I will start with the basics. Handguns come in two categories: revolvers & pistols. I will speak in general terms with the intention of providing assistance to the potential first-time handgun buyer. Experienced owners must forgive my broad assertions as my goal is to help an inexperienced individual make a reasonably informed big decision quickly. I speak from personal experience & although I am no professional, I have completed a NRA handgun safety course & have fired numerous shots from different handguns at gun ranges for a period spanning almost two decades now. If this topic offends you, please stop reading. If you are serious about becoming a handgun owner, I will provide a statement of wisdom. “He who chooses wisely first chooses once.”
Revolvers are both simple to define & simply to operate. Just think wild west. These guns are popular for hunting as they tend to be made for larger calibers & their lower capacity makes them less threatening to the unindoctrinated (liberals) as potential assault weapons. Think of revolvers as heavy weight boxers: knock out punch potential but no stamina to go the distance. I identify the primary advantages of revolvers as follows: reliability/simplicity, heavy-hitting, & less socially controversial—although in our current climate, gun ownership of any kind carries with it the potential for controversy.
Pistols are more complex, both to define & to operate. You will hear terms like semi-automatic, or “automatic,” although the latter term is inaccurate & easily abused for politic purposes to create undue hysteria. You may also hear the operation described in pistols as “using a detachable magazine.” You may hear media catch phrases associated with pistols high-capacity, military-grade, & assault weapon. These terms come in varying degrees of accuracy but in my opinion, are often misused to inflame the fears of a largely uninformed voting population. While pistols are more likely to be used by armed professionals like police & military units, they are hardly a front-line military grade weapon & are all woefully inadequate as “assault weapons.” Even in the hands of professionals, pistols almost exclusively serve the role of personal defense tools, which makes them ideal as a civilian option for home defense or personal security. The primary advantages of pistols over revolvers, generally speaking, is their higher ammo capacity, improved speed of reload, lighter weight, & lower recoil (which should translate to more accuracy for a typical civilian shooter.) The disadvantages of opting for a pistol instead of a revolver can be less knock down power per bullet (very few states will allow hunting in calibers commonly made for pistols), more potential for malfunctions (the weapon may jam or fail to eject a round), a lighter trigger which may lead to accidental discharge, & the negative stigma that the media tends to place on them.
Moving on to caliber: I have some urgent advice on this matter. Stick to common calibers, preferably those of medium power. In pistols, common calibers are 9mm, .40, & .45 ACP with .380 ACP playing the role of a hybrid round which is mostly common & almost medium power. The .380 ACP is essentially a 9mm with a short case. The diameter of the back of the bullet & coincidentally the diameter of its projectile measuring 9mm with the case that encloses it’s powder at 17mm. This round is big in Europe & will often be designated metrically as the 9X17mm; whereas the 9mm, it’s more common global big brother, will see the designation of 9X19. Regarding revolvers, once again, things become simpler. I designate medium power in the revolver as .38 Special/.357 Magnum. Case closed.
The relationship between the .38 Special & .357 Magnum is analogous to that of the .380 ACP (9X17) & 9mm (9X19) in that both rounds have the same diameter but different case lengths. In the revolver’s case, a .357 Magnum is a longer .38 Special, or in a nutshell, a turbocharged .38 Special. Here’s the game changer. If you buy a .357 Magnum (a bullet that many states approve as the minimum acceptable caliber for hunting deer) you can shoot .38 Special from the same revolver. However if you buy a .38 Special, you CANNOT shoot a .357 Magnum from that same handgun. Think of it in terms of a dog owner having both a large dog & a small dog. The dog owner will not have to install a small doggie door for the small dog & large one for the larger dog because a large doggie door would work just fine for both. CAUTION: You cannot interchange .380 ACP (9×17) ammo with 9mm (9X19) ammo. If you buy a weapon in either caliber, you will be limited to shooting that specific caliber & nothing unless without deliberate, aftermarket modification which I advise against.
Okay. Now that you are indoctrinated, I will come provide some specific models to consider as representatives of the common options that you may decide on for yourself. I will lead in to my recommendations by quoting by own Conceal Carry Instructor’s words when he said he should consider the 3 C’s when choosing a personal carry weapon for defense: Caliber, Concealability, & Controls. I won’t get into too much detail with Concealability or Controls as those concern will largely vary on personal individual factors & I believe we have discussed caliber adequately.
If you choose a .38 Special/.357 Magnum, I recommend considering something along the lines of a S&W J-frame revolver or a Ruger LCR. If you are a larger person with larger than average hands, you may want to opt for a slightly larger & heavier model like a Ruger SP101 or even a Ruger GP100. I recommend a barrel length of 2” to 3.25” so that you keep the option to carry available. Take care to ensure that whichever model you choose is a .357 Magnum, which can also shoot the less potent but cheaper .38 Special, or is a .38 Special exclusively as many of the options I have listed offer revolvers in each category. Each revolver listed will have a capacity of either 5 or 6 rounds.
If you choose a pistol, I’d look heavily at any number of single stack 9mm “slim” models from one of the many established manufacturers as a primary option. Choices like the Springfield Armory XD/s & XD/s Mod 2; the Glock 43 (6-round capacity) ,Glock 43X (10-round capacity), & Glock 48 (10-round capacity); & the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield (7 to 8-round capacity) should all serve as worthy contenders. If you have smaller hands or opt for something more concealable, I would choose between the Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 in (9X17) or the Glock 42, also in 9×17. Each pistol has a 6-round capacity per magazine. All or most of these choices come with two magazines from the factory & I recommend buying at least one spare for a total of three.
There are many choices to make but if you’ve read this far, it appears you have made the most important choice of all. You have chosen to consider exercising your right to become a gun owner in America. The choice you’ve made will not be one without controversy, but my advice to you or any potential gun owner would be this: Do the research. Make a smart choice. And always, do it the right way. Buy from a dealer with a Federal Firearms License, have the background check done, & keep you research. In gun ownership as with all things, the burden to do right is always primarily the burden of the righteous ones. Choose wisely & choose once. Stay safe.