CONGRATULATIONS! You are taking your first steps into a new world, into the “Gun Culture”. Hopefully with a little coaching here those steps will turn into a run. First off, we’ve got to define what that Gun Culture really is. Because the Mainstream Media will have you believe that the Gun Culture is full of banjo-playing, illiterate racists. This is not the case. For over the last decade I’ve been selling guns professionally. I’ve sold some guns to people that, yes, could be called banjo playing illiterate racists. But I’ve sold far more guns to people who can not be categorized and labeled in such a manner that the Media could so easily dismiss them.
Some of my best customers were Lawyers, Doctors, and other Professionals that spent years in studying and working in their fields. Published Authors, Artists, and Musicians. Radio Hosts and DJs. Scientists in the fields of Archeology, Geology, Biology, Physics, and actual Rocket Science. Several actual Rocket Scientists, yes. People who went to the big named prestige schools. People who went to State schools. People who’ve only gone to Community schools. I’ve sold guns to people who’ve never set foot in a college or even graduated high school. I’ve sold guns to Oil Barons, Roustabouts, and Roughnecks. I’ve sold guns to CEO’s and Celebrities. Cooks and Cashiers. The old and the young. Immigrants from north, south, east, and west of all of our borders. Fathers and sons. Mothers and Daughters. I’ve sold guns to all kinds of people. I’ve sold guns to Liberal Hipsters that brought their Starbucks cups in with them to the gun counter. Peace and Beads tie-dyed hippies who drove VW Vans with flowers on the sides and wore sandals. I’m not kidding, he bought a high-end 1911 and a tactical shotgun that he brought to one of my training courses.
You can’t pigeonhole the American Gun Owner, because he or she is everyone. We are everyone. The one thing we all have in common is that we are Americans.
The media would have you believe that there is something wrong with owning a gun. They try to take a moral high ground that firearms are traditions of the past fit only for history books. Let me tell you, there can be a lot of history in a firearm. And if you are an intelligent person, you’ve already picked up on that. A firearm, regardless of what it is or what type, is a time machine. Pick up your Grandfather’s old rifle. Feel the heft of it, the balance. Now close your eyes and imagine your Grandfather, young and strong stalking through the deer fields. Can you feel that connection? You connected to your Grandfather through time and have just caught a better understanding of who he was. And who you are.
Some of you don’t understand anything I’ve just said and can’t comprehend this because maybe your Grandfather never had a gun or you’ve never been allowed to see it. Or you were not lucky enough to have this tradition passed to you. Others know exactly what I’m talking about because they’ve done just that and have felt the connection. You don’t get that connection from any other object that might be passed down through the family. Not even through photographs. Maybe a Motorcycle, but that’s another topic.
America has a gun culture stemming from the very first pilgrims and explorers to land in the New World. They brought with them the tools that they needed to survive in the new world. Hammers, Axes, Drills and Saws. And the Gun. By coming into this American Gun Culture you are really embracing who you are as an American. Be proud of that. Never apologize for that. And never back down from that.
Most people get into guns for fairly specific reasons. Some are collectors and historians. Others want a gun for home or personal protection. Some for hunting. Others because of the shooting sports. And some just want to have something to plink with on occasion. So I’m going to categorize new gun owners into a few groups.
Sheepdogs: Defense oriented. For personal defense or defense against tyranny. For the sake of this book, Sheepdogs will include those who are Military and Law Enforcement who are off duty or retired. You know who you are. The Sheepdog is taking the burden of security upon themselves. They will protect themselves and their families and not rely on the efforts of strangers. This could be you. You have your reasons and concerns enough to warrant the need to buy a gun for protection. This may be the most common reason for getting into guns these days.
Competitors: Those looking at IDPA or IPSC or the Glock Shooting Sport, and wanting to join in that fun. Because it is a lot of fun and I suggest everyone serious about firearms give it a go. It’s also a fantastic crucible for improving your skills in a way that regular training just doesn’t give you. You learn a lot about yourself, your guns, and your gear.
