Seven Tips to Choose a Handgun for Self Defense


From Richard Mann, in his new book, Handgun Training for Personal Protection:

Surprise! A woman’s body is different than a man’s! This fact most often necessitates a different holster style for female shooters.
Surprise! A woman’s body is different than a man’s! This fact most often necessitates a different holster style for female shooters.

Selecting a handgun is personal—too personal to allow me or anyone else to do it for you. That said, it needs to fit your hand, have a recoil impulse you can control, and be small enough and light enough you might actually carry it and have it with you when you need it. Yes, you need to like it.

Not I nor anyone else is qualified to make those decisions for you. I don’t want you buying my underwear and I’ll bet you don’t want me picking out yours. Never buy a defensive handgun unless you have fired at least a box of ammo through one like it, and don’t be afraid to spend some money. With handguns, you often get exactly what you pay for in terms or longevity and reliability. Having said all that, I can offer some advice based on my experiences teaching others to shoot:

  1. A single-action semi-automatic handgun like the 1911 is not just a pistol for a professional. In fact, many new shooters find the single-action trigger easier to learn, and they find the thumb safety to be a common-sense switch.
  2. Compact revolvers are very often the worst first gun for a man or a woman. Their short sight radius makes them difficult to shoot accurately, the triggers are generally hard to pull, and the recoil is often objectionable.
  3. Most shooters will find they can comfortably shoot a 9mm handgun that weighs anywhere between 20 and 30 ounces.
  4. The smaller a handgun gets, the easier it is to carry and the harder it is to shoot. If you are a new shooter, consider a full-size/duty-size pistol as a starter sidearm.
  5. If you are reading this book, it is likely you are hoping to learn how to shoot a defensive handgun better. The only way you can do this is by shooting—a lot. So, don’t discount a .22 LR handgun, and it might even be wise to select a handgun for which you can purchase a .22 LR conversion kit.
  6. Get a handgun laser of some sort. It will be a tremendous help to you while trying to learn the secret and, very possibly, during a life or death encounter.
  7. Select a handgun that has easy to see sights or have the handgun fitted with sights that are easy to see.

Handgun Training for Personal ProtectionFor more practical advice on handguns and shooting from Richard Mann, get your copy of his new book, Handgun Training for Personal Protection, from the Gun Digest Store today. Remember to use promo code INSIDEGDB to get free standard U.S. shipping on your order.

Here's a look at the chapter line-up:

Chapter 1: The Secret
Chapter 2: Mindset
Chapter 3: The Modern Technique
Chapter 4: Handgun Sights
Chapter 5: Express Sights
Chapter 6: Lasers in General
Chapter 7: How Lasers Work
Chapter 8: The Laser’s Edge
Chapter 9: Red Dot Sights
Chapter 10: Why Light Matters
Chapter 11: Handheld Lights
Chapter 12: Weapon-Mounted Lights
Chapter 13: Calibers & Ammunition
Chapter 14: Introduction to Training
Chapter 15: Dry-Fire Practice
Chapter 16: Live-Fire Practice
Chapter 17: Evaluation Exercises
Chapter 18: Other Stuff
Chapter 19: Opinion
Appendix A: The Rules
Appendix B: Mixing Ordnance Gelatin
Appendix C: Evaluation Drills Score Sheet

Thank you for reading the Inside Gun Digest Books blog!


  1. This is a pretty straight away common sense article with some excellent thoughts on making a purchase decision. I would like to add my own 2¢ if I may. I agree completely with the 22 caliber handgun usage. In fact, I shoot my 22LR pistol or revolver every time I go to the range. When I began self defense shooting practice, the 22LR was my first choice. It’s a good way to work your mechanics and stance without having to be be too concerned about recoil and expense (if that is an issue). As for buying a full size weapon, unless you want a full size for the home (bedside or at your desk) I would look at what size you want to carry. This of course after you have practiced with 22’s and worked your way up to the caliber you think you ‘d like to carry outside the home. Most gun ranges (if not all) have firearms you can rent. First as stated in the article, you have to find one you are comfortable with. Some handguns feel like an extension of your body, some do not. Get a laser?, I would not invest in one till I have become somewhat comfortable as a shooter without one. The laser could very well distract you from learning how to shoot without a laser; that could be an issue, if a situation were ever to arise where you needed to use a firearm without a laser. Learn to shoot using the sights on the gun and learn to do it well before you start to practice with a laser. Batteries die as well, iron sights do not.


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