As when selecting any other tool, choosing a handgun requires you to consider the weapon's size and design and then weigh these criteria against your circumstances and needs. However, given the high-stakes purpose of the tool, your physical comfort with a given handgun is more important than it is with a hammer or drill. After choosing your preferred action, caliber and features, try out a variety of models to find the best fit for your hand.
Revolver vs. Semi-Automatic
The vast majority of handguns come in either of two basic designs. Revolvers – the older design of the two -- feature a spinning cylinder that usually holds six rounds; spent rounds must be removed manually. Semi-automatic weapons store rounds in a magazine rather than a cylinder and eject spent casings automatically. Revolvers are simpler to learn how to operate, but this does not mean beginners cannot learn how to use a semi-automatic weapon – it just requires additional training. Aside from the differences in operation and complexity, revolvers often are more reliable than semi-automatic weapons, but semi-automatic weapons hold more ammunition and – assuming you have pre-loaded magazines available -- are easier to reload.
The Question of Caliber
After deciding on either the revolver or the semi-automatic, consider which weapon caliber is appropriate for you. Manufacturers produce a variety of calibers, but beginners are well served by choosing a standard size – such as 9 millimeter, .45 caliber or .357 caliber – as there are a wide variety of models to choose from. Different experts recommend different calibers – and any caliber can be effective in the hands of a well-trained shooter – but 9 millimeter weapons are ubiquitous, perform well in self-defense situations and use relatively inexpensive ammunition. The cost of ammunition is an important consideration for all shooters, but one that beginners often fail to consider.
After whittling your choices down to a given action and size, you can begin comparing the finer points of various weapons. For example, you may prefer the layout of the safety and slide lock on a particular semi-automatic 9 millimeter. Likewise, the sights of one manufacturer’s .38 special revolver may be easier for you to use than those of similar models. Given your intended use – concealed carry versus home defense – the presence or absence of rails for adding flashlights or laser sights may play a role in your decision-making process.
Fit Like a Glove
Once you have narrowed your selection, find a local gun range that rents handguns. You may find that the models that looked most appealing in photographs, or have inexpensive price tags, simply do not feel right in your hand. You may not like the strong recoil produces by one model, or the location of the slide lock on another model. It takes a significant amount of time practicing before you can consider yourself competent with the weapon – if you do not feel comfortable with the gun, you will not enjoy it, which makes practicing a chore. While the feel of the gun in your hand should not take precedence over all other considerations, it is one of the most important.
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