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Your First Gun

Picking your first gun seems daunting. Don’t worry.  Just consider this:  

The Swiss Army Knife Approach

Your first gun should serve as many uses as possible.  It will be your only gun for a while and you’ll be shooting hundreds, if not thousands of practice rounds with this gun.  With that in mind, pick a reliable gun that can withstand that kind of mileage.

The best all-purpose size is a mid-size gun, which means one that takes 9mm caliber ammunition (“nine millimeter;” “nine mil;” or simply “a nine.”)  It’s the “mid-size sedan” in the ammo world.  It will take care of the job for self-defense purposes and it will provide enough bang and flash in practice to make you feel like you’re shooting a big boy/big girl gun.  

One Step Down

The most common caliber below the 9mm is the 0.380 (“the three eighty.”)  

The .380 is  on  the left.  The 9mm is on the right.

The .380 is  on  the left.  The 9mm is on the right.


The guns that fire .380s these are pocket-sized and easily hide in an ankle holster, bra, thigh holster, etc.  I plan on getting one to tuck into an evening bag.  BUT it should not be your primary practice gun.  They aren’t built really for endurance any more than high heels are for power walks. 

That said, you should still practice with it.  If you are carrying a gun to protect yourself, you should be adept at using it and that means taking it out for a hundred rounds or so every once in a while.


Quick facts:
 The two share the same diameter.  The .380 refers to its .374 inches in diameter and the 9mm refers to its 9 millimeters in diameter.
Their overall length differs.  The .380 is .680 inches (17.3 mm) in length and the 9mm is 0.754 inches long (19.15mm).
The .380 was developed by Colt, an American company in 1902 (U.S).  The 9mm was developed by the Germans in 1908 (Metric).

Also:

.380’s are used mainly for self-defense and back-up weapons to guns that use their larger caliber counterparts, i.e. the 9mm caliber and up.

9mm handguns are used also for self defense but in police and military as well.

 

Two Steps Down

Two steps below the 9mm is the .22 caliber (“the twenty-two”) because they plink with just enough recoil.  The .22 is typically used to teach brand new shooters; however, consider the big picture.  If you’re a golfer, it’s like training on a par 3 course.  If you’re a runner, it’s like training with 5K’s.  If you’re America’s next Food Network Star, it’s like cooking with pre-packaged sauces.  It can only take your shooting skills so far. 

 

From left to right: The .22, the .380, and the 9mm.

From left to right: The .22, the .380, and the 9mm.

Your Gun is Your Tool

Your gun is a tool, whether it’s for sport, entertainment or self-defense.  Shooting itself is a perishable skill that you need to keep up regularly.  Your skills transfer from gun to gun, i.e. from your midsize gun to your occasional little.380.

Your first gun should therefore be practical in size, in effect, and for your practice.  You can always build your collection from your first mid-size gun – but that first gun will be your anchor.  Think you won’t build a collection after you buy one gun?  I have amassed half a dozen garlic presses and crushers in my kitchen drawer.  Do I need them all?  No, but I cook so much that I like having a variety of ways to prep my garlic.  The process is just as fun as the end result.  Same with guns.  All guns go bang, but all guns feel and fire differently.   The more you shoot, the more you’ll enjoy the variety.

How I Met My Glock

I got a completely sensible earful about every mid-size gun out there.  In the end, I chose a Glock 19.  Before I launch into my reasons, keep in mind that some of what I’m about to say can and should apply to whatever your first handgun.

A Glock is a Glock is a Glock

Here’s a real quick primer on the Glocks.  They debuted in the early ‘80s from Austria and gun traditionalists with their heavier, all-metal guns turned up their noses because Glocks were the first polymer frame for a handgun.  Polymer is a fancy word for incredibly durable plastic but this isn’t Tupperware plastic.  Glocks are indisputably known worldwide for their toughness and reliability . You just cannot hurt a Glock. And a Glock will not let you down.

If you care about this sort of trivia, the Navy SEALS ended their long love affair with Sig Sauers (P226) as their go-to gun and took up the Glock 19.  I just found it significant that of all the handguns out there, these specialists would entrust their mission and lives with the simplest mid-size handgun on the market.

The Sig Sauer P226, the Navy SEALS former sidearm of choice and recently replaced with the Glock 19.

The Sig Sauer P226, the Navy SEALS former sidearm of choice and recently replaced with the Glock 19.

“Keep it Simple Stupid”

Mechanically, Glocks are the simplest semi-automatic handguns you can find.  Compared to other handguns out there, the Glock has less moving parts, less bells and whistles. Besides the trigger, it’s only prominent external features are a slide lock lever and a magazine release button on its exterior.  It’s as simple and straightforward as a crewcut.

