Please consider supporting our efforts.


Selecting a Handgun

Friday, 21 December 2012 02:07 Written by 

What could be so difficult about finding and buying the ideal handgun for self defense? If you are a first time buyer, it can certainly be a daunting task. There are dozens of manufacturers and each offering dozens of models; little ones, big ones, long barrels and short. Plastic frames, carbon fiber frames, aluminum frames or steel frames. Blued steel, sprayed on coatings, stainless steel, nickel plated, and even pink coatings for the fashion conscience. Should you buy a revolver or a semi auto pistol? Is a .38 special a better choice over a .45 ACP or a 9 millimeter over a 357 magnum? It can get all so confusing!!! Relax and take my hand. Let me walk you down the path to handgun purchasing bliss.


Author Note: In light of recent events, I find this an extremely sensitive subject to discuss, especially considering the hue and cry being levied against the firearms industry and the demonization of firearms owners. Please understand; in no way am I minimizing the tragic loss of innocent lives, nor the depths of the heinous and despicable acts inflicted upon them.

Be assured, changes are coming. Those intent on disarming American citizens are seizing on this horrific event as a rallying cry; one that will be more successful than any before it, in which the way we purchase firearms and the types of firearms and certain accessories for them will be forever vastly restricted. 

If you are considering the purchase of a firearm, my advice is DO IT NOW.  The window of opportunity is swiftly closing.   

Things You Need To Know

Before you head out the door to visit your local firearms dealer, there are a couple of thing you need to consider. Buying a new firearm is a lot like buying new shoes. You can try them on for size, but don’t expect to try them out before you buy. In other words; firearms dealers don’t like the idea of letting customers test fire models from their new guns inventory. Once a new weapon is fired, it’s no longer new and therefore cannot be sold as such.

Dealers that have range facilities available and allow you to fire used or “range guns,” generally have a fairly limited variety of models for that purpose. This means, you may not be able to test fire a particular model you have had your eye on. And, it isn’t unheard of for a dealer to have a collection of worn out relics for use as range guns (especially when they can get a better resale price off of “gently used” firearms).  So the sloppiness of a near worn out weapon may taint your opinion of similar models.

You can usually feel free to look and touch, but depending on the dealer or store policies, if you squeeze the trigger you just committed to buy that gun (whether you like that one or not). The light wear marks you created leave room for dispute as to whether the weapon is new or used when someone else comes along to buy.

Some of the chain sporting goods stores pay their firearms staff by commission and use a “take a number” system at the firearms counter. It isn’t unheard of for a “novice” gun buyer to be “nudged” into buying any gun, so long as the salesperson doesn’t have to spend a lot of time answering a bunch of questions from a “newbie” buyer (especially when there are more seasoned buyers waiting in line who already know what they want and are just looking to get up to the counter and close the deal quickly).

Beware the Pseudo Gun Pro 

So, what are your options for trying out a particular make, model, or caliber of handgun? The chances are pretty slim unless you know someone (friend or family) who owns firearms, and are willing to let your try out one of theirs. For the most part, firearms owners are a good group of folks who would have no reservations in taking a newbie out for a day at the range.  Just beware of the “pseudo gun pro” advice.

Get on to the subject of firearms and all of a sudden, everyone turns into a gun shop guru; handing out advise on which brands, what calibers and how many inches of barrel gives the best feet per second performances. They like a particular weapon and think everybody they know should buy one. They just don’t consider the notion that what works for them may not work for you.

There is only one person who can ultimately decide what is best for you… and that’s you. 

Establishing Your Personal Preferences 

The first preference to decide on is whether you want a revolver or a semi automatic pistol. Until a few years ago, the argument for choosing a semi auto over a revolver was the greater ammunition count that can be loaded into a semi auto. That was when the majority of revolvers could be loaded with five or six rounds only. Now, however, several manufacturers are producing models that can be loaded with eight rounds; as many rounds as a 1911 style semi-automatic pistol. Likewise, manufactures are offering models of semi auto pistols that can be loaded with 17 or more rounds. From a defensive use standpoint, especially if you have concerns of fending off multiple threats, one might tend to follow the logic of, “the more, the merrier” (rounds of ammo, that is).

Another consideration between revolvers and semi autos is; the perceived difference in felt recoil or “kick” (forgive me Mr. Cooper) presented by the semi auto. Both types of weapons recoil to a certain degree. Semi autos only seem to have more recoil due to the mechanical action of the weapon cycling a fresh round into the chamber. For new shooters, this is often seen as “a deal breaker” after only one shot. 

The thing to remember is; the biggest objection to recoil is the mind’s irrational fear of a loud sound that’s coming from an explosive charge that’s going off in your hand. It is the exact same problem that causes some shooters to “flinch” and / or for their eyes to squeeze shut in anticipation of the weapon firing. Practice will help you overcome this as you train your ability to focus on the target and, develop good muscle memories.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to practice shooting both revolvers and semi autos as a kid. I trained with a semi auto pistol in the military. I carried revolvers for many years as a police officer, before transitioning to a semi auto. If you ask me if one style is better than the other; the absolute truth is, one will kill you just as dead as the other.  

