By Rob Aught
Sticker shock. Anyone who has ever shopped for a car knows what it is. I was somewhat surprised to find out it applies to firearm purchases as well. Fortunately, when I went to buy my first firearm someone was kind enough to warn me that just buying a gun is not the end of what you need. Buying a firearm by itself is like buying a computer without a keyboard, monitor, and mouse. Yes, you now have a computer, but it’s worthless for anything more than an expensive paperweight . . .
Now, if you’re an experienced shooter, this article may not be for you. You may have all the whizbangs and doo-dads you need and going into a store to buy a new firearm is all you have to do. This is largely for people who are new to guns and I’m going to provide a template for planning your purchase and give a specific example. I am going to focus on handguns because this is the most common weapon purchased for home defense and by far the most common firearm purchased for concealed carry. There is an ongoing and lively debate over whether a handgun, rifle, or shotgun makes for the “best” home defense weapon. This article is not advocating a stance. I am simply using a handgun as an example because it is the weapon most new shooters will buy.
Here come the disclaimers. State law can vary greatly and I am not looking at any additional costs for your area, including additional licensing, permits, or special taxes on firearms and ammunition. I live in Texas where the cost of a firearm is all you have to pay unless you’re looking at getting a concealed handgun license. Please check your local laws and regulations before you make any purchases. Also, any shipping costs or FFL transfer fees are not included. If you’re buying online it’s best to be aware of these costs upfront. For this example, due to variance by area, I am also assuming a 7% sales tax. This may be more or less than what you would actually pay, but I don’t want to leave it out of the discussion entirely since it can add a significant cost to the end total. Also not included are any fees for going to a gun range or joining a gun club to practice shooting. Too much variance for me to calculate. Furthermore, in all the following
examples I will be presenting a range and then landing somewhere in the middle. Cost variances can occur and may be more or less than even the range I am presenting. The idea is to prepare you for a general idea of what you will need to spend. More than one person has set out to spend $500 on a handgun and suddenly found themselves out $100 to $200 more than they expected.
Here are the absolute essentials you will need when you make your first firearm purchase –
- The firearm itself – Self explanatory
- A spare magazine – You should have a ready to go reload on hand whether you intend this for home defense or concealed carry.
- 200 rounds of practice ammunition – You need to put enough rounds through your new firearm to get comfortable and learn it’s ins and outs
- A gun lock – Assuming you don’t already have a safe, you need some kind of lock to secure the weapon.
- A full load and one reload of self defense ammunition – I am going to recommend JHP’s, Jacketed Hollow Points, for any kind of defensive use
- Eye Protection – This is for practice. 99% of the time you don’t need it, but if you’ve ever caught hot brass in the face you’ll be glad you have it.
- Hearing Protection – Guns are loud! Like permanent hearing loss loud!
- Cleaning Solvent, Gun Oil, Cleaning Patches, and a Cleaning Kit – For standard maintenance
I’ll break this down for you using a specific example, the Glock 19. I’m not a Glock lover, in fact I don’t care for them personally. However, I do have experience with them and they are solid handguns. There is a good reason the Glock 19 is one of the best selling handguns in the United States. The Glock 19 is a double action only, autoloading, 9mm Luger handgun with a standard capacity of 15 rounds. With a reputation for reliability, it is also accurate, and is generally not picky about what kind of ammunition it will shoot.
Here’s the breakdown:
Glock 19 Handgun – $500 to $550
For our purposes we’re going to say its $525. I can find them all day long at that price at a number of retailers. There are both cheaper and more expensive handguns, but as a default option the Glock 19 is essentially the Toyota Camry of handguns.
Spare Magazine – $0
The Glock 19 comes with a spare magazine and a magazine loader. Depending on your particular gun it could be anywhere from $15 to $40 for spare magazines, maybe even more. However, most common handgun brands, certainly any brand I would recommend for home defense, already comes with a spare magazine.
