So you have decided that you want to purchase a handgun. Maybe it is for home defense, or concealed carry. Maybe you are fascinated by the engineering that goes into them, or you want to be prepared for societal collapse. Maybe you have a fireworks stash in your garage and want to defend your dog from murderous ATF agents hellbent on killing everything you love. Whatever the case may be, one of the hardest decisions to make is: “What gun should I get?”
There are numerous factors to consider when making your first firearm purchase. This article will go over some of the things to take into account.
I did not want to start off with this, but it often plays a primary role in the decision making process for first time buyers. Typically more so when you do not have much to spend. Fortunately, in the past few years there have been more and more low cost options coming from reputable manufacturers, so you won’t get stuck buying an absolute shit-tier brand if you do not have the cash to dump into something nicer.
For $200-300 you can get very basic handguns, both new and used, from manufacturers like Ruger or Smith & Wesson. In a forthcoming article I will discuss what I consider to be the better options in various price ranges.
The main determining factor in a gun purchase should be based on what you intend to use it for. A full size handgun works well for home defense, but it may not be the easiest to carry concealed. A gun that conceals well may not be much fun to put hundreds of rounds through during a day at the range. Regardless of intended usage, punisher skulls are for faggots. These are things to keep in mind when browsing online or local gun stores.
Wanting a gun that can do it all is common. I found out the hard way that a firearm that you think can do it all might not actually be able to for your specific circumstances. While the first handgun I ever purchased is an absolute joy to shoot at the range, and would be the first pistol I reached for if someone broke into my home, attempting to conceal it did not go as well as I assumed it would.
If you do not intend to carry the gun, your options are wide open and come down more to personal preferences.
Do everyone a favor and ignore boomers when it comes to this issue (and all issues). “Muh stoppin’ powah” is a meme for a reason. There are three main calibers that people generally consider when purchasing a defensive handgun. There are obviously many more options out there, but these calibers are the most abundantly produced, both in terms of firearms chambered for them and ammunition. They are 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. The meme generally states that 9mm is weak and ineffective, that .45 ACP is like the finger of God, and .40 S&W is acceptable.
With advances in modern ammunition design and materials, the difference in wound channels created by these different calibers is negligible. In the past few years 9mm has become even more popular because people are finally realizing this fact. And as much as 9mm has increased in popularity, .40 S&W has decreased. The .40 S&W is a caliber for try-hards who want a compromise between the “stoppin’ powah” of .45 ACP, and the magazine capacity of 9mm. Even law enforcement is jumping off the .40 S&W train in favor of duty weapons chambered in 9mm. If you are on a budget you can find decent quality law enforcement trade-in pistols chambered in .40 S&W for around $300 pretty regularly, though. It is still gayer than your mom, however.
In the battle between 9mm and .45 ACP, there are a few things to consider. While .45 ACP is not a bad cartridge, it is big (and kinda slow), which translates to roughly 2/3 to 3/4 the magazine capacity offered by 9mm handguns of the same size. Also, ammunition for .45 ACP is more expensive than 9mm. Generally speaking, there’s a difference of approximately 10 cents per round when buying cheap range ammo. Ten cents doesn’t sound like much, but if you go through two hundred rounds in a range visit you would be spending an extra $20 to do that with .45 ACP.
TL:DR: Just go with 9mm
All handguns can be concealed with the right holster and clothing, but some are more difficult to conceal than others. Your personal clothing preferences, body shape, climate, and other factors must be considered. If you find a gun that you are sure you can conceal, you need to be sure you can operate it effectively.
- A sub-compact gun that conceals like a charm oftentimes is not the most pleasurable to shoot. Small size and weight do little to mitigate felt recoil. This can translate to reduced practicing in terms of both time and quality. Understand that you may need to muster up a little more patience and willpower to become proficient with your carry gun if you go the sub-compact route. It should be noted that a derringer is not something that should be considered a sub-compact pistol. Derringers fall into the retard/boomer category of carry options, and will not be discussed as a serious choice.
- A compact pistol will be more comfortable and enjoyable to shoot, and still likely be concealable. However, it will be more difficult to conceal than a sub-compact. Choosing a quality holster is important regardless of gun size, but when concealing a larger gun, how the holster fits you is just as important as how it fits the gun.
- Concealing a full sized pistol is less common, but can still be done. Your body shape and clothing will typically play a larger role in the viability of carrying a full size.
Purchasing: Online or Local?
Many people I know who are newer to guns will skip buying online because it requires a little more effort than going to your local gun store (LGS) and just buying it there. Both options have advantages and disadvantages, and it comes down to whichever you are more comfortable with.
Buying online will almost always get you a better price for the gun, and you usually do not get hit by sales tax. However, that price does not include the cost of shipping or the Federal Firearms License (FFL) holder transfer fee. Shipping typically is not too bad, usually $10 or less in my experience, and free shipping is somewhat common as well. For transfer fees I have seen it range from $30-75 on handguns. To get an idea of your total cost for an online purchase, add $50 to the price listed on the website, and that should look pretty close to what your out the door price will be. Each online retailer will have a number of FFLs in your area on file that they have done business with, which will streamline the transaction. If you want to use an FFL who is not in their registry, it is as simple as contacting the FFL and telling them which retailer you are purchasing through, and they will need to fax their credentials to that retailer.
Buying locally will usually mean a bigger price tag, but it also means not paying shipping or transfer fees. Beware, though, since you will have to pay the sales tax, and occasionally the store will charge a fee for the background check. A pistol with a price tag of $400 can end up costing you closer to $440 when all is said and done if the shop is greedy.
[FFL Transfers Explained: When buying a firearm online, the retailer does not do any sort of background check because different states have different requirements. In order to legally sell you the gun, they have to ship it to someone who holds a Federal Firearms License, who will then carry out the background check before giving you your new firearm. FFL holder can charge whatever they like for their service; I have seen them charge anywhere from $30-$75 for handguns in my neck of the woods. Any store that sells firearms is required to have an FFL, so call around and check prices. You are not required to have a gun shop to have an FFL, though. If you talk to the right people in your area you may find an FFL somewhere you might not expect. It is not uncommon for a small business owner (think machine shops, metal fabricators, outdoor shops) to have an FFL and do transfers out of their shop for some extra cash. I personally go through a retired gentleman who got his FFL and does transfers out of his basement in his spare time for extra income.]
I had planned on diving into the differences between firing mechanisms, variations in safety mechanisms or the lack thereof, holsters, firearm manufacturers, etc. but decided that those warrant there own articles. There’s no sense in overloading you with the minutia right off the bat.
At the end of the day it is you who have to deal with your decision. The best route you can take is to go to a rental range and try a number of guns to figure out what suits you.
[You will never look this cool with your gun]