I get asked for gun recommendations all the time. The only correct answer I can give is – “All of them!” But seriously – there are several steps and options to matching the right gun to each individual. This is part 2 of the answer. Earlier I explained Training, Purpose, and Fit. Now I will explain Action, Caliber and Cost.
Pistol actions are divided to two major groups: revolvers and semi-automatics. The semi-auto is currently the most popular. With semi’s you will have the widest selections for any calibers from 22LR to 45ACP. They hold more rounds, have a slimmer design, and usually have a single action or striker fired trigger action. The only downside is a beginner shooter might need a little more range time with these pistols to learn the mechanics of them. Revolvers have a limited capacity (5-8 rounds), a little more girth in the cylinder and the triggers on a defensive revolver will most likely be double action. I believe the trigger action to be the most important factor for shooting so I lean towards single action/striker fired and oppose double actions which have a long and heavy trigger pull. If you are giving a new shooter a double action only pistol (DAO) they will find it very hard to shoot accurately. I will never purchase a gun that I haven’t had the chance to try the trigger out by dry firing it. I have heard the myth in gun shops that dry firing “breaks the firing pin”. Those places will not receive any of my business. Yes, there are a handful of models that you shouldn’t dry fire (some antiques and rimfires). But for the most part it is usually safe (on an unloaded gun), and even approved by most manufactures.
Walther PPS (striker fired semi auto) and Ruger LCR (compact double action only revolver)
External safety is another choice that needs consideration. Any gun manufactured in the last decade will have several internal safety devices so the firearm will not discharge without the trigger being pulled. You can drop, throw and even smash a modern pistol and the firing pin should not fire a loaded round. Some folks feel more comfortable with a safety lever that needs to be manipulated so advice is that you train with that safety lever constantly. You should train so you never even think about it; your hands take it off subconsciously. Just like me firing an AR rifle, I’ve shot and trained with mine so much that I find myself throwing the safety on during a magazine change, but you wouldn’t know it and it doesn’t slow me down a bit.
Caliber is the next choice you have to make. This will also depend on your handgun size/fit that you have chosen. If self defense/stopping power is what you need, I would recommend finding the largest caliber you can shoot well and comfortably. At Top Shot I shot the largest production caliber in the world – the S&W 500. This was an amazing round, but the recoil, muzzle blast and fit of the gun make it very impractical and uncomfortable for self defense use. My personal choice is the 40 S&W because the size of the guns fit me well. 45 ACP might (arguably) have more stopping power, but the frame of the gun increases with the caliber. For most beginner shooters I tend to recommend the 9mm. Ballistic technology has advanced tremendously in the past decade and 9mm is perfectly adequate to stop any threat with proper shot placement and quality self defense rounds. The other advantage is the affordability of the 9mm round –100 rounds of 9mm Winchester is currently $22, compare that to $33 for 40S&W & 45ACP and $35 for 380.
A few popular autoloader cartridges
You finally need to decide on how much money you want to spend. Remember a defensive pistol is like a parachute, when you need it you need it to work. Keep that mindset when you are choosing. Most good quality firearms run upwards of $400 so don’t go cheap. There are lots of folks that are brand loyal, but don’t let that turn you off from other manufactures, most folks out there make good stuff these days. Remember that guns are also a great investment, not only on the life insurance side, but on the financial value firearms hold. And make sure you get what you want. It’s a lot better to pay a little more for the firearms you really wanted, then regret it later for a lifetime just because you wanted to save a few bucks.
Skimping on quality could end with a catastrophe like this cheap pistol (full story)
So there you have it- training, fit, design, caliber and cost. Decide on those and get yourself the pistol you want, then tell me about it on my facebook page! I love to talk guns!