Selecting a Firearm

[quote=LG]Maybe this site could make contact with a reputable gun dealer. You buy the gun, it is shipped to a local FFL, for a fee, everybody is happy.
Bud’s Gun Shop has an excellent reputation for low prices, with good service and a large selection.  You order online and it is shipped to a local gun shop for the backround check.  The fee for the local shop varies a lot so shop carefully for that.  Some state and city laws are very restrictive and may hinder this process.  For most it is very easy.

Great job Aaron.  I would urge someone interested in buying a gun to first consider if they would be ready and willing to use it.  Consider this carefull and honestly.  If you want a gun for self defence, consider if you will be willing to shoot in your own self protection.  Many people aren’t and thats OK.  But if you aren’t, you’re better off not having a gun around.
If you have kids around, unload it and lock it up.  This will make your firearm difficult to use in a pinch, but kids will find it and play with it if its out.

There is a lot of talk around that just the sound of racking a round in a shotgun will scare off an intruder.  Or people might be tempted to warn "I have a gun" to scare off an intruder.  Guns aren’t for scaring off or intimidating anyone.  They are for stopping the threat as quickly as possible, and giving you an edge and standoff distance.  Don’t give away any of your edge.  Never get in fair fight if you can help it.  In the same vein, know your state laws about the use of force.  You may do jail time for using a gun in self defence.  As the saying goes, better judged by nine than carried by six.

As a female hunter, plinker, and also avid gun-owner, I want to also highly recommend reading at the following excellent website:

Also, the book "In the Gravest Extreme" by Massad Ayoob, and everything else he writes as well. (I think he is a regular contributor to Backwoods Home magazine, but Google will find you plenty) and his courses on the use of firearms for self defense are well known and highly regarded:

It is critical that anyone, man or woman, who wishes to own guns, learn what the laws of their state are, get proper instruction, and take the time to fully and thoughtfully explore their own situation, reasons and fears surrounding gun ownership. A gun is unlike any other possession we own, and is NOT something to be tucked away and forgotten about. Practice is important, and taking full personal responsibility is deadly critical.

Women, educate yourselves - - do NOT allow a male boyfriend/husband/family member/friend to decide what gun is good for you, or what holster is best, etc, etc . YOU must take the responsibility yourself, or you will be dangerous to yourself and others around you. 

Guys, if you disagree with what I just said above to women, then please read the following:


spinone makes an excellent point of are you ready to own a gun…
i never owned a firearm until i decided to homestead 14 acres a few years back. but i did stop and think thru this…

if i own a gun i have to be able to use it. or i don’t get one…that is a big question that one should take time to consider.

can you shoot another human being in self defense? or an animal?

if you can’t . don’t get the firearm.

there are many strategies of survival that don’t need a gun to accomplish that.

i take gun ownership very serious and hope others do too.(even if you decide not to own one, knowledge of how to use one is a very good idea)

lots of good thoughts posted on this thread.

There’s a point that seems to be missing from this particular thread.  A gun is a tool, like any other.  Having the right tool for the job is important, but it’s only part of the equation.  You need skills, too.   
I’m not an expert on self defense, but unless you’re willing to put in the time and effort to make handling your new firearm second nature, you’re probably better served with a can of bear spray.  It’s small and easy to use, yet extremely potent.  And if you shoot someone by mistake, it’s unlikely to be lethal.  (Both UDAP and Counter Assault are considered reputable brands.)

As far as hunting, your choice of weapon is far less important than your skill as a hunter.  In a pinch, you can kill most of the game here in North America with a .22, or for that matter, with a stick bow and a stone point.   

I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy a gun, or that you shouldn’t take the time to pick out the right one for your personal needs.  I have a 30.06 with a variable power scope that I use occasionally for hunting elk & deer, a couple of shotguns for birds, and a Glock 20 for self defense.  But the most important thing isn’t the fact that I own guns, it’s that 35 years in the field have given me the requisite skills to use my guns safely and proficiently. 

