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How to Choose a Gun: Tips for Selecting Your First Firearm

Choosing your first gun takes some preliminary research and hands-on contact with the firearm to make an informed decision. With so many gun options, it is crucial to find a reputable seller and research your state laws when shopping for your first gun. This guide gives you a rundown of the most important aspects for consideration when selecting your firearm.

Key Considerations When Selecting Your First Firearm

Choosing a gun requires you to consider a variety of lifestyle and comfort factors. You are not selecting a firearm based on looks alone. The right handgun should fit comfortably in your hand and provide the right amount of firepower, accuracy, and range.

Whether shopping for hunting or self defense, here is what you should consider:

Purpose

Everyone has a unique reason for owning a gun. Some gun owners carry a concealed firearm for self-defense purposes. Others primarily carry their firearm for hunting (or as a back-up pistol). Each activity requires a different type of gun to fit the circumstance.

Ease of Use

Ease of use doesn’t simply refer to how easy it is to shoot. Consider the maintenance and care the gun needs to remain in working order. Firearms require regular cleaning and lubrication to ensure the firing mechanism works without a hitch. Neglecting your firearm maintenance could cause your gun to jam or blow up when you need it most.

For first-time owners, guns that can be easily disassembled will fare better over ones that have a complex set-up. Some easy-to-use handgun options include Glock, Sig Sauer, and Heckler & Koch pistols.

Budget

As a first-time firearm owner, you are not expected to spend thousands of dollars on a defensive handgun, but you shouldn’t necessarily go bargain hunting, either. Finding the right balance between price and quality is the key to finding a good first gun.

For your first concealed carry handgun, expect to pay between $350 and $800 for something reliable. Anything over $1,000 for a first-time gun is overkill (no pun intended). 

Here are just a few of the most reputable gun brands in the world:

  • Beretta
  • Sig Sauer
  • Heckler & Koch
  • Smith & Wesson
  • Glock
  • Sturm Ruger & Co.
  • Colt Defense
  • Springfield, Armory Inc.
  • Barrett Firearms
  • Winchester Repeating Arms
  • Browning Arms Company
  • Taurus International

Size

Some gun owners instantly go to the revolver as a first-time gun suggestion based on its pocket-friendly size, but it is not the best for everybody. While it can be a great choice for concealed carry, it can also prove to be unwieldy for some with its heavy trigger pull.

For instance, owners with small hands can have trouble pulling it and keeping an accurate aim. Shooters with large hands, however, may find the pocket handgun too small to handle.

Choose a handgun you can comfortably and securely handle.

Safety

A gun’s safety mechanism can be a switch, button, or lever that can be switched on or off to prevent accidental discharge. Consider how easily you can switch the button to a safe position. For new gun owners, we recommend a grip or thumb safety.

Regardless of the type of safety you choose, you shouldn’t rely on it for your safety. That means you should always handle a gun as if the safety were off and the gun was loaded and ready to fire. Also, consider how easy you find to disengage the safety when the time comes to use it.

Caliber

A firearm’s caliber refers to the diameter of the handgun’s bore and its bullet. Gun calibers are generally listed in millimeters or fractions of an inch. Make sure you know the difference between calibers. Higher caliber firearms usually have a higher level of recoil. It is important to consider if you can handle the recoil of your gun.

Shooters with smaller frames, for example, won’t be able to handle the highest caliber firearms. The intense recoil from the handgun could cause accidental discharge or self-injury. Furthermore, higher-caliber guns require high-caliber rounds, which are pricier than smaller ones. 

For self-defense, handguns with a .380 caliber or larger should be able to protect you. A good starter gun to meet your defense needs is a 9mm. Compact and lightweight handguns can be easily concealed and used efficiently.

If you are looking to meet your home defense needs, a full-sized, high-capacity firearm can provide the stopping power you need. Ultimately, your ability to use a gun and your aim will be the deciding factor on how well your firearm can protect you.

Self-Defense: Revolver vs. Semi-Automatic Pistol

For self-defense, two of the most common types of handguns are semi-automatic pistols and revolvers. Both types of firearms can protect you from danger, but each is suited to different environments and requirements.

Revolvers

Revolvers are the traditional choice for home defense purposes. A revolver can hold between five and seven rounds of ammunition in its revolving cylinder. Most modern revolvers are double-action handguns, meaning that one trigger pull cocks the hammer and fires a round. Single-action guns require an initial cocked hammer to experience a lighter trigger pull.

Revolvers are relatively easy to use for most first-time firearm owners. Unlike a semi-automatic pistol, they don’t require you to fuss with slides or magazines. Just open the cylinder to insert the bullets, then close the cylinder and pull the trigger. It is as easy as that. Revolvers, however, have more felt recoil than pistols.

Unfortunately, revolvers don’t hold nearly as much ammunition as a semi-automatic pistol of similar size. In a dire situation, you are likely to expend all bullets in a frenzy if you are not trained properly. Furthermore, revolvers take longer to reload, which can impact your shooting efficiency in a real-world situation.

Semi-Automatic Pistols

A semi-automatic pistol is the most popular type of self-defense handgun. These handguns are newer than revolvers by about 100 years. A pistol’s self-loading mechanism is powered by the explosive gas pressure created when firing a cartridge. They can carry up to 17 rounds of cartridges per magazine.

Similar to revolvers, most semi-automatic pistols are double-action firearms. Pistol frames are usually made of steel or lightweight polymer. While a pistol’s cartridge limit may be restricted by your state, they can hold as much as twice as many bullets as a revolver. Plus, they can be reloaded without taking your eyes off your target.

Semi-automatics do have some disadvantages compared to revolvers. Semi-automatics are easy to use if you know how to rack the slide to chamber a round. Some gun owners may not be able to have it loaded if there are kids in the home. In a high-stress situation, faltering during the loading process can render your gun useless.