Hunters: Those that are looking to put food on the table or to sell a pelt on the side. Or maybe they want more of a challenge to getting their meat at the store. Venison and Elk are very delicious and probably a lot healthier than commercially sourced cattle products.
Collectors: Those looking to get into guns for that greater historical perspective. These guys are also the Collectors and Librarians of our gun culture. They also appreciate the art and aesthetics of the gun. The artistic and clever way of how the gunsmith’s talent crafted a piece. They appreciate the design and engineering of these very simple machines.
Then there is another category that we will touch on… The Investor. The Investor looks at a gun as a commodity or asset. He calculates an item’s value and projected value in the hope of either turning a profit or increasing his estate’s net worth.
Many of us are a combination of these category types, maybe even all of them rolled up into one. And that’s the type of Gun Owner that we affectionately call “The Gun Nut”.
I am one of those Gun Nuts. I do not call myself an Expert, though others have called me such. I only call myself an Enthusiast of The Gun. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get started! The best way to start some things is to hit the books and study the subject. For the gun, it’s a hands-on thing as much as it’s a research thing. How did you learn to ride a bicycle? Someone helped you get on the bike. Held that seat while you felt the balance and ran alongside you as you peddled. And after some yards running, he gave you a little push and watched you ride off. Both proud and smiling and praying you don’t run into a tree. That’s me, here and now.
There are a few different places to find a firearm to purchase. Gun Stores, and Gun Shows are the two retail outlets. Then there are the Private Sales through printed or online ads, gun discussion forums… and “Friends”. Your buddy knows a guy that is selling a gun at a good price… That’s a whole other topic I want you just avoid for the time being. Private gun sales require extra caution. New Gun Buyers should stick with a commercial retail establishment.
Let’s say that for the time being, we’re not going to talk to your Buddy. Because if it’s one thing I know, it’s that the number one source of bad information about what guys should buy, comes from Buddy. Buddy would have you buy a .50 Caliber Desert Eagle for your Everyday Carry Gun. So let’s not listen to Buddy for just a while. Okay? We’ll talk about Buddy later.
Right off the bat, I’m not your Buddy. I don’t know you. And if I don’t know you as well as your spouse, how can I tell you what gun you need? At this point I don’t know what you are going to want to do with it. If I don’t know that, then I can’t make any educated suggestion for something that’s going to fit your needs. However, when we are done, you will be able to make your own good decision. Now let’s go shopping. Gun Shows are also to be avoided right now. You are not yet ready. Play Welcome to the Jungle by Guns and Roses… “Your gunna die!” Well, you won’t die, but I promise you will get ripped off big time at a Gun Show if you are not prepared. So we are concentrating on Gun Stores. Normal, Retail Stores that specialize in Firearms.
Finding a good Gun Store is critical to the Novice Gunny. You want a store that is well lit, clean, organized, and where the Sales Clerks or Gun Counter Guys are clean and respectful looking. The staff at the Counter should be welcoming. They should greet you as you walk in, If they don’t, that’s not a good sign.
The Gun Counter should be clean and well presented and have some organization to it. If the gun store you walk into looks unclean and unorganized, just turn around and walk out. Don’t waste another moment in there. Now here is why. A serious Gunny knows that Maintenance is critical. Gun Care is essential and if these guys can’t keep their gun counter maintained, then they are probably not keeping their guns maintained. A serious gunny also knows how to keep his guns organized according to the metric they want to highlight. How it’s organized is not important, but that there is organization is. Again, if they can’t organize the guns, well, then they probably don’t know much about them and that’s an indication that you are wasting time there. Walk.
Never be afraid to just walk out. Say, “Thank you for your time”, and leave the store. There are other gun stores around. You don’t have to settle. If they look organized, clean, and professional, then you are on the right track. To be a serious gunny, it takes a lot of experience. And if this is a well stocked gun counter, there is a lot for the Counter Crew to know.
