Whether your purchasing your first handgun, or just the next in a collection, there are certain things to keep in mind. There may be more in this article for the newer shooter, but I’m willing to bet there is still something of interest for the veteran as well.
I’m not going to tell you what kind of handgun to purchase but I will give you some ideas on figuring out which gun you want to purchase. I do not know your local laws. Please refer to them to make sure you are not breaking any laws in your area.
When it comes to hand guns, there are at least two never-ending arguments, caliber and brand. I’m not going to get into either argument. In my opinion much of this is subjective. Your hands might not be as big as mine or you might just not like the way the grip feels. However I will give you some things for you to consider before you purchase.
First let me give you the qualifiers that I used when I began to research handguns. I use the same requirements for all firearms.
1. It has to work every time I pull the trigger or misfires have to be so seldom that the number might as well be zero.
2. It has to be a common caliber, the more common the caliber the more common the ammo. This is for people building their primary defensive battery; if you have go to handgun, then by all means get something nonstandard.
3. I have to like the gun; how I grip it and how it feels when shooting it. I was talking to someone that said his dad owned a Glock for many years and had a car accident causing some nerve damage to his hand. Afterward his dad could no longer shoot the Glock because of the way the polymer grip vibrated. If you don’t like the feel of it, you won’t shoot it, if you won’t shoot it you won’t be proficient at it.
There are a wide variety of handguns. I did a lot of research and came up with a list of guns that I wanted to put my hands on. I went to a couple of gun stores and held them, felt the weight, worked the magazine release and the safety, etc. This helped me narrow the list down some. From here I went to a local range that rents guns and rented a few. This was, by far, the most important step (I think) as well as the most fun.
Some Evidence for Being Well Trained
Today’s Survival Show with Bob Mayne; episode 124, is an interview with John Hodoway. In it he covers the Florida school board shooting in great detail. He makes a very good point. The gunman, named Clay Duke, had a 9mm semi-auto handgun. He fired a total of 15-16 rounds and missed multiple targets with each round. Mike Jones, the security officer that responded and returned fire, had a .40 caliber. He hit the gunman at least three times yet did not bring him down.
Mr. Hodoway, albeit a bit sarcastically, makes a couple of good points, first the gunman had a 9mm which has less kick and therefore is “easier to shoot”, so the gunman should have hit whatever he was aiming at. The security officer had a .40 caliber and shot the gunman three times. This should have brought the gunman down. As Mr. Hodoway puts it, “People should just drop out of respect, when you pull that (.40 cal) out of your holster.”
After firing 11 more shots, the gunman eventually took his own life.
Why do I bring this up?
I believe that training is more important than caliber, with a caveat that I’ll cover below. My wife and I have had some two-on-one training at a local range. It was a bit expensive but highly worth it. I recommend you get some training in the beginning before you build any bad habits. He tweaked our stance, grip, helped us learn what to do if there is a failure (misfire, stove pipe etc) and much more. Once you have the basics down; grip, stance etc, spend time practicing your good habits.
In the comments Dave makes a good point about training “under stress we always default to our LOWEST level of training, not our BEST.” He is exactly right, I respond that I couldn’t agree more on practice, I’m all for range time, but I also think people need to get training from an instructor as well, one who can put you through some paces and show you your weaknesses.
My reasoning is this, many of us drive, multiple hours a week, but we’re not qualified to drive in a NASCAR. Plinking targets is great, but if you carry for self-defense, I believe you should take some quality training from a qualified instructor. Learn some drills that you can do one your own, learn to clear a misfire, to “get out of the box” among other things.
I personally, wouldn’t carry a .380 or .22 if I have any other option. I have listened to a couple of Podcasts with doctors saying that the .380 kills over time via blood loss, not immediately from the trauma of the gunshot. The reason I carry is to immediately stop a threat, so I want something capable of doing so. But like I said, if I had no other option, I have thought of getting one so that I can carry in the summer and not print. (Print means the gun showing via the bulge on your hip or where ever you are carrying it.)
Revolver Versus Semi-Auto
There are pluses and minuses to both; I’ll just give my $.02. A revolver doesn’t fail; it guarantees when you pull the trigger, it fires. The down side is that there are only six shots, this can be mitigated a bit with a speed loader, but you’ll need to practice speed loading to build the muscle memory, so you can do it quickly. A semi-auto has up to 15 rounds (+1 in the chamber should you choose), but they are more prone to failures. In the training I took, the instructor helped us practice how to clear failures by loading dummy rounds in the magazine and having us fire at the target.