By the way, in spite of the fact that I’ve owned any number of guns, and that I consider a well-built and well-designed firearm to be a thing of beauty, I spend the vast majority of my time afield with a longbow and a cedar shaft - and with a can of pepper spray on my belt in case I run into one of our local grizzly bears or mountain lions.  I can’t speak to military applications or law enforcement, but in the woods, skill always trumps firepower and one well-placed shot beats a bunch of lead in the air every single time.

…about if you’re not really willing to use the gun – don’t own it.  
In my own journey down the path of firearms ownership (NEVER until 2 years ago did I think I’d ever own a firearm) I’ve come to grips with questions like:

"Would I shoot a person to protect my loved ones/community?"

Heinlein’s "Starship Troopers’ is not so much a sci-fi novel as it is an examination of the question "What does it mean to be a citizen?" (to a certain extent, it’s also a coming-of-age "callow kid into man" story)  Of course, it being Heinlein’s novel, we get Heinlein’s answer but IMO there’s much he has to  say that’s of value – and re-reading it recently helped me crystallize certain ideas.  

Neal Stephenson’s book "Cryptonomicon" (apart from being one of my fave novels ever and a spectacularly great yarn) deals with some of these issues too.  One of the lead characters (Randy Waterhouse) travels an arc from insecure introvert geek to what the character Doug Shaftoe would call "a serious person" over the course of the book.  And the line between "not serious" and "serious" involves being willing to take risks – sometimes dire – on behalf of those you care about – and also putting your heinie on the line in the most literal (mortal) sense for what you believe.  Both these books make the point that if you’re not willing to put it all on the line, then either (a) what you espouse as being meaningful/worthy/beautiful/true is none of those things, Q.E.D., or (b) be prepared to have what you find meaningful/worthy/beautiful/true taken away from you.

I’m still wrestling with all these things and the implications that spring out of them.  

(for the purposes of the following paragraph, let’s agree to set aside all the idiots out there for whom guns are toys or status/manhood markers, or the means to commit crimes…)

But I can say that it seems true to me that if you’re not willing to use a firearm you shouldn’t own one.  I’ll also say that the part of me that in the past might have thought "Well, they have a false sense of security/confidence because they’re wearing a gun"* would now be willing to think that person projects confidence because they have thought these issues through – and in wrestling with them, understand the responsibility that comes with ownership of a firearm (and what it means to be a citizen, or "serious" as D. Shaftoe puts it).  To accept the awesome responsibility of firearm ownership is to know how to use it, how to hold it in abeyance, and to understand better one’s own self.  

It’s quite the journey, coming as I have from a family with little history of gun ownership.  I’m learning heaps about myself as I go.  Which is no mean trick at the age of 46.

Viva – Sager


   The great thing about firearms is that not all that much skill is needed to use them.     10 minutes instruction, shoot a few rounds, more instruction, safety reenforcement, disassembly and clean, dry fire, more safety reenforcement, here’s your certificate. Your concealed carry ID should come in the mail in 60 days or less.  Drive home safe, now. Ladies who run sewing machines have no trouble.  Sewing machines are much more complex with more possiblity of injury. Their cars are more deadly, year over year. 
Far less skill is needed to headshot a squirrel with a Ruger MarkIII .22 pistol than do the same thing with a slingshot or bow.  With the pistol, you can have one eye working, be mostly paralyzed, except for the hand and arm that you can steady on your chair. You can be small or weak and get a pistol or rifle that fits you, that you can practice with until you are familiar with it and don’t have to look at the safety or magazine catch to operate them.  If you have good sense, and can read the booklet that comes with the weapon, you can own and use it safely and effectively.   Guns make the small, weak, female and infirm equal to the young and strong when fighting is the order of the day.  Sounds like a 19th century gun salesman, right? It’s all true. 
If you live in a State that prohibits you from having a weapon or would prosecute you for killing an intruder to your home, leave that State. Deny them the income you bring them by working and living there: stop supporting your own serfdom.
New York City is a place I won’t go. It’s full of people who won’t take responsibility for their own safety by owning the most effective weapons invented, thus giving free reign to criminals. I can’t be legally armed in NYC, but would be anyway if forced to be there.  Join us in America. 
We have skills. We know how to make, repair, and use guns, and how to teach others to do the same.  We have travelling gun clubs run like Tupperware parties from garages and livingrooms to ranges. Buy, sell, trade, teach, learn. No FFL’s, but sometimes Sheriff Deputies.  Keep it under 24 guns for sale and it’s not a "gun show". 
The reason "Glocks and AK-47’s" are mentioned may be because these are some of the most combat-effective weapons ever made.  Their compromises are also their virtues. The world is mostly wet and mostly filthy, G’s and AK’s do fine in this.  They may not be the biggest, most precise, longest range, most powerful, but are like Goldilocks’ choice: "just right" for almost every likely situation.  
Will anyone argue that everything is fine and you don’t need a gun? Thought not. The debate is which ones and how many thousands of rounds in ammo cans. Will it be "civil unrest" that the cops can handle or gangs going door-to-door doing recruiting and executions along with gathering supplies? Best-case-scenario of 1933 repeated, or grid-down collapse?  A handgun can get you a rifle, if need be.  
 Firearms are an option you can give yourself now, that may not be legally or financially available later.  Buy and bury? Buy several and bury some?
A good friend in New Mexico said "If it’s time to bury the rifles, it’s time to use them". 

