5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Handgun

Buying a handgun can be a moment of mixed emotions for a new gun owner. On the one hand, it is very exciting and rewarding in that you are exercising a right granted by the Constitution. On the other hand, it can be very confusing and filled with hard decisions, because you now need to select the handgun that is right for you. Every gun owner has been there, and many have made the wrong selection, so let us help you make the right one.

A quick Google search or a visit to the local gun range will easily provide you with dozens of suggestions concerning what your first gun should be. Plenty of experts will attempt to tell you what they think the best first handgun is and why, but unfortunately what they will tell you is what is best for them and their own situation. Every shooter has personal reasons for owning a handgun and a list of criteria that needs to be considered. Before you decide whose advice to take, you need to make your own list of criteria. So consider the following:

  • 1. Intended Use: The first step in making any purchase is determining what you need the item for. It is no different when purchasing a handgun. Will you be hunting, target shooting, or carrying it for personal protection? You may be interested in at least trying more than one of these uses. If that is the case, select a handgun that is suitable for all activities.
  • 2. Decide on a Budget: It would be great if you could set out with a “the price doesn’t matter” attitude, but that is not the reality for most of us. Most first-time buyers have a budget, or at least an upper limit of what they are willing or able to spend. It is important to establish a number before you shop, otherwise, it is easier to get talked into spending more than you can afford. While the saying “you get what you pay for” generally holds true for firearms, remember that there are still many reliable, well-made models available for those on a budget. You can also consider buying suitable used firearms.
  • 3. Revolver or Semi-Automatic: This is another decision that needs to made early on, although not necessarily prior to shopping. You may want to handle a few different handguns to see which fits you best. Obviously, if you are purchasing a handgun for hunting or target shooting, you will be limited to what is allowed by regulations. Many first-time gun buyers discount the revolver because it is not the most popular, modern style. This is a mistake. You should not limit yourself to what is currently popular or fashionable. Base your decision on what is the best fit for your situation.
  • 4. Caliber and Size: Caliber concerns the size of the round the handgun is chambered in; size relates to the overall size of the handgun itself. Many handguns of the same caliber vary in size and will, therefore, handle differently and be best suited for different activities. In general, a larger-frame handgun chambered in a smaller caliber will be easier to control and be more enjoyable for a new shooter. A smaller-frame handgun chambered in a larger caliber will be harder to control, produce greater recoil, and be more challenging for a new shooter to handle successfully.

    Choosing the right caliber is one of the more heavily debated topics surrounding firearms. It will generally garner a lot of unsolicited opinions from experts. What you need to do is narrow your focus by determining whether or not your intended use limits your options. For example, if you are planning to go hunting, you will need a larger caliber and frame size for the knockdown power that is needed. If, on the other hand, you plan to carry for self-defense, you will need a smaller frame for concealment but still a fair amount of knockdown power. Next, visit some local ranges and gun stores and handle the models you are interested in. See which feel best in your hand and allow you to manipulate any safeties or other magazine releases comfortably. If possible, find a range that allows you to test fire those handguns you are most interested in.

  • 5. Accessories: Once you have narrowed down your focus, possibly even to only a few choices, it is time to consider accessories. How many types of holsters will you need? Do you require extra magazines or speed loaders? What about a cleaning kit? Do not forget tactical lights or sights. Each of these will incur additional costs and, depending on how tight your budget is, may impact your purchasing power. Make a list of any accessories you might want, and then decide which are necessary and which are optional.

Hopefully, this list will help you make a more focused effort when shopping. If you are lucky, your first handgun will truly be the perfect handgun for you and will result in years of reliable service. But don’t be discouraged if your selection doesn’t work out. Even if you make a well-informed and well-researched purchase, you are likely to outgrow your first handgun. Your abilities, needs, and even desires will evolve, and so will the handgun you need. So, enjoy your first handgun while you can. And then get ready to enjoy your second, third, and fourth gun just as much.

Tom Burrell

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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