In the dynamic world of firearms there can be a lot of choices and options when it comes to purchasing a new handgun. Often, the wants and needs line up, sometimes they don’t and to top that off other people are always giving you their opinions. Opinions are like old underwear, everyone has them, and half the time they stink. Let’s try to wade through these murky waters and help you choose the right handgun for your needs and wants.
First thing is first, a person has to decide what the gun they are purchasing will be intended for. Will it be for general home and range use mostly? Maybe, you feel like you’d like to take the plunge into carrying a gun on your person every day? Is competition in your future? First gun or fiftieth gun? All of this comes into play when making a purchasing decision, but let’s narrow it down a bit. We will be concentrating on the first two, a general handgun for in-home and range use and a gun to carry on a daily basis. We will also look at the entire process as if you’re buying your first handgun. What do we need to know about each category and what are the differences or makes these guns similar?
Know the Laws
The first thing a new shooter needs to do when jumping into owning their own handgun is know what the requirements are to buy a gun in their state. What do you need to buy a gun? What is the process ?
Well, let’s start out by saying handgun’s have different requirements to purchase state by state. So, let’s start with what’s the same, all handgun purchases that happen through a Federal Firearms Licensed dealer will require a FFL form 4473. This form will have the particular gun information assigned to it, along with the background check information that coincides with the transfer of that gun from dealer to owner.
Where the states differ is what is required to have the gun in your possession or on your person. There are permit states to which a permit system is in place for possession, transporting or carrying concealed at varying levels. In most states you may purchase a handgun with an approved 4473 background check. Some of these states will have what is called constitutional carry, others will have must issue carry concealed weapons permits. Still in a few others there will be laws in place for open carry or carrying a gun on your person in view of the public.
There are comprehensive lists all over that have the states listed and what the actual requirements for purchasing, possessing and carrying a firearm are. Any local municipality’s police department is a great place to ask what the exact laws are along with the FFL dealer you plan on dealing with. This is step one.
Choosing Your Caliber
This is a topic that could be expanded on for days. Every person who is experienced with handguns will have a favorite caliber. For the purposes of what we are covering here in the handgun buyers guide, let's focus on centerfire pistol cartridges that are commonly chambered in semiautomatic pistols. We are also focusing on calibers that meet or exceed the FBI minimum standards as listed by the 2015 contract for standard-issue handguns.
Basically, this list starts at .380 ACP and goes up from there. Most of today’s everyday carry guns are going to be chambered from .380 ACP through 10mm Auto. Fifteen years ago a new shooter would have seen the push towards .40 Smith & Wesson or maybe the venerable .45 ACP but the most common EDC caliber is 9mm Luger and likely for good reasons. With today’s amazing ammunition and the ability to have a much higher capacity in a smaller gun 9mm has surpassed the larger and smaller calibers hitting the goldilocks zone of pistol cartridge choices.
What to Expect When Purchasing
When Purchasing a handgun for personal use there are a lot of variables that go into the process. How to buy a gun? For starters, knowing the process federally, understanding the laws in your home state, and actually choosing not only a caliber but an actual handgun that suits your individual needs, wants and personality.
Expect a lot of varying opinions, everyone is going to want to give you input in what “you need”. You should expect to fill out some forms, with the minimum being the aforementioned 4473 and more possible depending on the state you reside in. Expect to have a budget and be ready to buy once cry once. It is better to over budget and back down than to under budget and really have wanted something else.
You should also be doing some research in these areas: Where to shoot your new gun? What types of ammunition should you purchase? What accessories such as magazines, safes, cases, glasses, gun belts, gloves, range bags, pistol holsters and magazine holsters should you be purchasing? DO you want to carry your gun? Should you carry inside the waistband(IWB) or outside the waistband (OWB)?
If you can begin to answer all of the questions you’re likely ready to pick out a gun and make the purchase!
Value Features v. Cost
Just as with every other purchase in life, there is an element of getting everything you want while staying within your budget. This is why we said you should plan on over budgeting rather than capping it too low. Let’s look at some of the features that move the pricing up and what might be worth some splurging and other things that might be better left off the list of the handgun buyers guide.
Some guns come with amazing features for the price that you will pay for them. The Mossberg MC9SC falls into this category, while others may come with minimum features for the price but might have great reasons to purchase them outside of the particular factory features, think of the Glock 19 here.
The MC9SC has suppressor height sights, optics cut, is super reliable, has good capacity and a price that is tough to beat. The Glock 19 is super reliable, good capacity but doesn’t have the sights or optics cut in the base model and is more expensive. Why would you buy the Glock when the MC9 has all the features for less cost?
The Glock 19 is the most popular handgun in the world, there is more aftermarket support for Glocks than any other brand. There are more training courses, folks experienced and overall experience with the Glock than most other guns in its class combined.
You may not care about any of that peripheral support, and in that case a reliable gun with all the features at a price that is a bit lower might be your ticket. Think about a Taurus GX4 TORO, Mossberg MC9SC, Smith & Wesson Shield, or the Ruger Max 9. These are all feature rich but price tag light.
