April 08, 2011

Me? Own A Gun? Article 4: What To Buy?

In this installment I’ll discuss the primary differences, advantages and disadvantages between revolvers and semi-automatic handguns. In the final installment, which will be posted in a few days, I’ll get into caliber choices, methods of carrying, and several other items of interest. I’m making the assumption that readers contemplating what I’ve had to say in the first three installments (here, here and here) intend to do more than purchase a firearm exclusively for home defense. After all, our lives don’t lose their value outside the home, and one is, depending on a variety of factors, arguably more rather than less likely to need to defend their life outside their home.

I’m also going to be writing for those whose knowledge of firearms and related terminology is limited. As the information I’m providing here is covered in a wide variety of magazines--print and online--and books, I’ll be providing primarily an overview rather than an exhaustive exposition of the issues. I do recommend as a basic text The Complete Book of Handgunning by Chuck Taylor. It’s available through Amazon and other sources, and contains the fundamentals necessary to develop essential basic skills. Full disclosure: I am one of a relative few certified as an instructor by Taylor’s American Small Arms Academy, and I am also certified by the NRA as a range safety and handgun instructor.

Why a handgun? There’s an old story about a reporter who asked a Texas Ranger why he carried a .45. He replied (of course), in a slow drawl: “Because they don’t make a .46.” The bottom line is that one should always carry the most effective weapon they can effectively manage. Anyone who knowingly enters a gunfight armed with less than a rifle (or submachine gun) is asking to die. Long guns are much easier to shoot accurately at much greater than handgun ranges and are far more deadly. However, since it is practically difficult or impossible to carry such weapons on a daily basis, a handgun is the best alternative.

But what about shotguns? Aren’t they more effective than handguns? Again, we run into the size issue, and despite what Hollywood would have you believe, you do have to aim them. The effectiveness of shotgun ammunition depends primarily on keeping the shot column together, as close to the diameter with which it left the muzzle of the shotgun as possible, which means that to be truly effective, shotgun range is essentially the same as handgun range: Out to about 25 yards, and the closer the better. Experts can deliver accurate handgun fire at greater ranges, but for most, 25 yards is the outer effective limit. Twenty-five yards may not sound like much, until you’re trying to place a bullet on a target that looks surprisingly small at that range. It is fortunate--and frightening--that the overwhelming majority of gunfights take place at much closer ranges.

The choice of a personal, defensive handgun must take into account many factors, but ultimately one should choose a handgun that is powerful, concealable, reliable, that they can shoot well, and with which they are comfortable. That said, the choice is simpler, and more difficult, than many imagine.


Revolvers predate semiautomatics. Revolvers are so called because ammunition is loaded into a steel cylinder commonly holding 5-6 rounds. Pulling the trigger mechanically rotates the cylinder bringing a fresh round into precise alignment with the barrel. Revolvers come in two action types: Double action and single action. Single action revolvers are like the Colt .45 handguns of cinema westerns. The cylinder is rotated by cocking the large, exposed hammer. The resulting short and light trigger pull serves only to release the hammer to strike the primer, firing the cartridge. Such weapons are generally inappropriate for personal defense. Double action revolvers are modern weapons, and can be fired in double action mode, with a long, relatively heavy trigger pull that rotates the cylinder and ultimately drops the hammer to strike the primer and fire the cartridge, and single action, where cocking the hammer rotates the cylinder and pulls the trigger back, producing a very short, light trigger pull. Owners of revolvers should always train to use their weapon in double action mode. It is very easy indeed to accidentally fire a cocked revolver when under great stress.

Semiautomatics are sometimes incorrectly called “automatics.” An automatic weapon fires multiple rounds for each pull of the trigger. As long as the trigger is pulled and held back, the weapon will fire until its ammunition supply is exhausted. A semiautomatic weapon fires only one round for each pull of the trigger. Semiautomatics hold their ammunition in magazines. Magazines are often incorrectly called “clips.” The only currently manufactured, widely available firearm that actually uses ammunition clips is the M1 Garand battle rifle. Most semiautomatic pistols hold more rounds than revolvers.

