This article was written to be used in conjunction with OpenSoar.com’s Handgun Wizard. I’m in the process of migrating and updating the tool on GunSafeHaven.com. In the meantime, feel free to use it, read the post below, and let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.
- Opening Remarks
- New or Used?
- Semi-automatic or Revolver?
- Trigger Actions
- Other Considerations
You’re reading this, so I’m going to assume you’re in the market for a handgun;, or at least window shopping. Before making any big purchase, especially one that may guard your life, it’s critical that you first arm yourself with adequate information.
Therein lies the purpose of OpenSoar.com’s Handgun Wizard: to offer you, the defense-minded consumer, the knowledge you need to make a sound purchase.
Before I continue, I need to make it clear that OpenSoar’s intentions are to simply guide you into the next step of purchasing a firearm. I do not expect–nor do I advise–you to visit an online gun broker, and brashly order whatever guns our wizard ranks at the top of the list (for the record, I do think online dealers are a fantastic resource for the already knowledgeable buyer). Everyone’s hands and shooting preferences (whether or not they know they have them) are different. A pistol that feels just right to one person (proverbially known as a Goldilocks or a Baby Bear gun), might have the ergonomic qualities of a brick in the hands of another shooter.
Having said that, I strongly suggest that instead of buying blindly, you visit your local firearms dealer, and ask to handle the guns suggested by our tool (and don’t be afraid to try models that aren’t listed). If your hometown dealer has a range, take your shopping experience to the next level and put a few rounds through the final candidates.
The Handgun Wizard is an educational tool, and is in no way a substitute for test driving the gun before you buy it, especially if you’re an inexperienced buyer. Until you grip it in your hand, and feel the trigger pull, you can’t be sure it’s the right fit.
Oh, and please practice proper firearm safety every time you pick up a handgun (I wish I didn’t have to say that).
Ok, with my spiel now behind us, we can press on. Here’s some information to consider when using the wizard, and ultimately, when making your final decision:
If you spend any length of time gun shopping, or searching through the table on this page, you’ll quickly notice that some of these handguns fetch a pretty penny, while others just barely shake Saturday night special status. This raises a couple questions:
- Why is there such a huge difference in price between some guns (e.g., Wilson Combat custom 1911s can run more than $4000 more than a standard Springfield Armory 1911; both of which are dandy shooters), and
- Is price-point a good litmus test to accurately measure the quality of a pistol?
Variance in price essentially boils down to two major elements: manufacturing man hours and marketing.
Nowadays, there honestly isn’t a huge difference in the quality of individual components used to manufacture mainstream handgun models; just because an HK P30 costs more than a Glock 17, doesn’t mean that the Glock’s polymer frame is going to snap faster than the P30’s (note: polymer frames don’t usually snap anyway, especially not on HKs and Glocks). There are certainly other differences that shape the cost disparity between these two guns, but raw quality of parts isn’t a factor that tops the list.
As a novice shopper, I’d advise you not to weigh yourself down with too many details, like whether to go with billet-milled or forged lowers, but if you’re interested in where your money is potentially going, you can start there.
Using our previous example, both Springfield Armory and Wilson Combat 1911 pistols have forged frames. I’m not going to start a metallurgy argument (I have neither the chops, nor the patience for drama), but just know that forging is a rather labor intensive method of frame manufacturing. While both companies have fantastic histories and die-hard followings, their manufacturing similarities start to drift at this point. Wilson Combat does everything in-house, and keeps all aspects definitively American. They also have freakish quality control standards to the point where their smiths’ wrists are probably more sore from signing checklists than crafting custom fittings.
When you add up all the boutique components and hardworking American labor, you wind up with a beautiful custom hotrod, and you pay for every bit of it. Does all of this result in a handgun that justifies the ten-fold price tag over its Springfield Mil-Spec counterpart?
Wilson fans will tell you, “heck yes”; Springfield fans will tell you, “heck no”; I will tell you that I’ll gladly take both if you’re handing them out, but as for you…you need to pick the one that best fits your hands first, and personality second; I admit that’s bit of a cop-out answer, but as long as you can shoot it safely and comfortably, you and your budget can decide how fancy you want to get…leave me out of it.
The other price driver that I mentioned is marketing. The only thing you really need to know about marketing in the firearms industry is that there are some companies that are exceptionally skilled at massaging money out of your pocket; it is inevitable that you will fall victim to their craft from time-to-time. Given that, don’t be ashamed to let the drool dangle off your lip while you ogle the advertisements in Recoil (or whatever magazine you subscribe to that objectifies firearms’ bodies); just make sure you have a clear head before you visit the dealer (think about baseball).
Some guns are made with better components and demand more meticulous craftsmanship than others. However, the current handgun industry is extremely competitive, and is packed with more reliable firearms makers than ever.
Price can unquestionably be an indicator of quality, but it would be foolish to base performance and reliability on it alone; there isn’t a gun listed in the handgun wizard that hasn’t had a small army of satisfied customers (who will all argue with each other over who’s gun is the best when you throw them in a room together). The chief advantage to having a big budget is that you have more options to find the right fit; that’s about it.
New or Used:
Should I buy a new or used gun? Oh, what a common question among new buyers (myself included). My opinion on the matter is pretty straightforward; if the gun feels right, fits your budget, doesn’t have any obvious damage, and the only thing hanging you up is that it had a previous owner, buy it!
Under the right circumstances, there is absolutely nothing wrong with purchasing a used pistol or revolver. However–just to reiterate the points above–I’d strongly recommend purchasing your first few from a known reputable source (a.k.a., a local dealer), as they’ve very likely already inspected the firearm for any damage that may affect its reliability. In addition, you can usually count on them to give you a fair price (the average savings between new and used models tends to be around 25%; that figure can vary a bit, depending on demand and condition).
Guns are machines that are built to have thousands of lethal explosions go off in them throughout their lifetimes. A good one can shoot forever with proper care, but if you’re in a situation where the deal looks too good to be true, and you don’t know the seller, there are a few things you can examine on your own to make an educated judgment call. I could try to lay out that knowledge myself, but other people have already said it better…Chuck Hawks did a nice post on the subject a while back: Buying a Used Handgun.
That should about sum up any questions concerning used reliability; just a couple more points I want to toss in, and we’ll be done.
Almost every new gun needs to be “broken in” to function optimally. I was having feeding issues with my new out-of-the-box Sig Sauer 220 (I’m not downing Sigs–I love them–this was a fluke). I called Sig’s customer support, and the first question out of the technician’s mouth was, “how many rounds have you put through it?”. The problem ended up being a magazine issue, but the moral of the story is, broken-in firearms almost always shoot more reliably than their stiff, jelly-covered counterparts.
At this point, you may be thinking that buying used is the indisputable way to go…well, not necessarily. If you’re the type that has to buy everything new, you can win too. It’s a wonderful feeling to pull the trigger on a roscoe that’s never had another person’s mitts on it. Romance aside, there other good (and plutonic) reasons to go new.
