Choosing your first Handgun

Choosing your first Handgun

 

 

 

If you’re in the market for your first handgun, you may be feeling overwhelmed by all of the different available options. You also may not be entirely sure what terms like “caliber” mean or what the differences are between pistols and revolvers.

This guide will fill you in on everything you need to know to choose your first handgun confidently.

Handgun Calibers

Choosing a handgun chambered in the right caliber for your needs and shooting ability is the most crucial decision you’ll need to make.

Caliber is a measurement of a bullet’s diameter, measured in either inches or millimeters (mm). 9mm Parabellum ammo, for example, has a bullet diameter of 9.01 mm and .45 ACP has a bullet diameter of 0.451 inches.

When we say “bullet,” we’re specifically referring to the projectile shot from a firearm, not the entire cartridge which includes the bullet, case, powder, and primer.

With very few exceptions, you can only safely shoot a particular caliber from a firearm chambered specifically for that caliber. For example, you can NOT shoot .40 S&W or .45 Auto from a pistol chambered in 9mm. You should always refer to the owners manual of your firearms to be sure what ammo can safely be shot from them. Failure to do so could result in the catastrophic failure of your gun and even severe injury to the shooter or bystanders.

In addition to differing bullet diameters, handgun calibers are loaded to different specifications from one another.

The most important factors to note are the mass of a bullet, measured in grains (gr), and the velocity it will travel. These factors play a tremendous role in both the “stopping power” and felt recoil of a given round.

Common Handgun Calibers

There are hundreds of calibers that handguns have been or are still commonly chambered in today. To keep this guide concise, I’ll be focusing on the most popular options.

Rimfire Calibers

Among the most popular calibers, .22 Long Rifle (.22 LR) is the only one with rimfire cartridges.

Rimfire ammunition requires a gun’s firing pin to strike and crush the cartridge’s base to ignite the primer. Rimfire ammo has a very thin case which limits this type of ammunition to low-pressure loads.

By contrast, Centerfire ammunition has an external primer located at the base of the case head.

.22 Long Rifle most commonly has a bullet weight of 36 grains or 40 grains, yet a velocity roughly on par with the much heavier 9mm. Particularly for experienced shooters, it can feel like this caliber has almost no noticeable recoil.

This makes .22 LR pistols, revolvers, and rifles a excellent options for introducing children and new shooters to firearms. .22 LR ammo is also the cheapest available by a significant margin, making it a favorite caliber to shoot for even the most experienced shooters.

The downside to this caliber is that it has limited applications beyond just shooting for the sake of it. .22 LR can be used for hunting very small vermin but lacks the power to hunt larger animals.

While .22 Long Rifle can certainly be lethal to a human with a well-placed shot, it’s by no means remotely close to optimal for self-defense. For these purposes, .22 LR lacks sufficient power and is likely to fail to penetrate to the required depth needed to hit vital organs.

Self-Defense Calibers/Concealed Carry Calibers

The most popular pistol calibers used for self-defense, including concealed carry, are:

  • .380 Auto (.380 ACP)
  • 9mm (Specifically, 9x19mm Parabellum a.ka. 9mm Luger and 9mm NATO)
  • .40 Smith and Wesson (.40 S&W)
  • .45 Auto (.45 ACP)

Some also choose to use revolvers for self-defense which can be chambered in other popular calibers like .38 Special and .357 Magnum.

.380 Auto is the minimum viable caliber many would consider using for self-defense. Of the options I’ll cover, it has the lightest bullets (most commonly 90 grain or 95 grain) and a velocity usually slower than 9mm.

This makes it easy to shoot, having minimal recoil compared to larger calibers. Nearly all non-disabled adult shooters should be able to shoot it comfortably.

The small size of the cartridge also allows firearm manufacturers to make some extremely small pocket-sized pistols chambered in .380 Auto.

Smith & Wesson M&P380 Shield EZ

The negative to .380 Auto’s lack of power is that it performs worse than larger calibers in important metrics during ballistic gel testing. It’s common for this caliber to underpenetrate recommended depths of 12″-18″ and most loads have very poor bullet expansion compared to hollow point ammunition in larger calibers.

