If you’ve been shooting for any length of time, you’ve probably heard the question, “I’ve been thinking about buying a gun. What pistol should I buy?” Your answer may make the difference between bringing another citizen into the Second Amendment ranks and turning them off from the shooting sports for life.
On the other hand, if you are a first time buyer, welcome to Cheaper Than Dirt! This article is for you.
The answer is not nearly as simple as the question and that is what makes it so difficult to find consensus. Some people feel women should always buy a hammerless DAO .38 Special revolver for their first gun. Many people will insist on anything Glock. Others recommend the biggest gun you can comfortably shoot. Another group will advocate for investing in a top of the line handgun such as a SIG Sauer or H&K.
The answer, as you might have guessed, is not so simple. First, you need to find out more about the role a potential pistol will play. Will it be used solely for target shooting or self-defense? Is the new shooter interested in a carry gun or something to be kept in a bedside safe? How big is the person who will be wielding the gun, and how big are their hands?
No one pistol will be the ideal entry-level gun for everyone. However, answering these questions and determining the qualities the new shooter is looking for in a pistol, will be the first steps before beginning your search.
“What gun would you recommend for me?” Working behind the counter of a sporting goods store will earn you this question on a daily basis. The person asking the question is probably expecting a simple answer, such as, “The perfect gun for you is the Spaceman 2500.”
Asking, “which gun should I buy,” is like asking which car should I buy? If you need to haul around a family of six, a two-seat convertible is not likely to top your list due to its lack of utility. On the other hand, if you are single and looking to impress friends your freshman year, you may want that little sports car, but the budget may not allow what the heart desires.
As you can see, complicating the issue further, is the fact that your requirements may not all lead to a single, all-purpose gun. Shotguns are wonderful for home defense but not very concealable. A subcompact pistol fits easily in your pocketbook or waistband, but will not deliver the best groups the range. Even after you have answered your initial questions, you may need to dig a bit deeper and start prioritizing your needs before selecting your first firearm.
What do I want to use the firearm for? Is it for self-defense? Will I carry it concealed? How large are my hands? What size are the hands of a spouse or loved one who will also be using it? Will I seek professional training? Once trained, how often will I practice? Do I know what level of recoil I can tolerate? Would my spouse have the necessary skills to use this firearm?
A smaller gun will generally be harder to control than a larger gun in the same caliber. A larger gun will be harder to conceal. With modern powder types and bullet technology, you do not necessarily have to go with a large caliber to get stopping power.
If you select a revolver for your first handgun, finding a small compact revolver will not be difficult for concealed carry. Semi-automatic pistols are made with different types of trigger actions, safeties, decocking levers, magazine release buttons and slide lock levers. That may seem like a lot and it is. However, each type of handgun and feature has advantages and disadvantages to be considered.
Caliber matters—of that there is no doubt. From FBI statistics, it is easy to draw a conclusion that bigger calibers have a higher percentage of a single shot causing death. However, that only accounts for shootings where someone was struck by a bullet. It does not account for the reduced accuracy associated with higher calibers. It does not account for the shots that missed altogether. The power of the firearm means little if you miss the intended target when you shoot.
Likewise, while a hand cannon worthy of being wielded by Dirty Harry will more than get the job done, the most hardened criminal is not going to stand still or laugh at a .22 LR handgun when pointed at them. It will not have the same one-shot stopping power, but it will have the same deterrent effect in your hand.
The revolver is generally considered simpler and easier to manipulate. Because a revolver does not have a slide to manipulate, so less hand strength is required to operate the firearm. It is typically a bit easier for most new shooters to visually determine a revolver is loaded compared to a semi-automatic. In a struggle, a revolver can be fired with the muzzle pressed into the attacker (not necessarily advised). Under these circumstances a semi-automatic pistol will possibly come out of battery, (the slide may become unlocked) momentarily preventing the pistol from firing.
The semi-automatic pistol generally holds more cartridges and is faster to load or reload. The revolver can use a wider variety of ammunition than a semi-automatic because the semi-automatic uses the recoil energy of its cartridge to function. A semi automatic requires full power ammunition in order to function properly. The revolver does not rely on the power of its ammunition in order to function. Therefore, you can use a very low recoil, low noise cartridge, for training in a revolver and then work up the power scale gradually until you can control full power combat loads.
As you can clearly see, revolvers and semi-automatics each have their strengths and limitations. Research is the key. Then, consider which type of handgun appeals to you and will give you the necessary confidence when you need it. A gun you enjoy shooting will encourage the necessary practice to develop the skills necessary to successfully defend yourself.
Here are a few of the editors and writers of The Shooter’s Log’s favorite picks:
S&W K frame revolvers such as the M-66 .357 Magnum with 4″ or 6″ barrel.
Colt M-1911 .45 ACP
S&W 4506/4566 .45 ACP
Glock M-22/23 .40 S&W
Compact Concealed Carry
S&W J frame (5 shot .38/.357 Mag) revolvers with 2 ” barrel such as the M-638.
Ruger LCP .380
These are just a few of many. In truth, there are very few we dislike, so it is hard to make a bad choice, just a choice that is less than ideal for many situations and shooters.