I Want to Buy a Gun-Which Gun should I buy?
What gun would you recommend for me?
Stacey and I are asked this question at least once a week. The person asking the question is probably expecting a simple answer, such as, “the perfect gun for you is the ‘Spaceman 2500’.” Instead, we start by asking the “potential gun buyer” (PGB) some questions. “I want to build a house, which tool should I buy?” The PGB will usually just give us a blank stare. “Which hammer should I buy?” Another blank stare will usually follow. Then we will explain that a gun is a tool, much like other tools. Each tool is designed to do different jobs. If you are building a house and framing walls you do not want a tack hammer. If you are installing molding you do not want a sledge hammer.
Asking, “which gun should I buy,” is like asking which car should I buy? If you are 6’7” you probably do not want to buy a subcompact. If you haul hay for your horses you probably do not want a sports car.
I once received a call from a friend (Don) who asked me what firearm he should buy for home defense. Don and his wife would both have access to the weapon. Don had given this subject some thought and gave me a list of characteristics that he expected to find in his new gun. Don said that the gun must be small enough to conceal. It must be powerful enough to stop a determined attacker. It must not have too much recoil. It must not be expensive and it must be simple to operate. Don had been a professional pilot for 40 years. I responded to his inquiry with a hypothetical question. “I want to buy an airplane. I want this airplane to carry lots of passengers. I want it to be fast. I want it to be easy to fly. The aircraft must be able to operate from short runways. I want it to be cheap to operate and inexpensive to purchase.” Don replied, “Many of those requirements are in conflict with each other. There is no such airplane. “If there were such an airplane, it would do all things well and there would be no need for any other airplane to exist.” I responded, “Don, many of your handgun requirements are in conflict with each other. There is no such gun. If there were such a gun it would do all things well and there would be no need for any other gun to exist.”
A PGB should start by asking himself several questions.
What do I want this gun to do for me? Is it for self defense? Will I carry it concealed? How large are my hands? Will I seek professional training? Once trained, how often will I practice? Do I know what level of recoil I can tolerate? Who else in my home will have access to this firearm? Would my spouse have the necessary skills to use this firearm? Once you have made this list you should prioritize your requirements.
A powerful gun will generate more recoil. A small caliber gun with minimal recoil will deliver minimal power to the target. A smaller gun will generally be harder to control than a larger gun in the same caliber. A larger gun will be harder to conceal. As in most things one tool (gun) may not be sufficient.
Many times a PGB will decide that he should select a medium size gun. This gun is thought to be a good compromise, being easier to shoot than a true compact gun and more concealable than a full size gun. Compromises are often disappointing. This middle size gun may turn out to be too large to conceal and more difficult to shoot well than the full size version.
If your purpose for acquiring a handgun is self defense, you will need at least two pistols. First you need a full size pistol. By full size, we mean a gun that would commonly be carried by a uniformed police officer or solider. This gun would probably have a barrel length of 4 to 5 inches. This is the gun that you will use for your initial training. The size of this gun will help to reduce felt recoil. The 4 to 5 inch barrel will result in higher velocity and more energy than a smaller version of the same gun. In addition to using this gun for initial training, you may decide to keep this gun in your vehicle or in a lock box on your night stand. On special occasions you may elect to carry this gun concealed but the size of the weapon will preclude you from carrying it full time.
The second handgun you will need is a much smaller version of your full size weapon. Ideally, this “compact concealed carry handgun” will operate and function in the same manner as your full size gun. Such compatibility is desirable but not always possible. The small size of this gun will make it harder to shoot well. This pistol will serve as your 24-7-365 firearm. This gun is small enough that you should never fail to carry it on any occasion that doing so is lawful.
You are better armed with a compact pistol on your hip than with a full size pistol located where you cannot reach it. I remember asking fellow police officers, “What gun do you carry off duty?” They would sometimes respond, “I carry my full size uniform pistol off duty.” My follow up question, “where is it now?” would often illicit an unsatisfactory answer. “It is at home,” or “it is in my car.” A small frame .38 or a 10 ounce .380 pistol in your hand will be more useful than a .45 auto at home in your gun safe. Many a good person has been killed just out of reach of the handgun that they should have been wearing. Small guns encourage concealed carry.
“The purpose of a handgun is to protect you and your loved ones from an unexpected deadly threat.” If you knew there was going to be a lethal confrontation you would leave the area, wait for the police, or obtain a shoulder weapon. As we know, criminals do not usually make appointments with their future victims. We defend ourselves with handguns because they are portable, concealable, and we are able to have a handgun on our person at all times.
