There is a lot going around right now on social media and political groups about the 2nd Amendment and what the Founding Fathers meant by “The right to bear arms.” For just a minute I’d like to get up on my soap box. A lot of one liners go around about the Founding Fathers not realizing what firearm will become. While there is some truth that an AR was not in existence in the late 1700’s, the firearm of that era (i.e. muskets and cannons) actually did a lot more damage than many common defense firearms of this day. The average musket ball was .39” to .80” in diameter which is what constitutes caliber. Putting this into perspective. The standard diameter of a 38 Special (very common revolver round) is .38” and the size of the AR 15 standard round is .22” in diameter. The basic physics of this will tell you the bigger the diameter the more damage that is done. So, while the Founding Fathers might not have known about a gun like a 9mm (also same diameter as a 38 Special) or an AR 15 they were well aware of the damage a firearm can do. Especially since they had just fought a very bloody and tough war. They were also very progressive and knew that guns would evolve just like everything else as technology evolved.
Why am I talking about this? Because of another anti-gun one liner, “There is no reason for anyone to have an AR 15.” There are A LOT of guns, calibers, and manufacturers out there and they exist for very good reasons. Gun manufacturers don’t develop a new gun without a market to sell to. That’s just bad business. Gun manufacturers are businesses after all and sales are what keep them alive. The AR platform of rifles is extremely versatile and can be built to suit a great number of needs. For example, the telescoping stock (common on most builds) and the small caliber of the round is great for introducing new shooters to the sport. The adjustable stock makes it ideal for folks to hand it to their friends or neighbors to try out without fear that the gun is ill fit for the new shooter to handle. The smaller caliber means a lower felt recoil for those with apprehensions of the force exuded by a full-size rifle. These features make it comfortable for a great number of shooters to learn good and safe firearm practices. So, there is a reason for the gun. Many in fact and the same can be said for a multitude of other firearms in the world.
Now that I’m off my soapbox I’d like to delve into the subject of “What’s the best gun for me?” I’ve worked in the firearm industry for about 11 years. I’ve been in the sales side of the industry, ranging from a small gun shop to being a sales manager for a manufacturer and now teach concealed carry for my state. One of my favorite and most hated questions that I heard was the same question. “Which gun do you recommend for me?” This is a loaded question (no pun intended) as there is no one size fits all firearm on the market. However, it also means the buyer is looking for direction and education in firearms and is looking for an expert to help them. There is a lot of misinformation that runs with gun enthusiast. It’s a highly personal market where people have their absolute favorites. I do as well but I’ve been selling and using them long enough to know that my favorite may not be your neighbor’s favorite and we can both be right. This is why the afore mentioned question is both my favorite and most hated question, all in one. I can’t just say my XD, my Versa Max, or my AR because they all have their place and I chose them for multiple reasons. If you’re looking for pistol advice and someone gives you an outright answer of “Get a blank.” Then you might want a second opinion.
How do I personally respond? With questions of my own. “What are you going to use the gun for? What have you shot before? How do you plan on storing and carrying the gun? And What features are you looking for?” In today’s society we’ve become condition to hear questions being the answered with questions as a sign of misdirection and a sales pitch. While this may sometimes be the case it is also the right answer to narrow down the large array of choices to the few that will work for the buyer. It is just as much a tool as the gun itself and any sales person worth their salt will also want a satisfied customer for the likelihood of a follow up sales. It’s not a ploy but rather just good business and smarts. You asked the question and are looking for some help, let them give it to you. (This is of course just my $.02 based off of my years of personal experience.)
This article is not going to be a definitive “You should buy this” guide to any shooter but some help to get someone started on a purchase of a new firearm. Let’s look at the first question, since it’s really the most important, “What are you going to use the gun for?” After all, while there may be a lot of guns out there they do fit within 4 very specific types; handgun, shotgun, rifle and other. (according to the ATF 4473 form). If you’ve already gotten this question decided then half the work is done. I’ve been asked many times, “What’s your favorite gun?” My personal answer is “The one I have in my hand when I need it.” Some laugh and some get frustrated. The simple answer is there are no simple answers. But there is some common ideas of calibers and types that can help lead you to the right choice. Let’s look at these with the idea of use in mind.