First, if warranty claims ever need to be submitted, you, the original owner is going to be on the right side of the fence for covered repairs and replacements (assuming the warranty isn’t transferrable between owners).
Secondly, if you strike at the right time, you can often score some pretty sweet manufacturer deals by buying new. That Sig 220 I mentioned came with a rebate that saved me over $150 on a .22 caliber conversion kit, and when I bought my Smith & Wesson M&P, it included a $50 rebate and two extra 15 round magazines (on top of the two that were included when I bought it).
Handguns hold their value exceptionally well; they’re made to work for generations. If you’re buying from a reputable seller (like a local dealer), and the price is right, there’s nothing wrong with buying used. That said, picking up a new gun might have some sweet perks that could potentially offer you more value than making a deal on the same used model. Like anything, you just have to look at your options and make your decision; if you do that, and add a little caveat emptor, your decision will likely be a good one.
I’m going to break this down into two main categories; trigger reach, and overall size. In my opinion, there’s no other part of your shopping experience that is more important than getting these right.
When I say “trigger reach”, I’m referring to the length between your hand on the backstrap, and your index finger on the trigger. More specifically, you want to ensure that, while your thumb crotch (my favorite body part to bring up in polite conversation) is centered on the upper grip of the handgun (also referred to as the stock), the pad of your finger (past the last knuckle, right near the tip) can comfortably rest on the trigger. Here are some pictures to give you a better idea of what I’m talking about (and what I’m not talking about):
The primary reason for getting this step right is safety; being an effective defensive shooter is a close second. One of the greatest determinants of accuracy is trigger pull; trigger squeeze to be more precise. When you squeeeeeze that trigger, you want it to travel straight back. If you have never fired a gun, all of this probably sounds very silly–but trust me–this is crucial stuff here. Proper trigger pull is hard enough to execute when recoil anticipation and nerves start to act up; if you ignore this step, you’ll be at a disadvantage before you ever put sights on your target.
When the gun doesn’t fit your hand, and you’re forced to overcompensate your trigger reach, your thumb crotch (there it is again) leaves the center of the backstrap, ultimately resulting in a split-second change in the bullet’s destination; i.e., you’re probably not going to hit what you’re aiming for…and when you don’t know your target, you’re violating one of the cardinal rules of firearms safety. Bad!
Trigger reach can be negatively affected if the shooter’s hands are too big for the gun, but it’s a more common issue among shooters with smaller hands (specifically, those with a relatively short distance between their thumb crotch and the pad of their index finger). In an effort to make your search easier, I added a couple properties to the Handgun Wizard that you might want to check out:
The Adj Backstrap option will filter only guns that include adjustable backstraps (e.g., my M&P included three interchangeable modules, which accommodate most hand shapes and sizes), and you can filter the Small Hands property to only display models that people with small hands have endorsed (this is a bit subjective, but I did a lot of homework to get a well-rounded sample).
Numerous scientists and engineers have studied the link between trigger reach and accuracy (here’s a geeky-but-good read on the subject: Hand size counts in safe handgun use), but you can just take it from me and any other shooter with half a brain: before you buy the gun, be certain that you can pull the trigger comfortably and safely.
Overall size of the firearm is another huge contributing factor, one that should have significant bearing on your decision. Handguns come in 101 different sizes, and when you factor in accessories and holster wear, variance in the overall footprint runs infinitely. I obviously can’t cover it all, so for the sake of simplicity, I have split personal defense handguns into four primary categories: full, compact, sub-compact, and pocket.
The most important question you need to ask yourself when deciding on the size of your pistol is, “what am I going to be using this for?” (if you care about grammar more than I do, you won’t end your self-posed question with a preposition). If you don’t plan to use the gun for concealed carry, you should probably subscribe to the “bigger is better” (in terms of handgun dimensions) adage; therefore full-size will generally be my recommendation for this application.
If you don’t have plans to carry concealed (and you aren’t law enforcement or military), I’m going to deduce that you’re looking for a home defense handgun. I honestly can’t think of a single [generally applicable] reason not to purchase a full-sized model pistol for home defense. Here’s a short list of advantages that full framed handguns have over their compact cousins (please note: I’m generalizing here–there are always exceptions):
- They are more accurate. Between superior sight systems (pocket gun sights often consist of a single bead above the muzzle) and longer barrels, bigger weapons are going to give you tighter shot groupings and more effective range.
- They are more powerful. The longer barrels allow for greater pressure buildup, resulting in flatter trajectory (again, accuracy), and a faster bullet. Modern ballistics science and bullet manufacturing have made barrel length less of a factor in power, but make no mistake; a bigger snout blows harder.
- They are easier to shoot. A heavier gun results in less recoil, especially when considering the recoil absorption on the slide of a semi-automatic pistol. Less recoil means easier follow-up shots, and less trigger pull anxiety (both of which can be corrected with proper training and instruction).
- They are more forgiving. Closely related to ease of shooting (mentioned above), a heavier gun is better at masking poor form, which often results in cycling malfunctions; see “limp wristing” (I’m not being derogatory…it’s a literal description for the cause of malfunctions that can occur when you don’t have a sufficient handle on the firearm. Read more here: Limp wristing).
- They have a higher capacity. A bigger gun will almost always hold more ammunition, especially when we’re talking magazine-fed semi-automatics. The variance can be great; usually 7-10 rounds between home defense pistols and their pocket-sized peers.
- They lend well to accessorizing. While many sub-compact weapons come equipped with accessory rails, and grip-mounted laser options, larger framed handguns provide more real estate for “tacticool” flare.
- They run longer. Full frame pistols are usually made with heavier parts that allow them to endure a beating longer than those used in lighter weapons. Most compact, and even sub-compact weapons use the same mechanisms as their full-framed siblings. That said, this advantage holds the most truth when comparing full-framed, home defense-style guns to pocket pistols.
If you’re astute, my earlier blanket proclamation that “bigger is better” might have brought another question to your mind; “Why get a pistol at all; why not get a shotgun or a carbine to guard the castle?”. Hey, that’s a terrific question! Good job, you!
Maybe you should. Personally, I almost always have a holstered gun on my hip while I’m home (I have very few friends and family who don’t think I’m ridiculous), but next to my side of the bed, I have a 20 gauge shotgun locked-and-loaded (safely secured in a Shotlock). My wife, on the other hand, has the semi-automatic pistol of her choice in her nightstand (safely secured in a V-Line handgun safe).
I love pump-action shotguns, and feel confident handling them. My wife feels better with a pistol. I like having both, a long gun and a pistol in my home defense repertoire, but if you don’t have that option, the handgun still has some advantages over shotguns and carbines, all of which play into concealment and mobility.
