Purchasing A Handgun
Buying a handgun is a veritable minefield! There are literally hundreds of pistols and revolvers from which to choose, not to mention the differing calibers, new and used. However, here are some considerations:
- What is your purpose in buying a handgun?
- Do you want a semi-auto pistol or a revolver?
- What caliber do you want?
- Do you want a standard frame gun or a lightweight gun?
- Do you want a stainless steel gun?
These are just a few things to consider. Let’s discuss these.
Never buy a handgun without trying it out first! There are numerous ranges where you can rent various handguns to try them out. Most ranges charge about $10 per hour for their rentals, and YOU must buy the ammo! On the other hand, our basic course includes sampling both pistols and revolvers from .22 to .45 caliber, with us supplying some sample ammo for each! You will get to fire .22, .38SPL, 9MM, .40S&W, and .45ACP. (We do not recommend firing .357 ammo because it is too powerful and degrades the gun.) Firing these guns provides an idea as to what is right for you, and what you can handle safely and effectively. DON’T go buy a handgun just because it feels comfortable in your hand!
You should have a purpose for buying a handgun. There can be several reasons such as home defense, or target shooting, or both. If you don’t know why you are buying a gun, don’t do it! Otherwise it will just sit in a drawer or the closet, and you will not be effective if you have to use it. Further, if you decide morally that you could never shoot or kill an adversary, DON’T BUY A GUN! You can use Wasp Spray or Brake Solvent to ward off an attack, or buy a stun-gun of course.
Should you buy a semi-auto pistol or a revolver?
During my 40 years of instructing I have discovered that more than 90% of women wind up with a revolver. The reason is obvious – it is very simple and doesn’t require much thought as to how to use it in your home at 3:00AM! No safeties or magazines to deal with – just point and pull the trigger!
If you decide to buy a revolver, DON’T BUY A HAMMERLESS one! These are very dangerous because they are double-action only – you can’t cock the hammer. A bad person can easily disable your gun by just grabbing it by the cylinder. If the cylinder doesn’t turn, you can't fire the gun!
If you are a woman, DON’T BUY A LIGHTWEIGHT SNUBNOSE revolver! Once you fire one you’ll understand why. It impacts your wrist and is very inaccurate beyond 20 feet because the barrel is so short. Also, don’t buy a revolver in any caliber other than .22, .38SPL, or .357, in which you can use .38SPL ammo. There are many oddball revolvers for sale cheap chambered for oddball ammo that is hard to find and very expensive. Stick with these standard calibers.
The best revolver to buy is a Colt, Smith & Wesson, or Ruger, preferably with a minimum 4-inch long barrel, and an adjustable rear sight. This way you can use it for home defense as well as at the range accurately.
One advantage of a revolver, verses a semi-auto is; you can load a revolver and keep it in your closet or drawer for years without touching it. In a year or two or more when you do take it out it will work just fine, all six rounds.
That is not the case with a semi-automatic. You can be sure that after a year or more in your drawer, try to fire that thing and you’ll see it jam. The springs in it would have been too compressed for far too long. The gun oil will have turned to gum or glue and it will jam. This gives the revolver the upper hand on shelf life. Add the combination of reliability, ridiculous firepower, and high level of accuracy and the revolver wins.
However the draw back is the number of rounds you can load at one time and the speed of reloading. That goes to the semi-auto hands down.
If you decide to buy a semi-auto pistol, buy the best and most reliable one built! If it jams when you need it most, it is worthless! There are numerous pistols that are worthy, but I prefer the SIGARMS line, especially their 9MM, .40S&W, and .45ACP. The most accurate are the 9MM and .45ACP in models SP2022, P229, and P220. If you can find one of these used, and it checks out, BUY IT! There is always the venerable 1911A1 originally known as the “Colt 45” used by our military even today with our Special Forces. There is no better bullet for stopping power than the .45ACP. There are dozens of companies producing 1911s since the Colt patent expired, such as SIGARMS, Smith & Wesson, Kimber, and other lesser names. If it is made to the Colt print, it should be acceptable, but there are some idiocyncracies with a 1911 pistol. It is only single-action – you must cock it to fire it. The SIGs, for example, can be fired for the first round double action if a round is chambered, and the SIGs have a lever that will lower the hammer safely after chambering a round. The 1911 doesn’t have this safety feature.
