Pistol-Packin' Primer

A Beginner's Guide To Defensive Firearms
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Selecting a first defensive firearm can be daunting for those who might not have been immersed in the gun culture since youth. Gun folks have their own mannerisms and vernacular that can be intimidating to the uninitiated.

“Hey, bud,” began the email from a good friend. “My wife and I have to manage some sketchy places for our jobs, and we are both thinking about getting handguns for protection. Do you have any pointers concerning what sort we should look for? Thanks, Bro.”

I am a card-carrying gun nerd so the racks of guns, rows of tactical accessories, crates of ammo and familiar, soothing smell of gun oil characteristic of your typical gun shop are like old friends to me. Gun nerds speak a common language and, with few exceptions, enjoy common values. We are typically courteous, friendly and generous. To those outside our little fraternity, however, it may seem like we are from another planet.

Women are the fastest-growing segment of the gun-buying community, and one of the challenges we have as a gun culture is creating a warm and inviting environment for those who might not already be familiar with the shooting sports. A good friend owns a thriving gun business, and the petite, gun-savvy girl behind the counter sells significantly more firearms than her co-worker, a grizzled ex-Airborne Ranger. The Ranger has the street cred but the young lady is less intimidating to the neophyte.

If shooting is not fun then newcomers will not want to do it; if the experience is unpleasant then there is a disincentive to practice. Someone who is inept and fearful around guns is better off being unarmed. Some will view this as heresy. But, I personally feel a young woman carrying a .22 Walther P22 she is proficient with and enjoys shooting is more prepared than the same person with a pocket howitzer that fills her with dread every time she touches it.

Traditionally, the starter defensive firearm has always been a revolver. This school of thought indeed has merit. The simple, no-frills Armscor M200 in .38 Special from Rock Island Armory is robust, reliable and inexpensive.

Most combat revolvers carry six rounds. Reloads are slower with a revolver than with a magazine-fed semi-auto, but revolvers are just “crazy reliable.”

The grips on the M200 revolver are oversized and soft for proper recoil management.

If circumstances dictate, the hammer on a DA revolver may be cocked manually to lighten and shorten the trigger pull. The trigger on the M200 (below) is wide and comfortable.

...And One to Learn On

There are literally hundreds of handguns on the market suitable for use as a beginner’s first defensive pistol. However, on the assumption that we want to be frugal with this first purchase, here are a few representing exceptional value as well. Once a new shooter gains proficiency with a starter gun, they may want to graduate to something spendier and more complex.

The traditional answer for a first carry gun has, for years, been a revolver and that argument still has merit. However, the road to Hades is paved with well-intentioned husbands/boyfriends who got the women in their lives a lightweight snub-nosed .357 Magnum wheelgun as a first carry piece. These ladies might have tolerated a few .38 Special target rounds on the range, but after the first bone-wrenching magnum load, they were pretty much done.

Rock Island Armory produces a no-frills .38 revolver called the M200 that is simple, robust and cheap. They offer a compact snub-nosed version as well. For a starter gun to tuck into a purse or slip into a hip holster, there is no simpler point and click interface. The M200 is a good vehicle to teach basic trigger control and sight usage as well. Recoil is manageable and, when stoked with proper expanding social bullets, the gun is adequately powerful. Of course, Taurus, Smith and Wesson, Charter Arms and others produce top-notch revolvers about which rivers of ink have already been spilt, but the Rock Island gun has the added benefit of being remarkably easy on the budget.

Most defensive revolvers are double action with no external safeties. This means the gun can be stored safely with the cylinder fully loaded and then fired simply by pulling the long, heavy trigger through its complete cycle. Each pull indexes the cylinder and fires a single round, so the gun can be emptied with either five or six pulls of the trigger. With a little practice, a revolver can be fired very accurately in DA mode. If the circumstances allow then the hammer may also be manually cocked such that the trigger is lighter and more comfortable. However, the long and heavy double-action trigger pull mandates that the firing process be intentional and helps minimize the risk of an accidental discharge.

The SCCY CPX-1 is identical to the CPX-2 except that it has a manual external safety. Each model is available in an array of colors.

The SCCY CPX-2 has a fat grip wide enough to mitigate recoil, yet the gun’s stubby architecture makes it fairly easy to conceal.

The sights on the SCCY CPX are of the simple 3-dot variety.

A snap-on laser module for the CPX adds versatility for dim light situations.

Holster options abound for the SCCY CPX, and the gun’s small size makes it easy to pack comfortably.

Semi-Auto Options

Autoloaders are pistols wherein the recoil energy from the cartridge is harnessed to reload and recock the action. Cartridges are carried in a box magazine housed in the grip and cycle through the chamber one at a time as the trigger is pulled. John Moses Browning’s recoil-operated, locked-breech design drives the vast majority of autoloading handguns in the world today.