You might ask, “why would you have to worry about concealment in a home defense scenario?”. Let’s say you hear banging at your door in the middle of the night, and the man on the other side is pleading for help; whether or not you open the door in the first place poses a question in itself, but let’s say you’re just the type who can’t say no to helping a stranger in need. While you’re helpful, you’re also prudent, so you want to have protection in case your visitor is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The beauty of having a handgun at your disposal for this particular application is that you can keep it out of sight while you assess the situation at the door. If you fling the door open strapped with a 30 caliber magazine-clip-fed assault rifle (yes, I’m totally making fun of Kevin de Leon), that stranger might freak out and call the police, and with hysterics and ignorance at play, it will be your word against his in what “really” happened; never let it get that far.
As mentioned, a pistol or revolver can also give you a mobile advantage in a home defense situation; depending on your circumstances. Say, for instance, your spouse is out of town, and you have three kids down the hallway to protect, one young that you’d have to carry in an emergency. If you’re forced to use lethal action to end a threat in your home, you will be at a tactical disadvantage juggling a toddler and a 40″ 12 gauge in both hands. Whether you need to wield a child, a flashlight or a cell phone, a handgun will allow you to have that extra arm free while still providing protection.
You might also hear a lot of folks ramble on about the advantages pistols within the realm of penetration (i.e., not shooting your neighbor’s family room up behind the drywall). With all the “home defense” ammunition available for rifles, shotguns, and pistols, I think this advantage is arguable, and hardly worth noting. In other words, over-penetration and gun type aren’t mutually exclusive.
Everyone’s situation at home is going to be a little different. If you’re buying the gun with home defense in mind, just make sure you consider all the applicable factors; a handgun might just be your best option.
For those who are looking to buy a firearm with the intention of concealed carry (again, keep it legal), I already listed the advantages that full sized handguns have over smaller ones; just keep in mind that the smaller the gun is, the wider the gap you’ll have between power, accuracy, and reliability (again, I’m generalizing). That, of course, isn’t to say that there aren’t times when a pocket gun makes more sense than a hand cannon.
As far as this post is concerned, a concealed carry weapon is only as good as it is useful. If your piece stays locked on the top shelf of your closet every day because it’s too bulky, and you feel uncomfortable carrying it in public, it’s useless; you wasted money, and likely have a false sense of security. Take your time making your decision, and you won’t make this mistake.
While the weight and height of the firearm will certainly play a role in the comfort of your carrying experience, I would recommend that you first size up your choices by length. Once you have a good idea of what length you’re after, you can start narrowing down your selection based on the other two dimensions. I also strongly advise that you “try it on” before making the purchase; a good gun clerk won’t have a problem with you asking to sample concealment options, and they might be able to offer some helpful suggestions.
Note: another dimension of utmost importance is the width of the gun, measured at its fattest part (in the case of a revolver, it will likely be the cylinder). I plan to add a width column to the Handgun Wizard table in the near future, but the data at this time is incomplete and questionable in accuracy. In the meantime, pay close attention to width, and the print (profile of the gun–if any–that can be seen through your clothing) when you try them on at the firearms dealer.
To give you a decent idea of your carry options ahead of time, I’ve posted some pictures that I took of several different models, spanning multiple size classes (the twenty is used as a baseline reference point, not for bling…I’m also plugging my local gun dealer, Backwoods Guns ;)):
Handgun Size Comparisons:
Concealing some of those pieces might be a daunting thought, especially for you skinny jeans hipsters. Don’t fret. Whether you need to conceal your weapon wearing a parka or jogging shorts, there are enough holsters and carry clothes out there to help meet almost any demand. I personally use a Smart Carry holster most of the time; billed for “appendix” carry (that pretty much means it sits on top of your…ahem…stuff), it allows for deep concealment regardless of my wardrobe. The best part is, when I’m at home, I can use the Velcro strap to secure it to my hip, even in sweatpants (it sure would be embarrassing to get shot by anyone wearing sweat pants)!
When you consider the size of the gun, make trigger reach your first priority. The gun must fit well in your hand; the pad of your index finger should comfortably rest on the trigger, while the crotch of your thumb stays centered near the top of the backstrap.
Your second priority is choosing a firearm that most closely fits your demands. If you’re focused on home defense, and don’t have any public concealment requirements, bigger is usually better (more capacity, power, accuracy and reliability). If you’re purchasing for a concealed carry application, ask yourself, while you consider each gun, “would I feel comfortable carrying this frequently?”. If your answer is “no”, you probably need to go smaller, or at least try on a new holster.
Semi-automatic or Revolver?
The list of unique handgun models on the market today scales in the thousands, but every single one of them is going to fall into one of two categories; semi-automatic or revolver. So which is better? The revolver! Just kidding! I mean to say semi-automatic…but then again…
They both have pros; they both have cons. It should come as no surprise that I’m not going to answer this “which is better” question. Instead, you’re going to decide which is better for you. I’ll try to drop a little knowledge to nudge you along.
I’m not going to write out details on how the two of them work, as I couldn’t do it any better than the hundreds who have before me. That said, an understanding of how magazine-fed pistols (a.k.a, semi-automatics) and wheel guns (a.k.a ,revolvers) work is one of the first steps to becoming a good gun owner (and buyer), not to mention, you’ll avoid sounding like a blubbering California senator when you discuss them at the dealer (I’m going to make fun of you, Kevin De Leon, until you shoot me).
The mighty wheel gun:
Revolvers are simple, rugged, and come in some wicked punch-packing flavors. Their primary appeal is reliability; ask a fan why they like them, and you’ll hear the delightful cliché, “they go bang every time”. Wheel gun owners have been watching the same simple process of the hammer hitting the primer for the last 160 years. With a double-action model (we’ll cover actions in more detail in another section), the operator simply pulls the trigger to fire it. That’s pretty much it.
It’s their straightforward design that makes them so popular with beginners, as well as seasoned carriers; simple operation affords a valuable advantage during high stress situations. Revolvers very rarely come equipped with an operable safety, but the heavy trigger pull of a double-action model offers an effective compromise between safety and rapid deployment. For this reason, one of the most popular applications of revolvers is pocket carry (Note: always carry your firearm in a holster, even when kept in your pocket).
The reason they’re so easy to shoot is in direct correlation with their hailed reliability; though they technically can have more moving parts than a semi-auto (if you completely disassemble and count down to the last pin), they don’t have as many dominoes crammed into their movement. A semi-automatic has to strike the cartridge to rack the slide, which ejects the spent case, and catches-and-feeds a new round from the magazine into the receiver; they’re marvels of engineering, but things can go wrong.
Semi-autos can also be less forgiving than revolvers to novice shooters due to the same dependency on timing (remember that “limp-wristing” we discussed earlier). Things can still malfunction on a revolver–it happens–it’s just a less common occurrence.
