One of the questions I often get, almost daily in fact, is; what firearm should I buy? If you are a salesman working on commission, this is a great question to be asked. Since I am not on commission, nor a salesman, my main concern is getting customers a product that will perform for them and will be appropriate for their needs. This makes answering that question a slightly more complicated issue.
To address my friends making their first purchases, I offer the 5 following guidelines: AS A PREFACE TO THESE FIVE CONSIDERATIONS, I ALWAYS FIRST ASK: (THIS WILL HELP SEASONED SHOOTERS MOST)
WHAT DO YOU PLAN ON DOING WITH IT? Since firearms are purpose-built, understanding what your interests and needs are will really help you narrow down you choices and do away with guns that will not be appropriate for your needs.
This is also important for the novice shooter but since the arena of firearms involvement is considerably large, knowing what type of shooting you would like to do may be a difficult question to answer. If you know you want to one day compete in a certain type of shooting, finding firearms which are appropriate for that use may aid in your selection process.
1) HOW DOES IT FEEL IN YOUR HANDS?
With proper grip and technique, a small-handed individual like myself can learn to manage any size firearm, keeping of course within reason. Regardless, there are pistols etc. that you will pick up that will feel much more natural and comfortable immediately once it is in your hands. If you are new to shooting, you may want to ask the salesperson some questions about proper grip and technique to aid you in your selection. Like all things, take what you are told with a grain of salt, but it is a great way to get some free shooting tips.
When it comes to pistols, it is much easier to determine if the firearm in your hand is comfortable or not. Most pistols vary in their ergonomics, and you will find some fit into your hand much better than others. With rifles etc. issues like length of pull, and the size and weight of the firearm will come into play. Remember, shooting involves many muscles that are not normally exercised in your daily life, so a gun may feel a bit cumbersome or bulky because it is unfamiliar. Again, this is a great opportunity to get some tips on shooting from your local gun store.
Go with what feels most natural. It is my primary suggestion in which to help lead people towards making a smart purchase.
2) HOW WILL YOUR WALLET MANAGE IT?
A Dan Wesson, or Ed Brown is an amazing pistol out of the starting gate, but if you do not have $3000 set aside for your first purchase, perhaps choose a more economical firearm. Keep in mind that once you purchase your firearm, it is the ammunition costs that are going to stack up quickly. If you are a first-time purchaser, most likely you are dealing with all of the other expenses necessary to get you into shooting sports; eyes and ears, storage, cases etc. I always suggest buying well, and buying once, and if its a matter of a few hundred dollars more to get a much better firearm, I suggest biting the bullet, and spending a bit extra to get a great tool. That being said, there are many mid-range firearms that will serve your purpose excellently, without breaking the bank. In this category, it always pays to be an informed shopper, and the more research you do, the more prepared you will be to part with your hard earned dollars and cents. Second hand firearms may be a way to offset cost, but unless you know what where to look for trouble, it may overcomplicate the already complicated issue of buying your first firearm.
3) HOW DOES YOUR EYE LIKE IT?
Let’s be honest with each other; guns have that cool factor, and some certainly more than others. As a first purchase, find a gun that is aesthetically pleasing. This is an area often over-looked by most people, but I find that if you are not ‘happy’ with your purchase, or you don’t find that first firearm ‘cool’, you may be less motivated to get out with it and actually practice. A first firearm purchase is exciting, so find something that draws your eye. Number 3 mainly applies to recreational shooters, so if you are mirroring what your agency uses, than you really do not need my help, and go with the platform that you will be relying on. Keep in mind though “all that glitters is not gold” so put the proper amount of emphasis on the look of your gun. Deciding between a blued or stainless finish may determine how well you have to take care of your firearm, and you may want to opt for the less-flashy firearm in order to reduce your headaches when caring for your weapon.
4) WHAT DOES IT COME WITH?
This is important, especially for a first time shooter. Many firearm manufacturers are working very hard to get your money, so they are including such things as holsters, mag pouches, loaders and extra magazines. While these extra treats may be appealing, there is also something to be said about spending your money on a good gun, instead of being swooned by ‘freebies’. Many higher-end firearms come with one mag, or in the case of AR’s, naked, to allow you to customize as you see fit, and to let you know exactly where your money is going. While not critical to your purchase, it is something that may make it easier to decide between your numerous options.
5) HOW ACCESSIBLE ARE PARTS AND ACCESSORIES?
Like all things, firearms will and do breakdown. When they do, how difficult is it going to be to find replacement parts? There are many fantastic guns out there that may be exactly what you want, but finding a replacement part will keep you off the range for months while you wait watching your mailbox. For the seasoned shooter this may be less of an issue, but for a first purchase buying that rare firearm that no one at the range has may be a tempting choice, but one which may come around to bite you on the rear. For a first pistol, I do recommend buying something more common so that if these issues arise, a quick trip to the local gun store should be able to provide a solution.
Many people shoot their guns stock, meaning they do not alter it from its original production, while many others live to customize a firearm and truly make it their own. If you are of the latter category, finding a firearm that will be easy to find after-market parts for may be your best bet. Otherwise, you can stray into the rarer side of things and deal with finding parts when the situation arises.
As for holsters and gear some firearms offer a great variety and selection, and some will sit you at your computer for hours trying to source what you need. I love the Steyr M9A1, but in Canada, finding magazines or holsters for them is a near impossibility. To me, this fact makes it a pistol I would shy away from.
Being an informed consumer, seeking good advice, and lastly, getting onto the range with the firearms you are interested in is really going to make your life easier. Understand that most advice you will get is going to come from a place of personal preference rather than hard data, so be aware of this and do not fall victim to another person’s prejudices.
Finally, to avoid debate with everyone, I am going to state that I recommend beginning with a firearm that is chambered in a common round. For pistols, my usual advice is to go with a 9mm. It is relatively cheap when compared to .40S&W and .45ACP and unlike .22lr, it will allow you to practice your recoil management. With rifles, again depending on your need, I would go with common calibres like 7.62×54 Nato/.308 Win, 5.56 Nato / .223 Rem, 7.62×39 etc etc.
I hope this serves some use to you, and I look forward to hearing how you make your purchases and what comparisons you use.
Train well, train often