards, 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 it up” a bit more 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 will kick like an ill-tempered mule. The same cartridge fired from a full-size steel 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 4 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.

Choose your own gun!

Ladies, we’re generally speaking to you here. Husbands or boyfriends are NOT allowed to choose a gun for you! It’s important for you to choose your own. The very best way to do this is to invest in the last item on this list – spending some quality time with a trainer. Preferably without your significant other there.

Try it on for size.

Just because a gun does not have room for all of your fingers, that doesn't mean the fit is wrong.

Just because a gun does not have room for all of your fingers, that doesn’t mean the fit is wrong.

Just like a pair of boots or that cute little cocktail dress, you’ve got to try it on before you buy. It 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? If so, the grip is too large for you. Can you operate the controls easily with a normal grip? Can you rack the slide without weight training? If the answer is “no” don’t rule out that gun just yet. See our tips on racking the slide like a pro. Using that technique, just about anyone can manage just about any modern pistol slide. Check out our article on how to make sure your handgun fits you for more information.

Carefully consider whether the price is right.

Most consumer product buying decisions don’t have life and death consequences. Except of course Shake Weights. 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 for the cheapest gun out there. 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. If your friend’s cousin Cleetus bought a lathe and wants to make you a pistol, run, don’t walk away.

Think about ammunition availability.

You also may want to consider availability of accessories like these Crimson Trace light and laser products. More popular guns will have more accessory options.

You also may want to consider availability of accessories like these Crimson Trace light and laser products. More popular guns will have more accessory options.

We’ve run across a lot of people who have bought some super-cheap surplus gun for self-defense. At 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 rosy. 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.

Try before you buy!

The very best way to buy your first gun 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 guns. If they don’t, look for a new instructor! Have them show you some of the basic shooting skills with a couple of different guns. You’ll quickly see what you like – and what you don’t. As an added bonus, having a qualified instructor supervise you 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.

Be sure to check out our latest book, The Rookie’s Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition. It’s available in print and Kindle format at Amazon:

The Rookie's Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition

The Rookie’s Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition

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