Reliability is also reflected in a revolver’s appetite for anything. Semi-automatics tend to be more picky about ammunition because so much of the cycling process is dependent on pressure-driven movements, and gas built up from some loads can cause hiccups in the timing. I’ve shot plenty of auto loaders that will run anything you put in them, but generally speaking, revolvers are garbage disposals when it comes to the ammo they’ll eat.
They’re also ridiculously easy to disassemble and clean; so are many semi-automatics, but the same basic design that all revolvers share makes them a piece of cake to maintain. You might hear some folks say that you don’t need to clean a revolver often because they’re so darn trustworthy…I disagree. Clean it after every session, if you can (or at least every 500 rounds). Simpler moving parts doesn’t mean no moving parts, and if you’re trusting you life to a piece, you want to be as sure as possible that it’s always ticking like it should.
Ok, revolvers are easy to use and very dependable, but where do they lack? When stacked up to semi-automatics, they fall short primarily in reload time and capacity. I’ll cover this in the next section, autoloaders.
Semi-automatic pistols, automatics, autoloaders; all of these are aliases for magazine-fed handguns (watch the video for a refresher on how automatics work). Semi-autos weren’t commercially produced until roughly 50 years after the first cartridge-firing revolver hit the scenes, but since then, their overall popularity has far surpassed that of their multi-chambered counterparts.
Military service men and women, and our friends in law enforcement are rarely seen packing revolvers as their primary sidearm anymore, and us in the civilian market just can’t seem to stay ahead of the ever-innovative pistol technology (although we do try, when our lovely spouses allow it). All of that said, their popularity doesn’t make them superior to revolvers, but they definitely take home the prize in a couple areas.
In my opinion, the semi-auto’s biggest advantage is its potential for extremely rapid reloads. A well-trained defensive shooter can replace a spent magazine with a new one in under two seconds. Law enforcement, military personnel, and many carrying civilians (myself included) equip at least one extra magazine when out in the field; unless your clothes prohibit you from carrying a reload, it doesn’t make much sense not to.
For police and military, the reasons for carrying spare magazines are pretty straightforward. First of all, they can; open carry is encouraged–if not required– and most duty belts and tactical gear are designed specifically for this purpose. The other, more dire reason, is that armed professionals are for more likely to engage in conflicts with multiple attackers, who might very well be shooting at them. When you’re taking fire from multiple angles, “easy” shots might not be so easily presented; ending the threat(s) might require not only extra ammunition, but a way to reload it…really fast.
I’m just trying to illustrate why semi-automatics have become so much more popular than wheel guns among military and LE. There have been plenty of cases where armed civilians have had to fight for their lives against multiple gun-wielding attackers, but the chances of experiencing these frightening encounters are much higher in a war zone.
Another advantage of being able to pop in a new magazine in seconds’ time, oddly plays on a disadvantage of the magazine-fed system. The problem with magazines is loading them; I’m not talking about slamming them into the grip of the gun. I’m referring to filling them with ammunition (usually against a very defiant spring). Feeding bullets into your magazines is an activity that you ideally want to perform at a time when bad guys aren’t trying to kill you; it’s tedious, and can take a minute to complete, even for experienced shooters.
Having said that, a shooter with a little bit of training can play this to their advantage. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: You’re in a gun fight, crouched behind cover, armed with a 15-round sidearm. You know that you don’t have any more than five rounds left in the current magazine, your enemies are aggressively advancing and you need to quickly retreat, but you don’t want to get caught clicking an empty gun when you most need it. With a semi-auto (and a spare magazine), you only need two seconds to pop in a new 15-round mag before making your move, and the almost-empty one can be pocketed in case you need it later.
Someone who has actually had the horrifying experience of being in a gun fight could probably offer a better example than the one above, but the point I’m trying to make is that extra magazines on-hand can add an additional level of tactical strategy and a defensive advantage that you won’t find in a revolver. Given that, it’s worth noting that it’s incredibly easy to feed a couple loose rounds into a revolver cylinder if you need them in a pinch, but nothing beats the reload speed of a pistol magazine…if you have one ready to go.
When I mention handgun capacity, I’m referring to the amount of rounds that can be fired without reloading (assuming you don’t have any malfunctions). I’m not going to spend much time discussing this right now because I talk about it more in another section, and we’ve already hit on most of the key points.
The takeaway is that autos almost always have a higher cap than revolvers. Revolver cylinders typically have a capacity of five or six (occasionally eight or nine), while semi-autos consistently boast a round count well into the teens; a powerful exception is a .45 auto 1911, which usually has a capacity of 7+1 (“+1” indicates a round already included in the chamber).
The call between a revolver and a semi-automatic pistol is one that you’re ultimately going to have to make yourself; they’re both just super, as far as I’m concerned. The simplicity of a revolver makes them easy-to-operate and less prone to malfunctions; maintenance is generally painless, and they’re very forgiving to both novice shooters and crappy ammunition.
Semi-autos are continuously touting newer and better technology; revolvers remain a mainstay to many, but autoloaders are, and will continue to be where the innovation is. They’re much more popular than wheel guns among military and law enforcement personnel.
While I refuse to give the blanket statement that semi-autos are less reliable than revolvers, their domino-style dependency on timing provides more opportunity in the cycling process for things to go wrong. That said, their comparatively high capacity, and potential for lightning-fast reloads surpasses the respective attributes of a revolver.
Before I get going on information you can actually use (click here to skip), I need to air out and provide a preemptive defense for why I chose to create the Handgun Wizard trigger actions column the way I did:
Of all the sections I’ve written in this document, I’ve been dreading this the most; not because trigger action is a difficult concept to explain (although it can take a minute to truly grasp), but because this topic never fails to drum up epic technicality wars between shooting nerds. You’ll notice in the Handgun Wizard table, that I divided the trigger actions column into four main categories: SA (Single-action), DAO (Double-action-only), DASA(Double-action/Single-action), and SFA (Striker-fired Action).
The reason I dread receiving feedback on my choice of categorization is because I made several sweeping generalizations in order to simplify the table. For instance, there are many proprietary actions like Sig Sauer’s DAK (Double-action Kellerman), that I could have specifically included, but I feel that it would confuse too many people. Instead, I just lumped Sig’s DAK trigger action into DAO (Double-action-only). I did the same on a few others as well (see, Para’s LDA).
I also took a very broad approach when I included striker-fired pistols; the role a trigger plays in getting a striker to hit the primer is probably the most unnecessarily divisive subject in gun enthusiast circles.
Some SFA models are classified as SA; some as DAO; and still others say that SFA isn’t technically a trigger action at all; but for anyone who cares enough to have read this far, I classified striker-fired handguns like this: if the model uses a pre-set striker to fire the cartridge, and the trigger pull is typical of an SFA model, I classified it as “Striker-fired” in the table. That said, I’m far from perfect; if you feel I made a mistake with the categorization of a model, please contact me, and I’ll make changes where appropriate.