All semiautomatic pistols work on the same principle: Firing a cartridge uses the energy of firing to push a heavy metal slide back against a powerful spring. the slide simultaneously extracts and ejects the fired brass from the chamber, and when the slide is propelled forward under spring tension, picks up a fresh cartridge from the magazine, inserting it into the chamber. This process is almost faster than can be seen by the naked eye. A powerful spring in the magazine pushes each fresh cartridge upward, ready to be fed into the chamber.

Semiautomatic pistols, however, have a greater number of trigger types than revolvers. The oldest, characterized by John Moses Browning designs, is the single action mechanism employed on the Model 1911 .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) and the Browning Hi-Power in 9mm Parabellum (Latin: for war). In these pistols, an exposed hammer is manually cocked and a safety lever mounted on the left side of the frame engaged. To fire, the shooter clicks off (pushes down on) the safety and pulls the trigger, which commonly has a light and short travel. This means of carrying these pistols, commonly known as “cocked and locked,” frightens the uninitiated, but is perfectly safe when done by those properly trained who use proper holsters. With this action type, each trigger pull is consistent, contributing to ease of use and accuracy. Such weapons employ the manufacturing methods and materials--heavy steel--available more than a century ago and are labor intensive to make. So while well-proved designs, they can be expensive.

A second action type is the double action mechanism that mimics the trigger action of the double action revolver. Invented decades ago to increase sales of semiautomatics to police forces used to double action revolvers, Col. Jeff Cooper called this invention “an ingenious solution to a non-existent problem.” The inherent problem with this type of trigger mechanism is that the first trigger pull is long and heavy, but because the first, and every subsequent shot fired causes the recoil of the slide to cock the hammer, the second and every subsequent shot requires a single action trigger pull, in other words, a much shorter, lighter pull of the trigger. This commonly results in widely varying impact points between the first two shots on any target, and while experienced, capable shooters can overcome this “feature,” double action mechanisms are a less than optimum option for most people.

Another action type is a hybrid of the double action mechanism that seeks to address the inherent problem of such actions. In this case, manufacturers produce weapons incapable of single action fire, so that each pull of the trigger must be double action. In other words, even through slide recoil cocks the hammer after the first and each subsequent round fired, the trigger recycles fully forward after each shot, making a long, relatively heavy trigger pull necessary for each shot. While this method might be a theoretical improvement on double action mechanisms, any action that requires a long, heavy trigger pull will be inherently less accurate and harder to shoot than a lighter, shorter trigger.

The most modern mechanism is the striker fired pistol, typified by the Glock design. These weapons do not have an exposed external hammer or an internal hammer, but instead employ what is essentially a larger, heavier firing pin driven by a strong spring. When recoil cycles the slide, the striker spring is compressed until it is released by the next activation of the trigger. Trigger pulls with this type of weapon are generally shorter and lighter than those of double action pistols, and are consistent from shot to shot. One advantage of the Glock design is that trigger pull weight can be easily changed from seven to five pounds, for example, merely by changing drop-in parts, an easy process with the modular Glock which uses not a single screw. Such weapons are often made with polymer (plastic) frames and many other polymer parts. This method of manufacture has many advantages, such as low cost, speed of manufacture, long life, no rusting, and the ability to absorb some recoil energy that would otherwise be imparted directly to the shooter. To contain the inherent pressures and recoil forces, however, such weapons must have steel barrels, slides, and slide rails. This is no such thing as a “plastic gun” that can’t be seen on x-ray machines. A Glock under x-ray looks exactly like what it is.

Another interesting Glock feature is the ability to “catch the link.” When firing a round, the shooter holds the trigger fully back as the slide cycles and then slowly releases the trigger until an audible and easily felt “click” occurs. This allows the next shot to have a much shorter trigger pull, enhancing long range accuracy. But this is not a true single action mode as it does not function in the same way, and it requires a conscious effort on the part of the shooter to make the weapon function in this way for each shot.


