Tactical Tuesday: Selecting Your First Handgun

In an effort to both maintain some regularity on this site as well as keep to the mission of the blog and it not just become a generic fitness site, I’ve decided to add a few regular features. Tactical Tuesday will be the day I spend a bit more time talking about the more overt warrior-like aspects of embracing warrior heritage and such.

I’m a gun writer. It’s what I do when I’m not writing about stuff here. It’s how I pay my bills and stuff. Because of that, sometimes I have friends who ask my advice on guns.

Can’t imagine why.

No, seriously. I can’t.

You see, while I write about guns, I tend to focus on the political side of things because I know that better. I’m somewhat knowledgeable on guns, but I’m not an expert by any stretch.

That said, there are a few points that I do have strong opinions on, so I might as well codify them here.

Carry or Nightstand?

Is this a pistol you’re going to carry with you or is this something that will be left at home to protect your family when there but will rarely leave the house?

In some states, like New Jersey, it’s almost impossible to get your hands on a permit to allow you to carry. In others, if you can own a gun, you can carry it however you want. That means, for some of you, you’re looking at a nightstand gun no matter what. For folks in most other states, though, you have options.

And this is a question you really want to ask. A perfectly good nightstand gun may have characteristics that make it a poor choice for carrying and vice versa.

A nightstand gun is a great role for a full-sized handgun in a decent caliber (more on that later). A carry gun needs to be small enough to not just conceal, but also to carry comfortably. If it’s not comfortable, you won’t carry it, which defeats the purpose.

If you don’t know, then I advise you to look at a carry gun, but don’t go too small.

Revolver or Semi-Automatic?

This one has more to do with preference than anything else. That said, it’s a decision to think about in the early stages.

Semi-automatics are the most popular class of handguns out there now, but there’s a small and devoted following for revolvers. Personally, I have both, but my preference is semi-autos.

Revolvers tend to be less likely to have mechanical problems than semi-autos. However, quality semi-autos shooting quality ammo shouldn’t have mechanical problems all that often anyway. Revolvers aren’t as easy to reload as semi-autos, but there are devices that mitigate that.

The only hard and fast difference, in my opinion, are aesthetics and round capacity. Revolvers generally only carry six rounds while semi-autos can carry a whole lot more.

Honestly, if you want my suggestion, I’d tell you semi-auto. That said, if you get a revolver and train with it, you should be fine.

What Caliber?

The internet is filled with caliber wars. People will bicker about whether you should carry 9 mm, .45 ACP, .40, or even 10 mm. There’s tons of argument back and forth on the topic.

Me? I’m generally agnostic on calibers up to a point. I think you need something big enough to cause damage when you hit but light enough that you can follow-up quickly.

Personally, I advise folks to look at any of the above-listed calibers but to focus on the first three. My own preference is 9 mm, but it’s not a magic bullet. Some like .45 just fine and I don’t blame them. It’s a good round and it’s fired by some good guns. It, along with 9 mm and .40 are also fairly common ammo types, while 10 mm is a bit harder to come by, hence my suggestion to not focus on that one.

If for some reason you don’t want to carry 9mm, don’t go any lower in power than a .380. I personally don’t trust .380, but a lot of people feel it’s sufficient to stop a bad guy, and I’ll let that stand.

However, for years, the advantage on .380 wasn’t that it was effective, but that the guns were small. A gun on your person is better than one at home in the safe, after all. (Assuming you’re interested in carrying).

These days, though, there are lots of very small 9 mm handguns made by reputable companies, so that shouldn’t be a consideration in and of itself.

Budget?

It’s rude to discuss money, but let’s be honest here. Guns aren’t cheap.

While there’s a lot of rhetoric about people getting their hands on guns way too easily, a lot of people don’t know how expensive a handgun can be. For example, a cheap Hi-Point is still around $150, which isn’t exactly chump change for a lot of folks.

