When it comes time to buy your first handgun for self defense, it can be quite a bit over whelming. I have put this together to help those that are totally new to handguns and firearms in general. I will list some questions that you should answer before you even step foot in the store for the first time as well as some questions that you should ask the sales person working behind the counter.


Having been working in a gun store for a while now I get people all the time coming in to buy a new gun and they have no idea what they are looking for. Most of these customers have never even held a gun, let alone fired one. With female gun ownership growing faster than any other demographic, this article will mostly be targeted towards women, but it will help a lot of men out too.

What do you need to know and decide before you buy?
The first thing I ask someone looking to buy their first gun is : How do you plan to use it? Will this be for the home, car or do you plan to carry it on you? The way you use your gun can dictate the size of the gun you plan to buy. A gun for home use can normally be much larger than one you will carry. A full sized .357 mag would be a great home defense gun, but I very seriously doubt that you’d want to carry one all day. Next thing to ask is, if you plan to carry, how do you want to? With all the holster and carry options available, there will be one that will fit you properly. With the influx of new women carrying concealed, the need for carry options to cater to women are being answered. As women tend to wear tighter more form hugging clothing, holsters that us men can use easily generally don’t cut it for the ladies. While this will play into the size of the gun you buy, it also depends on where on your body you carry. A really popular type that has hit the market in recent years allows you to attach the holster to a bra. Smaller semi-auto guns can also be carried in a pocket holster or IWB(inside the waist band) holster.

Another aspect you need to decide on is how much money you are willing to spend. Handguns are not cheap. You can spend anywhere from $250 to well over $1000. Not all handguns are created equal, but that does not mean you need to spend a fortune either. For a good reliable gun, $300-600 is a good range. With the machining technology these days, you’ll be hard pressed to find a gun that you wouldn’t trust your life with. With that being said, every company has a lemon slip out the door every once in a while, and thats why you must practice with your new gun.

Now that you’ve decided how you plan to use the gun you’re going to buy, its time to look in the stores. As you will find out, there are all shapes and sizes of handguns. Going back to what we talked about before, you kind of have an idea as to the size gun you’re looking at. Remember that the sales person behind the counter is just that, a salesman. They will try to sell you something on the spot. Don’t feel pressured. Look at everything, everywhere. The best way to get an idea of what fits you is to hold it. Whatever you do, do not buy a particular gun just because someone said you should even if that person is your husband or wife. One of the most important things I tell my customers is, buy a gun that feels good to you. If the gun isn’t comfortable, chances are you won’t carry it much. A gun sitting at home while you are away and you need it is useless. Get something that fits you! That also goes for the caliber of the gun you buy. Some sales people will try to talk smaller frame people into guns like .32s and .380s because of their lower recoil. I’ve also seen over zealous boyfriends and husbands that forbid their girlfriends or wives from buying 9mms or smaller. The way I look at it is that the trained person with a gun of any caliber is better off than that same trained person with a gun they’re not comfortable/confident with, left at the house. For some people a small .22 revolver or semi-auto is the right choice. For others, its the 45 auto or 10mm.


Ammo size comparison from left to right: .22 LR, .380 auto, 9mm, .40 S&W, .38 Special, .45 auto and a D cell battery.(Had to use range brass for the .380 and .40, as I don’t own either)

Here are a few of the more common styles of handguns use for concealed carry. With the hundreds of models available, there is sure to be one that fits you.



Kel-Tec .380



Smith & Wesson .38 Special



Glock 19 9mm



North American Arms .22 LR Mini-Revolver (yes it may be tiny, but it’s better than nothing at all!)



