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Choosing a Pistol



There are many types and styles of automobiles: from the Mini-Cooper to the Expedition; sedans and SUVs; convertibles and vans. Everyone has a favorite or two, as well as some that annoy them. So it is with handguns (and rifles). There are hundreds of makes, thousands of models, including some you never heard of, and even large firearms dealers don't have them all. Where to start?

Start with the general features or requirements, and work your way to the detailed view.
  1. What is the purpose to which it will be put?
    • Hobbyist/Target Shooting (plinking)
    • Home Defense
    • Concealed Carry
    • Organized Competition
  2. Should I get a semi-automatic (autoloader) or a revolver?
  3. What magazine capacity do I need?
  4. What caliber do I need?
  5. Who are the major firearms manufacturers?
  6. What models of those manufacturers fit your requirement?
  7. Are there suitable reviews of those models available online?
  8. Is there a local gun range where I can test-fire some of these?



It has been said that pistols multiply like rabbits. If that is true, it is because many people have, or develop, interests in more than one of the areas above, and a pistol best suited for one purpose may not be practical for another. That doesn't mean that you have to go out and buy several guns; start with the one that best suits your purpose. If another purpose becomes important enough, you will know what to do.

Here are some features of the types listed above, for your consideration.
  • Target Shooting pistols are typically .22 cal, with a long barrel and adjustable sights.
  • Home Defense pistols are frequently full-size (1911-style), and at least 9mm in caliber, often .40/.45 cal or .357 Magnum. Capacities can be 16 rounds or more (except for revolvers).
  • Concealed Carry pistols are generally very small and light (often a .380 or snub-nosed .38), with a short barrel and a short sight-radius, although some people actually carry a .45, if their clothing styles and frame will allow it. Accuracy can be difficult past 10 yards with a little gun, and capacity is often 6 rounds or less.
  • Most pistols used for competition (besides target shooting) are either full size autoloaders or single-action (Cowboy-style) revolvers. Presumably, that is not where your interest lies at this time.
  • The size of the grip front-to-back (frontstrap-backstrap) and the size of your hand have an impact on your ability to reach the trigger properly. Different models have different sized grips, and some have interchangeable backstraps.



Reasons to not dismiss the revolver out of hand:

While it's possible (though rare) for a revolver to malfunction, semi-autos do so somewhat more often. The more you pay for a semi-auto, the less that will be a problem, but it still happens, often due to poor maintenance.

With a semi-auto, the firearm relies on the energy of the previous round to cock it and prepare it for another shot. A malfunction means the operator must manually clear the gun and prepare it for the next shot, an operation that requires two hands, unless you are highly trained. It also involves the instant recognition of the situation and a fast tap/rack sequence to get the gun running again. Even police officers who qualify annually and train regularly often stare at their guns when they malfunction. An efficient tap/rack isn't likely to be accomplished in a reasonable time by a scared-out-of-his-wits average Joe, and the law in most states requires the civilian to be in fear of his life, great bodily harm or sexual assault in order to legally use deadly force.

On the other hand, a revolver gets all the energy to prepare for the next shot from the operator. A dud round only requires you to pull the trigger again. There's no required training for a second trigger pull. Itís almost certain to happen with no delay, and a scared-out-of-his-wits civilian can accomplish this without training. It's as instinctive as any firearms operation could be.

Revolvers typically have a heavy trigger pull. There's almost no way to accidentally discharge a double action revolver. It could be argued that a long, heavy trigger pull impedes accuracy, but remember that most encounters with handguns are at very short range, and most revolvers can also be fired in single-action mode. There's also no issue with having to disengage a safety, cock a hammer, or chamber a round under stress. The revolver is drawn and the trigger is pulled. After the shot is fired, there's no need to put the gun back on safe. It returns to the original state after each shot. Also, a limp-wristed shooter or poor grip won't cause a malfunction with a revolver and this is common with lightweight semi-autos.



Recommendations:

It is beyond the scope of this page to try to match a person to a pistol, as there are many factors to consider. You will have to do some research, and what one person likes, another doesn't, but you have to start somewhere. There are well-known manufacturers, and not-so-well-known ones; being a top line doesn't guarantee the best match, nor does being less known guarantee dissatisfaction. With those caveats in mind, here are a few brands that are generally accepted as having quality products with satisfactory or better customer support (our apologies for omissions; this is very subjective)(alphabetical). Specific models are not listed.
  • Beretta
  • Browning
  • Colt
  • CZ
  • Glock
  • Heckler & Koch
  • Kahr
  • Kimber
  • Ruger
  • Sig Sauer
  • Smith & Wesson
  • Springfield Armory

There are also several lesser-known manufacturers whose products can be perfectly acceptable, although some models may be missing some desirable features, or fit-and-finish may not be as refined as more expensive handguns. Sometimes budget has to be a factor, and these can be quite cost-effective. Just remember, you get what you pay for.
  • Bersa
  • European American Armory
  • Kel-Tec
  • Rossi (Brazil)
  • Tanfoglio (Italy)
  • TriStar (Turkey)
  • Taurus (U.S.)
  • Zastava (Croatia)

NOTE: some of these imported pistols are clones of the very popular CZ-75. They may be inexpensive, but they are not cheaply made. I have a Star 9mm, and it is quite good. I found it in a pawn shop.

As a general rule, we recommend, for home or car protection, a 9mm autoloader or .38 Special revolver (with at least a 4" barrel), and for concealed carry, a .380 or 9mm autoloader, or a .38 Special/.357 Magnum with a short barrel. Within reason, the heavier the gun, the better. Also, the longer the barrel, the shorter the learning curve to becoming accurate with it, so if your budget will allow, two pistols is a good idea.

There are other choices, of course (like a .22 Mag revolver), and nothing stops you from keeping a .45 at home, or even carrying a .45. There are specific reasons for these suggestions, but they are too involved to discuss here. Take a pistol course, and you'll understand.

See my blog post on Choosing the Right First Gun.

See my blog post on Self Defense Guns for Ladies.

See the Gun Links page for reviews and other resources.


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McKinney CHL/LTC Handgun License Classes serving McKinney, Allen, Frisco, Plano, Prosper, Princeton, Anna, Collin County Texas

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