Monday, January 11, 2016

Selecting Your First Firearm

Firearms are a hot button topic right now. I know they have been for some time, but our current political environment has made it more so that I have ever seen. Acts of violence have convinced some that all firearms are evil and others that they are absolutely necessary. I will be honest, I am very pro 2nd Amendment. I have owned firearms for most of my life and I have never shot, let alone killed anyone. Our current president is in favor of some type of gun control, we honestly don't know what type he wishes he could achieve, but we know for now he has limits on what he is able to do. One thing is certain. Every time our president talks about advancing gun control, gun sales soar. President Obama is arguably the greatest gun salesman in history, whether he knows it or not.

A lot of the gun sales that occur after our president talks about gun control are existing gun owners that are purchasing something that is on their wishlist because they fear they will not be able to get that particular firearm in the future. At least some of these purchases are made by first time gun owners. That is good. You can't support confiscation of something that you own, these people now have a vested interest in keeping this right. (The president hasn't said anything about confiscation, but that is where it will eventually head if the current climate persists.) There are a lot of people asking questions about firearms right now. I am going to try to answer many of these questions.

Aren't Firearms Dangerous?

Firearms are a tool, nothing more and nothing less, but yes they are dangerous. A firearm has the ability to kill anyone at whom it is pointed. By the same token a chainsaw, blow torch, or nail gun are all dangerous. A chainsaw exceeds the possible damage to human flesh. The danger zone of a chainsaw includes the length of the chainsaw and the length of the person's arms that is holding it. This danger zone is increased even when using the saw correctly. Cutting down a tree increases the danger zone to the length of the tree.

Image result for chainsaw injuries

A high quality nail gun with the safety mechanisms disabled can fire nails between 50 and 100 yards at speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour. Now the likelihood of that nail point puncturing someone at any distance is highly unlikely, but I just wanted to make a point.

Experience and Respect Mitigates Dangers

I know that there are people on both sides of this subject that are upset with me right now. I have heard gun owners say that firearms aren't dangerous, the person that uses them determines whether or not a firearm is dangerous. Kinda. There are people that will use any tool for evil. If I said that a firearm isn't dangerous at all I would be lying. I am not going to do that. But we can own and operate firearms in a safe manner just like we can a chainsaw or nail gun. I would suggest you do all of this before you purchase a firearm.

Find Someone to Help You Learn

Professional training is a huge plus, but it is not the only option. I myself have introduced several people to firearms and have watched several others do the same. If you can find someone who has been a long time gun owner, talk to them first. Not only would I want to talk to them first, I would want to watch them shoot and clean their firearms. If they aren't proficient and accurate find someone else. When they shoot and handle the weapon be aware of where the barrel is pointing at all times. There is a term called muzzling. Muzzling is any time the barrel of the firearm is pointed at or near someone, even when the person is just moving the firearm around. If the "experienced" gun owner ever does this don't use them to teach you, in fact don't go to the range with them again. it is that serious. A good person to learn from will make sure that you know the rules that should be followed for safe handling of a firearm. There are lots of conscientious gun owners out there and most are willing to help you learn, you may just have to look and ask a lot of questions.

A Firearms Instructor

There are multiple accrediting organizations for a firearms instructor, the most widely known would be the National Rifle Association (NRA). Many gun ranges will have access to instructors as well. Even though there is training involved with becoming a certified firearms instructor, not all instructors are created equal. Some instructors are better with women, some are better with children, and let's just be honest, some just aren't very good with anyone. Normally the instructors that aren't very good don't last long, but there are exceptions. Ask an instructor all of the same questions you would ask to "old timer" down the street, watch them shoot, an instructor should have just as high a safety standard as the most safety conscience enthusiast. You will want someone to guide you through your learning and either of these options are fine if you find the right person.

Selecting a Type of Firearm

All right so you have asked around and you have found someone you are comfortable with and are confident will be able to teach you how to safely handle and use a firearm. Great. Now we move into the selection of type of firearm.  Firearms come in three primary types: pistols, rifles, and shotguns. Each have their strengths and weaknesses. There are some commonalities among the types of firearms. Each type has recoil (kick) and report (bang or sound), both of these are impacted by caliber or gauge. At this point we are still not going to talk about specific calibers or gauges.


Pistols are fun to shoot. Yep, I said it, but for many first timers they are intimidating. Pistols are also the most common personal protection firearm for many reasons. They are small and concealable. Their small size make them easier to maneuver. . There are two primary types of pistols, revolvers and semi automatics.

Revolvers are generally considered safer. They have more substantial recoil than a similar caliber in a semi auto. I explain why in the podcast. It would take a bit to write it out here. Revolvers are also generally limited to a six shots and take a lot longer to reload than a semi automatic.

Semi automatics are more likely to fail than revolvers. I know there are some that will argue this point, but when you look at all makes and models this is true. It is easier to use a lot more ammo with a semi auto. If a semi auto fails it is much more likely not to shoot then it is to shoot by mistake.

