Seriously, you’d think gun guys and gals love this question, and we do. As a general firearms enthusiast, Blogger and NRA Instructor, it’s a question I get a lot, and I can certainly talk to it at length. However, it’s a tough one to answer, because there are so many great choices, and so many different factors involved. Different strokes for different folks, as they say.
For defensive POU’s, the answer is, “Get as much gun as you can comfortably and repeatedly shoot accurately.”
But there’s actually a bit more to it.
First of all, why do you want a gun? What’s your purpose, or philosophy of use (POU)? Personal protection carry gun? Personal protection home defense gun? (Though both focused on protection, some of the key factors that go into each are vastly different.) Recreational target shooting? Hunting? Competition? Perhaps a jack-of-all trades? Do you live in a Shall Issues Carry State? Will you actually carry the gun beyond trips to the range?
Will you be the only one shooting this gun, or do you want something the wife (or someone else) can also shoot effectively? (Are you 6’5”, 250lbs, married to a 5’3”, 100lb woman?)
Is this the first, only and last gun you will ever buy? (You may think so now, but I doubt it…)
What’s your tolerance for recoil? How about your wife’s, or other shooters?
What battery of arms are you comfortable with? A cocked-n-locked Single Action Only (SAO), Double Action Only (DAO), Double Action / Single Action (DA/SA)?
Wheel gun or auto pistol? Hammer or striker fired?
How do you feel about safeties and nanny devices? Do you want a gun with a safety lever that must be manually manipulated, or something with just internal safeties associated with trigger manipulation? Do you also want a grip safety? Do you want a decocker so you don’t have to dry fire the gun before field stripping, or to make it safer to carry hammer down with one in the pipe on a DA/SA gun like the Sig P226? How do you feel about those new nanny features (that actually do more harm than good because they don’t teach fundamentals) like loaded chamber indicators, or the inability for some guns to fire without a magazine in the gun? (Learn how to properly check the chamber and unload the gun. NEVER rely on nanny features.)
Ergonomics should be important to you. So, how big are your hands? What feels comfortable? Can you reach and easily manipulate all of the gun’s controls? (As I hinted above, those tiny, micro guns great for deep concealment carry are often difficult for shooters with large hands to manipulate and shoot accurately beyond a few yards. They may not make great home defense or jack-of-all-trades type guns.) If your wife or anyone else will be shooting the gun, you’ll likely want something that can be adjusted for different hand sizes by using different back straps or grip panels. Do you have any physical limitations or disabilities that need to be considered?
Are aesthetics important? Of course! Who spends hard-earned cash on something that doesn’t appeal to them at some level. That said, I’m a HUGE fan of Glock firearms. Though there are plenty who just can’t get past the no frills, all business, utilitarian looks. (If this is your first or second gun, focus on purpose of use, functionality, fit and feel over looks and coolness factor…)
OK, OK, I Know You Want Specific Recommendations…
When it comes to auto pistols primarily for home defense and recreational target shooting use, I steer most towards a full size (4″ – 5″ barrel) 9mm, aka the 9mm Parabellum, 9mm Luger, 9×19, 9x19mm, and sometimes with the “+P” designation.
The .40S&W has a snappy recoil. The .45ACP has a heavy recoil. The snappy and heavy recoil make it a challenge for some new shooters to get comfortable with, and master those calibers, especially if you go with something smaller or lighter. Do your research and you’ll discover the 9mm has a proven track record as a defensive round. (I believe it is also the most popular military handgun cartridge in the World.) And while in an emergency defensive situation any gun is better than no gun, even a .22lr, I personally don’t see any compelling reason to go smaller than the 9mm for home defense. With its mild recoil, especially in a gun with a 4″- 5″ barrel, I find men and women, the tall and the small, novices and experts alike all shoot the 9mm well. It is a round that in many instills confidence, and is a pleasure to shoot at the range. The round is so popular you can get ammunition anywhere in the World, and usually at reasonable prices. Likewise, due to its popularity, everybody in the game produces at least one 9mm variant, so you’re sure to find the pistol that’s just right for your needs, budget, and your tastes; regardless of whether you want a micro sized, super light pocket pistol like the Kel-tec PF-9, or a full-sized, full-featured battle pistol just like the ones used by our Navy Seals, like the Sig P226. Recoil aside, you also usually get 1 – 2 more rounds in the 9mm than in the same gun chambered for 40S&W, or 45 ACP. In fact the 9mm is so popular, and there are so many great choices, watch out for “analysis paralysis“. As my boss used to say, “That’s a high class problem to have.” Still want more direction? I can tell you from hands on experience that Beretta, Glock, SigSauer, and Springfield Armory all make fantastic choices. If I were now in the market for a new 9mm, I’d add FNH USA, Ruger and Smith & Wesson to that short-list.
Want a wheel gun?
You can’t go wrong with a 4” barreled .357 Magnum, with 6, 7, or even 8 shots. Simple to understand. Easy to operate and use. It’s something pretty much anyone can shoot, and shoot well, especially when loaded with light 38 Special ammunition, which shouldn’t to be discounted for defensive purposes. (You know they make 38+Ps for when full powered .357 Mag loads may be a little much, or when rockin’ a snubbie…) Here again, and from personal experience, Smith and Wesson and Ruger are at the top of my list, though Taurus is certainly also worthy of a look.
.38 Special, .380, 9MM, 40S&W, 45ACP
My Final Thoughts & Recommendations…
Talk to fellow gun enthusiasts. Surf the net. Buy the gun rags. Read as many reviews as you can. See what your friends have. (Get lost in some analysis paralysis for a bit.) But in the end, and while I certainly hope my thoughts are helpful, it really doesn’t matter what I, or anyone else thinks.
Finalize your POU. Think about who else may be shooting the gun. Narrow down your caliber choices. Decide if you want a wheel gun or an auto pistol. Finalize your short list. Then find out which Local Gun Stores (LGSs) have them in stock. Go to as many different guns stores as possible. Get hands on. Handle as many of your choices as you can. Always practice gun safety, and be advised that many LGS owners don’t want you to dry fire their guns – so ask first. Hit the range with friends as much as possible. Hit a range that rents if possible – especially if they rent the choices you’re considering. Send lead downrange.
In some cases, you’re going to find that what feels best in hand, and what you shoot best may NOT be the same gun you fell in love with from just pictures and specifications. I’ve seen it happen. Better to know before you fill out all that paperwork and plunk down all that hard earned cash.
It’ll come to you. Again, it’s a high-class problem to have – and we are VERY lucky to live in this Great Country, where we can have such a problem!
Be Aware! Be Prepared! Be Safe!
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