Top Five First Time Handgun Buyer Mistakes

While having a beer with a good friend the other day, he suggested this topic. With that in mind, please feel free to comment on my Blog, Facebook, or YouTube posts and videos about anything you would like added or a topic you would for me to cover.

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What Should my First Self Defense Firearm Be?

Depending on your circumstances, you might find that a rifle or shotgun is a more practical self defense weapon than a handgun. While I completely agree with anyone who ranks long guns over handguns in accuracy and effectiveness, most of us are limited to handguns for concealment and practicality purposes. With that in mind, I’d like to offer the potential new buyer some basic advice that I have learned through my errors and those of others.

Also, please read my post about safe firearm storage at home here:

And my video on vehicle gun security here:

Top Five First Time Gun Gun Buyer Mistakes

As it happens, my friend who suggested this post and I both shop at a local outdoor and gun store where another good friend of mine works the gun counter. While I know the mistakes I have made, he gets to see the mistakes that everyone makes daily and attempts to intervene to the best of his ability while not insulting or offending the customer. I think I’ll defer to his experience for this list.

Mistake 1: Buying Too Much or Too Little Gun

Your first, second, and so on personal defense gun should be something that you will carry with you all the time. It should be something that you aren’t afraid of firing due to recoil or blast. It should be reliable and chambered in a caliber that has reasonable capability to stop an attacker. I say it that way because pistols are not the death rays that Hollywood portrays them to be. Don’t expect to blow someone backwards over a table or out the window because you carry a .44 magnum revolver or God’s own .45 ACP. The idea that you’ll only need to shoot once if you have a big enough gun just doesn’t hold water. That is why a defensive handgun should be controllable for quick followup shots as well as powerful enough to inflict enough damage to make your attacker stop whatever he or she is doing before you run out of ammunition. With that in mind, I personally recommend choosing a pistol in 9mm, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP. The quality and size of the micro pistols offered now, combined with the advances in bullet design and quality, make the 9mm more viable than it has ever been while still having a lighter recoil and higher capacity magazines than the larger diameter calibers. If you must carry a smaller size pistol than can be chambered in 9mm, the .380 ACP has made great strides as well, however I have found them to be more finicky about ammo so be prepared to find what it likes and feed it that specific load. For revolver shooters, the same advances in bullet design have also been implemented into the .38 Special and .357 Magnum loads. I would reserve the magnum chambering for revolvers with at least a 4 inch barrel, otherwise you get a lot of noise and flash without any additional performance. Beyond this, you may find you are comfortable and capable with larger cartridges. If so feel free to carry them, but remember that you may need to shoot and hit with precision several times in a fast sequence. Make sure you can do that comfortably and get back on target, if not, consider moving back to the more controllable .38.

Not only is the caliber of the gun important, so is the physical size of the pistol or revolver. If there were a perfect handgun for everyone, the shelves at the gun store would only need to be a foot wide. Purchasing a quality revolver or pistol that fits your hand and points somewhat instinctively when you raise it to eye level is easier now than ever. Many of the new pistols and newer versions of the long standing brands have ergonomic adjustments built in that you can change in just a few minutes.

Another size consideration is what you can conceal based on your carry situation. At times I am dressed in a way that allows me to discreetly carry a full size semi auto pistol. Other times I’m limited to a smaller gun that can be carried in a pocket or in an ankle holster. If you have to chose only one gun, make it the one you can have with you more of the time. Murphy’s law guarantees that you’ll most likely need it when you can’t carry it.

Mistake 2: Purchasing the Cheapest Gun Possible.

Just how much are you willing to pay to survive a life or death encounter? While many of us are frugal in these trying times and some folks are just down right cheap, remember that the gun purchase is a small investment in your defensive carry career. In the following mistakes, I’ll mention other mistakes that people make by going the cheap, or just the incorrect route on products, but consider that training and ammunition purchased to maintain a level of competence should easily outrun the cost of your firearm in a pretty short amount of time.

There are quality firearms available for as low as $300 now. I personally feel that adding another $100 to $300 to that amount places you in a great position to purchase a reliable gun from a major manufacturer who has a large enough market share that accessory companies readily supply holsters and ancillary items that fit the gun. Names like Glock, Smith & Wesson, SigSauer, and Heckler & Koch provide proven products with world class support. If your budget is limited to the $300 range, ask the sales person what they have that is serviceable and reliable. Often there will be a used firearm in stock that is closer to your budget but still has the benefits of a brand name.

Mistake 3: Cheap or Incorrect Carry Gear.

A defensive weapon is of no use in the glove box or top shelf of the closet when we need it so we will begin with the assumption that the pistol or revolver is on our person and being carried all the time. To be safe and effective, we must have at least a basic carry system and here is a list of parts to consider.

