Selecting the Correct Defensive Handgun
Selecting a defensive handgun can be an intimidating task. Should it be a revolver or a semi auto pistol? What brand do I choose? Which caliber is best? My neighbor likes "A" but my local police department carries "B" and the person behind the counter at my area gun shop says I need to to buy "C". Who do I listen to and what's right for me?
There are a several things to consider that will help you answer your own questions.
How will you keep your firearm: Will it be kept in your home, in your vehicle or on your person. If the answer is on you, will it be on body or off body carry? This will help you decide what size of firearm you should choose. Typically a larger heavier full-size handgun will soak up more recoil, give you greater shot capacity and a longer sight radius which will help you with aiming and shot to shot recovery. Overall they are the most enjoyable to shoot. This will be fine for your home or car but carrying a larger pistol or revolver will be harder to conceal and put more strain on your back, hips and arms. Age and physical condition needs to be a consideration.
Compact and subcompact handguns are a good compromise though you will give up some capacity, recoil control and sight radius. A compact or subcompact will be easier to carry and conceal and still offer a good amount of control for most shooters. The smallest of the group are called "pocket guns". This is where we find the smallest five shot .38 Spl revolvers and six shot.380 ACP pistols. They are generally carried a lot and shot a little. As Clint Eastwood remarked "a mans got to know his limitations". You have to consider the limitations of a pocket gun. They don't offer much grip area or weight, making them harder to control and have more perceived recoil. Most have little or no sights making them difficult to aim. I have shot pocket guns in competition but it takes a great deal of training and practice to be proficient with them. Another consideration is that recoil springs, hammer or striker springs and other internal parts are reduced in size in most pocket pistols.This can make them more ammunition sensitive and require a very firm grip to cycle and fire reliably.
Revolver vs semi auto pistol: Don't let anyone tell you that because you are a woman or less familiar with firearms you need to choose a revolver. A revolver is simpler to load, unload and does not need to be disassembled for maintenance, however most of my students find they are more difficult to shoot well under stress and have more felt recoil than a pistol with a similar power factor. You will hear it said that revolvers are more reliable than pistols, there is some truth to that however I can tell you from experience if you have a malfunction with a revolver you will be out of the fight. A malfunction with a semi auto pistol can usually be corrected quickly with proper training.
Semi automatic pistols will require a greater level of training and hand strength to operate. You need to be able to load magazines, rack the slide and manipulate small levers and controls. If you have a problem with arthritis, hand strength or injury you may want to choose a revolver. Some of the benefits of a pistol are: less perceived recoil, greater ammunition capacity, faster reloads, a more natural point and most will be easier to conceal.
Fit: The handgun you choose for personal protection should fit the size of your hand. The grip should be comfortable and not to big or small. You need to be able to get a good purchase on the grip and be able to reach the trigger and other controls without having to change your grip or strain your hands. Many manufacturers offer interchangeable back straps, grip panels or even grip frames so you can adjust the fit to your hand. The handgun you choose should have a natural point for you. Take a proper grip with the empty pistol and align the sights on a fixed target in an area where it is safe to do so. Then bring the pistol down to the low ready position, close your eyes and push the pistol back out to were you feel that it is back on target. When you open your eyes the sights should be on or very close to your original point of aim without having to adjust your grip.
Caliber: When students ask me what caliber I recommend for a personal defense handgun I will generally suggest a minimum of .380 ACP for a pistol and .38 Special for a revolver. You should choose a caliber that you can accurately shoot, be able to perform quick follow up shots and will penetrate deep enough to reach vital organs to stop a threat. Don't get caught up in the caliber wars where self proclaimed experts will tell you the bullet must be the size of a Volkswagen in order to stop someone. If you are not able to handle the recoil of the calibers mentioned above for any of the reasons we have talked about, go with the largest you can control even if its a .22LR. In any case speed, control and shot placement will rule over caliber size in a gunfight.
Choose your firearm, caliber and ammunition wisely and train hard - train smart.