20 Questions for a First-Pistol Checklist

posted on November 7, 2013

A close friend of mine, like many Americans, recently made the choice to buy his first handgun. After doing methodical research online, he approached me for some firsthand advice. There is so much conflicting information on all the blogs and forums, he was confused about who to believe. A guy posting online at 3 a.m. may be a top personal protection instructor that has trained Tier One operators, but he may not be. Lots of excellent, thoughtful advice comes from folks online, but so does advice that merely advocates or self-validates the usually anonymous person’s point of view.

So I went through my checklist. Odds are if you are an avid shooter, you have been asked or will be asked the same questions. Without getting into the Thompson-LaGarde tests or chronicling the development of recoil-operation, here is how I broke it down, followed by his responses.

1. First things first, what do you want it for?

Personal protection and recreational target shooting.

2. Do you understand that there are serious considerations regarding using a firearm for personal protection?

Yes, I understand and have thought it through; really that is why I am at this point.

3. Do you want it as a carry gun?

No. I may later, but not right now.

4. How and where do you plan to store it?

I will keep it loaded in a lock box in my bedroom

5. What cartridge do you want it to chamber?

I think 9 mm Luger, as I want to make sure my wife can be comfortable with it.

6. Do you want a revolver or a semi-automatic?

Semi-automatic. I like how they feel in the hand. Revolvers seem bulky to me.

7. Do you want a “standard” magazine capacity, meaning more than 10 rounds in a duty gun?

Yes, it seems to me having more than I may need is better than not having enough.

8. Do you have your mind made up about what your frame should be made of, i.e., polymer, aluminum or steel?

Doesn’t matter. It just has to fit my hand, but still fit my wife’s hand as well.

9. Do want a double-action, a single-action or a striker-fired gun?

I am not really sure what all those terms mean, but I think I want a double-action (which after a bit of explaining, meant he wanted a conventional double-action/single-action).

10. Do you want a manual safety or do you want to rely on internal safety and the trigger pull weight-as well as safe gun handling-to make sure it only fires when you want it to do so?

Manual safety; it can’t hurt.

11. Do you want a gun with an external hammer?

I think an external hammer, because I can cock it manually if I have time for a better trigger pull, like on the range.

12. How much do you want to spend?

About $500.

13. Do you want to attach accessories to the gun, such as a flashlight or a laser?

Yes, maybe both, but probably I will put a light on it.

14. What kind of sights do you want?

I think night sights. Bad guys often break in at night, right?

15. Do you want sights that are adjustable, in particular for when you just go the range?

Well, yes, especially if it doesn’t hit where I point.

16. Do you want a grip frame that can adjust to hand size, i.e., having backstrap panels that can adapt to your wife’s hands?

Yes. It will be mostly my gun, but I would like my wife to be able to get her hands around it, too.

17. Is where it is made important to you, meaning made in the United States?

Yes and no. All things being equal, I would take a U.S.-made gun.

18. What barrel length do you want?

I think four or five inch, a full-size gun.

19. Do you want new or used?

If it is a newer gun in good shape, I would be OK with used.

20. Are you willing to take an NRA Basic Pistol Course if I help you out?

Yes, I wanted to take one with my wife and daughter anyway.

The result of this conversation led to a field trip to the Nation’s Gun Show in Chantilly, Va. I often recommend trying a gun out at a place that rents guns and has a range that you can try before you buy (is “SIG having a sign and shoot event” this weekend on end-of-year models?), but in this case it wasn’t necessary. The full-size, 9 mm Luger duty gun with an external hammer eliminated a lot of guns from the potential purpose list. Remaining were Berettas, CZ-75 based guns, FNs, H&Ks and SIG Sauers. So we looked at each of those. The H&K and the SIG were knocked out due to price (although they would have been at the top of his list if the budget were larger). The Berettas were still a little above his budget, but he could not find a Model 92 he liked for the price, and he wasn’t interested in the CZs.

He ended up with a 9 mm FN-USA FNX hammer gun with interchangeable backstrap inserts, drift-adjustable night sights and an accessory rail that was slightly used and came with three magazines. And he had enough cash left over for 100 rounds of Winchester white box ammunition.

Asking the right questions may be the best advice you can ever give a friend.


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