Modern double action revolvers come, generally, in large, medium and small sizes. However, there are some revolvers made for hunting or competition with very large magnum cartridges that fall into the “huge” category. Such weapons are universally made of steel, are very heavy, and have barrels of 6” or longer. On the opposite side are mini-revolvers, such as the stainless steel, derringer-like, 5 shot .22LR (Long Rifle) weapons made by Freedom Arms. Such weapons, which fire single action only, are made primarily as back-up guns, or for circumstances in which carrying an larger weapon is impossible. Unfortunately, their barrels are very short which can cause keyholing (for the appearance of the holes they leave in paper targets), or unstable bullets tumbling end over end. As a result, their accuracy beyond a few yards is generally poor, their penetration ability is limited, reloading requires removing the entire cylinder from the weapon, and for the inexperienced, or even the average shooter, they are hard to shoot with any degree of consistent accuracy, to say nothing of the general unsuitability of the .22LR cartridge in the self-defense role.

Large, or full-sized revolvers generally hold six rounds (though a few designs hold seven), have at least a 4” barrel, and usually have fully adjustable rear sights (adjustable for windage--side-to-side, and elevation--up and down). This class is generally considered to be “duty” revolvers of the kind some police forces still use. Unless you’re a large, strong person, concealing such weapons is difficult. They are meant to be carried in exposed holsters. It is possible to conceal them with the right holsters, but they are big, heavy handguns built to take heavy wear from powerful cartridges over the long term.

Medium framed revolvers also share barrels of the same length, but are lighter and not as solidly built, but will still provide many years of service for most people. Many models have barrels from 2” to 3” and some do not have adjustable rear sights. They are generally somewhat smaller and weigh somewhat less than fully sized revolvers.

Small frame revolvers commonly have barrels of around 2” length and are of only five round capacity. They rarely have adjustable rear sights. In fact, many rear sights are merely notches machined in the top strap of the weapon. They commonly have small grips. Such weapons are designed in recognition of the fact that full sized revolvers are not easily concealed. Some revolvers in this class have aluminum, titanium or alloy frames for reduced weight, but their barrels and cylinders must be steel. Some of the newer weapons in this class, such as the Ruger LCR are being manufactured with frames and some parts made of polymer to reduce weight as much as possible.

ADVANTAGES OF REVOLVERS: Because they have no separate safety devices, they are also simple; pull the trigger and they go “bang.” In fact, long, heavy double action trigger pulls are usually thought to be an inherent safety feature, requiring the shooter to really intend to shoot to discharge the weapon. On the other hand, short, light single action trigger pulls are, with justification, thought to be dangerous because they are far more prone to unintentional discharge. It is also easy to load and unload revolvers, and one can tell at a glance if they are loaded. Properly maintained, revolvers--particularly in stainless steel--can last a lifetime. Stainless steel does rust, but is far less susceptible to it than other steels commonly used in firearms.

Revolvers represent well developed technology and manufacturing methods and are relatively free of inherent malfunctions. With speed loaders, they can be reloaded reasonably quickly, though experts can reload with amazing speed even without speed loaders. High quality revolvers are also potentially more accurate than most semiautomatic pistols, though relatively few shooters are skilled enough to notice any significant difference at common handgun ranges. There is a difference between intrinsic accuracy and practical accuracy. With the wide range of different materials and shapes available, most people can adapt a given revolver to their unique hand by simply exchanging factory for aftermarket grips. Revolvers are also capable of handling the largest, most powerful pistol cartridges, but only with very large, heavy and hard-recoiling weapons.

DISADVANTAGES OF REVOLVERS: The higher the bore axis of a handgun is above the hand, the greater the recoil effect on the shooter. All revolvers, by design, suffer from this inherent problem, a problem made worse by more powerful cartridges and lighter weapons. It is ironic that in an attempt to make some revolvers more easily carried and concealed, manufacturers have also greatly increased the recoil effect (from light weight), muzzle blast and report (from short barrels), and lessened accuracy (by means of small, non-adjustable sights). While speedloaders greatly lessen reloading times, they tend to be inconvenient for most people for concealed carry. In addition, many grips interfere with speedloaders and often have to be “relieved,” which consists of removing any grip material in the way. This is not difficult, but does take some skill and specialized materials.

