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Thread: Some Criteria For Beginners Selecting a Handgun

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    Regular Member WhistlingJack's Avatar
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    Some Criteria For Beginners Selecting a Handgun

    The purpose of this particular subset of the forum is for providing information for picking the right handgun. Given that, I have assembled this post to serve as a starting point for those who have a lot of questions and need some clear and direct answers. This thread is not the end-all, be-all of selection, and there are many qualified persons on this board who can add additional information. I ask however as this post is meant for those who have many questions, please do not become overly detailed, and avoid the temptation to begin a caliber wars debate.

    I understand that many of these points have been brought up in other threads, this is simply an attempt to compile them in one place.


    That said, here is a nickel's worth of free advice.

    Q) What kind of gun should I carry?
    A) There are many excellent manufacturers out there, pick one with a solid reputation.
    Now, this leads to further questions. First, ask yourself, how much experience do you have with handguns, and how often will you really train? I mean really train to ensure you are capable of expertly handling your firearm should the need arise.


    For the inexperienced and those without a large volume of time (or availability) to practice, my first recommendation is to buy a revolver. Why a Revolver? The simple answer is reliability. A revolver is immune to many of the malfunctions which can happen when using a semiautomatic firearm. A revolver cannot stove-pipe, cannot double-feed, and in the event of an ammunition failure working the trigger mechanism will rotate a fresh round into place while removing the bad one for you.

    What is a stove-pipe, what is a double-feed? Answer: Google/Bing are your friends, however if you are looking to buy a handgun and do not even know what these common failures are, that further reinforces how good an idea it may be for you to begin with a revolver.

    -----But Whistler, I don't want a revolver!!! QQ
    That's OK! you don't have to have one. If you do not want a revoler, or are in that category where you know how to deal with common malfunctions (or intend to learn and train yourself to deal with them) there are many options.

    Now ask and 90% of people who carry will recommend to you whatever gun they carry. After all, they would not be carrying it if they did not have faith in what it can do. My first recommendation is find something that has a fit, feel, and weight you are comfortable with and personal preference can mean a great deal here.

    I do not like Glock, [don't crucify me yet Glock fans], Glocks are good firearms with solid reliability, reputation, and a fair price for what you are getting. Personally however I loathe the way they feel in my hand, and thus do not use one. Does that mean Glock is bad, no, it is a matter of personal preference. Do not discount your own when you make your selection. A man with a 'decent' quality gun, who is comfortable with it, proficient with it, and familair with it, is better equipped than a man with a 'high end' gun that he does not like the feel of, does not practice with as regularly, and is not as familiar with. Before concerning yourself with other factors, find a gun which fits the hands that will be operating it.

    ----But Whistler, I don't know one brand from another!
    Here is some starting points for you....Smith & Wesson, Springfield, Glock, Sig, Berretta, don't be afraid to do some research.


    Q) What caliber should I use?
    A) Nothing starts an internet debate more rapidly than asking a question about caliber. It is like walking into a PTA meeting and asking who has the smartest kid.

    I am a firm believer in carrying the most powerful round you are capable of controlling. (To a point, more on this later)

    ----But Whistler, I haven't shot enough to know that!
    Do not fret friend, here I will give you some advice. Now the following is purely opinion. (And if you are still reading, my opinion is either making some sense, or you're wondering 'Who does this hack think he is to tell me X' but I digress)

    I recommend between a .380 and a .45 ACP.

    Let me add some calrity. An order of magnitude is a factor of 1,000, an order of magnitude greater than 1,000 is 1,000,000, an order of magnitude greater than 1,000,000 is 1,000,000,000. While I consider the .380 under-powered for personal defense use, any gun at all is an order of magnitude better than not having one at all.

    ----But Whistler, if that's true can't I just carry a .22LR?
    You can yes, I personally do not recommend them because no matter how much we train we cannot 100% honestly assure ourselves we will never miss what we shoot at. I do not recommend 22's because they are extremely weak, and have a tendency to bounce around like flubber when they hit something solid. A minor concern yes, but it does exist. Not to mention for any .22 you can find, you can find a .380 of similar size.
    Now, working up the caliber ladder, this poses more questions.

    What is your experience with firearms?
    Are you male or female? (----Whistler you sexist, why does this matter? Don't worry, I'll explain.)
    What is your noise tolerance?

    All of these questions can be boiled down to
    Do you recognize a gun is not a snake that might rear up and bite you? Do you have a lot of upper body strength, or a little? Are you deaf as a post, or is your hearing so acute a fly-over from a mosquito makes you duck for cover? All of these things are variable depending on the individual in question.

