Buying your first handgun

by Sandy Keathley

While some people buying a first handgun may have learned to shoot without owning one (in the military, with family, or just taking a pistol class), it is likely that the majority of people shopping for their first gun are new to this world. The challenge for them is deciding what to buy, from the thousands of models available. They read articles, ads, and reviews online until they’re cross-eyed, go to a gun shop or a gun show, and talk to friends. Everyone they ask, friend or dealer, has a different opinion. The dealer may recommend what he has in stock; the friend will recommend what he shoots, but he may not have shot that many pistols. They are all different; all have upsides and downsides.  What to do?

Why do you want a gun?  Many people will recommend that you first decide the purpose for a gun. Common answers are “home defense”, “car/truck gun”, “concealed carry”, or even “protect sheep from wolves”. One lady told me she liked to hike in rough country, where she might encounter wolves or even bears. Those are mostly good candidates for a handgun. Protecting sheep from wolves, not so much. I would get a stout 30 cal bolt-action rifle with a scope for that. Actually, I would use a 1943 Soviet sniper rifle, but that’s just me.

Leaving that aside, the other reasons would steer you (or me) to different guns: a .357 Magnum revolver for the hiker, a 9mm or .380 sub-compact semi-auto for concealed carry, a .45 for the home, etc.

Learn to shoot first. I’m going to offer another, perhaps controversial, opinion. Small guns are more difficult to shoot for a beginner, for a variety of reasons. Light-weight guns, ditto. Larger calibers, like .40 cal or above, same answer. I would rather see someone get a full-size, fairly heavy 9mm pistol, maybe a 1911-style, one that is easier to shoot well. Learn to shoot it well, then, if the size is not appropriate for your purposes, get another. Does that mean getting two guns? Eventually, yes, I’m afraid so. The fact is, very few people have just one handgun, and many of the ones who do, have the wrong one (for them).

Over-achiever. Call me an over-achiever, but being able to hit a man-sized target at 5 yards is not good enough for me. My goal was to hit a paper plate at 15 yards, and a man-sized target at 25 yards. Once there, with longer guns, then time to reset that goal with shorter guns.

Larger guns help smaller guns. Having recoil problems with your pocket .380? The best answer is to borrow or rent a .45 for an hour. Then the .380 will seem easy. That is the whole point of this essay. Learn to shoot first, with a gun that helps you, even if it is not suitable for your purposes. Then leverage that experience on to a gun that is. You will find it a much flatter learning curve.

Author: Sandy Keathley

NRA-Certified Firearms Instructor