Buying a first gun can seem like a Herculean task to the concealed carry newbie. Which caliber is best? Semi-auto or revolver? What about price and reliability? The variables are endless.

When we get down to brass tacks, your first (well, every) concealed carry gun needs to be reliable — and something you’ll actually carry every day. So how do we go about ascertaining that? Research.

Consult the Hive Mind When Buying Your First Gun

A good place to start this research is by asking your friends and family what they carry. Granted, they may all present differing, even conflicting, opinions. But their information will give you a good foundation of potential pros and cons, and they may answer questions you never even thought to ask. Most would probably even be willing to let you hold their handguns. If you’re extra lucky, maybe you can plan a fun outing to the gun range. Live fire is the best way to determine whether or not a gun is right for you.

Consider How Your Gun Will Fit Your Physiology and Lifestyle

When adding a concealed carry gun to your daily routine, think about your own physical attributes. Larger people will likely have an easier time concealing larger guns but may have trouble maintaining a comfortable grip on smaller-frame firearms (among other considerations). Speaking as a rotund gentleman, I can tell you that my tactical muffin top and T-rex arms limit my choice of comfortable carry positions. Cross-draw would take some Houdini-level contortion, and AIWB is right out (for me, at least). Your mileage will vary, which is the point of this article. Figure out what will work best for your personal situation.

Also, consider any physical limitations. A slender pistol may be easy to conceal, but shooters with limited hand strength might have trouble getting a good enough grip to rack the slide. Those with impaired eyesight might have a hard time obtaining a good sight picture (mainly picking up the front sight) on very short-barreled guns without prominent sights.

Likewise, take your lifestyle and surroundings into account. Does your job require you to dress a certain way every day (if your employer even allows concealed carry)? Do you live somewhere with weather extremes? Do you do a lot of driving? How you need to carry and conceal your gun should influence what sort of firearm you purchase.

Let Online Gun Reviews Guide Your First Gun Purchase

We live in the information age. Heck, you’re using a computer or mobile device to read this article right now. So when you’re done here, fire up the old Google machine and punch in the name of a weapon you’d like to buy and the word “reviews.” Bam. Instant gratification. This is akin to asking your friends and family — but people do like to complain online, so take the info with a grain of salt. Pay attention to any overwhelming trends. If 15 reviewers all say a gun’s magazine release is awkward or the firearm fails to feed certain ammo, it’s probably worth noting. Likewise, my fellow USCCA blog authors have penned HUNDREDS of objective gun and gear reviews right here on this very site. Most of those blogs feature discourse with even more ideas and feedback from readers like you in the comments section. Dig in.

*The USCCA Community is a superb resource, rich in anecdotal advice, empirical information and friendly debate.

YouTube will turn up a treasure trove of gun reviews as well, and you can likely find yourself falling down a rabbit hole (feed your head) of related video content. I’m personally a huge fan of the unassuming nature and dry wit of Paul Harrell’s gun reviews — though I wish he’d wear eye protection more frequently. Additionally, the USCCA maintains an indispensable repository of gun review videos on YouTube.

OE Options Can Affect Accessories

One of my handguns is a .38 Smith & Wesson Bodyguard with integral Crimson Trace laser sight. I bought it simply because an amazing deal fell right into my lap (sorry, Honey). But I have a hard time finding holsters made specifically for the Bodyguard 38. A standard J-frame holster is close, but the laser module, located high on the right side of the frame and immediately to the rear of the cylinder, creates a little protrusion that modifies the profile of the gun. I remedied this by using a Dremel tool to grind an accommodating slot into a brand-new Kydex holster.

My point is, while you’re online window shopping for firearms, take a second to check the availability of holsters for your desired gat. Modified, esoteric or otherwise uncommon guns will not have as wide a range of holsters available to them — or they may only come at a premium price.

Cost Can Be a Factor

Nosing around online will also give you an idea of what you can expect to pay when buying your first gun. Hopefully, your due diligence will help you avoid certain infamous discount brands, but you also don’t want to bolt straight for a premium handgun. USCCA Senior Training Counselor (and all-around great guy) Steve Washington once told me: “You’ll get more out of buying a $500 gun and pursuing $1,500 worth of training than you will with buying a $2,000 gun and all the attachments.”

Included in this mindset should be the overall price tag of feeding ammo into your new gun. Larger or more exotic calibers will cost more per round than will simple 9mm. Since training and practice are crucial elements of being responsibly armed, your new lifestyle will consume lots of ammo. Account for it.

The Great Caliber Debate

This leads us naturally to the elephant in the room: Which caliber will work best for you? Far more experienced and knowledgeable souls than I have tackled this topic, so I’ll just speak straight from the heart. Choose the caliber that you can and will shoot. If uncontrollable recoil, difficulty of carry or operating costs (see above) prevent you from practicing with a .45 ACP or .357 Magnum, choose something lighter.

Go with the most power you can handle, but remember that there’s no shame in choosing a smaller caliber. If a .380 — or even a .22 — is what you can reliably handle, buy it, practice with it and — most importantly — carry it. A small gun on your person beats a big gun left at home.

Try at the Gun Range Before You Buy

My final tip for buying your first gun is to take those friends and family up when they offer to let you test-fire their guns. Additionally, many gun ranges offer very reasonable firearms rental rates. Armed with your research, go out and kick some proverbial tires. A handgun that seemed perfect for you on paper may not be comfortable in your hand or on your hip. You won’t know until you get one in your hot little mitts. Like I mentioned above, live fire is the best way to see if there’s a love connection.

Keep it going in the comments below. What was your first handgun purchase? Why did you choose that gun?

*Need a place to try out some of the guns you’ve been researching? Find a firearms range near you with the USCCA Range Finder Tool.

About Jason Braun

Jason Braun works as a proofreader and content assistant for Concealed Carry Magazine. He enjoys writing, illustration and the great outdoors. One of Jason’s favorite aspects of his position within the USCCA is his “duty” — pleasure, really — to read and learn about self-defense, home defense and the concealed carry lifestyle. His everyday carry is a .45 XD-S Mod.2 from Springfield Armory.