First-Time Gun Owner's Tips - Part 1

Part I - Buying your First Handgun

You are new to firearms and you have decided that the time is right to make the jump and buy that first gun.

For this series of articles, we will assume your main goal is to defend yourself and your family.
There are many other reasons for wanting a gun, such as sporting/competition, hunting or just plain fun, but protection is what we will cover here.

 

  1. Find the Right Store
  2. Ask Questions
  3. Revolver vs. Semi-Auto
  4. Caliber
  5. Fit
  6. Accessories

1. Find the Right Store

You will have a lot of questions (see below) and you will need someone to answer them.
Two things you require form that person is that they are knowledgeable and that they have or take the time to talk to you.

At a large chain store, there is a very good chance that the person behind the firearms counter has very limited knowledge of the subject.
Big box outdoors stores are more specialized, but they tend to be busy and the employees may not have time to chat.

Your best bet is a smaller, performance-oriented gun shop where they are receptive to questions and directions from their customers.

2. Ask Questions

Any and all queries you may have will help the expert direct you to what's best for you.
Also tell them as much as you can about you and your goals: for example; whether you have any firearms experience at all; your stature and hand size; whether the gun is principally meant for concealed carry and/or for home defense; do you intend to engage in recreational and defensive practice etc.

First, do your homework. There is a lot of information available on the Internet, some reliable, some much less, so take everything with a grain of salt.
Take notes, write down your questions and conclusions to bring with you.

Once in the shop or at the range, do not be afraid to ask about anything.
There are no stupid questions and be proud of your first-time status.
You took a very important step and most professionals and enthusiasts will be more than happy to help you be successful.

3. Revolver vs. Semi-Auto

First big decision, Revolver or Pistol?
You will find very opinionated people on both sides of this discussion.

Pistol vs. Revolver

Many will argue that for a newbie, a revolver is safer and simpler to operate: swing the cylinder open insert a cartridge in each hole and you are ready to go.
Similarly, open it, remove the remaining rounds and it is safe, hard to make a mistake.

On the other hand, a semi-auto pistol will have a larger capacity, lighter, shorter trigger and can be reloaded quickly with a fresh magazine. (No, it is not a "clip").
And there is nothing about its functioning that you cannot learn quickly.

In the end you will make your own decision based on your particular circumstances, but one is not necessarily better than the other.

4. Caliber

What Caliber should you chose, and what is "Caliber" after all?

The term "Caliber" initially meant the diameter of the bullet, but has evolved to now mean each very specific cartridge variant.
As an example  9mm Luger, 357 Magnum, and 380 Auto have virtually the same bullet diameter but vastly different performance.

3 calibers

Some of the most common calibers you will find for self-defense handguns are .45 ACP, .40 S&W, 9mm Luger, 357 Magnum,.38 Special and 380 Auto.
Depending on whether you go for a revolver or a pistol, certain calibers may not be an option.

Many pages have been written and heated discussions took place trying to designate THE ideal caliber for self-defense.
Spoiler: it does not exist.

Generally speaking, the bigger and the more powerful a round, the most efficient it is in stopping a criminal attack.
But not everybody feels comfortable handling the recoil and carrying larger, heavier guns associated with those calibers.

Conclusion: go for the most powerful round that YOU feel comfortable with.

5. Fit

The gun needs to fit you if you are to shoot it efficiently. as we will discuss in future articles, you will need to train and practice with your firearm.

You will sometimes hear people recommend smaller guns for beginners, most frequently for women.
That is a big mistake for many reasons. A smaller gun is lighter, and that will make the felt recoil much more unpleasant. Likewise, it will need stiffer springs and overall be harder to handle.
On the flip side, as smaller gun is easier to conceal, but it is a moot point if you intend to keep it at home.

As far as fit goes look for a few basic points:

  • Size: if you need to carry concealed you will want a smaller gun than for home defense.
  • Does it fit your hand? All hands are different and too small or too big a gun may be hard to handle. Also, some shapes work better for you than others.
  • The weight: a heavier gun absorbs recoil better but may be a lot to carry all day.

Dry-firing it at the store will not tell the whole story.
Some shooting ranges have guns that you can rent for an hour and try for yourself.
Maybe a friend who owns the same gun you are considering could take you to the range for a trial.

My wife fell in love with a revolver that fit her hand like a glove. After the first range session she hated it with a passion.
We ended up getting her a semi-auto that is perfect for her.

6. Accessories

Is there anything that you absolutely must buy right away to complement your newly purchased handgun?
Don't rush. Once you become more experienced you will soon discover what you need - or want - to add to your kit.
A few things, though, cannot wait.

If you are going to carry, you MUST have a good holster that covers the trigger. Even if you carry in your pocket, a holster is a must. This is for safety reasons that we will cover in a future article.
Be prepared to try and buy a lot of different holsters during your "career" as a gun owner - but that is a different story.

Also it is imperative that you have a means to safely store your weapon when it is not in your immediate control.
If it gets stolen or misused - for example by kids - your liability is engaged.
Handguns should be - by Federal Law - delivered with some kind of safety lock or container.
Consider a small (or big) gun safe for easy access. This is a subject for a future story.

Still on the topic of storage a couple of parting points:

  • Hiding guns, especially from kids, NEVER WORKS. You are looking for trouble.
  • Please, please do not ever leave guns in your car overnight. They get stolen everyday - ask any cop.

Welcome to the community!

You made the right decision.
Responsible firearm ownership will not only give you a higher level of security but give you an opportunity for fun activities with like-minded folks around you.

In the next article, we will look at the basic rules of safety.