FAQ #1: How Do I Buy My First Gun?

If I can get my act together, I will attempt to answer some FAQ’s from our students from time to time here on the ol’ blog.  This article is long overdue.

So, you’re in the market to buy a handgun but you don’t know where to start. Luckily, I have some experience in this arena. Not only do I buy guns for myself from time to time,

My beloved Springfield EMP! Please forgive me if you have already seen this photo.  I just couldn’t resist.

but I also take many of my students gun shopping when they want some help. It can be useful to have someone tag along and help you make this sometimes difficult decision. I have even turned a couple of students into professional gun shoppers (or collectors). I would like to take this time to formally apologize to their spouses!

The question I am asked most frequently is “How do I buy a gun”? My answer to this is that there is no easy answer. Buying a gun is a very personal experience. It’s like the difference between buying COACH or Dooney and Bourke handbag, or red wine vs. white wine. I happen to appreciate a COACH bag and a glass of dry red wine, but that doesn’t mean that Dooney’s and white wine are bad, they just don’t suit my taste as well. The same holds true to guns.

It’s not a concealed carry bag, but it’ll do!

When you walk into a gun store, some, but not all of the employees will be men. And some, but not all of those men will see you coming and immediately point you to the small, cute little revolvers or pink guns with that “Hey little lady, I have just the thing for you” gleam in their eye.

A look, much like this one, in fact.

If you happen to be a lady, most gun store employees just assume that you will not be able to rack a slide or manipulate a semi-auto.  If you are a man, they naturally assume the opposite to be true.  We can all fall victim to being judged on this one. I have to say that 6 years ago this was a lot more common than it is today. If you happen to be in the market for one of these (little pink revolvers) guns (and there is nothing wrong with that, remember it is about personal preference), you’re in luck! If not then keep reading.

There are a lot of factors in selecting a pistol they can include:
The intended purpose of the pistol
Pistol fit and ergonomics
Pistol size and weight
Price and budget
Availability and price of ammunition
Simplicity of operation and ease of cleaning
Reputation of manufacturer
Warranty or Guarantee
Availability of repair of Aftermarket parts

I like to equate the gun buying process to that of buying a car. This analogy seems to work well for men and women alike. When I buy a car I have to have an idea of what I will use the car for (do I need or want an SUV or a sports car?) and it has to fit me! When I say it has to “fit me” what I mean is this: If the driver’s seat is too deep that it makes the pedals hard to reach then that’s not the car for me! This can be quite the challenge for someone with my 5 foot stature.

This is not going to work for me, but, I LOVE the optional equipment mounted to the roof!

Once I find a car that fits I can start to determine what bells and whistles I need (air conditioning, memory seats and a large roof mounted gun) and what I can live without (navigation and overhead DVD) for example.

So let’s get to the part about buying a gun, shall we? The first step to buying a gun, like buying a car is to know what it will be used for. (I am talking about the primary purpose here. Yes, guns can serve more than one purpose.) Is this a gun that you will carry with you either on your person or in a purse? Maybe the main purpose of the gun will be home protection or for target practice. All of these purposes are great. We just need to narrow it down because it makes all the difference in the world.

Now that you know what you will use this gun for we can look at what size to get. A “carry” gun will need to be small and light weight enough to carry with you. Yes, even if you are keeping it in your night stand and using it as your home protection gun it’s still a “carry” gun first if you will ever carry it. If it’s too big and heavy you might just be like me and decide to leave it behind. This is why I personally have more than one gun. I do have one that is small, lightweight and goes with me most all of the time. If you have no intention of ever carrying it anywhere but the shooting range for practice than you might just get away with a full size model of gun. There is no right or wrong here, it’s all about your personal preference.

Semi-automatic or revolver is another consideration. There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to each. Let’s consider the advantages and disadvantages of the revolver first. The revolver is a no nonsense gun. There are only a few moving parts and handling malfunctions with a revolver is as easy as can be. Revolvers tend to have smaller grips (pro or con depending on the size of your hands). The cons are that they have a capacity of 5 or 6 rounds and can be tricky to reload in a hurry. I have also met many people (women especially) who get these little, lightweight revolvers thinking that they are the answer to all of their prayers, that is until they shoot them. The running consensus here is most often a lot of felt recoil and firing more than a box of ammo is a tall order. The reason so many people run into this with the small, lightweight guns (and it’s not just revolvers) is that there is less mass on the gun to absorb the recoil. This means all that energy has to go somewhere and we tend to feel it more in our hands and wrists.

Semi-autos on the other hand can have different size grips available (lots of models come with a set of interchangeable backstraps for different sized hands), higher capacity is a possibility depending on the size of the gun, and they can have external safety features (again this could be considered a pro or con depending on your preferences). On the down side, there are more moving parts and more manipulation is needed to shoot them, including racking the slide, loading magazines and having to manually clear any malfunctions you might have. The good news about this is that there are some really good techniques out there that will help you do these manipulations as efficiently as possible. With practice you can get really good at all of these things whether you choose a revolver or a semi-automatic pistol.

Now that we have determined what size (and maybe style) of gun we want we can start the process of touch and feel. This is the fun part. Head out to the gun store and actually handle whatever they have in stock in your range of sizes. Yes, guns come in many sizes ranging from, sub-compact, to full size for semi autos and small or “J” frame to full size revolvers. You should pick up enough guns in the size range you are most interested in so that you can start to feel the differences in how they fit your hand. Once we find a gun that fits we can worry about what kind of ammunition it takes. These days most models of guns are available in different cartridge designations so when you find a fit you can then choose which cartridge you prefer. Most people start with cartridge designation and go from there. I am not so much concerned with this as you can always learn to shoot a gun that fits you properly no matter the cartridge it shoots!

Best of luck and Carry On, Colorado!