Concealed Carry & Home Defense

How to Buy Your First Gun for Defense

Mike Piccione Editor, Guns & Gear
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Congratulations on having the courage to defend yourself and your home. It is the right decision and you are your first line of defense. Remember, police come after the crime has been committed so being able to defend yourself is important and it will save your life.

But how do you go about getting your first gun? And what do you buy?

There are a couple of ways to approach buying a gun. The goal is to get a gun, within your budget, that you can shoot well. Let’s talk about guns.

Most likely you want a handgun. They are small, easy to have in a place where you can get it quickly and easy to operate. Rifles can be very good for home defense but they are unwieldy and can be stronger than what you need and more difficult to operate. Shotguns are great for home defense. They are powerful, reliable, incredibly effective and relatively easy to use. On the down side they have considerable recoil, and if you are a new shooter it may be more difficult to get used to shooting it comfortably and you may be restricted on where you can practice shooting. Many ranges are handgun only.

A Handgun Primer

Handguns come in many types but there are two basic forms for you, semiautomatics and revolvers.


There is a lot of variety in semiautomatic handguns. Here is where it gets sticky. Single action, double action, double action only, decocking levers, safety and no safety models and that can cause you to be confused. Each type of semiautomatic will have evangelists. My recommendation is to keep it simple. Why? In a stressful situation you want to be able to point your gun and shoot an attacker. If you have to fumble with a safety or cock back a hammer your frame of mind might not be in the place that will allow you to remember to take steps before the gun will fire. The simplest guns to use are Glock, Kahr, Springfield XD, Kel-Tec and Ruger. This is just a partial list because there are many easy to use semiautomatics but these are the brands you will commonly see in a gun store.

A semiautomatic holds the rounds in a magazine. The magazine is removed from the gun and loaded then inserted back into the gun. To get the gun ready to fire a round must be chambered (you have to get a round into the barrel so it will fire). To chamber a round you pull back the slide and let it go forward. The magazine will push the round up so the slide can carry it to the chamber. Important note: Some people may have trouble pulling the slide back. One trick to make it easier is to have the gun in your shooting hand, put it close to your chest and parallel to your body. Grip the slide at the top and hold tightly while pushing the gun. With a little practice you will be fine. Be sure you can work the gun before buying it.

Advantages to a semiautomatic are: they fit your hand nicely, they often hold a lot of ammunition – or at least more than revolvers, and they come in a variety of different power levels. Prices are from $400 or so to over a thousand dollars.


Revolvers are reliable and easy to use. They hold the rounds in a cylinder that is attached to the gun so there is no magazine to lose or malfunction. They are very easy to load. Revolvers are just about fool proof and they come in a wide variety of weights and sizes. They are usually not as comfortable to hold as a semiautomatic. They are a little more difficult to shoot accurately but they sure are accurate enough for a beginner defending against a home intruder. When in doubt a .38 Special with a 4” barrel will work just fine. Yes, there are stronger guns but if you are a new shooter a .38 will be easy to shoot and ammunition is readily available. There is a wide variety of ammunition available for a .38 – so you start out with a lower power practice load and guard the homestead with a stronger round.

Setting A Budget

Guns are like cars, they come in a wide variety of prices so you need to know how much you will want to spend. Now that you have a budget for your gun consider buying a holster and ammo – this might run the bill up another $100. Ammo is surprisingly expensive. This may be a factor in buying your gun. If it is too expensive to shoot it may be a deterrent to practice.

You may also want some “eyes and ears.” This means you want some safety glasses and ear protection for your future trip to the range. Ranges usually have eyes and ears you can rent or borrow but you should get your own (it’s kind of like wearing rented bowling shoes if you borrow them). So between a holster, eyes, ears and ammo you probably need to up your budget. Oh, you need something to tote your gun, eyes, ears, ammo and such, so if you have a bag at home that is fine, if not, consider a range bag. Yes, guns have a lot of accessories.

Going To The Gun Store

When you go to a gun store to shop around you will get some overload with features and don’t expect yourself to understand everything when you get there. After all, you have probably never been to a gun store and you may a bit nervous just being there. It’s ok to be nervous, just be a good student and find someone that can be patient with you. Don’t go during the weekend rush when sales people are swamped – a lot of these guys are on commission and need to earn a living with ready buyers. Tell them you are there to learn and you want some help and advice. Tell them your budget and ask to see guns in your price range. After you look at guns in your price range ask them what they recommend.

Take notes. Write down the model number and the price then feel free to shop around. Don’t feel pressured, you are in charge and you can always go back to make your purchase.

Hold the guns and see how they feel. Always ask to dry fire the gun – firing the gun without a live round – and see if it is ok. That way you can get a better feel for the gun’s mechanics.

I did a test of gun shops in the past. The subject buyer was an attractive 25 year old woman who knows her stuff. She told them she wanted a gun primarily for home defense and maybe concealed carry down the road. Her budget was about $500. She went to four gun shops. The first two tried selling her guns in the $1,000 range. The third was in the $700 range. These three stores were less than friendly to her, some were downright rude. The fourth store showed her guns in her price range, went through the features and benefits of each and it was a very pleasant experience. I’ve experienced similar situations myself.

Some Prebuying Advice

Most likely you have a gun friend. Ask to visit them and show you a few guns they own. I don’t think there is one gun person that would ever say “no.” Usually you will be met with unbridled enthusiasm if you ask a friend for advice.

Shooting Ranges

I have found that shooting ranges are some of the friendliest places to visit. Quite often they are helpful and willing to show you the process if you are a new shooter. Many ranges, especially those that also sell guns, have a class where you can shoot a variety of guns with an instructor. If they do, take this course.

Ranges have rules. These rules are important for everyone’s safety. Learn them please and take them seriously.

It’s important to be proficient with your gun so practice. Get help from an instructor. Before long you will be confident and skilled.


Choosing and buying a gun is a learning process, just like buying a house, car, big screen TV or washer/dryer. Some places make it easy and others don’t. Get your gun and go shoot it. You will be surprised how much fun you will have and soon you will be the person whose friends ask gun buying advice. But most importantly, you will be able to defend yourself and your family. One day someone might even call you a sheepdog, and that is a compliment of the highest order.