Buying a Handgun: What Should I Look For?

Right now there are a lot of people that have suddenly become interested in owning a firearm for the first time. I personally think this is a good thing. I like seeing people take their personal safety seriously instead of hoping that everything just works out for them and the police show up in time. But with this interest comes a burning question: “What gun should I buy?”

Now, if you’re looking for me to give you a specific model, you’re out of luck. I’m not a huge fan of telling someone they need Gun X. I prefer to give them a framework – some questions to ask themselves – and then let them figure out what gun works for them. With that in mind, let’s get started.

First, what do you intend to use the gun for?

A full size Sig Sauer P320

Mission should always drive gear. It doesn’t matter what gun I recommend if it doesn’t meet your intended use. Do you plan on using it primarily in your home or on your property? If so, I recommend a full-size gun such as the Glock 17, Smith and Wesson M&P full size, or the Sig P320 full size. The reason for this is that full-size guns tend to have a higher capacity and are more comfortable to shoot. Depending on the individual, they can also be concealed with a little effort if needed.

My primary carry gun – a fifth generation Glock 19

If your primary use is concealed carry, I’d recommend a compact sized gun such as the Glock 19, P320 Compact, or the M&P Compact. These guns still have a good capacity, are comfortable to shoot, and are going to conceal easier than a full size gun. Plus, you can still use them to defend your house with no issues.

Subcompact guns are generally a specialty gun, at least in my opinion. They have a significantly lower capacity (half or less that of a compact, typically), and can be much harder to shoot because of their size. This isn’t necessarily true of all subcompacts, but it is a general theme I’ve seen. I own and occasionally carry a Glock 43X and I’ve found it to be very easy to shoot, but it has been the exception as far as my subcompact experience goes.

Two subcompact guns, a P320 (left) and Glock 43X (right). I’ve found the Glock to be more controllable.

A new trend in the community is “carry” size guns, such as the P320 Carry or the Glock 45. These guns have a compact length barrel, but a full size grip (and capacity). I personally enjoy shooting these options, but the extended grip can be difficult to conceal for some individuals.

If you want a “do-all” gun or you can only get one gun, I’d probably recommend going with a compact. It’s a solid balance of control, capacity, and concealment.

Okay, what caliber should I get?

The easy answer? 9mm. Why? It’s easy to shoot, generally inexpensive and easy to find, gives you good capacity, and its performance is more than sufficient. I do not recommend .380, even though it’s all the rage right now, as you can get more performance from a 9mm with only a slight increase in recoil. Plus, .380 is normally associated with subcompact guns, and I’ve mentioned my issues with those above.

Why not .40, .45, etc.? A few reasons:

  1. The performance is not that much better. Ballistically, the performance you get out of a .40 or .45 is not that much better than modern, quality 9mm ammunition.
  2. The recoil is greater. This has several effects, including being harder to train with as a new shooter and being harder on your gun.
  3. The capacity is lower. Using Glock as an example, going from a 9mm to a .40 loses two rounds of capacity.
  4. It’s more expensive. For .40, ammo tends to be $.03-.05 more expensive than 9mm per round. For .45, ammo can be $.10-.20 more per round. That may not sound like much, but when you look at it, for a 50 round box, you’re talking $1.50 to $5 more per box. That’s going to add up, especially when you’ll still need magazines, holsters, and training.

The FBI actually did a study on this before they switched back to 9mm from .40. They found that the .40 they previously carried caused more training maintenance, and capacity issues than the 9mm for only a small (or sometimes no) improvement in performance. Lots of individuals out there are still stuck on “bigger is better,” but professional users have overwhelmingly switched to 9mm.

What do you recommend?

Personally, for the majority of people, I recommend a striker fired compact handgun from one of the widely used/adopted manufacturers: Sig Sauer, Glock, or Smith & Wesson. Heckler & Koch (H&K) make good guns, but their striker options are thin, as are accessories. CZ also makes good striker guns, but accessories are going to be a bit harder to find than the big three. I would avoid Springfield Armory XDs or most of the smaller brands. Springfield has had too many issues with quality control (and has useless features like a grip safety) and the smaller brands typically do not have the professional use track record of Sig, Glock, or S&W (or they primarily make subcompacts, see above). Plenty of guys will probably argue with me on this, but it’s my opinion, and it’s pretty solidly based in easily researched information.

But most importantly!

I cannot emphasize enough the need for you to go out and actually handle and shoot guns that you are interested in. Whether you go to a range that does rentals, or you borrow a friend’s gun that you might be interested in, the only way to know whether a gun works for you is to handle and shoot it. It doesn’t matter what gun I tell you to buy if you can’t work the controls easily or it doesn’t fit your hand. If you can’t shoot it, at the very least, get it in your hand and see how it fits. Can you reach the magazine and slide release easily? Can you get your finger fully on the trigger face? Can you work the slide? These are critical questions to ask before you decide on a gun.

Conclusion

I’m really happy that you’re thinking about purchasing a firearm and taking more responsibility for your personal/family safety. I want to make sure that when you make a purchase, it’s an informed purchase that will serve you well for years to come. If there is any way I can help, please contact me!

I hope this has been useful for you. If you enjoyed, give us a follow and a share. Social media really limits our ability to advertise, and organic shares always have the biggest impact. If you think I missed something or have a question, drop a comment below. Alternatively, you can contact me via my Facebook page, Google Hangout, or email at guntoter.official (at) gmail.com. I also have a Patreon page now if you would like to support the site.

Thanks for reading!

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