Part I, Part II, Part III
I own several guns, and I carry one nearly everywhere I go. I read up on all of the major gun manufacturers and most of the ammo manufacturers. I don't subscribe to any magazines, but I do a lot of reading about the science of shooting, and practicality of self-defense shooting. Guns fit under my larger interest of practical self-defense. I don't really wish to take the time to train with bladed weapons, so guns and unarmed combat are it for me.
In the city most "normal" people have very little exposure to guns. This is different from the farm where I was raised. There nearly every boy and most girls knew how to shoot and were well accustomed to having all sorts of weapons in the house. So, I get asked by people, who know very little about guns but have some interest in guns as a self-defense tool, which gun should they buy.
I am not a gun expert. I do not spend hours upon hours a week at the range. I go to the range maybe once a month, maybe more if I get the itch. I go to the trap range perhaps once or twice a year. But, I am a "safe" person to ask. I don't make people feel like they are idiots for asking questions, and I approach the subject as if it is a fun hobby to have. Most people are buying a gun out of an interest to keep their family safe in the worst case situation. Let's face it, if you have a gun in your hand, you are in the absolute worst case situation...
So, what do I tell people they should buy? I DO NOT tell them to go out and buy a Beretta PX4 Storm in .45, or a Glock 30, or a Sig 226. That would be like telling someone to buy a Cadillac STS when they only ask you what kind of car should they buy, before they even learn how to drive.
Now that we have discussed the different types of guns, actions, ammunition, and terminology, the very first thing new people need to do is learn how to shoot.
Learn How to ShootYou don't need to purchase a gun to learn how to shoot. Most classes will provide something for their students to shoot, so you don't need to worry about spending any money on guns just yet.
Learning how to shoot will build the foundation of skills that you will need to evaluate what kind of gun you want to purchase. It will also teach you about safety.
Safety is of paramount concern. A gun is a tool, but like a table saw or a very sharp knife, you need to treat them with respect in order to avoid injury. If you ignore safety when using a table saw, you are likely to loose an eye or a finger. Ignore safety with a gun and you could get a hole where you don't want one.
The best classes are ones that are sponsored by the National Rifle Association, or that have a NRA certified instructor. Don't worry about NRA as a lobbying organisation. The NRA's primary focus is on gun safety, not on making sure every man, woman, child, and parrot has an automatic weapon. When it comes to gun safety, the NRA is the group to go see.
Nearly every gun range or gun store will either offer or will know of a class you can take. Just go to the closest store and ask about a beginner gun class. Unless you are paying for the class that the shop offers, DON'T BUY ANYTHING! The clerk's job is to sell guns, and I guarantee that they will want you to look at the "perfect starter gun." Go ahead and look, but don't buy. Take your class first!
After The Class
After your class is done, you will have shot something. Most likely it will have been a little .22 pistol. These are the typical class guns because ammo is very inexpensive, recoil is negligible, and they aren't very loud. The problem is that, while these guns are a ton of fun to shoot, they are not very good for self defense.
After the class you will be charged up and ready to buy! You can bet the farm that the gun store will have a bunch of people ready to help you buy something right there when your class is done. Again, their focus is to sell product, and the best time to sell product is when the buyer is excited about the product. You need to be strong and not buy anything yet.
What you need to do now is to go home and review everything that you learned in the class. In a few days, and it really needs to be in a few days, don't wait a long time! The skills you have just learned are perishable, and you need to get to the rage very soon after your class is done!! In a few days you go back to the range to begin your purchase selection.
Choosing Your Gun
All gun ranges will rent guns. You are going to take advantage of this. First, you are going to rent a gun from each ammo type they have. One 9mm, one .40, one .45, and so forth. Don't mix up revolvers and automatics at this point. Stick with the automatics, and come back another day to try the revolvers. There will be more selection with the automatics, so that is why we go with them first.
Go to your spot on the range and try out each caliber type. See how they shoot, and deal with the recoil. Find the right ammunition that you think you can handle.
Don't listen to anybody about what they consider to be the best gun or ammo at this point. Just shoot and find the ammo group that you like best. There is no right answer, just the right answer for you.
After you find the type of pistol (revolver or automatic) you like, and the ammo group you like, it is time to expand in to the brand offerings in that ammo type. If you choose 9mm, then rent all of the 9mm pistols you can get your hands on. Shoot them, have the clerks show you how to break them down. Put them back together. Ask about holsters and accessories for each model. Do as much as you can with them, and ask every question that comes to mind.
Now you will have a pretty good idea of what you want to buy. You will have put several hundred rounds down range, and you will have practiced the safety lessons that you learned in your class. Now it is time to think about the mission of the pistol.
Ask yourself this question: What will the primary job of this gun be? This is the mission of the gun. The answer to this question will determine the type and feature set of the gun you buy.
If the gun is to be used for home defense, think about getting a full size pistol with external safeties, and a Double Action/Single Action trigger pull. This is a good way to keep you safe when you have time to collect the gun and get in to a defensive position, such as you would if you were dealing with a home invasion, and you are awoke by a noise.
If the gun is to be used as a carry pistol, think about getting a compact or a sub compact pistol with no external safeties. In a situation where you have to draw and shoot quickly, you do not want any fine motor movements, such as a thumb safety, to delay you getting your gun in to the fight. You want to grab and go.
If the mission of the gun is for shooting competitions, you want to make sure that the gun you buy will be easily customizable, and that there is a large market of after market accessories.
If your mission is just to have something to shoot at the range, then you should think about small caliber pistols that use inexpensive ammunition.
PurchaseNow that you have done all of your homework, it is time to buy. I like to go on to the internet to see if I am getting a good deal on the gun. Places like The Gallery Of Guns are good places to start, as you can look up the type of gun you like and do a search for it in your local area. There you can do your price comparisons and make sure you walk in to the gun store with a price in mind.
Be ready to fill out quite a bit of paperwork when you purchase, and know that a background check will be done on you by the ATF. This is federal law, and the only way you can get around it is to buy your gun from a private party.
Some states will have waiting periods before you can pick up your pistol, and some cities force you to register the gun before you pick up your pistol. You will have to deal with all of this red tape before you can actual take home your gun. Some states/stores/cities will have laws/policies that will prohibit you from carrying your new gun out of the door. So be ready to have a clerk walk you out of the store, then hand your gun over to you once you are outside.
If you are, like me, in an area that is gun friendly, you can pay and walk out of the store with your brand new gun. Just go with the flow and follow all laws and policies.
If you buy your gun from a private party, be sure that you get a bill of sale that allows you so many days to have a gunsmith check over the gun, and to have the Police do a check on the gun serial number. Be sure that the bill of sale has the Name, Address, and phone number of the seller. I would even attempt to get the seller to agree to accept partial payment for the pistol pending these checks. You can take down the SN and run it with the Police. Then you and the seller can agree on a time and a gunsmith to do the operations check. Easy peasy.