In these troubled times, a man should be armed. The best solution for achieving peaceful living is avoiding trouble, having good locks on your doors, and owning firearms. The specific needs (and wants) a person has for a firearm will vary from person to person, and, while no single gun will be the magic bullet to take care of them all, a good handgun will address most of them. If you’re in the market for a handgun, especially for your first one, there are a few things you should remember.
No gun will do it all
You need to decide what you want from the gun. Do you want to carry it for mobile self-defense? Do you want to leave it at home (or in your vehicle) for defense of home invasion or carjacking? Do you want to hunt, or do competition shooting? Will it be a backup gun for something else or the primary weapon? What are the laws in your state or province?
All of these questions should dictate towards what you choose. Larger handguns tend to hold more rounds, recoil less, have more neat features to aid in shooting, have better sights with a longer sight radius (distance between the front and back sights; longer is better) and tend to be easier to hold on to and shoot more accurately and faster.
Smaller handguns hold fewer rounds, recoil more than their larger brothers chambered for the same cartridge, are typically a little more Spartan in their features, and have more rudimentary sights that are closer together. Shooting a smaller handgun results in more recoil, longer times to get back on target, and a less forgiving weapon that makes you work more for accuracy.
Home defense, car guns, and competition handguns are usually a semi-automatic, large pistol of a decently powered cartridge. Carry weapons are usually small semi-automatic pistols, or small revolvers, both shooting cartridges on the smaller end of the power range, while hunting handguns are usually large revolvers or semi-auto pistols shooting magnum cartridges.
What is good for you may not be good for others
Even if you’re a one-man army and don’t have to worry about getting a handgun your girl can use, any time anyone recommends any firearm to you, they are speaking from their own experience and not yours. What suits my hands and my eyes might not suit yours, and what feels good to me may not match you. The absolute best thing you can do is shoot a bunch of handguns before you buy one, and the best way to do that is have a friend with guns that will take you to the range for an afternoon. And, dudes, if you are that friend with the guns, it’s practically your duty to help your brother out so that he may learn and teach those who need his help in his turn.
Can you rack the slide on a given semi-auto pistol? Can you break it down for cleaning? Will you have the discipline to get multiple magazines and swap them occasionally so they are not left loaded forever? Would you rather have a gun that you can lightly oil, load, and put in a drawer and not touch for a year? How do you take recoil? How good is your vision and do you want night sights, a light, or a laser sight? Do you want a safety? What kind of trigger pull? All of these are good questions to ask yourself, and anyone else that will be routinely using the handgun, before you buy.
Revolvers And Semi-Automatic Pistols
A handgun is a firearm held in the hand. A revolver is a manual action handgun with a revolving cylinder of multiple firing chambers, and a semi-automatic (or autoloading) pistol is a firearm that holds multiple rounds in a magazine in the grip and uses the recoil or some of the propellant gas to operate the action. Some people use the term “pistol” to mean any handgun and others use it to mean semi-automatic handgun only.
Revolvers come in varying sizes and can have a barrel of moderate length all the way down to a 2-inch “snub nose.” The length of the barrel and the sight radius help in accurate shooting (longer is better), but the revolver is lighter and easier to conceal with a short barrel set-up. Smaller framed revolvers have 5 shots, larger frames have 6, and some magnum frames have 8.
The most commonly used revolver ammunition out there today is the 38 special and the 357 magnum. Despite the number difference (both are actually .357 inch diameter (or caliber) bullets), the two cartridges shoot the same bullets, and a revolver chambered in 357 magnum can shoot the less powerful (and less expensive) 38 special round. The magnum round is longer than the other, and prevents it from being chambered in a pistol not set up for it. Never attempt to shoot any magnum ammo from a handgun not rated for it; it can and will blow up in your hand.
Revolvers come in three action types: single action only, double action only, and single/double action. Single action only requires you to cock the hammer each time, and has a nice, short, crisp trigger pull. Double action has a long trigger pull, but cocks the hammer for you. Single/double allows you to choose either and is the most solid choice.
Semi-automatic pistols come in large and small sizes as well. Smaller sized semi’s come in variants of 5 to 8 shots, and the larger frame semi’s of up to 18 or so. Longer barrels and better sights with longer sight radii again translate to better shooting. Semi-autos typically come in single/double action variants like above, and striker fired, which is an internal action cocked by the slide movement.
There is an absolute plethora of semi-automatic pistol ammo out there. The four most common are the .380, the 9mm Luger, the 40S&W, and the 45 ACP. The .380 (also called 9mm short) became popular in the US relatively recently with the advent of pocket sized semi-automatics like the Ruger LCP. The 9mm Luger, also called 9mm Parabellum, has decent power in standard form, can be loaded hotter, is relatively cheap, doesn’t recoil much, and you can pack a lot in a magazine due to its narrow caliber.
45 ACP or 45 AUTO is a bigger bullet than the 9mm and is a solid, good shooting choice which only limits itself by taking up more room in the magazine and reducing the round count. 40 S&W (Smith and Wesson) is a bridge between the power of the 45 and the ammo capacity of the 9mm.
Get the biggest caliber that you can shoot comfortably and well from the size and type of handgun you want. If you do not like shooting your handgun, you will not practice, and you will not take it with you when you could need it. A .380 that is there beats a .44 magnum that you left home.
Firearm brands vary in quality and price range. I typically view brands in four categories, and I’ll briefly describe them below and list the common brands I see as fitting in them.
Saturday night special old brands like Lorcin and Jennings fit in here, along with the modern brand of Hi-Point. These things have a high chance of malfunction. I would not buy these, not accept them as gifts, and not go near them.
These are pistols on the low end of the price spectrum which, while they compromise on fit and finish, will go bang and can be relied upon. They make good training guns, truck guns, and other uses that you wouldn’t want a high priced investment doing. I put Taurus, Rossi, Bersa, Kel-Tec, Chiappa, Rock Island Armory and similarly priced brands here. If you’re tight on money, buy something in this range.
These guns have good quality, solid mechanics, and shoot well. They’re a good measure of what a handgun should be, always work, and are fun to shoot. If you’re going to get one handgun, and call it good, get something from this price bracket. I consider modern Colt, modern Smith and Wesson, Ruger, Glock, Walther, Kahr, Springfield Armory, Steyr, Para Ordinance, and CZ here.
These are the best, and are only beaten by custom guns. I put H&K, Sig Sauer, Browning/FNH, Kimber, old Colt and S&W revolvers, and Beretta here.
Hopefully, by now you’ve got a good idea of what you need a handgun to do, the features you need, an idea of a caliber choice or two, and some brands to keep an eye out for. Remember to always try before you buy, read the damn instruction manual, use good ammo, and, if you can’t make up your mind between two of them, buy both.