Trigger action–simply put–is the count of how many actions are performed, relative to the striking device, when the trigger is squeezed; it either performs one action (single), two actions (double), or gives the operator the option of either (double-action/single-action). It’s also important to know that there are two possible types of striking devices used to ignite the cartridge primer (which ultimately fires the bullet). These devices are hammers and strikers.
As you probably know by now, my job in this post is to help you arrive at the purchase of a handgun that’s right for you. That said, I’m not going to go through the details on the function of each trigger action. That said, I think gaining a grasp on varying action will ultimately make you a better shooter. If you have a few minutes, I highly recommend watching the following video. This guy does an excellent job explaining things in a way anyone can understand (you really only need to watch the first 15 minutes or so; he goes a little off-topic at the end):
As the author of the video mentioned, everyone’s preferences will vary. Double-action revolvers probably offer the simplest firing system, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a DOA revolver should automatically be your first handgun by default. You may find that the less-intuitive, SOA function of a 1911 gives you warm tingle that you just can’t deny. Either way, “trying before buying” remains vital.
Regardless of the trigger action (i.e., how you get the gun to fire), I still maintain the opinion that the way the trigger feels when you squeeze it and how it fits your hand, is more important than anything. That said, each action has some inherent characteristics you might to review before picking your test drive nominees.
Note: Throughout this documentation, I refer to some handguns as “safer” than others (mainly within the context of heavy versus light trigger pulls). It’s critical to note that EVERY gun, regardless of trigger weight, safety mechanisms, and otherwise MUST be treated with the same level of safety. Please, please, please familiarize yourself with the principles of gun safety before handling a firearm, and make it a point to live by them (ignore them, and you or someone you love might not get another chance).
SAO revolvers have been around for over 150 years; you’ve seen one if you’ve seen a Western. The operator has to manually cock the hammer before pulling the trigger (which is what the cowboys in Spaghetti Westerns are actually doing when they spank the back of their guns). The operation is a bit limited when compared to more modern firearms, but fans of the action will tell you that no other handgun in the kingdom has a crisper trigger break than a single-action-only revolver. A clean trigger pull almost always results in better accuracy.
SAO wheel guns don’t usually appeal to newcomers who have never shot them, and for personal defense, they’re very unpopular. However, there is something inexplicably wonderful about them that makes them a joy to shoot, and extremely lethal weapons in well-trained hands.
Single-action-only Semi Auto Pistols:
SAO pistols existed prior to the advent of the 1911, but John Browning’s design over a century ago is what put them on the map. SAO pistols, like the 1911, have a very light, crisp and clean trigger pull. Again, crisp and consistent trigger-travel aids tremendously in accuracy, and–in the case of SAO pistols–rapid follow-up shots as well.
Because the trigger is so light, external safeties (also referred to as operable or manual safeties) are almost always included (and arguably required); carrying a 1911 or any other SAO chambered with the hammer back, and the safety disengaged (also referred to as “condition zero”) is not something I’d ever recommend doing…personally, I wouldn’t trust my shaky fingers not to accidentally discharge in a stressful situation.
SAO semi autos are often associated with high-speed, highly accurate shooting. That said, their operation takes a bit of practice to get used to. I would never discourage a new shooter from buying a 1911 if he or she could demonstrate an ability to shoot it safely, but most beginners on SAO pistols are met with a small learning curve.
There’s no cowboy cocking a double-action-only revolver, nor can you deliberately pull back the hammer with your thumb. The reason is, DAO revolvers don’t typically have exposed hammers. Often referred to as “hammerless”– technically a misnomer–most DAO revolvers have an enclosed (a.k.a., shrouded or internal) hammer, which is shaved down to avoid snagging on pocket lining and baggy clothing.
Hammerless revolvers are very popular for deep concealment, and are often used as back up guns (BUGs). Whether kept in a pocket, ankle strap, or a fanny pack (much love to the fanny pack), these DAO punch-packers can be deployed quickly and smoothly for in-your-face encounters. And, unlike semi-automatic pocket pistols, and even double-action revolvers with exposed hammers, DAO wheel guns can be fired from within pockets or fanny packs (beware of explosive fannies).
Their other draw is safety. Double-action-only demands a heavier, longer trigger pull. Because revolvers almost never have external safeties, and DAOs are often deployed from a pocket (sometimes in the midst of a scramble), the weight of the pull is key in preventing accidental discharge. However, as mentioned previously, a heavier, “safer” pull often comes at the cost of accuracy. This, of course, shouldn’t make much of a difference in your decision unless you plan on entering your snub nose into a marksmanship competition.
Double-action-only Semi Auto Pistols:
Like their revolving counterparts of the same action, DAO pistols cock the hammer back and fire the gun with each trigger squeeze. As such, most of the pros and cons are the same; they don’t normally have external safeties, but their long trigger pulls ensure more deliberate shots. As a result, accuracy tends to be reduced, and follow-up shots have a speed bump…for new DAO shooters, that is.
It’s definitely worth noting that thousands–perhaps millions–of law enforcement and service men and women protect our streets and our freedoms with DAO pistols every day. Needless to say, with consistent training, one can get the job done proficiently, even with a long and hard trigger pull. I’m sure that there are reasons beyond my understanding that explain why so many professional carry DAOs, but I believe the most paramount is the added peace of mind they offer when carrying with a round in the chamber.
Proper firearms handling, and safety mechanisms will prevent any modern gun from firing unless the trigger is pulled (regardless of the action), however, there is definitely an added comfort level when carrying a locked-and-loaded DAO pistol…just remember that complacency kills.
Double-action Single-action Revolvers:
With a double-action single-action revolver (DASA), the operator can simply pull the trigger to fire (double-action), or manually cock the hammer, then fire (single-action). As you may have guessed, the single-action operation results in a crisp trigger pull, while the double is heavier. It’s kind of a best of both worlds scenario, as the shooter has options, depending on the moment.
Unlike DAO revolvers, you don’t see a lot of DASA wheel guns in the pockets of concealed carrying Americans, mainly because the hammers can cause clumsy deployment. That said, this trigger action in a full-frame model makes for one mean addition to any home defense arsenal.
Double-action Single-action Semi Auto Pistols:
DASA autoloaders have a slightly different situation than DASA revolvers; the operational logic is almost reversed. In a DASA revolver, the trigger is going to be double-action unless the shooter manually cocks the hammer. In the case of a semi auto, the first shot is double-action (unless the hammer is manually cocked), but all subsequent shots are single-action, unless the operator uses the decocking lever to safely disengage the hammer. This is because the movement of the slide not only chambers a new round, but cocks the hammer back as well.
Some folks are intimidated by all the extra mechanisms on DASA pistols (i.e., decocking levers, hammers, and the occasionally included manual safety), and they’re often dinged for having inconsistent pull weight (between the double-action first shot, and subsequent single-action); personally, I view the aforementioned points of criticism as options.
If you purchase a DASA pistol, you definitely need to acquaint yourself with all buttons and levers, but when you look past all the gadgetry, most of them are very simple to operate, even for new shooters.
