You’re new at this, or you’ve been asked to help someone else shop for a handgun. What to get? What is best? What do you need? The first bit of advice: Do not pay attention to “what SEALs use” or anyone one else who is “on the spearpoint.” They use what they use because it works for them. You should do the same for yourself.
You can take advantage of the knowledge base at the gun shop or shops you visit, but when you ask questions, keep these things in mind:
One: Make sure it fits your hand. A handgun that is too big, or too small, will be uncomfortable or unpleasant to shoot. If the store doesn’t let you handle the firearms you are considering, find a shop where you can. Usually, more ammunition capacity means more size.
Two: Make sure it is a caliber you need, and can handle. Yes, the ,357 Mag. has more “stopping power” (however that might be measured) than a .38 Spl., but that’s no help if you can’t stand to shoot it. A gun shop with an indoor range is invaluable here. You can try a few handguns, and calibers, and see what works for you.
Three: Make sure it is suited to the task you anticipate. A 9 mm compact pistol can be a great everyday carry (EDC) pistol, but it is not what you want if you decide to go hunting with your handgun. A .22LR target pistol is great for practice and competition, but it’s a weak reed for home defense.
Four: What is the shop’s experience in durability, service, manufacturers’ response to problems, and most important of all, how many problems have they seen? A “bargain” handgun that has an expected service life of a couple of hundred rounds, is no bargain at all.
Five: Are there accessories and other equipment for this handgun? A potential EDC handgun, for which no-one makes a holster, is not a suitable EDC handgun. You must have a holster. Can you easily find spare magazines? What about ammunition? Again, a “bargain” handgun with unavailable ammunition isn’t a wise choice.
Six: No matter how durable, your gun will get dinged up—especially if it is a carry handgun. Your smartphone does not look pristine because you have it with you every waking moment. Each scratch was honestly earned in fair use. Well, your handgun will not be pristine once you start practicing, and practice you must. So if the finish is “too pretty” to earn honest wear, pass on it.
Seven: Find people you trust to help you along. There’s more to this than just the purchase. A friend you can go to the local gun club with and who will let you try a few different handguns is a prince. A gun shop with an indoor range can often let you work over the rental rack, trying a different one or two handguns on each visit. Look on it as both practice and research. Renting a handgun to try is a lot less expensive than buying it, not liking it, selling/trading it back and repeating. You might find that what works for your match-experienced friend just doesn’t work for you.
And lastly, remember, this is not a forever choice, and need not be a sole choice. This is America, you can change your mind, trade in or add to the collection in the gun safe. And the SEALs? Often as not, they don’t get a choice, they use what they have been handed.