In the United States for the most part, citizens have the right to bear arms. To the writer, this means that with some exceptions, private citizens can own and carry guns for hunting, in the course of employment and self defense. Unless you live in Illinois, you will be able to carry a handgun for self-defense with varying degrees of regulation. This article isn't to argue that fact, nor to address politics save for what's apropos to same. Please consider this before making a comment.
This writer has been around guns for the better part of four decades and been handling and shooting them for 33 years. Admittedly, most have been shoulder guns; the two handguns fired were a Walther PPK in .380 caliber and a Smith and Wesson (can't remember the model, it was in 1981) in a .357. I would not call myself a "gun expert" by any means, but I've used tools most of my life and a gun is also one in the purest sense. I know a fair amount of you are at my level; hopefully this will be a benefit just the same.
Two months ago, I walked into a gun store looking for a "good cheap" handgun to put on layaway. There are as of this writing brand-new pieces to be had for under $200. Being the budget minded person I am, this is what I walked into the store considering. By the time I got done handling more than a few candidates, under my volition, chose something in the $500 range. What I got I will discuss in a later article.
There are many viewpoints about which brand, caliber, or action to buy. There are rabid fans of every make and model and they will tell you that you should buy a Glock, Colt, or even a Hi Point. Some will swear by a .45 or .40 caliber for their "renowned" stopping power, while others will insist on a .357 Magnum and still others a .380. There are the semi-automatic pistol crowd and those who would insist on a revolver or wheel gun. Not everyone of these guys and gals are experts either, but will gladly lend you their opinion. In that context, I'll lend you mine.
First off, the brand. My suggestion is to do your research as there are more than a few that will meet your needs. Reputation is a big deal when it comes to firearms as much it is with automobiles, beds and even roofing nails for that matter. With the exception of Glock, most of the reputable firms making guns have been around for a century or two. Whatever you buy, price is NOT the only consideration. Just because you can buy a new handgun for $150 doesn't mean it's a deal. Back in the 1980's there was a car called the Yugo that sold for about $4000 brand new. It also had no power steering, a manual transmission, and was literally 20 years old in design by the time it rolled into showrooms. It was only slightly safer than driving a motorcycle and had reliability issues. A cheap handgun will probably have outdated safety features, nor will you be able to mount accessories such as lasers or lights. To add to this, you will likely need tools and a lot of patience to maintain them. Hi Points for example, require a punch to field strip them, while Cobra, another budget gun "only" needs a ballpoint pen on their FS380. The aforementioned guns have many good points as well, as they are accurate and inexpensive as are their parts. They also have a lifetime warranty. In the right hands they're very capable. However, because I have arthritis in mine, pulling the slides back on both proved very difficult. That was a dealbreaker for me. I would rather save up for a couple months to buy what I'm REALLY comfortable with and WANT to have over settling. This purchase could save your life, or the lives of others. Is it really worth "saving" a few hundred dollars on a gun? You have to decide this for yourself.
Caliber is another hotly contested topic among gun enthusiasts, but with a few exceptions is over generalized. A .44 magnum has a lot of punch to put it mildly, but it also has recoil and the ammunition is expensive. You need to be able to practice with the thing and if you can't afford the ammunition, it will be no use anyway. On the other hand, .22 rimfires are cheap and plentiful, but how many do you want to shoot to try and stop an assailant? Most of the time, you're only going to be able to get off about 2 or 3 rounds in defense situation. These rounds, properly placed, need to have the mass and energy to do the job. Besides, the courts aren't going to look too kindly to you shooting anyone with 15 rounds. Explain all you want to a jury, but perception is reality. I'd rather throw them a $20 and get the hell out of there myself. For price and power, especially with a critical defense round, the 9mm is a good choice. The reason I favor a 9mm is because I can afford to practice more often than with a .40 or .45 and they have more power than a .380, which still costs more. With a revolver, I would get a .357 and use .38 special ammo for practice. Both will fit in a .357. Only .38 will fit in a gun with same.
Depending on whether you want a pistol or revolver is going to determine which ammunition you use, but exclusive of that there are pros and cons for each. Pistols hold more rounds than a revolver and are a lot easier to reload in a fight. They're also less expensive than a revolver (at least in my neck of the woods) and are flatter without the round cylinder. This makes them a little easier to conceal, but not a lot. The downside of pistols is that they need regular maintenance and practice to get familiar with them (any gun does, but pistols do especially, even Glocks). There are more moving parts and they can jam or misfeed for a variety of reasons, including dirty or corroded ammo. Revolvers aren't as finicky with ammo, nor do they have as many moving parts to contend with. They are more user friendly, but uncocking one can be tricky if pulling back the hammer. This is not an issue with a pistol. Most revolvers hold five or six rounds and since most fights only use about 2 or 3 rounds, this shouldn't be an issue. However, who wants to struggle loading rounds in a defense situation? Despite what you've heard, they still need practice and you still need to maintain them or bad things can happen. Pistols have safeties, but revolvers have a heavier trigger pull. With young children, a safety is nice option. Don't bet anyones life on it.
In the next article, I'll go a bit more in depth and review my choice. Maranatha!