With that said, any gun is better than no gun if you need it for self-defense, so .380 Auto can be considered if you can’t handle larger calibers.

9mm is the most popular handgun caliber commonly recommended for self-defense use.

It’s the caliber of standard issued sidearms in the U.S. military, as well as all NATO forces. Though larger calibers were popular among local and federal law enforcement over the last 30+ years, many have switched to 9mm in recent years (if they weren’t already using it).

Recently, the FBI switched from .40 S&W to 9mm after ballistic testing and studying the performance of officers with different calibers. They found that the design of modern 9mm ammunition reduced the gap in ballistic tests when comparing it to larger calibers. Participants in their study also shot faster and more accurately with 9mm pistols compared to .40 S&W pistols. Lastly, they cited the larger magazine capacity of 9mm pistols as a significant benefit compared to pistols chambered in larger calibers.

9mm is a fantastic choice for a self-defense pistol. Even if you feel comfortable shooting larger calibers, you may find that you’re meaningfully faster with 9mm when doing drills.

With bullets weights most commonly being 115 gr, 124 gr, and 147 gr, combined with velocity in a similar range to the heavier .40 S&W, most people will find that they can comfortably shoot 9mm.

The heavier bullets of both .40 S&W and .45 Auto typically produce more energy than 9mm.

Though an argument can be made that this increases their “stopping power” compared to 9mm, it also results in greater felt recoil that can decrease your ability to perform with these calibers. Because of this, new or weaker shooters may also feel uncomfortable shootings pistols chambered in these calibers.

If you’re an experienced shooter or feel that you perform just as well with .40 S&W or .45 Auto, then, by all means, get a pistol chambered in one of these calibers. However, I’d generally recommend 9mm for people looking for their first pistol to use for self-defense.

Revolvers vs Pistols

Another decision you’ll have to make is what type of handgun to buy. The two major options are revolvers and pistols.

Today, most people opt for pistols for the increased capacity they offer. When comparing two very compact handguns from each group, the Colt Cobra (revolver) and Glock 26 Subcompact (pistol), the Glock pistol can hold 4 additional rounds in its magazine compared to the cobra’s cylinder.

Most revolvers only hold 6 rounds, so the difference in capacity becomes even more significant when you start looking at larger handguns. The full-size Glock 19, for example, has a standard magazine capacity of 17 rounds.

Revolvers do have a major benefit of being incredibly simplistic. Thanks to their simple design, handling malfunction can often be as simple as pulling the trigger again.

Military, police, and most civilians typically favor the increased capacity pistols offer over slightly more reliable revolvers.

Though I wouldn’t carry a revolver for everyday carry chambered in calibers like .38 Special, revolvers do have their place. Larger caliber revolvers are a great option for protection against large animals when hiking or camping.

Handgun Size

Handgun manufacturers make handguns in a variety of sizes.

Full-size handguns are often more comfortable to shoot because you can easily get a full grip on them. Though most modern handguns aren’t heavy, the extra weight of full-sized handguns can significantly reduce felt recoil. Remember though, larger handguns are more difficult to conceal, so they’re unlikely to be a great option if you plan to concealed carry.

In the picture below, you can see two SIG Sauer pistols I own. The larger of the two (P320 RX) is one of my favorite guns to shoot at the range and a great choice for home defense, but I carry the much smaller (P365). (If you’re wondering what’s mounted to both pistols, each of them has a pistol light attached.)

The smaller P365 is a bit more challenging to get a good grip on and it holds 5 less rounds (12 vs 17), but I accept these tradeoffs because it’s comfortable and easy to conceal in a holster.

Keep in mind, these two handguns are at opposite ends of the spectrum. You can find plenty of handguns sized between these.

Choosing Your First Handgun

Now that you have some idea of what to consider when buying your first handgun, the next step is to head to your local range and find what’s right for you.

