One of the most important decisions you can make is selecting a good carry or home-defense gun. This is, after all, the tool you are relying on to protect yourself and your family.

Just like purchasing a car, there are many personal choices that go into selecting a gun. Safety, reliability, price point, comfort and style are all considerations, just to name a few. But first you must identify what your individual needs are. Just as a sports car might not be the best choice to haul the kids back and forth to soccer practice in, you need to determine your handgun’s priorities. Is this strictly for home use, or do you plan to carry? If you carry, will your wardrobe allow for a gun inside the waistband or on the ankle? Maybe you’re interested in the perfect purse gun instead—but the gun you keep by your nightstand might not be the same gun you want to carry in your purse. It’s the difference between a luxury sedan and an off-road vehicle. You can’t go shopping for one until you understand your lifestyle needs.

Once you’ve identified what you want the gun for, get ready to get hands on…literally! Guns come in all shapes and sizes, and you’ve got to test-drive a few yourself to determine the best choice for you. Doing your Internet research and reading all the pros and cons of different handguns is no substitution for actually holding a firearm in your hands.

Sample both revolvers and semi-autos at your local gun store or firing range. Salespeople and gun enthusiasts often have a strong opinion about which is best for self-defense. Husbands, boyfriends, dads and best friends will also try to steer you toward a particular style. There are advantages and disadvantages to every choice, so be open-minded and insist on your salesperson or range official being open-minded with you as well. Ultimately, the decision is yours and you must pick what you feel most comfortable with.

Personal Preferences

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When looking at different handguns, understand that revolvers are relatively simple to operate and extremely ammo tolerant, but they also have long, hard trigger pulls and hold fewer rounds. Semi-auto pistols take some training to operate, as each brand has different safeties, magazine releases and other external features. The tradeoff is that they hold more rounds and are usually easier to shoot accurately due to the shorter, lighter trigger operation. Plus, many women prefer to carry a semi-auto as they have a slimmer profile on the body. But a semi-auto may also require more maintenance and cleaning. Start the decision-making process by making a list of what is important to you.

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Keep in mind when you are shopping that most difficulties with the manipulation or operation of a gun in the store can be overcome with very simple yet proper training later on. But you must be honest about your physical strengths and weaknesses and take into consideration extremely small hands or short fingers or physical ailments like arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome that training cannot overcome. Barrel and grip lengths come in various sizes, so weight and overall size can be tailored to your needs in the platform you prefer.

Of course, no discussion of self-defense guns would be complete without taking caliber into consideration. The importance of penetration and stopping power versus felt recoil and maximum round count are other factors you will also have to weigh. Also take into consideration the price of the ammo and its availability in your area. You’ll need to practice often with this gun, so be sure to budget in the cost of those practice sessions.

Try Before You Buy

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When buying your first gun, you want to make sure itfits your hands well.

This brings me to the most important point—the best self-defense gun is the one you will train with! This is why it is important to know how the grip size, length of trigger pull and trigger weight, and recoil feel in your hands during operation. If you don’t like firing the gun at the practice range, you are never going to achieve the level of training needed to rely on that gun for self-defense.

Consider renting a gun at your local range. My local gun range offers many types of firearms with a rental fee of only $8 each, plus the cost of ammunition. This is a great way to ensure that the 6-foot, 5-inch, 300-pound salesman’s personal handgun preference works for you and your hand size before you invest hundreds of dollars.

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Another option is to go a firearms training class where loaner guns are available. This gives you the opportunity to receive hands-on instruction in both safety and operation while testing out a specific type of gun. With this level of time invested you’ll be able to gauge if this is a gun you will realistically continue to practice with and enjoy shooting.

But what works for me might not be the best choice for you. Don’t let anyone talk you into a firearm you are not comfortable with. No matter your firearm preference or your personal needs, once you pick your gun, get out and practice. Become secure in your knowledge of the safety features and comfortable with the operation. You should be as comfortable firing your gun as you are driving a car. They are both serious pieces of machinery, valuable tools for daily use, and having them at your disposal could one day save your life. So choose carefully! After all, who doesn’t like the shopping experience?


This article was originally published in the 2016 GUN ANNUAL™ buyer’s guide. Print Subscriptions are available here.

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