Recently, one of my best friends called to ask if I would help him choose a defensive handgun. Now, we’ve been friends for years, and more than once I have brought up the topic of defensive firearms to no avail. He had no interest in owning a gun. So, needless to say, I was surprised to get this call.
Like many non-shooters, who suddenly decide to join the shooting community, he experienced what can be called a “triggering event.” Whether it’s a crime report on the news, an attempted crime against a friend or them personally, a triggering event nudges folks off of the fence and into the decision to become armed citizens. In my friend’s case, a family member in another town was protected from harm by two neighbors who were in the right place, at the right time, with their guns.
Realizing that he could have done nothing to help in a similar situation, my friend started researching defensive handguns. Since he’s Internet savvy, he had gone out and found miles of commentary and firearm specifications on the Web. However, the sheer volume of makes, models, options and contradicting opinions left him feeling completely overwhelmed. In this situation, it certainly makes sense to turn to someone familiar with firearms for advice.
As we talked, another point became clear. My friend’s desire to find a reliable defensive tool is not the same as a newfound love of shooting. He doesn’t want to become a shooting hobbyist, a collector, a hunter or to participate in a variety of shooting sports. He wants just one gun that he can learn to operate successfully and depend on in case he needs to defend his family and home.
So, how do you help a friend or associate pick just one gun from all of the models currently on the market? The best way to start is to narrow the list of infinite possibilities down to a short list of options, and then narrow the short list down to a few models your friend can try. Over the years, I've put together some mental checklists I like to review with new shooters to help them come to a decision. If they are new to shooting, want just one gun and the gun is primarily for self-defense, then the checklist looks something like this:
Rifle, Shotgun or Handgun?
House, Car, Concealed Carry or Mixed Purpose?
If the gun will be used primarily for legal concealed carry, then size and weight become factors. Many self-defense gurus and folks who carry are committed to making the lifestyle and wardrobe changes necessary to carry a full-size lead sled. But that's not the case for everyone. Most of the non-military and non-law enforcement types I know who choose to go armed use compact, lightweight handguns designed specifically for concealment. These pistols are much easier to carry, but often sacrifice caliber, ammunition capacity and other features that make pistols more pleasant to practice with.
If your friend wants just one gun to fill the roles of target shooting, home defense and concealed carry, then you may want to encourage them to research handguns that split the difference between duty size and concealment guns. These medium-framed handguns are chambered in popular defensive calibers, but have a smaller profile. They are large enough to shoot comfortably, but trimmed down to be more easily concealed. Most manufacturers have at least a few models that fit into this category.
Cylinder or Slide?
From Checklist to Shopping List
As a general rule of thumb, I advise new shooters to decide how much they want to spend on the pistol, and then double that amount to cover the cost of everything else they will need. The item they absolutely must have on hand the day they bring their gun home is a lockable storage device. After that, other items on the list can be put on a purchasing schedule to fit their budget.
Just One More
Several manufacturers build pistols designed to mimic the grip shape and controls of a defensive handgun. A .22 is a great way to warm up at the range before running defensive drills and focused practice to overcome a bad habit or to learn a new skill is much more affordable to conduct. I have also found that even the most reluctant spouse is usually willing to practice with a .22. If a new shooter is ready to commit to regular practice at the range, then a .22 will quickly pay for itself and will keep saving him or her money for years to come.
Meaningful Research and Testing