I get a fair amount of emails asking for advise on selecting a first firearm purchase. I love getting these requests, but not sure they really want to hear my answer.

Probability Over Possibility

So, one in particular had a lot of detailed questions geared towards an already single answer. They were more looking for validation than suggestions. I didn’t feel like what they were proposing was a good idea for first time firearm owner; double action in .40cal. Is it possible to develop solid marksmanship skills with this combination, yes. It is not probable without developing a lot of bad habits and struggles in the process.

Define The Mission

Since we are seeing more and more first time firearm owners purchasing their first handgun what should they be looking for? Before we get too far down the rabbit hole, define what you intend on doing with the handgun. Is it for home defense only, concealed carry only or both? That will start you off on the size of the handgun, full size versus compact. Truthfully there are a few compacts that can fulfill both roles well, On the flip side, unless you are a super large human the full size pistols are going to be harder to conceal.

Carry The Most BB’s

Next, I suggest looking at magazine capacity. You want the largest standard capacity magazine you can get your hands on, literally. Sure you can find extra capacity magazines, but they will more than likely affect how well you can conceal the handgun by increasing it’s length. Think of it in terms of it is a come as you are war. If you didn’t bring it, then you won’t have it in the fight. Magazine capacity of at least ten rounds is a good start for both concealed carry and home defense.

9mm Is King

Now comes the big question, what caliber? Straight up without any reservations I’m going to recommend 9mm. Don’t get sucked into the caliber wars about this will expand more or this has history attached to it or any of the other numerous reasons folks come up with to justify their purchase. The 9mm has come a long way.  Technology and materials have allowed this caliber to close the gap between it and other calibers. I try to remind folks that for any caliber to be effective the shooter has to hit it’s target. That means the rounds need to be reliable first and foremost. They have to go bang every single time you pull the trigger, no exceptions. You want to ensure the three variables of firearm, magazine & ammunition are compatible with each other. Don’t rely on others to provide you this information, take the time to do it yourself.

Accuracy Matters

Once it goes bang every single time, then you need to be able to strike the target. That means you have to be accurate enough and fast enough. That will require training and no caliber will EVER make up for a miss so don’t get too wrapped around the axle there. Another reason 9mm does a good job here is the availability of the round. There is more of it in circulation so it is easier to obtain under normal conditions. Stockpiling and storing ammunition is a good habit to get into and the lower costs of 9mm makes that an easier choice.

Go Deep

The human is a very tough target, resilient to damage. When deadly force is called for, you will relying on the ammunition to stop the treat. For this to happen it must disrupt the body’s vital life processes. As long as the round is reliable (goes bang), hits the target (marksmanship skills) then it needs to penetrate a minimum of 12 inches in soft tissue. This will ensure it penetrates deep enough to reach the vital anatomy. It also gives us some flexibility when the projectile needs to penetrate through heavy clothing or an extremity such as the arm.

Now that you have all that advise, you need to follow it. Don’t try and force something that is suboptimal to work at peak conditions. It’s just not going to work out the way you might want it to at the time you need it to.

7 thoughts on “Caliber Wars…Again

  1. Rcraigjohn says:

    Great advice, Jeff. As a range officer, I see many many women struggling with some gun that their husband or boyfriend has bought for them. Most are either too large (look, honey, I’ve got this 454 you can shoot) or too small. Most recently, I helped a terribly frustrated woman whose husband had bought her a small double action .380. It was one of the cheaper brands. It had such a terrible trigger pull, was a double action, that she couldn’t shoot the thing. Heck, when I tried it, it was like hitching a mule team to a wagon to get it to fire. I had her try my XD (sorry — not a GLK, Jeff) in 9mm. Within minutes, and with a bit of coaching, she was hitting most shots within a three inch circle at 15 feet and was feeling very good about it, and was determined to unload the POS she had even if it was ‘more concealable’ in her purse. Told her to go find an XD or Glock and she would be much happier, and actually could get competent.

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