If overall support, experience, reputation and name is where your head is at then I would consider a more expensive gun with a few less features from maybe Glock, Sig Sauer or Heckler and Koch. There is a reason these guns are issued to armed services and police departments all over the world. Just expect to pay more for the same features you get from the factory on the previously mentioned guns.
Subcompact v. Compact vs. Microcompact
As you dive into gun ownership and carrying a gun on a daily basis you will have to choose a size that best suits your intentions. This is a very individual choice. When it comes to guns that fall into the categories we’ve mentioned you’ll see pistols in the Micro Compact, Sub Compact, and Compact categories. Let’s look quickly at each. A great way to visualize this is to look at a comparison between a Glock 43, Glock 48 and Glock 19.
Micro compacts are going to be pocket-sized, slim, light, generally 9mm pistols. What you gain in carrying ability you likely lose in capacity and shootability. Sub Compact guns are the middle ground, they are a touch bigger than pocket-sized, and normally house a larger capacity double stack magazine and a bit thicker slide and grip. Finally, we have the Compact sized guns, which will normally be slightly shorter in barrel and grip length than a full-sized gun, making them still very concealable but have all the girth of their full-size cousins. This makes them highly shootable, and have great capacity but a lot more weight and chunk than the other two categories.
Most Reliable Handguns Under $500
This is something that has been covered to death, and like everything else, there are opinions on opinions on this one. Let’s just list some guns that have consistently been on everyone’s list for value and reliability. The Mossberg MC2sc, Ruger Max-9, Taurus GX4 T.O.R.O., GLOCK 43x, Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield EZ, Smith & Wesson CSX all fall solidly in this category.
Best Concealed Carry Handguns 2023
Along with the guns listed above let’s look at some that might top out over $500. The Sig Sauer P365, Springfield Hellcat, Kimber R7 Micro, CZ P-10s, and the Heckler and Koch VP9SK are just a few of the guns that deserve to be mentioned. Between these and the listed guns under $500 there is a flavor here for just about everyone.
Do I Need a Concealed Carry Permit
To backtrack a bit here, every state is different. There are states that are referred to as constitutional carry. If you live in one of those states then the answer is no. In many other states, there is a “must issue” permit process. The state is obligated to issue you a carry concealed permit if needed in that state, if there is no outstanding reason to not issue one. The third option is a “May Issue” state law which allows the state discretion to not issue a Carry permit for any reason or to make you list a reason for needing one. The May issue is going through some turmoil right now because of the recent ruling by SCOTUS in the Bruen case. All May issue states are going to have to transition to Must issue eventually, although it is being battled at every step.
At the end of the day, check with the local law enforcement, and your gun dealer, or do your own research to find out what you’ll need to legally carry a gun in your state.
Ways to Wear Your Concealed Carry
There are essentially two ways to carry your gun on your body, Inside the Waist Band and Outside the Waistband or IWB and OWB. With those two options in mind, there are a lot of positions to carry in, and we normally refer to those as clock positions, taking a shoulder rig out of the options, this isn’t 1985 Miami.
Picture yourself from the top of your head as the face of the clock, 2 o'clock is an appendix or pocket position, 3 o'clock is your hip, 5 o'clock is your kidney, and 6 o'clock is the small of your back. Add six hours for our southpaw friends.
Things that will help you figure out the best position for you are simple, can you draw safely and quickly from that position, does the gun Print or Show and is that position comfortable for the situation you are in? This is the reason most Law Enforcement and Military carry at 3 O’clock, it's safe, fast, and comfortable. And this position will work in a lot of situations for both IWB and OWB carrying.
IWB v. OWB v. Off-body Carry
Now that you know everything you need to for carrying a gun every day there is one consideration left. Whether to carry Inside the Waistband, Outside the Waistband or Off Body? Every person has their individual preference. There are reasons to do each of these styles of carrying. Let’s look at why you might use each, and why most folks go with IWB when carrying concealed.
Off-body is obviously concealed carry in a bag or compartment that isn’t on you. Some common off-body carries are a purse, backpack and hidden in a vehicle within arms reach. Some ladies prefer to carry a gun in their purse because the clothing they are wearing might not support the weight of the gun, the same goes for a backpack if you’re on the way to the gym with workout clothes on. Spending all day driving? An in-car rig that keeps your gun close and ready is more accessible that a gun strapped to your waist with a seatbelt to contend with.
OWB is cowboy-style. The gun is generally in a holster supported by a belt, this is great when out in nature, hiking or hunting or at the range. Also, you might see everyone at your local gun shop carrying OWB. The advantage of this is you don’t have to defeat as many obstacles to get to your gun. The downside is it makes your gun a lot more visible and god forbid easier for someone else to grab.
IWB has become the preferred way for most folks to carry concealed. It’s fast, safe, and keeps the gun really hidden. The downside of IWB is a shooter generally has more clothing to defeat to get to their gun. With practice, this becomes less of an issue.
At the end of the day the closer you can have a gun to your body the better. A bag can be stolen, lost or hard to get into, OWB is easily seen, and recognized and the gun can be captured by someone other than the owner. IWB keeps the gun on you while keeping it relatively unseen, but it’s also still readily available for you when it’s needed.
Keep checking in for more in-depth articles on each of these topics in weeks to come!