I’d like to offer another perspective on the statement, “Don’t own a gun unless you’re willing to use it.” I think that is too restrictive, and a graduated approach would be better.
Shooting targets can be an enjoyable pastime. Developing the skill and discipline to do it well can be rewarding and relaxing. Having a tool to shoot varmints raiding your garden can be useful. Being able to hunt can be very useful. Shooting can also be a fun activity with other family members, and a good way to teach responsibility to kids. They can surprise you with how well they do it, and how seriously they take your trust in them. Having a gun for these purposes allows you to learn to use it safely and become comfortable with it.

Once guns are no longer “demonized” in your mind you can rationally consider their use for self defense. It is clearly best if you do the serious thinking and training suggested in other posts, and reach clear conclusions on how you would act. But you don’t have to decide all that now. Having a secured but quickly accessible gun at home gives you options.

It is one thing for you to decide you would not shoot someone threatening to directly attack you, but what about a spouse, or children? Children can’t defend themselves, and they didn’t decide they don’t want to be defended. The same often applies to wives. Could you live with yourself if they were killed and you didn’t do everything possible to prevent it?

From what I have observed and experienced, when a person is really threatened with a serious attack they have an immediate and overwhelming desire to save themselves by any means possible. They experience danger at a profoundly visceral level and things can become crystal clear. You “know” beyond doubt that this is the time for the ultimate response. This is not the time to wish you had an effective weapon.

Again, it is clearly best if you do serious thinking and training, and reach clear conclusions on how you would act. But if you’re not ready to go that far there is a middle way that doesn’t leave you defenseless.





Again, thank you all for the kind words!

Cornered Cat has long been one of my most referenced sites for female shooters. Someone recommended some years back to a gal I knew, so I figured I should read it, too. What I found was that the advice there was really good for males and females, in many cases - but it was built from the ground up acknowledging the things that make carrying more difficult for females. Kathy Johnson is an excellent resource for anyone - but specifically for ladies who’d like to learn more about carrying. For men, "dressing around a gun" is really simple. There are lots of options, and most men can pull it off without much of a change (new belt, size larger shirt or pants, etc).
For Gals, it’s entirely different. Thank you for sharing!

On the issues of "Being ready to use it" - I’d defer to Authur Robey.
If at all possible, preserve your innocence. Avoid the situations, or stop them with good situational awareness, good security measures and an alert and cogent family.
…Because these things are not always fail-safe, it’s important that you’re ready mentally to make that decision before the situation happens. This is one of the reasons it’s so important to start your training with a good instructor who understands not only the physiological aspects, but the psychological and legal aspects as well.


