Choosing Your First Defensive Firearm

 

woman-at-gun-rangeIf you’ve decided to take responsibility for your own self-protection and become your own first responder, you’re in good company. This year, on Black Friday, Americans bought enough guns to outfit the entire Marine Corps (and a few extra Army Divisions as well).

The fact is, though, that going into a gun store to purchase a firearm can be an intimidating event. It’s like buying a new big screen TV for your home or upgrading the stereo in your car: There are a lot of technical terms and a lot of choices to make, sometimes with no clear distinction between one product and another. Guns, for the most part, are a consumer item, just like a blender or a microwave or a television, so what you plan on doing with your gun is going to affect what kind of gun you’re going to buy. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume you’re looking for something that is first and foremost to help keep yourself and your family safe inside your home, and then possibly to carry outside the home as well.

If that’s your situation, I would recommend starting with a modern, compact polymer service pistol in 9mm, such as the Glock 19, the Smith & Wesson M&P9c, the Sig Sauer P320 Carry, Ruger SR9-C, or the FNS-9 Compact. All of these guns are very reliable, very safe to handle, and very easy to use. Also, most of these have a wide variety of accessories available so your gun can grow in capabilities as you do.

One of the reasons why I recommend these particular guns to first-time gun buyers is because of the way they’re operated (also called their “manual of arms”), which is essentially the same for each and many other pistols as well. If you learn to shoot one of these guns well, chances are you’ll shoot well with just about any modern pistol. (We’ll leave the discussion on revolvers for a later time. I like ’em, but I believe their time has passed.)

Also, while I really like long guns such as shotguns and rifles as home defensive weapons, what they give you in terms of firepower comes at the cost of flexibility: It’s not as easy to move around inside your house with a long gun on your shoulder as it is with a pistol in your hand, and people tend to frown on slung shotguns being carried into a Walmart. Inside the home, a long gun is ideally suited to guarding a safe room, or for backing your defensive pistol with even more firepower.

The balancing act of concealed carry.

Pick any two.

The modern compact 9mm is close to the sweet spot of accuracy, firepower and concealability: They’re small enough to carry on a regular basis, they carry enough rounds to get the job done, and they are easy to shoot and practice with.

I personally prefer 9mm because the recoil is manageable and the cartridge size allows you to have a good number of rounds with you at all times. If recoil is more of an issue, look at the Glock 42, Ruger LC380 and KelTec PMR30, as they’re about the same size as those other guns, yet shoot lower-powered but effective cartridges like .380ACP and .22 Magnum.

You may be tempted to buy a smaller-sized gun in 9mm than the ones listed above because you believe you’ll carry a smaller gun more often than you will a larger one. Resist that temptation, because subcompact 9mm’s, like the Ruger LC9 or Glock 43, are to defensive firearms what on-screen keyboards are to touch-typing: They work well only if you know what you’re doing before you get one.

Buying a defensive gun means very little if you’re not willing to have it near you on a day-in, day-out basis. If you’re going to carry your gun, buy at least one holster for your gun, and get used to the weight and bulk of your gun by carrying it with you every day. If you’re not going to carry, make sure your gun is safe from inquisitive hands. You purchased a gun to protect your family from harm — it is essential to make sure they’re protected from harming themselves with it.

No matter which option you chose, get training in how to effectively use your gun under stressful conditions, and make sure you maintain the skills you learned in class with regular practice, because the life you save may be your loved one’s. Or your own.

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  1. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    M1919A4:I am an old revolver man myself and currently have Ruger LCR revolvers in .38 and .357 for my wife and myself…

     

    I do not consider the five round limit a significant handicap, as I feature that anything we encounter outside of the house will be a one-on-one or small group approach and five ought to be enough.

    For brandishing to scare off, almost anything will work. Once the lead starts to fly, you need much more.

    • #61
  2. M1919A4 Member
    M1919A4
    @M1919A4

    ctlaw: For brandishing to scare off, almost anything will work. Once the lead starts to fly, you need much more.

    I agree.  These are not appropriate weapons for a firefight.

    On the other hand, the FBI statistics that I remember, which well may be dated, is that most shootings involving “civilians” occur at short distances (around seven feet or closer) and end with fewer than a total of not more than six shots fired by both or all parties.  For that sort of engagement, I am hoping that the revolvers will be adequate.

