Narrowing Your Handgun Choices When Buying New

By Jim Golden

Glock G19 Pistol
Glock G19 Pistol
Inside the X Ring
Inside the X Ring

USA –  -( It's mid-2016, a critical election year for the U.S., and if you're considering your first handgun purchase ahead of an unknown election outcome, you might be overwhelmed by the current array of choices.

Narrowing the field to one or two can be a real challenge for anyone, but especially for the new, or casual firearms enthusiast.

One of the first, most fundamental decisions you need to make is whether you want a revolver, or a semi-auto pistol.

Once that simple decision is made, assuming you choose the auto, and assuming the gun will be used primarily for home defense, personal protection and recreational / target shooting…

You still need to consider a host of other things, such as:

  • Full-size, compact, subcompact, or a pocket pistol? Each has a place, but as with all things in life, there are trade offs. Not all are good choices for the new or casual shooter. To a point, larger guns, while still being quite concealable, are easier to shoot accurately, which increases confidence and fun. It doesn’t necessarily work the other way around, the old saying bigger is better runs true.
  • Decide on the manual of arms, which defines how you interact with, and operate the gun: grip, safety, trigger, action, magazine release, etc. Do you prefer Double Action Only, Single Action Only, or a combination of the two, commonly referred to as DA/SA or double / single. How do you feel about external controls like an external hammer, a manually operated safety, and/or a de-cocker, and a slide-stop?
  • What caliber will you choose? Most popular handgun models are offered in your choice of 9 x 19mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. While there may be some who still believe it's not a real gun unless it's chambered for something that starts with a “4”, some very impressive, extremely knowledgeable organizations, like the FBI, may disagree.
  • Are you partial to any one particular firearms manufacturer? Believe it or not there are actually somewhere over 60 handgun / pistol manufactures in the U.S. alone. (Can you name more than 10?)
  • Finally, you should give some thought to accessories and colors. Having the capability to perfectly fit the gun to your hand, through interchangeable grip panels, back-straps, front- straps, or even complete grip frames, is very important. Likewise, the ability to mount a weapon-light, laser sight or an optic is certainly a tactical advantage for any handgun slated for defensive use. And while it may not do anything for how the gun performs, more than ever before, there may be color choices to make. Pimping your Gun has been a HOT trend for a few years now. Beyond traditional black or stainless, many of today’s popular handguns can be had in the extremely popular FDE (Flat Dark Earth), ODG (Olive Drab Green), two- tone combination, and even pink, which is quite popular with the ladies.

And it seems whenever you talk guns, everyone has an opinion, and is all to happy to share it, whether you want it or not, and regardless of whether or not they own a gun themselves, or have ever actually even fired one. You’ll hear everything from, “Why do you need a gun?”, to, “Oh, you NEED to get a this, or a that… [insert brand and model of choice.]”

Some may suggest asking a Police Officer for recommendations, but not all Police Officers are gun guys and gals. You’ll certainly get a wealth of information if you find an Officer that is a true Firearms enthusiast – the department’s armorer is usually a solid bet – but if they don’t know much about guns, and don’t want to admit it, you may simply get a recommendation for whatever’s in the holster at the time.

So, yeah, while seasoned experts may take these considerations for granted, it quickly gets daunting for the new shooter.

This is especially true while nervously standing at the gun counter, sensitive to other customers, interacting with a potentially grumpy know-it-all salesman, and probably at least a little distracted by all those powerful, awesome looking, bright shiny objects in the counter.

To help you cut through the vast array of available choices further, read my article “My Top Two Handgun Recommendations” that narrows down the field to two excellent recommendations, along with what I think makes them such great choices.

Please check it out and let me know what you think!

SIG SAUER P320 Polymer-Frame Service Pistol
SIG SAUER P320 Polymer-Frame Service Pistol

About Jim Golden:
Jim is an NRA Certified Instructor who was introduced to firearms safety and shooting sports at 5 years old by his Dad, a NJ State Trooper. Since then, Jim has safely enjoyed shooting sports for over 35 years. He loves to educate new shooters, and enjoys generating interest in the sport. His primary goal is to promote safe handling and use of firearms for ALL LEGAL PURPOSES.  Be Aware. Be Prepared. Be Safe. Visit:

  • 11 thoughts on “Narrowing Your Handgun Choices When Buying New

    1. Anything is better than nothing,as long as you are proficient with it.don,t be mislead bigger is better by suedo experts,and personally ,I do not like polymer [plastic guns] what will they look like in 10 years??? Think ,heat and plastic,
      manufactures know this,but only see it as a way to keep a constant steel

    2. The number one technique for picking YOUR gun is to go shoot one. Buying a gun you have not shot is like buying shoes you never tried on. The second part of that is being educated on the differences and advantages of different types. Striker fired, single action, DAO, double/single, with or without a safety, with or without a decocker, or a DAO revolver all have their good and bad points. Having the differences explained by some one with no ax to grind, not “a 1911 guy”, a Glock guy”, or a salesman having a slow week, will get the buyer a gun that matches their physique, competence level, and circumstances. I’ve trained far, far too many people who hated the gun their husband, boyfriend, father, or sibling bought for them. Just as many have depended on the advice of the “guy at the gunstore”, or the latest article in some magazine. Others will never practice enough to be competent with a single action or single double with a decocker. I worked with one mother and daughter who were sold an S&W 640 revolver. It’s a damn fine gun, but neither of them had the hand strength TO MAKE THE GUN FIRE.

    3. Say what people want to
      I enjoyed the article and hold high respect for the author. He expressed his views quite well
      I am looking forward to more articles like this one.

