Any helpful info for a first-time handgun buyer?
July 17, 2008 8:43 PM   Subscribe

Any helpful information for a first-time handgun buyer?

posting a question from my husband:

I didn't grow up with guns, and I have no idea what the gun purchasing process is like. I'm inclined to really take my time with it a) so I'm confident that I'm completely prepared for gun ownership and b) to be sure I get the best gun for me. What helped you best prepare?
Obviously, classes are in order, but in my head I'm also imagining some sort of gun mentor type, who I can meet with a few times. Is there such a person?

I'm in Austin, if anyone has any local recommendations. Thanks in advance.
posted by hannah09 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
If you have kids, sit them down before and after the handgun purchase and talk to them about it. Explain the parts of the (unloaded, of course) gun to them, let them hold it, explain to them how they should never, ever use it, that sort of thing. Hide it well, but explain to them that they are never to touch a gun when they see it. Ever. Make this very clear. I say this because it's much better for everyone to know about the gun that's in the house than to have someone stumble upon a shiny new toy while poking around in the closet for christmas presents. Explain that a gun is not a plaything, it is a tool, and it is a tool that can only be used by mom and dad, and all that good stuff. Knoweldge and awareness is much safer than secrecy.

If you don't have kids, then...yeah, you're definitely on the right track with classes, etc. I can't offer you much specific info there, though.
posted by phunniemee at 9:00 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

There are lots of things to consider. What do you want the gun for? Is it for self-defense? Hunting? Target shooting? Simply collecting guns? All of these are different handguns. Do you want a handgun that you can carry concealed? Do you want a revolver or a semi-auto? There are pros and cons for both. If you are looking at a semi-auto do you want a pistol with a high capacity? Large caliber? Ease of carry? All of these things will factor into your eventual purchase. So I guess that first you need to decide for what particular reason (or reasons) you want a handgun. After that you need to decide on a price-range. There are pretty good pistols in pretty much all price ranges--it just depends on what your criteria are.
posted by anansi at 9:03 PM on July 17, 2008

Also, go to a gun range. You can rent pistols there. Try various types and calibers. See what you are comfortable with. You may like the idea of a .44 but not everyone enjoys shooting those handcannons. You may be attracted to one of the sub-compacts, like a Glock 30, but those things are so small that they have more recoil, respectively than other .45's and they don't fit in everyone's hand. Try a bunch and see what you like.
posted by anansi at 9:07 PM on July 17, 2008

Not sure what the regulations are like in Texas, but in my home state pawns shops usually double as gun dealers. I've found them mostly to be very helpful in discussing guns and guiding you to one that will suit your purposes. So, find out who the gun dealers are in your area and work the circuit until you find a guy who is helpful and sincere. Serious gun dealers will understand that it's a lengthy process picking out the gun you want, so they won't rush to make the sale.

There is nothing wrong with going into a gun shop and say, "Hey, I've never owned a gun before, can you help me?" Take your time. Look at everything, then go home and think about it. Go back a few days later, look at everything again. Repeat as necessary.

As for what gun to buy, that depends completely on what you intend the use to be. Sport shooting or recreational shooting will take you down one path, buying a gun for "protection" will go another route.

Please note there will be a ton of MeFi's along shortly to tell you that buying a gun for protection is oxymoronic. In some cases they have the stats to back that claim up. Just be aware that if that is your motivating factor then you should probably do a lot more research and carefully weigh the pros and cons of gun ownership before taking the plunge.

Also realize that while it may not be out of the ordinary in Austin, gun ownership will freak some people out. Owning a hand gun is not something you talk about in mixed company in certain parts...
posted by wfrgms at 9:13 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Trying lots of pistols helped me decide what to buy. A few of my friends own handguns and you can rent them at many shooting clubs or for-pay ranges here in California. I wound up buying a pistol in a little bit of an odd chambering: .38 Super, because I fell in love with the way it felt, but the same one in .45 ACP seemed extreme to me. The pistol I bought is the same model as a friend's, but a later manufacture date.

I grew up around rifles and shotguns, and hadn't contemplated having a pistol until I found what fun they are at a range.

On preview: +1 anansi.
posted by jet_silver at 9:14 PM on July 17, 2008

Also, go to a gun range. You can rent pistols there.