How much you have to spend is a big part of your consideration. As noted above, they can be had for around $150, but that’s if you’re not interested in a good, reliable firearm. Hi-Points are fine to a point, but I personally don’t trust them long term.

That said, I have a friend who loves them because he can put a couple in every room in the house.

Most quality firearms can be found in around the $400+ range, though prices vary depending on where you are.

One thing I’ll tell you is that when looking on a manufacturer’s website, you have to take the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) with a grain of salt. Few firearms dealers actually price their guns that high.

Where the MSRP is useful is in comparing the value of two guns. A higher MRSP means a higher real price, after all.

So what do you do if you only have $200 and you don’t want a cheap gun? Well, I’d advise you to hold onto that and save up another $200 or so and get a better gun.

If you can’t wait for whatever reason, then I say suck it up and buy a Hi-Point. It’s a damn sight better than harsh language, let me tell you.

Accessories?

Guns are awesome, but they need other stuff to be really useful. Magazines or speed loaders (for revolvers) and holsters are the primary examples.

Something to consider is that the more oddball your choice of firearm is, the harder it is to find these things at an affordable price. My first handgun was a CZ-75B. I could find some stuff for it, but not nearly enough. For the FEG PA-63 I picked up later that year, it was almost impossible to find a decent holster.

Yet today, I have a Glock 19, one of the most popular handguns in the world. I have no trouble finding holsters, magazines, and anything else I want.

Now, understand, I’m not telling you to be a bandwagon sitter. Buy the gun you like and not necessarily what’s popular. Just understand that if you get a weird gun, you’re going to have issues.


With these questions answered, you’re ready to go shopping. Personally, I think you should start on the internet and start looking at what different manufacturers have to offer. Generally, stay with known brands like Smith & Wesson, Glock, Ruger, Sig Sauer, Heckler & Koch, Walther, Colt, FN, Beretta, and so on.

That said, there are some up and coming companies out there that are developing a name for themselves like Honor Defense, so they might be an option as well.

Regardless, check out varying opinions on the guns. Look for criticisms and see what the issues are, but unless you see something consistent, don’t sweat it too much. Unless, of course, what you see is uniformly negative.

Also, I wouldn’t worry too much about subjective criticisms. Some people love Glocks. Others hate the angle of the grip. I’ve actually been in both camps, so don’t lose too much sleep over things like aesthetics or feel at this point.

Once you have an idea of what guns fit your criteria, you need to see if a gun range in your area rents firearms. If they do, take your list down and rent your choices to see which you like best.

The truth is, a gun can look great online, but until you have it in your hands, you don’t know how well everything will work for you. At least, not until you’re experienced enough that you don’t need a guide like this one to help make a sound decision.

If you don’t have a rental range, you’re going to have to gamble a bit. In that case, head down to your gun store with your trusty list and ask to see the guns.

Gun stores are used to people coming in and handling firearms, so this isn’t unusual. Just understand that the guys behind the counter come in several varieties, some of which don’t really know anything. If you’ve made an informed decision to get to this point, trust your gut.

However, this is the point when the feel of the gun matters. If you pick up a gun and it feels anything other than comfortable, put it down. Life is too short for uncomfortable guns.

From here, though, it’s a matter of preference.

Now, with that said, there’s a whole lot of nuance missing here. I could probably write a freaking book on how to purchase your first firearm, but I’m not going to bother with all that.

What I will do is note a few things going forward that everyone should keep in mind.

  • Comply with all state, local, and federal gun laws.
  • Make sure you get proper instruction on gun safety prior to purchasing a firearm.
  • Guns are dangerous if used improperly, so don’t be an idiot.
  • Make sure you have a way to secure your firearm when you purchase your gun or prior to purchasing it. Some guns come with gun locks. Others don’t so be prepared.

So that’s it. A quick(-ish) guide to buying your first handgun. Now, go get it, get some ammo, and get to training!

 

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