Another reason to walk out is if the guy or gal behind the gun counter isn’t listening to you. If he is preoccupied he isn’t taking you seriously. If he is showing you guns that are not matching what you are asking for, he isn’t taking you seriously. Understand that most gun guys behind the counter are just gun guys, and not usually well versed in sales professionalism or have customer skills. But they have knowledge. Some counter guys might have the salesmanship, but maybe not the knowledge. Finding a place that has both is rare and special. Listening to you is a good sign.
Now, some guns stores operate on the basis that they push guns that they want to sell. Maybe it’s high margin items or its items that they have had on the shelf too long. Either way, the Clerk is incentivized to push those items. This isn’t a reason to walk just yet. This is where you need to communicate your needs and wants. If he can’t show you something that is in the ballpark, then maybe it is time to walk. The phrase to look out for is something along the lines of “This is what you need.” I’ve heard it thousands of times… and mostly from the most ignorant of sources. Newly hired gun counter help with his own fascinations, boyfriends or husbands with huge egos, or Buddy. If you hear “This is what you need”, your eyebrow should raise like Mr. Spock’s and the next words you say should be “Oh really? Why is that?” If he is grinning like an idiot – there’s probably a reason for that. I’m not calling him an idiot… but guys can just get that way all of the sudden. It’s like having a stroke of some sort.
One customer I used to deal with was a well-respected Paleontologist. He looked like someone that would be comfortable lecturing in an auditorium full of students, or looking through some sort of magnifying instruments at a rock or fossil. And then I showed him a gun that just caused it to happen… The Stroke of Idiot. It started the second he touched the pistol. The symptoms manifested immediately at the corners of his mouth… that smile spread across his whole face. And all the sudden he was no longer that highly intelligent Paleontologist. Luckily, the condition passed quickly as blood returned to his brain and neurons started sparking again.
I too have suffered from these sudden attacks myself. Many times, I must admit. The problem though is that we don’t recognize when this is happening. Hindsight, as they say, will point and laugh. This is why maybe you don’t want to go to the gun store with anyone that may snap a photo of this moment and post it to Facebook… You don’t want that moment immortalized.
So imagine that you are standing there, and Buddy is in the middle of a Stroke of Idiot, grinning, and saying “this is what you need”. You then give him the Eye of Spock and ask why. His response will go one of two ways. He will stand there continuing to grin and look like Chet from Weird Science, holding the pistol as if that is making his point for him. Or he’ll actually pull out some sort of actually tangible reason. If it’s the first response, just smile, chuckle, and have sympathy because he’s having a Stroke of Idiot. If it’s the second response, listen and give it some consideration. Weight it with what your desires and needs are. And then keep looking.
I would suggest that you never impulse buy. You can impulse look all you like. But don’t impulse buy. Instead, write down the specifics on the gun. Make, Model, Caliber, and Price. If it’s a used gun, note the Condition. Condition is very important in the used gun market, so only look at used guns that are in “Like New” condition. These should be roughly 10 to 20 percent less than the same gun new in box. If it’s not, just buy the new one and skip the used one. Buying used guns is a whole book on it’s own.
Now that we are to the point of handling a firearm, I want you to remember the four basic rules of firearm safety:
- ALWAYS KEEP YOUR FIREARM POINTED IN A SAFE DIRECTION.
- TREAT ALL FIREARMS AS IF THEY WERE LOADED.
- KEEP YOUR TRIGGER FINGER OUTSIDE THE GUARD AND OFF OF THE TRIGGER UNTIL YOU ARE READY TO FIRE.
- KNOW OUR TARGET, WHAT’S IN FRONT OF YOUR TARGET, AND WHAT IS BEHIND YOUR TARGET.
Read that a few more times, carefully. I’ll wait… go on. Okay, one more time. Can you remember that? Excellent.
Okay, now for a little Gun Counter Etiquette. When you ask to take a look at a gun, the Clerk behind the counter SHOULD pull the gun out and then check the gun to make sure the gun is unloaded. This should be done every single time. If the Clerk fails to do this, it’s not rude to ask them, “Can you please clear the Weapon for me first? Thank you.”