Revolvers are very dirt sensitive and can malfunction. This is one of the primary reasons that virtually every military issues semi-automatic pistols rather than revolvers. Even with well-maintained revolvers a tiny piece of grit under the ejector “star” can actually jam the cylinder, preventing the gun from firing. Remember that the round aligned with the cylinder at rest will not be fired. When the trigger is pulled (or the hammer is cocked to single action mode), the cylinder rotates to the next cartridge, so if the cylinder won’t rotate, the shooter will not be able to fire a single round. Unfortunately, virtually anything other than grit under an ejector star that causes a malfunction in a revolver is due to breakage of mechanical parts and cannot be quickly repaired in the field or without tools. If one is under fire, this is a significant weakness indeed. Revolvers much be kept scrupulously clean, but many designs are ironically time consuming and demanding to clean thoroughly and properly.

Even expensive, top of the line revolvers have the same potential weaknesses. In my early days of police work, I carried Colt Pythons, very expensive, high quality weapons, as did several of my police shooting buddies. One day at a range session, one of my friend’s brand new Python suddenly started printing down and to the side of the target. He couldn’t figure it out and asked me to take a look. I peered down the sights and was amazed to find that the barrel had come unpinned and was, under the recoil of .357 magnum ammunition, unscrewing itself from the frame. The front sight was cocked at a 30° angle! I simply unscrewed the barrel with my bare hands, handed my amazed pal the two parts, announcing, deadpan, that I was reasonably sure I’d identified the problem. A good gunsmith quickly and cheaply fixed the problem, but you get the point.

Cylinder cranes and ejector rods are likewise prone to damage. Anyone flipping out a cylinder or violently snapping it back into place with the flip of a hand is looking for a bent crane and a lengthy, expensive visit to a gunsmith. Whenever the cylinder is out of the frame--as in ejecting spent rounds from the cylinder and/or reloading--those parts must be handled with gentle care. The kind of idiotic handling of revolvers one sees in movies or on TV is highly likely to result in damage that will probably render a revolver an expensive paperweight. Don’t get me started on people who “spin” cylinders. Don’t.

The exposed hammers of small revolvers are prone to hanging up in pockets or clothing. Many manufacturers have designed smaller, or “bobbed” hammers, made shrouds around external hammers, or have even made internal hammer designs to address this well-known problem. The aforementioned Ruger LCR, which represents contemporary state of the art small revolver design, has an internal hammer and cannot be fired single action. Careful holster design can minimize this unfortunate snagging tendency.

The largest problem with revolvers remains their long, often rough double action triggers. This factor makes revolvers much more difficult to shoot with consistent accuracy than semi-automatic pistols, though with proper training and consistent practice, it is possible to shoot revolvers with considerable accuracy. This problem can be addressed with an action job by a competent gunsmith, but that’s additional expense, commonly in the $100+ range. Some revolvers now come from the factory with much better triggers than one would have found in the recent past, but this is still an issue to be considered.

It should also be noted that this problem is exacerbated with the smaller, lighter more concealable weapons, and made even worse by the recoil effects of full-powered, as opposed to lighter loaded target, ammunition. Smaller men and many women often find long shooting sessions to be actually painful, and any weapon that is painful to shoot will dramatically degrade accuracy and effectiveness. It is ironic that even full-sized, heavy revolvers that are poor choices for concealment can suffer from this problem, though to a lesser degree and requiring more rounds fired.

