Gun Selection

This is the first in a series of articles by Susan.  For her background and shooting resume, click here.

So you’ve made the decision - you want to learn to shoot a handgun.  Congratulations.  No matter what reason brought you to this point, and no matter what form of handgun shooting you want to pursue, remember that this is a big step, and you should do everything possible to make certain it will be an enjoyable learning experience.

Your first inclination may be to rush out (well, as close to ‘rush’ as you can do with the legal restrictions placed on you) and purchase a firearm.  My suggestion is to wait - spending your money on a gun can come a bit later - first you need to find out what works best for you.

As I stated above, I strongly recommend that you wait before purchasing a handgun.  Why?  Well, obviously you need to know what works best for you - but if you’re not a shooter, how do you  know what to check for?

First, my advice is to take the time to attend a beginner class on handguns.  You may ask why not have a friend or loved one teach you?  Hmmm, remember how difficult it was learning to drive the car with dad?  There are certainly many success stories, but there also can be some stress involved.  Trained instructors have plenty of background in how to teach the basics, they know what methods to use in order to bring you along gradually to the point where you can shoot comfortably, accurately and most importantly, their emphasis is on safety - something we all take very seriously.

You will need to make a decision to spend anywhere from under $200 to well over $500 on a handgun - or you might even make the decision that handguns are not something you’re interested in after all.  That decision will be much easier when you have learned some basics on safe gun handling and shooting.

Many gun clubs put on NRA Basic Pistol or Personal Protection courses - these courses are taught by both male and female NRA certified firearms instructors.  If you can’t find any in your area, I suggest you call a few gun shops and ask if they know of any upcoming classes - typically they have a bulletin board with this type of information posted.  Another place to check is gun ranges to see if they put on basic courses.  If you’re lucky, you live near one of many well known private firearms training facilities and can attend a basic class.  Yes, to take a course you’ll be spending money (typically under $100.00 - which usually includes all manuals, use of firearms and ammunition) - but think about how much more knowledgeable you’ll be after taking the course.

In addition to providing familiarization with the myriad of details you’ll need to know; most beginner courses allow you to shoot different handguns.  Before registering, ask specifically if the course you are interested in has different size and caliber handguns available for use as part of the course fee.  If you have the option, you should find a location where you can shoot many different guns during the course - giving you a much better understanding of what type of handgun you should look for (and what to avoid) before you begin to shop.

If you can, I suggest that you start training with something very simple and light - a .22 is a very good choice.   Many suggest that you begin with a revolver, even if you intend to buy a semi-auto.  The important issue is to avoid beginning with a larger caliber.  Learning the proper grip, how to align your sights properly, and hit where you are aiming can be made much easier if you don’t need to think about the recoil and noise.

Without question you should have already invested in a pair of “ears” - hearing protection specifically manufactured for shooting, and “eyes” - a pair of safety glasses, if you do not wear glasses.  Hearing loss is cumulative - do not shoot without hearing protection.  Safety glasses prevent hot gasses, unburned powders and flying brass from causing eye damage.  These are not options - they are mandatory equipment for you to wear while shooting.

Learning to shoot on a lighter caliber gun allows you to focus on all the myriad things you’ve just been taught to do, and not develop a ‘flinch’ in anticipation of the gun firing.  Flinching typically causes the bullet to impact somewhere you hadn’t planned - once begun, this bad habit can be difficult to unlearn.

If you’re not convinced yet that you should take a beginner course, an added benefit is that in many states that allow permits for concealed handgun carry, attending a basic firearms course is a prerequisite.

OK - I’m going to assume you’ve decided to take a course - are signed up and all excited to learn to shoot.  Good for you!

So what should you look for when you finally go out to purchase a handgun?  First, you must consider your needs.  Is your plan to only use the gun at a range or in a safe, unoccupied area for ‘plinking’?  Are you interested in competition shooting, where speed and accuracy are key?  Are you more concerned with personal protection - either keeping the gun at home or having it with you, wherever allowed by law?  While taking a basic course, did you find any guns too large or too small to properly grip?  Did you find any calibers too uncomfortable to shoot?  If you have any medical problems (i.e. - tendonitis, arthritis, etc.) you may want to stay away from heavy caliber guns and pick a gun in a 9 mm or .38 cal). Your answer to these questions will help narrow your selection.

It is helpful to have someone who is familiar with handguns come with you when you begin your search for a gun of your own, but remember - their opinions and choices may work perfectly for them, but may not always be your best choice.

I obviously cannot tell you which gun will work best for you.  But I can provide some focus on what to look for in a firearm.

Above all - be certain that the gun fits your hand properly.  Don’t be tempted by something that looks nice and has all the guys ooohing and awwwing over it (yes, guns can be ‘guy magnets’!) - if the gun is too large for your hand, you will quite probably never shoot it well and learning on it will be very difficult.  As an instructor, I have seen couples attend a class and bring their one and only gun.  The gun can be too large for the woman to grip properly and she may not be able to shoot as well with it as she can with one of the club’s smaller sized ‘loaner’ guns.  In one instance a couple came in with a revolver with small sized grips - the wife shot the gun much better than her husband, as it fit her hand properly; he did better with a ‘loaner’ gun with larger grips.  Think of a pair of shoes... it’s rare that you’ll find one pair that will fit everyone.

No matter what choice you make for a handgun - you will need to find a safe way to secure the firearm when it‘s not in use.  Trigger locks work fine, but do not secure the gun from sight or from being stolen.  There are gun safes out there that are sized to fit just one handgun which can be bolted to heavy furniture or a bedframe, all the way up to a gun safe large enough to walk into.  There are also gun safes designed not to look like safes at all.  Whatever type you choose, please be certain you have it when you bring your gun home and secure your gun in it when it is not in use - thus keeping anyone from handling the gun that should not have access to it  (keep the gun safe from them, and keep them safe from the gun).


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