Helping someone buy a gun

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you’ve doubtlessly seen images of carnage and destruction coming out of Baltimore. You may have even heard the mayor of Baltimore let this little gem fly:


This quite naturally brings some level of discomfort to normal law-abiding, tax-paying citizens who do not expect the authorities to give people “space to destroy” their property and livelihood. Every time something like Baltimore hits the news, at least 3 or 4 people come out of the woodwork asking me to help them acquire a firearm for personal protection. If you’re the kind of person who reads a site like this, odds are you will encounter the same sort of thing sooner or later…and it poses a bit of a problem.

I came to the firearms and equipment that I use regularly through a long process of research, experimentation, and training based on my own perception of need/desirability informed by that long process. What I have works for me, and I can argue pretty objectively that what I’ve come to works pretty well full stop in a general consideration of self defense. A lot of that, though, isn’t applicable to the sort of people who approach me for advice or assistance in acquiring a firearm. Their equation is different and that means that the right answer for them could be different, too. So how can we offer intelligent advice to someone without unconsciously but inappropriately projecting our situation onto theirs?

1. Be Realistic

I would love to see every person who comes to me for advice about owning a gun be willing to put in as much time and effort as I have into understanding the question of self defense and firearms ownership. I know that few, if any, ever will. I generally have some level of knowledge about the person asking the question and I can use a few simple exercises to figure out where they are in terms of commitment to help guide the answers that I give them. It’s critical to be realistic about what you believe this person is willing and able to do if you want to be helpful. Don’t project what you hope is true about them…assess what’s really true about them and work from there.

2. Be Reasonable

While you want to give useful guidance, it’s impossible to do that if you aren’t willing to engage within at least some of the limits the person is dealing with. Just as an example, I personally don’t care for the .380 ACP as a primary carry cartridge…but I recognize that there are people who have physical limitations that make shooting a weapon with better terminal ballistics painful or outright impossible. If I’m dealing with such a person I am not going to tell them that if they aren’t packing a high-cap 9mm loaded with at least 16 hollowpoints and a reload that they might as well give up. You’re not shooting for ideal, here, you’re shooting for likely good enough. It’s true that in many circumstances “good enough” is an excuse for damnably low standards, but in many others good enough really is good enough…as in the best you can do under the constraints you are working with. A person who has no gun right now but who acquires and regularly carries a Beretta 21 next week has improved their situation considerably. No, it isn’t ideal. It’s better though, and that opens the door to further improvements down the road. Being dogmatic in the early stages, even if you believe you are doing the Lord’s work at the time, often shuts the process down completely and alienates the person to boot.

3. Present options, not necessarily opinions

One of my favorite approaches to these sorts of questions is to bring the person asking to a gun store or the range and present them a number of different firearms that they can interact with. I like to present the firearm in a pretty agnostic way allowing them to lead the discussion with questions while I respond as factually as possible. At a recent range outing with a young couple looking for their first gun I pulled out several different handguns and let them experience all of them after a safety brief on each. As they were looking at the Glock 34 and the S&W M&P the male half asked “So from your description, these two seem very similar…what’s the difference between them?” That’s the kind of interaction I’m looking for. When I demonstrated take-down of both weapons mentioning that the Glock requires a trigger pull to disassemble, the male half asked “Wait, couldn’t that be a problem?” YES. IT MOST CERTAINLY COULD BE. That’s precisely the sort of critical thinking I’m hoping to elicit in this process. When they understand that every weapon has its good points and bad points, and understand that their task is to choose the set of compromises that best suits their particular situation odds are that they will achieve a happy result for themselves. That won’t happen if I spend the whole time lecturing on The Gun World According To Tim. I may guide the conversation here or there and I will certainly clear up any outright factual errors encountered along the way, but I want their brain to be doing most of the work. They, after all, have to live with their decision. What I like may not be what they need, and I have to be intelligent enough to get out of the way and let their needs drive the process.

4. Keep it fun

The subject matter is very serious, but that doesn’t mean we have to wear sack cloth and ashes the whole time. You can have fun with guns, too. It’s possible to make the process fun and interesting without compromising on the important parts like safe handling habits, proper marksmanship fundamentals, etc. Citing the young couple again, after familiarizing them with a number of different pistols I set up a little competition between them where they could use whatever pistols we had worked with up to that point to go against the other. This, from their perspective, was fun. It was also an introduction to using a gun under some level of stress with something on the line to loose. They enjoyed the experience AND learned a little bit about using a pistol under some level of stress at the same time. Win/win.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, by any means, but if you keep these four principles in mind and use them in your approach I’ll wager you will get the same excellent results I usually get…and you might even enjoy the process yourself.

Stay safe…



  1. I hang out at a gun store and range as much as I can get away with. I overhear folks recommending the “Judge” all the time and usualły to new shooters. While it my be a fun gun to play around with I really don’t think it’s a very good first handgun for self defense, training, etc

  2. YOUR article is well done.I learned by trial and error what guns work for me. When i am asked about a gun, i recommend that they go to a range that rents guns and try different ones til they have found one they are comfortable with.

  3. With regard to #2 – It would seem there is no ideal choice as each situation is unpredictable. As often stated: the only incorrect choice, would be the one you fail to carry or cannot safely and accurately use.

  4. Good initial discussion on a very difficult subject. The variables are too numerous to cover in a forum, and the “hands on,” aftersafety brief, approach is an excellent way to introduce new shooters to the wide range of handgun coices.

  5. An idea for ranges, shooting schools, and gunshops*- an utter noob tryout event. Basically, for about $10, the utter noob gets a quick class in the basics (4 rules, operation, shooting basics) followed by a “pick & shoot” session on the range. A selection of the more popular handguns would be on offer, and they’d get a chance to run a mag through them. A system of charging for ammo would be needed of course, maybe $5 a mag, or sell a box of 100… and finish up by offering a nice discount if they want to buy the same gun in stock.

    *Chances are some do something like this

    1. Not to be sexist or anything but “ladies night” range is basically what you just discribed… Also some places actually used to do it for free (there was a gun club south of the twin cities where my ex girlfriend fell in love with the tiger sr9c at just such an event).

  6. And please, don’t steer them toward a gun/caliber that you already own, or a gun/caliber that you wish you owned, UNLESS that new gun buyer has had a good opportunity to handle that gun/caliber in dry-fire AND live-fire, AND is comfortable with that choice. Too many husbands/boyfriends/dads/uncles/buddies/etc. want a new gun buyer to buy what they themselves have/use/want – and even though they may be well-meaning, on at least some levels they’re unconsciously trying to validate their own choices and desires by steering others towards them…

    1. there’s no way I can have them try to live fire even most possible options. I mean damn, there is *one* range here that rents guns and all they have for rent is usually a couple of Tarus revolvers and a glock of some sort and a beretta.

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