Recently, I was called to consult with a large church’s armed security force.
Churches and their congregants have been facing more and more serious threats over the past decade. This has led many churches across America to take a proactive stance by offering seminars on personal security and self-defense.
Some places of worship have pulled together security teams manned by congregants from various backgrounds, ranging from the military to law enforcement to private citizens.
At his church, I talked to the security director about how to assess threats, how to secure advanced training for his team, and how to keep church members safe.
In the course of our conversation, he told me that many church members had asked him about handguns and how to obtain them for self-defense. One of the most common questions was: How do you decide which gun is right for you?
When I realized how many people were asking that question, I decided it was time to write an article on how to select a personal handgun.
The first decision you have to make is whether you want a handgun only for home defense or for concealed carry. Each choice will have different legal requirements, depending on your state.
In all cases, selecting a handgun is a personal choice. You can’t pick your perfect pistol by simply taking the word of friends, a firearms instructor or even by reading this article.
No, the process is much the same as finding a dentist whom you like.
To find a dentist, you will probably start by asking your friends, co-workers or family members whom they use. Then you may do more research with the Better Business Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce and the local Medical Board. Finally, you’ll try one out, hopefully on something simple like a small cavity.
Most likely, once you find a dentist you really like, it will be because he or she did good work and treated you well. You will likely continue to use that dentist for as long as you need them and as long as they are still in practice.
And just because you like them does not mean your friends or other family members will share the same feeling. Why? Because it’s a personal preference.
A handgun, whether a revolver or a semi-automatic pistol, is something that you don’t just go out and buy. You have to carefully research different guns, put them in your hand and shoot them.
|The only perfect self-defense pistol is the one that’s perfect for your hand, your body type, your wardrobe and your lifestyle.|
You should read reviews in gun magazines. Visit gun shows. Go shooting with pals and borrow their guns. Go to gun shops that have a range and ask the employees if you can fire a few rounds from a pistol that appeals to you.
But before you buy, you must be sure you feel completely comfortable with everything about the weapon, including its weight, its feel in your hand, the pull of its trigger, its sound and the recoil when it fires. I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes even the look and color can affect how you connect with a gun.
I think you should put even more thought into buying a gun than into choosing a dentist. After all, your dentist may be there to treat a cavity or a root canal. But your gun will be there to protect you and your family and possibly save your lives.
To that end, I’m going to review some important criteria you should consider when selecting a handgun for personal defense. It will be up to you to do your research and to select a weapon that you feel comfortable enough with to have around your home or to carry with you every day.
Remember, you can’t quantify the return on investment you put into a handgun and into firearms training. We’re not talking about getting back a percentage of the cost. We’re talking about saving your life!
So let’s begin…
Most pistols fit into two basic types. They are either revolvers or semi-automatics.
Revolvers resemble the six-shooters you’ve seen in movie Westerns, though five-shooters are common today. These pistols have a cylinder with holes drilled through them to hold the bullets, or “rounds.”
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As you pull the trigger, the mechanics of the pistol turn the cylinder to align a bullet with the barrel while drawing the hammer back. When the bullet aligns with the barrel, pressing the trigger drops the hammer and fires the bullet through the barrel.
With a semi-automatic pistol, the bullets are stored in a “magazine.” The magazine is usually then inserted into the gun’s handle.
Before shooting a semi-automatic, you need to chamber a round, either by physically inserting it into the back of the barrel or by “racking the slide” to move a round from the magazine up a feed ramp and into the firing pin’s path (which transfers energy from the hammer of the gun to the primer).
After the first round is chambered and you depress the trigger, the pistol’s mechanics will chamber a new round, so that with each successive press of the trigger, the gun will keep firing until the magazine is empty.
Each of these pistols has advantages and disadvantages, which you must explore before choosing one.
The gun you choose should be simple to operate. This means minimal working parts so less can go wrong.
For any semi-automatic pistol, it should be easy for you to pull or “rack” the slide back to chamber a round. You want the trigger’s pull and the trigger itself to feel just right for you. Make sure the sights work for you. For defensive carry, consider fixed-sights and opt for night-sights when possible.
Decide if you want a manual safety mechanism. The primary purpose of the safety is to prevent the accidental or negligent discharge of the firearm. Safeties are present on most modern handguns today in one-way or another. There are many different designs and you will have to find a gun and safety design that is suitable to your needs and level of experience.
Finally, the gun should be fairly simple to disassemble and clean. If it’s too difficult to break down, you probably won’t clean it and a dirty pistol can become dangerously unreliable.
The gun should fit your hand and lifestyle. If it’s a semi-automatic pistol, your hand should fit neatly all the way around the back of the grip when you grab the grip high, so the V between your thumb and forefinger slide around the curved section just behind the hammer.
This is called a “high-tang grip.” The tang is the highest point of your grip. Technically it is the curved portion of the grip that is closest to the slide. We want our firing hand to counterbalance the energy displacement as much as possible when firing the weapon. This helps minimize movement and assists with accuracy. To achieve this, we want our hand to be as closely aligned to the bore as possible, which is why you want to attain a high-tang grip.
You should not feel like you have to constantly adjust your hand to get the right grip or feel on the trigger. A good grip will help with pointing the gun.
