Buying Your First Handgun?

Here's Some Solid Tips To Help You Out

first handgun

Do your research as it helps to have some knowledge of types of handguns and their purpose before going to the gun store. Ask questions and get help from trusted friends.

Buying a handgun for personal or home defense is generally not the same as buying one for target practice or competition. Don’t go into the gun store without at least some basic idea of what you want or need or you might be overwhelmed by the choices. Better to narrow it down some before you go shopping. American Handgunner’s print and online editorial are great places to gain understanding of what’s available and the primary purpose of each design. Some handguns are designed for target practice, others for self-defense, competition or hunting. Pay attention to what the writers say about caliber, recoil, accuracy and reliability. You’ll begin to understand the terms, concepts, applications and ideas.

Concealed carry is extremely popular these days and there’re many articles covering the topic. Many guns are sold expressly for this purpose, but do your research before you buy. Just because a gun is easy to carry doesn’t mean it’s easy to shoot — or that it’s effective. Get schooled first.

guns Handgunner

Three basic types of semi-auto pistols. Top/left is an S&W Shield (striker-fired); top/right an S&W 1911 single-action auto and below, a vintage SIG P225 double-action/single-action auto. Resources like American Handgunner and FMG’s Special Editions are chock-full of info you need to know.

An Example

While at the range conducting a shooting proficiency test for the Texas License to Carry course I noticed a woman in Lane 1 struggling with a Bersa Thunder .380. A nice gun, generally, but hers was jamming almost every other shot and when she did get her shots off, they were way high.

In Lane 2, her husband was steadily shooting what we call “one ragged hole” with a Springfield 1911 .45 ACP. When I realized the woman wasn’t going to pass the course without some adjustment, I stepped into her lane during a reloading break and asked for her Bersa. After checking it to make sure it was unloaded, I picked up her empty magazine and the box of remaining ammo and set all three on the shooting bench in front of her husband. Then I asked for his 1911 and gave it, the ammo and magazine to his wife, and said, “Okay, continue.” I was the authority figure — they complied.

The lady confidently loaded the 1911 and during the next shooting exercise placed her shots right in the center of the target. Meanwhile in Lane 2, her husband struggled with the Bersa for the first five shots or so, but once he figured out how to hold it and work the trigger, he began shooting well and they both passed the test. Her comment to him after she had fired 15 or 20 rounds with the 1911 made my day: “Why did you tell me I couldn’t shoot a .45?” Obviously, she could, and she shot it well. Before the end of the day, she, too, had a Springfield 1911

Handguns manual

It’s hard to beat a good .22 for learning to shoot and for just having fun. Examples here are: (clockwise from top left) S&W M&P .22 Compact, Ruger SR-22, S&W
M&P .22 with an Osprey Suppressor and a Ruger SP101. Alan Korwin’s Your First Gun is another great reference for new gun owners.

Shoot, Secure & Maintain

Self-defense is more than just buying a gun, sticking it in your purse or holster, and going about your business. Even if your state doesn’t require training in self-defense and applicable gun laws, it’s your responsibility to know them.

Shooting is a perishable skill. Good training will teach you how to hold the gun, stand, aim, breathe, operate the trigger and get back on target. Once you’ve learned the basics, shooting accurately comes with practice. Shooting your gun often will cause you to become very familiar with its operation. It will also uncover anything you don’t like about the gun. Sometimes, you discover over time: “Hey, this isn’t quite the gun I want.” Your first gun doesn’t have to be your last gun, or your only gun. It could also become a great learning tool to help you learn what you really want or need.

Security is a must too. If the handgun is on your person, it must be carried in a way to insure it won’t be dropped or easily taken from you. At home, in your car, or in your office, your gun must be secured to prevent children or unauthorized persons from getting to it.

All handguns are sold with some type of locking device, but the device coming with your gun may not be suitable for your everyday security. Storing a home defense handgun in a bedside lock box with an easy unlocking device provides much faster access than trying to unlock a trigger guard lock in the dark. Can you say fumble-fingers?

Maintaining your handgun — another critical part of the equation — starts with cleaning it after each prolonged shooting session and at other times as required. If your firearm malfunctions, have it checked by a gunsmith and replace any worn or damaged parts. But do take care of your investment in your personal safety!

handguns target

The three models of .22s here have provided thousands of shooters countless hours of fun, plinking, hunting, or some serious target practice. At the top is a Ruger 22/45, on the left a Browning Buckmark and below an S&W Victory.


If you’re new to guns, discipline yourself from the start to learn and practice the safety rules. The wording may be slightly different from one source to the next, but they all include at least four basic rules: 1) Treat every gun as if it were loaded — all the time! 2) Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. 3) Always keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. 4) Be aware of your target and the backstop.

These rules are just the start. If you own a gun, firearm safety must become a way of life.

Understanding how different handguns work will help you with the basics of learning your gun. Through your research, you’ll learn about revolvers versus semi-autos, the differences between single-action and double-action, and about striker-fired versus hammer-fired (in the semi-auto world), safeties, de-cockers, slide-locks and different types of sights. Handgunner is full of info about such things, and all these topics are covered regularly.

Ruger and Smith & Wesson

Here we have classic examples of the two types of revolvers. On top a single-action (SA) Ruger Vaquero. Below is a Smith & Wesson 686 Combat Magnum double-action (DA). Both are in .357 Magnum.

A Place To Shoot

If you live in the city, finding a place to shoot can be a challenge. Hopefully, you live relatively close to a public gun range welcoming newcomers and perhaps even offering instruction. Two online sources for locating a gun range near you are the NSSF’s and the NRA’s

Do you have friends who are experienced shooters, or is training available locally? Just knowing someone who is “into guns” can be very helpful. But, let me caution you. Just because you have a spouse, cousin, uncle or good friend who is a police officer, or a big gun collector doesn’t mean that person can recommend the right gun for you. It’s your gun; you need to pick it! Pick their brains, sure, but get all the info — then make your own decision.


There are many different types of securing devices from small to very large. They won’t do you any good if you can’t get into them if you need your gun in a hurry. This is a good one by GunVault.

Trustworthy Teachers

People who learn to shoot on their own often pick up bad habits and they may pass those same bad habits on to you. They mean well, but they just don’t know what they don’t know. If you’re new to handguns, get some instruction. The NRA has an online program preparing you to go to the range with an NRA-certified instructor. Most shooting ranges have either on-staff instructors or relationships with instructors who use their facilities. Ask around and arrange to get at least an hour of basic instruction before you buy your first gun. Doing this will help you better know how to choose the right gun.

If you’ve picked the right gun for your needs, you know it’s of good quality, and you’ve gotten training on how to load and unload it, you’re getting close. As you learn to operate its features proficiently and shoot it accurately, you’re even closer. Keeping it secured when not actually in use and keeping it clean and well lubricated are final periods to the puzzle. Blend them all together and you’ve accomplished something significant — and can protect your family should the need arise.

Just remember to always think safety. Always.