This one. It's like a test drive for firearms.
posted by Nelsormensch at 9:15 PM on July 17, 2008

Red's comes very highly recommended. They're very friendly and knowledgeable and you can rent all kinds of firearms by the hour to test them out. To again echo anansi, think about what you specifically want it for when purchasing.
posted by Roman Graves at 9:40 PM on July 17, 2008

Definitely go to a local gun range with rental, ideally on a slow day like a Tuesday. The guy renting you the gun will be a gun enthusiast, knowledgeable about the different kinds of guns. You'll be able to try out his suggestions.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:40 PM on July 17, 2008

Some of these gun ranges are actually gun shops with a range inside them (usually in the back, but you can usually hear the pop-pops of people firing. These are the best IMO because you can see the price and such for the guns you are renting, and they usually keep their rental guns in great shape.

Also, when you get to the range, make sure you read all the rules (twice if you have to) and ask the person in charge to give you some ground rules or a quick lesson so you don't feel too awkward and so you know any weird parts or operation of the gun.

Most important thing I've found when "trying on" a gun: Don't let your finger slip onto the trigger. Nearly every gun I've ever handled my finger just naturally slides right down there, so it takes a conscious effort not to do it, but really, try. Accidents suck.
posted by nursegracer at 11:12 PM on July 17, 2008

One good thing about living in the U.S. is that you can, within reason, own as many firearms as you like. And you can recoup the investment in firearms you've "outgrown," by selling them, which gives you money to spend on other weapons you come to prefer. So, think of this purchase as buying your first handgun, so that the choice is not fraught with the pressure to find the "perfect" weapon, before you really know what you want. Your first gun will probably teach you some things about yourself and about guns, that you're not going to find out any other way but by owning and firing a hand gun regularly. If you start with a popular make, in a reasonable caliber, selling or trading it won't be hard, if and when your interests change, or become better defined.

For people new to hand guns, I generally advise that they purchase a revolver, for two reasons. First, a revolver is a dead simple, rugged mechanism, that is not greatly dependent on characteristics of its ammunition, or its own state of cleanliness, to fire predictably. If a single round doesn't fire in a common double action revolver, the "corrective action" is generally to simply pull the trigger again, advancing the next chamber to fire. In contrast, most gas operated automatic pistols are dependent on the ammunition they use for proper chamber pressure, and automatic weapons must be generally be clean and properly lubricated to fire predictably. Second, to achieve and maintain accuracy with a hand gun, one must practice with it regularly, and some revolvers, such as the .357 Magnum, are capable of firing less expensive, lower recoil ammunition for target practice (.38 Special at about $17.38 per 50 rounds for 158 grain manufacturer reloads, or about $0.35 a shot), as well as .357 Magnum loads ($25.25 per 50 rounds, for 158 grain), where greater stopping power is needed. So, you can save a little money, and some wear on the gun, shooting practice ammunition, reliably, with a revolver.

The traits of a revolver that make it less desirable as a carry weapon than an automatic, are that it generally offers fewer shots than an automatic pistol of similar frame size and weight. Revolvers generally have from 4 to 8 rounds, whereas automatic pistols with up to 21 round magazines are common. Reloading a revolver can be done about as fast as changing a clip in an automatic pistol, using a strip loader or a speed loader, but you will reload a revolver more frequently than an automatic pistol, on average. Revolvers are also generally not as slim in profile as automatic pistols can be, which makes automatic pistols easier to conceal in carry locations. But, a compact frame, snub nose .357 revolver, such as a Taurus 605 or Taurus 651 (if you can find one, as this is a discontinued model), is still a pretty compact, light hand gun, easily concealed. And for the added $100 or so cost of titanium construction, you get a weapon that is nearly 8 ounces lighter (at 17.5 oz) than its stainless steel version, and that is oblivious to corrosion from sweat or holster wear.

Of course, if concealed carry is not a use you want to consider, you may find that full sized target pistols in .22 caliber provide lots of low cost per round target shooting fun, or that full sized revolvers in longer barrel lengths or automatic pistols are more suitable to your interests. But as I said to begin with, you can own several firearms, each with better characteristics for a particular role, as your shooting interests expand. I wouldn't pick a specialist gun as a first weapon, and getting proficient with a gun suitable for concealed carry, at ranges up to 15 yards, provides an introduction to safety, range target shooting, and personal protection that you can build on.