People complain about the Glock looking less sexy than the other guns out there.  Perhaps…but what do you want your gun to do when it counts?   I absolutely trust it will go “bang” when I point and shoot. Your first gun may not be a Glock, but it should be your functional and faithful go-to handgun. 

And, it doesn’t have to stay plain.  It’s the easiest gun to apply after-market work.  You can stipple the grip, change out the rear and front sights, and do some trigger work, like I did on mine.  I’ll delve more in another post, but these small changes added performance value and not just cosmetic enhancements. 

A gun that’s boiled down to its absolutely essential features also means it’s easy to maintain.  It’s easy to take apart, easy to clean, easy to fix, easy to replace parts.  You should know your gun intimately, meaning you should at least be able to take it apart (YouTube videos) and clean it yourself.

"But There's No Safety"

Another common criticism of Glocks is that there is no "safety," an external lever that would prevent the gun from accidentally firing. 

The top is the Glock with a slide lock lever (the horizontal shingle-looking thing) and a magazine release button by the trigger, which drops the magazine when pushed. The bottom photo shows a CZ 75B, another 9mm handgun.  The lever with the red button is the safety, which you push up or down.  

The top is the Glock with a slide lock lever (the horizontal shingle-looking thing) and a magazine release button by the trigger, which drops the magazine when pushed.

The bottom photo shows a CZ 75B, another 9mm handgun.  The lever with the red button is the safety, which you push up or down.  

 

NOT TRUE.

First, the Glock trigger is designed with a built-in safety, as part of their proprietary Safe Action ® System.  It looks like a trigger nestled within a trigger.  You need to pull back both simultaneously to successfully fire. 

At best, a child’s trigger finger can only reach the external trigger (designed to not catch a finger tip).  Remember, you need to be able to grip the gun AND squeeze the trigger back. 

If a child grips the handle, he cannot reach with his trigger finger. 

If he reaches forward with his trigger finger, he has to let go of the grip. 

In short, a child’s hand cannot grip and reach to pull back the trigger in full.

 

The Glock's trigger has in integrated safety.  A trigger within a trigger that a child's hand cannot pull back while gripping the gun.

The Glock's trigger has in integrated safety.  A trigger within a trigger that a child's hand cannot pull back while gripping the gun.

Sheath Thy Gun

Second, if you are a responsible gun owner, you will take all reasonably safety measures so that the trigger is pulled on your command.  That means sheathing it in a quality holster that covers the trigger –remember a gun cannot fire unless you pull the trigger. 

If it’s in your briefcase, backpack, bag or purse, your gun will be in a quality holster.  I keep saying “quality” because there are cheaply made holsters that will slip off or may even snag on your trigger.  Holsters are their own blog topic – especially when to compare different ones, but for now, just know that’s how you normally would store the gun when you’re carrying.

There are concealed carry purses, too, which are purses adapted to safely store a gun.  Again, another topic to detail for another day.  For now, just think “quality holster.”

A gun doesn’t know accidental from intentional.  It will simply fire only if the trigger is pulled. 

What do an SUV and a Glock Share in Common?

Several years back, I owned a German import SUV with over-sized disc brakes on all four wheels, a great suspension system, and a steel “roll cage” built into the frame.  These features were not obvious the naked eye and I quickly found that when the time came for strategic driving or averting a disaster on the road, I only focused on those two pedals and the steering wheel.  

I didn't have to manually activate these safety features when I needed them.  Those disc brakes and that suspension system kicked in when I had to maneuver quickly at high speeds.  Had I needed to survive a roll-over, that built-in cage would have saved my life without an extra button push or switch flick by me.

My Glock is similarly designed.  To me, the lack of an external safety was a non-issue.  The needed safety measures were so well integrated with my gun that it was one less thing for me to think about when I have just seconds to protect myself.  Just pull, point, and shoot.

And speaking of snagging parts, I also liked that the Glock didn’t have an exposed hammer.  My hammer won’t get caught as I pull it out of my waistband or purse.  Simple and streamlined.

  

Glock's sealed hammer above.  Colt's exposed hammer below.  The hammer is the D-shaped loop that's cocked back in the photo. Both are semi-automatics

Glock's sealed hammer above.  Colt's exposed hammer below.  The hammer is the D-shaped loop that's cocked back in the photo. Both are semi-automatics

My friends have a variety of handguns among them that they each swear by.  Like car owners faithful to a particular car brand, you will have those that have their reasons for loving their particular make of handgun. 

Alternatives to Glocks?

I recently followed another beginner shooter who blogged her search for her first handgun – not a Glock – but a beautiful and worthy gun all the same.  You can read about her findings on "Girl Meets Gun." 

 

What was your first gun purchase? 

How did you decide ?

I'd love to hear from you!


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