With a semi-auto pistol you need to deal with safety devices and magazines. If you don’t keep the pistol ready with a loaded magazine in it, and/or a round chambered, imagine attempting to do all that in the dark a 3:00AM after you hear glass breaking in your home! Adrenalin will be increasing, and worrying about these things will distract your attention from the intruder. BUY A REVOLVER-POINT AND SHOOT! If you decide to buy a semi-auto pistol, practice with it often, and KEEP IT SQUEAKY CLEAN! A revolver will tolerate a buildup of powder residue and still function reliable – a semi-auto pistol will not.
If you decide to buy a gun in stainless steel, a revolver is no problem maintaining it. However, if you buy a semi-auto in stainless, you MUST grease the slide rails with a special stainless steel grease called “RIG”. Since the slide and rails are made from the same stainless material, you need a reliable grease barrier to prevent wear and galling. A good example is the brakes on your car. The brake pads are softer material than the rotors so that the cheaper pads wear and not the rotors.
Under certain conditions it is acceptable to purchase a used gun. They must be inspected and this website has specific inspection requirements under Gun Maintenance on the sidebar. (Revolver Inspection, S&W Revolver Inspection,
SIG Maintenance, Semi Auto Inspection,Weapons Inspection Semi - Automatic) A gun that has been properly cared for can be a great buy! I have several in my collection, both revolvers and pistols. If you have any doubt, have it checked by a reliable gunsmith. Also, buy guns from reputable sources. Most reputable gun dealers, such as City Arms East in Pleasant Hill, rely on positive word-of-mouth from satisfied customers.
By means of fair-and-balanced disclosure, I own SIG pistols in .22, 9MM, .40S&W, and .45ACP. These are the Mosquito .22, P228 in 9MM, SP2022 in .40S&W, and P220 in .45ACP. I also own numerous Smith & Wesson revolvers such as Model 14 in .38SPL, Model 15 in .38SPL, Model 17 in .22LR, Model 19 in .357, and Model 36 in .38SPL. I use these in my instruction class.
In the past I have owned 1911A1 pistols by Colt and Springfield, numerous Glocks in .40S&W and .45ACP, HK USP Compact in .45ACP, Beretta 92 in 9MM, FN P9R in 9MM, and others. I no longer own any of these, standardizing on SIGs and Smith & Wesson revolvers because I believe them to be the very best for my purposes.
Lastly, I am associated with City Arms East in Pleasant Hill. Their info is on the right-hand sidebar of this website just under the NRA! I have found them to be extremely reputable and knowledgeable, and they stand behind the products they sell. They also caution you to try out a gun before you buy one. They will not try to sell you a gun they suspect you can’t safely and satisfactorily handle. They want your gun purchase to be a positive buying experience so you will recommend them to your friends.
Again, try any gun at the range before you buy it! You can fire mine during my class!
What caliber gun should you buy? Again, it depends upon you reason for buying a gun. If you want an all-around gun then buy a revolver in .38SPL or .357 (and use only .38SPL ammo in it!), with a 4” barrel and an adjustable rear sight. For home defense purposes you want a low-power cartridge like the standard .38SPL round nose lead bullet. If you fire this inside a home at an intruder it will probably stay with the home and/or the intruder without going through several walls and into a neighbor’s home! You can also load the gun with flatnose bullets called “wadcutters”, which are lower power yet. Dealers also sell very specific home defense cartridges that are called hollowpoints – check with your local gun dealer. DO NOT USE .357 AMMO! This is a very high power load that was originally designed for law enforcement. It will go through several people, several walls, and keep on going down the road! It’s beneficial to buy a .357 revolver, but only use .38SPL ammo in it.
If you buy a semi-auto pistol, the basic calibers are .9MM, .40S&W, and .45ACP. Unfortunately, you can’t load these with low power cartridges because they are designed to use only specific power cartridges to properly operate the slide.
Remember, .38SPL, 9MM, .40S&W, or .45ACP!
Peter M. Friedman*
NRA Training Counselor, NRA Law Enforcement Handgun Instructor, LEOSA HR218 Firearm Requalification, CA BSIS Guard & Firearm Training Instructor, NRA Pistol, Rifle, Shotgun Instructor
*Former Deputy – San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Dept.
*Member – Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Posse
*NRA Life Member 140506318