Now here comes the fun part… It’s your turn to do the very same thing. Even if you just watched the Clerk do it. Remove the magazine and then lock the slide to the rear. Visually check the breach to verify that you don’t see a round in the chamber. Then use your pinky and feel the empty chamber. With a revolver, open the cylinder or loading gate, and then check all five or Six or Seven or Nine individual chambers. However many the gun has. I’ve seen revolvers with as few as four chambers and as many as nine. Not that it’s important… But what is important is that you make absolutely sure the gun is empty.
We do it this way because our eyes can play tricks on us. And the yellow brass we’re looking for could end up being a silver colored nickel plated case. And if you think this is silly, look up Gun Counter Accidents. So we check visually and physically.
Let’s focus back on the Gun Counter Guy. Let’s say that you specify the needs of defense, concealment, and lightweight. These are generally three common criteria. The guns he then suggests are going to determine if you should be doing any business with him. The smallest caliber he should be pulling out is maybe .380 auto. .380 is the minimum caliber I would recommend for a defensive purpose. We’ll talk more of calibers later. That’s an important discussion. For the criteria of concealment, the gun should be smaller… Shorter in barrel, grip length, or both. And the weight should be something that you wouldn’t mind packing around all day long. Hopefully he asked you some questions to help him determine the best options for you. If he is a professional he may have already sized you up, considered your build, the way you dress, the size of your hands… and he probably has a good idea what can work for you based on what you said you are looking for. But then, maybe not. Which leads to the next tip for you.
Ask why. This is important… Most good gun counter guys that take their profession seriously will have reasons for showing you something unless you specifically asked to see “that” gun. He or she should be able to articulate why a certain gun was presented to you. “Popular” is a common reason, but you need more to go on. Ask to see other options as well. If you are in a well-stocked gun shop, there should be plenty of options for you to choose from. If your Gun Counter Person is a professional and knowledgeable, maybe he or she can help you narrow your choices down to a “Top 3”. Write that information down. And write down the name of the guy that helped you.
Now it’s time to go home and do some research. Those three guns you selected, look up each one, one at a time. Look for reviews from professional sources. Look at reviews from actual owners. I like Gun Forums and find that they can be a very helpful resource. A good gun forum that I like is “WeTheArmed.com”. Like We The People… but the people are armed. For the sake of full disclosure, WeTheArmed, or WTA, ahem… was mine. I was one of the founders. You can get a lot of personal bias on a forum, for or against anything and everything, so you have to weigh the responses. If you like, you can post the question, “I’m looking at A, B and C. What do you guys think?” You will of course get new options D, E, F, and the lot… These may be worth considering if you have not already looked at them. But take these suggestions with a grain of salt. See, on a forum, everyone wants you to get what they have too. I don’t know why, but it’s a thing. Because if you buy what they have, their lives will be so much better. Evidently. I don’t really get it either, but it’s a validation thing… It means they chose well if you pick the same gun.
YouTube is another source of information. Hopefully you can find a reasonable review of what you are looking for. Notice I only said it was a source of information… I didn’t say it was a source of good information. You have to filter the information on your own and weigh it against what others have said.
If you find that one of your choices has some negative points that have been consistent from all the information sources, then you can safely assume that you will eventually find those negative points as well. You have to weigh the negative against the positives. Because no one makes the perfect gun. But some do come very close!
Now that you have narrowed down your options, it’s time to get those guns back into your hands. If you have access to an indoor shooting range that offers rentals, see if the guns you are interested in are available to rent. Other than some special events or you have a friends that has one – renting the pistol is the only way to try it out. Don’t be afraid to rent all the guns you can. You are probably going to be spending about five to eight hundred bucks on average for any decent pistol, dropping twenty bucks to see if you are actually going to like that pistol is pretty cheap. I strongly advise you do this. This is like test driving a car. Always test drive the car before you buy, same with a pistol. If you can. Some places, there are no rental options, so your research online is going to have to do.
The research and range rentals are important. Because unlike other consumer products, there is no returning a gun once you bought it and decided that you don’t like it. At best, they may allow you to trade it back in. But if you do that, you will lose a large chunk of value. This is why I stressed the research so much. When you buy the gun, that sale is final.