Specific Purpose Considerations

Allow me to be extremely blunt. The specific purpose of a defensive firearm is to neutralize a threat of serious bodily injury or death. In less politically correct language; it is to kill someone who is trying to do the same to you.

To effectively neutralize a threat, you will have to consider the caliber of the weapon you will want to buy. While I am sure there will be some rebuttal to my recommendations in this regard, I would not suggest any caliber smaller than a .38 special. However, more serious consideration would be better spent on a 357 magnum, 9 millimeter, .40 caliber or .45 caliber. Calibers that are smaller than .38 special generally lack sufficient power to neutralize threats (stop and prevent any further attempts at aggression by the perpetrator, with as few shots as required on your part).

Caliber considerations also need to address other issues. The magnum loads, the 9mm. and .40 caliber ammunition present a higher possibility risk of over penetration. This equates to going through a human target, then through interior walls of most modern homes and injuring or killing someone on the other side of that wall. Depending upon the construction of your home, we could be talking about a projectile going through a bad guy, an exterior wall and hurting or killing a neighbor; after that same projectile has penetrated their exterior wall. The type of ammunition you choose will therefore be an important consideration as well and, know that ammo manufacturers do market products that expend more energy upon impact, greatly reducing the potential for over penetration. You will need to research what is the best ammo for your specific needs.

Too Big, Too Small, Or Just Right

Just like anything else that is judged by size, so goes it with handguns. Too big can be too heavy or too difficult to conceal, where too small and you begin to sacrifice accuracy. Of course weight can be made more negligible by choosing a model with a plastic or aluminum frame. Although, you need to understand that the lighter the frame, the greater the felt recoil is likely to be. 

Short barrels are fine for concealing purposes but, the longer the barrel, the more stable, and therefore, more accurate the projectile will be at distance. Smaller barrels are another factor that increases felt recoil. Staying in a 3.5 inch to 5 inch barrel length will help to keep recoil low and projectile stability at more optimum levels.

Tricking Out That Handgun

Nothing makes a serious fashion statement like attaching a bunch of “tactical” accessories to (called tricking out) your favorite handgun. Just like merchandisers who are charging exorbitant prices and striking it rich selling “prepper” items, firearms accessory merchandisers do the same thing. And if you slap the word tactical on a brand of toilet paper, every Radical Rick type in the neighborhood will be lining up to buy it.            

There are a bunch of potential problems when you do this though. The biggest problem is, it’s just one more thing that can break. Perhaps equally as problematic; if you are ever forced to shoot someone, a prosecutor or civil trial attorney will point out these accessories and vilify you as a “cowboy” (or cowgirl) and most likely convince a jury to see it that way. My professional advice is… keep it simple.

Handgun Accessories

A defensive handgun doesn’t really need much in the way of add-ons. Many already come with low light level sights installed, which are totally acceptable. Commonly referred to as “night sights,” low light level sights are made with a small vile of radioactive material that glows in low light conditions. With one vile in the front sight and two in the rear sight, when lined up they help provide faster target acquisition. Understand that fiber optic type sights appear to glow but only under lighted conditions.

Another acceptable accessory would be the rubber grips that include a built-in laser pointing device that allows for a more rapid target acquisition. These are a little pricy but they work well.

The only other accessories I would recommend is a high quality holster that is designed for good weapon retention, so as to prevent others from easily taking your weapon from you, and for comfort if you plan to carry concealed. Though a bit pricey, several manufacturers market high quality purses designed for weapon concealment as well as normal purse duty. 

The next items I recommend would be some type of rapid loading device for revolvers and top quality magazines for semi autos. Although revolver model specific, rapid loading devices aren’t fool proof and can cause a delay in reloading if you are under pressure. It is imperative to practice regularly to gain a good muscle memory. High quality semi auto magazines, though pricey, not only facilitate rapid reloading, they also assure proper feeding of ammo into the weapon’s chamber.


Armed with the information I have provided you, the next course of action will be as follows.  Get a friend or family member to take you shooting, or go to a firearms store that has a range facility and who rents out range guns. You will want to try out both revolvers and semi autos; and preferably in two or three calibers. 

Once you have decided which type of handgun you prefer, you can now decide on which caliber you feel more comfortable with.

In a firearms show room, ask to physically examine the handguns that most closely match your criteria, paying particular attention to how the weapon fits and feels in your hand. Hold it out at point arms to test the weight of the gun and to see how well the sights appear and how well you are able to focus on them. The rest is up to you and your budget.

Last modified on Tuesday, 09 April 2013 22:20
Rate this item
(8 votes)
Login to post comments
You are here:   HomeSurviveFirearmsSelecting a Handgun