Choosing A Pistol
Updated: Dec 11, 2020
l Let me state right up front that I’m not going to be telling you what pistol to buy. That would be like me trying to tell my wife which shoes to buy. Guess how that would go over… I simply want to offer some guidance on how to make your decision. Choosing a pistol is a matter of personal preference and comfort. The most important consideration is what you will be using the pistol for. As you are on the Colorado Firearms Academy website, I will assume the pistol will either be for home defense or concealed carry. I will ignore perfectly valid reasons like hunting, plinking, or you couldn’t resist that matched set of Deadpool 1911’s from Whiskey Tango Firearms (google it and bask in the glow of my envy). I’ll address the differences between the criteria for home defense vs. concealed carry a little later.
Despite what I tell my wife, the second most important consideration when buying a gun is staying within your budget. You don’t need to break the bank to get a good quality firearm. Ruger, Glock and Springfield armory (among others) offer great value at a reasonable price. The next step up in price is Smith and Wesson, Colt, Sig Saur, Walther, Kimber and many more. Most would argue this is also a step up in quality, while other would say you are only paying for the name. You decide. Higher than this you get into premium guns like Wilson Combat and Nighthawk Custom. I doubt you could find a higher quality gun, but you would also have to search to find a more expensive gun. Buy the best quality gun you can afford. Please stay away from “cheap” guns (I won’t mention any brand names because I don’t want to get sued). Remember, your life may depend on this piece of equipment and if you buy good quality and take good care of it, it can last generations. Keep the long view in mind, but you can buy quality for as low as $400. The third most important consideration when choosing a pistol is how it fits your hands. It needs to be comfortable in your hands, the grip size needs to match well with your hand size, and it should naturally align with the target when brought up to eye level with the proper grip. The only way to determine all of this is to hold it and shoot it. Identify a handful of makes and models based on the first two considerations, then go to a quality range that rents handguns and fire a hundred rounds or so through each one. Par your choices down to two or three contenders, then use the following considerations. Revolver or semi-automatic: Both have pros and cons. The revolver is mechanically and operationally simpler. Pull the trigger and it goes bang. If it doesn’t go bang, pull the trigger again. If you do have a failure worse than a failure to fire, a revolver quickly becomes an overpriced paperweight. You will not remedy a timing issue without a qualified gunsmith, although they are uncommon. Lower round capacity is another con of the revolvers. Revolvers are also slower to reload when they do run dry (unless you are Jerry Miculek. YouTube him and bask again in the glow of my envy). Semi-automatics have greater capacity, can be reloaded faster, but are more complicated. They are more prone to malfunction, but if they do malfunction it can normally be rectified in seconds (if you are properly trained). Home defense vs. concealed carry: All other things being equal, a larger and heavier pistol will have less felt recoil, improved recoil management and be more pleasant to shoot. Choosing a pistol that fits your needs is crucial. My second largest pet peeve in life (the first is how everyone except me, drives) is when an inexperienced person, particularly a woman, goes to buy a gun and comes home with a “cute” little 10 oz. pocket pistol. If you have never shot one of these, it is slightly less unpleasant than holding a firecracker in your hand as it explodes. An unpleasant shooting experience means they don’t want to practice with it, so it sits gathering dust as they walk around defenseless or carrying a gun they have insufficient experience with AND have wasted $400. If your pistol is for home defense, you won’t need to worry about carrying it around all day or concealing it under a summer shirt. Go bigger. A concealed carry pistol comes with some unfortunate compromises. One is weight. Not many people want to walk around with two and half pounds hanging off their hip. You may have to sacrifice round capacity and recoil management. Another compromise is concealability. Thinner and shorter is better. Here you may have to sacrifice round capacity with a single stack magazine. You may have to sacrifice barrel length or how well the pistol fits your hand, but please don’t sacrifice too much here. Having a pistol that you can shoot well is more important.
Blasphemy? The 1911 Colt .45 may be one of the most popular pistols ever made. Should this be your choice? Let me clear. It is a beautifully designed firearms and was revolutionary… in 1911. One of the touted features on the 1911 is the external safety. External safeties do increase the inherent safety of a firearms somewhat. Remember, the primary use of this gun is personal protection. There may be a time when you are forced to use this gun to save your life. If God forbid, this ever does happen, you will be experiencing the greatest stress and the most massive adrenalin dump you have ever experienced. Your fine motor skills will go to shit. Under those conditions you will fall to your lowest level of training. If disengaging that safety is not as natural to you as breathing, it may cost you your life. If you cannot or are unwilling to train for 3 to 4 hours a month, every month, stick to a simpler design. Caliber: The argument of which caliber is best is older than the chicken and egg argument. I could care less. With modern defensive rounds the difference in caliber is greatly minimized. Far more important is shot placement. Buy a gun that you can shoot well, practice and don’t obsess over caliber. Train, train and train some more: Hopefully the above guidelines will assist in making a good choice when choosing a pistol. I doubt you will make the perfect choice, if that is even possible. Especially if your pistol is for concealed carry, the compromises you will have to make prevent perfection. Training can overcome most of these compromises. Remember, your life and the lives of your loved ones, may depend on your abilities. Do not take this lightly. Attend high quality classes geared toward personal defense (Colorado Firearms Academy comes highly recommended) and practice on your own as regularly and frequently as your lifestyle permits. Make it a priority. The life you save may be your own.