For all the talk of physical training, there’s one thing that can’t be escaped. Sooner or later, if you’re serious about keeping you and yours safe, you’re going to have to buy a gun.
If you’re like a lot of people, most of what you know about firearms came from movies, which tends to be a horrible place to learn how to fight with a gun.
So, here’s a quick guide on what to look for in a first firearm. Also, understand this is one guy’s take on what to look for. It is not the One True Way or anything and shouldn’t be taken that way.
This primer makes the assumption that you’re only really looking to buy one gun, not an entire arsenal.
Shotgun or Pistol
There is a school of thought that if you’re going to only own one gun, it needs to be a shotgun. This is especially true in prepper circles where guns are asked to perform a wide variety of tasks that include hunting and possibly even fighting pitched battles.
However, all of that is predicated on the idea of facing the end of the world or some other kind of societal breakdown. While it’s wise to prepare for such eventualities, let’s also be honest. The chances of such a thing are minimal.
Instead, there are other things that are far more common. While a shotgun is fantastic for dealing with burglars and other home-focused threats, they’re kind of hard to carry away from home. That makes them kind of useless for carrying concealed in the event of numerous other potential threats like an armed attacker.
For that reason, I tend to advise people to look at pistols for their one gun needs.
To be sure, most pistols suck at things like hunting–there are those who hunt with pistols, but this is not where you start with hunting by any stretch of the imagination–but that’s not what we’re talking about. If you want to be safe and having weapons for hunting, then you’re either looking at taking up archery for a hobby as well, or you’re going to need another gun or two.
But for personal defense, I stand by the humble handgun.
Now, with that out of the way, what are you looking at:
Semi-automatic or Revolver?
This is usually the next question people ask, and honestly? I don’t believe it really matters all that much. The average gunfight ends in just a few shots, which means even a six-shooter has enough capacity to keep you safe in the vast majority of instances.
Personally, I’m a fan of semi-automatics, but I know wheel gun fans who stand by their choices, and the truth is that you won’t be poorly served by either.
However, I’m also a little paranoid. While the average gunfight may end in only a few shots, not all of them do. If the average is 3 shots, keep in mind that a whole lot end with one shot…and a few take a dozen shots.
For that reason, I prefer to have a bit more ammo. No one has ever walked away from a gunfight and thought, “Damn. I wish I hadn’t brought all this extra ammo along.”
That said, revolvers can be reloaded too, and clearing a malfunction just means pulling the trigger again.
Yet I tend to recommend semi-autos for one reason above all others. That one gun can be multiple guns if needed. Several guns have kits that will allow you to convert your pistol to .22 long rifle, which is a good training round and an excellent teaching round.
The general consensus is that .22 is easier for someone to learn how to shoot with, which has all kinds of advantages.
But honestly, whatever your preference is will likely serve you well enough.
Now that you’ve decided what kind of handgun to get, we need to get into a discussion of calibers.
There are a handful of calibers that are considered “combat” calibers, and there is another group that is called “mouse gun” calibers. These are smaller than the combat calibers that are generally considered to be insufficient for personal defense.
While there’s some evidence that even these calibers are sufficient, I’m not comfortable recommending those to anyone. Not just yet.
So, with that in mind, here are the calibers I tend to recommend for daily carry and home defense.
For a semi-automatic, I tend to recommend 9mm, .40, or .45 ACP. There are other calibers out there like .357 SIG, .45 GAP, and 10mm, but these are a little bit on the more obscure side and while they do work well enough, they’re a bit harder to find and don’t offer any real advantages in my humble opinion.
Some recommend .380 for personal defense, and it’s been used to stop a lot of gunfights. However, it’s also been insufficient to stop a lot of bad guys as well. Most seem to consider it the minimum size in combat caliber, but I disagree.
Use .380 at your own risk.
For a revolver, I tend to recommend a .357 Magnum. Now, .357 isn’t the only caliber that will work, but the only other caliber I tend to recommend for carrying is .38 Special…which will work in a .357 gun.
Another alternative for the budding wheel gun enthusiast is .44 Special. I personally think .44 Magnum is a little much for most people to shoot defensively, but .44 Special is a little lighter. If you get a .44 Magnum revolver, you can shoot she Special rounds out of it just fine. Then you can experiment with the Magnum rounds if you want.
