The recent rise in the number of concealed-carry permit holders translates to a lot of first-time gun owners purchasing firearms. If you’re a long-time shooter who grew up around firearms the notion that buying a gun could be intimidating is hard to fathom—in fact, buying a new gun is one of the activities most seasoned shooters enjoy most. But if you’ve never bought a firearm (or maybe never even been in a gun store), then the task of selecting and purchasing a firearm can be a challenge. Primarily, a lot of people don’t want to look stupid, which is perfectly understandable, but they also want to be sure that their hard-earned money is well-spent and they don’t end up buying the wrong gun. Here are five tips that will ensure you find the gun you’re looking for.
1. Do Your Homework: There is, for better or worse, lots of info on the internet. Some of it is sound, and some of it is not. Sticking with trusted online resources like Shooting Illustrated, American Rifleman, or their print counterparts is a step in the right direction, and you can also pick up one of the many books (or ebooks) written on the topic of concealed carry. You don’t necessarily need to know the model you want when you walk into the gun store, but you should have some idea of the type of gun (revolver or semiauto) and the caliber you’re looking for.
2. Find a Gun that Fits You: When new shooters ask me what I carry I’m careful with my response. Some people love the way that a semiauto feels in the hand and how easy they are to conceal. Others prefer the simplicity of a revolver. Some shooters prefer a gun that’s equipped with a laser while other shooters prefer white or fiber-optic iron sights. That said, popular concealed carry guns are popular for a reason; guns like Ruger’s LC9s, Walther’s PPS, Smith & Wesson’s Shield and their J-Frame revolvers are a good place to start when you're making your list of possibles.If you find a gun shop with a range where you’ll have an opportunity to shoot the gun safely, that’s even better. One of the best opportunities to shop around for guns, in my opinion, is at the NRA Annual Meetings each year, when every major handgun manufacturer will be on-hand with experts who can answer your questions and who aren’t trying to sell you a gun at the show. A handful of people to whom I’ve made that recommendation said that the experience provided them with the information they needed to make an accurate purchase. If you have friends that own firearms, ask if you can accompany them to the range. Guns are an investment, and as with any other investment you need to have as much info as possible beforehand.
3. Choose the Right Store: If you’re seeking advice on which gun to buy, be careful whom you ask. When I purchase a gun I do so from Jeff Steele who owns a small gun shop in Ohio. Why? Because guns are Jeff’s livelihood and he’s grown up around them. He’s passionate about his profession and he offers sound advice on selecting a firearm. You can’t, however, be guaranteed that level of service and knowledge when you purchase a firearm at a large chain store. Sure, some people in those stores may know about guns, but not all do. Some might be manning the gun counter this week after spending the last three years selling golf clubs. Stores like Bass Pro and Cabela’s are exceptions because firearms are an integral part of the business, but the person behind the counter at the megastore may not be well-suited to offer a sound recommendation. It’s not out of line to ask someone about their past experience with firearms. Don’t feel like you have to buy a gun at the first shop that you enter, either. Spend time shopping around to be sure that you’re getting the best price.
4. Opinions are Not Rules: Devotees of the 9mm will say that the .45 ACP is obsolete. Fans of the .45 say the 9mm is unfit for personal defense, and .40 S&W fans think they have the best of both worlds. Those of us who are familiar with guns can engage in these arguments and separate fact from fiction. To new shooters it sounds like no matter which gun they choose, they’ll be wrong.
There are a number of different calibers that will work for self-defense provided you have the right ammunition (more confusion!). But the .380, 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP and .38 Special have all proven to be effective defensive cartridges. There are brand loyalists who will fight for their favorite firearm (and against all other makes) with equal passion, but in truth there are many different gun designs and brands that work well for defense. The real question, though, is how comfortable you are with a firearm. When you pull your chosen firearm from concealment can you fire it comfortably? Is it accurate? Are you familiar with the gun’s operation and can you handle, store, carry and shoot it safely? Seeking the advice of a seasoned shooter is a good idea, but it’s more important to find a gun that you enjoy shooting and carrying.
5. Spend More Time At the Range Before You Buy: It may seem odd to buy a membership to a shooting range before you actually purchase your firearm, but there are benefits. Whether you’re shooting with friends in the back yard or you enroll in a next-level shooting course, the more experience and trigger time you have the better equipped you’ll be to know what you like and what you don’t like. Most shooters feel that they immediately need to purchase a gun when they obtain their CCW permit, but rushing to purchase or buying a gun strictly on the opinions of others is not as valuable as spending time shooting a wide variety of guns and finding what works for you.