    Upper body strength is needed to control more powerful rounds, grip strength being one of the most important aspects of this. This is why I ask are you male or female? While I have met some women who were true behemoths and could man-handle an S&W Model-500, most do not fit into this category. On top of that there are many men who are of slighter build, have smaller hands, or are simply desk jockeys who's professional life does not require the ability to make confetti out of a phone book while shouting something like "Hear me roar."

    If you think the caliber is too big for you....it probably is....unless....you practice. It is amazing how much the disparity between the size of the shooter and the gun can be reduced if the shooter practices.


    Therefore the centerpoint I recommend for people to begin is the 9mm. There is an inordinate number of 9mm pistols available in different sizes, weights, designs, and makes. It is further my assertion that if you cannot control a 9mm, you are likely not meeting the minimum amount of practice you should have if you seriously intend to carry a gun, be it open or concealed. Again this is a starting point. If you think you can go bigger, do so, if you need something even smaller than a 9mm, there is the .380.

    One of my EX's was 95 pounds, and she could shoot my 1911 with +P rounds (Google +P) like a champ, why? Proper gripping, and execution honed by practice (Notice a theme here?)

    This is also the reason I am going to say something that many will consider heretical.
    I do not recommend the .357 Magnum. Now before my tarring and feathering here is why young padawan I do not. A .357 is powerful, very much so, its most commonly found inhabiting revolvers. However .357's have considerable recoil, are very loud, and produce a considerable muzzle flash which can ruin your night-vision for a prolonged period. Being blinded and deafened in a low-light, hostile situation is a bad thing. If you are a beginner, do not acquire a .357 unless you truly intend to do the research, and spend the time practicing to be able to deal with the issues listed.

    ----But Whistler, I want something big and intimidating!
    Guns know every language, and a gunshot sounds the same in all of them. The mere sight of a gun, (and sound of it) means any gun in a self-defense situation provides all the intimidation value which will be applicable. If an attacker is so crazed the sight of a nickel-plated .380 does not frighten them, I doubt a full-fledged Uzi would either.

    ----OK smart-guy what do you carry?
    I'm glad you asked, this allows me to bring up another point. I am a large individual, with (according to friends trying to open my 2-liters, and my ex's) a freakishly powerful grip. The combination of grip, arm strength, and having many extra pounds thanks to my American diet means I can comfortably control a more powerful round than most people. So what do I carry? A .45ACP. Consider that there are loadings of the 10mm that at 100 yards have energy comparable to what a .45 yields upon leaving the barrel.

    You are responsible for every round you fire, and if a round misses, or goes through an assailant and on past him to wound someone else...you are responsible. Resist the temptation to carry something like a .44 Magnum so you can feel like Dirty Harry. Just because you can do a thing, does not mean you should do that thing. Ergo my original point on .380-.45.

    Note: Other posters please do not use this as an excuse to begin a caliber war, I know there are some who carry larger rounds. If you have the criteria necessary to be able to do so safely, more power to you. Again this thread is meant for those who have more questions than answers.

    That brings another point, avoid uncommon calibers. 10mm, 5.7x28, etc. While the merits of these calibers can be debated until the patience of God himself is exhausted, it is a matter of cost. Uncommon calibers cost more, are harder to find, and lead to less practice.

    Q) What kind of bullets should I use?
    A) Those which are appropriate to your gun.

    The American ammunition makers are the best in the world at what they do, and there are many fine choices. Find some personal defense ammo and [B]PRACTICE[B] to ensure your gun likes that ammo. If it does not, find a different brand. Personally I use Hornady TAP, but there is no shortage of fine choices. I carry and recommend Hornady TAP because it is formulated to have less visible flash and will have less of an effect on your night-vision. But again, do some research, and practice. If you simply take an opinion (anyone's opinion) and run with it, without doing practice and experimentation to determine what works best for you, you are not being responsible. Firearms ownership is a right, and with every right comes a responsibility. Another good recommendation for those concerned about legal issues is to learn and use whatever is issued to your local police dept.

    Q) How much should I spend?
    A) If you are buying a gun for carry, open or concealed, you are purchasing a piece of equipment upon which your very life may depend.


    This is not the place to buy the cheapest thing you think you can get away with. The old saying "You get what you pay for" largely holds true. Bite the bullet (pun intended) and buy a quality firearm from a reputable manufacturer. You don't have to drop your favorite child's college fund, (or even the fund of the one you don't like); but do you like the thought of trusting your life to the cheapest thing you could find? Personally I carry a Springfield XD because it is an excellent combination of quality and price, but again if you simply take my advice without doing any of you own research / testing, you are not being responsible.

