The time I spent working behind a retail gun counter was some of the most fun I ever had. It was enjoyable, frustrating and incredibly educational. People honestly need good solid advice when buying a first handgun, and the interaction was rewarding. To help this process along, it is a good idea to start with a solid game plan:

Do Your Homework

Just like buying a car, it is best to have some idea of what you want, what it will do and what it should cost prior to buying. Gun publications like this one are a good start, but take a good sampling. The Internet is a huge asset. You just have to cut through the marketing fluff to get to the facts. When you do this, some incredibly useful information can be gathered.

Find The Right Store

Try and find a gun shop where the staff is knowledgeable. That may be a smaller store, it may not—both might have knowledgeable staff ready and eager to assist you. Don’t assume anything about the store based on its size or its location. And don’t be in a hurry. Make a few trips to several different shops and find someone you can trust.

Get Range Access

If possible, find a reputable store with a range. It is one thing to handle a firearm over the counter and another to actually shoot it. Most stores with a range will have firearms for rent. It is really helpful to shoot the same gun or something similar before you buy it.

Know Your Budget

Have a budget or at least a pretty firm limit. You often get what you pay for with guns; more expensive guns can mean higher quality. But do you need what the extra dollars buy? Be prepared to buy a cleaning kit, a holster, a gun case and the ammunition to practice and carry the gun. These aren’t “extras”—they’re necessary.

Meet Your Needs

Know what the gun is for before you get there. Is it for home-defense alone, concealed carry, or both? Who will use it? Will you actually carry it? What is your skill level? How much gun can you really handle? Above all, be realistic about what you need and what you can handle.

The more you know about your needs and limitations, the better they can help. A competent and knowledgeable counter person working with you can make this a positive and enjoyable experience, setting you off on the right foot. It may be the most important step for buying your first handgun, so take the effort to make it a good one.

This article was originally published in “Pocket Pistols” #186. To subscribe, visit


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