Written by: Daniel J. Clermont
Choosing the right handgun can prove to be a daunting task. First of all, you’re starting out with a tall order if you want your equipment to serve as a “jack of all trades.” Many of us are looking for that versatile piece that would be equally in its element at the Bianchi Cup or in a crisis situation. Limitless options exist and the list of variables is long and complicated. Size, weight, color, finish, controls, caliber, trigger system, sights—the list goes on. Thanks to information overload from the internet, you can get overwhelmed before even stepping foot into a gun store.
Naturally, some of us suffer from analysis paralysis when it comes to making this new investment in our home and personal security. In reality, many folks spend more time researching, shopping for, buying and re-selling guns than they do training with them. To avoid this costly and cyclical trap, we can focus on the following checklist. When we address the following decision-making criteria, we can select a gun that will work for us in the majority of situations. This will ensure that we are pleased with our purchase for years to come.
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If you want a gun that will stand up to years of regular use and abuse, you want high quality. Smith & Wesson, Heckler & Koch, Sig Sauer, Glock, Colt and Springfield Armory are examples of reliable gun manufacturers. These gun-makers (and some others) invest substantially in quality control, product testing and customer service. A warranty is a consideration for buying new instead of used. If something goes wrong with the gun, you need to know who is accountable to approve and execute the repair or return. In general, if you intend to rely on this firearm to defend life and limb, go with a rock-solid, reliable gun from a manufacturer and a gun shop you are confident doing business with.
You don’t need to break the bank and buy the highest-end custom gun out there, but you don’t want something you’re not happy with either. If budget is a major consideration, patience may be the order of the day. There may be cases where a gun (of any make) in hand today is better than a finer model later, but that is not the norm. In most cases, we can afford to wait for an additional paycheck or two before we take the plunge, allowing us to set aside more cash for this important purchase. Many gun stores have an option to lay-away a gun and pay for it in installments if the up-front cash outlay is a bit of a pinch on the pocketbook.
Another money-saving tip is to look out for guns that sell with a “range kit,” including a holster and magazine pouches. If you can save by combining these items into one purchase, it may make the expenditure more reasonable for you.
Ergonomics is a misunderstood term. Some folks look at the design of a gun and if it looks sleek and modern, they deem it to be ergonomic. For our purposes, “ergonomic” is a term that is subjective to you. It’s about what feels right for you and what works well for you. Your body and hands are a certain size. You have a certain level of strength and coordination. You are right- or left-handed and have your own eye dominance and vision issues.
All of these factors are part of why you should select one type of gun over another. For example, if your heart is set on working with a 1911 and you are a left-handed user, it may be best to select a model with an ambidextrous safety. In another example, an operator with very small hands should rightly choose a gun with a slim-profile grip to ensure ease of trigger reach and access to other controls, such as decockers, the slide release or safeties. Take a look at your own physiology, and as you pick up and handle different gun models, be very thoughtful about how it will actually work for you.
Many individuals need an everyday carry gun for personal protection. They want the gun on their person all day, whether at home, work, school, in transit or wherever life takes them. Concealability is a very important issue for those users. However, what is concealable for one person may print through clothing when carried by someone else. Your physique, height, style of dress and the types of activities in your lifestyle need to be addressed. A person who needs a concealed-carry gun for jogging outdoors in a hot climate needs a completely different gun than someone who just wants a firearm in a bedside safe for things that go bump in the night.
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For most of us, the sweet spot is a balance of firepower, size/weight, accuracy and concealability. In other words, most of us want a gun with sufficient barrel length for good accuracy; a suitable caliber for defense (choose hard-hitting cartridges such as .357 Mag, 9mm, .40 S&W or .45 ACP); good magazine capacity; and one that’s small and lightweight enough to conceal in normal circumstances.
Other considerations are things like required accessories. To be prepared for a low-light employment of your firearm, select a model with night sights and possibly an accessory rail for mounting flashlights. Take some time to think and imagine all of the different environments you might have your handgun in and how you might need to use it. Use your mental analysis to help you eliminate models that do not make sense in the majority of scenarios.
Novice shooters, or those with limited time or money for training, should select a handgun that is simple to operate under stress. For this reason, striker-fired semi-autos with safety-enhanced triggers (such as Glock’s Safe Action trigger system and the Springfield XD Ultra Safety Assurance trigger) with no external safety levers may be the best. With very little training, these guns can be carried safely with a live round in the chamber and a topped-off magazine. In the instant the gun is needed, operation is brutally simple—point gun, press trigger. More advanced shooters and those committed to regular training are able to masterfully control and employ more complex weapons systems, such as the double-action/single-action, hammer-fired decocker models (e.g., Beretta, Sig Sauer, Heckler & Koch) and even the venerable 1911.
You know when you like something. Whether it’s a watch, a belt, a car, a house or a gun, you can feel it. Don’t buy a gun you don’t enjoy looking at, holding and using. As juvenile as it seems, the “cool factor” should be taken into account for the following reason: If you don’t truly like the gun, you won’t likely dry-fire with it much, let alone actually shoot it. Over time, you will be less likely to carry it and the whole tool misses the intended purpose.
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As with any major purchase, if your budget allows you to select a model that reflects your personal style, go for it! However, don’t let style completely steer your decision. I personally prefer the look of a railed, Government-length 1911 pistol the best of any handgun, but I value the reliability, simplicity and ease of maintenance of my Glocks and Sigs more.
Be patient and thoughtful in selecting your primary handgun. Don’t over-extend yourself financially, but don’t go with an el-cheapo either. Shoot for high build quality because you will need it to function reliably for a long time. Understand your access to warranty service, replacement parts and accessories. Buy from a business you like and trust. Think most about your intended use for the firearm. Buy a gun chambered in a caliber you are comfortable shooting and will get the job done for you—whether the job is incapacitating a violent criminal or just knocking down a steel silhouette target. Choose a model of the overall size, weight and dimensions to suit your needs and your physiology. Lastly, choose a gun that you truly like and enjoy. That way, you can keep the buyer’s remorse at bay and get the most out of your gun ownership experience.