If you look over the Definitive Firearms Thread, or Definitive Tactics Thread, you’ll find that the subject of skill is emphesized 10/1 on discussion of "raw" equipment. This particular entry is kept as simple and specific as possible to facilitate the choosing of a firearm.
From here, we can discuss training, tactics, mindset and anything else firearms on the and threads. Please look them over - the DTT especially is a resource that’s completely under-used in terms of mental readiness and having a realistic understanding of life or death situations.


While firearms don’t take a lot of skill to shoot, they take a literal never-ending committment to reach proficiency to fight with. Shooting and fighting are about as similar as skiing and parachuting.


Thanks for the heads-up, Aaron.  I figured that the DFT probably had a lot of info on skill, attitude, training, etc.  I just think it’s appropriate to raise the subject here, too.
For those of you who are considering buying your first gun, I suggest you spend time thinking about why you might want one.

If you want to learn to target shoot, or plink, or shoot trap, skeet or sporting clays, by all means, buy a gun (or two, or ten).

If you want to hunt, a gun is an excellent tool.  Just make sure you pick one that’s appropriate for the task at hand, and that meets legal requirements for your area.  (For example, there are places where you can’t hunt with a rifle - you’re limited to a pistol or a shotgun.)

If you want to defend yourself and your family, a gun may, or may not, be the best choice.  You have to decide if you have the mental and emotional capacity to use deadly  force in a situation that may involve - just to name a few - darkness, anxiety, fear, adrenaline and confusion.  It’s one thing to take your .44 down to the local gravel pit and go all Dirty Harry on some tin cans.  It’s another thing entirely to shoot someone and then have to deal with the legal and emotional repercussions.  And what happens if you shoot someone by mistake?  Is that something you can live with?  

I’ve had two people close to me shot by accident.  One survived.  One didn’t.  (I wasn’t involved in either shooting, but I experienced the aftermath and it wasn’t pretty.)

I have no problem at all with guns.  But they’re not “equalizers.”  They’re tools, and you shouldn’t own or use them unless you can do so safely and proficiently.  If you’re interested in self-defense, a can of bear spray may well prove to be a more palatable choice.

Very good advice,however the idea of palatiblity and bear spray is couterintuitive.Robie

 I guess that depends on whether you like your food extra spicy.

I think there are four aspects to consider with regard to getting a gun or learning about guns if you have no prior exposure.First, even if you have no intention of getting a gun or using a gun it might not be a bad idea to learn how to operate one at a basic level.  You may find yourself in a situation where you have to take possession of a gun and knowing how to make sure it is safe and empty would be handy.  For example, the wife of a friend recently went to help her old uncle who was having dementia and discovered that he had a collection of guns that had to be removed.  She decided to learn how to target shoot a year earlier so could handle the guns without worries.
Second, it might be good to take a pistol licensing course and get your license just so you can have it before the rules change and make it harder to get.  Usually it is about $100 for the class and another $100 for a five year license.  That way you keep your options open.
Third, you could get involved in the "shooting sports".  Shooting at targets is a lot of fun and there are clubs and leagues that you could join.  It would be like golf or bowling.  In this case you would keep your gun locked up and not plan on using it as a defensive tool.
Fourth, you could decide that you would like to be able to use the gun to defend yourself or your family.  This is a huge step.  You should definitely get much more training than what is given for the basic licensing course.  You need to learn how to shoot defensively and more importantly you need to learn when to shoot, why to shoot, when not to shoot and why not to shoot.  The when’s and why’s are very important and many people skip over them.

