WHAT CALIBER, BRAND, SIZE - PISTOL OR REVOLVER?
As I teach concealed weapon courses, these are questions I am asked all the time. They are not new and the answers are as controversial as they are numerous. I have pondered these questions to try and give my students and/or proposed gun buyers the best information they could have as they cross that bridge. Some people are sold on the most costly guns, while some others are just as pleased with a low dollar, fairly well-known gun that they feel best fits their needs. Others are sold on 1911's and you will never change their minds. Some love Glocks while some hate them or are scared to death of them. Some guns jam because of the quality, others because of the user and some only because of cleanliness or poor ammunition. It could be a defect in workmanship or material, even damage done after purchase. I've seen them all fail on the range. Some are pop guns and others are engine block busters. Some fit on your belt buckle while others are labeled "hog-legs."
I don't care to say a semi-auto is better than a revolver or vice-versa. I don't care to endorse a brand because of its time on the planet or high cost. I don't necessarily think one bore is "better" than the other, depending on the users' expectations and abilities. Ideally, the most expensive gun "should" be the best. The biggest caliber with the best knock down power and/or penetration capability should be the most desirable. The easiest to conceal should be the best choice or the biggest gun would scare the most people when drawn. Some of these expectations are kind of funny when you think about them.
I have assembled my own top 16 factors I believe a person should consider when contemplating purchasing a new handgun. You may not agree with all of them and that's okay, because I am confident there will be other people that will. We each are entitled to our own opinions. I have tried to assemble these factors in somewhat of a priority order though they might change for some people. I will also make comments as needed. I am sure many people before me have thought about and written about this issue and I have borrowed parts from some of them but developed most as my own.
Reliability – Is this gun/manufacturer known by gun professionals to be reliable?
(You are possibly buying this gun to save your life. Make sure you are confident it will work when you need it.)
Purchase cost – Is this gun the best I can buy for the maximum money I can spend on one?
(Not always, but cost often equates to quality so buy the most expensive one you can afford - spend money on it like your life depends on it. However, you may not be able to afford much and any gun might be better than no gun.)
Usage cost – Will the cost of the ammo be cost-prohibitive so I won’t be able to practice/become proficient?
(To become proficient, you will need to practice often, so buy a gun that you can also afford ammunition for. Having a gun you can't afford to shoot is like having a HUM-V you can't afford to buy gas for. You have to be able to practice so that when the need arises to save your life, you will have achieved that proficiency level.)
Convertability – Are conversion kits available that will allow me to convert it to a .22 to reduce costs?
(Many guns today of large caliber can be converted to a .22 in order to save money on ammunition and practice more without tearing your hand off.)
Fit – Does it fit my hand well and allow my trigger finger to fit the trigger properly?
(If you can't hold it properly or fit your finger in the right spot on the trigger it is of little value to you.)
Weight – Is it so heavy with rounds loaded that it will pull my pants down or weigh my purse down?
(A gun too heavy to carry is useless. High capacity magazines and large bore rounds add to the problem.)
Concealability – Is it small enough that I will not hesitate to carry it on my person all the time wherever I go?
(If the gun is not concealable under most conditions, you will leave it home or in your vehicle. Murphy's Law can kick in and it may not be available to you the very instant you need it.)
Caliber – Does it have knock down power and penetration acceptable by the law enforcement community? One argument might be to get the biggest bore you can for the money you have and a holster big enough to carry it in.
(Knock down power is a $64 dollar question sometimes haphazardly demonstrated on metal plates or water jugs; penetration is usually accepted as the ability to penetrate a 20 percent gel block at least 10 inches. However, here is my most debatable response: Shot placement is more important than caliber. As a child I killed pigs when harvest time came, by shooting them between the eyes with a .22 short. They dropped instantly except the one time the pig moved and I hit above one eye, resulting in total destruction of the pen and the need for 7 or more .45 caliber rounds. Police officers shoot suspects all the time, multiple times and they keep coming. A properly placed .22 derringer shot in the head is more effective than 6 shots from a .44 Magnum Clint Eastwood special on the limbs or non-lethal areas of the body.)
Ease of Use – Does it lack simplicity to the point that it may be confusing during a firefight?
(One easily confused might want a revolver that only requires the pull of a trigger while others may be okay with multiple functions.)
Snagability - Some guns have sharp hammers or hand protector fins like those found on 1957 Chevrolet's that may snag on your clothing or purse as you try to draw it quickly in a life-threatening situation.
(You can be the best World Class shooter known to man, but if you can't get the weapon out in time to put a properly placed shot on the perpetrator before he fires at you, in all likelihood, you won't live to tell about it. Learning and being able to "quick draw" is not a silly or cowboy skill, rather a survivability skill.)
Features - Does it have a de-cocking mechanism, ambidextrous safety, night sights, rail for flashlight/laser beam (red or green)?
(De-cockers might be needed more by the inexperienced users than others and safety needs differ for individuals. However, most shootings occur within 21 feet or less of the perpetrator and sights, or beams of any kind are rarely of any value at that distance. Night sights light up the target but not the suspect. Too much time spent other than "Point Shoot" may result in your death because you are already "reacting" to a perpetrator's actions in most cases and fractions of a section count. If you are the type of person that shoots with sights of any kind, then your concentration should be on the front blade, not where the bullet is hitting as would be the case with a beam sight. Most police officers interviewed in post shooting situations never remember using the sights, recoil or sound. They often can't even remember the number of shots they fired. Time distortion, auditory blocking and tunnel vision kick in with the flow of adrenaline. Many of those things taught and practiced on the range go out the window when you are facing a violent, vicious killer trying to take your life rather than a harmless, one dimensional, paper man standing still on a range.)
Functionality - Will it fire without the magazine, does it show me from the outside that a round is in the chamber?
(You may want to drop the magazine in a struggle to prevent a gun from firing-some do. You may not want to drop the magazine to see if a round is in the chamber or risk pulling it partially back.)
Finish - Am I satisfied with the material, blue steel, stainless, polymer, two tone, etc., and is it of a durable type?
(Some finishes are personal preference, others are required due to the conditions they are handled in.)
Serviceability – Is it in use enough to the point that most local gunsmiths would be able to work on it?
(Some new guns hit the market for a good price with promising careers but may be so new that parts are not available or expertise may not be available to work on them.)
Warranty – Is there a warranty and if so, how long does it last; does it include parts, labor, shipping?
(Some manufacturers have no warranty; others do with different time limits, but may differ on who pays for parts and who pays for labor and who pays for shipping? In the end, maybe you could have bought a higher dollar gun with less hassle.)
Value – Does it hold its value to the point that I can re-sell it a couple of years later without losing money?
(Most name brand guns are good investments and hold their values. You may trade at a gun show or with a local dealer and get a good trade-in value, but remember they are in a retail business and have to make money too so they won't give you retail dollars for it. However, some people out there don't like paper-work trails and may pay you more for the gun as an individual sale without paperwork, than they would buying it new from a dealer with the paperwork trail.
I have provided this information for one reason only; that is to help people decide what is best for them. What is good for one person is not necessarily the best choice for another. I have tried to make this simple but informative. I hope it helps. Your comments are welcomed.