Choosing Your First Gun

by Rhonda Allen

Choosing a firearm can be a head spinning experience with all the plethora of choices out there! The most often shared and limited piece of advice offered by novice gun owners to new shooters trying to decide which gun to buy is: “choose a gun that feels good in your hand”.

I would be a rich woman if I had a dollar for every time I have heard someone share this little tidbit. The well intentioned are on the right track but there is much more. Yes, hand size is a factor but it is not the primary or only consideration.

The list of criteria is long when choosing a firearm whether it is your first or tenth. All tools have a specific purpose. We don’t dig a ditch with a hammer and we don’t wear our high heels to the gym! There is no one perfect gun that magically does it all.

  1. The first question we must answer is what is the intended purpose of this firearm? Home defense, on body carry, competition, collecting, hunting, marksmanship, recreation, et el? The answer to this question takes you down different paths and choices. Handguns, Rifles, and Shotguns are all very different animals and each category has a long list of pros and cons to consider.
  2. Price and budget – One good quality firearm is better than three cheap options. Save your resources if you can and don’t waste money on equipment that won’t serve you well in the long run. Choose the highest quality your personal budget will allow. Don’t scrimp.
  3. Availability and price of ammunition – There have been times when certain calibers have dried up and either couldn’t be found or the price was escalated. We went through two notable long dry spells of .380 and then .22 calibers with both eventually rebounding. When considering a .22 for defense, remember it’s not so much the gun as it is the undependability of the .22 rimfire cartridge. The primer is not consistently distributed around the rim in manufacturing and is well known for misfires. This is not what you need for defense. You don’t want to hear click instead of bang in a defensive encounter. The .380 is the first commonly accepted centerfire cartridge and is much more reliable for defense. A .22 can stop a threat and is known for ricocheting inside the body assuming it fires at all. If it misfires, it can be taken out, reinserted and if the firing pin strikes a different place on the rim, it may fire. The .22 cartridge is best used for shooting vermin or perfecting marksmanship skills due to affordability, low recoil and low noise. The .9 mm cartridge has always been plentiful and affordable. Recent technologies in design make this an affordable and effective defensive choice. The .40 caliber has not been as popular in recent years and is more expensive than the less powerful cartridges. As caliber increases, so does the power of the cartridge and expense. The . 45 caliber is a highly desired cartridge choice by many defensive shooters and it carries a higher price tag accordingly. Advise not buying a sports car if you can’t afford the insurance going forward.
  4. Pistol fit & Ergonomics – Here it is…”feels good in your hand”. If you have small hands that do not properly grip a double stack, then consider a single stack. The extra capacity of a double stack magazine is mitigated if you can not shoot the gun accurately because of an improper grip. It will take the extra rounds to do what you could have done with a gun that fit you properly. You should be able to wrap your fingers around the grip so that the thumb and middle finger overlap by the length of a thumbnail. If you can not touch your middle finger to your thumb with your shooting hand, the grip is too big for you. If your middle finger overlaps your palm, the grip is too small. Both of these ill fitting issues will affect grip and shooting accuracy. Consider purchasing extended magazines when available to provide more real estate for the full hand especially when choosing smaller models.
  5. Size & Weight – The heavier the gun, the less recoil. The longer the barrel, the better sight radius. These factors contribute to higher accuracy. Small, lightweight, short barrel guns recommended for on body carry are meant for up close arms length defensive use (aka “get off of me”). These guns are not ideal for shooting with accuracy at any distance and may be uncomfortable for an inexperienced shooter. Heavier steel pistols have less felt recoil than lightweight Scandium or polymer choices.
  6. Recoil – As stated above, heavier guns mitigate recoil and are easier to shoot with accuracy. The higher the caliber, the more recoil (kick) experienced. If you are choosing a self defense tool, choose the highest caliber you shoot with consistent accuracy.
  7. Simplicity of Operation & Ease of Cleaning – Firearms must be cleaned and cared for with frequency for optimal performance and reliability. Some platforms are more challenging than others to field strip (take apart) and reassemble. Revolvers are simpler machines and experience less stoppages which is why they are often recommended to new shooters. The double action trigger of most revolvers requires more physical effort to either cock the hammer or pull a smooth trigger. Semi-automatics can offer a lighter trigger press and higher ammunition capacity but are also more prone to experience stoppages and malfunctions (jams). Semi-automatic shooters must commit to learning and practicing immediate action drills to bring their gun back into firing condition quickly and efficiently when these stoppages occur either due to user error (grip) or issues with the gun.
  8. Reputation of Manufacturer – Do your research and consult with knowledgeable gun owners to determine the reputable manufacturers. There are some commonly known to have springs fly off after minimal firing. Remember the old adage, you get what you pay for and it will serve you well when choosing a firearm. If it is “cheap”, there is a reason why and corners were cut. Your life is worth more than the bargain basement choices. You may be able to get a higher quality tool for the money by considering a used option.
  9. Reliability Record of the Make & Model – Even the most reputable manufacturer occasionally slips through an “Edsel” without intent. Again, do your research on the specific model of interest. Don’t assume.
  10. Warranty or Guarantee – New vs. Used. Be careful to heed warnings provided by the manufacturer that could void any offered warranty such as field stripping past the recommendation. Some manufacturers offer better service and warranties than others.
  11. Availability of Repair or Aftermarket Parts – Consider a make/model that is generally known to your community gunsmith. Foreign or unique models may delay turn around time for needed repairs if you experience a breakage.

This is a basic list of items to consider before choosing and investing in a firearm! It is strongly consider attending a formal course to learn more and test fire as many options as you can at your local range under the watchful eye of professionals.

The DC Project is an educational, nonpartisan group of women from all 50 states that advocate for Second Amendment education over legislation. These women gun rights advocates know that gun rights are women’s rights and every woman must be prepared to be their own first responder. They are women gun owners who care about making firearms safety and education a top priority.

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