Consider the experience of a police department for which I once worked. In the mid-90’s, that police department was run by an anti-gun chief, and the issued department weapon was the S&W model 686, a stainless steel, 4” barrel .357 magnum revolver. As an issued weapon, it was a mediocre choice. On one hand, it was--and is--a high quality, reliable weapon. Its stainless steel construction made it easier to maintain, and the 125 grain hollowpoint duty cartridge was an excellent, effective choice. On the other, the revolver was very large, heavy, had substantial muzzle blast and report, substantial real and felt recoil, was difficult to conceal, and the only concession allowed to the individual officer was the choice of a few different styles of rubberized grips. Female officers had a hell of time with the weapon. We used to joke--sort of--that even if we missed, the bad guys would be incinerated by the muzzle blast. Night-firing qualifications were truly wonders to behold. I had no difficulty with the weapon, but I became a police shooter in a time with few reliable semiautomatic pistol choices. As a result, I became adept with the revolver, even earning the top shooter honor in my first basic academy class.

I’m also a 6’, 200+ pound man with larger than average hands and greater than average strength. Consider too that I was--and am--an avid shooter, so I was far more practiced than most of my compatriots (most cops aren’t shooters). Even so, after 50 rounds of qualification with full-charge cartridges, I was feeling the effects of fatigue in my hands and arms and glad to be done. Many of my smaller, less experienced colleagues absolutely hated to shoot their handguns, wincing with each report and actually experiencing bruises and abrasions to their hands. Their qualification scores reflected this reality. Still, if my only option for a duty weapon had to be a stainless steel Smith and Wesson in .357 caliber, the 686 would probably be my choice.

Because of the necessary width of their cylinders, revolvers are generally wider and more difficult to conceal than semiautos. One final observation is that because of their designs, revolvers can become “out of time.” In other words, the cylinder no longer precisely aligns cartridges with the barrel. This can cause splashback of portions of a bullet, or in extreme cases, injure the shooter or bystanders. While this is usually not seen outside of significant mechanical failure or significantly worn weapons, it is something about which to always be aware with revolvers.

Despite this litany of potential problems, modern, quality revolvers are generally quite safe and reliable and will usually fire every round without fail right out of the box. However, no one should carry or use any firearm for self defense without familiarization training consisting of firing several hundred rounds through the weapon.

Police experience is revealing. Police agencies transitioning from revolvers to semiautos have commonly found that the hit ratio of their officers, on the range and in actual gunfights, goes up. This was my experience when an agency of some 100 officers for which I worked transitioned to Glocks. Officers who struggled to make minimum passing scores with their .357 revolvers were consistently scoring much higher with much less effort. Officers who were highly skilled demonstrated far less variation. One hundred percent shooters are 100% shooters for a reason. In other words, semiautos are generally easier to shoot accurately than revolvers despite the fact that revolvers may have greater intrinsic accuracy.


The primary advantages of semiautos are that they are more easily concealable, tend to have lighter triggers, have greater ammunition capacity than revolvers--in many cases, much greater--and are more quickly and easily reloaded than revolvers. Semiautos also, in most common calibers, have less recoil effect and muzzle blast than revolvers, and have a bore axis much lower than revolvers. With polymer frame construction, some semiautos can be substantially lighter than revolvers yet hold substantially more ammunition.

Because of their very nature, semiautos are subject to more common malfunctions than revolvers, but each of these common malfunctions can be cleared in the field, without tools, in four seconds or less by those without expert levels of knowledge and skill. Note: A “malfunction” is a stoppage that can be rapidly cleared by hand without tools. A “jam” is a stoppage that requires tools to clear/repair. Thus, a gun that “jams” is a gun that cannot fire and cannot be made to fire on the spot. Because they do not have cylinders, as long as there is a round in the chamber--and this is the way modern semiautos should be carried--semiautos will virtually always fire at least one round even if they malfunction thereafter.

One interesting advantage that is of little use to most shooters is that semiautos can accept suppressors (there is no such thing as a “silencer”). Suppressors are useless on revolvers--despite what Hollywood would have you believe--because of the gas that escapes through the gap between the cylinder and the barrel.

Semiautos, many of which are designed with military service in mind, usually break down without tools and are easy to clean. Even non-military designs are generally easy to break down, clean and reassemble, and virtually always without tools.