Think about the reasons you’re buying a handgun before you get there, so the staff can help point you in the right direction. Many gun ranges have rentals available so you can try different options and see what feels best to you.

Once you own your first handgun, be sure to familiarize yourself with it and regularly practice at the range!

At Eagle Gun Range you can rent any handgun for $5.00

You will need to purchase ammunition with your rental gun. This will allow you to try out many different options before you decide which handgun is right for you.On Ladies Day, ladies can rent lanes for $5 and handguns for Free with ammunition purchase.  Ladies Day is all day Tuesday every week.

This article first appeared on GunPros.

Review 380EZ

Review 380EZ

Reviewed and Authored by Andy Rutledge

Why make a low-capacity, mid-sized pistol chambered in .380? This was my first question when I saw the specs of the 380 Shield EZ. Well, Smith & Wesson are no dummies so there had to be some logic behind their move here. What I found when I got my hands on the gun and a few rounds downrange was that they’ve got something rather interesting here.

The frame is seemingly larger than would be required for this capacity and chambering, but there is a benefit. The capacity is seemingly lower than would be expected for a frame of this size, but there is a benefit. The result is an easy to hold, easy to manipulate, lightweight pistol that shoots a defensive round but feels like a .22 cal gun. Hrm.

Why Consider the M&P 380 Shield EZ?

The M&P 380 Shield EZ is a compact pistol purpose made for carry and for home defense. Though compact, it is longer and taller than the 9mm Shield most of us know, so there is more of the gun to hold onto. One of the primary features of the pistol is its easy-to-rack slide, seemingly tailor made for people without strong hands. Another feature worth consideration is the grip safety; a feature not often found on compact pistols. If you’re someone who values an extra layer of safety, the 380 Sheild EZ might just be the ticket for you. Finally, you might consider this pistol for its appealing price.

The combination of the slightly larger frame and the slightly softer round make this pistol a joy to shoot and very easy with which to be very accurate…all so long as you don’t mind the minimal defensive ballistics of the .380 round.

380 Shield EZ

M&P 380 Shield EZ Specs:

  • Caliber: 380 Auto
  • Action: Internal hammer fired
  • Length: 6.7″
  • Height: 4.98”
  • Width: 1.15” (1.43” including the slide “wings”)
  • Barrel: 3.675” stainless steel Armornite™ finish
  • Trigger: ~5lb.
  • Sights: 3-Dot steel, adjustable rear
  • Safety: Grip safety + available with or without ambi thumb levers
  • Weight: 18.5 oz. w/empty magazine
  • Slide: stainless steel Armornite™ finish
  • Capacity: 8+1
  • MSRP: $399

Note that the model I’m evaluating here has ambi thumb safety levers.

Shooting the 380 Shield EZ

Shooting the 380 Shield is like shooting a .22 pistol. No kidding, the recoil impulse is almost nonexistent so the pistol is very easy to control and to maintain a high degree of accuracy. While some .380 pistols are a bit snappy, due to their subcompact configuration, this Shield model has both the size and weight necessary to mitigate all snappiness. This is an easy pistol to shoot.

The frame is larger than a typical Shield, but smaller than, say, the M&P 9. This mid-sized frame offers plenty to hold onto and allows the controls to be very comfortably positioned. I had no problem running the gun for on/off safety, magazine ejection and reloads, and locking the slide back. It all felt very natural and comfortable.

The trigger is actually quite nice and has a very short and crisp reset, but somehow running it fast did not go as smoothly as I thought it should. I did a few strings of rapid fire during which I wasn’t able to keep the gun as still as it seemed I should for being such a soft shooter. I chalk this up to my being familiar with my EDC gun and this slightly altered geometry of this 380 Shield EZ threw a wrench in my gears. Surely with a bit of practice shooting fast drills would become smoother.

Mostly, though, I just enjoyed shooting this gun. No kidding, outside of a precision .22 this is the softest gun I’ve ever shot. So fun.

