Monday, January 23, 2012

So you want to buy a gun . . . now what?

You have reached a decision, you want to buy a hand gun. There are many reasons to purchase a gun; target shooting, plinking, hunting, competitive shooting or, perhaps it’s for personal defense.

Since personal defense is the focus of much of my course work; that is where I am going to focus my attention. And, since many of the folks I train are first-time gun owners, that is who I am going to focus on.

So, you are about to purchase your first hand gun and your purpose is for personal defense . . . now what?

How much gun do you need?? The movies have taught us that deadly encounters resulting in gunfights that last for 10s of minutes and require multiple reloads, all while winding through a house or forest or parking garage. Reality is somewhat different. Most gunfights take place within 21 feet. The majority of those follow the “rule of three” – 3 seconds, 3 rounds, 3 feet.

These facts move our selection of a personal defense weapon to something that is easily drawn, reliable, simple to use and with enough stopping power to put your threat down quickly.

The decision lies between a double action revolver and a semi-automatic pistol. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Let’s chat about double action revolvers first.

Double Action Revolvers

With a double action revolver, the trigger performs three tasks; rotating the cylinder, cocking the hammer and finally releasing the hammer to discharge your weapon. Most hold six rounds – double the amount required for the “rule of three”.

Operation is very simple - point and pull the trigger. If it doesn’t go “bang”, pull the trigger again. Repeat until the threat is down or your weapon is empty. Time on the range practicing shooting drills will insure the former happens first.

This ease of use is what makes the double action revolver a natural selection for a first-time gun owner. Whether you are a man or woman, the primary concern if you are called upon to use your weapon is to be able to easily get “rounds on target” and a revolver makes this as simple as possible. For women, there is an added advantage that you don’t need to work any other parts of your weapon other than the trigger. There is no slide to rack, no magazine to insert, no hammer to pull back – just point and pull the trigger.

clip_image002My favorite revolver is the Ruger LCR. This family of Light Compact Revolvers provides a selection of .38 Special and .357 Magnum weapons that are small, light and easily concealed. They also have the added advantage of an internal hammer to reduce the possibility of the weapon catching on something while you are drawing it. For a first-time shooter, I recommend this double-action revolver over all others on the market today.

Semi-Automatic Pistol (SAP)

Your other choice is the semi-automatic pistol. Weapon selection here revolves much more around size, weight, caliber and capacity. In keeping with the “rule of three”, any semi-automatic pistol. that provides at least six rounds, is more than capable of filling a personal defensive purpose. However, due to a higher possibility of malfunction with the semi-automatic pistol, a second magazine is a must, allowing you to quickly eject a malfunctioning magazine and replace it with a new one.

The most popular caliber for a semi-automatic pistol is 9 mm. While this may be a bit light, proper ammunition selection (we’ll talk about that in a bit) can overcome this caliber’s shortcomings in the “knockdown power” area.

The biggest difference in operation between the double-action revolver and the semi-automatic pistol is the use of an ejectable magazine in the SAP and a more involved clearing process in the event of a malfunction. While you need simply keep pulling the trigger with a double-action revolver, a SAP required the learning and “muscle memorization” of the standard “slap, rack and shoot” clearing process. While not difficult, the time required to perform this process wastes precious time when in a gunfight with your life in the balance.

clip_image006On the plus side, SAPs have a tendency to be slimmer and more easily concealed. Even .45 caliber SAPs can be fairly petite. One of my favorite .45 caliber carry SAPs is the Glock 36 with a magazine extender. This provides me with 7 rounds in the magazine and an 8th in the chamber. A second magazine gives me an additional 7 rounds “just in case”. While this has been my favorite, there are a number of other good choices for a concealed carry .45 and 9mm caliber SAPs as well.
clip_image008There is simply an explosion of sub-compact 9mm SAPs coming out on the market. One of the latest is the LC9 from Ruger – small, narrow and yet capable of shooting a 9mm cartridge and providing 7 rounds in the magazine and an 8th in the chamber.  This has become my preferred carry weapon.  Yet, the LC9 has a number of stiff competitors as well. Take your time, look over the field, read the reviews, view some of the youtube reviews (here is my RANGE REVIEW  and my BOX REVIEW for the Ruger LC9)  and then make your selection.

Caliber of your Personal Defense Weapon

Finally, there is the selection of the caliber of your weapon. We have talked about weapons that will shoot one of the following caliber rounds: .38 cal, .357 cal, 9mm or .45 cal. Any of these rounds will stop your attacker. By using defensive ammunition such as hollow-points or some of the new types of defensive ammunition, you can increase the “knock down” power of your weapon as well.  The Hornady “Critical Defense” round is what I have personally chosen for all my defensive weapons.  

I would also encourage you to find a friend or a gun dealer that will let you shoot various pistols so you can actually feel what we have discussed.  As I referred to in an earlier post, I recently went through this exercise with a woman who had taken on of my NRA Basic Pistol classes.   I met her and her husband at the range with a number of different choices for her:  A Glock 17, a Ruger LC9, a Springfield 1911 .45 ACP and a Tarus 856.   The one that felt best for her?   The Glock 17.  So now, she can start looking at some of the smaller Glocks as well and narrow in on the one that will best fit her and her carry options.

Take your time and make an informed decision.   The weapon you are choosing is the weapon you want to select to protect your life and the lives of your family as well.  It’s an important decision, no reason to rush.


  1. Thanks for the info. I'm a female looking for a handgun and your post really simplified the options for me.

    1. Hey There,

      Glad it helped. I really stress that you find a friend or range and try your final choice out before your final purchase.


  2. Hate to say it, but speaking as a woman, a double-action revolver--especially one where I can't thumb the hammer back--is probably the absolutely worst option out there. Yes, it's simple in its operation, BUT I have found exactly one revolver that I can pull the double action trigger on, and I am not accurate or fast with the double action trigger. I don't have the hand strength or size to manage double action, and many other women don't, either.

    I started out with a semi-auto because of that. It is not too complicated, and I found out one day when I had the puddin' scared out of me that I could rack the slide and have the muzzle on target within about a third of a second.

  3. Hi there,

    I'm glad you found a weapon you are comfortable with. My concern with semi-autos for women is their fondness of carry using a purse. I am concerned that in the event they fire through their purse that debris will foul their weapon and they will be defensless.

    As for the hammerless over a revolver with a hammer, again my concern is the same. There are many ways a hammer can catch during a draw process where a hammerless revolver avoids these issues.

    All that said, the most important thing is that you find a weapon your are comfortable with, that you practice with it and carry it each and every day.

    Thanks for your feedback, I appreciate it! Enjoy your evening.