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I grew up with a construction background. I owned my own company at 21 years old. Starting out like this at a young age has given me a few valuable insights. One of them is that you need to use the right tool for the job. If I needed to turn out a quality project, the right tool made all the difference. The second insight is making sure that the tool is an 8 or 10 on the quality scale. A quality tool is reliable, effective, and overall easier to use. Owning my own business taught me that the old adage “Time is Money” really has truth to it. A quality tool that is also the right tool saved me time. That time took the forms of efficiency in the construction process, freedom from tool caused imperfections, and a long lasting tool that I only needed to buy once. To this day I still use many of the same tools I purchased over 20 years ago. I know them. I trust them. I depend on them.

What does this have to do with guns!

Buying a firearm can be a stressful, frustrating, and costly thing. Most of us have a limited budget in both money and time. The right gun can save you on both counts. The wrong one, well let’s just say it out loud right here: the first 3 handguns I purchased were a waste of both money and time. The school of hard knocks is much more fun when it is someone else who is on the receiving end. So with that in mind the following is a generalized overview that may help, because your time and money is precious also. Please understand that most of these individual areas could be an entire post on their own, but these principles give you a solid foundation to start with.

Let me help you maximize your resources right now!

  1. Decide what the job is.

What do I mean by that? What are you going to USE the gun FOR? Plinking at the range on a Saturday? Hunting deer, hogs, varmints, bear, or elephant? Self-defense? Home self-defense? You need to know what it needs to do in order to make the best decision. For our purposes here let’s assume that you want a self-defense gun that is portable, so you can take it with you in public.

  1. Decide on a caliber preference.

In the gun world you can start bar fights with this topic. Knock down Power! Speed is most important! It needs to be a military caliber! What, that’s just a pea shooter! Honestly, be careful who you ask because everyone has an opinion here. For the purpose of self-defense you need to stay in a range from the low of .380 up to possibly a 10mm.

I want to take a little different approach here though. Pick the biggest caliber you can actually shoot well. Add to that your ability to afford buying in quantities enough to practice with.  We use 9mm in our family for this very reason. We take a lot of classes, and that requires a lot of ammo to practice with. 9mm is the most cost effective in that range, and is well respected in the industry for the purpose of self-defense. If you have never shot before, the very last step will be even more important.

  1. Think about how you might carry it.

This may seem a little out of order for someone new to guns and concealed carry. A new person will not have a frame of reference to help make this decision 100% right now. I suggest a larger perspective. Let’s find the size of gun we are willing to carry. Similar to number 2 above, I suggest you choose a gun as close to a full size frame, that you think you could carry concealed.  Do this while keeping in mind the clothes you wear 80% of the time. There is another principle to consider as well. With all guns in the same caliber, smaller framed guns will typically recoil harder and be more difficult to shoot well. Larger framed guns are typically easier to shoot, and have less recoil. The next step will help you narrow it down a little more.

  1. Go to the gun store and put your hands on them.

This step is critical. Self-defense is a task that, if you think about it, does not have a lot of room for error.  What we are doing here is “trying it on” like you would a pair of jeans. How does it feel?  Does it fit well? Can I do what I need to do in them? You get the idea? When I put a (verified by me unloaded, carefully always pointing in a safe direction) gun in my hand how does it feel?  Is it comfortable?  Does it fit, is it too big to grip, or is it too small in my hand?  A couple things here are important-1. With the gun in one hand, holding it in a good grip, can I comfortably reach the trigger with the center of my fingerprint pad of my finger? 2. In the same grip, can I reach and operate the safety (if it has one) with only the hand the gun is in? 3. In the same grip, can I reach and work the slide locking lever and magazine release. This one is not critical, but is nice if possible.

This is also a great time to ask about the quality of the guns you are looking at. Remember that you often get what you pay for. Is this the time to get cheap?  How much is your life worth?  There are many quality guns on the market these days, in a wide price range. You don’t need to spend $1000 to get quality and reliability, but it will likely need to be above $400. The next step can help solidify what that looks like as well.

  1. Get thee to a range!

This step can sometimes be difficult, but can really make or break the process though. Sometimes it might even cost you some money, however the amount it can save you is considerable. Did you notice that step 4 did not say to buy a gun? Why not? What do I mean? Do you remember me mentioning the first 3 guns I bought? Let me demonstrate how that worked and why it is important.

When I was very new to guns I took my wife to buy a gun. We spent well over an hour (likely closer to two) with the salesman. We put hands on dozens of guns. We discussed the pros and cons of each. We finally settled on the perfect gun. $900.00 later, as I crawled out on hands and knees thinking of the home equity loan I was going to need to pay for food that month, I just kept reassuring myself we had made the right decision.

Out to the range we went. We put on safety gear, set up the target, and loaded the gun. My wife then carefully lined up the sighs and pressed the trigger. BANG! The spent casing flew out of the ejection port and hit her right smack in the forehead. She looked at me and said “I don’t like this gun, I want a different one”. I felt like Harry Potter under the curse “STUPIFY!” Crap! $900.00! Not returnable. Now what?

The story is a little funny, but very true. If at all possible you need to try the gun, or at least one similar to the one you like, before you buy.  SO YOU KNOW IT WILL WORK FOR YOU. Find a range that rents guns. Find a friend that owns guns. Ask relatives, friends of friends. Look for local instructors in your area who lets students try guns.  We offer a class specifically for this purpose. One on one, multiple guns, side by side, someone to help with the principles involved. It is called Try Before you Buy. And it is FUN. Save time, money, and the need to sell a gun. Then practice with the one you choose until it is that reliable old friend you can depend on to get the job done.