Comfort, Controllability, & Capacity
The 380 Shield is not at all heavy and lighter than even the smaller Shield 9mm. Though it is named for the Shield, it feels less like that model and more like the M&P 9 in the hand. It’s a single stack gun, but the grip is not overly thin. For my medium-sized hands, it was quite comfortable. And as mentioned earlier, the controls were easy to get to and to manipulate. The 8+1 capacity is a bit low for a .380 of this size, but being a single stack gun keeps the frame width down and facilitates a more concealable gun.

Controlling the 380 Shield EZ is about as easy as it gets. Even older children and new shooters should do quite well keeping this pistol under control.

Components and Features

The 380 Shield EZ looks like a typical striker-fired gun, but it’s not. It has an internal hammer and that brings consequences to both the trigger (smooth) and the recoil spring weight you feel when racking the slide (softer), since there is no striker to load up.

The most conspicuous feature of the 380 Shield EZ is the grip safety. It’s a large component that disappears when the frame is gripped. I found that I never even noticed the grip safety fin so it was a non factor in my working with the gun. The model I used had the ambi thumb safety levers. Though I always believe such components to be useless or even dangerous on a pistol, I did spend time engaging and disengaging the levers during shooting. They seemed stiff enough to be properly tactile and easy enough to manipulate. The 380 Shield EZ can come without the manual safety levers if you prefer that model (and I hope you do).

The sights are 3-dot steel and the rear sight is drift adjustable. I had no trouble picking up the sights and maintaining a good sight picture during shooting strings. The slide has good serrations, but with the addition of some “wings” on the rear of the slide, I guess to assist with slide racking. I found them entirely unnecessary, but they also didn’t get in my way as some similar components on other guns have.

380 Shield EZ detail

These are the wings at the rear of the slide. Not necessary, but not a problem, found.

As mentioned before, the trigger is darn good and contributed positively to accurate shooting. I did not measure its weight, but it seemed to break at around 5 – 5.5 pounds. I’m a fan and wish my Glocks had as good a trigger. The frame is nicely textured and plenty comfortable for my medium-sized hands.

380 Shield EZ detail

The grip texture is rather mild, but still grippy. Most folks will still want to stipple.

Interestingly, the magazines have side tabs very similar to those found on .22 magazines so that you can if you wish pull down to allow for easier loading of rounds into the magazine. I didn’t find the need to do so, but they work just fine.

380 Shield EZ

Conclusions

Pros
This is a relatively lightweight pistol that carries relatively lightweight ammo, which amounts to a mid-sized gun that would be very comfortable to carry around concealed all day. Virtually anyone could rack the slide to lock open or to load. The soft-shooting, highly controllable characteristics make shooting the pistol a very appealing prospect. The trigger is excellent and the grip safety offers an unobtrusive layer of mistake prevention. Also, the price is comparatively very nice.

Cons
The .380 round is not optimal for defensive use, but it is serviceable; especially during warmer months when clothes are not thickly layered. Eight rounds in the magazine is a bit anemic for a carry gun, especially with such a small caliber and the overall package is a bit large for an 8+1 capacity (only 1 more round than the smaller 9mm model???).

So for rating the M&P 380 Shield EZ…

Ergonomics (****)
There is nothing spectacular about this gun’s ergonomics, but it works and feels just fine.

Shootability (*****)
Perhaps the most shootable pistol I’ve ever laid my hands on.

Accuracy (*****)
I found it to be very accurate and very easy to maintain that accuracy!

Concealability (****)
The 380 Shield EZ is thin enough and small enough to conceal quite well, though not as well as its smaller cousin, the M&P Shield 9mm.

In Summary

Essentially what Smith & Wesson has done here is create an easy to manipulate, easy to shoot, lightweight gun that sacrifices some size and capacity for a soft shooting experience. In my mind, this is not a bad tradeoff as it addresses some issues that plague some shooters and gives them a mildly compromised solution. Good for S&W.

In the end, my only complaint with this package is the .380 round. Everything else is just fine for my money. Eagle Gun Range has the 380 Shield EZ for rent, so take it out for yourself and see what you think.