Striker-fired Semi Auto Pistols:
As I mentioned earlier, striker-fired (SFA) isn’t really a trigger action in itself, but the firing method shared among most striker-fired handguns is nearly identical. I wanted to avoid confusing Handgun Wizard users, which is why I decided to shy away from designations like, “DOA SFA” and “SAO SFA”, or “half-cocked” and “full-cocked” pre-sets…honestly, it confuses me just the same. I have kept things relatively simple by lumping most striker-operated handguns together, forming the tool’s “striker-fired” category.
SFA pistols’ popularity have skyrocketed over the last two decades, and I don’t think they’ll be going anywhere for a while. Their main draw is ease of shooting. As far as operative simplicity goes, nothing beats shooting a revolver (you won’t find many striker-fired revolvers, by the way), but SFA pistols are a close second.
There are many subtle differences from model-to-model, but you can fire just about any SFA by slapping a magazine into the grip, racking the slide to put a round in the chamber, deactivating the external safety (if there is one; many SFAs don’t include manual safeties), and pulling the trigger with the target in your sights (don’t forget to mind what’s behind your target before doing so).
The trigger experience is always the same, from the first shot to the last round in the magazine; same weight, same travel, and same reset. Whether you’re training at the range or ending a nasty situation in your home, the consistency of SFAs can be very beneficial.
Strikers normally have lower profiles than hammers, and unlike a hammer, they travel in a flat trajectory to strike the primer. Consequently, the bore is able to sit lower in a striker-fired handgun; the result is what is often referred to as a “low bore axis”. Low bore axis allows the shooter to grip the gun slightly higher than they’d be able to on a typical hammer-fired pistol. In this configuration, the energy of the blast travels directly into the palm, wrist and arms of the shooter (provided they’re employing proper form), resulting in less muzzle flip, and often a reduction in felt recoil.
SFA pistols have a couple disputed downsides, of course. For one, many of them are missing the “second strike” feature inherently present in hammer-fired handguns. Say, for instance, you pull the trigger and the cartridge doesn’t fire; with a hammer, you could simply try pulling the trigger again and hope for a bang on the second pass. The same method can’t typically be employed on SFAs because the striker isn’t properly retracted after a misfire.
Some will argue that it isn’t a good idea to attempt firing a cartridge that didn’t pop the first time. And, the old “tap, rack, bang” (clear a malfunction by slapping the bottom of the magazine, aggressively racking the slide, and pulling the trigger) works well on SFAs when trained properly, but to the credit of hammer-driven pistols, the couple seconds that are potentially saved with a second strike could prove very valuable when seconds count (that’s a pun).
I’ve heard people complain that the trigger break is lackluster on a striker-fired handgun; some have gone as far as calling it “spongy”, even “mushy”. I’ll admit, nothing beats the sweet snap of a well-crafted SAO trigger, but in my opinion, SFA triggers really aren’t that bad. Ultimately though, you’ll have to decide if it feels right to you.
It’s definitely important that you’re comfortable with the trigger action on whatever model you decide to purchase. It affects everything from trigger pull to the simplicity of operation; taking a few fundamental factors in consideration, here’s a quick and very general (dirty) breakdown of the pros and cons of each. Read the rest of the trigger action section if you seek further detail:
Single-Action-Only: light and crisp trigger pull; high speed and accuracy; highest operational learning curve.
Double-Action-Only: heavy trigger pull; generally lower accuracy; popular for personal defense and pocket concealment; medium operational learning curve .
Double-Action Single-Action: option of heavy or light trigger pull; relatively simple in revolvers, but semi-automatic pistols have a medium operational learning curve.
Striker-Fired: consistent trigger pull; lower muzzle flip and felt recoil; typically lack “second strike” functionality (ability to simply pull the trigger again after a misfire); relatively low operational learning curve.
Note: This is intended to be a guide; all stated learning curves are relative and subjective. New shooters shouldn’t feel discouraged to test drive an SAO just because I said it has a high relative learning curve. Practice shooting often, practice safety always, and you’ll be fine.
In the style of my previous spiels, I’m not going to include much banter on caliber measurements and naming conventions, nor will I will delve into the head-spinning world of ballistics. My aim is to offer some general tidbits for you to store in the back of your mind when you go handgun shopping. To maintain simplicity, I recommend you keep the following basic principle in mind when choosing a caliber: go as big as your comfort level and budget can afford.
Note: If you’re looking for more information, here are a few solid resources to get you started: Basic Bullet Guide (an easy-to-read beginners’ run down on handgun calibers); Caliber (an objective breakdown in tried-and-true Wikipedia fashion); Handgun Cartridge Power Chart (a nitty-gritty ballistics assortment that includes the majority of the calibers listed in our Handgun Wizard).
Let’s quickly analyze this principle:
First, the higher the caliber, the higher the stopping power. Without stopping power, you can’t effectively end a life-threatening situation, and if you aren’t shooting to end the threat, you’re just an idiot with a gun (soon to be a dead idiot).
There’s definitely something to be said about subtle accuracy over brute force, and there are an army of experts out there quick to point out that many of the world’s most notorious trained-assassins prefer the mousy .22 long rifle as their round of choice.
The .22 might possibly be my favorite caliber for recreational shooting (they’re great for training as well; consider buying a .22 conversion kit for “cheap” training, if there’s one available for your model), but I’m not a professionally trained assassin with ice cold nerves and calculated timing. For this reason, a caliber as small as a .22 or a .25 will never be my primary defensive weapon, nor will I recommend it to anyone else; they’re better than nothing, but I can almost guarantee that there’s something more appropriate for you out there.
If I’m ever forced into a situation where I need to fire my gun on someone, I’ll need to focus my rattled energy toward putting shots on my attacker’s center-of-mass, not threading the blacks of his eyes with a Hollywood trick shot. Generally speaking (the only way I speak), the bigger the round, the lower your margin for error, and the better chance you have of coming out an unpleasant situation with your life.
Secondly, buy the highest caliber you can comfortably shoot. There’s no point in buying a handgun for protection if you can’t control it–or worse–you’re afraid of it. The .500 S&W Magnum is the most beastly mass-produced handgun cartridge on the market. There is no murderous thug on the planet who is going to take a kiss from the .500 and keep coming at you. In fact, there are few ne’er-do-well grizzly bears who can maintain a full charge after taking a blast from this round.
So, when I finally got a chance to shoot one, did I go out and buy one for my nightstand? No, I wiped the tears from my eyes, took a knee and begged for mercy. There’s no shame in moving to a less-powerful cartridge if the pistol you’re test driving jumps out of your hands, or in my case, gives you anxiety attacks.
Thirdly, regardless of the handgun you decide on, it’s critical that you shoot it often enough to gain proficiency. Everyone learns at a different pace; one shooter might start to figure things out after unloading the first magazine, while another may go through 1000 rounds before they feel confident enough to protect themselves with it.