Check your local laws to be sure, but in many cases you can purchases firearms online. You’ll need to have it sent to a local gun store with an FFL (Federal Firearm License). The gun store will run the necessary background checks. You can find some good deals online. Keep in mind some FFL’s charge much more than others. I recommend finding the FFL first so you know what the total cost will be.
I have purchased ammo online a few times and would continue to if it weren’t for the comment from the person who delivered it. I decided that it was best to keep my gray and buy locally, for a while anyway. To purchase online, you’ll usually need to send them a copy of your driver’s license. The delivery company may not leave the package if no one is home. They are aware that it’s ammo.
Also keep in mind that there is practice ammo and there is defensive ammo. One difference is that the defensive ammo mushrooms more to cause maximum damage with less penetration. Here is a great breakdown of the types of defensive ammo. It is more expensive but you should practice with it to be sure of how it will function with your gun. You are trusting your life to this ammo; you and your family are worth far more than the $50 it takes to be sure it functions well in your gun. I use the cheap ammo at the range and keep Hydrashok for carry.
Magazine or Clips
The correct term is magazine and there are those that will correct you if you use the term “clip”. There is an argument that keeping magazines loaded can damage the springs over time. I read that when magazines were first used, the material used to make the springs developed memory and would fail to push the ammo into the chamber. From what I have read the material used now will not develop a memory. I’m not concerned and have yet to have one fail, or even hear of a modern failure due to memory. If you are concerned, you could unload and reload every month or two.
There are other things that you’ll need to purchase. Here are a few of the main ones.
Eye and Ear Protection
When I started shooting I went to the local hardware store and bought a cheapish pair of safety goggles, and some earplugs. I used these until I went shooting with a friend and he had the shooting glasses shown below.
I was blown away by the difference. They make things pop out. I promptly bought two pairs. Another nice thing, other than making things crisper, is that they come with four interchangeable lenses, yellow, clear, red and black.
I also discovered that the earplugs were not enough protection for me and now use them in combination with earmuffs. There are a wide variety of earmuffs. I bought these electronic ear muffs. They pick up sounds at a good distance away, and keep the gunshots quiet. This is ideal for range and training where you need to be able to hear one another.
I recommend a basic cleaning kit that will clean handguns and rifles. You likely can find videos on youtube of how to disassemble and reassemble your handgun, as well as how to clean it. I recommend cleaning your firearm after every shooting session.
Check your manual for where grease will need to be applied. You might also be able to find videos on youtube. I did some research and found that any high temperature grease can be used for this, I purchased a can for $5 from an automotive store and it will probably outlast me.
Remington has a very convenient tube. I purchased one and will refill it with the high temp grease when it’s empty. A word of caution; I remember hearing that the main reason a Glock is sent in for repair is due not being greased enough, the second highest reason is too much grease. This may have been said about Glocks, I’ll bet it’s the same for other manufacturers.
My wife and I each have a different model of pistol safe. I don’t like either. Hers is a model called Stack-On that quickly responds to a code being entered and opens slowly once the correct code has been given. Mine is a Winchester and it doesn’t respond for a second or two after the first number has been entered, so I have to hit a number, wait for a couple of seconds then enter the entire code. Once the code has been entered the door flies open. Both are plugged into an outlet and have battery backup. I have given thought to the biometric safes. They are a bit more expensive but not waiting for the buttons to respond or door to open might be worth it.
Red Lasers (not a need, may be a want)
If you have been a shooter for a long time you might not need a laser. One tip I have heard is that a red laser can be a great help to anyone over 50. Picking up a site picture is a skill that develops over time and a red laser can ensure you hit what you’re aiming at.
It is possible that lasers can give away your position, but the can also help the inexperienced shooter, or the shooter with older eyes pick up the target faster.
The last item I want to address is actually a tip I was shown in the training class my wife and I took. The man that gave us the training was a policeman for 20+ years, much of it in SWAT. He said that one way to greatly improve the grip on any handgun was to put a section of inside out bicycle tire inner tube on the grip. He was right. My wife and I liked it so much that all of our handguns have it on them, as well as a couple of friends’ guns.
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