One of the many questions I’m frequently asked is what gun should I buy? If only there was that perfect firearm I could suggest to everyone, but unfortunately there isn’t. Instead, I usually say something along the lines of: picking out a firearm for someone is like picking out shoes-and we all know it’s tough enough to pick out shoes for ourselves most of the time. So, here are some things to consider when choosing a handgun:

What purpose will this gun serve? Is it for target practice, home defense, concealed carry, or hobby? If it’s for target practice or competitions, you will want to choose a firearm that has a longer barrel, which will greatly increase accuracy. If it’s for home defense, most likely, you won’t need a long barrel, but you also do not have to settle for a small handgun since you won’t have to conceal it. If you are choosing a gun for concealed carry, size will be one of the biggest criteria when selecting a firearm. The size of the firearm has to be small enough to conceal, yet large enough for you to grip and manage the firearm properly. Lastly, if you’re buying a firearm for collection or hobby, size does not play much of a role and you’re free to choose as you please, but make sure you can hold the gun properly in your hand(s) if you plan on shooting it.

Next, you need to boil your decision down to a semi-automatic pistol or a revolver. Many women believe they aren’t “strong enough” to load a magazine or rack the slide of a pistol, so they limit themselves to a revolver. As someone who is petite and lacks strong muscles, this isn’t true. With the right amount of practice and technique, you can learn to do this, and you can learn to shoot larger calibers. Do not let anyone tell you differently. Keep in mind that most firearms, when purchased brand new, will be much more difficult to operate until you fire a few hundred rounds through it. Others prefer a revolver because of its simplicity, which is absolutely fine, and perhaps most ideal in certain defense situations. Revolvers and semi-automatic pistols both have their pros and cons so make sure you weigh them in and choose something that fits you best.

Something that is usually overlooked is the action. If you decide to buy a double action, make sure you can affectively pull the trigger. Keep in mind that pulling the trigger when dry firing, versus pulling the trigger when you have your firearm aligned with the target and you’re trying to eliminate movement is much different. I also do not suggest buying a single action firearm, even though these are becoming obsolete. You need something you can fire and operate quickly, without having to remember to cock the hammer back for the first shot (semi-automatic pistol) or each time before firing a shot (revolver).

Now ask yourself, what caliber do you feel comfortable shooting? Understandably a .22LR is fun and comfortable to shoot, but due to its size and reputation for cartridge malfunctions, it’s not a caliber you should rely on for protection. A common caliber larger than .22LR is .380 Auto. Many prefer this caliber due to low recoil, reliability, and bullet size, which is very similar to 9mm. Some might argue this caliber is still too small to stop an assailant. In my opinion, it’s better to have control over the firearm and hit your target, then to have a larger caliber handgun, and not hit anything at all. With that said, however, if you can handle shooting a 9mm, this is the most suitable caliber for personal protection, but again, it’s a matter of what caliber suits you best. Some beginners might find it intimidating to shoot 9mm, but with proper shooting fundamentals, you’ll quickly realize how capable you are of shooting a 9mm with ease. For those who prefer revolvers, 38 Special is the most ideal. Do not let the size of the cartridge fool; Although 38 Special is bigger than a 9mm cartridge, both calibers have similar recoil. Many prefer larger calibers such as 40 S&W or .45 ACP, which is more than sufficient, but shooters must keep in mind that shooting at a range vs. shooting in a defensive situation is extremely different. You want to choose a caliber that you will have the most control over, even in compromising positions, where you might not be able to extend your arms or you might have to shoot solely with you non-dominate hand. Lastly, be sure to choose a caliber that is available in stores. If you choose an odd type caliber, good luck finding it in stock. Also, consider the price of the caliber you choose. 9mm is much more affordable than .45 ACP.

Now, going back to the shoe fits analogy. When picking out a firearm, you want to make sure it fits comfortably in your hand. Some people have such small hands, it’s a stretch to reach the trigger. Others have huge hands, which makes it difficult to find a suitable gun that’s easy to conceal, yet big enough to fit properly in their hand. Some handguns have interchangeable back grips, which help to increase or decrease the thickness of the grip. You also might want to choose an ambidextrous firearm if you’re left-handed, or find out if a gunsmith can change the magazine release from right side to left side.

Lastly, ask yourself what type of safety you’d feel most comfortable having. Some firearms are made with active safeties, which means the shooter has to activate or deactivate the safety in order for the firearm to shoot. Other firearms don’t have active safeties, but instead have passive safeties. The most common types are grip safeties and/or trigger safeties, which mean both have to be pressed simultaneously in order for the firearm to fire. Others prefer no external safeties at all, or the firearm does not have one. This is all a matter of preference, but please keep in mind, safeties are mechanical devices and can fail. Never rely solely on the safety.

Hopefully after reading this, you should be well on your way to finding a suitable firearm. Take your time with it, do your research, and don’t let any salesmen pressure you into purchasing something you’re not certain about. It can be a tough decision, and an expensive one, but most importantly, have confidence that you’re capable of choosing something great. Lastly, as always, please contact me if you ever need additional advice or opinions. Happy shopping!

Ava Flanell