When choosing a handgun, find what fits. Consider your build, weight, physical condition and even age, because as we get older our vision, flexibility and strength will change. There is no mold that every single person is going to fit into. So here are the ground rules for finding the right gun.

If you are tall, long-waisted, trim and muscular, almost anything goes. If not, evaluate your physical assets accordingly, because concealed carry directly impacts every one of them. After you define your physical parameters, consider how much gun you can handle. It is amazing to see a 5-foot-tall woman pick up a .44 magnum and fire it almost nonchalantly, while the big, strapping 6-foot-4-inch man beside her cringes from the same recoil. We all handle guns differently, and size doesn’t matter! But your being able to handle the recoil from a large-caliber handgun does not guarantee that you’ll shoot it well. Begin evaluating your abilities at a public shooting range that rents out handguns and also has licensed firearms instructors. Find the caliber you can consistently and accurately fire, starting with something small like .38 Special or .380 ACP then working your way up. Most people find themselves most comfortable shooting .38 Special +P in a short-barreled revolver or 9mm in a subcompact semi-auto. Find the caliber and type of firearm that works best and practice with it until you feel comfortable. Only then should you start looking to buy.

Why would anyone choose a revolver over a semi-auto? The answer is mindset, personal preference and ease of use. Size used to be the fourth reason, but today handgun size has little to do with caliber—consider the bevy of semi-auto pocket pistols chambered in .45 ACP and lightweight snub-nose revolvers that can fire .380 ACP, 9mm and .40 S&W semi-auto rounds.

The choice often comes down to intended use. For daily carry, subcompact semi-autos are generally the most preferred (caliber notwithstanding) for their narrower frames and higher cartridge capacity (usually seven rounds compared with a small revolver’s five). A semi-auto is also easier to reload, and a spare magazine easier to carry. A speed strip for a carry revolver offers the same convenience as a semi-auto magazine, but a revolver’s reload time is much greater. Revolvers tend to be favored by individuals who have had prior experience with them and find the ease of use a stronger benefit.

Revolvers have long been favored for home protection, as they are highly stressful situations, particularly when they are at night and you’ve been suddenly awakened. Firing a revolver only requires aiming and either cocking the hammer first or directly pulling the trigger to cycle the action and discharge a round. With a semi-auto, however, depending upon its design and how it is stored, you may have to manually cycle the action if a round is not already chambered, or release a safety before the gun will fire. In the suddenness of a home invasion, eliminating one or two steps and knowing that the weapon is ready to use allows you to put more thought into assessing the actual threat, which is already wide-awake and prepared to do harm.

Both revolvers and semi-autos can be equipped with laser sights, which provide an unparalleled advantage in a home-invasion scenario, as you won’t need to get a direct view of your weapon’s sights, and are a definite plus in the dark. Once adjusted to the gun’s point of impact (windage and elevation at a predetermined average distance), a laser sight will pinpoint where the round will strike.

Lastly and most importantly, ask yourself why you need a concealed-carry weapon. The answer often comes down to your environment (a rural area in which local law enforcement is many miles away or a city that has a high crime rate or history of break-ins), line of work (law enforcement isn’t the only perilous career), or peace of mind.

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