The one thing I will say about picking a gun from short personal tests at firing ranges, is that you'll be much better at doing this, after you've fired a lot of guns :-) For an absolute beginner, firing a lot of guns in a short time at a range, may not be as informative, simply because you have little baseline for comparison. That's especially true if you are firing lots of different calibers, with varying setups, not all of which will be optimal for your hands and style. The right grips and an action job (and with automatics, even different ammunition) can make a big difference in the way a given gun feels and shoots, and my experience is that most beginning shooters have a problem evaluating how changes will feel, until they have a gun with those differences in hand. And frankly, in my experience, not all gun store employees are objective; many have strong personal opinions that carry into their recommendations, or work in places where the stock selection is necessarily limited. One guy I know reliably sends as many people out the door with replica M1911 .45 automatics as he can, because he thinks that is best handgun ever made. He owns more than 30 examples, too. But I am not as sure as he is, that it is the best recommendation to make to everyone that doesn't already have an M1911.

As for the mechanics of purchase in the U.S., it depends on whether you buy from a retailer/dealer, or an individual. If you buy a used gun in a personal transaction from an individual, or at a gun show, you may not need to fill out federal or state firearms paperwork at all. [In my experience, gun shows are actually good places for a neophyte to visit, before purchasing a first gun, and there are plenty coming up in the Austin area. For $5 at the door, you can wander around, handle (but not shoot) plenty of weapons, get a ton of opinions and anecdotes, and have a much clearer sense of prices and values; you may even find the gun you want.] But if you buy from a retailer, or want to buy from Internet sources where the weapon will cross state lines in the sale, you'll probably be dealing with a federally licensed gun dealer at the point of transfer, and you'll have to conform to federal and perhaps state and local requirements such as sales tax and sales registration, and where you'll take possession of the gun. Retail dealers are experienced with the laws in your vicinity, and will have all the necessary forms. Retail dealers also tend to offer additional services, sometimes bundled with a purchase, such as gunsmithing, repairs, accessories and even classes ranges [PDF list of Texas ranges for certification of handgun CCW permits].

Finally, as a hand gun owner, you'll assume responsibility for the safe storage, transport and use of your weapon and ammunition, at all times. Training classes, including concealed carry classes, are good, even if you don't plan to concealed carry your gun, or use it for anything other than target shooting. Presently, concealed carry license applications in Texas are backed up, so you can expect longer than legally mandated delays in processing until the backlog is processed. IANAL, but as I understand it, Texas has recently liberalized its transport law, and adopted "castle doctrine" so that the act of transporting a handgun within your sphere of control in a vehicle is now lawful, and that firearm use for self-defense is on a better defined basis. Still, a home gun safe, a portable transport safe, and/or other safety measures may be mandated for your jurisdiction by local or state laws to meet the practicalities of many situations (although mandatory trigger lock requirements are now unconstitutional), such as when you are leaving your weapon unattended in a vehicle to enter a school, or a government building where firearms are prohibited. Generally speaking, "hiding" your gun is not meeting your responsibility for safe storage; if the gun is out of your immediate personal control or supervision, it should be properly secured.
posted by paulsc at 12:19 AM on July 18, 2008 [11 favorites]

Step 1: Take a safety course. Make sure it's an NRA-approved curriculum (99% are), and includes both classroom and range time. There's an online-finder-thingy here. You want the 'Basic Pistol' course ... it's probably 2 half-days or maybe one long day. Totally worth it, if you didn't grow up with handguns. Even if you did, still worthwhile. While at the course, ask people for recommendations of local ranges that rent firearms, good local stores, and any upcoming shows.

Step 2: Go to a range that offers rentals. Go at a time that's not crowded (like, not Saturday or Sunday) and rent anything that might potentially interest you. Keep a very open mind at this point, unless you know you have very specific requirements. (The training course should have prepared you to use both revolvers and semis, so go nuts.)

What you'll want to look for when you're renting depends on what you want to do ... if you're planning on doing 50' bullseye competition, you're not going to be looking for the same things as you would in a carry gun ... but just look for whatever the important points are. Especially how it fits your hand.