One thing that annoyed me when I was selling guns, were the Info-Miners. For example there was one customer that I literally spent hours and hours with over the course of a week. Every day he would come in and glean information. And when it came time to buy the gun – he bought it someplace else because it was $20 dollars less. This frustrated me because I made my money selling guns, not giving away pertinent information. Information has value.
This is something that should be considered when you buy your gun. You can imagine how I felt when he bragged that he got the gun I basically sold him for twenty bucks less someplace else… from someone that didn’t work for that sale. You can also imagine my eagerness to answer all his new questions. See, he didn’t put any value on the information I gave him.
Don’t do that to your Gun Counter Guy. That’s basically giving him the middle finger and telling him you don’t value his input on the questions you ask of him. This is why I suggested writing down the guy’s name. Here’s why. He will remember you. He might not remember your name off the bat, but he will remember talking to you about those guns you were interested in. The more you work with a good Gun Counter Guy – the more he will be willing to go the extra mile in helping you. This is just human nature and nothing specific to the gun industry. This can be to your advantage in the long run.
Okay, so now you are back at the counter and you have those three pistols in mind. From your research you found that one of them is less than ideal for your purposes, so you can dismiss that one. Now you are down to two pistols. This is where spending a little time with the guns is good. If you can rent examples, the same makes and models, you will quickly decide which one you like best. If you can’t rent them, then you are going to have to concentrate on the way the gun feels and fits. Fit is an important word. The gun has to fit you. The problem is that the way a gun fits and feels at the gun counter is very different from how the gun actually feels when you are shooting it.
For example, the 5th Generation Glock pistols. I think they feel great in the hand with none of the alternate back-straps that you can install to make the grip feel bigger. The gun is smaller without them, and the trigger reach is easier. However when I got my Gen 5 Glock Model 45 out to the range, the way the gun handled in recoil showed me that maybe it was a little too small for my hands. I found that it shot better for me with one of the backstraps installed. I had better control of the gun because it actually fit better. There have been a couple other guns like this for me as well. You only really know when you’ve shot the gun. Again, rentals are worth it. I suggest you try as many as you can this way.
In the gun store there are a couple things you can do to check the gun’s fitment. Look at a spot on the wall in a clear direction that is at eye level. Get a good firing grip on the gun, and close your eyes. Bring the gun up into firing position and freeze. Don’t move. Now look at the sights. This is like playing Blackjack. You want to hit 21 or as close to it without going over. The closer to being on target the better the gun fits you. If the front sight is a little below the target, that’s fine. If it’s above the target, that’s less than ideal and it could mean that this gun is not for you. It’s not an absolute deal breaker, but it’s something to consider. Getting that gun on target is just a matter of practice now. You have to train yourself with that gun so that you can aim accurately and instinctively.
A lot of guns are made with grips that can be removed and replaced with alternate sizes or styles. One of my personal favorite guns came from the factory with just horrible grips. I couldn’t even hold on to the gun properly. But after I swapped out the grips for something better… The gun became fantastic. This consideration is a good conversation to have with your gun counter guy, if alternate grips could help your selection.
The other important thing to consider is the trigger pull. When you are aiming at the target spot on the wall, try the trigger pull. Look only at the front sight post and see if you can dry fire the pistol without the front sight post even twitching.
Before you dry fire anything in a store, you need to ask. This is a courtesy. Some gun stores do not allow dry firing, others are actually offended by it. But most will nod and say that it is fine. I would also say that you should not dry fire the pistol more than twice max… And try to stick to doing it just once.
I’ve seen some guys that asked to dry fire a pistol and then proceed to snap the trigger as fast as they can, as many times as they can. This is drastically uncool. This is like asking to test drive a car and then doing burnouts in it. The pistol is inventory of the store and is a product that they have to sell… So please, some professional courtesy is a good thing.
To me, trigger pull is one of the most important deciding factors. A good trigger is better than anything else. Reason being is that shooting a pistol is hard because you have a one or two pound gun with a six to nine pound trigger pull. So it’s easy for a poor trigger pull to throw your shot off target even if your sights were dead nuts on. Most misses are made because of a bad trigger pull. So the quality of the trigger’s mechanical action is important to me to help me make a better pull and keep my rounds on target.
