[ED: The Wuhan coronavirus gun buying surge is far from over. If you’re one of the newly converted and have decided that now is the time to buy a handgun for personal and home defense, welcome. We’re bumping this post from last year to the top of the stack to help you in your search for the right handgun.]
By Jim Barrett
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that many first-time gun buyers end up selling the first handgun they buy within one year of purchasing it. Let me add a couple of caveats to that statement, though.
First of all, this assumes that our new pistol aficionado has access to an easy means of selling or trading in their pistol. Secondly, it also assumes that you don’t have a friend or two who owns pistols of various types which gives you the opportunity to extensively try different models before they buy that first one.
In my case, it’s all true. I didn’t have the opportunity to try out a number of pistols, which is why my first firearm, an initially beloved XD(M) went on the block.
First, a little background. Growing up, I knew I wanted a semi-automatic pistol. That was largely due to the original Lethal Weapon movie in which Mel Gibson had a Beretta 92 and he mocked his partner’s old fashioned “wheel gun.” The Beretta looked cool, Mel looked cool using it, so I wanted one.
Flash forward a few years until I was in college and got a chance to see a GLOCK for the first time. That was the end of the 1980s and GLOCK had come on the scene pretty hard. I remember shooting a friend’s GLOCK and thinking, “meh.” I wouldn’t actually get around to purchasing a gun of my own for more than two decades.
In those intervening years, I had the chance to shoot a few GLOCKs (as well as other guns from time to time) and thought that I was ready for a GLOCK of my own since they were everywhere and the universe of aftermarket GLOCK accessories was almost unlimited.
But all that ended in March of 2011 when I accompanied my 82-year-old father to a local Houston gun store so he could get himself his first semi-automatic new gun. He already owned a Smith & Wesson .357 and a 12 gauge, but wanted a semi too.
“Show us a GLOCK,” was what I confidently told the salesman. He said the GLOCK was indeed a very nice gun, but suggested before committing to buying one that we compare it side-by-side with a Springfield Armory XD. He brought up the issue of grip angle on the GLOCK and I noticed it myself, as did my father.
When we handled the Austrian pistol, we both discovered that the angle of the grip tends to initially point the gun too high to engage a target in front of you. Sure, if you use GLOCKs you quickly learn to compensate, but both my father and I preferred the grip angle of the XD and the accessory package included with it was a definite plus.
My father would have bought the XD that day except that he no longer had the hand strength to rack the slide. With this in mind, the salesman suggested he look at the Beretta 92A1. He could work the slide on that one and that’s the gun that he took home.
We both worked with it using dummy loads, practiced breaking it down, loading and unloading it, etc. It was a nice gun, but in my head, I was sold on what I thought was the superior XD.
When I returned home after my visit, I promptly went down to the local gun store and bought my first handgun, a Springfield XD(M) in .40 S&W. I was also sold on the “upgrades” of the XD(M) platform and the extras included with the gun (mag loader, mag carrier, holster) – I’m a sucker for that sort of thing.
It wasn’t much more than the XD and I figured the extras were worth it for me. I went with that caliber because I felt that I wanted the extra stopping power of the more powerful .40 S&W round.
I soon learned that the difference in ammo prices made shooting the .40 a bit more expensive than I wanted over the long term, so my next purchase was an XD(M) in 9mm. I was happy as I knew nothing else. That happiness was about to change.
In one of the books I was reading at the time, the protagonists used the special forces H&K MK23 in .45. That looked like a very cool gun and I wanted to eventually get a .45 anyway.
At north of $2,000, though, the MK23 was bit out of my price range. Its smaller cousin, the USP Tactical .45, though, was a nice compromise as it, too had a threaded barrel so I could one day attach a silencer (if I ever decide to go that way). Even better, the local gun shop had a used one in stock at a relatively decent price.
I really liked the H&K. As a true DA/SA pistol with an external hammer, I discovered that I very much liked having a hammer to cock for a couple of reasons.
