Firearms instructors like myself are constantly approached for recommendations. Many individuals have never owned any gun, and some are longtime hunters looking for their first handgun. I’m sure that everyone means well when they offer their opinions, but I have lost count of the people who showed up to my classes with guns not at all suitable for their intended purpose. Almost invariably, their explanation was that a friend or family member recommended it.
You probably know someone who virtually worships at the altar of a particular gun or manufacturer. You may be one yourself. But remember that your favorite may not be the “best gun” for someone else. So, before giving advice, consider the person who’s asking you.
First things first: budget. Finding out what someone can spend will save a lot of time. However, stick with quality manufacturers. Thanks to modern high-tech manufacturing innovations, there are solid, reliable guns available at very reasonable prices.
Physical considerations. People vary dramatically in size and strength — finger and hand strength being the most important. Revolvers tend to have relatively heavy double-action trigger pulls, difficult for smaller people and the elderly. Auto-pistols have slides that go from amazingly light to downright difficult. Make sure the person can handle all aspects of operating the firearm easily.
One student of mine with severe arthritis could barely manage even one trigger pull on a J-frame .38 and couldn’t rack the slide on any of my normal carry pistols either. Solution? An M&P .22. Trigger press and pulling back the slide were a piece of cake. And 12 rounds of hot hollow-points are nothing to sneer at. As a bonus, it looks like a typical 9mm or .40 S&W gun, giving it a significant “deterrence factor.”
Size, weight … and recoil. Weight is a factor in a carry gun, but not so much for the one that sits in (or on) your nightstand. Also, remember that while it may feel great in the gun store, the lighter the gun, the greater the recoil; ask anyone who has ever fired an ultra-light revolver using full-powered .357 Magnum loads. I’m not saying don’t get it, just try before you buy; many ranges rent guns for this purpose.
Revolver or auto-pistol? I generally recommend double-action-only revolvers for new shooters. But thanks to Hollywood, nearly every new shooter thinks auto-pistols are the “cool” way to go. Encourage him or her to handle both, and explain the differences, especially the simplicity of revolvers — from operation to cleaning.
Speaking of simplicity, I once had an affluent couple in their late 50s in a class. They had NO experience with firearms at all, but some gun store had sold them two high-end custom 1911s (at $1500 each). Not only were the guns too large for both of their hands, they had a terrible time field-stripping them, even after I guided them though the process several times. Yet after only ONE walk-through with my SIG Sauer P229, they could each perform the process easily. I love my 1911s but, especially for novices, more modern guns are often a better choice.
Lastly: caliber. Without getting into the endless debate about “stopping power,” the favored calibers are .45 ACP, .40 S&W, 9mm and .380 ACP in auto-pistols and .38 Special and .357 Magnum in revolvers. There are others, but the bottom line is that having a good, reliable gun that you shoot well is what matters. After all, no one wants to get shot … even with a .22.