1. Find a Friendly, Knowledgeable Gun Shop
When you go to purchase your first concealed carry handgun, you may find yourself feeling nervous and out of your element at the gun shop. If this sounds familiar, I promise, we’ve all been there and done that. Know that this is where the value of a truly concerned and dedicated professional can shine through, and that would be the gun shop sales person from whom you decide to buy your first gun.
The salesman’s role is to explain to you, in terms you can comprehend and with no condescension, the varieties of handguns available and how they operate. An ethical gun salesperson or firearms instructor wants to see you on a regular basis and keep you as a customer. An ethical professional will also never push you into buying a particular product and should work to keep you, as a first-time buyer, resist being seduced into believing that cute, sleek, shiny, or complicated makes for a better defensive weapon. Rather, a good salesperson will help you make a truly informed choice, and they stay updated on quality products on the market.
2. Try Before You Buy
I suggest that, when shopping for a defensive handgun, you find a range facility that will let you rent different handguns, as well as offering basic handgun, personal protection, and concealed carry classes taught by qualified, certified instructors. In such a customer-friendly environment, you can best determine which type of handgun will best suit your particular needs.
As you begin to shop, you first need to educate yourself by gathering information about the different handgun types, makes, and models available. Then, compile a list of your objectives based on your own personal attributes and needs, so that you can make an informed and personally appropriate selection. No one handgun is perfect for everyone or every situation.
3. Know the Attributes of Good Carry Gun
Think light and thin, which equates to carrying comfortably. Also, think about how you dress. Will the gun be easy to conceal with your normal, every-day wardrobe? You may want to try before you buy. A customer-friendly gun shop will permit you to hold a handgun you are considering and maybe even try it out in a holster on your hip to see if it is the right type for you to carry.
4. Insist on Reliability
While the above criteria are important, we mustn’t sacrifice reliability and durability in a carry gun. Remember, if you are going to carry your handgun everyday and practice with it, it must hold up!
5. Find a Good Fit
In choosing your carry handgun, you must judge as to whether each option provides a good fit for your hands. Does it point naturally? Is your trigger finger comfortably able to reach the trigger without your having to distort your proper grip? Unless the gun is a point-and-shoot gun, are the sights usable? Can you see the front sight clearly with your corrective lenses on?
6. Strive for Manageable Recoil
Is the gun comfortable to shoot? Is the recoil manageable? Seriously, if you can’t answer “Yes” to those questions, you will not shoot it, and you won’t get in the necessary practice time. So, choose wisely. It is better to shoot a 9mm pistol accurately than a .40 S&W or a .45 ACP erratically.
7. Get a Good Trigger
You want a trigger that is neither too heavy of a pull nor too light. Bottom line—does it feel right for you? Can you operate it without getting finger cramps? Conversely, can you feel it when you press it? Too light of a trigger can spell accidental discharge. Can you repeatedly dry fire the gun without making figure eights with the front sight?
8. Seek Reasonable Accuracy
In your hands, the gun needs to be reasonably accurate when you shoot it at 10 yards and closer. Is the gun forgiving of the arc of movement created by your hand tremor? Are you able to place accurate follow-up shots? Bad guys have a nasty habit of not going down after just one shot, so good second-shot recovery is essential.
9. Demand Ease of Operation
Your defensive handgun should be simple and safe to operate. Do you have the hand strength to pull the slide all the way back on a semi-auto pistol to cycle a round into the chamber or to clear the gun? Can you easily operate the slide stop/release lever to lock the slide back? Can your thumb reach and operate the magazine catch to drop the magazine? If you have a revolver, can your thumb easily reach and operate the cylinder release latch? Under stress, whatever fine motor skills you do have tend to fly away.
Ease of operation includes choosing a gun that’s simple to field strip for routine cleaning and maintenance. Choose one that’s difficult, and the end result will be that you won’t maintain it, and then it won’t work when you need it. Keep in mind, too, that, as we age, many of us develop arthritis, which makes it difficult to disassemble and reassemble mechanical devices with many stubborn little parts. For those of us with weaker hands, it is important to choose a gun that does not require Herculean hand strength to disassemble and reassemble.
10. Affordability — Don't Overpay!
Your gun should be affordable to purchase and use. If you’re on a fixed income, you don’t want to have to sell your firstborn grandchild to stay protected! Also, if practice ammunition is too expensive, then you may become reluctant to practice. Choose a handgun in a substantial caliber for which there’s plenty of cheap, quality target ammunition and a good supply of affordable, defensive hollowpoint ammunition—9mm would fit the bill.
This article is an excerpt from the book Armed: The Essential Guide to Concealed Carry. Get your copy here!
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I recently got my permit to carry for self-defense, so I’m thinking of purchasing a handgun soon. I appreciate your advice when you told us to visit a range facility first before our purchase to help us try out different kinds of handguns before deciding which one to get. I’ll be sure to do as you said while I look for a gun shop to check out later. http://www.northernsecuritysupplyak.com/products
I suppose it depends on how familiar you are with handguns, how much you carry, what clothing your wear and the nature of the threat. As a retired LEO who has carried revolvers and pistols on duty I would carry a pistol concealed. I used to practice speed assembly of a .45 1911 for hours/days in the Army. Most people treat any firearm like a coiled rattler. Ridiculous.
I’ve carried .357 Mags and spent a lot of time practicing. You won’t find me with a .380. Probably not even a 9mm. If I have to shoot I want results. It will be a .45 or 10mm. Not a .40 (10mm wimp).
I’m not worried about grip size or recoil but it may be a deciding factor for some. I got used to a S&W Mod 29 (.44 Special or .44 Mag) after Dirty Harry came out. Nice handgun when hunting–never tried it on the job–a 6.5 barrel is hard to conceal. Clear as mud! Thor
Sorry….thin and light???!!! Wrong answer! As a CCW Instructor a thin and light handgun in any of the defensive calibers (minor caliber and higher) will only hurt your hand when you shoot it. A famous instructor has said the same thing…”My boyfriend bought this small gun and it hurts my hand when I shoot it so I don’t” This leads to two big problems:
1. You won’t practice with the gun.
2. Without practice, you are already behind the power curve for defending yourself with the gun.
Choose at least a mid size handgun in a caliber you can handle and practice no less than 8 times per year. Dry practice should take place at least weekly (and only for 30 minutes at a time).
Some good advice, the best being; Try the Weapon(s) you are interested in before you buy them. I might add, if you experience problems with the weapon(s), bring that to the attention of the people who work there. The gun may not have been maintained very well. I rented a Springfield EMP 9mm at a range that had loose grip screws; it had issues due to this. I bought a 40EMP and had the same problem, but tightening the screws solved it (locktite would help prevent re-occurrence). Gun Maintenance is an important part of ownership and should not be overlooked. Some guns are finicky and comparison shopping is certainly worth doing. Find at least a couple you like, talk to people you know who shoot. If possible, compare them side by side on the firing line. Light weight is nice, but felt recoil is greater. Can you deal with the recoil and still maintain accuracy and grip or does a heavier firearm afford better control? I personally prefer stainless steel framed firearms for carry most of the time. Don’t forget to try a revolver or two as well, you might be surprised what you end up liking more.
All sounds good & I did get myself a 9mm with an extra magz.