I like them both, but for personal protection I lean more to the semi automatics.



We are going to break down rifles into two categories. Yes, I know that is over simplifying things, but this is for the person who is just considering purchasing a firearm.The two categories I am going to break this down into is rim fire and center fire.

Rim fire rifles The most common rim fire rifles are .17 and .22 and .22 magnum. .22 comes in short and long rifles. .17 if fairly uncommon, but a very nice varmint round. .22 are very common and as a result it has gotten difficult to get ammunition. The price of .22 long rifle ammunition has increased considerably in the past few years as well. There have been several other calibers of rim fire firearms in the past, but they are increasingly rare. Rim fire rifles do well for squirrel, rabbit, and other small critters. These rounds are not suggested for personal protection or the taking of larger game. The .22 magnum is a more powerful than the .22 long rifle, but is fairly uncommon.

Center fire rifles are really anything larger than the ones listed above and have a large range. A person looking to select a center fire rifle should take into consideration the intended use. The ones I like best are 30-06, 30-30, and .308. These calibers are all related, but have different characteristics. Any of these rounds are suitable for taking most anything on the American continent. I wouldn't want to hunt elephant with them, but since elephant hunting is only allowed in very few places, I am not really concerned about being able to take that large of an animal. Center fire rifles can also be an effective form of personal protection, but you must consider the penetration of the round (how likely the round is to go through what you are shooting at). You are also not going to haul around a center fire rifle with you as personal protection in any town. If you do, you will not be very popular in most places.


Shotguns are really the workhorse of the firearms world. They can literally be used to hunt anything from squirrel to deer and everything in between. They can be fairly intimidating and do have a substantial report and recoil. They are in my opinion the easiest of the selection to learn to be proficient at shooting.

The reason the shotgun is so versatile is because of the shell. Shotguns don't have bullets in the literal sense of the word. A shell is a casing that holds a primer, powder, a wadding, and the shot. Unless you are shooting a slug, every time you shoot a shotgun, multiple projectiles are fired all at the same time. When you look at a shell there is a number on it. The higher the number on the shell the smaller the individual projectile is, but smaller "lead" means there are a lot more of them in the same sized shell.

Image result for 12 gauge slug
A 12 gauge slug is a single, large projectile. 

A #8 shot has a bunch of really small pellets.
This gives a shotgun flexibility the others just don't have.

What is the intended use of the firearm?

This is really the question that will determine which type of firearm is best. There are places where pistols are illegal, I don't like it, I don't agree with it, but that is the case. There are also places where certain rifles are illegal, there are even places where all firearms are illegal period. You will have to learn the laws for your local area.

Some firearms excel at one thing and not another. Rim fire is great for small game and general varmint control, but that is about it. I really wouldn't want to have to depend on a rim fire in a personal protection situation. Granted any firearm is better than not having one at all.

Pistols are preferred for personal defense, but they aren't very good for hunting. I know that there are people who have and do hunt with a pistol. I have done it myself. I have a very old .22 revolver that is very accurate and I can take squirrels with it, my grandfather actually hunted feral hogs with a pistol. They just aren't the best option for hunting.

Center fire rifles are great for hunting larger game. They are an effective home defense weapon, but with a center fire rifle you have to be certain of not only what you are shooting at, but also what is behind the target. Every time I have ever shot a deer with a center fire rifle, the bullet has passed all the way through the animal. In a hunting situation this is what you want. But think about it if the projectile will pass all the way through a deer, it will also pass all the way through an intruder. You must be careful.

Shotguns are really good for most anything. They have the ability to be adapted to whatever situation you may face, due to the ability to choose different ammunition. They can be used for home defense, hunting large and small game. The only area where a shotgun falls short is personal defense when on the go. You really can't walk through a major city with a shotgun strapped across your chest or back.

It is my recommendation that if at all possible a person should own a pistol, rim fire rifle, center fire rifle and a shotgun. This is what most would call a complete compliment (others would call it an arsenal, but they are being dramatic). You can see that if you only have the ability to own one firearm that there are several things to consider in choosing which would be right for you. But, if you were only able to own one and you needed it to fill as many jobs as possible, the clear winner for me would be a shotgun.

Shotguns come in a range of gauges. 410 is the smallest. I really don't suggest this gauge for an adult. It is the gauge on which I start young people, but the ammunition is a lot more expensive that its larger cousins. For adults I suggest either a 20 or 12 gauge. I like the 12. For me it is the most versatile. I favor Remington shotguns and I like either the 870 pump shotgun or the 1100 semi automatic. The pump can be purchased for right around $300, if you are willing to watch the pawn shops, you may be able to find one in nice condition even cheaper. I found  a 1100 on for $550 but they retail for right around $1000.

No matter what firearm you choose, remember to find a mentor or get training. Firearms are indeed dangerous when not handled properly. You will find that a lot of people that enjoy firearms really enjoy teaching people about them as well. I know I do.

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