What is the best firearm for me?
by Robert McCauslin
all rights reserved
If I only had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that question! This article is by no means going to be exhaustive in it’s approach, but is intended to help you begin to understand your desires and begin to refine possible paths to ownership of a firearm that will satisfy your requirements.
Let’s address this most important question in a slightly unusual way – the first question you need to ask yourself to get to a good answer (for you) is “What is the purpose for my desire to own a firearm?” Really. Do some soul searching and really get to the bottom of your desires. Follow this up with as many questions regarding how, when and why you intend to shoot to help you refine this answer to be able to get a starting point for your choice(s).
While there are no right/wrong answers (provided you are honest with yourself), the main reasons most give fall into one of the following categories:
While these are relatively self-explanatory, let’s look at each for a moment in a bit greater detail.
‘Self-defense’ implies a regularly carried weapon which limits the size and shape of the weapon. If this is your primary motive for obtaining a firearm, your next decision is going to be revolver or semi-automatic and what caliber is your best choice. We’ll add some additional factors a bit later in this article.
‘Family or home defense’ implies a weapon that will be primarily maintained at your residence but could be occasionally transported to other locations. This leaves your choices a bit more open regarding handgun, long gun, caliber, and type of cartridge.
‘Target shooting’ implies all variations of discharging your weapon at any variety of targets. This includes the entire spectrum from ‘plinking’ (informal shooting at whatever target) to formal competition events. The choices are completely wide open in this category regarding handgun, long gun, caliber, and type of cartridge only limited by your available facilities and personal preferences.
‘Hunting’ refers to the taking of game animals for sustenance or sport. While some hunt with handguns, most prefer long guns, so the choice tends to be between rifles and shotguns. This choice is generally determined by the game you intend to hunt.
There is one other reason that would tend to indicate you should reassess your readiness to become a firearm owner.
Yes, really. Firearms are highly glorified in much of our pop culture. From many of the movies coming out of Hollywood, to television programs that have more simulated shootings than the evening news, to the ‘Gangsta’ music scene where time in prison and a rap sheet provide ‘street cred’ for the artist leading to higher sales. If the biggest reason you want to purchase one is that you think it will make you look tough, or to impress either your friends or the other gender, you simply aren’t ready for the responsibility regardless of your chronological age.
Let’s look at some other factors as mentioned above that will help you refine your choice.
First, a few generalities. The heavier the weight of the projectile and the faster it travels, the more kinetic energy it transfers to whatever it hits. The larger the caliber, the more recoil the cartridge exerts when discharged. The heavier the weapon the better it absorbs the recoil when shot. The shorter the barrel, the lower the velocity of the projectile. Although there are exceptions or mitigating methods, these factors will all have effects you should consider when making your choice.
NOTE: Always verify local laws regarding the requirements to purchase, own, carry and use weapons, and get proper education/training before ever attempting to fire a weapon. If you need assistance, contact us and we’ll help you.
Handguns are small enough to hold in one hand and generally easy to conceal. They run from .22 caliber to .50 caliber so there is a power and recoil that will be suitable for anyone seeking to own/use. Handguns come in two categories; revolvers and semiautomatics. Revolvers are simpler mechanically, generally hold five or six cartridges, and come in a wide variety of sizes, primarily related to barrel length with shorter barrels easier to conceal. Semiautomatics are more complex mechanically, carry their cartridges in removable magazine that insert into the handle, hold anywhere from six to seventeen cartridges depending on configuration, and also come in a variety of sizes depending on barrel length and magazine capacity with the smaller models being easier to conceal. Generally, I recommend nothing less than .380 ACP for a self-defense weapon, with the .38 Special, .357 Magnum, 9mm Luger, 40 S&W, and .45 ACP being the most popular calibers.
Long guns fall into one of two categories; rifles characterized by high power, high velocity cartridges, and shotguns characterized by paper or plastic shells filled with shot (small pellets of iron or steel that spread rapidly after leaving the barrel).
Shotguns are generally the home defense weapon of choice due the following characteristics: their fast scatter projectile pattern makes precise aim less of an issue, the limited range of the cartridge powder load makes over-penetration less likely (a HUGE safety factor), and there are enough caliber and load methods that a shotgun can be found that pretty much any body size and strength. On the down size, shotguns are long guns so they are less easy to stage. A single shot break action only holds one shell and a double barrel only holds two making them suitable for hunting applications but less capable for self-defense based on potential capacity. Pump actions can be found with a variety of magazine capacities making them better suited to home defense (plus the sound of a shell being racked into the chamber is a clear warning), but depending on game being hunted, they may have to have a plug inserted into the magazine to limit the quantity it holds. Again, ensure your local laws are understood and followed at all times.
Rifles are generally designed for hunting use in hunting purposes with long range, high power, high velocity and high penetration. Specific configurations and caliber choice may reduce the power and range so a rifle can be found for every body size and strength. Their characteristics make rifles a poor choice for self or home defense primarily due to the penetration factor; at short range such as the typical home defense scenario, a round fired from a hunting rifle can go through multiple walls putting other family members or even neighbors at unintended risk. Those same characteristics make them the primary weapon of choice for hunting purposes.
Target shooting comprises such a broad spectrum that any type of firearm can either be perfectly suitable or totally unsuitable. If you are plinking (safely of course), whatever weapon you have in your hands is the right one. However, if you are enrolling in a Cowboy Action Competition, you must use the six shot revolver in one of the specific calibers considered acceptable. A few considerations if you are only looking for a weapon to take to your local range for pleasure shooting. The lower the caliber, the less expensive the ammunition and the less recoil the ammo gives when fired. Your arm will not get as tired shooting 100 rounds of .22 LR as it will shooting 100 rounds of .45 ACP and your wallet will not take as big a hit either (approximately $7.50 vs $40-$50). Also, you MUST be safe when target shooting. The higher the power, the more penetration, the more restrictions there are regarding an acceptable back drop for the targets. NEVER discharge a weapon without knowing what is behind your intended target.
We’ll address configuration of each type weapon for a series of articles in the near future.
For now, we again remind you that no firearm is a toy and ownership brings tremendous responsibility to maintain and store safely. You are solely responsible to ensure it does not get into inappropriate hands such as children or their playmates, in your household. An improperly maintained weapon is a potentially unsafe weapon so learn all the basics. We can help.