Every year, millions of Americans choose to protect themselves with the purchase of a firearm —and for good reason. Firearms are an important tool in any self-defense toolkit, providing a last defense against life-threatening aggressors.
Like other tools, firearms are purpose-built, so it’s important that you choose the right firearm to match your circumstances.
In this blog, we’ll discuss the basics of firearms ownership, the various types of self-defense firearms, and provide some expert advice on how to give yourself the best odds in a survival situation.
Depending on your previous firearms experience, you may have any number of questions or concerns.
We know the feeling. We’ve all been there at some point in our life, and buying a first gun can seem daunting. It’s an experience that millions of Americans share, and you’re right to have questions.
Most new buyers are hesitant for safety concerns. The reality is that firearms accidents are relatively rare, and 99% of accidents can be prevented by remembering just four safety rules:
1. Never point a gun at something you aren’t willing to shoot at.
2. Never put your finger on the trigger unless you’re ready to fire.
3. Treat every gun like it’s loaded —and always double check if you think it isn’t.
4. Know what’s in front and behind the target, since bullets can over-penetrate.
If you follow these rules and practice safe storage, your gun presents a lower risk than a kitchen knife, medicine cabinet, or private pool. Most firearms accidents happen due to horseplay or willful ignorance.
Ultimately, the key to overcoming apprehension is knowledge and experience. Take some time to visit a local gun range—preferably with an experienced friend. Ask to try a variety of different firearms, and seek advice from those around you. Most gun-owners are welcoming enthusiasts, eager to share their experience and knowledge with those around them.
As an author’s note, I met some of my now-best friends by asking for help on my first range trip. At that time, I had the same trepidation as many new gun-owners do, but as my experiences grew, I came to love spending time at the range with my neighbors and newfound friends.
What Gun Is Best For Me?
Firearms shopping is a fun experience, but it’s best approached with your needs in mind.
As we said before, guns are very specifically crafted, and each has its own benefits and ergonomics. In many ways, it’s like shopping for a new pair of shoes. There are hundreds of different brands, sizes, designs, and functions, so how do you find the right choice?
First, consider the three largest categories: handguns, shotguns, and rifles. This is a very general breakdown, but focusing on one type will narrow your options to make shopping easier.
Handguns are the most common person defense firearm, largely for their size.
Many prospective gun-owners have preconceptions about handguns, which can stem from movies and myth. We recommend coming at it with totally fresh eyes, assuming nothing.
Despite being the weakest of the three, handguns are the most challenging firearms to learn.
This is because pistols only have two points of contact —your two hands. With shotguns and rifles, you can support the gun with the stock, but handguns transfer all the recoil straight into your palms and wrist.
That said, handguns do one thing better than any other type of firearm: everyday carry.
If you want regular protection outside the home, handguns can be carried concealed or openly on the belt without attracting attention. The same cannot be said about shotguns or rifles.
Handguns are also the most diverse of the big three. There’s a lot more variety in designs, size, and caliber, so you’ll want to feel a few different options before making your decision.
For new gun-owners, we recommend starting your search with semi-automatic, compact-size handguns. This will limit your window to a modern, reliable selection that can be used for any purpose. We also recommend starting with 9mm handguns, as this caliber is low-recoil, affordable, and widely available in most stores.
Some of the most popular brands to consider include GLOCK, Smith and Wesson, CZ, and Sig Sauer. Some top models include the Glock 19, the S&W M&P9, the CZ P07 or P10c, and the Sig P320 Compact.
You might be wondering, ‘What about revolvers or sub-compact handguns?’
As we said, there is a lot of variety in the handgun market, and everyone has their own opinions. While semi-automatics are generally considered superior to revolvers, there are still plenty of other factors to choose from. Some handguns are polymer, while some are steel. Some use a striker mechanism, while others use an exposed hammer. The choices are nearly endless, once you’ve handled a few different handguns, you’ll have a better idea for what you like and what feels natural.
Whatever you do, don’t let some salesman tell you that there’s only one answer here—because that usually means they’re just trying to take advantage of you. Also, you should do plenty of online research too, as customer reviews can help you identify some top-choices.
Robust, reliable, and imposing their effectiveness, shotguns are a staple in American defensive tradition. Firing a cloud of pellets —or a single lead slug—shotguns are undoubtedly the heaviest hitters, but that comes with a tradeoff.
Shotguns can be heavy, and the manual of arms can be relatively complex. In addition, most shotguns have substantial recoil with a full-power shell, which can be a barrier for new gun-owners.
That said, there’s nothing like the sound of a 12-gauge pump-action. Some even say it’s enough to scare off an intruder, but that’s just a common myth. Even if it’s sometimes true, you should never count on mere hopeful deterrence.
