Choosing Your First Firearm

By Thomas Macarle, CEO Mac Arms LLC

How do you choose the right firearm for you? This article suggests some factors to consider before you invest money in a firearm.

My advice is always going to be: First, go for quality. Spend the extra money to get something that is well made and of high quality, especially for personal defense. If you think about it, you will want quality for the simple reason that if you ever have the need to use this firearm for defending your life, the main thing you will need from your firearm is that it works. If you take the chance to save a few bucks on quality, you risk your means of defense not being there when you really need it, and that is the only time it counts.

I remember a true story that I read about two hunters that were in the woods when they became separated. One stumbled into a bear that surprised him from behind. The hunter turned around and the bear was so close and fast the hunter only had time to put the rifle barrel in its mouth. He pulled the trigger and heard--click--nothing. He was severely injured when his buddy heard him screaming for help. He did survive, although with many scars to tell his story. Try to eliminate failures by going with better brands and higher quality.

Researching brands and prices can be long and tedious. In general, the more you spend, the more the gun is worth, the more proven it is, the higher the quality and the better the resale value down the road. Usually again, these are the manufacturers that perform more quality control tests on their firearms, which equates to a higher price, but is money well spent. They are going to go that extra mile, without cutting as many corners. They are going to use more expensive materials and manufacturing processes. Another reason to not worry too much about the higher expense is that high quality firearms hold their value extremely well. Of course, cost also depends on what you have on the gun, scope, night sights, finishes, grips, etc.

The thing to keep in mind when shopping for a firearms is, no matter what anyone tries to sell you, what counts is what you like, not what the dealer wants to get rid of. It is not what your retailer, colleague, acquaintance, or friend thinks is awesome. It is what you feel is ergonomically comfortable; the size and caliber fit your needs, the action is what you want and it looks great to you. Ultimately, you are going to use, keep and get to intimately know your firearm. Make sure it is one you want. Learn it and enjoy using it. Get good at shooting it on a regular basis.

Alright, let�s get down to actual guide to purchasing a firearm. There is no set order of what to do first, but there are several important factors to consider. So many, in fact, that is really becomes a process of elimination. I feel the best way to explain purchasing a firearm is to tell you how I would choose one. You can use a different order, but keep some of these factors in mind. The main factors are: manufacturer, action, caliber, ergonomics, safeties and aesthetic appeal. First and foremost, of course, is to figure out what your needs are. Are you buying a firearm for personal defense, concealed carry, open carry, home defense, hunting, short range, long range, competition, match/target, cowboy action, plinking with the family, or what?

First, I would consider the manufacturer. This is where some research comes in. Choose a name that has been around for a while. However, there are many good brands out there that are not as well known by the general public. I like manufacturers that have been around a while and gained experience of what does and doesn't work. They have refined mechanics and functions from experience, consumer feedback and so forth. They have tested mechanics and models over time to gain a better understanding of how things work together.

Second, I look for action types. Single shot, double barrel, revolving, single action, double action, double action only, bolt, pump, lever, and autoloading are some of the action types found on handguns, rifles and shotguns. Research these to your liking. Details will not be included in this article. (There are specific descriptions of action types and their operation on the Guns and Shooting Online Rifle, Handgun and Shotgun Information index pages.) Basically, it comes down to what happens when the trigger is pulled. All of these are going to affect the overall function and feel of the gun.

Third, caliber or cartridge selection is a matter of your needs and capabilities. Factors to consider are recoil, size and the ballistics you need. (You can adjust the ballistics a little after purchase, by selecting different bullet weights and velocities for many popular calibers.) However, for example, a varmint rifle is going to require a different caliber cartridge than an elephant rifle.

The primary factor for consideration on mass of the firearm is: the more massive the gun, the more inertia it will have and the more it will moderate the recoil of firing. Very powerful firearms should be heavier than less powerful firearms. (For example, a .410 bore shotgun can reasonably be lighter than a 12 gauge shotgun.) In essence, the more massive (heavier) the gun, the less recoil. The effect of greater mass on recoil is linear; doubling the firearm's weight cuts the recoil in half. There is a balance between mass, caliber, powder and bullet weight. However, on the other side, the larger and more massive a gun is, the heavier it is to handle and carry. There is also the matter of handling and balance. A long gun that balances between the hands usually handles better and swings more easily than one that is dramatically muzzle or butt heavy. Guns that are too heavy or too light are hard to hold steady. So, tailor the size, weight and balance to your needs and physical ability.

Once you have decided on a manufacturer or manufacturers, the action type and caliber; look for something that is appealing to you. Go for classic, cool, unique, stylish, sexy, something that rocks when you look at it. If it looks good to you, you will take better care of it and use it more. Pride of ownership is intangible, but very real. Firearms with high luster metal polishing and finish, high grade walnut stocks, hand checkering and engraving cost more than plain Jane models, but are usually worth disproportionately more when it comes time to sell or trade. Their initial price will be higher, but the overall cost of ownership is usually lower.

Then, there is ergonomics. Pick up some styles of guns and make sure they feel good. Does it fit your hand or body size and shape well? Wherever you purchase a firearm or are just looking, go to a store that carries many of the firearms you are thinking about purchasing. Ask to handle many different models and get instruction in the proper handling of the firearm. There are proper ways to hold all guns. I have seen many black eyes, bloody noses and bloody fingers from improper handling. I have even read where a competition shooter who was crazy good with handguns tried to fire a certain type of rifle and broke his teeth.

Another thing to consider applying to this guide is the amount and type of safeties you want, or can tolerate, on a firearm. Thumb switch safety, tang safety, wing safety, trigger guard safety, grip safety, hammer notch safety, loaded chamber indicator, trigger safety blade, locking safety, de-cocker safety, magazine safety, automatic safety, etc are some of the possible safeties offered on various firearms designs. Some action types, such as most revolvers, don't need a manual safety at all, because their design is inherently safe. Find out what safety is useful, convenient and natural for you to use; something you will not forget or fumble under stress if you need to get off a quick shot.

In summary, it is completely up to you what firearm you are going to choose. Looks, action, manufacturer, ergonomics, caliber, safeties and mass are some factors to consider when choosing a firearm. Carefully considering your needs will allow you to narrow the many available firearms to a manageable number from which to choose. Remember to have fun (firearms are, after all, a hobby and a sport) and always respect a firearm at all times.

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Copyright 2013, 2016 by Thomas Macarle and/or All rights reserved.