I went into the shoe store today. I picked up the first box that said Nike on it and purchased the shoes without trying them on… said no one ever! I think we can all agree that the above scenario is probably going to result in disappointment and likely, sore feet. I highly doubt you have ever purchased shoes this way. But let me ask you this; have you ever purchased a handgun this way? The answer for many is a resounding, YES! Prior to selecting a firearm, we often spend hours reading all the internet commando’s reviews and we ask for recommendations from family and friends. Then we visit the gun store to debate the drawbacks and benefits of each brand. More often than not, people don’t chose a firearm that fits their hands appropriately. Instead, we choose a brand name with no regard to how the pistol fits our hands. Often this results in poor range performance, a sore hand, and the inevitable buyer’s remorse from an emotional firearms purchase. To divert the possible repeat of this song and dance, let’s dive in and figure out how to choose a pistol that fits our grip, instead of making our grip fit the pistol.
First and foremost we have to identify what the pistol is going to be used for and be completely honest with ourselves throughout the process. Let’s face it, we all feel like a SEAL Team Six operator when we are holding the latest and greatest tacit-cool handgun on the market, but is that pistol really the one that best suits your needs? Think about the firearm as a tool. To me, there is no difference between a defensive firearm and a crescent wrench. They are both tasked with a specific job and I have to operate each properly in order to effectively use them. As a starting point, I have listed the 7 questions I go through when choosing a firearm. Here, I will explain how these questions guide my decision to selecting the appropriate firearm for my intended purpose.
1. Is this a defensive, competitive, or emotional firearm?
If this is a defensive purchase, then we have very little room for error on fit. We all understand the concept behind a competition firearm, and well, if you’re even slightly as competitive as myself then this process is just as important as the defensive firearms purchase. The emotional gun purchase is similar to how women cannot resist purchasing a three-thousand-dollar Coach purse or to men that love their souped-up cars and boats. Me personally? I have a fancy for guns. If it goes bang, I want it in my safe. I have yet to develop a taste for a Tiffany Blue Ruger or the tactically pink AR (ArmaLite Rifle), however I have seen many women who have. But I digress, let’s get back to the important stuff, making sure the firearm fits.
The firearm must “point” naturally for us. I will take an unloaded and verified safe firearm and get a good 360-degree firing grip on it while in the low ready position. I will select a “target” that is in a safe direction at my eye level and focus on it intently. Once I have the target location burned into my brain, I close my eyes and bring the firearm up to my eyesight as if I were aligning the sights. I open my eyes and check the actual sight alignment on the target. Often you will find the front sight is very high, low, or misaligned left or right. For a defensive and competition firearm, I will only accept slight misalignment. If I cannot see my front sight in the rear sight notch I will simply move on to another make, model, or brand. If it’s my emotional purchase firearm, well it’s just going to be safe candy that gives me moments of happiness followed by long term buyer’s remorse because I always end up using the guns that give me the best results. Moving forward, let us focus on the most common intended purpose of a firearm purchase; the defensive firearm.
2. What specific threat will the firearm, most likely, be used to defend against?
Our firearm selection must be based on the most likely specific threat you may encounter. If you are an off duty police officer that is witnessing and required to act on a felony in progress, would you carry a two shot 22 Derringer? If you are an Alaskan grizzly bear hunter would you carry a .380 pistol? Probably not, to both questions. So why do we make choices on firearm selection and THEN deploy the incorrect firearm for the task at hand? For concealed carry guns I would ask myself this simple question to judge if I am making the right choice to defend myself against a two legged predator; If I knew I was getting in a gun fight today at 12:00, would this be the gun I would choose to defend myself with. If the answer is anything other than yes, you may want to reconsider your choice. Remember, we are carrying a gun for a specific reason and that tool has nothing to do with rusty bolts.
3. Will I use it for home defense?
If I do not need to conceal this firearm regularly, I might consider a full-size pistol instead of going with a compact or sub-compact gun. This is an important consideration and is often overlooked. When our firearm gets smaller a few things happen. Perceived recoil increases, sight radius decreases, and the controls of the gun can get cramped. These things can lead to poor accuracy and functionality issues with the firearm.
4. What environment will the firearm be deployed in?
Is this going to be a “hard use” (dinged, dented, scratched, worn) firearm? Will it be carried 24/7? In the rain? On the water? Will it ever leave the nightstand? Our firearm choice must be able to withstand our primary environmental conditions.
5. Will I carry the firearm concealed?
Since this is going to be a firearm I will use to protect myself or another from a concealed position on my body, I have to be sure that I can do exactly that! Conceal it! We must be sure we are selecting an appropriate size firearm for how we dress, the threat level, and our body type. While a 6-foot-tall 250-pound man might be able to conceal a 5” 1911 easily, a 5-foot-tall 125-pound woman will not have that same ability to conceal a large firearm. Will this firearm be used year-round? Is there a firearm size that would allow me to conceal in both summer and winter clothing? And finally what are we protecting ourselves from? Are we worried about defending ourselves against the two legged predator? Or are we more concerned with the four legged bear or mountain lion? Caliber selection will be key here and may dictate the overall size of the firearm.
6. Can I reach the trigger?
Trigger finger placement is one of the many hot topics of debate in the shooting world. Personally, I position my firearm as if I am going to shoot it, then I prefer to place my trigger finger inside the trigger guard and see where my finger lands on the trigger. If it is close to the first crease of my trigger finger I consider that an acceptable reach. I like my trigger to set in the first crease of my trigger finger as I feel like I have the most control there.
7. Does it need to have a rail for accessories like a light?
If I am considering using this firearm as a defensive tool, I believe mounting a white light is a must. Every advantage I can have available to me I will take. A major consideration will be on the firearm and weapon light combination, however, holsters may be difficult to come by. This can be overcome as there are many holster companies that do custom fittings.
Just like purchasing shoes, a firearms purchase is an important one. One that purchases the wrong size shoes based on looks and emotions rather than comfort and fit may find themselves with; less agility, a sore back, callouses on their toes, and mid-day exhaustion. One that purchases a firearm based on looks and emotions rather than comfort and fit may find themselves with; callouses on their palms and fingers, soreness and exhaustion from trying to make the firearm work for their hands, unwillingness to train because of the discomfort it causes, a bad grip that leads to inaccurate shots, and the worst result being frustration, because your buddy regularly out shoots you on the range. Ultimately, when you reach for that defensive tool you must have a certain ease of comfort and confidence that the tool will work for you when the time comes. I will leave you with this. Once you have found the firearm that fits your purpose, you must shift into a different mentality. You are no longer a purchaser, you are now a user of that defensive tool and it is up to you to stay safe and train often.