Choosing a Defensive Firearm for a Carry Gun
By: Jeff Belanger, Instructor,Gunsmith
Choosing a Defensive Firearm
As an instructor I’m not a big fan of the snub nosed .38 special revolver as a defensive firearm for new shooters. A few people have written back asking what I do think a good choice would be. Since it’s never as simple as saying “Gun X” is the must have carry gun. I’ll explain my criteria when shopping for a new defensive firearm and hopefully something I write will help you when you’re making your next selection. The first question I ask myself is “What is the firearm’s primary purpose?”. If I’m shopping for a gun to always have with me at all times (the gun I carry when I don’t want to carry a gun), size and concealability will be more important to me than caliber. Once I know what I’m looking for, I’ll do some research and figure out who is making something which meets my criteria. Honestly, I do a lot of my weeding out right here. Just like lots of people who wouldn’t ever drive a certain make of car, there are firearms manufacturers out there whose products have always seemed substandard to me or caused me nothing but grief. As a gunsmith, if a certain gun is something I see in the shop quite a bit I guarantee you I wouldn’t bet my life on I’ll read internet reviews and see what people have to say about something, and then I’ll head off to the gun stores so I can actually hold the firearms I’m considering.
No More Than 5 Defensive Firearm Choices
Typically, my list of prospective choices is no more than 5 guns at this point. Keeping with my pocket pistol example, maybe I’ll find one that’s single action only. Since I know I’m not comfortable carrying a cocked gun in my pants pocket- I’ll take that off the list right now. Maybe the next one I look at is too small (or too large) for my needs- that’ll come off my list too. After familiarizing myself with the remaining defensive firearms and their controls, I’ll evaluate my two most important criteria next. “Does it point naturally?” and “Can I work it?” Holding the gun in my shooting grasp I’ll look at something (remember your safety rules here!) and bring the gun up as if to shoot. I then check to see if the sights have naturally aligned on the target or if I need to make an adjustment. I’II do this a few times to see if the gun is pointing where my brain thinks it should be. My goal here is not to find a gun that I can aim, but to find the gun that aims itself for the ones that do stay very high on my diminishing list of choices. “Can I work it?” is probably the most important aspect to consider- especially for women. You need to make sure you can manipulate the defensive firearm in every way possible. Ask yourself- Am I strong enough to rack the slide, lock the slide back? Can I release the magazine easily? If a revolver- am I strong enough to pull the trigger? etc. The answers will be different for each individual, and only the actual shooter can answer them. You’ll need to do all these things to load/unload your firearm, clear malfunctions, and operate it competently. If you’re lucky enough to have more than one choice left at this point, I would next consider accessories and caliber. It does you no good to have a carry pistol nobody makes a holster for or a semi-auto with magazines that are impossible to find. As to caliber, remember that smaller/lighter guns will always recoil more than a larger heavier gun in the same caliber. Generally, I always want the largest caliber I can comfortably handle when shooting, but this is never a deal breaker for me. The .380 I actually have with me when I need it will always be more effective than the .45 I left at home. Lastly, I try not to let price become a determining factor in choosing a defensive firearm.
Defensive Firearm at a Discount
If you wouldn’t buy a discount parachute at a garage sale, you shouldn’t treat your defensive firearm purchase any differently. I don’t know anyone who would consent to being maimed or killed for a couple hundred dollars, but people constantly take that risk when they stand at the gun counter and choose the discount budget brand gun which may not work when they need it most. This is something you are literally going to bet your life on if the time ever comes, treat your purchase with the seriousness it warrants. Be safe shoot straight and have fun out there!!