    When you buy do not make the mistake of assuming the salesman knows what he is talking about. His job is to get you to buy something, and a good salesman does not always have to posses the best grasp of his product in order to sell it. While many dealers have salesmen who do know what they are talking about, plenty have an abundance of those who do not. This is also barely mentioning that some really don't care what your needs actually are, but just want you to buy something. Have an idea of what you are looking for before going in to buy.

    Final Note: This is not a decision you should make lightly, the information provided is intended to give you a starting point while you decide what works best for you. I hope it is helpful to those who come into this portion of the forum with some of the questions listed above.
    Last edited by WhistlingJack; 08-01-2012 at 11:31 AM.
    "Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people's liberty teeth and keystone under independence ... From the hour the Pilgrims landed, to the present day, events, occurrences, and tendencies prove that to insure peace, security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable . . . the very atmosphere of firearms everywhere restrains evil interference - they deserve a place of honor with all that is good"
    -George Washington

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    Love it WhistlingJack, thats an awesome Q&A, but a question I have for you, why no love for surplus arms there are many out there for dirt cheap and most of them virtualy brand new in common calibers.
    I carry surplus and imho you dont have to have a $500+ pistol to have quality, my $175 P64 is one of the best guns I've ever shot (that includes revolvers, glocks, 1911's) and I carry it every day
    I'm not tryin to troll or anything but I think it's something that should be thought about in terms of cost vs quality

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    Quote Originally Posted by spinks8824 View Post
    Love it WhistlingJack, thats an awesome Q&A, but a question I have for you, why no love for surplus arms there are many out there for dirt cheap and most of them virtualy brand new in common calibers.
    I carry surplus and imho you dont have to have a $500+ pistol to have quality, my $175 P64 is one of the best guns I've ever shot (that includes revolvers, glocks, 1911's) and I carry it every day
    I'm not tryin to troll or anything but I think it's something that should be thought about in terms of cost vs quality
    Agreed, there are some outstanding Radoms, Maks etc out there that will last long enough for our Great-Grandkids to carry someday. $$$$ and a particular brand-name doesnt mean squat a lot of the time. (esp. with the recent trends of out-sourcing for parts/materials by major brands Remington, Smith, etc.)

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    Regular Member WhistlingJack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by spinks8824 View Post
    Love it WhistlingJack, thats an awesome Q&A, but a question I have for you, why no love for surplus arms there are many out there for dirt cheap and most of them virtualy brand new in common calibers.
    I carry surplus and imho you dont have to have a $500+ pistol to have quality, my $175 P64 is one of the best guns I've ever shot (that includes revolvers, glocks, 1911's) and I carry it every day
    I'm not tryin to troll or anything but I think it's something that should be thought about in terms of cost vs quality
    I do not mention surplus here because while you are right there are many excellent condition surplus arms, there are also many, many, crap ones, and someone who actually needs the information listed above, may not have the knowledge necessary to determine a good one from a bad one, just as many don't have the knowledge of mechanics to be able to tell if that seemingly pristine car is really in good shape, or is a lemon waiting to happen. That said for those who do have this knowledge or are willing to do the research to obtain it, surplus is a very viable option, I own a few myself.
    Last edited by WhistlingJack; 07-22-2012 at 07:44 PM.
    "Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people's liberty teeth and keystone under independence ... From the hour the Pilgrims landed, to the present day, events, occurrences, and tendencies prove that to insure peace, security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable . . . the very atmosphere of firearms everywhere restrains evil interference - they deserve a place of honor with all that is good"
    -George Washington

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    Regular Member The Wolfhound's Avatar
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    Well ...

    Several things need to be considered. What duty will the firearm be serving? Home defense? Daily open carry? Deep concealment carry? Clearly some firearms fit these chriteria better than others. Training is an ideal place to start, such as the NRA Basic Pistol or equivalent. If possible try to shoot 100 rounds or more through any pistol (or one of the same model) before you buy. This will show you if a pistol is unplesant to shoot or has more recoil than the shooter wants to deal with. A new shooter must be willing to shoot enough to become competent and confident. A nasty reaction to shooting a gun, puts it in a drawer and it no longer can serve its purpose.
    Appleseed, Virginia State Coordinator
    Are you a Rifleman yet?
    http://appleseedinfo.org

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