Anytime a customer walks into the store with the intent to purchase a firearm, the first question I ask is, “what’s your purpose for buying it”? If it’s for concealed carry, you’ll want something small, easy to conceal and comfortable to shoot. If you’re shopping for home defense, more options open up because you won’t need to conceal it. If shopping for a competition firearm, a ported barrel and light trigger may be features you’re more concerned about.
This should be straightforward. If your intention is to conceal the firearm, you’ll want something small for your size. You wouldn’t consider, for example, an FN FNX, because you ideally wouldn’t conceal an RMR with a silencer attached, especially if you only weigh less than 130 lbs and don’t own a purse (ha, ha). If it’s in your home, size isn’t as much of an issue. If you simply want a firearm to protect yourself against a bear or mountain lion while camping, again, size isn’t an issue.
This is not as straightforward. Just because you have a small gun, doesn’t mean it will have light recoil. For this reason, renting or trying a friend's gun is vital before buying, because recoil can’t be seen, only felt. You want a firearm with recoil you can handle. If it’s not comfortable to shoot, chances are you won’t want to practice often, and therefore, won’t have the skill level needed to effectively protect yourself and others.
This coincides with the first point. Keep in mind your use for the firearm. If you’re not confident in your shooting, remember, the lower the magazine count, the fewer chances you have to hit your target. If you have a small magazine, buy a firearm equipped with two magazines or buy an extra. At the range or at home, practice magazine changes. You’ll want this to become engrained in muscle memory if the situation calls for it.
This one should be common sense. To some, however, it isn’t always. Thinking back to your seventh-grade physics class, a lighter object will be more accurate over a greater distance but deliver less stopping power. A heavier object will be less accurate over a greater distance but deliver more stopping power. The trick is to find the medium.
The saying generally goes, “you get what you pay for”, which is generally true with firearms. But, there are a few expensive brands such as Kimber, Nemo or Wilson Combat that, while very nice, you’ll still be fine with a Glock, Sig, Springfield Armory or Smith & Wesson. However, if it’s under $300, you may want to read lots of reviews first, just to be safe.
Revolver or pistol
This may be as simple as personal preference. However, the common arguments are revolvers are more reliable, easier to use but less accurate and have no safety. Semi-autos are more accurate, have a larger magazine count and safety option but require more skill and effort to use. The choice is yours.
As much as you’re against it, you will need to clean your firearm. The sooner you learn and the simpler it is to disassemble, the better off you’ll be. However, don’t let this be your sole deciding factor. There are many more pros to a semi-auto than a difficult disassembly. Don’t settle with a revolver just because it’s easier to clean.
External Thumb Safety
This can be a huge deciding factor for some. For me personally, I feel a manual safety should only be a necessity for those with small children or prone to accidents. Otherwise, safetys can be a mechanical device that can fail, and also require fine motor skills. In the event of a flight or fight situation, you rely on gross motor skills. It is likely you may forget to take the safety off in an emergency unless you’ve practiced and forged taking the safety off into your muscle memory. Most firearms will come with some kind of internal safety.
Other Factors to Consider
- Sights: Make sure they are clear enough to find quickly and shoot well with. Highly recommend glow in the dark iron sights too – Remember, many crimes happen at night, not just in the day. Some firearms come with these (Sig P365), while TruGlo allows for an easy install. You might think aiming is not important in the heat of the moment, but a quality shot always trumps a sloppy, quick shot.
- Grip: Be sure it fits your hand nicely. This will be important for recoil management.
- Texture: A textured grip and frame can be a nice bonus because it allows the shooter to grip the firearm better and add into recoil management.
- Accessory Railing: If you think you may want a laser or light added on, an accessory railing makes it much easier to find a compatible option.
- Accessory Availability: Some guns just have more accessories available, such as base plates, colored triggers or recoil springs. Less popular guns are harder to find accessories for.
- RMR Compatibility: Some people prefer a red or green dot instead of classic iron sights. If this is you, be sure to purchase an RMR (Ruggedized Miniature Reflex) compatible firearm. If it’s not and you change your mind later, the solution is not easy to fix or cheap.