Choosing your first handgun can be a very confusing task. Do you go with semi-auto or revolver, 9mm or .45 ACP, Glock or FN? The choices are truly endless. Hopefully this article will help you break down the many, many choices you have.
When considering the purchase of your first, or next, pistol, you should look at these main points:
- Consult knowledgeable shooters – just because dear old Uncle Ted has been shooting for 35 years does not mean he actually knows what he’s doing. Just because someone has 5,000 videos on YouTube does not know he/she knows what they are doing. Try and find someone who has a broad knowledge of the shooting sports to help you decide where you want to go with your new purchase, and not something the other person wants you to buy so they can shoot it at the range.
- Research, and if possible, test fire various makes and models – After doing all your homework and have narrowed down your choices to only a few handguns, head to your local indoor shooting range to rent the handguns you’re looking to buy. Most indoor ranges have a wide variety of handguns to rent for a nominal cost, and spending a few dollars on test firing a gun means you don’t spend $500 on a gun you absolutely hate.
- Purchase your new pistol from a reputable gun store – not all gun stores are the same, and some are even down right illegal in the way they do business. We always say, “Pee Dizzle Wizzle selling guns out of the back of his van is not a reputable dealer.” Google, Yelp, and Facebook, to name just a few, give you the ability to read reviews from other customers of the store you’re considering. Keep in mind that businesses cannot control what other people say in their reviews, and sometimes people will write a bad review because they didn’t like their purchase after they made it. That shouldn’t hold weight in your decision that someone made a poor buying decision.
There are a few factors to consider when making a firearm purchase, whether it be your first or 100th. Some of these factors may not be important to you on each and every firearm purchase, but consider them anyway. They may help you to avoid buying the wrong gun for the wrong purpose.
Intended use of the pistol
You wouldn’t want to buy a huge Desert Eagle in .44 Magnum if you’re looking for a conceal carry handgun. You also wouldn’t want a 1911 in .45 ACP if you’re just looking to poke holes in paper at the range. Typically, each gun was made for a particular purpose, but most guns can be used for more than one purpose.
Price and budget
Handgun prices can range from $200 to well over $10,000. The higher the price doesn’t always mean the better the gun, and the lower the price does not always mean it’s a piece of junk. The Taurus 1911, for example, is about $475 and is a great gun for the price. A Nighthawk Custom 1911 starts around $3,000, and they both do exactly the same thing – send a bullet towards your target. The Nighthawk Custom, however, allows you to do it in style.
When you’re purchasing your first handgun, the price of the gun is not the only thing you have to spend money on. You have to maintain it somehow, you have to actually shoot it, and you have to secure it when it’s at home. A cleaning kit doesn’t have to be extensive, or expensive. Single caliber cleaning kits are around $10, some sort of cleaning solvent will be about $10, add a few old t-shirts and you’re good on cleaning. Ammunition will cost you about $10-$15 for 50 rounds of range ammunition (and you can blow through some ammo at the range) and defensive ammunition will cost about $20 for 20 rounds. Indoor range time normally costs about $20 an hour and most have unlimited use yearly memberships. Outdoor ranges can be $150 a year or even $500 for a lifetime membership. All of this means that if your total budget is $500, you can’t buy a $500 handguns.
Availability and price of ammunition
Not all ammunition is available for every gun that exists. Any new gun typically found in your local gun store should have ammunition available for it, but some ammunition is no longer being made or costs an absolute arm and a leg to buy. When considering your first handgun, look into the availability and price of the ammunition for it. For example, .460 S&W Magnum costs about $3 a round, where .22 Long Rifle costs about 5 cents a round. Most people choose a 9mm semi-auto handgun for their first purchase and that costs about 25 cents a round.
Pistol fit, ergonomics and weight
Not every handgun will fit your hand perfectly, and some will be more comfortable than others. A big Desert Eagle, for example, weighs in just shy of 70 ounces (that’s over 4 pounds… yikes!). A Glock 43 on the other hand, weighs in at only 17.9 ounces (that’s a pound and a half). See “Recoil” below.
If you’re looking to conceal carry your next purchase, don’t look into a full-size 1911. They are about 8″ long and weigh about 2.5 pounds – not something you want strapped to your hip all day. If concealing it is important to you, make sure you look at the smaller guns, such as the Ruger LC9, the Taurus G2C or the Glock 42 or 43.
Availability of holsters
Not all holster manufacturers make holsters for every gun. If you’re looking to carry this purchase, make sure someone makes a holster for it. Check with your local gun store for recommendations on holsters.
If you don’t like whacking your hand with a hammer, I’d stay away from the really small pocket-sized guns and go with a larger framed handgun. The heavier the gun, the less felt recoil you have. The lighter the gun, the more felt recoil you have. A lighter gun is not always a better choice when it comes to recoil.
Simplicity of operation and ease of use
Not all handguns are designed the same. Some are easier to maintain than others. Look at some disassembly and reassembly videos on YouTube for the gun you are considering to see how easy it is to break down and maintain. You will thank me for that.
Reputation of the manufacturer
Just about all major gun makers are reputable – Glock, Sig, Ruger, Taurus, Smith & Wesson, CZ, FN and many, many more. Look at the Better Business Bureau or try searching for lawsuits against a company to see if people are unhappy with a particular model of handgun. Try looking at some of the message boards or Facebook groups to see what people are saying. As with any reviews that people give, please take their overall attitude into account when reading their review. Some people hate a particular manufacturer just because they love their competitor.
Reliability records of a particular make and model
Just like with any product from any manufacturer, not all gun models from every manufacturer are great. Some manufacturers have dropped the ball with some models, but they make other models that are phenomenal. Reading reviews on message boards and social media groups will tell you pretty quickly which models are reliable and which ones aren’t. Again, take all reviews in consideration and not just the bad ones. Some people just like to complain.
Warranty or guarantee
If having service after the sale is important to you, then by all means look into the manufacturer’s warranty of their products. Taurus, for example, warranties their guns for life, while Smith & Wesson warranties their guns for 1 year (but they do have a lifetime service policy). Reading their warranties is always a good thing to see how you’re covered if something goes wrong with your handgun.
Availability of repair parts or aftermarket accessories
If something goes wrong with your H&R .32 S&W Long revolver, you’re out of luck. Finding parts of a spring or pin breaks is very difficult, not to mention expensive. Most modern handguns (within the last 50 years) have plenty of repair parts, aftermarket accessories (holsters, flashlights, lasers) available. A simple web search is sure to find what you’re looking for.
As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider when choosing your first, or next, handgun purchase. Using this article as a guide, our customers have chosen hundreds and hundreds of handguns and were quite happy with their purchase.
Chuck Spafford has been in the shooting sports for over 40 years. From combat to competitions, he has just about done it all. He is also the current President/COO of Tyler Firearms, LLC., an NRA Pistol Instructor, Maryland and Utah Licensed Pistol Instructor, Taser Certified Law Enforcement Instructor and Civilian Trainer, and an all around nice guy.