Step 3: Once you've shot a few different guns, I'd make some pro/con lists ... what things did you like on different guns, and what didn't you like? This will help a lot in doing research. At this point you can either do research on your own, which is the way to go if you're going to be shopping at multiple dealers or at gun shows (where you can sometimes get good deals but also ripped off), or if you have a really good dealer you trust (ask people in class or at the range for recommendations) you can just bring your pro/con list down and talk to them. As with the range, go when there isn't a crowd and you're likely to get a lot more attention.

One suggestion: Don't pretend to know more about guns than you do, if you're trying to get help/assistance from someone. Most gun owners (and store owners, particularly) are more than happy to explain things; if someone says something that's Greek to you, tell them to back up and explain. It's potentially dangerous to let people assume that you know more than you do, and for some reason people do this frequently.

And always remember safety first — if you're ever around someone who's being unsafe, call them on it, and if they don't stop, leave. If you have kids, or if you ever have kids in your house, get a gun safe.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:57 AM on July 18, 2008

First: Use ear protection. All those Dirty Harry movies are a joke, you can't hear a goddamned thing if you shoot a .44 mag or even a .357 indoors without ear protection -- it's painful. Even outdoors, and especially at a range, with the stalls on either side, some of them roofed also -- I'm certain some of my hearing loss is due to youthful stupidity at a range in Houston, a .357 with very hot loads -- dumb.

Second. I'm not sure about Reds but I've shot some at the indoor range up in Pflugerville -- Cooks -- and it's sweet, really well done, though it's not air conditioned, thus interesting in summer. They've got about every possible kind of pistol to rent, and, as others above have noted, the people working there know whereof they speak.

Next. This weekend is the monthly SAXET (TEXAS backwards -- how lame is that?) Gun Show; it moves from town to town in Texas, here in Austin third weekend every month. It's actually sortof amazing; I took an old buddy from London there on one of his visits and he just could not get his head around it at all, and it's not surprising. You'll see everybody from gangbangers to cops of every description to survivalist nuts to Melvin and Myrtle out with the kids, you'll get your hands on thousands of guns, you can buy ammo cheap, you'll see stuff you'll find hard to imagine -- you can buy an Uzi (or four), any kind of pistol or rifle or knife imaginable (and that does include switchblades, which are very, very illegal but there they are, bigger than Dallas), swords, cross-bows large and bitty, a shirt for your kid, water-proofed fuse by the foot, a Smith and Wesson hat for your mother, a coke and a hot dog. (Being Austin, I'd bet you can get some sort of vegetarian sandwich or other.) If you've got an old Buck knife that's gotten dulled and the brass tarnished, make sure to take it with you -- there's a guy who sets up outside, in five minutes your knife will be sharp as a razor and prettier than new, costs five bucks, worth every nickel.

Get something that fits your hand well. I've got big hands, I like big pistols, I shoot them well; I've got a buddy with small hands and his guns are hard for me to shoot, little bitty grips, they slip around in my hand. Lots of guys carry bitty pistols and shoot the hell out of them but I'm not one of them. You can buy specialized grips to make the fit better for your particular hand; I've bought large ones for my pistols (duh).

Brands. You'll pay premium prices for Smith and Wesson, Colt, Sig, Beretta, Glock, Para Ordinance. They're all great pistols but they're awfully proud of them, if you catch my drift. Ruger makes pistols that are (IMO) every bit as good (especially revolvers, which are top rank) and just whole lots less expensive than a Smith or a Colt or what have you. That said, don't buy any pistol if you don't really like it and/or can't shoot it well; spend the bread to get the pistol you want. (I've heard good things about Taurus also, and I know that Rossi makes some nice S&W revolver knockoffs, in Brazil if I'm not mistaken.)

Also realize that while it may not be out of the ordinary in Austin, gun ownership will freak some people out. Owning a hand gun is not something you talk about in mixed company in certain parts...
posted by wfrgms

Austin is such a trip -- I'm almost positive it's the only place in America where you can date a Reiki master/instructor and her not get all fussy about your loving guns, carrying a pistol, etc and etc. Voice of experience. There was some eye-rolling but she's a Texan, she got it. I don't think you'd find many psychotherapists who carry a gun in, let say, Chicago, or San Diego maybe, but I'm almost certain that my therapist carries a pistol, I know for a fact that she has in the past, and that she shoots out on her little ranch, absolutely knows her way around guns, I'd bet dollars to dimes she's taught her son about them. She's the best therapist I've ever come across (more experience), she's loving and caring and competent and bright as a flower -- dare I say she's pretty as a pistol? -- but she's absolutely Texan, she's tough as an old boot, she loves guns and all, though you'd not probably guess that by looking around her office, all of her own art on the walls, and it's not tacky junk, either; she's the real deal. A fine gal.