There are plenty of exercises you can do to sharpen your skills without actually firing live rounds (I plan to cover some of these in the future), but every now and then, you do actually have to sling some lead. For example, I’ve taken a few defensive shooting classes (something I recommend everyone does at least once to gain a solid foundation). During my last class, I fired over 200 rounds of .40 cal throughout the course of my two hour range lesson. At the time, a box of .40 target ammo (target ammo is typically cheap, full metal jacketed rounds) ran me $16/box, and in today’s gun-hating climate, the price will likely continue to rise.
Now, I don’t blow through $100 worth of ammunition every time I shoot, but–using our previous example–had I decided to make the S&W 500 Magnum my round of choice (runs around $50/box of 20 rounds), I’d have to sell my house to get good with it. Before you decide on a caliber, keep in mind the price of each shot. The initial expense of buying the pistol itself is just the beginning of a beautiful wallet-emptying relationship.
As I’ve exhaustingly repeatedly, OpenSoar’s intent isn’t to tell you which gun to get, it’s to give you the knowledge you need to make your own informed decision. With that in mind, there are a couple of features within the Handgun Wizard I want to point out that combine the basics we’ve discussed. When you click on a gun in the table, you’ll be greeted with a pop-up containing some valuable information <include numbers associated with the example screenshot>:
- Power: the number in the power metric represents the stopping power of the cartridge when fired from the featured gun (the length of the barrel is also factored into the equation). The power rating is relative to the rest of the firearms in the table. For example: a rating of 60 means that the gun is estimated to be more powerful than 60% of other firearms in the list.
- Recoil: the recoil metric is a rough estimate of the energy felt with each shot. In theory, the higher the number, the lower the recoil, and therefore, the easier the gun is to control. There are many factors that play into actual felt recoil that can’t possibly be accounted for on paper (e.g., ergonomics, shape and size of the shooter’s hands, shooter’s physique, technique, etc.), but this will give you an idea of the wake up you’ll receive with each shot.
- Ammunition prices: also included is a short list of ammunition prices associated with the caliber of the featured gun. As I mentioned, ammunition prices change all the time, but I’ll keep the list as current as I can.
I recommend getting the biggest caliber that you can comfortably shoot, and one you can shoot often; reaching a competent level of defensive shooting takes lots of practice and many, many shots to get there. That said, it’s also important to choose a caliber that fits your budget. When using the Handgun Wizard, pay close attention to Power, Recoil, and Ammunition prices.
By capacity, I’m referring to the amount of rounds that can be fired from a handgun without the need to reload. We’ve discussed capacity multiple times throughout this post, but I want to address another point or two before closing the issue.
Handgun capacity is often ranked as one of the most important factors to consider when buying a new handgun. While I don’t necessarily disagree–it warrants significant consideration–I personally place it lower on the totem pole than most experts (of which I am not). Many buyers are lured in by statistical data that suggest a magic number for the amount of bullets you need in your gun before you walk outside. There’s a time and a place for good data, but in my opinion, this is not one of them.
Take one of the more popular figures for example: average shots fired per shooting. The most popular figure I’ve seen linked to this topic comes from Urban-Firearm Deaths: A Five Year Perspective <LINK> which states that the average shots fired per violent encounter is 2.53. I’m in no position to disagree with this figure, however, I invite you to do a little Googling; for every post that you find supporting its validity, a compelling argument exists that questions it.
It makes no difference if the golden statistic (which will never be proven) is 2.5, six, or 10 shots fired per “average” shooting. You’re only limiting your abilities if you select a weapon based exclusively on the number of shots you think you might have to fire. I advise you to first find a few models you feel comfortable shooting, then make your decision based on capacity. After all, what good is a pistol that holds 21 rounds if you can’t put shots on your target.
Any lacking in initial capacity can be made up with consistent training and clever accessorizing. I’ve already preached quite a bit on the importance of training, but I’ll just say, the more you practice with a weapon that you feel comfortable with, the more effective you’ll be at protecting your life. If you were to stack a proficient shooter, armed with a six-shot revolver against three attackers, and a novice armed with a 17-round semi against one, I’d put my money on the former any day of the week.
Now, just because you have a gun that you can shoot well, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t prepare yourself for worse circumstances than what the average statistics suggest; after all, that’s why you’re buying a handgun in the first place, right?
I mentioned earlier that I normally carry an extra magazine with me while concealing my pistol in public (and several more in my home defense preps). I load my typical carry gun, a compact S&W M&P .40, with a 10+1 configuration (10-round magazine, plus one loaded in the chamber). Chances are favorable that, if I’m forced to use my gun, I won’t need even need the 11 rounds that are immediately available (just look at the statistics that I told you to ignore). That said, if my luck runs astronomically low, and I end up needing an extra 10, I’ll be very glad that I came equipped with a spare magazine.
There are so many different combinations of magazine sizes, holsters, caddies, and carry-clothes, that I struggle to think of many–if any–situations where a defense-minded individual has an excuse not to pack some extra ammo. Even if you opt to carry an ole’ reliable, low-capacity revolver, you can still take an extra six, 12, or even 18 rounds along for the ride. Speed loaders are great for reloading wheel guns in competition, when you can clip them comfortably to your belt, but carrying them concealed in a pocket can be a bit cumbersome. With speed strips, however, you can carry reloads for your six shooter and still keep a flat profile for concealment.
All the revolvers listed in the Handgun Wizard have a fixed capacity, however, many of the autoloaders in the table have optional magazine sizes that aren’t featured (I plan on adding this feature in future versions of the tool). With that in mind, if you like the feel and concealment of a Glock 26 (affectionately known as a “Baby Glock”), but the standard 10-round magazine isn’t cutting it, you might want to consider one of the 15, 17, or even 33-round optional magazines (I probably wouldn’t carry a concealed 33-round Glock, but if you want to try, and your local laws permit it, be my guest…let me know how that goes).
Capacity reflects the number of rounds that can be fired without requiring a reload. Having ample ammunition at the ready is a definite perk, but it’s not everything. Before even thinking about capacity, I recommend that you first find a few guns that you feel comfortable shooting, then consider paring down your selection by ammo volume. Any shortcoming found in a low-capacity model handgun can be overcome with proper training and utilization of ammunition-carrying accessories.
To all you lefties out there who consistently face hardship and discrimination in a right-handed world, please prepare yourselves for further prejudice; like so many others, the handgun industry also caters to righties. There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel.
Many popular firearms manufacturers have heard your pleas, and have done the right thing by including ambidextrous controls on their handguns. Whether it’s a reversible magazine release button, a slide release latch, or an operable safety on both sides, lefties can find solace in a host of semi-automatic models, built with them in mind.