What you want to avoid are the really big rounds. Despite their popularity in Hollywood movies, Desert Eagles in .50 AE aren’t really good for defensive uses. Big bangs mean big recoils, and that inhibits follow-up shots. Yeah, an effective first shot might be all you need, but real gunfights aren’t like shooting at the range. Sometimes, it takes a couple of shots. The longer it takes between shots, the great your chance of getting a cap busted in your rear between shots.
Picking Your Model
The one problem with a one-gun arsenal is that different guns do different things. A 6-inch barreled revolver isn’t good for concealed carry, and a subcompact semi-auto it’s really great for a nice, long day at the range.
What you want is something that’s large enough to be comfortable to shoot for long periods so you’ll train properly, but is small enough to carry regularly.
For revolvers, I find a 3- to 4-inch barrel to be about as good as you’re going to get. I don’t have a lot of experience with 3-inch barrels, but 2-inchers aren’t a lot of fun to shoot, while 4-inch revolvers are decent for duty carry.
4-inch revolvers are limited in their concealed carry options, but they can be worn fairly tight outside the waistband and covered with a garment (more on concealed carry options later). 3-inch revolvers work a little better for concealed carry.
When it comes to semi-automatics, I have exactly two recommendations. One is a Glock 19 size guns. This gun is classified as a compact semi-auto and is an incredibly popular firearm for concealed carry, but is also the primary duty weapon for a handful of police departments, including many officers in the NYPD (Glock 19), Philadelphia PD (Glock 23, which is a .40 version of the G19), and Washington, D.C.’s Metro PD (Glock 19).
That particular size gun is really kind of a happy medium between a full-size carry gun and a tiny concealed carry weapon.
Which is why Smith & Wesson introduced their M&P 2.0 9C a couple of months ago. These are kind of rare out in the wild but are the same size as the Glock 19. This is something shooters have been clamoring for through the years.
However, if looking at the M&P, make sure it’s the 2.0. The first generation of M&P’s also had a 9c…and it’s feels awful to handle. It’s a sub-compact, not a compact. That makes it a little better for carry, but kind of awful for a day at the range.
Any Glock 19, Glock 23, or G38 (The .45 ACP version of the gun) will work just fine. Currently, Glock is transitioning to the Gen5 guns, but those are a little rare. I’ve got a Gen 4 pistol and like it just fine.
If You Don’t Want Just One Gun
Alright, a lot of you reading this are already thinking, “I don’t want just one gun?”
That’s fine. There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to firearms, and it’s beyond a single blog post to do that. Hell, I write multiple posts per day about guns, their use, and gun rights at Bearing Arms. There’s a whole lot there.
This is a good place to get you started, though I’ll also say that if you’re going to buy more than one gun, make a .22 an early purchase. You can get the conversion kits for your handgun–and make sure it has one first unless you’re OK with buying a separate .22–and pick up a .22 long gun like the Ruger 10/22 so you can spend some time learning marksmanship with both.
Honestly, if you’re wanting to put together a complete arsenal for personal defense, that’s a whole lot of talking. I could probably write a book on that one all by itself.
The Purchase Is The Easy Part
Buying a gun is often a case of analysis paralysis for many people. So many choices and I’ll admit that even with my recommendations, there are still a buttload of options available.
Whatever you decide, however, understand that the easy part is now over.
What does that mean?
Owning a gun is easy. You buy a gun–assuming you’re not someone who is barred from owning a firearm–and now you’re a gun owner.
However, owning a gun does not make you a gunfighter. You have to train with it to gain proficiency. Not only that, but shooting is a perishable skill which means you’ll need to practice regularly.
You will need to get some quality training, and that’s a whole lot easier said than done, I know.
Start with gun safety, then move on to basic marksmanship, then learn how to fight with your gun. You’ll also need to learn some tactics to use if you find yourself in a gunfight.
In other words, there’s still a lot left to learn. However, it’s out there to learn. I’ll talk more about that kind of thing later because this post has already run on for way too long, but don’t think it’s less important for a minute.