It’s the question most often asked of a handgun instructor. What is the best handgun to buy? It’s a reasonable enough question… especially to the person who has never shot, much less bought, a handgun.
The answer to the question is obviously more complex than the question itself. In fact, the answer to the question begins with a question…which usually leads to more questions. I know, you’re not supposed to answer a question with a question. But, as I stated previously, it is a complex answer.
Here are some of the questions:
What are you going to use the handgun for? I know, it sounds like an overly simplistic question. But if the purpose of the handgun is for concealed carry, you can rule out the large revolvers that would make excellent hunting choices for deer or similar sized game. In contrast, a pocket pistol typically does not meet the legal requirements for hunting game in most states.
Let’s assume that you are looking for a handgun for self-defense purposes. Do you intend to carry the gun? Again, it sounds like an overly simplistic question. However, many people will choose to purchase a handgun to keep at home or possibly in their vehicle. If you are not intending to carry the handgun, size and weight become less important issues. There are advantages to purchasing a larger and heavier handgun. Capacity is the first advantage that usually comes to mind. Larger handguns typically hold more rounds of ammunition than smaller handguns. A full-size semi-auto handgun can typically accept magazines that hold 10-15 rounds depending on the specific handgun. Extended magazines are also available for some handguns that hold 30+ rounds. Smaller pocket pistols may only hold 2 to 7 rounds. Again, this depends on the specific handgun make and model. However, the rule is that the smaller the handgun, the less rounds that it will hold.
The weight of the handgun works the same way. As a rule, the smaller the handgun… the less it will weigh. If you intend to carry the gun every day, less weight becomes a consideration to be factored into the decision making process. If the gun will sit in the nightstand drawer or the glovebox, being lightweight is not really an advantage. In fact, it can be a disadvantage. A heavier handgun absorbs more recoil when the gun is fired than a lighter handgun. This means that the shooter will feel less recoil when shooting a larger handgun of the same caliber.
The effect of handgun weight reducing the felt recoil also means that a person can choose a handgun in a larger caliber in a heavier gun when compared to a more lightweight handgun. Smaller framed women often come to the conclusion that they need a small framed handgun. I have repeatedly had these women shoot a compact handgun followed by a full size handgun of the same caliber. Without exception, they have always determined that the recoil of the full size handgun is more comfortable than the recoil of the compact handgun.
We can easily come to the conclusion that the larger handguns with more weight and greater capacity may be a good choice if the handgun will not be carried on a regular basis. On the other hand, if you intend to carry daily and your daily attire consists of wearing business clothes, a compact, lightweight pocket gun is far more valuable than no handgun at all. Somewhere in the middle, when wearing casual clothing, a compact semi-auto can usually be carried (and concealed) rather comfortably without great effort.
There are some other important questions. How much time will you invest in learning to operate the handgun? How much dexterity do you have in your hands? I know individuals that were wise enough to be honest with themselves and admit that they will not be able to spend a great deal of time practicing with their self-defense handgun. As a result, they chose to purchase a 5-shot revolver. This allowed them to become proficient with the handgun with less time invested in practice and drills. Malfunctions are certainly less frequent and typically easier to correct with a revolver.
It can be a real challenge to even load a round into the chamber of a semi-auto pistol for someone with arthritis or other issues that limit dexterity in their hands. As many people get older, they lose strength in their hands or develop arthritis. Surgeries on hands and wrists often reduce dexterity. Opting to select a revolver eliminates many of the functions necessary to operate a semi-auto pistol.
Different handguns have different controls that must be operated. A revolver is simple enough to operate… point and squeeze the trigger. Reloading is usually pretty straight forward as well. A single-action pistol has more controls which may include a safety, magazine release, slide release, take-down lever, grip safety, etc. Then, somewhere in the middle, is the double-action only pistols.
So, what is the best handgun for you to buy? Consider the questions discussed above.
- What are you going to use the handgun for?
- Will you carry the handgun or store it somewhere accessible?
- How will you carry it? How easily can you conceal it?
- How much time will you invest in becoming proficient with the handgun?
- How able are you to operate the controls on the handgun?
One of the most common misconceptions that I encounter is the belief that you must purchase a handgun before learning to shoot. The reverse is true. Find a friend or a local range that will provide instruction. Ask to shoot different handguns in different calibers. Spend some time on the range becoming familiar with the handguns and the calibers available.