Congratulations! You completed your restricted course, passed the exam and received your PAL in the mail and now you’re ready to buy your first handgun. But what to pick? There certainly isn’t a shortage of options and choices. So where do you start?
First off, you will most likely set yourself a budget to work with. This will include the cost of the actual gun, but also factor in the cost of ammo, eye and hearing protection, cleaning and maintenance products, proper and legal storage at home and while transporting to and from the range.
Next, will you buy a revolver or semi auto? Which manufacturer? And what calibre will you go for?
For a lot of us, the choice of our first handgun is an emotional one. You might go for your favourite movie gun. Or maybe you want the same gun that a friend has and which you shot when he/she took you to the range and got you hooked on the shooting sports in the first place. When it comes to looks, there is no wrong choice, because it’s a personal decision.
As for calibre, a lot of experienced shooters will tell you to start with a .22LR. When I was personally told that, I was honestly a bit offended and hurt in my male pride. I wanted a “real” gun and not a plinker.
However, there is something to be said for starting with a .22LR handgun. The shooting sports requires a lot of practice, i.e. a lot of rounds down range. It pretty much is the only way to become proficient in proper grip, trigger control and stance. And shooting a .22LR is definitely the cheapest way to get in a lot of practice. At around $0.10 a round, you can spend an afternoon at the range to perforate quite a few targets without having to remortgage your home.
Besides the low cost, a .22LR handgun has very little to no recoil, which will enable a new shooter to spend a longer time at the range, since it puts less stress on wrists, elbows and shoulders.
On the other hand, you might decide to jump off the deep end and go for a larger calibre, such as a 9mm. Still a fairly cheap round to shoot and your array of available pistols widens up since it still is the most common calibre in semi auto handguns. However, compared to .22LR it is louder and packs a bit more punch.
By now you have done some research and decided on calibre and you have set yourself a budget to work with. So what’s next?
If you’re like me, you most likely spent some time browsing online to see what falls into your price range. And even though a picture says more than a thousand words, when choosing a handgun a picture alone won’t tell you much more than the aesthetics of the gun.
So next step is a trip to your nearest gun store. For first time gun buyers, this can be a bit intimidating and overwhelming. However, you will quickly feel at home, once you explain the sales staff what you’re there for. If there is one thing that gun owners and shooters love besides shooting guns, it is to introduce new shooters to the sport. You might find yourself hanging out at the store for quite a longer time than expected when you walked through the door. You will be asked a lot of questions in regards to what it is that you’re looking for. And then, it is time to actually handle some of the guns that are on display. This will enable you to get a feel for how the gun fits in your hand. Just remember the gun handling etiquette from your safety course though.
You will quickly notice that some handguns feel more comfortable and will point more naturally on target than others. Others might have controls, such as magazine release, safety and slide lock/release positioned in a more accessible or intuitive location for your hand.
By the end of your visit, your choice might have changed from when you arrived and that’s ok. For a lot a new gun buyers the decision making process ends here and they will make their first purchase there and then. However, if you have the option, there is one more step that we would recommend and that is to hang out at the range and talk to shooters there. Explain where you are in the process of purchasing your first handgun and you will be surprised how many people will offer you to try out their guns. If holding a gun at the store gives you a pretty good idea, then imagine what shooting a gun can do?
To conclude, there is no wrong or right when choosing your first handgun. It is a very personal decision, based on budget, looks and feel. However, research and talking to people will allow you to make a more informed decision.
Good luck and welcome to the shooting sports!