Consumer Information

How to Shop for a Gun

Gun Display Stands. Pistols for sale in the store.

There is one thing we women know how to do with certainty — and that is shopping!

However, if you are anything like me, shopping for an item you don’t know much about, like cars or electronics (in my case), can be daunting and exhausting.

I’m skeptical of salespeople and mechanics pulling the wool over my eyes, selling me something overpriced or that I don’t need.

If you are new to the gun world, you might not know exactly where to start when you shop for a gun.

To make things a little easier, let us look at shopping for guns like shopping for clothes or shoes — by occasion, size, price and looks.

Use and Occasion

I love to shop just for fun or when I want something new. However, there are plenty of times I hit the mall for a special occasion.

What you buy for a bachelorette party will not be the same outfit you pick out for your niece’s graduation. Guns are the same way.

While many guns serve more than one purpose, designers usually have one specific task in mind.

To narrow your choices, first, figure out the primary reason you want to purchase a gun.

Semi-Auto Pistols & Revolvers

If you’d like a handgun for self-defense in the home, you will want to start narrowing your choices by calibers suited for protection.

This means you need a gun that shoots a cartridge powerful enough to stop a threat.

Experts and self-proclaimed experts — including salespeople at the gun store — do not 100 percent agree on which caliber is best for self-defense.

Most agree, though, the .380 ACP is the absolutely smallest round adequate for self-defense.

Other calibers to try are .38 Special, .357 Magnum, 9mm Luger, .40 S&W and .45 ACP.

If you plan to carry the gun, whether open or concealed, the size of the gun will matter.

Fortunately, there are plenty of thin, smaller handguns on the market that are easy and comfortable to carry and conceal.

Shotguns

Many swear by shotguns for home defense.

A 12-gauge or 20-gauge pump-action shotgun is easy to use and has the knockdown power to stop a threat.

If you are interested in expanding your shooting to include hunting, shotguns serve a dual purpose.

Rifles

The AR-15, chambered in .223 Remington, is becoming increasingly popular for home defense.

Further, the AR-15 is good for competition, target shooting and hunting.

Typically, other rifles, such as a bolt-action or lever-action in traditional rifle calibers such as .308 Winchester or .243 Winchester are not used, nor recommended for, home defense.

Man and owner choosing rifle and handgun in gun shop. Euqipment for hunters in weapon store, hunting and sport shooting hobby, security and selfdefence
the gun store clerks can help you shop for a gun.

Size and Dimensions

The way the gun fits and feels in your hand, along with the placement of the controls on the gun, will affect how well you shoot.

Just like that blister-inducing pair of patent leather purple stilettos you bought for your cousin’s wedding, if your gun doesn’t feel good, you aren’t going to want to use it.

Training with your gun is one of the most important aspects of gun ownership — especially if you are buying a gun for self-defense.

The gun you buy needs to be pleasant to shoot.

When you grip the gun in your hand, it should feel secure.

Further, the safety and magazine or cylinder release should be reachable without having to maneuver the gun much.

It shouldn’t take two hands to have to manipulate any of the controls.

Much like shoes, you will have to try quite a few different guns to find the perfect fit.

close-up photo of men using and inspecting gun in store. salesman explain how to use it, customer hold it in hands
When you shop for a gun, make sure the gun fits your hand well.

Looks and Style

My mom shops for cars with one thing in mind — is it red?

As long as the car is reliable, safe and within budget, I find nothing wrong with narrowing down the choices by looks.

Personally, I think it’s okay to turn down a gun because you think it is ugly.

Gun designers not only think about functionality, but consider aesthetics as well when designing new firearms.

Do you like angular lines like the SIG P239 or the Beretta PX4 Storm with its unique robust bubbly roundness? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

We all have our own individual tastes. Just because the guy at the gun counter thinks you should like the look of a pink gun, doesn’t mean you do.

If you like how the GLOCK looks, then pick the GLOCK.

You can switch out stocks and furniture on long guns.

Aftermarket accessories come in a wide variety of different colors, like pink, camo, neon green and skull patterns.

So, if you find a gun that you like, but don’t like the black, you can change out the stock for something different.

Grips on many pistols and revolvers are also interchangeable.