    4. Just to clue the author in, the FBI is NOT a ‘very impressive, extremely knowledgeable organization’. Far from it. And to clue oldshooter in, no matter what anyone claims, the .22 LR, 25 ACP and 32 ACP are WORTHLESS for self defense purposes. I have seen small caliber rounds fail to penetrate the skull when fired from close distances.

      1. I’d like to read more about your experience with the FBI that leads to your conclusion that the FBI is “…Not a very impressive, extremely knowledgeable organization.” I’d also like to read more about your seeing “small caliber rounds fail to penetrate the skull when fired from close distances.” What kind of skull? Was it an old skull sitting out on the prairie or one in current use? What distance? Which calibers? Was this an organized test or impromptu?

      2. First off-NO bullet is actually worthless for defense, although some are obviously better than others. Second, maybe you should read my post more carefully. I specifically said that I was not recommending anyone choose a .22 for self-defense. I simply pointed out that people should consider their ability to shoot a pistol accurately, a factor that is generally increased by less recoil and cheaper ammo, more strongly than the caliber or reputed “stopping power” of the pistol. And I stand by that recommendation, since all the reliable and relevant research data support it. I generally think folks would be better off going with the heaviest caliber they can shoot accurately, as long as they can afford to practice regularly (which means that the cost of ammo must be within reach, and the ammo must be available). I considered changing up from.45 to a 10mm 1911, a while ago (I wanted to be able to hunt with my regular daily carry gun), but the cost and availability of ammo ruled that our for me.

    5. The research, which is now voluminous, clearly indicates that there is no such thing as a caliber that will give reliable 1-shot stops. The old saw about getting hit anywhere with a .45 and going down is just that, an old saw. It isn’t true. It isn’t even true for Dirty Harry’s .44 magnum! In fact, the single most important element of stopping someone with a pistol bullet is not related to caliber, but solely to shot placement. If you want to stop an attacker in his tracks and drop him with 1 shot, then you MUST hit him in the spinal chord (including the brain). Not even the heart will always do it that quickly and reliably. A .22 bullet in the brain will stop someone faster and more reliably than a .44 magnum bullet in the arm. So how do you maximize your chances of hitting the spinal column with your first shot, especially under great stress? You practice, practice, and practice some more.
      So, perhaps we ought to start considering the elements of a pistol that will permit both frequent practice and good accuracy, rather than worrying only about that fictitious “stopping power.” There are two major elements in a pistol that will lead to more practice, and better accuracy, for most people. Those are cost of ammo and recoil. The less of those 2 things you have, the more you can afford to practice, and the more accurate you are likely to become. So, am I advocating for everyone carrying a .22 for self-defense – no, I’m not. I personally carry a double stack 1911 or a competition model XD(m), both of which give me 14 rounds of .45 (and I always carry them along with 2 spare mags). However, I practice a lot, I can still handle recoil pretty well, and I am a former competitive shooter, although I’m getting kind of long in the tooth for that now.
      Most new shooters I know are significantly better with a .22 to start off, and then with a 9mm or .38, usually much better than they are with a .45 or .357. If they are more likely to shoot a 9mm more, and to carry it more often, then that’s probably what they should get. While I personally like the potential impact of my .45, I also think I can probably put a couple of rounds into the spinal chord with it at reasonable pistol ranges (and maybe even somewhat unreasonable ranges!), even under stress. If my arthritis gets so bad that I feel I can no longer do that reliably, then I will downshift to a 9mm or even something smaller, if necessary. But the primary consideration for me will always be more about how well I can shoot a pistol, than how big the bore is.
      Sometimes age or physical condition make changing guns necessary, and we shouldn’t resist it when it happens. The reason I got an XD(m) was because my now arthritic thumbs make it harder to field strip my 1911 for cleaning (I resisted this at first because I always considered myself “a 1911 guy”). But I also believe a man should be able to clean his own guns. Also I got tired of chasing my cats every time the barrel bushing and recoil spring launched themselves across the room – they see anything flying around like that as a new cat toy, and if they get to it first, they steal it and hide it! Ah ha – I know what you’re thinking, but there’s a good reason I’ve been married for 50 years, and my wife really likes those cats.

    6. Ugg. Another fanboy. The Glock is a good pistol, there is no doubt about that, but it’s a generic one-size-fits-all that is in use by departments for its low volume cost. You’re telling first time gun owners to buy a Glock? There are a number of pistols that are equally considered and close in cost that would be just as good as this pistol, but you haven’t listed them. I’m not a hater, but I’m also not a blind fanboy. When asked, I tell new shooters what they need to know, and Glocks are far down on the list. For those of us who are pistol owners, we’ve learned enough to have a preference on what we want to shoot, but for new shooters, you have to offer reasonable advise. You aren’t.

    7. I want a Full Carry! Either you are serious about Carrying a pistol or you aren’t! 99% of people are amateurs and will be sadly disappointed when trying to take down a target with the pea shooters that are being sold to them! A 45 ACP is a round that was designed to take out a target with one shot! I shoot you in the arm and you are going down! Hell, I shoot you in the finger and you are going down!!!!!!!!!!!! The U. S. Army got what was needed to do that job in 1911! The only reason for the switch in 1984 was politics! G. I. s have been complaining about the 9mm ever since! The Marines are going back to the 45 because the 9mm will get you killed! I also like as much safety as possible, I will not own a striker fired weapon! I was a double action pistol with a hammer! I chose a FNX-45! 16 rounds of 45 ACP! You can’t beat it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Comments are closed.