Home defense: While any gun in the right hands can work there are some common ideals that do hold water. First is gun type. Generally speaking rifles are not considered good home defense guns. Before you crucify me, let me explain. A lot of people live in cities where neighbors are close (sometimes just a wall away) and a centerfire rifle round is meant for long range capabilities. Even rifles and calibers meant for short range and lots of knock down power have a range of 100 to 150 yards. Rounds of any caliber produce the most power as they leave the muzzle and loose that power the further they travel. If you translate that into a home defense or self defense situation (usually around 7 to 15 yards) that means the chance of the round traveling through the target and into the next thing is very high. With apartments and condos being widely popular in cities the next item could very well be a common wall or an innocent person. The last thing anyone wants in these situations is to lose a love one because of friendly fire in the heat of the moment. While a lot of the more trained, avid shooter will preach training and practice to those worried about these scenarios, the truth is a person buying their first (and possibly only) gun for defense probably won’t do the type of training and practice needed to make a rifle a valid option. That leaves smaller, lower powered options being the best choice. Handguns and shotguns commonly fall into this arena. If the buyer has his or her heart set on a long gun then shotgun is really the best choice. Shotguns are ideal for a very simple reason. The options in shot size. If you do ultimate decide on a shotgun I highly recommend trying out different shot size on heavier targets like sheet metal, steel plates, large fruit (i.e. watermelons) and the like. Targets with a denser material at the core will give you a more accurate idea of what the round can do. This can be said for any round or gun type that you choose. Know what your gun can do and at what range and then come up with a game plan accordingly. I personally like a smaller shot like what you would find in waterfowl shot as it loses more power quickly and it runs the lesser chance of penetrating through the target and into the next item. Make your own choice and be sure it’s not just because your buddy the cop uses “X”. Cops on duty have different needs than citizens and they could very easily not coincide with your own.
If you want something smaller and less intimidating for you handle then a handgun may be the right choice for you. Handgun are easier to handle in tight areas do to their size and are easier to store and care for. Let’s face it. They are just smaller and easier. In the world of handguns there are revolvers and semiautos. If you want a gun that you don’t plan on shooting much or want to care for much, revolvers are the number 1 choice. Revolvers, by design, are easy to maintain and functional. Semiautos rely on self-actuating parts and if they are not cared for or properly maintained they run the risk of not working when you need them. Deciding how much time you plan on putting into your new gun and how or where you are going to store that gun will help decide what is the best fit for you. A revolver does not look as cool or modern as say a Glock but it definitely has its place and can be a very effective tool should it fit your needs. (It is important to point out that while revolvers are more forgiving with maintenance they are not fool proof and do need some care to keep they reliable. No gun will function forever without proper care and cleaning.) Semi-autos do hold advantages over revolvers and shouldn’t be counted out. While they do need a bit more attention than a revolver it is definitely not fragile or something that can considered impossible. Modern semi-autos now have coatings, tolerances and other technologies that make them a very viable and reliable option. Care on any firearm may be something as simple as a few drops of oil every month or so to keep the action moving smoothly, so don’t let that one factor make the decision for you. Ideally a gun owner shoots their gun often to keep up with their capabilities and clean after their range session. This can be all that is needed to maintain their firearm and can be a quite enjoyable way to spend a few hours. The semi-auto’s main advantage is their round capacity. Revolvers are reliable, there is no question, but they usually hold only 6 rounds. This can be all you need in a life or death situation but as the boy scouts say “Always be prepared” and there is definitely an argument to be made for a higher round count. Most attacks we see and hear about in the news has more than 1 assailant and, when you factor in misses due to adrenaline and movement, more than 6 rounds can be a proven need. Again, there is a need for everything and determining your need will better help you determine the right gun. Caliber is the next decision once you’ve decided on type and this can be tough. Fact is modern hollow points in all calibers can do the job given the right factors. Guns and ammo have come a long way (something the anti-gunners have right) but that doesn’t mean the old ideas are wrong. Decide on your level of involvement and make a logical choice. A .22 may not be ideal as it is small and doesn’t do a lot of damage but it is also better than nothing and in the right situation will save your life. My advice is to try a few out. Get with friends and family that have options for you to shoot and set up a range day. See what you can handle shooting and what you are comfortable with. A .45 does a lot more damage and transfers more energy than a 9mm but if you can’t comfortably handle the recoil you aren’t going to want to shoot it which means it will not be the most effective tool when the need arises. Also practice, practice, practice. No matter your decision, learn your tool for defense so that it becomes second nature. When the stuff hits the proverbial fan, you want your instincts to kick in and be efficient with your tool of choice. Size does matter and I’d recommend the biggest caliber you can handle but if that’s a .22 or .32 then make sure you are proficient with it so that you won’t fail when the time comes. Fit is also a major factor, which is why shopping around is so important. If the gun doesn’t feel good or fit your hand right you will have a hard time shooting it accurately. There are guns of all shapes and sizes made to fit just about every hand out there. I cannot tell you how many times a person came into my gun shop to look at a specific gun but after talking and handling a few other options left with a different firearm, only to come back and tell me they were happy they did. Comfort is a major factor with the firearm that you purchase and no one can tell you what will feel best to you. It’s your hand and your gun so make sure you are happy with it and take whatever time you need to make that decision. Gun can’t be returned so make sure it’s right. Which is why checking out multiple options and trying as many out as you can is so important.