If you select a revolver for your full size handgun, finding a small compact revolver will not be difficult. There are a plethora of small frame short barreled revolvers available. Semi-automatic pistols are made with different types of trigger actions, safeties, de-cocking levers, magazine release buttons and slide lock levers. If you select semi-automatic pistols, you should try to find a full size pistol and a compact pistol which have similar controls.
In terms of calibers, it is our experience that bigger calibers tend to incapacitate attackers more quickly than smaller calibers. With that said, we recommend that you defend yourself with the most powerful caliber that “you can control and shoot well.” Remember that a hit with a small caliber is preferable to a miss with a larger caliber and a hit with a larger caliber is better still.
Let us briefly compare semi-automatic pistols to revolvers. Each type of handgun has its strengths and weakness, especially for the new shooter. The revolver is generally considered to be easier to manipulate because there is no manual safety which must be disengaged prior to firing, and re-engaged after firing. There is no de-cocking lever which must be activated to “un-cock” the pistol after firing. There is no slide to operate which can be difficult for some shooters. Checking the condition of a revolver may be easier than checking the condition of a semi-automatic. Some semi-automatic pistols fire the first shot by trigger-cocking and subsequent shots are fired from a cocked condition. This necessitates learning to control two types of trigger action. In many ways the semi-automatic is a bit more complicated to operate correctly and requires more training and more follow up practice to remain proficient.
The semi-automatic pistol generally holds more cartridges, is faster to reload and when fired in the single action mode (already cocked) it can be easier to shoot accurately. In a struggle a revolver can be fired with the muzzle pressed into the attacker (not necessarily advised). Under these circumstances a semi-automatic pistol will possibly come out of battery, (the slide may become unlocked) momentarily preventing the pistol from firing. Conducting certain training drills can be accomplished more easily with the revolver. The revolver may use a much wider variety of ammunition than a semi-automatic because the semi automatic uses the recoil energy of its cartridge to function. A semi automatic requires full power ammunition in order to function properly.
The revolver does not rely on the power of its ammunition in order to function. Therefore you can use a very low recoil, low noise cartridge for initial training in a revolver and then work up the power scale gradually until you can control full power combat loads. As you can see revolvers and semi-automatics each have their strengths and limitations. Research is the key. You can find books and articles about any handgun. You should consider which type of handgun appeals to you and will give you confidence. Guns that you enjoy shooting will encourage you to practice and correct practice will help you to develop the skills necessary to successfully defend yourself.
Frequently, Stacey and I will be approached by someone who asks, “I just bought a ‘Spaceman 2500’ for self defense. What is your opinion of this gun?” Often we must reluctantly reply, “sorry, but we do not think much of the ‘spaceman 2500’. There are a lot of problems with that gun. We wish you had asked us before you acquired it.” Ask before you buy.
A handgun carried for self defense must be reliable and you must have confidence in your ability to use it properly. A quality handgun will last several lifetimes if properly maintained. You are buying a tool which may be in your family for generations. Do not skimp. Do the research. Talk to as many knowledgeable people as you can before making a purchase. Carefully consider how you intend to use these new tools. Prioritize your requirements and make an intelligent decision based on reason, not emotion. If the appearance of a particular gun appeals to you, this may be a consideration, but should not be the primary consideration, in making your selection. Compromise may lead to purchasing a gun which does nothing well. You will need at least two handguns for self defense.
Here is a brief list of some of the guns that Stacey and I have used during our careers.
S&W K frame revolvers such as the M-66 .357 Magnum with 4″ or 6″ barrel.
Colt M-1911 .45 ACP
S&W 4506/4566 .45 ACP
Glock M-22/M-23 .40
Compact concealed carry:
S&W J frame (5 shot .38/.357 Mag) revolvers with 2 ” barrel such as the M-638.
Ruger LCP .380
Colt Pony .380 (discontinued)
S&W M-12 .38 Spec (6 shot) Alloy frame (discontinued).
Note: There are now numerous small .380 and 9 mm pistols available for concealed carry. Many of these are new in the market place.
Additionally: At 6’4″ and 220 pounds, when properly attired I would comfortably carry guns from the following list and did so on a daily basis:
Colt 1911 (Light Weight) Commander .45 ACP
Glock M-27 .40
S&W M- 457 .45 ACP
S&W K frame M-64/M-65 3″ barrel .38 special/.357 Magnum
S&W M-3913 9 mm
What has worked well for Stacey and me may or may not work well for you. We hope that we have given you a starting point in your quest to find appropriate defensive handguns which will meet your specific needs.
This article is meant only as a general guide for potential gun buyers. The authors cannot be responsible or liable for the use or misuse of any information contained in this article. The authors suggest that you consult with recognized experts in the field of firearms before selecting a specific firearm and that you seek competent professional training before using any firearm.
In the next article we will discuss the need for and the selection of a rifle.
Larry and Stacey Mudgett