Fortunately, shotguns are well-proven, so long as the user is well-familiarized with their controls. Reloading a shotgun can be challenging to a novice, as it takes years of practice for consistent speed under stress. While magazine-fed shotguns do exist, they tend to be bulkier than traditional shotguns.
If you’re interested in shotguns, we recommend a traditional 12-Gauge pump-action shotgun with a 18.5” barrel, such as the Mossberg 500 or the Remington 870. These two shotguns are among the most popular in America, and they’re both very affordable on most budgets.
Avoid any shotguns that don’t come with a stock. Pistol-grip pump shotguns kick hard, and without a stock to support the shotgun against your shoulder, you will get the brunt of it into your hands and wrists. That feels no-bueno.
For new gun-owners, rifles may seem daunting, but they’re actually the easiest to learn. With a lightweight design, intuitive controls, minimal recoil, and exceptional precision, AR15s are at the top of our list when it comes to home defense firearms.
Don’t let politicians and media pundits fool you. Most of them don’t even know what ‘AR’ means. AR15s are the most popular semi-automatic rifle in America because they’re easy to learn and fun to shoot. Ammunition is also affordable for the common 5.56x45mm cartridge, and the rifle’s popularity means you can always find parts and upgrades at every price.
For home defense, AR15s are the perfect mixture of simplicity, mobility, and power, which is why we recommend it so heavily.
Not convinced? Experience usually speaks for itself, so when we visit the range, we start all our new employees with an AR15. And every single time, they come away telling us how different it was from their expectation. AR15s are soft-shooting, and the .22-caliber bullet is much smaller than most other rifle cartridges.
If you even have a passing interest in AR15s, we recommend trying one out. Our top pick for home defense is a 5.56x45mm-caliber (.223) AR15 with a 16” barrel and an MLOK handguard. This is a perfect generalist setup that balances terminal ballistics with weight and ergonomics.
The cost of an AR15 ranges from $400 and up, and popular brands include Radical Firearms, Foxtrot Mike Products, Aero Precision, BCM, Lewis Machine and Tool, and many others.
With the AR15s modularity, though, any rifle you buy can be tailored to meet your exact needs, and parts replacement is usually simple enough to do at home.
Buying a firearm is just one part of the equation. You’ll need a few extra things to have a good defensive setup.
Ammunition and Magazines
First, you’ll need ammunition and magazines. Good defensive ammunition will be more expensive than cheaper range ammunition.
For pistols, look for a quality jacketed hollow-point (JHP) like Federal HST or Winchester Ranger-T for defense. You’ll also want some boxes of 9mm full metal jacket (FMJ) for range practice. Look for quality brass-cased ammunition like Magtech and Prvi Partizan.
With shotguns, 12ga #4 Buckshot is a favorite for defense, but there are some great 00 Buck and Slugs as well. Most ranges will only allow slugs for target practice, so be sure you get ammo that you can actually train with.
Rifles also need two kinds of ammo some for range trips and some for personal defense. Most AR-owners use 55gr brass-cased FMJ for range use, reserving the more expensive 68-77gr ammunition for the home defense. These high-grain bullets have technologies to reduce penetration, which is beneficial in limiting the risk of bullets traveling through interior walls.
Ammo choice is considered critical to your firearm’s performance, so be sure to spend extra time researching the best ammunition to fit your needs.
Most defensive firearms should also have a weapon light attached, as many self-defense scenarios occur at night. A weapon light from Streamlight, Surefire, or Inforce will help you keep eyes on target, no matter the lighting conditions.
Rifles and shotguns also benefit from optics, so be sure to check out a few red dot sights and scopes. Optics help you stay on target and identify exactly where your bullet will hit, greatly improving your accuracy. Traditionally, the recommendation is to spend at least half the cost of your rifle on optics, but you can get a lot more quality from value-priced optics nowadays. Primary Arms Optics—our home brand—is dedicated to providing the best quality for the lowest possible price, so you can equip your longarm for under $100, if budget is tight.
The Most Important Thing
Finally, we want to close this out on the most important thing you NEED to be effective with any firearm.
Training, training, training.
We cannot say it enough. Training is absolutely critical in building competence for self-defense, and that means spending some extra time at the range to improve your accuracy and handling skills. Search your local area for good instructors, who can teach firearms basics—and hopefully medical basics as well. One good class can make a larger difference in your personal safety than a hundred hours out on the range—trust us.
With all that said, we hope you learned a bit about how to buy a firearm for personal defense.
If you have any additional questions, we’re always happy to talk through them with you. Just reach out to us here on the site using the ‘Chat’ bar on the right, or send a message to us on Instagram or Facebook.
We can usually respond to most questions in mere minutes, and on a subject as important as personal security, you deserve only the honest truth.