    I’d be glad to know if there are different or more recent statistics published.

    • #62
  3. Kevin Creighton Contributor
    Kevin Creighton
    @KevinCreighton

    M1919A4:I am an old revolver man myself and currently have Ruger LCR revolvers in .38 and .357 for my wife and myself. The trigger is the best I ever have found on an out-of-the-box revolver and the hammer is enclosed, so she can carry it in her purse without worry about its catching on something when it is drawn.

    I do not consider the five round limit a significant handicap, as I feature that anything we encounter outside of the house will be a one-on-one or small group approach and five ought to be enough. (House defense is in the form of some Remington 870’s strategically located.) But, I am looking at replacing the two we now have with the same model in .327 Federal Magnum for the sixth round in the chamber.

    I love the Ruger LCR: I consider it the best defensive revolver you can buy, outside of the Kimber K6. You do need to carry a couple of speed strips or speed loaders with it, though, because five rounds (and more importantly, ONLY five rounds) just ain’t enough these days. There is no way to know in advance how much ammo will be enough, so I figure on carrying as much as possible: Two extra mags for my Shield is my norm.

    • #63
  4. M1919A4 Member
    M1919A4
    @M1919A4

    Kevin Creighton: You do need to carry a couple of speed strips or speed loaders with it, though, because five rounds (and more importantly, ONLY five rounds) just ain’t enough these days

    I have been looking for good speedloaders, but there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on the boards I have visited.  Do you have a recommendation?

    The old timers I have heard speak on the subject say that far better than reloads, even very fast ones, is the “New York” reload, a second revolver.  But for those of us who don’t expect a gun fight every day, that becomes a bit cumbersome.

    • #64
  5. M1919A4 Member
    M1919A4
    @M1919A4

    @Kevin Creighton,   Thanks for introducing me to the Kimber K6.  I had never noticed it before.

    It is a beautiful piece and I wonder how I have completely overlooked it.  It is 6 oz. heavier than the Ruger (unloaded) and that would be a detriment to me.  Whereas I can just slip one of the Rugers into a pocket of my jacket and hardly notice it, my wife carries everything but an entrenching tool in her purse and the additional weight might be a problem.  Nonetheless, I will enquire at one of my local dealers to see whether they have one on the Kimbers in stock.

    • #65
  6. Kevin Creighton Contributor
    Kevin Creighton
    @KevinCreighton

    M1919A4: The old timers I have heard speak on the subject say that far better than reloads, even very fast ones, is the “New York” reload, a second revolver.

    Jim Cirillo, rest his soul, was the one who championed the New York reload, and he’s probably right, as I know for a fact my reload speed is about twice my strong-hand draw speed, but you’re right to point out how that adds weight and bulk.

    The gold standard in speed loaders are from HKS. I have a few for my one wheelgun (an S+W K22), and they’re the ones I seen in IDPA matches as well.

    • #66
  7. M1919A4 Member
    M1919A4
    @M1919A4

    Kevin Creighton:

    M1919A4: The old timers I have heard speak on the subject say that far better than reloads, even very fast ones, is the “New York” reload, a second revolver.

    Jim Cirillo, rest his soul, was the one who championed the New York reload, and he’s probably right, as I know for a fact my reload speed is about twice my strong-hand draw speed, but you’re right to point out how that adds weight and bulk.

    The gold standard in speed loaders are from HKS. I have a few for my one wheelgun (an S+W K22), and they’re the ones I seen in IDPA matches as well.

    Cirillo, who died a most untimely death, also worked on a bullet that I have never seen produced.  If I remember correctly it was a wadcutter with a square cut across its face, loaded to a high velocity and put like a regular bullet into the case, not crammed down into the case like a true wadcutter.  He wanted penetration first and then expansion.  He also was a fan of Dan Wesson barrels, which he fitted onto Smith frames.  (It has been a good many years since I looked into this.)

    • #67
  8. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    One note: As someone who had to carry a S&W 38 during my stint as a security officer, revolver re-loading sucks for southpaws.

    Despite rehearsing daily, I could never get down to a speed that was acceptable (i.e., survivable).  Too, I’m not sure I could release that convulsive grip to swap hands under combat conditions.

    • #68
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