Gun store showroom
When you shop for a gun, there are a ton of different options.

Budget

Decide how much you can spend on the gun of your choice. Having a budget will narrow your choices further.

Guns range in price from several hundred dollars to thousands.

Another thing to consider is the price of keeping the particular firearm you choose in good functioning order.

Will it have to go to the gunsmith for repairs or upgrades? Does it require cleaning after every range trip to function properly?

Have you ever purchased a cute shirt at full price just to get it home and find out it is dry clean only? Annoying isn’t it?

You will need to feed your gun ammo. If you are buying the gun to plink or join a shooting league, then .22 Long Rifle is cheap and easy to find.

However, depending on market fluctuations, for example currently and in the past, certain calibers can be expensive or difficult to find.

When I have to purchase something, like a new bag or a new dress, that is considerably more than I normally spend on clothes or shoes, I like to justify my purchase by breaking down the cost per wear.

If I spend $350 on a new Coach purse that I will carry for over a year, it is less than a dollar a day. For a top-quality accessory, the price is worth it.

Think about your gun the same way. You aren’t going to skimp on your wedding dress or engagement ring. Your gun is the same.

Invest in a high-quality gun, because what you put into it will be worth it in the end.

What kind of roadblocks have you hit when you shop for a gun? Let us know in the comments section below!

For more information about purchasing your first gun, read the following blogs:

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (5)

  1. You got me when you said that it’s best to determine your budget in buying a gun to make sure that you can easily narrow down your choices. My dad is planning to shop for rifles and other types of gun. He wants to collect guns that he can display in his home. Since he mentioned that he will use his savings to shop for guns, I will share this with him.

  2. First choose the purpose of your gun purchase. Is it for concealed carry, Home defense, sporting, tactical, firepower, cost, or cost of ammo and scarcity. Then go to a Gun shop / range that has various models to shoot and calibers, and you will soon figure out what you like, what feels good and what you don’t like or want. Then do your homework,and shop the gun model hard, in gun shops and internet sites. Calculate the entire cost, FFL dealer transfer costs, taxes and Ammo availability. Do NOT spontaneously purchase, until you have done your homework. Keep in mind a New gun should function properly 100% of the time. Just saying, “used guns” may have unseen problems like feeding, ejecting, spring wear and tear. Personally, I never like buying anything used, especially Guns. You never know where it has been or how it was cared for. New should never disappoint you. Have fun!!

  3. K.I.S.S. Guy or Gal, if seriously considering owning hand gun for the first time, for whatever reason, the caliber you personally are able to handle should be the first consideration. Everyone will get off the first shot, but if the caliber is more than you can handle, the second shot you hear might be the last you hear. You can rent guns at a range or beg your friends to shoot theirs. After the caliber is out of the way, you can go for looks. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of youtube videos of guys and gals showing off their guns from take down, cleaning, reassembly and hours of range time. As far as price, don’t go cheap. I own a Ruger SR22 (.22lr cal.) $350.00 to be able to shoot a lot at the range. A Ruger SR9c (9mm cal.) $500.00 my CCW. A Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun $240.00 for home defense. My next gun will be a Smith and Wesson revolver 357/38 686 plus (if I can find one) about $800.00….just because I want one. Be smart, Good luck, and welcome to the 2nd Amendment battle.

  4. I am not a woman or new to gun buying but if I may here are a few tips. First IF you take a husband or boyfriend along [DO NOT TAKE BOTH] with you and they recommend say a DESERT EAGLE IN 50 CALABER he is having you buy a gun you will not like or use soooooo you give it to him [get the picture]. Hold the gun squeeze the trigger [get sales persons approval BEFORE YOU DO IT] AND DO NOT POINT IT AT ANYONE WHEN YOU DO IT, if it is a semi-automatic pull the slide back [if you can’t do this put the gun back]. At this point in time ALL ammo is expensive and not easy to find, but generally the smaller the cartridge the cheaper it is.
    This is just a very quick overview, but the most important is GET PROPER TRAINING WITH YOU NEW FIRE ARM OR BETTER YET GET THE TRAINING FIRST THAN WHEN YOU GO SHOPPING YOU WILL NOT FEEL LIKE A FISH OUT OF WATER.
    G O O D L U C K

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