Springfield Armory XDm 3.8 .45 auto


Find out what kind of safety feature the gun has, if any. If it does have a safety, can you easily disengage it when needed? If its a semi-auto, work the slide to see if you can. I have people come in all the time that don’t have the strength to work the slide on some of the smallest guns. Next thing to try is the trigger. Don’t dry fire a gun with out asking the person behind the counter first. Some shops have snap caps just for this purpose. A lot of small semi-autos don’t have any form of conventional safety. Instead they will have a long heavy trigger pull. This helps to keep from accidentally discharging the gun. Hammerless double action(hammer comes back as trigger is pulled and fires once all the way back) revolvers also have a long heavier trigger pull as well. A revolver with a hammer might be a good option in this case, as you can fire it in single action(hammer is pulled back before trigger is pulled on each shot) if needed. One of the best ways to find out what you like is to visit a range that has rental guns or talk to your friends. People in the gun community are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met and are usually more than happy to take a new shooter out and try some different guns. This way you get real trigger time  other than just seeing how it feels in your hand.

After you have looked around and have an idea of whats available, its time to start asking questions. Being that guy behind the counter, I love hearing the questions. It lets me know that the individual about to buy is serious. Hopefully the gun shop will have the prices listed so you can narrow down the options quicker if price is a concern. Of the guns you’re interested in, find out if ammo is even available. Right now, ammo for certain calibers can be hard to come by, namely .22 LR, although thats not the only one. If there is something you want and the shop doesn’t carry it, don’t hesitate to ask if they can order you one. They may and they may not. Some shops only want to sell you what they have in their case. It doesn’t hurt to ask. If you need to look at a shop down the road or compare prices, do it.

Here in NC you must have either a pistol permit or a concealed carry permit to buy a hand gun. Before you buy, make sure you have all your proper paper work and don’t forget your drivers license.


Now to my opinions and MY opinions only.

If you decide to get your concealed carry permit, buy your gun first. In this state you must qualify with the gun as part of the course to get your permit. Some instructors have rental or loaner guns for the course, but you don’t want to try and learn how to use the gun and qualify at the same time.

Take a proper handgun course from a trained instructor. Too many times I have seen some guy “teaching” his girlfriend or wife how to shoot and he doesn’t know what he’s doing himself. A instructor will teach proper firearms safety as well a marksmanship.

Stay away from guns with lasers. They seem like a good idea. You shoot when the dot is on the target, right? Yes, but they can make you lazy. If that’s all you practice with, that’s all you’ll know how to use. Learn to use your sights. If the batteries die and you need the gun, what now?

Once you have your concealed carry permit and are deciding on how you want to carry the gun, please don’t just throw it in your handbag. I say this for a few reasons. The number one purpose for a holster is to keep it secure and cover the trigger guard. A loose gun in a purse is a VERY BAD IDEA. Lipstick or other small items can easily get caught in the trigger guard and can cause the gun to discharge. My second reason is that if someone is coming at you, the first thing they are going to grab is your handbag. This is where you keep your money, credit cards and other valuables. If he has the bag, it’s going to be very hard to get it and the gun out at the same time. Keep the gun on you.

If you plan to keep the gun in your car, keep it locked and in some place other than the glove box. It is too easy to break the glove box lock and steal anything in there.

My last and most important PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!!!  Nothing makes me more upset than someone that buys their new gun and carries without firing more than a few rounds through it. Ammo is expensive, but it’s worth it to know your gun, and any quirks it may have. Some guns don’t like certain ammo or will only function properly with full metal jacketed ammo. These are things that you need to know and the only way to know is by practicing with your gun.


If you live in Central NC, come check out our shop:

Acme Bullet Company

1052 E. Harden St.

Graham, NC 27302


2 thoughts on “Buying your first handgun for self defense?”
  1. Dear Mr. Hathaway,
    My neighbor found your website and suggested I look through it because you seemed to know what you were talking about.
    After reading several articles I agree with him and you. I’m a NRA Certified Instructor with a lifetime of hunting and shooting and 15 years as an instructor. To see where you come from concerning new shooters I read “Buying your first handgun for self-defense”. You hit the nail on the head, in my opinion, because we agree on each and every point. Personally I think you listened in on my classes!
    I am impressed with your professionalism and good sense. Please keep up the good work and know that I will keep check to see your next articles.

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