There are two primary types of malfunctions common to semiautos: failures to feed and failures to eject. Each has several commonly known variations, but as previously mentioned, proper training will show anyone how to, within mere seconds, clear such malfunctions. One of the most common problems with semiautos is “limp wristing,” or not giving the handgun a firm grip with a straight, rigid wrist. Semiautos need a solid grip against which to cycle the slide. If the weapon is held limply, it may lack the force to complete the cycle and may not fully eject an empty casing, or may not fully seat a fresh round. Proper technique can easily sort out this common problem.

Semiautos generally come in only one grip size, so some may simply be too large for smaller hands. However, some manufacturers are now shipping models with easily switched backstraps to correct this problem. In addition, weapons with polymer frames like Glocks allow magazines with substantial capacity while still keeping the grip relatively small.

One cannot normally tell whether a semiauto is loaded merely by looking at it, though some do have mechanical loaded chamber indicators. However, this can be addressed with a simple “pinch-check,” or retracting the slide just enough to see brass in the chamber. Some people also experience accidental discharges when, after removing the magazine, assume that the weapon is empty and fire the round in the chamber. This too can be easily addressed by using the proper manual of arms of always removing the magazine, cycling the slide several times, locking it back, and looking and using a finger to verify that the magazine well and chamber are empty.

Some semiautos, due to their unique design, have very stiff recoil and magazine springs. Some people with weak hands or limited strength may have difficulty cycling their slides and loading magazines. However, inexpensive magazine loading tools that essentially eliminate this problem are widely available--Glocks include one with every handgun sold--and it is a very small percentage of the population that cannot learn how to use what strength they have to cycle a slide. Even so, some people, due to disability or illness may find such tasks daunting.

The greatest single weakness of semiautos is the magazine. They are generally easier to damage than the guns themselves, and if a magazine won’t properly feed through fatigue or damage, the shooter suddenly has a very hard to load single- shot handgun. To address this problem, at least one spare magazine should always be carried, and all magazines should be regularly rotated with a complete set of spares.

Though this is a much smaller issue than it was only a decade ago, some semiautos are ammunition sensitive; some brands and/or configurations of ammunition may make some guns more prone to malfunctions. Most guns designed for self-defense will fire just about anything with little or no difficulty, but some guns, particularly those built to very tight tolerances, such as guns intended for competition, may take a bit of trial and error to find ammunition that is completely reliable. On the other hand, brands such as Glock have a well-deserved reputation for reliability right out of the box.

There is no question that semiautos are, by their very nature, more complex to operate than revolvers. This makes accidental discharges somewhat more likely for some people. However, learning the proper manual of arms is far from rocket science, and I’m tempted to wonder about the fitness of anyone unable to safely handle a semiautomatic handgun to handle any kind of firearm.

I’m sure that gun buffs can easily make various points, pro and con, regarding what I’ve had to say, and comments are always welcome and appreciated, however, I believe I’ve provided a good general overview of the relevant issues. The final installment of this series will be posted within a few days. Thanks for reading!

Posted by MikeM at April 8, 2011 11:07 PM


Glad to see your next post in the series. I've always thought that when I do carry I would go with a semi-automatic if only for ease of concealment over revolvers. I figure that if I have to conceal my weapon as I carry why add to the challenge of keeping it hidden?

Also, a question that may pertain more to the next installment but asked here so I don't forget. I currently do not own a handgun although I have shot one a few times (no more than a dozen) and I also have yet to take my CCW class (probably in May). I have a friend who has offered to lend me his handgun for the class and although having checked with the class they only require you to bring a gun (not necessarily yours) would you recommend purchasing, practicing, and getting familiar with your own specific weapon before taking the class? Or does it not matter?

Looking forward to your wrap-up article,

Posted by: Mark at April 9, 2011 11:51 PM


Thank you for the article. It was very useful.

