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 can apply 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 isn’t the end of what you’ll need and millions of new gun owners have been finding that out over the last few months.
If you’re an experienced shooter, this article may not be for you. You probably have all the whizbangs and doo-dads you need and going into a store to a store and coming out with a new firearm is all you have to do. This is intended largely for people who are new to guns and I’m going to provide a template for planning your purchase and give some specific examples.
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.
I’ll focus on handguns because that’s the most common weapon purchased for home defense and concealed carry. There is a long, ongoing and lively debate over whether a handgun, rifle, or shotgun makes for the “best” home defense weapon. This article is not taking a stance on that unresolvable questioin. I am simply using a handgun as an example because it’s the weapon most new shooters will buy.
Here come the disclaimers. State laws 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 a gun online, it’s best to be aware of those costs upfront. For this example, due to variances by area, I am 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 there for me to calculate. Furthermore, in all the following examples I will be presenting a range and then landing somewhere in the middle. In short, your costs may vary. The idea here is to give you a general idea of what you will need to spend.
Here are the essentials you will need when you make your first firearm purchase:
- The firearm itself – Self explanatory.
- A spare magazine – You should have at least one 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 accurate with it 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 firearm.
- A full load and at least one reload of self defense ammunition – I recommend JHP’s, jacketed hollow points, for any kind of defensive use
- Eye Protection – Don’t practice without it. Ninety-nine percent of the time you won’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. Hearing loss is forever.
- Cleaning solvent, gun oil, cleaning patches, and a cleaning kit – You need to know how to maintain your gun
I’ll break this down for you using a specific, very popular example, the GLOCK 19. I’m not a GLOCK lover, in fact I don’t care for them. However, I do have experience with them and they are solid handguns. There is a good reason the G19 is and has been one of the best selling handguns in the United States.
The GLOCK 19 is a striker-fired, semi-automatic, 9mm 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 – $599
Demand and prices are up these days. There are both cheaper and more expensive handguns (and used guns, too), but as a default option the GLOCK 19 is essentially the Toyota Camry of handguns and a good benchmark.
Spare Magazine – $0
The G19 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, but about $25 is average. Most common handgun brands, certainly any brand I would recommend for home defense, comes with a spare magazine, but you can never have too many.
200 rounds of 9mm Luger – $13 to $21 for a box of 50 rounds
In general you’ll probably expect to spend about $16 for a box of 50 rounds. The problem these days is finding 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” if your gun will accommodate it.
40 rounds of 9mm Luger self defense ammunition – $21 to $30 for a box of 20 rounds
Again, supplies are thin these days. The cost here will hurt a little because of the GLOCK 19’s capacity. You’ll need to buy at least two boxes so you can fully load both magazines. But don’t just keep the extra 10 rounds on a shelf. I recommend shooting them at the range just to make sure the rounds you’ve purchased work in your gun without issue.
The GLOCK will likely function just fine with just about any self defense ammunition, but it’s important to shoot at least a few magazines worth of it 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 $25 a box.
Gun Lock – $0
Virtually all handguns sold in the US come with some kind of basic 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 in an emergency. There are better, faster ways of securing a gun in your home and having it quickly available. 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 $25
I’m going to go with $15 even though that’s the low end, simply because I can find decent shooting glasses at that price without a problem. There are some very pricey options out there, but for newbie shooters don’t go crazy. However, do invest in some. I literally have been hit right between the eyes with hot brass. You vision is too important to risk.
Hearing Protection – $12 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 well if you spring for something that is at least $15. Some shooter will double up with foam ear plugs and muffs over them. There’s sophisticated electronic Bluetooth-enables earmuff protection that runs 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 to $5
Buy some purpose-made solvent for cleaning firearms. It 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 $4 you should be all set.
Gun Oil – $3 to $5
There is an average price of about $4. 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 application at factory recommended lubrication points.
Cleaning Kit – $15 to $50
Although not common for all firearms, the GLOCK 19 at least comes with a bore brush and cleaning rod. In general, a decent basic kit will cost between $15 and $20. 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?
$599 – Glock 19 Handgun, extra magazine, gun lock, cleaning kit
$64 – 200 rounds of 9mm brass FMJ practice ammunition
$50 – 40 rounds of 9mm JHP self defense ammunition
$10 – Eye protection
$20 – Hearing protection
$30 – Cleaning supplies (Patches, oil, and solvent)
Subtotal – $773
7% Sales Tax – $49
Grand Total – $822
As always, your mileage may vary. Shipping may be additional. You may choose a cheaper handgun, or a more expensive one. There are plenty of other options and accessories that I’m not covering here, mostly because they are not essential to the initial purchase, but might be good to have later.
A holster is always a good idea even if you don’t intend to carry. And a range bag is handy to tote your gun, ammo and gear to the range. The best thing to do is to walk through this exercise before you buy, do some research on your own, 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.
This article was originally published in 2013 and prices have been updated.