How To Buy a Handgun: Protection or Worst Nightmare?

tiffany gunI had an advantage in my introduction to guns. I had a friend, Beth, whose husband, Jimmy, collected guns. They had all kinds of handguns for us to take to the range and shoot. My first time at the range with Beth, I shot her gun and a gun a coworker of my husband’s was thinking of selling: a Ruger .357 Magnum six shot, snub nosed hammer-less revolver. It was sweet. I still have that target and every bullet that left a gun with my trigger pull hit that round, 16″ square target that day. Yes, the target, not just the paper at twenty-one feet out. Yeah. I earned my “Annie Oakley” nickname my first time out. Not bragging. Just stating facts. (Riiigghhht.)


Since then, I’ve shot a lot of guns. Some of them were Beth and Jimmy’s; some I just walked up to total strangers at the range and, after asking what they were shooting, wrangled my way into a few rounds from their guns. Of course, I’d let them shoot a few from mine, but my beginner first gun was a  Bersa .380 ACP and it was — how shall I put this — not exactly caviar. It was fine as something to find out if I was going to be serious about guns or if I was going to be “into” it for a few months and then forget I ever saw one. It wasn’t long, though until I chomped at the bit for something that was what I called a “Dream Gun”. You know, the caviars: Beretta, Ruger, etc.


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So how do you go about buying a gun? When I bought my Bersa there were but a few considerations: price, at the time, the most important and reliability was up there (don’t want to need it and it not be there for me), too. But the thing I really wanted after shooting all those other people’s guns was a gun that would fit my hand. You see, that’s the thing that I learned when I was shooting all those other guns and watching other people shoot theirs.


While I was taking my concealed carry safety course with my local sheriff’s office, the class was at the range and I was shooting okay; not my usual right down the middle but I hadn’t realized that my rear site was walking out of position and would soon be on the ground and gone – lost to me forever. (Like I said, “not caviar”.) Even with my rear site doing the sideways cha-cha on me, a Sheriff’s Deputy supervising the course offered me a job with them (true), and I was still shooting better than a girl who had purchased a gun because she had a stalker and needed to protect herself from a man who had followed her through two north to south moves. I watched her as she shot tree limbs off (seriously), hit the dirt that was behind the cement wall two targets away (a built-up berm stopped most bullets — maybe not some of hers — and it was empty field beyond) and hit other sundry places between herself and the great beyond. As I watched, a Sheriff’s Deputy was trying to help her and even his advice wasn’t doing the trick.


That’s when a thought struck me. I walked over to her with the last five of my bullets in my non-caviar Bersa and said, “Here, try this. You’re shooting something that’s the wrong size for your hand.” She handed me the huge, slick gripped .45 long nosed revolver (brand name long forgotten: heavy as a horse) that some sales guy had talked her into buying. She took my Bersa and landed all five of those remaining bullets on the target. No, they weren’t in the ten ring, but they were much better than the tree limb twenty-five feet up and six feet over from what she was aiming at. I told her to take that rhino gun back and buy something that she could control with her hand size. If the gun doesn’t fit her hand, she’ll keep shooting trees. The Deputy was even impressed; and agreed he with me. She told me that the salesman had recommended it to her and her husband had liked it. But it wouldn’t have helped her in an emergency, would it?


That was when I first got into shooting. Since then I’ve seen several other incidents of women buying the wrong gun: too big, or too “pretty”, whatever. The “too pretty” incident was when I was at one of our local shooting ranges waiting my turn to check in and I saw another woman walk in (that made two females there) and we started talking. I asked her what she was shooting and she pulled out — I kid you not — a chromed semi-auto. What? Chromed. I was almost in shock. I asked her why that gun and she said that the guy at the gun store had recommended it. The guys at the gun range examined the gun before letting her go in to shoot with it and wouldn’t let her in. They told her it would explode when she pulled the trigger the first time; take it back and get her money back and save up until she could get a real gun. (Wow! Even my Bersa didn’t get that said about it!)


Just the other day, my optometrist and I were talking about with which eye I am dominant. When I told him that I’m right handed and right eye dominant and that’s what helped me earn my nickname (mentioned above) he and I started talking about handguns. He wants to purchase a handgun and had his eye on one but wasn’t quite sure. He asked me what I carry and I told him that I have two guns I switch out: Beretta 92 Cheetah semi-auto .380, and a Ruger LCP. Love my Beretta. It is my “Dream Gun” and it suits me to a “B” (for Beretta!). I offered to take him to the range and let him try it. We talked a bit more and I told him to let his hand buy the gun. He has small hands like me, so that will limit the choices, but if he can’t control the gun when he pulls the trigger it’s not going to hit what he needs it to hit and if that’s in an emergency situation, the bad guy is going to have another chance. That’s never a good thing.


I also told him to try simple tests that I do. I “safe” the gun, taking the clip out and pushing the slide back to make sure there are no bullets in the chamber (on revolvers, you pull the cylinder out and make sure every chamber is empty), then I return the empty — keyword empty — clip to its place inside the grip, close the slide and hold the gun in my strong hand. Being right handed, that puts the gun in my right hand, finger outside of the trigger guard. Firm grip, not pointing at anyone, first, check for balance. Does the gun feel comfortable in your hand as its held out at arms length (being careful not to point the barrel at anyone)? A well balanced gun will lead to less muscle strain at the range and you can shoot for a longer period of time with a well balanced gun. If you need to keep someone at bay for a long period of time until help arrives, you will never regret buying a well-balanced gun.


Test two: I bring the gun closer to my body and with my left hand, I use my index finger to just lightly try to flip the barrel of the gun up. IF I cannot keep that gun from flipping up or if I drop the gun, the gun is the wrong size for my hand because I can’t maintain control of the recoil (and the gun shop owner may not like me any more because I dropped the gun). I then do the same test flipping the barrel down. If I can maintain control with both directions, I feel comfortable buying the gun. Why flip it down? I know a bad guy is going to hit it harder than that to try to knock it out of my hand and all of that, but it is an indicator test to make sure that both directions are covered and to see if there is any weakness in that hand that I need to be aware of when it comes to gun control. Better safe than sorry, yes?


So that’s where I start when I’m considering a new handgun purchase. If my hand cannot control the gun, no matter how pretty, how much the salesman wants to sell it to me, what anyone else says, it’s not coming home with me. Why? This is important, so pay attention. If you cannot control your gun, it is as much a problem for you — if not more trouble — as the bad guy trying to hurt you. If you lose control of your gun and wind up shooting someone else, dropping it in the darkness and it discharges on impact and shoots you, or if the bad guy gets it before you can, your gun has gone from being your protection to  becoming your worst nightmare.


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