By this time you should have narrowed down the selection to just one. Or two. Hey, you’re a grown adult, I’m not putting limits on you. But before you decide to slap down the plastic and make that final purchase, consider the accessories. Do they have a holster for it? And I am not meaning a floppy sewn nylon holster for less than 20 bucks, I mean a real holster that will carry the gun securely and safely. The holster is a critical component to the firearm as a part of the system. The holster protects the gun. The holster carries the gun at the ready. Don’t cheap out on it. Good holsters are going to be priced about sixty dollars on up. Personally, I like leather, but there are a lot of good polymer holsters on the market that will work just fine. Just please stay away from nylon fabric holsters. And if it has a spare magazine pouch on the holster, just put it down and walk away.
Spare Magazines are also an important item. Some new pistols only come with one magazine. Most will come with two. You are going to want at least three though. So check with your Local Gun Seller about those. If you are looking to get into guns for Competition, your minimum should be five magazines. And you are going to want to be able to carry at least two spare magazines on your person. So a Magazine Carrier is advisable. Now, getting into Competition Shooting is actually a whole other topic, for another Booklet, so I’m going to leave that alone at this time.
Fact: Holsters should NEVER be made out of any type of fabric.
Let’s back up a moment and talk about terminology. You may be tempted to use the word “Clip”. Don’t. The device that holds the ammunition in the gun is called a Magazine. Calling it a “Clip” is one of the fastest ways to make the guy selling the gun to you think you are an idiot. A clip and a magazine are two different things, and I do not know of any new production semi-automatic handguns that feed from Clips. The difference between the two is that a Clip will hold the cartridges by the base, keeping them in line like the teeth on a comb. A Magazine is a small fancy metal box with a spring in it that pushes the cartridges up to the open top like a Pez dispenser. Glocks use Magazine. Sometimes Clips are used to load guns with built-in magazines, such as Enfield rifles from WWII, or Broomhandle Mauser pistols. Both of those are going to be firearms that fall into the Collector category and are not ideal for a first-time gun buyer and aspiring Gun Owner.
The term “Automatic” does not mean that the pistol is fully auto, even though most guys call pistols “Autos”. They mean to say “Semi-Automatic” which means the gun is merely “Self Loading”. When the gun is fired, it will load itself to make ready for the next shot. The trigger must be pulled for each shot with a semi-automatic handgun.
The term “Pistol” is often used for Semi-Automatic Handguns or for Single Shot handguns. Repeating handguns that fire from a cylinder that holds the ammunition are generally called Revolvers. Modern use of the language has handguns divided into Pistols or Revolvers. As I said before, Single Shot handguns are also Pistols. Lever Action Handguns are also Pistols. When in doubt, any handgun is a Pistol. Technically according to history, you can call a Revolver a Pistol too, but we don’t do that anymore because ATF categorizes Revolvers as only Revolvers. We don’t want the ATF to be any more confused than they already are. They get cranky when they get confused.
Revolvers are famous for the Cowboy Gun style of “Single Action” revolvers, like the Colt Peacemaker. Or the “Double Action” type of revolver, like Dirty Harry’s revolver… If you feel lucky. A Single Action revolver and a Double Action revolver are both related in that the cartridges are held in the gun within the Cylinder, which rotates to align the cartridge to the barrel. The Action is described as Single Action or Double Action depending on what the Trigger mechanism does when the Trigger is pulled. A Single Action type revolver has a Trigger that performs a single action… dropping the hammer. A Double Action type revolver has a Trigger that does two different actions. One is to cock the hammer, and the other is to then drop the hammer. So with the “Cowboy Gun”, the Shooter will have to cock the hammer back manually, with his/her thumb. While cocking the hammer back, the cylinder rotates and the hammer locks back ready to fire. When the trigger is pulled, the hammer falls, and the cartridge discharges. With Dirty Harry’s revolver, one could manually cock the hammer just like the Single Action type can… But you can also simply pull the trigger and the mechanism will rotate the cylinder, cock the hammer and then fire the gun. Cocking and Firing… Double Action.