First of all, I had recently purchased a Laserlyte targeting system that projects a laser dot onto a laser-sensitive target when you pull the trigger. It was much easier to practice with the H&K than with the XD(M) as the XD(M) required me to rack the slide after each trigger pull whereas the H&K only needed the hammer cocked. Or I could simply pull the trigger in double action mode.
Secondly, and even more important, if I wanted to carry the gun with a round in the chamber, I had to carry the XD(M) “hot.” The striker was pulled back so all it required was a single action trigger pull to discharge the gun.
Conceptually I know that striker-fired guns are safe. Many people tote XDs, GLOCKs, M&Ps and other striker-fired carry guns every day, but in the back of my mind, I still think that all of the built-in safeties are only mechanical and mechanical things can fail (yes, I know that I’m being a bit of a wuss here, but there it is).
If there was even a chance that the striker might go forward on its own volition, I simply wasn’t prepared assume that gun safety risk. That means I’d be consigned to carrying my XD(M) without a round in the chamber which, in turn, meant that I’d have to take an additional second or two to rack the slide in a self-defense situation. Not an ideal option either.
The DA/SA action of the H&K allowed me to load a round in the chamber and then use the de-cocking lever to safely drop the hammer. Now I could carry with a round in the chamber, but nothing was under tension waiting to release the hammer. I’d simply have to contend with the heavier initial trigger pull for the first round, but I could live with that.
The USP was nice, but let’s face it, even though it was smaller than the MK23, no one would ever call it a compact gun. It really wasn’t a good choice for concealed carry.
For some reason, I got the Beretta back in my head again and a few weeks later, I became the proud owner of a 92A1, just like what my father had. As I used it, I became astounded at how good a handgun it was. I could shoot the Beretta very accurately and it had all of the features that I liked on my H&K.
Flash forward a few more months to when I took my first course at the SIG SAUER Academy in Epping, New Hampshire. I’m fortunate in that I live less than an hour away from that facility. The class gave me the opportunity to study the SIGs in more detail in the pro shop and it soon became clear that a SIG was in my future.
One SIG became two, then three and as of today, I have four SIGs in my stable; a P238 Equinox, a P226 Tactical Ops, a P229 Equinox, and a P239. While SIG offers different trigger options, all of my guns with the exception of the P238 are DA/SA.
The SIGs shoot like a dream, are reliable and ridiculously easy to take down for cleaning. Furthermore, I went on to take the SIG armorer class and now I’m qualified to work on my SIGs without voiding the warranties.
I’ve sold both of my XD(M) pistols. Now all of my guns are either be DA/SA or single action only in the case of my 1911 and P238.
The moral of my long story is that, had I known then what I know now, I would never have bought a striker-fired gun in the first place. I took a bit of a bath unloading the Springfields, but better that than have money tied up in guns I now know I will never use.
Yes, many people will swear by their GLOCKs or M&Ps or P320 or 509 or…(fill in the blank). Price-wise they’re certainly a bit better than the Beretta and a lot easier on the wallet than the SIGs. But for me, the peace of mind of the DA/SA manual of arms is worth any extra cost.
I caution new shooters or anyone who is about to take the plunge into gun ownership to consider carefully your needs and concerns carefully and pick the best gun for the job rather than simply buying whatever is hot today. Think about why you’re buying that pistol; home defense, concealed carry…whatever it may be.
Don’t buy the first gun you pick up. Don’t buy one just because it looked cool in a movie you saw. Don’t buy one just because the guy behind the counter recommends it. Don’t buy a gun because your friend in law enforcement carries one every day.
If you can, get to a gun range and rent a number of different guns. And ask the range owner to show you how to take the gun down for cleaning. Talk to other gun owners you know and ask they own what they do and why. Doing that before plunking down the plastic will increase your chances of buying the “right gun” and save you a lot of regret down the road.