Shotguns

Shotguns can be classified as break action, pump, and auto-loader options. Single shots can only hold one shot but are the most affordable. Pump-action shotguns are the most common and require you to pump the fore-end after every shot and load another bullet from the magazine tube into the chamber.

Auto-loader, also known as semi-automatic, shotguns only require you to pull the trigger to fire each round. Double-barrel shotguns feature two parallel barrels allowing you to shoot two shots. These can be more expensive than the rest of the shotgun types and aren’t recommended for beginners.

While shotguns have limited capacity compared to modern handguns, they can provide certain advantages. Their trumpet-like barrel allows the shot to spread when fired. Its projectiles are more efficient in close range under 50 yards. Anything longer range will create minimal damage.

Shotguns can also be slow to reload. When you have spent all your bullets, it can take you an inordinate amount of time to reload, especially in stressful situations. Its wide projectile pattern can prove helpful when accuracy isn’t vital, but can backfire and harm unintended people in the fray.

Rifles

Rifles cater to long-distance shooters, hunting, and self-defense purposes. Rifles allow owners to hit targets that pistols and shotguns can’t. A .22 LR (long rifle) is an ideal and budget-friendly choice for first-time firearm owners. Rifles can also hold a higher magazine capacity (about 30 rounds), but can compromise on reliability.

Many users find rifles easy to shoot due to their three points of contact and lighter felt recoil. A rifle allows you to shoot at multiple targets in rapid succession. You can also add loads of accessories to amp up your defensive power. That said, rifles can be slightly more expensive than most other firearm options. Their length can also be restricted by some laws. 

Optical Sights

There is no reason to rely on your eyesight alone when using a firearm. Modern pistols are able to accommodate optical sights to help with sight alignment and picture. Optical sights reduce the amount of time you spend lining up your target. Some sights are built-in while others must be added on.

Benefits of Choosing the Right Gun

Going through the online and hands-on research to find the right gun should be taken seriously. It can be a matter of life or death. One of the most important reasons to find an appropriate gun is safety. You should choose a gun you can safely handle and fire. If you can’t, you are putting lives at risk. Consider the best gun safety practices to avoid a deadly accident.

Your exhaustive research should help you find a gun that is easy to handle. That means you should always handle the gun in person to test its comfort level and your ability to aim. Renting a firearm from a gun range can give you a good idea of what you can work with.

Choosing the right gun based on your home defense or hunting needs can affect your efficiency. For instance, a small-caliber firearm for self-defense can bring down an assailant with the perfect shot, but beginners may not have the aim necessary to impair them.

A small-caliber gun could be useful when hunting small animals, but shouldn’t be relied on for self-defense. Choosing a gun with an appropriate caliber can stop criminals in their tracks even if you don’t have the best of aim.

Larger calibers can bring down larger hunting game.

How to Buy a Used Gun

New handguns can be prohibitively expensive for first-time buyers. Luckily, there are many reliable, used handgun options out there for budget shooters. As long as your used firearm has been properly maintained, you should be able to find a trusty firearm within your budget. Plus, you can spring for extra accessories depending on how much you save compared to buying new.

One of the most important aspects of buying a used gun is buying it from a reputable seller. A gun that is too cheap may be a warning sign to find a new seller. Ensure the seller has the right licensing to sell firearms. Don’t hesitate to ask the salesperson questions about the firearm.

Condition

If you find a gun at a gun store or pawn shop, examine the condition of the firearm. External scuffs don’t usually affect a gun’s function; however, rust or cracking in the stock, slide, or any other moving mechanism can cause inefficient operation. Dents, cracks, or bulging in the receiver or barrel may require a complete replacement.

Check for stripped, sheared, and broken screws when the gun is disassembled. Stripped screws happen when the right level of care and maintenance isn’t applied to a gun. Damaged disassembly joints can affect the overall function of your firearm.

Interior

Ask the seller if you can examine the interior of the gun. Any reputable seller should accommodate this request. Inspect the interior of your firearm for rust and pitting. Check for breakage at the crown of the barrel, which can affect accuracy.

Controls

A gun’s control facilitates the safety and function of a firearm. Controls include safeties, slide locks, magazine release, and more. Make sure the controls move smoothly without any interruptions. For single-action guns, check that the latch and releases are working properly.

Warranty

A warranty on a used gun is a sign that you are getting a good deal. Check what your warranty includes before making your final decision. Some warranties cover basic repairs, while others can give gun replacement guarantees.

Research

If you find a gun you like, don’t purchase it on a whim. Instead, go home and do some additional research on its specs. If possible, ask the store to put the gun on hold for at least a day while you make up your mind. Handling the firearm in person can give you a better idea of how user-friendly it is.

How to Test a New Gun

Buying a gun sight unseen is a recipe for disaster. It is always best to narrow down your choices in firearms and head to a gun range to test them out. Every gun owner has different sized hands and fingers. 

For instance, those with small hands may have trouble holding certain semi-automatic pistol grips. People with thick thumbs, however, may have more of an issue with recessed magazine release buttons on the fly. If possible, get your hands on the gun to make sure your hand shape fits it and your hand strength is capable of handling it.

When selecting your first gun, ensure you can reliably hold your handgun with a single hand. Can you comfortably raise the pistol in front of you and aim? Are your fingers long enough to reach the magazine well? Can you easily pull back the receiver and lock it? Make sure to test the ease-of-use of the magazine while holding it. 

Selecting your first firearm doesn’t have to be nerve-wracking. It should be fun. As long as you consider all of the factors listed above, you can choose a reliable handgun that’ll last you for years. Consider the safety precautions and associated costs before buying a handgun. Finally, consider the level of responsibility of owning a handgun.