If you want to buy an unpapered gun, you can get them by the boatload at the gun show, or any other show in Texas; you just have to buy them used is all. I'd not buy an automatic used unless I knew its history but a revolver is hard to trash; make sure the bore is not pitted, try to get a sense of how many rounds have been shot through it via scratches etc. Ask the seller, too -- why not, right? Buyer beware, that whole thing, but you can surely save a lot of money and get it unpapered, to boot.

These things aren't toys. I've been around them all my life, and all sorts of other tools also, and it's ingrained in me but it isn't in you, not yet. It's a serious commitment to safety involved. They're lots of fun but they are goddamned dangerous. I mean, that's obvious, right? But really, be careful. I saw a little girl almost get shot at a range; of course she had no business being there but she was, and she walked directly in front of a guy (her dumb-ass father) seated with a deer rifle -- a horror show. As noted in prior post, don't hang around if there's someone even the least nutty at a range (or anywhere else). Most ranges are well policed but some are not, I was at one where there was a guy who'd been drinking and was not sober -- very, very bad news. I got the hell out of there, fast, and told them in the office as I left; on reflection, I ought to have called the sheriff pronto. FYI -- it's the tacky outdoor range on 290, east of town about ten minutes.

Okay, enough already! Or probably way too much. Put a keyboard in my hands and I'm a hazard.

So I'll stop.

Have fun!

posted by dancestoblue at 2:07 AM on July 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

-- dare I say she's pretty as a pistol? --
( Review - mixin' up my dang metaphors... )
-- dare I say she's hotter than a pistol? --
posted by dancestoblue at 3:12 AM on July 18, 2008

You've gotten some really good advice here on types and models of pistols to try, and places to shoot them, so I won't repeat any of that.

I want to urge you, unless you are in the unusual position of never ever having a child in the house or friends visiting, to buy one of those little handgun safes with a touch-combination lock. You can bolt it to the floor or a piece of furniture (to make theft harder); the lock is easy to operate by touch in the dark.

And it means that if your sister in law brings over her kids unannounced, or you have houseguests for the weekend, you don't have to worry about someone poking around and thinking "hey, this is cool!" and tragedy ensuing. Just budget the cost of the gun safe into the price of the gun; it's a cheap way to get piece of mind. If you have kids of your own, I think this is even more important -- even if you train your own kids in safe gun handling, they will bring over friends who might go exploring and who may not be so safe.

Any local store (including Walmart) should have a decent selection, or you can buy them online.
posted by Forktine at 5:56 AM on July 18, 2008

Definitely agree with the idea of educating the household about the gun. Guns are only as harmful or harmless as the hands they are in. The more people who are educated on gun safety and proper use, the better we all are.
posted by gjc at 5:56 AM on July 18, 2008

Great advice, but I'm surprised that no one mentioned this yet: the Brady law regulations. If you're buying a handgun (not a hunting rifle), there will be a background check to make sure you're not a former violent felon or mental patient, and you'll have to wait three days after you purchase the gun to actually take possession of it from the gun shop. I understand that "gun shows" have some level of unintended exemption from these rules.

Texas happens to be one of the easier state to buy and own a gun in, overall.

And, since it can't be said enough, never point a gun at anything unless you want it to die.
posted by Citrus at 6:20 AM on July 18, 2008

9mm may very well be a good choice in a handgun for your husband, but it also does matter so very much how he intends to use the gun.

9mm is cheaper than many of the larger calibers and is also large enough to be used in a self defense situation.

