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Buying a handgun for self defense is a diffucult and personal decision. There’s alot of things that an individual must consider. The first step i would recommend is, that you take a basic handgun class, (with a quality instructor) if you are not already familiar with handguns. A class can help you make a more educated decision. Television and magazine articles are a great resource for information.  Just remember they are looking to sell products of there advertisers.  Many writers shoot better from a typewriter, than they do on the range.  Sometimes friends and family can also be great resources, but remember buying a handgun is like buying clothing, it has to fit you as an individual.

With that being said, let’s try to narrow down some of the many choices you will have.

Revolver or semi-automatic?

A revolver is simple to use and very reliable. Load cylinder, close cylinder, take aim, squeeze trigger.
A semi-automatic usually holds more rounds, but is not as simple to use. Load magazine, put magazine in gun, pull slide back to feed first round, take off safety, take aim, squeeze trigger.

(note: some slides are very stiff and don’t always pull back easily)

These are only a few of the differences between the two guns. Here are some other things to think about when deciding between the two.

A revolver, is usually a little more bulky than some semi-automatics, so if you are thinking about carrying concealed very much, you will need to consider that. However people overall do tend to shoot more accurately with a revolver than a semiautomatic. (not everyone, but overall)
Semi-automatic, how much will you practice with it? Will you use it enough, that manipulating all of it’s features will be like second nature. If you have to take time to remember how to use it, that could be to late!

If you see yourself practicing alot, and staying familiar with your firearm, then either one would probably work for you. If you are buying it strictly for defense and won’t  be shooting  it that frequently, then the simplicity and reliability of a revolver can’t be beat.

What caliber should i get?

There is a lot of contraversy out there, in regards to caliber and stopping power. Again this is a personal choice and needs to fit you as an individual. A simple answer is, you need the largest caliber, that you can shoot accurately. If you can’t shoot it accuately, then the caliber really doesn’t matter, does it? For begining shooters it’s not a bad idea to start with a small caliber   (like a .22) and you can upgrade later.  A .22 caliber is frequently recommended, because you have low noise, low recoil and low expense. You can enjoy and be comfortable shooting your revolver or semi-automatic while not having to deal with the recoil. However if your not a begining shooter, and recoil is not an issue, then consider some of these other things. The smaller calibers usually carry better, and ammo is generally cheaper. On the other hand, larger calibers have more stopping power, but also have more recoil.

Other deciding factors?

Grip, sight picture, trigger pull, and slide pull are other factors, that you may need to consider.

Let’s start with the grip, it needs to fit your hand comfortably, without being to large or to small. Everyones hands are different, so it’s important to make sure the grip fits you personally.
The grip of the firearm, is like the steering wheel of a car and it will greatly affect where your shots go.
Trigger pull should be another deciding factor.  Overall hand strength is also something to consider. Do you have enough strength in your trigger finger to squeeze the trigger repetatively. You can test this by extending your arms out into a shooting position while holding the unloaded firearm and squeeze the trigger. If this action takes so much effort it causes noticable trembling, or you just don’t have the strenth to manipulate the trigger, i would recommend you look for another firearm with less trigger pull. A shaky hand will more than likely result in poor accuracy.
The next thing to look at is the sight picture. Not all of us have 20/20 vision, and even if you do some sights are just harder to see than others. When trying to find the sight that works for you, simply extend your arms out into a shooting position, while holding the unloaded firearm. Then check the clarity of the sight. If your having a hard time seeing the sight at this point, you may need to consider another firearm with different sights.

For those of you who are leaning towards a semi-automatic, you might want to think about the slide pull as well. The slide pull needs to be a quick smooth action in order to feed the first round into the chamber. By not doing this you may suffer a jam as a consequence. For most people this is not a problem, but if you are like many suffering from arthritis or another condition that effects the strength in your hands this could be a potential problem. I would recommend that you manipulate the slide several times before making your final decision.

Whatever size, style, or caliber that you decide to go with, just remember that safety and practice are the key.

Advanced tip: once you’ve narrowed your choices down to only a  few different firearms, there is a simple drill to tell which firearm you will shoot the best. First start with an unloaded firearm (not rimfire) and aim it in a safe direction, squeeze the trigger, while watching the front sight. If the sight moves way off target, this will tell you where the bullet would have gone. You need to use this drill with each one you are considering and compare the movement of the front sight. The one with the least amount of movement, is generally the firearm you will shoot the best.

How do i purchase a handgun?    

Purchasing a handgun is a lot easier than most people realize. If you are a law abiding citizen with no criminal or mental illness in your background, you are eligible to purchase a firearm. The first step is to go to your local sheriff’s department and tell them you would like a handgun permit. There is a $5.00 charge for the permit and they will do a background check. Alot of sheriff’s departments will grant you the permit within just a few minutes, others may take just a few days ( 2-3 days varies w/county). The handgun permit is not desinated for any specific handgun. Basically it’s just stating that you are legally allowed to purchase a handgun and that you have no criminal or mental history to prevent the purchase. After you have obtained the permit, you will take it with you to purchase the firearm. The dealer will have you fill out some simple forms and will take possession of the handgun permit. The  permit will remain with the dealer to be filed with the other paper work. This way, should a question ever arise about your firearm the dealer has your permit to state that you were legally allowed to purchase the firearm.
Another way to obtain a handgun is to have a concealed carry permit. If you have a concealed carry permit, you are excluded from the handgun permit rule. A concealed carry permit is great to have and not that diffucult to obtain. To become a concealed carry permit holder you must take a short class to learn the laws of carrying a handgun, and pass a reasonable shooting accuracy test.  Once you have passed the class, take your certificate to the sheriff’s department, they will do a background check, and you should receive your permit within four to six weeks.

Be safe, practice, and have fun enjoying your right to own a firearm!