The strip down the middle of the back of the grip is called the “backstrap.” For a revolver, the backstrap should fit well in the web of your hand while you piggyback your thumbs high.
Next, the gun must be comfortable and match your lifestyle. If you are going to carry concealed all day, every day, then you will need to find a gun that fits the type of clothing you typically wear. And you must understand that any gun has weight … some much more than others.
It’s possible that you may have a medical condition that precludes you from carrying a gun with a larger, heavier frame, perhaps in a holster at your waistband or your ankle. These conditions may include arthritis or chronic back pain.
If for example, chronic back pain limits your movement, you certainly won’t want to carry a gun on your ankle because the chances are slim that you’ll get to it in time when you need it. And, you may hurt or injure your back by carrying a full-sized, loaded .45-caliber pistol in a holster, hanging at the side of your waist.
The gun must be able to do what you need it to do.
So do your research, but don’t rely on others to tell you which caliber is better for you. The simple fact is that you might do better with either a .380 or a 9mm because you can shoot it more accurately and comfortably than a .40.
Still, you need to put in a little sweat equity to figure out which caliber will work best for your needs and goals. Sure larger-caliber handguns with the right loads normally have greater stopping power. But they also have quite a bit of recoil, which could seriously affect your ability to hit the target even at close range.
The takeaway here is to experiment until you find the comfortable caliber that helps you hit what you’re aiming at.
A gun is a mechanical tool. Some mechanical tools are better than others. Do your research and find out which gun has been tested to be the most reliable over time.
Keep in mind how you take care of things as well. If you’re not a person who plans to clean your gun often or if you’re going to cut corners in maintenance, make sure you put that into the gun-selection equation.
For example, it’s nearly impossible to keep a pistol from rusting if you carry it on a boat, especially in saltwater. People who plan to carry weapons while on boats often opt for stainless steel models.
Capacity refers to the number of rounds a magazine will hold in a semi-automatic handgun or the number of rounds a particular revolver will hold in its cylinder.
There is quite a bit of controversy about magazine capacity and about semi-autos versus revolvers. But everything noted, in my humble opinion, I want the most rounds I can have with me and in my gun at any given time. Revolvers typically hold five to six rounds with models that will hold eight.
The capacity of semi-automatic pistols normally ranges from five rounds up to 32 rounds in what are called “high-capacity magazines.” There are legal issues surrounding magazine capacity as well that need to be taken into consideration. So you would need to check local, city, state and federal laws to determine what capacity magazine is legal in your area.
That said, one of the biggest myths out there today states that you don’t need more than six bullets if you know how to shoot to stop a violent attack. From my perspective, this is simply not true.
There are too many variables involved. For example, the attacker could be under the influence of a drug that allows him resiliency even after he has been hit once or more. Or the attacker is seriously committed to the attack and you did not hit any vital organs or major blood vessels. Or, there could be multiple attackers.
Here’s another myth. Some people say you don’t need more bullets just more powerful ones. What they mean is that if you choose to carry a .45- or .357-magnum, then you will have greater stopping power and will be able to end that violent conflict more rapidly and with less ammo.
And while I agree that larger calibers do offer somewhat of a tactical advantage, you must again consider a number of factors. Here’s the most important factor: In general, it’s harder to shoot larger calibers rapidly and accurately under extreme stress. The takeaway here is that there are a number of things that could go wrong wherein you need more bullets or more powerful ones.
But accuracy is normally the biggest factor in winning gunfights. Well-placed shots when you are under immense stress are not easy even for highly trained individuals. So for myself, I choose more bullets to less everytime.
I also would not solely count on large calibers because they sound cool or because you read that they can stop a man in his tracks. Instead I would focus on choosing the correct load that allows you to control the gun quickly and accurately so that you can hit your enemy effectively.
Usually price also factors into selecting a handgun. The good news is there are a great many handguns to choose from, and some of them will likely fit your budget. Here are several concealable pistols that I chose just to give you a perspective on pricing.
Starting with the Kel-Tec P11, a 9mm semi-auto with a 10-round magazine capacity with a MSRP of $335. Next, consider the Ruger LCP .380 ACP with a 6 +1 capacity at an MSRP of $379. And, the Glock 26, a 9mm with a 10-round magazine capacity has a MSRP of $560.
I have had quite a number of students who have told me they enjoy the Springfield Armory XDs, a 9mm with a seven-round magazine capacity (there is also a nine-round, extended magazine that can be purchased separately) with a MSRP of $565 to $620.
In the higher bracket, there is the Walther PPS 9mm (also comes in .40 caliber) semi-auto with a choice of capacities, from six to seven to eight rounds, and a MSRP of $680. Also, the Kimber SOLO is a beautiful concealable 9mm with a six-round-capacity magazine at a MSRP of $820.
In the way of revolvers, there is the Charter Arms Undercover, which is a .38 Special with a five-round capacity that has a MSRP of $326. Or check out the Smith & Wesson J-Frame Model 442 with a five-round capacity and MSRP of $469.
Finally, keep in mind that the gun is just another tool in your personal-defense toolbox, though it is an important one. Without proper training with that tool, it becomes a dangerous weapon to both you and others.
Until next time, stay alert, check your six, put your back against the wall and stay safe!
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