Hunting: Just like the other options there are a great many options when it comes to a hunting gun. The first and most important question is 2 part. What are you going to hunt and what does your local laws dictate you can use? You aren’t going to use a deer rifle to hunt ducks and visa versa. Some states limit calibers and round capacities for a multitude of game so be sure before going afield that you fall within the legal guidelines. That being said the rest is highly subjective. As with home defense I highly recommend trying a few calibers and guns to get a feel for what you can feasibly handle for the situation. If you are smaller in stature and new to guns I wouldn’t recommend a .300 Win Mag as a first-time deer rifle but maybe a .308 if you want some knock down power without knocking you down. Back to ARs, the .223 does not have much knock down power or can be too small for your state laws but can be very affective if used right and legally. My home state allows this round and it is definitely a gun I’m very proficient with so it can be viable option for me. With smaller rounds accuracy and placement is key. It can be a way to efficiently take game and save a lot of usable meat by taking a head or neck shot and (since ultimately hunting is about harvesting quality meat) can be an ideal firearm for deer hunting. With hunting guns know what you are hunting, the area you are hunting, the distance you will likely take the shot, and what the laws state are legal possibilities. Once you have decided this there is stil’lll a myriad of manufacturers and options out there. Other than shooting guns your friends or family has to get an idea of caliber and size I’d also recommend visiting your local gun stores. Hunters have an almost religious loyalty to their favorite manufacturer and can be very passionate. While this is good for the manufacturers, it can be bad for advice. Hold the gun, feel its action, research the technologies and if you can, try it out. Ultimately the gun that feels the best to you is going to be the one you are going to shoot the best. As far as type of action goes, that all depends on what you want. For the most part hunting guns are manual actions (meaning the shooter moves the action in some way to load the next round i.e. pump, bolt, or break action). However, there are many commonly used semiauto hunting guns and just keep in mind that just like a handgun, there is still the matter of maintenance to remember. Most hunting guns are shot right before a season to check accuracy, fired a few times during the season at game, and then put away for several months at a time. Make sure you keep up with it or you will find more work getting the gun ready for the upcoming season than you expected.
Target/Sport/Pleasure Shooting: This usually falls into a category that holds more experienced shooters. Comfort is very important here also as more time will probably be spent with these firearms than any others. Make sure the caliber and ergonomics of the gun fit you well. As I’ve said to many times “The best gun for you is the one that feels best in your hands.” Next is caliber. Depending on your use there can be many limiting factors to what round you choose for the shooting sports. Long range shooting requires higher velocity rounds and, if you shoot competitively, may have a size requirement or restriction that will need to be addressed. Do some ballistics research before just buying the most common denominator that everyone claims is best. There are a lot of special loads and calibers out there that may perform better for your situation than say a .308 Winchester and you will do yourself a favor to look into all options before making a decision. That being said, look at ammo availability and cost. Just because the .260 Remington has better ballistics than say a .223 doesn’t mean you should get it. That round is hard to find and is more cost effective to load yourself. If you don’t have the ability to reload then it severely limits your ability to get ammo for your rifle and could possibly remove that caliber from your options. For backyard target/pleasure shooting cost is a big factor. You will have more time to shoot and more rounds down range so keep in mind your budget. A .308 Winchester may be more fun but at around a $1.00 a round it is more expensive to shoot than say a .223 or 5.56 which cost about $.50 a round. That translates to half the time pulling a trigger for a .308 than a .223. The same goes for shotgun shooters and pistol shooters as well. Bird shot in a shotgun is far cheaper to buy and easier to find than say a #4 shot tungsten waterfowl load. Which means practice with the cheaper bird loads to learn the gun then shoot a couple of boxes of your waterfowl loads in the same gun to learn what the differences the shot size and material will make. A common practice of target shooters is to get a .22 LR conversion for their favorite firearm. This allows trigger time for training and muscle memory while shooting something much cheaper and easier on the human body. The more time behind the trigger will make a better shooter and make you more effective with your tool. A crude but similar example from a different industry is a carpenter with a hammer. The weekend father/handyman may know how to build a bookshelf and that is a respectable skill, but a professional carpenter can swing his or her hammer with so much more efficiency and accuracy that they can build an entire deck during that same weekend.
No matter your need or desire when purchasing a firearm, it should not be an unpleasant experience. Listen to your friends but make a decision based off of your own needs and desires. Do your own research and have clear goals. Go have some fun shooting and trying out new things (you never know what may change your mind). Most of all, and I can’t say this enough, get the gun that feels best to you. Each shooter is different. Which is why there are so many options. There is a need for every gun out there and there are a lot of guns that can fit your needs. However, if you don’t like the gun for any reason, no matter what you’ve heard from a reliable source, you will not shoot it well. You wear your most comfortable clothes because you like them. You drive your car because you like it. You should buy your gun because you like it. It is ultimately your choice and what could potentially save your life. Don’t rush out and buy something just because someone told you to. Guns are tools like any other thing and you should make your purchase accordingly.