The simplistic operation of a revolver lends naturally to almost any shooter, regardless of their dominate hand, however, most can only be loaded by swinging the cylinder open to the left (advantage, righties). Semi-automatics, on the other hand, are a bit more complex in operation, and not all of them offer ambidextrous functionality. If you’re left-handed, and you fancy a pistol that discriminates against the trait that makes you special, don’t write it off entirely. Many left-handed shooters will tell you that they’ve been able to quickly adapt to shooting a “right-handed” gun just as effectively as any right-handed shooter. For example: rather than use your thumb to release the slide, or eject a spent magazine, you can train yourself to master the same tasks with your index finger.
I suggest that new left-handed shooters start their search by browsing models with ambidextrous control options (and don’t forget revolvers). With a little adaptive practice, a lefty shouldn’t have much trouble operating a right-handed gun.
I’ve included a feature in the Handgun Wizard that allows left-handed shooters to filter based on ambidextrous safety controls (Ambi Safe), as well as other “ambi” features, like release buttons and slide catches (Ambi Features).
You don’t have to be able to rip a phone book in half to shoot a gun, but many handguns–especially those in larger calibers–do require a little bit of elbow, wrist and finger grease to operate. This isn’t good news to those you who suffer from chronic pain in their joints, or good old fashioned general weakness. If you fall into one of the said categories, I urge you not to fret; there is still a handgun out there for you.
Talking to arthritic shooters, I’ve learned that the most common pain points come from racking the slide on semi automatics, loading bullets into magazines, pulling stiff triggers, and absorbing heavy recoil. Like I did for lefties and small-handed shooters, I added a filter for buyers with weak/ailed hands as well. I began by trying to filter the list by objective data, but there are too many points that are difficult to measure systematically. Therefore, the Weak Hands filter only displays firearms that weak-handed individuals and arthritis sufferers have told me are easy on the mitts…if you disagree with what you see, take it out on them…I recommend thumb wrestling ;).
Note: if you’re a shooter with weak grip, or chronic pain in your joints, and your favorite gun isn’t on the list, please contact me and I’ll get it added.
I’m not a firearms instructor, and I don’t have arthritis (yet…it’s rampant in my family), but there are operative techniques that you may be able to apply, even with not-so-gentle hand cannons. Take for example, this video from Limatune’s Range Diary, which displays an ingeniously simple method of racking a slide with poor upper body strength:
That’s just one of many tricks you can master to overcome your limitations, and become a great defensive shooter.
Manual external safeties:
Every time I take a first-time shooter with me to the range, they always seem shocked to learn that the gun they’re about to fire doesn’t have a safety. Perhaps that comes as a surprise to you as well. While technically all modern firearms have safeties in place (several in some cases), not all of them are the external, operable safeties that we’re used to seeing in the movies (ya know…when the bad guy walks up to the naive protagonist, takes the gun out of their hands, and says, “you forgot to take the safety off”. See Die Hard With a Vengeance).
The Internet is full huge forum wars between proponents of operable, manual safeties, and those who don’t feel they’re necessary. With the exception of a few pistols (the 1911 being one of them), I probably fall into the latter group. That said, I certainly respect the decision of those who have decided they need to have that extra layer of “safety” (I’m using quotes to highlight a homonym, not to express sarcasm towards folks who feel guns with safeties are more “safe”…there it is again).
I’ve included an additional filter called Safety that, when applied, will only display models in the table that have external, operable safeties.
Let me just express one more time, that regardless of where you stand on the issue, a gun that is being handled by an unsafe operator is not safe, whether it has a safety or not. If you’re just joining us, please acquaint yourself with the following safety principles.
What are these accessories I speak of? I’m talking about tactical flashlights, lasers (for targeting, not cutting), strobes, optics, even bayonets (for cutting, not targeting); accessories that if you so choose, can be mounted to your handgun for an added tactical advantage.
The topic of mounted handgun accessories is one that I could wax on for another 10,000 words, but I’m going to exercise restraint as we wind down to the end of this post. The main takeaway is that some handguns are built for a wider variety of aftermarket gadgetry than others. Revolvers, for instance, continue their simple trend, and don’t lend very well to accessorizing. There are plenty of grip modifications that can be worked in to provide integrated laser sighting, but the mall ninja flare generally stops there.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that you can’t wield a flashlight and a revolver (or any pistol, for that matter) simultaneously; there are plenty of tried-and-true methods that enable this important target-identifying feat (a good summation of the basics can be found on this post, but most wheel guns won’t hold the light for you.
Note: One of the core principles of shooting safety is that you know your target, and as you walk down your hallway in the middle of a pitch-black night, it’s critical that you have the means to identify the perceived “threat” as an actual threat. If you aren’t going to mount a light to your weapon, I urge you to practice one of the many alternatives of identifying targets in the dark.
If you stray from the KISS method (Keep It Simple Silly-pants), and you have an itch for heavy accessorizing, you’re probably going to want to shop for a semi automatic pistol, specifically one with an integrated rail system. Rails allow the operator to place a form-fitting attachment on their weapon that will–on a quality system–stay firmly attached, and present only minimal hindrance while shooting. Rails are a very common feature among pistols, but to save you the trouble of sorting them out, I’ve included a filter (Acc Rail) that, when enabled, will only display models that include an integrated rail.
Before you drop $300 on an EO Tech Illuminator <LINK>, just make sure you know you’re buying a compatible system. Accessory rails come in many flavors, including Weaver, Glock’s proprietary class, and probably most common, the mil-spec Picatinny system (a.k.a., 1913). Don’t sweat the details–they’re all solid in their own right–just know that one size doesn’t necessarily fit all.
Metal or Plastic?
I refuse to fuel the ubiquitous holy war between fans of polymer (a.k.a., plastic) frames and proponents of all-metal guns. Having said that, I’m going to entirely avoid a pros and cons approach to addressing this matter altogether.
Just know this: all mass-produced civilian firearms–whether they have polymer frame or not–rely on ample amounts of metal for upper functionality (i.e., you can’t sneak a Glock through a metal detector), and millions upon millions of Glock, HK, S&W, Ruger, and Kahr (the list goes on…) shooters can’t be wrong; there is no quantifiable difference in immediate reliability between “plastic” and all-metal handguns
Note: if you staunchly disagree, and have more than a bloated opinion, and handful of one-in-a-million horror story failures to back up your argument, please send me your facts and I’ll consider recanting my proclamation.
As I see it, the most important factor to consider when making the choice between a metal and a polymer-framed pistol is the feel; which feels better in your hand when you shoot it (I know, that’s my answer for everything…you will do well to believe me). If you happen to have an opinion on the topic one way or the other, you can use the Handgun Wizard to filter plastic guns by enabling the Poly Frame feature.
- Think about how you plan to use your handgun before you start your search.
- Shoot, or at least handle the firearm in person before you buy it.
- Train with your weapon when you take it home.
- Always, always, always practice safe handling and shooting of any gun, ever.
You’re going do great. I’m proud of you.