I chose to carry a S&W 642 instead of a autoloader because I felt that it was easier to carry than a autoloader in a caliber of roughly equivalent power and inherently safer than an autoloader with one in the chamber. It is hammerless, so snagging is not an issue. I generally carry using an inside the waistband holster, but sometimes just drop it into my jacket pocket when going out to walk the dog at night. Very simple and easy. No speedloader or extra ammunition--the probabilities don't seem to add up enough to justify the hassle.

However, it is NOT very accurate when I shoot it and stings like a &#*(^# as well (I cannot imagine shooting a .357 in a form factor that small). At 10 yards, I can readily put 5 rounds center mass--any farther away and it is more for scaring the crows. I put 50 rounds through it every month, then put it away to shoot a .40 or a 9mm for fun.

On balance, after shooting nearly 20 sidearms, I felt that this was the best concealed carry weapon for me. just my $0.02 worth.

Posted by: iconoclast at April 10, 2011 02:36 AM

Dear Mark:

Welcome back and thanks for reading! Before I get into specifics, may I ask what you're planning to buy?

Posted by: mikemc at April 10, 2011 02:12 PM


I'm really not sure. The few times I have shot a hand gun have been either the Glock 17 or the Beretta 92FS. I enjoyed both but I can't say I liked one over the other.

Posted by: Mark at April 10, 2011 05:28 PM

Dear Mark:

Ah! So you're in the market for a full-sized 9mm? If concealment is your primary concern, I'd suggest the Glock 19 (15 round magazine), or the Glock 26 (10 round). While the 17 is a fine handgun, the 19 is more easily concealed, and of course, the 26 is very easy to conceal. The Beretta is a fine handgun, but generally heavier and more complex than Glock.

As you can tell, I'm a Glock fan, but that comes from decades of shooting and carrying experience, including just about every type and a great many models of the handguns currently on the market. I've found Glocks to be utterly reliable, easy to clean, accurate, and very, very rugged. Glocks are also the simplest semiautos on the market. But enough on that.

If you have a good idea what you'd like to buy and have the money, by all means, buy the weapon and familiarize yourself with it prior to the class. You obviously intend to buy a handgun, so why not do it as soon as possible? You'll be much more confident for the class and ready thereafter.

Posted by: mikemc at April 10, 2011 06:26 PM


I'm actually not sure what I am looking for. My
criteria would be the following:

Easy to conceal.
Reasonably priced ammo.

Also, although it would be primarily my weapon and I would carry it I would also want my wife to be able to shoot it.

Posted by: Mark at April 10, 2011 09:44 PM

Dear Mark:

OK, a bit of a teaser for the final installment, wherein you'll find that I essentially recommend the Glock 26, and reveal that 9mm ammunition is substantially cheaper than any of the other popular calibers, except, of course, .22LR, which is not appropriate for your application. My wife also carries the 26 and is quite fond of it. One of the great strengths of Glocks is that they are like revolvers, if you pull the trigger, they'll go bang--very simple. But because of their ingenious trigger and internal safeties, they are also one of the safest firearms on the market.

Posted by: mikemc at April 10, 2011 11:11 PM

Thanks. I look forward to the final installment.

Posted by: Mark at April 10, 2011 11:52 PM


Other pistols similar to the Glock include the Springfield Armory XD compact 9mm and the Smith & Wesson M&P 9C pistols. Check those out as well, as the ergonomics are slightly different on each pistol.

Also, when using a marginal caliber such as the 9mm, you are going to need to make sure that you select modern defensive rounds--primarily hollowpoints in the 115-124 grain range--to increase the pistol's stopping power. Luckily, 9mm bulk FMJ is cheap enough you can afford to practice with it on a regular basis.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at April 11, 2011 07:40 AM

I look forward to the rest of this series. The more neophyte shooters get their CCW's, the more such advice is needed!

IMHO, the biggest mistake made by most people in buying a CCW handgun is buying too big. If it's not reasonably comfortable to carry, you won't carry it. If it's not reasonably comfortable to shoot, you won't practice with it. And if you can't consistently hit things with it, the utility is vastly diminished.

Posted by: Tully at April 11, 2011 10:51 AM