For a first pistol, I would recommend the Glock 19. This is a fairly inexpensive, highly reliable, and common general purpose pistol that will most likely meet all your needs.
posted by Slenny at 8:16 AM on July 18, 2008

in some place, in minnesota for sure, you can apply ahead of time for a permit to purchase a handgun ahead of time. they do a back ground check and you are good for a year. My word of advice is, try before you buy. I bought a Sigma .40 S&W. the trigger pull sucks. way to heavy. I thought it was a close enough knock off of a glock, which I love the trigger pull. also know what you want to do. .40 rounds are really expensive. for just plinking, I wish I would have just gotten a nine milimeter. nthing the educate people who will be around the gun.
posted by Amby72 at 8:31 AM on July 18, 2008

Above are great recommendations on how to choose a gun. I just want to add mine for keeping a gun.

1. Do not indiscriminately tell people you have a gun. This might make exciting latte or happy hour conversation but it's really best not to advertise you have one in your home. You never know who might tell who or who overhears you. Seriously, you never know who might tell who! The fact is that many gun owners are killed by intruders in their home with their own gun. Sometimes it is because the intruder heard they had the gun and wanted to steal it for quick cash or for their own use or because the intruder wanted to harm them.

2. When you transport the gun in and out of your home do not let it be known what you are doing.If you can pull your car into the garage, lower the garage door and then take the gun out of the car into the house or vice-versa, that is the best way to do it.

3. Do not hide the gun in an obvious place.The best place for your gun is a locked gun cabinet. However, if it is not in a cabinet, don't just put it in the bedside table. That's the first place thieves and intruders will look. Try to be creative. One good place is inside the closet just above the door frame. Most intruders thieves will look in the closet but not look up. Think along those lines.

As for the tips on having kids and guns in the same home, the above info was good. I was a kid whose father and grandfather are serious gun collectors. I grew up going to shooting ranges and in high school some of my friends and I went to trash dumps to shoot stuff up. In college, many friends brought their guns to campus.

Many people I knew grew up with them and had a respect for firearms. I think it's because when we were young we were shown the guns and allowed to handle and use them, supervised of course. When you go to a range or a dump and you fire one, you understand how powerful they are. It was also drilled into my head to always be conscious of where the gun is pointing and that if it's not aimed at a target, it should be pointing at the ground.
posted by i_love_squirrels at 9:08 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

and you'll have to wait three days after you purchase the gun to actually take possession of it from the gun shop

This is not true in this case, as waiting periods vary by state. There is no handgun waiting period here in NM, and there isn't one in Texas, either. Around here, you get your new handgun as soon as you hand over your payment and pass the Federal telephone background check. Texas is probably the same, but if you're worried about it, ask at the gun store.

in my head I'm also imagining some sort of gun mentor type, who I can meet with a few times. Is there such a person?

There probably is. The local Handgun Guru is often one of the guys who teach the handgun classes; if not, the guy who teaches your handgun class will know who it is. So, begin with the basic class, and then ask around afterwards. There will almost certainly be someone at the range who'll be willing to hook you up with some personal instruction, either free or for a reasonable fee. Nothing beats one-on-one instruction... it'll help you form good shooting habits early.

As for buying the gun, the advice above is great! Don't forget that you will probably also want to buy at least one extra magazine (for a pistol) or some speedloaders/moon clips (for a revolver). You should have a minimum of two (usually a pistol comes with one, or sometimes two; revolvers generally don't include one, but the upside is that they're dirt-cheap), and three or more is even better. It'll make your day at the range a lot more fun if you can shoot for a while before you have to fumble with the ammo.

Another thing that's worth getting at the start is a holster. You will need one of these if you plan to carry and shoot a handgun safely; if it's not in your hand (and thus either pointing at the target or in a safe direction), it should be in a holster which completely covers the trigger guard. Don't just shove it in your waistband or pocket, or leave it lying loose in a drawer, briefcase, or bag! These are great ways to set up an accidental discharge, which will spoil your fun in a hurry.

To start, you will probably want a strong-side belt holster. If you think of the typical "cop" holster design, that's pretty much what this is. It goes outside your clothing attached to your belt, on your dominant hip, and is typically worn back a bit (around 3:30 or 4:00). It's not very concealable unless you're always wearing a jacket or a long shirt, but it is perfect for the range and for open carry. The most important thing is to get a holster that fits your gun. It should cover all of the trigger guard, allow for a proper shooting grip on the draw, and hold the gun securely without moving around on your belt. If you can't put your gun in (unloaded!) and turn the holster upside-down without it falling out, choose another holster. If the holster doesn't stay in the same spot on your belt when you walk, sit down & stand up, or draw the gun, choose another holster. Also, the holster should stay open when the gun isn't in it -- the cheap nylon ones tend to collapse when empty, which creates a hazard when you're re-holstering.

