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Buying a Handgun

A Step-by-Step Process

"The most important factor in choosing a handgun is the intended use."

Choosing a new handgun can be a daunting process. How do you know which one to choose? Whether it is for yourself or another, the steps are straightforward. In the end, you will own just the right gun for your needs and physical capabilities.

Step 1: Why do you want a handgun?

This is one of the most important (and thus, first) steps in the selection process. "Why am I buying a new handgun?" Here are some common reasons people have for wanting to buy a handgun, and the impact this use can have on what type of handgun to buy:

What's your
planned use?
Consider these factors

I want a nightstand-gun for protection when at home.

Look for a longer barrel (four or more inches) with a comfortable grip that is light enough to shoot 50 rounds in a day at the range without discomfort or loss of accuracy.

I want a gun to carry frequently using my concealed handgun permit.

Comfort and convenience will need to be balanced with accuracy and stopping power. Focus on 4 inch or shorter barrels with a reasonable weight and size.

I just want to have some fun target shooting and plinking

Consider a smaller caliber (e.g. 22 cal) handgun that is comfortable to shoot and won't drain your bank account with ammo costs.

Here are some other rules of thumb to consider:

  • Larger caliber guns are typically heavier than smaller caliber guns for a given barrel length.
  • Smaller caliber self-defense handguns can be 'snappy' (sharp recoil).
  • Longer barrels are easier to shoot more accurately than shorter barrels.
  • Revolvers are simpler to operate than semi-automatics.

Step 2: Put it in your hand

Second only to intended use, the fit of the gun in your hands is very important. Visit a retailer in your area that carries a wide selection of handguns with your list of guns to try. It should feel comfortable in your hand with the pad of your index finger naturally able to reach the trigger.

If the grip feels like a popsicle stick, or a brick, in your hand, you probably should try some alternative models.

Step 3: Consider Price, Quality, and Mfr. Reputation

Although buying a handgun should not be heavily influenced by price, it is a practical consideration for most that cannot be ignored. There are a wide range of prices for similar-looking handguns, and it is reasonable to want to get some value with your purchase. Just what kind of quality are you getting for your money?

If you are going to depend on this handgun for defense, reliability is extremely important. Reliability varies from brand to brand, and even from model to model in the same brand!

To start, try visiting handgun manufacturer websites. This will give you an idea of what each company believes are their strong points.

Here are some other sources of information to help you choose a make and model:

  • If you know a gunsmith, give him a call for an opinion. Can he get replacement parts for the model you are considering? Is the model easy to clean and maintain? Pretend you want to buy a replacement recoil spring or grip panel for the model you are considering. Is it easy to find on the web?
  • Ask your instructor for his thoughts on a particular brand and model vs. another. Many instructors own, have shot, and trained alongside a wide variety of handguns under some pretty adverse conditions.
  • Some of the more reputable vendors at gun shows or retail stores can also provide you with hands-on comparisons of brands and models you are considering. You can actually compare build quality side-by-side.
  • Try visiting some of the more popular gun forums on the web. It is probably good to throw out the radical opinions you find and try and find a consensus view when searching the forums for opinions.
  • Some shooting ranges offer handgun rentals. If a model you are considering is available to rent, it is a good idea to make sure you can handle the recoil and it feels comfortable when you shoot the gun.

Step 4: Choose a Vendor

There are, broadly speaking, three choices when deciding where to buy your gun. These choices are:

  • Your local gun shop.
  • The 'Big Box' store in your nearest metro area (e.g., Cabala's, Bass Pro Shops)
  • Internet retailer

If your local shop has a good reputation, and this is your first handgun, this shop can be a great help in walking through your first purchase. If you have questions, they are right there with answers. They help you choose accessories and cleaning supplies for your new gun.

Visiting your nearest 'big-box' store may get you a slightly lower price and wider selection, but the personal service may be sacrificed.

"Choose a reputable dealer when buying a handgun."

If this not your first handgun and you are comfortable with your choice of make and model, an internet retailer can provide very good prices. However, reputation and referrals are very important as not all web vendors are focused on quality customer service. Ask around for vendors that others have used with success. Again, check the gun forums for reports of quality service and great reputations.

Please remember when comparing prices from the web to local and big-box retailers that you will most likely have to pay a local Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) a transfer fee for a web purchase. This can typically range from $5 to $50, depending upon the FFL. The $40 saved with an online vendor can quickly become lost in FFL and shipping fees.

Click here to find an FFL in your area. For an FFL in Summit County, Colorado try this page.