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A firearm is a tool that is designed to deliver a lethal amount of energy to a target that could be a distance away. That energy can be used for hunting wild game, putting holes through targets or for stopping a threat. Owning a firearm is a huge responsibility; owning a firearm for personal protection is an even larger one. Many factors go into choosing your first gun for concealed carry or for protecting your family in your own home. You must first ask yourself if you are capable of using deadly force to protect yourself. Obviously, no sane person wants to take another human’s life, but the unfortunate reality is that any of us could find ourselves in a life-or-death defensive situation.

According to a 2015 FBI crime report, firearms were used in 71.5 percent of the nation’s murders, 40.8 percent of robberies and 24.2 percent of aggravated assaults. This shows that the bad guys have guns and gives credence to the old saying “Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.” According to  gunowners.org, law-abiding citizens use guns to defend themselves against criminals an estimated 2.5 million times every year. This means that firearms are used 80 times more often to protect lives than to take lives. Before selecting the gun that may one day save your life, you must understand the risks involved in owning that firearm.

The Right Tool

Probably the most important consideration in purchasing your first gun is deciding what you are doing with it. Remember, a gun is a tool, just like a hammer, screwdriver or drill. You can’t pound in a nail with a drill bit, and you wouldn’t want to defend yourself in the grocery store carrying a bazooka. You must think about your needs and what you’re going to do with this gun.

If you are purchasing a gun for home defense and only home defense, you might want to look at a shotgun. That shotgun will be pretty difficult to hide and may be illegal to conceal in your state anyway. A pistol is your best bet for a defensive encounter outside of the house but also is well suited for a defensive encounter in your home. I purchased my first pistol, a Kahr PM9, when I was 21 years old. I bought it with the intent to carry it every day. That gun also sat on my nightstand every day and was purposed as a home defense weapon as well.

A Timeless Argument

Pistols come in hundreds of sizes, finishes and calibers. What’s the better choice, a semi-automatic pistol or a revolver? That debate goes back over 100 years. Semi-autos typically hold more rounds than a revolver, and you have the ability to carry extra magazines, which makes reloading faster and easier. However, a semi-auto can malfunction and leave the gun useless until it is cleared. Revolvers have malfunctions as well, but all you have to do is pull the trigger again and it will fire the next round. A revolver can be fired multiple times through clothing without getting snagged and jammed, while a semi-auto may fire once but most likely will become entangled in the fabric and malfunction.

Both have their pros and cons, so it really comes down to what fits you best. It may sound a little corny, but you don’t choose the gun; the gun chooses you. A gun that fits and works for your friend may not work for you. A gun that is too big will make you uncomfortable when carrying it and will affect your accuracy, drawstroke and ability to pull the trigger. Make sure the gun feels comfortable in your hand and you can easily reach and use all of the firearm’s controls. Shoot a few different models that feel good to you before purchasing your first gun. A lot of ranges offer gun rentals; rent a few different models that you may be interested in to be sure that the gun remains comfortable when firing.

Granny’s Magnum

Furthermore, you must remember to do your homework. I have experienced numerous clients that took my concealed-carry classes that purchased firearms before class and literally could not pull the trigger due to the pull being so heavy. I have also seen people who shot the gun one time and almost blew their arm through the back wall at the range because the gun was just way to powerful. A little 76-year-old woman that probably weighed 95 pounds soaking wet came into class one day with this beautiful new Smith & Wesson Model 66 Combat Magnum with the price tag hanging from the triggerguard. The moron at the gun shop even sold her a few boxes of Hornady Critical Defense .357 Mag ammunition, telling her that was what she would need for the class and for carrying the gun after she got her permit.

She was dead set on trying to shoot the gun, even after I tried to talk her out of it, offering her a nice Ruger SR9 that she ended up loving and purchasing later. So here was this 95-pound, 76-year-old woman up at the line ready to shoot with a magnum snub-nose revolver in her hands. My hand instantly went up behind her shoulder to brace her for my safety and her own.

She lined up to the target, and I wait for her to fire. When nothing happened, I looked down and saw her still trying to pull the trigger, hands shaking like a bowl of Jell-O. I realized I wouldn’t need to worry about her arm because she wouldn’t ever be able to pull the trigger. I took the gun from her and handed her the Ruger. She turned into one of the best shooters in class that day. Do your homework and make sure that the first gun you’re purchasing will work for you.

First Gun Additions

Accessories such as lasers, grips, lights and sights are all additional items that can be easily added or upgraded on some guns. If you want accessories on your first gun, then make sure you choose a gun that you will accept the accessory you want on it. Sometimes you can find a version of the same gun already equipped with that accessory from the factory. Don’t get too hung up on specific brands. Trust me, I have seen them all fail at one point or another. We have had brand-new Smith & Wesson M&Ps lock up and not be able to pull the slide back, sights fall off Remington 1911s, Glock magazines crack, a malfunction on my own Kahr due to a spring and even had the firing pin break off of a Kimber and hit the guy in the head.

These are all great guns from great manufacturers, but as with any tool, they can break. Luckily, all of these guns were repaired under warranty and worked fine after. Look into the manufacturer’s warranty as well as the location of its factories. A gun that needs to be sent in for repairs might take a while to get back if you’re sending it to another country.

Don’t shy away from purchasing used guns. A used gun can be a great deal, and in some cases it can be just as good if not better than a new gun. If you’re looking at a used gun, you must remember that if it looks used, it is used. I have had my Kahr for 14 years and carried almost every day for 12 of those years before recently retiring it for a new Sig. The Kahr barely shows signs of wear and tear. If a gun is very beat up, it I would stay away from it. Holster wear is normal, but big scratches or chips show abuse and neglect. Read reviews and shoot a few guns to decide what is going to be the best tool for you.

Remember that you are taking on a giant responsibility by exercising your Second Amendment rights and becoming a gun owner. You have to remember the golden rules: Treat every gun as if it’s loaded; always keep your gun pointed in a safe direction; always be sure of your target; and keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire. It is also your responsibility to make sure you know where your firearm is at all times and that it is secured from anyone who should not have access to it.

Become familiar with your state’s concealed-carry edicts as well as other gun laws to make sure you are always on the right side of the law. Your gun is a tool of last resort, and the best way to win any confrontation is to avoid it completely. Carrying a gun doesn’t make you invincible, and you don’t need to be a hero. Always stay alert, know your surroundings and remember to carry every day.

This article was originally published in “Personal & Home Defense” issue #204. To order a copy and subscribe to that magazine, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.

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