Choosing your first handgun

Buying your first handgun is both an exciting and daunting task. We feel the thrill of getting our first handgun and the enjoyment it will bring while we also feel the weight of choosing from countless options.  To help you make the best choice, let’s take a few minutes and explore some things to consider when you are buying your first handgun.

The first thing you should consider is just what purpose the gun will serve. While most handguns can serve multiple purposes, there are some that better fit the task. If you are looking for a home defense handgun for example, you might want to scratch the .22LR cowboy revolver off the list.

In that same idea, choose a handgun in a common caliber. While .38 Super may seem like a sexy option, it can be a challenge to get ammo for your new blaster. Unless it is a dedicated competition gun and you have a dedicated ammo supplier, try to stick with the major calibers such as .380 AUTO, 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. These are common calibers that serve a wide variety of uses from self-defense to competition. There are also countless ammo options in these rounds as well. From inexpensive ball style ammo to high performance hollow points the choices are vast.

Next on our check list is to decide just what type action you want. The action refers to how the gun runs in relation to firing its ammunition. More specifically how the gun loads, locks, fires, and extracts the cartridge. This can be a little confusing to the beginner, but here is a short breakdown of what each action is. The first one we see is the single action gun. In single action guns, the trigger performs a single function. Pulling the trigger causes the hammer to drop. This means that the hammer must be manually cocked in order to fire the gun. Examples of this style are many old-style cowboy revolvers as well as the classic 1911.

The next design are double action guns. In DA guns, pulling the trigger causes two functions. First, the hammer is cocked back and secondly, the hammer is released which fires the round. Modern revolvers generally fall into this category. A point to consider regarding DA guns is that the trigger pull is substantially heavier than other guns.

Closely related to DA guns are those designated as double action/single action. These are guns where the first press of the trigger is in double action mode but following shots are single action. This occurs because the first press of the trigger cocks and releases the hammer, but the hammer is then reset by the cycling of the slide making the following shots easier.

The last design we will touch on is striker fired guns. These are by far the most popular guns in the US and abroad because of their simplicity of function. These guns do not have an exposed hammer like other designs. Instead, the gun functions by racking the slide to chamber a round which partially cocks an internal spring. When the trigger is pressed, this cocks the spring the remainder of the way, which causes the striker pin to hit the cartridge to fire the round. Guns in this category include Glock as well as many Smith & Wesson pistols. Now, there are a few other designs, but these are the primary actions that a majority of gun owners consider.

After you have checked the boxes on application and action, it is time to start shopping. Running from gun shop to gun shop can be time consuming and frustrating as many shops will try to sell you a gun that they believe you should have.

One of the best ways to shop is online. allow you to search and view dozens if not hundreds of options from the comfort of your own home. The process is pretty straight forward as well. Search for the gun you want, make the purchase on the site and then the gun will be shipped to a gun shop of your choice. maintains a searchable list of FFL holders (Federal Firearms Licensees) who are willing to manage the legal transfer of firearms to unlicensed persons. Find an FFL near you.

Almost all shops charge a “transfer” fee for receiving the gun and managing the paperwork. This is as much a courtesy fee as it is a processing fee. When a gun arrives at a shop there is specific legal documentation that must take place in the shop’s log books. This takes time. In that the shop is not actually selling you the gun, and thus missing out on potential profit, we gladly pay a transfer fee for their time and effort. Make sure you know what the exact fee the shop charges prior to moving forward with your purchase.  (Transfer Dealers on’s FFL Finder will list their fees.) Fees can range anywhere from $20 to as high as $75 in some cases. You will also need to consider any shipping costs. Even with this, online purchases usually beat the price of a local gun shop.

There are few first purchases as consequential as a handgun. It is important that you take the time to research and educate yourself on just what you are truly looking for. With this you can make the best choice possible and ultimately avoid buyer’s remorse. The internet and gun magazines can be good sources of information, but I encourage you to read more than one piece and make a decision.

A handgun is a very personal item and should fit you well. While your friend may sing the praises of this or that gun, it may not be a good fit for you. Glock is a good example. While they are extremely popular and perfect for a lot of people, it is not a good fit for everyone. Handguns are not a one size fits all purchase. Be patient and find the gun you really want. With that you will end up with a gun that you will enjoy for a lifetime.