Choosing your first concealed carry handgun is a daunting task for most people. You may be at the mercy of the salesperson behind the counter or relying in the advice of a buddy or family member who “knows stuff about guns.” Neither choice would be good or bad, if you do your own homework and make an informed decision. The following six tips will put you on the right path.
I have often been asked to make a recommendation for a concealed carry handgun, or asked what I carry. My dilemma is not with the question, but making a recommendation. What I carry is not right for many. Besides, I write about guns for a living and truly test a model before I write about it. That means one to two 15 minute sessions a day of drawing and dry firing for a couple of weeks and a plenty of time after that actually carrying the gun. That is a good start, but due to my position, I often change my carry gun. However, changing your self-defense firearm more often than your car’s oil is seldom recommended. Likewise, what you carry will not be right for many. Therefore, making a recommendation for the best model is not only difficult, it may be irresponsible.
In addition to specific models, those new to concealed carry have questions about brands, calibers, and action type. Here again, I would hesitate to be specific and instead offer the pros and cons as I see them and help to relate the benefits and drawbacks to the individual in question. I want the perspective buyer to be informed, but just as someone else can’t choose what car fits you best or which furniture would be to your liking, you need to take charge of the decision to pick the right handgun, as daunting as that may seem. Spend time at the range shooting your friends’s guns as well as the rentals at the range.
Make an Informed Decision
Doing a little homework is never a wasted effort. After all, your decision could literally one day mean the difference between life and death. While the probability of having to use your handgun to defend your life or the life of a loved one is low, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Know your budget. You are going to spend a minimum of $200. From there, the sky is the limit, with most opting for something in the $350-$600 range for a first concealed carry handgun. When buying a motorcycle helmet, someone once recommended buying a $100 helmet only if I had a $100 head. Do not skimp on price at the expense of quality. I own several cheap handguns; I am drawn to them, but for self-defense, I only carry a firearm that has proven its quality and reliability.
In terms of caliber, .380 and 9mm are most popular in semi-autos and .38 special or .357 magnum in revolvers. The reason the .357 magnum is included is because you can shoot .38 special loads from it and later shoot something more powerful if desired. There is something to be said for a bigger caliber in self-defense situation. However, more powerful calibers have drawbacks too. Besides, if someone pointed a .22LR handgun at you, you’d still run for cover—so will a bad guy. I .22LR would not be my choice or recommendation, but it beats throwing spit wads.
Another reason to stick with calibers between .380 ACP and .357 magnum is availability. Most any place that sells ammunition will have plenty of choices in stock. That allows you to tailor your choice to a heavy, aggressive, self-defense round, or ball ammunition for practice. You could even drop to a low-recoil frangible offering such as those offered by Allegiance ammunition.
Don’t Trust the Experts—Even Me!
Okay, maybe I am the exception, but only because I will not try to steer you to something specific. Be aware of the sales person or friend who knows the exact model you need. Your best defense is knowledge and experience. Both of those can be obtained with the research you are doing now and time spent at a local range that rents firearms. Nothing beats firsthand knowledge gained through experience.
Shop, Shop, Shop
K-Var has thousands of guns to choose from and some of the best prices you’ll find anywhere, but don’t afraid to handle a few firearms at a local gun show or dealer. If you have a friend or two with a suggestion, ask them to go to the range with you so you can try out their handguns. If you are looking for something in the spring, consider the NRA Show. The latest models will all be in one place and you can get a feel for them all. Ask shooters or sales people why they chose that particular model, caliber, etc.
Get the gun you really want, if it is the one that works for you. If it costs more than your proposed budget, wait and save up for it. It is better to wait for an extra paycheck or two, or sacrifice a night out and get the right gun. Odds are you’ll be carrying it for a very long time. When you need to deploy it for self-defense, the last thing you want creeping through the back of mind is, “I wish I would have spent a few dollars more for the…”
You also need to look at carry options. Will you be carrying your firearm in a holster on your person? Where? Or will you opt for an easy access purse designed for concealed carry, a bra holster, or covert diversion backpack. What holster options are available for your proposed handgun? Your concealment and clothing options may change with the season (winter versus summer wear).
The decision to carry a handgun for self-defense is not the end; it is the beginning. U.S. Law Shield, USCCA, and the NRA’s Carry Guard programs are all excellent places to start. For a few dollars a month, you can cover you entire legal bill should you be forced to defend yourself. Check out the program details to determine whether it is right for you.
You’ll need to practice regularly to build proficiency and maintain skills. Follow on training is also highly recommended. The NRA has a series of courses—as do a host of private training academies. When going through a private instructor, check their credentials closely. There are many private instructors who are simply a waste of money.
Are you looking for your first carry gun? Which models and calibers are you considering? For the more experienced shooters, what was your first carry gun and why? Share your answers in the comment section.
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