If a gun is too inconvenient to carry at all times, you won’t have it when you need it. A gun is no substitute for avoiding likely situations where you might need a gun. I carry two guns, a Glock 36, 45 acp, and to back that up, a S&W Bodyguard 380 acp. From 1965 I have carried: S&W Model 10 38 spc, Colt Combat Commander 45 acp, Baur 25 acp, S&W Model 37 38 spc, S&W Model 360 357 mag, S&W Model 396 44 spc, and for the better part of the last ten years, North American Mini 22 mag. I was trained in the 1960’s in the Marines to use the Pistol Caliber 45 acp. I actually carried a Model 10 S&W (my service was aviation related) and both M-14 and M-16 rifles. I don’t like single action guns. I don’t like external safeties. The less you have to remember to get the gun to work, the better. S&W Revolvers and Glock are "perfect" personal protection guns. If there are rounds in the chamber, all that is needed is to put the front site on the target and pull the trigger. Handguns should be considered a last resort to selfdefense, avoidance being first and flight being second. Combat taught me that being 500 yards away from the target is better than hand-to-hand combat. If unable to avoid or flee, but with enough time to prepare, my first choice is a quality pump 12 gauge shotgun, 18" barrel,  with at least five rounds: BB, BB, 00 Buck, 00 Buck, 00 Buck. I do not wish to ever engage in combat with the government, so I don’t need machine guns or armor piercing ammunition. I only want to be left alone, and if worse comes to worse, I want to survive. If you don’t think you can kill another human being, don’t carry a handgun. He will take it away from you, and after he beats, rapes, and kills your wife and children, he will kill you. The fact that a criminal can and will do this, is why I carry a gun. There is a time to buy a sword.

Have printed it out for immediate reading and archived it for future use…either for myself of someone else.

Thank you kindly for the comments - I appreciate them sincerely.
I’d love to hear more feedback about what I can improve, what topics need to be covered more thoroughally, and if there are any portions that could be clarified.


I understand where you’re coming from, but to me, shooting is a utility. 
People who do it for recreation would be better served with Golf. Not to say there isn’t some utility in shooting competitively, but buying a gun and throwing it in a dresser, or only practicing with it under ideal conditions are failings of mindset. If the skill to shoot is your only interest, an Airsoft will do just fine. You can have a lot of fun without the responsibility. 


Thank you for your comment. I happen to agree strongly on your choice of "perfect" pistols. 

Thank you for say so, it’s great to hear that this is of some use!



Good to see educational articles like this.  Keep up the good work.
I went through the whole firearms process just over a year ago.  I
spent quite a lot of time thinking through various scenarios.  The
following points may be useful for others.
I should mention that I’m not in the USA, but New Zealand.  The law
here is considerably different from the US with regards to firearms.
Here pistols are tightly controlled and require a special license
which few people have.  Semi-automatic rifles are limited to 7 or 15
shot depending on type of cartridge, and shape of stock on the rifle
(of all things).  Also, anyone who uses a firearm in self defense will
very likely find themselves on the wrong side of the law.  Even the
convenience store owner who defends himself against five thugs by
using a hockey stick may be in legal trouble (a current case here in
New Zealand)!
My decision on what to buy has focussed entirely on hunting for food,
as that is the way I personally see things unfolding.  It’s also based
on a long term scenario, so thinking about what happens when stores of
ammo run out - ie. fabricating ammunition when resources are tight.
I first bought a good quality high power, spring .177 calibre air
rifle of all things.  These can be used to hunt rabbits (yum!) of
which there are millions of in this country.  The rifle is simple, and
a popular brand so parts are easy to come by.  Pellets are just made
from lead and small so don’t need much lead.  The drawback is I think
pellet manufacture requires specialised machinery which doesn’t exist
in New Zealand.  I’ve shot a few rabbits, but you need to get
reasonably close due to the low power and hence short range of an air
rifle.  Still, very little to go wrong with them.
An interesting alternative is a PCP (pre-charged pneumatic) air rifle.
These are by comparison complicated requiring things like dive tanks
to refill the cylinder in the rifle.  The upside is that some can fire
lead balls which you can cast yourself.  They’re used for shooting
things up to pig size.  Still, not very mainstream.
The second rifle I bought was a .22LR rimfire.  The most popular and
cheapest firearm cartridge in the world.  Great for rabbits and the
extra range over the air rifle makes the task easier - a real bonus if
you need to live off of what you shoot.  Once again, I bought a good
quality popular brand so parts are easy.  These bullets are cheap
enough that you can stockpile them in quantity if you wish.
A shotgun, for ducks.  I actually shot clay bird in high school and
have taken up this sport again.  It’s great fun and the skills are
transferrable to shooting ducks.  Shooting live ducks doesn’t interest
me, but if we need to eat then it will interest me.  Shotgun shells
are made here in New Zealand, and are quite easy to manufacture
(relatively speaking).
You could buy a shotgun with exchangable barrels.  Long barrels for
shooting ducks, and short barrels for home defense if that’s your
thing and it’s legal where you live.
A shotgun also gives you flexibility in that you can fire different
size shot depending on what you’re hunting.  Small pellets for birds,
larger for rabbits, even a single massive slug for stopping deer.
A centre-fire rifle.  Here it’s illegal to fire a rimfire rifle
(Eg. .22LR caliber) or shotgun in the national forests.  So if you
want to shoot pigs, deer etc.  you need a centre-fire.  I chose one
with cheap pleantiful ammo.  What’s cheap and pleantiful in
centre-fire will depend on what country you live in.
If you’re thinking long term, it would be worth making sure your
firearms have open sights.  Some rifles come only with telescopic
sights and while great, they are not as durable as the rifle and it’s
likely the rifle will outlast the telescopic sight.  If supplies of
telescopic sights dry up (think high quality optical lenses), then if
at least you still have open sights you can still hunt.
Buy a decent pair of earmuffs, and practice!  I took up target
shooting last year, and re-started clay bird shooting last year too.
These can be great fun sports and then at the end of the day, if
really really necessary the skills are transferrable.

