Buying a Handgun for Self-Defense

After you’ve determined what type of self-defense firearm is best for you, discussed on my "choosing a firearm for self-defense" page, how do you make the best choice? Many individuals would go to a sporting goods store and choose from a broad line of guns. Often, especially in a chain store, the gun counter salespeople are just punching a time clock, selling in the department they were assigned to without any real experience.

A better choice would be to go to a reputable gun shop. The personnel here are usually avid gun owners themselves with much greater experience in this area. There are many sizes of guns from small to big but let’s think now about our choices. Money may come into play more for some than for others but we all want good stuff, right?

You can choose to buy a new cheap handgun at the store. They’ll take your money. NOOO. Let’s understand the reason for our purchase. We want a gun so if our lives are in jeopardy we have a means to protect ourselves.  We want it to work when we need it so it’s got to be reliable.

Quality is key here. I would rather buy a quality firearm that’s used than a new Saturday Night Special. Two ends of the spectrum I know so you get my point, right? A preowned gun in most cases hasn't been shot out. Sure, some gun buffs shoot their guns a whole lot but most guns will stay in someone’s safe or drawer for the greater part of their existence so if you know what to look for I am sure you can find your gem. If you can afford new, go for it.

Caliber: The bigger the caliber the greater the damage in most cases. A lot of variables here but bigger is better in this instance. Better for one shot stops or at least everything being equal, bigger is more effective.

Cost of the caliber is a consideration also. It doesn't go hand in hand with size like you may think though. Don’t assume that the larger round costs more since it has more material. Popularity also comes into play. For example, the .380 round is smaller than most other rounds but not as popular so usually what I have found is it’s more expensive.

If you don't plan on shooting a lot then it’s not that big a deal. I like to shoot so I favor the 9mm: very economical and with the right self-defense loads it is very effective. Point is, check out prices. How often will you shoot? Do you want the more powerful rounds creating more shock affect. How big a frame do you want? The larger calibers usually have larger frames.

 Handgun ergonomics: Let’s look at the most popular (semi-automatics) first. When you pick it up at the store, remember safety always and etiquette too. Even after the gun is verified clear still never muzzle anyone. Remember? Rule number 2.

Pick up many and compare their weights and grips. How do they feel? Can the grip size be altered? Some come with alternate grip plates to customize the size.

Next, rack the slide. This is one of the key things a lot of individuals miss. I’ve seen people at the range who can’t rack their slide. Some guns are tougher than others but if they did this before purchase they wouldn’t be there with something that doesn't work for them. Sometimes it can be fixed with a little tweak to the technique but in some cases, the person just doesn’t have the strength to rack it.

Pay attention to the serrations. Are they too “grippy”? Do they hurt or is there enough grip to the slide for you? Can you grip it well? Try another if not.

Now inspect the chamber. Is it easy? Next, push the mag release button.  Can you reach it easily? Did it drop out or did you have to pull it out?

Finally, pull the trigger. How does it feel? Hard? Well, try another. Some have heavy triggers and some are lighter. Getting used to a hand gun after purchase will make this easier but if things don't fit right or are too hard to begin with go on to the next. Find one that fits like a glove and that you can manipulate all the controls easily and without much contorting of your hands.

Aim it at the wall in a safe direction. Rule number 4 here. How are the sights? These can normally be changed, but that will cost extra so if it comes down to a few choices and another has sights you like, maybe that would tip it in that direction.

Decide which features are more important to you in your comparisons. Remember: time spent here now will pay off later with a handgun you are more likely to enjoy instead of one you are constantly fighting or griping about. Take your time and retry them.

If you’re looking at a model with a hammer, does it have a de-cocking lever? If so, operate it and know the difference between that and the safety. Oh, it doesn’t have a safety? Some do and some don't. Personally, I don't like safeties. I don't want another thing to think about in the quick instance that I need it. But all personal choice here. Training with what you own is the key whether you have a safety or not.

If the gun shop has a firing range, try the ones you narrowed it down to providing they have the same model as a range rental. They won’t have them all but they are showcasing their inventory so they will have many choices. 

When you’ve made your choice, have a salesman show you how to field strip it for cleaning, then have them watch while you do it. It will build muscle memory and help embed it into your mind so when you get home it is not so much of a struggle for what you forgot.