Contemporary autoloaders can be broadly differentiated by the design of their triggers. Single-action/double-
action semiautomatic pistols include the military-issue Beretta 92, legacy SIG pistol and some, but not all, HK’s as well as a few others. In this aspect, these guns are a fair approximation of the double-action/single-action revolvers discussed earlier. This system offers the added safety of a long heavy trigger pull for the first round but a lighter, more accurate, trigger for subsequent shots. Many compact semiautomatic pocket pistols dispense with the single-action function and are double-action-only for added safety.

The wave of the future in combat handguns is clearly the striker-fired trigger system. Most all of the major handgun manufacturers produce a striker-fired, polymer-framed handgun these days, and the nuances between the various designs sell a lot of pistols. GLOCK was arguably the first to do it well and is still the most prolific, though each disparate pistol has its own individual merits. In the case of striker-fired pistols, the firing system is partially cocked each time the action cycles to lighten the subsequent trigger pull. The safety on such guns is typically built into the trigger so the gun comes off safe automatically when the trigger is pressed. These guns have the benefit of a consistent, fairly light trigger pull from start to finish.

The timeless 1911, also springing from the remarkable mind of John Browning, is a phenomenon unto itself. The 1911 sports a single-action trigger that can be carried safely with the hammer back and safety on in a proper piece of carry gear. In this configuration, the gun sports a potentially beautiful target trigger and is ready to go on a moment’s notice. For this reason I would shy away from a 1911 as a first defensive gun. Even FBI agents have to go through a special course before they can carry a 1911 operationally. The 1911 is a high-speed handgun for experienced shooters and serves as a good subsequent goal for enthusiasts first getting into the game.

While there are literally countless of models to choose from, the 9mm SCCY CPX is a superb starter semiautomatic pocket gun for the money. The magazine holds ten rounds and the gun is available in a bewildering array of colors. The grip is wide enough to mitigate recoil so shooting the gun is fun. The long, heavy double-action trigger is not as precise as some others but, like that of the revolver we discussed earlier, helps to ensure that the gun will not fire until you want it to. The CPX is small enough to conceal readily yet large enough to shoot comfortably. In addition, it is just crazy cheap.

The 9mm TP9SF as marketed by Century International Arms is a full-sized combat pistol with all the bells and whistles. This means it is as large and heavy as the guns most uniformed police officers carry and packs 18 rounds in its magazine. The gun has interchangeable backstraps to optimize the grip for hand size and a striker-fired trigger not unlike that of the GLOCK. Additionally, the TP9SF comes standard with a spare magazine as well as a nice polymer holster that will tote the gun comfortably, all in a tidy plastic carrying case. The TP9SF is available at half to two-thirds the cost of comparable name brand full-figured handguns and includes everything you need to start using a handgun for personal defense. Just add ammo and hit the range.

A full-sized combat pistol is not a bad choice for a first defensive handgun. The TP9SF from Century Arms is a great value for the money. But keep this in mind: larger guns are more difficult to carry concealed.

Magazines for the TP9SF are top quality and hold 18 rounds of 9mm Parabellum.

The TP9SF comes with a supply of accessories, all in a nice lockable box. They include interchangeable backstraps, a spare 18-round magazine and cleaning gear. The supplied holster includes an adjustable paddle belt mounting feature and a positive retention system.

The sights on the TP9SF are well-protected, fully adjustable and quick to acquire.

The safety on most striker-fired handguns is built into the trigger blade. With your finger clear of the triggerguard, the gun is on safe. Slip your finger around the trigger and the safety is automatically disengaged.

A 1911 is a superb combat tool and Kimber makes some of the best. However, running a 1911 safely is an acquired skill and requires a fair amount of practice. For this reason, John Browning’s classic is probably not the best choice for a beginner. A suppressor can make practice much more civilized too! Knife is a classic Randall fighter.

The biggest, baddest defensive gun is seldom the best starter piece for those first getting into self-defense. Weight, recoil, ease of use and safety are all critical components. This suppressed semi-auto and “short” shotgun may look cool but have no place as concealed defensive guns. Will is fully licensed to own such interesting items though!

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

If you are not really a gun person, then seek out somebody you trust and mine them for advice. In a perfect world, you would actually lob a few rounds downrange from a variety of guns to find the one that best suits you. Fortunately, an increasing number of gun shops include indoor ranges and rental guns to allow just that.

If you are, like me, a card-carrying gun nerd, then maybe try to dial the vernacular back a bit when you have the privilege of introducing a neophyte to the shooting sports. We have our own language and mannerisms, and it is easy to forget how difficult it can be to break into this fraternity from a cold start. Be patient and encouraging, and you will, more than likely, earn a new friend. Each responsible, competent citizen in circulation with a firearm makes our weird old world just a little bit safer.