Many companies make holsters which are specifically designed to fit popular gun models; I recommend one of these rather than something generic that goes by size. Expect to pay between $40 and $100 to start. IMHO, nylon is not worth the trouble, so Kydex (plastic) or leather is the way to go; some people prefer one or the other, so try both in the store and see what you think.

Choosing a holster for daily-carry concealment is a bit more complicated; it's generally a trade-off between comfort and concealment, and you'll probably try several holsters before finding one you really like. Here's an article on choosing a holster for concealment; here's another one.
posted by vorfeed at 10:24 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

The one thing I would add here is that you and your husband should do some soul-searching. Can you really kill a man who has broken into your home? I had to do this when I bought my first handgun, so you can all imagine what my answer was.

I'm not saying this to dissuade you. I'm saying this because it's extremely dangerous to introduce a firearm to the conflict if you can't or won't use it. THAT is when criminals take your gun away and use it against you. But, if you CAN use it, and you know exactly where you stand morally and legally, then your handgun will in fact be an asset to your security.

So study the law, and study yourself.

Also, on a less serious note, I advise going to the range and renting .22s for a while so that you get more comfortable shooting. Going straight to big calibers can cause a flinch response that really hurts your shooting and takes a LONG time to overcome.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 10:27 AM on July 18, 2008

To clarify, I had to do SOUL SEARCHING. I haven't had to shoot anybody, thank heavens.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 10:28 AM on July 18, 2008

Wow, Doctor S., I thought you had to shoot someone.
Glad you didn't.
Agreed that you shouldn't have a gun anywhere available for home defense if you don't think you could shoot them.

Also, if you go to Red's, bring a sweater. It IS air conditioned. Spectacularly. As an indoor range, they want to keep a positive air pressure that forces smoke and airborne lead downrange.
Also, I have been known to try out a gun by renting one at Red's before buying one.
It's why I own not a single Glock or Kahr. They just feel like crap in my hand.

Lots of good advice here, so I won't pile on.
posted by Seamus at 12:55 PM on July 18, 2008

I'm weeks late to the game here, and the answers you've already gotten are excellent, but I'd like to reinforce a couple of points already made:

Base the type of gun on your needs; revolvers are easier to use, but are often bulkier than automatics, large caliber guns have more stopping power but are more expensive to shoot for fun at the range, so knowing exactly what you want the gun for will help you determine which one will be best for you.

As a sort of general at-a-glance description, I offer this:

Revolvers: Very reliable; never jam. But they generally only hold six rounds (some hold five, some hold up to eight, but they are far less common than six round cylinders.) They don't have safeties which is good in that you don't have to fumble for it in a panic, but it's bad in that you don't have that extra level of effort before you can fire. This depends on preference. Most really big caliber guns are going to be revolvers.

Semi-Automatics: They come in all sizes and shapes, they can hold as few as five rounds or as many as twenty. The main benefit is that they can be reloaded very quickly (removing an empty magazine and replacing it with a full one can be done in less than a second) but they do tend to be more complicated than a revolver. If the gun is for self defense, this complication can be bad because it turns into fumbling.

General caliber information:

.22: Inexpensive and fun to shoot, not particularly loud, and everything you learn while shooting one of these will scale up to larger rounds if you care to go that route. I would not advise using this as a self defense round though.

9mm/.45: are the most common of the semi-automatic calibers, both are excellent, common, and not too expensive. There are fiery debates about which is better, for most applications, they are about equal.

.40 S&W: Bridges the gap between the size and speed and is becoming very popular.

.38/ .357/ .44: these are typically revolver rounds, they are big, loud, and powerful. They are great fun to shoot, but kind of expensive.

I've taught many people to shoot, and I can make a few recommendations here: Bring good hearing protection, nothing makes it unfun more quickly than wincing from the sound. Wear a shirt with a high neck; getting burned from a piece of hot brass kind of sucks.

And when choosing your gun, handle it quite a bit before you buy. Make sure it feels good in your hand and you can operate all the controls easily.
posted by quin at 3:43 PM on August 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

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