How to Select the Proper Handgun 

Mistaken Identity

by Chris Forrest, US Navy SEAL and owner of TACTIC

Rachelle was overpowered by self-condemnation. She was frightened and flinching whenever the gun discharged, and she couldn’t hit the target. She opened up, “I just want to curl up in a corner and cry.”

Rachelle’s story was not that uncommon. “I think this might be the wrong handgun for you,” I explained. Her eyes lit up and we talked about options for a better fit.

As an instructor who loves to see my students succeed and build confidence, I value the right gear for the right situation. This is especially true when that piece of equipment is a firearm. Why? Sometimes people think they are inadequate at shooting, when in reality, they have a gun that is the wrong fit.

Before emptying your emergency fund to buy an expensive handgun, be realistic about how you will use it. Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of the gun?” Is it for self-defense, competition, hunting, practice or plinking? Then consider the following trade-offs when it comes to the size of gun, the size ammunition (measured in diameter of the bullet and often referred to as caliber), and type of holster. Below are some important points to consider when choosing a handgun:

Larger handguns are pleasurable to shoot and practice with, but bulky.

If you want a gun to learn on, it is much more enjoyable to shoot a full-size handgun because mass mitigates recoil. Also, the longer sight radius, (the distance between the front and rear sight) is beneficial for accuracy. A small handgun will be unforgiving to shoot but easier for daily carry. If carrying concealed is your purpose, then go minimal. You will fatigue carrying a full-size handgun. Most clients stop carrying concealed if the firearm is heavy and uncomfortable. However, pocket pistols are more punishing to use for practice.

Larger and faster calibers have more stopping power but can be a pain to shoot.

Don’t get sucked into caliber envy and bring revolvers such as .454 Casull to class. I won’t shoot them. The crash of energy and noise isn’t worth the tendonitis or developing a flinch! When I worked as a SEAL and for the government overseas, we carried 9mm handguns. With the right ammo and sufficient practice, they are adequate. Plus, 9mm and other smaller caliber ammunition, is less expensive. This makes practicing and going to the range more cost efficient.

Modern bullet design can accomplish impressive terminal damage.

Bears have been killed with .22 caliber ammunition. Placement trumps bullet size. However, buy ammunition designed for the intended purpose. Buy cheap ammo for practice and buy hunting or defense ammunition for stopping that wild animal or a home intruder.

Always purchase a holster with your handgun that covers the trigger.

I wouldn’t buy a handgun without a holster. This way, your firearm will be pointed in a safe direction and the trigger is covered when being carried. Striker fired handguns can be just as safe as double/single action handguns with a good holster.

Lastly, try before you buy.

The handgun that feels best in the store is not always the one that feels best under recoil. I purchase my firearms based on how little the muzzle flips when I shoot them (the less muzzle flip the better). This relates to the size of the grip, the size of the gun, and the height of the bore axis. Get a feel for guns and the way they behave before you make a blind purchase. Guns cannot be returned or exchanged. TACTIC rents firearms for this purpose.

In summary, be honest with yourself when purchasing a firearm.

Consider what type of shooting and what volume of gunfire you will actually need. Next, try it out; then make your purchase based on the best trade-offs that meet that requirement. Remember, there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to firearms. And to the person who has either had a bad experience with handguns or believes they are simply a bad shooter, don’t be so quick to judge. It’s probably just a case of mistaken identity for you and for the gun!