How to Shop for a Handgun, From Square One
For Personal Defense or Home Defense
There are two basic kinds of firearms:
- "long guns." They include rifles and shotguns.
- handguns. They include revolvers and pistols.
For self-defense or home defense you probably want a handgun.
What is a revolver?
A revolver is a handgun with a cylindrical chamber that will hold five or six bullets, or "rounds." The cylindrical chamber turns after each round is fired.
What is a pistol?
A pistol is a handgun that is not a revolver. Its bullets are loaded in a separate holder called a "magazine" or a "mag". The loaded magazine is then inserted inside the gun's handle, better known as the "grip." A pistol is often called a "semiautomatic."
Now you know enough about handguns to go to the gun store or gun counter at a sporting goods store. It's good to get recommendations about which dealer has courteous service and an ample selection. Shop around before buying. Even if someone tells you what you "should" buy, your priority is to find the right gun for YOU.
Now it's time to go to the store!
What to Say
We all wish to pretend to know about guns when we don't. But the clerk will see right through any posing. So don't be a poser. Think of yourself as a student of guns. If you are a newbie, say,
- "I'm looking for a handgun for (give your reason). I'm new at this and would appreciate your advice."
Everyone loves to give advice!
The staffer should ask you some questions to help narrow your choices. A revolver is generally more reliable than a pistol, but pistols can be easier and faster to use. Another thing to consider is the gun's CALIBER.
What is Caliber?
Broadly, caliber is a measure of firing power. Popular handgun CALIBERS, from smallest to largest (like waistlines), are .22, .32, .38, .38 special, .357, .380 (pistols only), .45, and 9mm. The bigger the caliber, the bigger the projectile, and the more power and "kick" the firearm has. Do not feel that you have to have the most powerful handgun. If this is your first firearm I recommend a .22 and after you are good at using it, you can graduate to a larger caliber. I guarantee that even if it is not the most macho caliber, you will always find a use for your .22.
You may see a petite type of handgun called a derringer. Often attractively pearl-handled or engraved, they are small enough to fit inside a pocket or an evening bag but have very short barrels, meaning they are difficult to fire accurately. Do not buy a derringer. They are mostly for collectors.
Prices and Makes
Consider the gun's price. The cost of a new handgun can be $200 to $700, with the price of a very good one between $300 and $450. That's a lot, but a good and well-cared-for firearm is one of the few investments that does not lose value.
Another thing to consider is the gun's maker. Famous brands in the gun world tend to make superior items.
Women may find firearms specifically made for women such as pistols or rifles with pink or decorative grips. They can be very appealing. But keep in mind that you are shopping not for looks but for a firearm that is right for you.
What to Do at the Gun Shop
After asking advice, ask to handle the recommended firearms. (Always assume every firearm is loaded, even if you are sure it is not! Always point the muzzle in a safe direction!) You will not get to fire them.
Ask about safety features.
Ask about bestsellers.
Ask if ammunition is readily available. Some calibers, such as .25 and .32, are hard to find.
Note the makes and models that feel good in your hand.
Ask about gun-safety courses in the area. It is highly recommended, before you own any firearm, to take a three-hour gun safety course. There are no tests and no shooting in the course; it is purely informational. But it is very very important information.
If the clerk has made you comfortable, that is the right place to buy. If not, find another retailer.
Do Your Homework: A Gun is Forever
At home, before you buy, see online reviews and forums, and YouTube demonstration videos of your candidate guns. Do not rush your decision. Ask knowledgeable people.
A three-hour gun-safety course is highly recommended before you handle any firearm. Google "gun safety course" in your area, or ask at the gunshop or police station.
When you do buy, a lot of paperwork and even a phone call are legally required as the firearm and its serial number are newly registered to you.
Carrying a concealed firearm requires an official permit (called a CCW permit or license) issued by an individual state. You must attend a CCW course and be fingerprinted before applying for a permit. Those with criminal records may be denied a permit. Do not carry a concealed weapon without a permit; in many states this is a felony with mandatory jail time, and ignorance of the law is not a defense.
Make friends with your gun shop. It is a resource. They know about firearm care, laws and safety, know who the local gunsmiths are, and the nearby clubs, shows, and shooting ranges, all of which will become part of your new world as a gun owner. Very often an owner quickly becomes an enthusiast.