Pistols can be categorized in Single Actions and Double Actions as well. Single Actions are pistols such as the “1911” or the Browning High Power. And Double Action type Pistols are like the Beretta 92FS or SIG P226. And then there are the Striker Fired type guns which are famous because of the Glock series of pistols which use what they call their “Safe Action” Pistols. Guns that operate like this, hold the striker partially cocked and ready to fire and the trigger just finishes that job before allowing the striker to fly forward to fire gun. But some strikers are all double action only and the trigger does two jobs… and then there are some strikers that are single action only. Which is which depends on the individual firearm and a knowledgeable gun counter clerk should be able to tell you which is which. But the type of action the firearm is designed with, isn’t as important as how you feel about the individual firearm. How it feels in your hand and how you feel holding it. Because really, that’s all that matters.
Bullets. Let’s talk about the bullets. A round of Ammunition is called a Cartridge. A bunch of Cartridges collectively is referred to as Ammunition. A Cartridge is made from several parts. A Bullet is what comes out of the gun and zips off to the target. A Case is what holds all the parts together. It holds the Gunpowder safely inside, it holds the Primer at the base, and it holds the Bullet. A single cartridge is also commonly called a “Round”. So you don’t load Bullets into the gun, you load your cartridges, or rounds of ammunition.
A Cartridge is fired when a Striker or a Firing Pin hits the Primer at the base of the Cartridge. The primer is a small metal button that is filled with a combustible compound that is sensitive to shock and pressure. So the impact of firing pin causes that compound to ignite. This in turn lights off the gunpowder, which also burns. The burning gunpowder causes a rapid expansion of hot gasses. This causes the pressure which pushes the bullet down the barrel and out of the gun. The bullet then flies at high speed to impact the target. The bullet then penetrates the target, making a hole in the target. How big and deep that hole is going to depend on the bullet and what the target is.
There is a whole division of Science called Ballistics that encompasses all of this. And even this is broken down into three separate sciences. Internal Ballistics is all about what happens between the moment of the trigger pull until the bullet leaves the barrel. It’s all about Lock Time, Bullet Weight, Pressure, and Powder Burn Rates. Exterior Ballistics is all about what affects the bullet in flight. Rate of Twist of the Rifling, Gravity, Angles, Wind, Temperature, Humidity, Spin Drift, even the Earth’s Rotation. All of this is about getting the bullet to the target. Then there is Terminal Ballistics, which is what the bullet does to the target, based on bullet construction, impact velocity, fluid dynamics, and the construction of the target itself.
If you are shooting at paper targets, all of this ballistic science is easy. If the target is a murderous thug with a knife coming at you, well, that’s a lot more complicated and you will be happy that the people who made your defensive ammunition have spent a lot of time studying Terminal Ballistics to help ensure that you stay alive and the threat to your life is stopped.
That’s an import point I want to make sure that everyone understands. In a defensive shooting, we do not Shoot To Kill. We are not James Bond with a license for that sort of thing. And we are not Assassins who are out for blood. When we shoot, we shoot to stop a threat. No more. No less. If you have to pull your gun because someone is about to take your life – You Are The Victim. That person that’s intent on harming you has to be stopped. If you stopping him results in the loss of his life, that’s terrible, but that’s the result of his poor choice to try to take yours. We don’t shoot to stop the theft of a TV or your Car. We shoot to Save an Innocent Life. Yours, or that of a loved one. What would you do to save the life of someone you loved?
That brings me to the next point. Which is much like the first, “We Shoot To Stop A Threat.” That means we don’t shoot once and then stand around waiting to see what happens. You shoot until the threat is stopped. This is the unpleasant part of Defensive Firearms, and you might not like it. Welcome To The Jungle.