Gun Belt: To support a holster, magazine pouches, an other gear we may carry, a quality belt that is designed for the purpose is vital. If a leather belt is desired, there are several companies that make a double layered belt intended to stay durable and supportive under a load. If you are able to wear a web belt, I have found none better than the instructor belts made by The Wilderness. Choosing the instructor belt in the 5 stitch option 1.5 inches wide has been my go to for years. If you need more support, they offer one with a lining in between the layers for added stiffness. I don’t make a dime of of their products but I’m linking them here because they are the only web belts I will recommend.

For a Quality Leather Carry Belt Try the Magpul Tejas Lined Leather Gunbelt

Holster: Purchase a quality kydex (hard plastic) or leather holster that fits your firearm securely as well as your belt. There are so many quality holsters on the market now that I can’t even scratch the surface in this post, but expect to spend $50 to $100 on a quality holster and avoid the soft nylon holsters that fill the shelves at the box sporting goods stores. Chose your desired method of carry, (inside waistband, outside waistband, ankle, or one of the other choices), then search through the quality offerings to find one that fits your size and wardrobe appropriately. This is usually a trial and error process, but i can guarantee that the cheap ones will be the first holsters tossed in the “didn’t work out” box. I have found the same to be true for spare magazine pouches so consider ones manufactured by the holster company you choose.

The Bianchi Illusion Holster Linked below has served as one of my favorite IWB holsters for several years now (Make sure to change the make and model for your gun before ordering)

Mistake 4: Buying Only Cheap Ammo:

Bulk ammunition is one of the best values for your shooting dollar and for practice and plinking, the quality doesn’t have to be on par with your carry ammo. As long as it is safe and reliable, enjoy punching paper and running drills with budget bullets, but don’t forget that your firearm may function differently or have a different point of impact with your carry ammunition so running a bare minimum of 100 rounds of your chosen defensive ammo through the pistol with no failures is a must. I do this with every new pistol after i have run a mixture of several hundred rounds of target and defensive loads through the gun with no failures and I have found brand new guns to have issues that required repair or replacement right out of the box. Make sure your firearm will cycle your defensive ammo reliably before carrying it for self defense.

Defensive ammo is a topic in itself. The effort that has gone into the terminal ballistics and design of bullets and powders in the last 20 years has made handguns much more effective at stopping threats. Don’t let that work go to waste. Choose a quality defensive load from a well known manufacturer such as Speer, Hornady, or Federal and run at least 100 rounds through the gun to make sure it feeds and functions properly. This is another part of self defense that should not be taken on “as cheap as possible”

Mistake 5: Listening to Fan-Boys

Your buddy that’s a “gun guy” and wants to tell you exactly what you need and anything else is just junk is not the person you want to take gun shopping with you, nor should you take the same “advice” from a salesperson. As a first time gun buyers, we don’t usually know what all is available until we look. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to get to try someone else’s gun first to see how it feels. I encourage everyone that can do that to try. If they don’t have one you like, then you at least know the ones to avoid once you get to the store.

We need to find a quality weapon that we can carry, shoot, and maintain and what works for me will not necessarily work for you. Don’t let “that guy” talk you into something that doesn’t serve your personal needs.

Bonus Mistake!

Most semi auto pistols these days come with at least two magazines. If you spend any time at the range or in training, you’ll notice that you can’t shoot for loading if you don’t purchase extras. For most pistols, factory magazines are the only sure bet. Pay the extra up front to get the service and reliability you can count on. Like any rule, there are exceptions. If you carry a Colt 1911 style pistol or an AK or AR style rifle, most of the magazines are manufactured by other companies. Ask salespeople or research for yourself to make sure you get the best quality magazines available.

How to Avoid the Top 5 First Time Gun Buyer Mistakes

Sometimes we just don’t get it right the first time and it’s a fact of life, but the better we prepare, the luckier we seem to get. One of they key components to making a good purchase on a firearm as a first time buyer is an honest and knowledgeable salesperson. Be aware of how well he or she listens to your concerns and responds to them. Women are especially under served in many gun shops because the employee attitudes and biases tend to limit their ability to hear the customer’s needs and concerns. Make sure your abilities aren’t being discounted for any reason when you are looking. I have attended a training class in which a 13 year old girl who had no prior experience took a full size pistol and learned to manipulate the controls and to shoot as accurately and fast as anyone in the class, if not better. If you are being dismissed for any reason, you might want to speak with a different salesperson or visit a different shop.

Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate and make money on qualifying purchases.

2 thoughts on “Top Five First Time Handgun Buyer Mistakes

  1. Pingback: Should I Be Doing More Dry Fire Practice Than Live Fire? | Nick's Preparedness

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