So, You Want to Buy a Handgun: A Guide For First-time Buyers
Selecting the Handgun That’s Right for You
The world of handguns is vast and diverse, offering a plethora of options to choose from. Selecting the right handgun for yourself can be a challenging endeavor, influenced by factors such as features, cost, personal preferences, and even emotion. To simplify this process, let's categorize handguns into two main types: revolvers and semi-automatics, and explore their characteristics further.
Revolvers are reminiscent of classic Western movies, featuring a cylinder that rotates to hold ammunition. Most revolvers have a double-action trigger, requiring substantial force to pull it. This action rotates the cylinder and pulls back, and releases the hammer at the trigger breakpoint, enabling the next round to fire. Revolvers typically hold five to six rounds and are available in various calibers. They are known for their reliability, ease of maintenance, and suitability for self-defense.
On the other hand, semi-automatic handguns are magazine-fed and often feature a double-action trigger for the first shot, transitioning to single-action for subsequent shots. After firing, the slide moves rearward, ejecting the spent casing, re-cocking the hammer or firing mechanism, and loading the next round in the chamber. To fire the next round, simply squeeze the trigger until the breakpoint. Magazines for semi-automatics come in different capacities, ranging from six to 30 rounds or more, with 15 rounds being the most common. However, be aware of state ammo laws, as some restrict magazine capacity to ten rounds or less.
Handguns offer extensive features, with each manufacturer striving to present their platform as superior. Ultimately, the most essential aspect is how these features serve you and your shooting style. Visiting a local gun store, consulting with representatives, and trying out various firearms are crucial. Taking classes and seeking instruction from qualified instructors at gun ranges can enhance your skills and provide valuable insight into different handgun features. Many ranges offer handgun rentals, allowing you to try out multiple firearms and ammunition types before making a purchase decision.
But really, which handgun is best?
Ultimately, the ideal handgun depends on personal preference. For example, you and your spouse may have similar backgrounds but prefer different handguns. You might opt for a Glock, chambered in 9mm with a 15-round capacity, while your spouse prefers a Charter Arms Chic Lady, chambered in .38 Special, holding five rounds. Consider the purpose of use, such as self-defense, and how the handgun aligns with your shooting style and comfort. It's worth noting that smaller, snub-nose revolvers, like the Chic Lady, excel at close-range shooting, while semi-automatics like the Glock 19 offer higher magazine capacities and ease of shooting.
Glock 19 in 9mm Luger
You’ll run across fanboys of every type of handgun out there. Some would consider me a Glock fanboy. There is the Model 1911, which is a popular style produced by many manufacturers. SIG SAUER has also proven to be very popular with some of their handguns; the SIG SAUER P365 has been popular for years. Berretta has the M9, which has been used by the US military for years and remains vastly popular. The important thing is that you find a firearm that meets your needs and your style of shooting and carrying.
What caliber should I get?
Most firearm manufacturers produce very similar weapons but fire different caliber ammunition. Glock, for example, makes the Glock 19 that I carry, which is chambered in 9mm. Then they make the Glock 23, which is chambered in .40 Smith & Wesson. Other than that, the two are identical. This is an argument that is had almost daily by firearms enthusiasts. Should I carry 9mm, .45 ACP, 357 Magnum, or step it up to a .50 caliber? Again, this comes down to your intended use and personal preference. I decided long ago that I prefer 9mm for two primary reasons: it has a recoil that is easy to control, and it is the most widely available handgun ammunition. My friends are huge fans of the 1911 firearm and constantly tell me my 9mm doesn’t have the stopping power their .45 ACP delivers. Maybe they're right, but a smaller bullet means I can more easily stay on target and carry more rounds in my magazine. I’m still unconvinced that “stopping power” can compete with a well-placed shot. A .22 caliber round, placed right, will stop an aggressor in their tracks, while a poorly aimed .45 ACP will just punch a whole clean through with little to no effect.
Projectile Types and Grain Weights
Once you decide on a caliber, you must decide what bullet type and grain weight you want to use. Using a Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) or Total Metal Jacket (TMJ) round for range practice and training classes would be best. I recommend sticking with projectiles in the 115–124-grain range.
These are inexpensive and don’t fire through a pistol much differently than anything else, so they make great rounds for punching holes in paper and refining your skills at an economical price point. For self-defense, hollow points are king. They tend to be pricey, but ammunition will last for years with no side effects if stored correctly.
So, what next?
Start with a visit to a local gun store. Visit one of the larger ones in your area and look at the handguns available. When that sales rep approaches, don’t blow them off. Ask for their recommendation and if they can show you a few options. Don’t be shy. Gun people love talking about guns. And helping someone choose their first firearm gets us going! Ask if they know anyone that teaches 'Introduction to Shooting' classes. Handle the firearm. If you're uncomfortable, ask the rep how to clear it and go through that process. We all started somewhere, and showing that you are interested in safety will help them steer you in the right direction. Sign up for and take that safety class. Ask every question you can think of. Do you see a theme here? It’s all about educating yourself before you purchase your first firearm to ensure you get something that will last you a lifetime.
MEET THE AUTHOR
With over two decades of experience in both civilian and military marksmanship programs, Teeps has developed a profound passion for shooting. Not only does he find great joy in introducing newcomers to the sport, but also continually seeks to expand his repertoire in the pursuit of shooting excellence.