* * *

About The Author
Andy Rutledge is a design professional, competitive shooter and avid road cyclist. He trains at Eagle Gun Range and elsewhere a few days a week to hone his shooting and defensive skills.

Why make a low-capacity, mid-sized pistol chambered in .380? This was my first question when I saw the specs of the 380 Shield EZ. Well, Smith & Wesson are no dummies so there had to be some logic behind their move here. What I found when I got my hands on the gun and a few rounds downrange was that they’ve got something rather interesting here.

The frame is seemingly larger than would be required for this capacity and chambering, but there is a benefit. The capacity is seemingly lower than would be expected for a frame of this size, but there is a benefit. The result is an easy to hold, easy to manipulate, lightweight pistol that shoots a defensive round but feels like a .22 cal gun. Hrm.

Why Consider the M&P 380 Shield EZ?

The M&P 380 Shield EZ is a compact pistol purpose made for carry and for home defense. Though compact, it is longer and taller than the 9mm Shield most of us know, so there is more of the gun to hold onto. One of the primary features of the pistol is its easy-to-rack slide, seemingly tailor made for people without strong hands. Another feature worth consideration is the grip safety; a feature not often found on compact pistols. If you’re someone who values an extra layer of safety, the 380 Sheild EZ might just be the ticket for you. Finally, you might consider this pistol for its appealing price.

The combination of the slightly larger frame and the slightly softer round make this pistol a joy to shoot and very easy with which to be very accurate…all so long as you don’t mind the minimal defensive ballistics of the .380 round.

380 Shield EZ

M&P 380 Shield EZ Specs:

  • Caliber: 380 Auto
  • Action: Internal hammer fired
  • Length: 6.7″
  • Height: 4.98”
  • Width: 1.15” (1.43” including the slide “wings”)
  • Barrel: 3.675” stainless steel Armornite™ finish
  • Trigger: ~5lb.
  • Sights: 3-Dot steel, adjustable rear
  • Safety: Grip safety + available with or without ambi thumb levers
  • Weight: 18.5 oz. w/empty magazine
  • Slide: stainless steel Armornite™ finish
  • Capacity: 8+1
  • MSRP: $399

Note that the model I’m evaluating here has ambi thumb safety levers.

Shooting the 380 Shield EZ

Shooting the 380 Shield is like shooting a .22 pistol. No kidding, the recoil impulse is almost nonexistent so the pistol is very easy to control and to maintain a high degree of accuracy. While some .380 pistols are a bit snappy, due to their subcompact configuration, this Shield model has both the size and weight necessary to mitigate all snappiness. This is an easy pistol to shoot.

The frame is larger than a typical Shield, but smaller than, say, the M&P 9. This mid-sized frame offers plenty to hold onto and allows the controls to be very comfortably positioned. I had no problem running the gun for on/off safety, magazine ejection and reloads, and locking the slide back. It all felt very natural and comfortable.

The trigger is actually quite nice and has a very short and crisp reset, but somehow running it fast did not go as smoothly as I thought it should. I did a few strings of rapid fire during which I wasn’t able to keep the gun as still as it seemed I should for being such a soft shooter. I chalk this up to my being familiar with my EDC gun and this slightly altered geometry of this 380 Shield EZ threw a wrench in my gears. Surely with a bit of practice shooting fast drills would become smoother.

Mostly, though, I just enjoyed shooting this gun. No kidding, outside of a precision .22 this is the softest gun I’ve ever shot. So fun.

Comfort, Controllability, & Capacity
The 380 Shield is not at all heavy and lighter than even the smaller Shield 9mm. Though it is named for the Shield, it feels less like that model and more like the M&P 9 in the hand. It’s a single stack gun, but the grip is not overly thin. For my medium-sized hands, it was quite comfortable. And as mentioned earlier, the controls were easy to get to and to manipulate. The 8+1 capacity is a bit low for a .380 of this size, but being a single stack gun keeps the frame width down and facilitates a more concealable gun.

