Walking into a gun store for the first time can be an incredibly intimidating ordeal. And while some may hate to admit it, certain gun shops maintain the aura of a high-class country club that doesn't take kindly to non-members. That feeling and environment is not very conducive to the first-time gun buyer. With that in mind, here's a guide on how to wade your way through the myriad of debatable topics that go along with purchasing your first handgun. The biggest factors of choice have been distilled down to 3 key points and one easy-to-understand car analogy.
The Car Analogy
It may seem silly, but you can take everything you've learned about how to shop for a car and use it as you shop for a new gun.
First, decide what type of vehicle you need. Some people need a truck while others need a minivan while some just want something flashy to show off. There's nothing wrong with any of those options, but they aren't all the best choice for a family of five. Your firearm is pretty much the same. It needs to suit your needs while also making you feel proud to own it.
When you shop for a new car, you tend to visit a few different dealers, sit in as many cars as you can, test drive a few until you narrow it down to one and then shop around for the best price. Do the same thing with your gun. Every shop should be open to letting you handle as many different guns as you like. Hold them all until you find the one or two that feel best in your hand. Once you've narrowed the search a bit, see if you can take the top candidates for purchase on a test drive. Most gun stores that have a shooting range will also have some sort of 'Try Before You Buy' program that allows you to rent a gun and try it out on the range before you buy it.
Just like shopping for a car, shopping for a gun is similar. However, remember these 3 key points:
1. Don't Get Caught in the "Caliber Debate"
Shooters have been debating which caliber is better for as long as guns have existed. There's certainly much to be learned about why certain calibers exist and their origins, but the caliber debate is a long, dark black hole of conjecture that can be detrimental to new shooters looking to buy their first gun.
The truth is, the caliber you choose to carry is a personal decision and in most cases you won't go wrong with whatever you choose to purchase.
"It is my personal belief that there really isn't much difference between each of these calibers. It is only the fact that some guns can be fired faster than others that causes the perceived difference in stopping power."
But the main takeaway for our purpose here is when Ellifritz concludes, "In a certain (fairly high) percentage of shootings, people stop their aggressive actions after being hit with one round regardless of caliber or shot placement."
There are also legitimate stories that will bolster any argument made for or against a specific caliber. Like the cop who shot a sober bad guy fourteen times with .45 ACP, and the bad guy was still breathing when EMS arrived. Six of those shots hit areas that are defined as "fatal locations". That cop now carries 145 rounds with him every day. Should you give up on .45 ACP because of that single incident? OF COURSE NOT!
The same could be said for an Alaskan outdoor guide once stopped a charging grizzly with a 9mm. Should you now only carry 9mm in Grizzly Country because it's been proven to be effective? Only if you want to, but I sure as heck wouldn't!
These examples are a bit extreme, but they prove the point that getting stuck in a debate about the one and only caliber you should carry for defense is not going to do you any favors. At the end of the day the decision is yours and yours alone, and the science suggests that stopping power is pretty much even across all calibers. If you are shopping for a gun to protect yourself and those you love, or just shopping for a gun to shoot for sport, the caliber decision is best made by you because you have to be confident and comfortable with your decision.Read the Ellifritz study, watch ballistic gel tests on YouTube and decide what works for you.
2. Your gun must suit your needs
First, you must decide WHY you are buying a gun. There are thousands of guns to choose from and they all have specific purposes for which they are designed. While we are focusing here on buying your first handgun, deciding on the specific application of the handgun you will purchase is still important. Whether your gun is for carry, home-defense or both, you will have options better suited for each individual need.
3. Grip, Size and Ease of Use
Grip, size and ease of use are all interconnected when it comes to handguns. A comfortable grip is key. We are all uniquely and wonderfully made, and so are guns. Finding the one that fits your hands comfortably should be a top priority. If you're not comfortable holding a certain gun, it may not be the right gun for you.
The ergonomics of a gun's grip will be relative to its frame size. Frame size is important because the size of the gun is relative to how much felt-recoil is passed back to the shooter. A smaller gun will send more force back toward the shooter's hands than a larger framed gun will. Digging into the physics of why it works that way could be its own article, but for now let's just agree that assuming we shoot the same bullet out of a big gun and out of a small gun, it will kick less when leaving the big gun than it will when leaving the small gun.
Ease of use is the last point to consider. If the gun feels good, and is sized right, you will then need to shoot it to ensure you and the gun are a proper match. Most gun ranges will rent a variety of guns which is a great opportunity for you to get hands-on experience with whatever gun you are considering. If a gun feels good to you and shoots well for you on the range, you may have very well found your new gun. I promise it won't be the last.
Any other tips or tricks for finding the right handgun? Share them with us in the comments below.
About Kris Vermillion
Kris Vermillion is a lifelong shooter who focuses his training on defensive shooting techniques and the shooter's mindset. Kris works for Palmetto State Armory, contributing to both Ecommerce and Marketing.