200 rounds of 9mm Luger – $13 to $15 for a box of 50 rounds
In general you can probably expect to spend right at $14 for a box of 50 rounds. This is the cost for using brass ammunition. This means the bullet casing is made out of brass. There is steel cased ammunition that is cheaper, but generally is dirtier and some handguns have issues with it. I recommend using brass cased bullets for new shooters simply so you don’t have to worry about the idiosyncrasies of steel casings. Once you get used to your weapon’s function and maintenance it may be worth looking at steel cased ammunition for shooting “on the cheap”. Other than that, anything that is FMJ (Full metal jacket) is fine for range use.
40 rounds of 9mm Luger self defense ammunition – $21 to $24 for a box of 20 rounds
This will hurt a little because of the Glock 19’s capacity. You’ll need to buy two boxes so you can fully load both magazines. Don’t just keep the extra 10 rounds, I would recommend shooting them at the range just to make sure the rounds you’ve purchased work without issue. The Glock will likely function just fine with any self defense ammunition but it’s always worthwhile to fire a few rounds to make sure. Self defense ammunition is usually easy to identify in the store and there are many manufacturers, but what you’re looking for is JHP (Jacketed hollow-point). These bullets are designed to expand when they hit a target, doing more internal damage, while also being less likely to penetrate the inner walls of your home should you miss your target. For the end total I’m going to assume about $23 a box.
Gun Lock – $0
Most handguns sold in the US come with a gun lock. For the most part you won’t use it, but it’s a good thing to have around. There may be situations where you need to secure your weapon and if you don’t have a gun safe a gun lock is your next best option. While it won’t prevent a theft it will at least prevent a negligent discharge. I don’t recommend storing your weapon with the lock on as it will be difficult to deploy when you need it. However, there may be specific circumstances where it’s better to lock it down. Just don’t make that your default.
Eye Protection – $10 to $20
I’m going to go with $10 even though it’s the low end, simply because I can find decent shooting glasses at that price without a problem. There are some very pricey shooting glasses out there, but just for newbie shooters don’t go crazy. However, do invest in some. I literally have been hit right between the eyes with hot brass. Not a common occurrence but had I been wearing eye protection it would have been no big deal.
Hearing Protection – $15 to $20 for earmuff style hearing protection
There are cheaper options like in-ear protection, but earmuffs are easy to use, difficult to put on incorrectly, and generally work just fine if you spring for something that is at least $15. I have seen earmuff style protection for north of $100, but for a new shooter a basic set will do just fine. For our purposes let’s assume $20.
Cleaning Solvent – $3
Buy some purpose made solvent for cleaning firearms. This doesn’t need to be anything fancy but it should be designed to dissolve common residue and fouling that occurs when discharging a firearm. For $3 you should be all set.
Gun Oil – $2 to $5
There is an average price of about $3. I am thinking specifically of gun oil that has a squeeze applicator similar to a standard bottle of glue instead of the spray on kind. Having an applicator allows easier clean-up and purposeful lubrication of factory recommended lubrication points.
Cleaning Patches – $4
Yes, buy cleaning patches. They’re cheap and useful not only for cleaning the bore (barrel) of your weapon but general clean-up of any excess solvent or gun oil. Even if your cleaning kit comes with patches, buy more.
Cleaning Kit – $0
Although not common for all firearms, the Glock 19 at least comes with a bore brush and cleaning rod. In general, to buy a separate cleaning kit you would expect to spend about $10 per caliber and various kits may come with solvent and gun oil. However, if the Glock 19 is your first and only gun there is no need to buy a 9mm handgun cleaning kit.
So what is our grand total?
$525 – Glock 19 Handgun, extra magazine, gun lock, cleaning kit
$56 – 200 rounds of 9mm brass FMJ practice ammunition
$46 – 40 rounds of 9mm JHP self defense ammunition
$10 – Eye protection
$20 – Hearing protection
$10 – Cleaning supplies (Patches, oil, and solvent)
Subtotal – $667
7% Sales Tax – $47
Grand Total – $714
As always, your mileage may vary. You may choose a cheaper handgun, or a more expensive one. There are plenty of other options and accessories that I am not covering, mostly because they are not essential to the initial purchase but might be good to have later, such as a holster if you’re going to carry concealed or a range bag. The best thing to do is walk through this exercise before you buy, do some research, and be prepared. Yes, that first purchase can be expensive but once you’ve got all the basics you can add the rest a little at a time as your budget allows.