Hi martinv,

Welcome to the site.  Your decisions seem reasonable.  The only thing I would have done differently was get a .22 air rifle in a gas spring design rather a .177 in a spring (I assume spring piston) design.  The .177 is a little light for a rabbit and more limited in range for that type of hunting.  A high power .22 gas spring air rifle will take any type of small game or bird from a good distance.  Plus, the gas spring lasts longer, requires less maintenance, and has advantages over a spring piston, for the hunter in particular, in terms of allowing you to keep the rifle cocked for longer periods of time, better accuracy, lighter weight, and less sensitivity to the cold.  They are pricier and harder to cock, however.

Another thing to consider is that in a SHTF scenario, larger game will be hunted out rather quickly and small game will become scarce.  Some proficiency in traps, snares, deadfalls, etc. and fishing skills (including line, spear, net, etc.) will all come in handy.  Obviously, you want to grow your own food as well.




One thing I tell people,  is that they will need to clean and lubricate their firearm. So, in choosing one I suggest that they go to the manufactures web site or You Tube and find a video to see how its done. And, see  how simple or difficult it is for that make and model.

Hi Aaron, nicely written piece.  
I’d add just a couple things that some will know, and others might not.

As Bill was driving at:  The "right gun" is the one you’ve got with you when you need it.  Buying a bazooka is not going to help you if it is not with you.  I carry a little 380 most of the time, because it is very comfortable and actually gets worn vs. left in a safe somewhere (and the threat situation is pretty low).

Ken is spot-on in my opinion, with the observation that guns are a reasonable store of value.  Check out someplace like "" or similar, and you’ll see that they don’t depreciate at anything like the rate of, say, a used car.

I teach my 10-year-old that there are only two rules (really only one); from which all else follows:  

It. Is. Always. LOADED.

 (the second "corrolary" is that "Only point at what you want to shoot - pretty much follows from the First Rule).  Incidentally, I’ve checked him out on the G17, and he can rack and clear the weapon safely; with technique, most folks should be able to operate such an automatic from a purely physical standpoint.  My wife, on the other hand, can’t/won’t operate the action.

Folks need to have a good think about if they are willing to deploy lethal force…ahead of time.  A weapon in the hands of a person who is unwilling to use it is an asset to an assailant, not a deterrent (the old saw about "racking the action of a shotgun" notwithstanding).  This is my opinion, but also my experience.

Following the above observation, my wife is scared featherless of operating a weapon on general principles, and I don’t think she has the mindset either.  She has an industrial-sized can of OC pepper spray for the front door, and a Kimber OC pistol (google them, they are kind of cool) for the purse.  She’s also got a dog with really big teeth (a loveable lab, but a dog who know’s who’s not in "his pack").

See you, buy you a cup of coffee next time you’re in Vancouver if you want.