There are thousands of different makes and models of handguns. Many designers make firearms with the power to stop attackers in their tracks. Some design handguns for target practice. While yet others are better suited for a museum or a collector’s display case. When people ask me, “What is the best type of handgun to buy?” I usually reply with the question, “What do you want it to do?”
I Want to Defend Myself
Good for you! You have decided to grasp the right to protect yourself, your family, and your property. Bravo! Welcome to the rational side of the fence; we’ve been waiting for you. Now, the big question remains. You know you want a handgun, but you aren’t sure which way to go. There are so many choices it can be mind-boggling. What is worse, you asked 10 different so-called experts about the best handgun, you got 10 different enthusiastic answers. Instead of me telling you exactly what to buy, I will let you come to your own conclusion based on your needs.
To Conceal or Not to Conceal
A question I ask people early on is whether they intend to carry their weapon concealed outside the home. This is important because it greatly narrows the shopping field. While you could technically conceal just about any handgun, the smaller models are easier to hide and won’t make a print on the outside of your shirt. You’ll find you carry more often when you’re not trying to conceal something that looks like it belongs mounted on the back of a Humvee. The most common concealed carry handguns today are small-framed semi-automatics. Revolvers usually work fine, but most only carry five or six rounds. On the flipside, a double-action revolver has a long and heavy trigger, which you are less likely to pull by accident. If you do get a revolver for pocket carry, try to find one with an internal hammer. While external hammers make single-action shooting possible, they tend to snag on pockets and shirts when you are trying to draw them in a hurry. The last thing you want to deal with is snagging clothes while trying to protect yourself. Remember that revolvers tend to be the most reliable handguns available since they tend to go bang every time.
If you aren’t worried about concealed carry, and you want a handgun for home defense, the sky is the limit on size. Just remember that even though revolvers are reliable, semi-autos tend to give you more chances due to their magazine capacity.
Bigger is not always better. Everything is a tradeoff in the firearms world. Why would you not want the largest possible caliber? Over penetration and capacity are two very important features you want to look at. The object of a defensive gun is to stop an attacker. When a bullet passes through a target without stopping, the rest of the kinetic energy from that round transfers into whatever object it stops in. This can be a wall, a couch, or worse, an unintended human. An ideal shot stops inside the attacker and dumps every bit of that energy into damaging the assailant. For concealed carry, the absolute smallest caliber I would recommend is the .380 ACP. However, with the newer model pocket 9mm handguns on the market, the .380 may be on its way to obsolescence. If you can find a concealable .45 ACP—it is an excellent round for stopping people, but you do lose some magazine capacity with that larger round. A decent compromise would be the .40 S&W. It works for home defense as well as concealed carry. For home defense use, go with .45 ACP or .357 Magnum loaded with defensive rounds. A non-defensive round, such as a full metal jacket tends to over-penetrate. Imagine an FMJ large caliber projectile flying through a crowded apartment building. When you are defending yourself you are responsible for everything you hit, this includes bystanders.
The Best Gun
A common adage in the defense community is that the best gun for the job is the one you have with you. Just about any gun is better than no gun at all. However, remember that you are purchasing these tools to save your life, so buy quality if you can afford it. Reliable firearms are not necessarily expensive, but the good ones are rarely the cheapest of the lot. Glock, Smith & Wesson, Colt, and Kahr are just a few decent brands to keep in mind, but many other brands that will fill the role nicely. The best thing you can do when choosing a gun is to shoot it. Find a friend, family member, or colleague who is willing to let you try one of their firearms. Most gun ranges allow you to rent firearms as well. See what feels best in your hand. Accuracy, recoil, and maintenance are all important things to consider. Whatever you choose, remember safety and responsibility are the most important things you can learn about firearms.
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