Controlling the 380 Shield EZ is about as easy as it gets. Even older children and new shooters should do quite well keeping this pistol under control.

Components and Features

The 380 Shield EZ looks like a typical striker-fired gun, but it’s not. It has an internal hammer and that brings consequences to both the trigger (smooth) and the recoil spring weight you feel when racking the slide (softer), since there is no striker to load up.

The most conspicuous feature of the 380 Shield EZ is the grip safety. It’s a large component that disappears when the frame is gripped. I found that I never even noticed the grip safety fin so it was a non factor in my working with the gun. The model I used had the ambi thumb safety levers. Though I always believe such components to be useless or even dangerous on a pistol, I did spend time engaging and disengaging the levers during shooting. They seemed stiff enough to be properly tactile and easy enough to manipulate. The 380 Shield EZ can come without the manual safety levers if you prefer that model (and I hope you do).

The sights are 3-dot steel and the rear sight is drift adjustable. I had no trouble picking up the sights and maintaining a good sight picture during shooting strings. The slide has good serrations, but with the addition of some “wings” on the rear of the slide, I guess to assist with slide racking. I found them entirely unnecessary, but they also didn’t get in my way as some similar components on other guns have.

380 Shield EZ detail

These are the wings at the rear of the slide. Not necessary, but not a problem, found.

As mentioned before, the trigger is darn good and contributed positively to accurate shooting. I did not measure its weight, but it seemed to break at around 5 – 5.5 pounds. I’m a fan and wish my Glocks had as good a trigger. The frame is nicely textured and plenty comfortable for my medium-sized hands.

380 Shield EZ detail

The grip texture is rather mild, but still grippy. Most folks will still want to stipple.

Interestingly, the magazines have side tabs very similar to those found on .22 magazines so that you can if you wish pull down to allow for easier loading of rounds into the magazine. I didn’t find the need to do so, but they work just fine.

380 Shield EZ

Conclusions

Pros
This is a relatively lightweight pistol that carries relatively lightweight ammo, which amounts to a mid-sized gun that would be very comfortable to carry around concealed all day. Virtually anyone could rack the slide to lock open or to load. The soft-shooting, highly controllable characteristics make shooting the pistol a very appealing prospect. The trigger is excellent and the grip safety offers an unobtrusive layer of mistake prevention. Also, the price is comparatively very nice.

Cons
The .380 round is not optimal for defensive use, but it is serviceable; especially during warmer months when clothes are not thickly layered. Eight rounds in the magazine is a bit anemic for a carry gun, especially with such a small caliber and the overall package is a bit large for an 8+1 capacity (only 1 more round than the smaller 9mm model???).

So for rating the M&P 380 Shield EZ…

Ergonomics (****)
There is nothing spectacular about this gun’s ergonomics, but it works and feels just fine.

Shootability (*****)
Perhaps the most shootable pistol I’ve ever laid my hands on.

Accuracy (*****)
I found it to be very accurate and very easy to maintain that accuracy!

Concealability (****)
The 380 Shield EZ is thin enough and small enough to conceal quite well, though not as well as its smaller cousin, the M&P Shield 9mm.

In Summary

Essentially what Smith & Wesson has done here is create an easy to manipulate, easy to shoot, lightweight gun that sacrifices some size and capacity for a soft shooting experience. In my mind, this is not a bad tradeoff as it addresses some issues that plague some shooters and gives them a mildly compromised solution. Good for S&W.

In the end, my only complaint with this package is the .380 round. Everything else is just fine for my money. Eagle Gun Range has the 380 Shield EZ for rent, so take it out for yourself and see what you think.

* * *

About The Author
Andy Rutledge is a design professional, competitive shooter and avid road cyclist. He trains at Eagle Gun Range and elsewhere a few days a week to hone his shooting and defensive skills.
SILENCERS

SILENCERS

Did you know it is 100% legal to own a silencer for your firearms?

Stop by and see the Silencers we have in stock and discuss the process of purchasing one.

Silencers are available for Rimfire, Centerfire Pistol and Rifle.