Now let’s get back to some more fun stuff. Let’s talk about target shooting. Target Shooting is a Recreational Activity. It’s for enjoyment and it can be competitive. The pistols you use for Target Shooting can be quite different than what you would use for Defense. Typically target pistols are often chambered in .22 Long Rifle. Don’t let the name fool you, a .22 Long Rifle Cartridge is the most popular of pistol calibers. Because they are cheap and plenty and offer low recoil. They make for terrible defensive cartridges! Luckily, paper targets are not that tough.
A Target Pistol is often something that looks long and sleek, and maybe even a little Sci-Fi in styling. The key to a target pistol is the longer barrel. Not that longer barrels are more accurate. Because they are not. But longer barrels do two things for you. One, is that they give you a higher velocity with the given ammunition compared to a shorter barrel. Two, is that they give you a longer sight radius. The distance between the front and rear sights is longer, which means you can aim more precisely. So while a longer barreled pistol is not necessarily more accurate than the same gun with a shorter barrel… it’s easier to shoot more accurately with the longer barreled gun.
Target pistols are fantastic for having fun and improving basic fundamental skills, like sight alignment, sight picture, breathing, your physical stability, and of course, trigger pull.
See, shooting a pistol is easy to do. But shooting a pistol well… that’s the challenge. Pistol shooting requires the full body and mind to attune to the task. The physicality is one thing… but the mental game is a whole other level. Shooting well requires focus, and concentration enough to tune out everything going on around you. This challenge might seem easy to the uninitiated. But the more you learn about shooting, the more you realize just what a challenge it really is.
The great thing about Shooting as a Sport is that it’s a level playing field physically. A man and a woman can compete as equals in a casual bullseye match. A youth can compete against an elder. The Target doesn’t care about your sex or your sexual orientation. The Target doesn’t care about your religious or political beliefs. The Target doesn’t care about your age or your grade or what school you attend. The Target doesn’t care about your job title or your rank or your office view. The Target doesn’t care about what car you drive, or your credit score or your debt ratio. The only thing that matters to the Target is if you kept your focus, held your breath, aimed properly, and pulled the trigger perfectly.
A Target Pistol will help you attain a high level of focus and skill. And they are generally pistols that anyone can use. As such, I recommend one to everyone as a place to start. The reason being is that too many people to new firearms who are looking at a pistol for self-defense, start out with a gun that is difficult to shoot well with and fires expensive ammunition.
I’m going to break it down by category and give you my personal recommendations. Not to tell you what to buy, but to give you a place to start. As I said earlier, I don’t know you. So I can’t give you a solid recommendation on what is going to work best for you. That’s up to you. This is a very personal choice here. Think of it like an ice cream joint with 31 different flavors. They are all going to be sweet and delicious, but you will have your favorites, and I will have mine.
Target Pistols. In this category, my favorite is the Browning Buckmark family. I say family because they make a lot of different styles with different barrels, sights, grips… it’s crazy. But they are all excellent. The Basic version is called the ” Camper”. You can work your way up from there with the Confidence knowing there are no bad choices.
Defensive Pistols. I’m personally a huge fan of SIG. The P229, P226, P228, P224, P22o, P227… These are all amazing handguns. To pick just one, I’ll take the P229. That was the choice of the US Air Marshals for a very long time… for very good reasons. The SIG P22X Series are all Double Action/ Single Action pistols… with the safest mechanism on the planet. I’m also a big fan of the CZ 75 Series of pistols, the Beretta 92 series, and the H&K P30 series.
For Striker-fired defensive pistols, my personal choice is a Glock model 45, in 9mm. But I’m also a huge fan of the H&K Vp9, the FN 509, and the CZ P-10C.
For Revolvers, I’m very much a Ruger kind of guy. I adore the full sized GP 100 series and the smaller SP 101 for concealed carry. I prefer the .357 Magnum chambering as it gives me the flexibility to also use .38 Special if ammo is hard to find.
Now, one last recommendation. The Best Gun Store I’ve ever been to on the planet… With the best selection and the Best Gun Counter Crew… Basin Sports in Vernal, Utah. Those boys know their guns. Because they buy them as much as the customers and they go shooting ALL the time! They’re crazy like that. And if you want to see them make a funny face… Tell them George Hill says “Howdy.”