What gun is best for me? (Suggestions on making decisions.) A common question on the Internet or in print shooting magazines centers around such questions as "Is Handgun A better than Handgun B" or "What's the best defense handgun" or "What is the best ammunition"? You get the idea; people want the best they can buy for their hard-earned dollars and want to stack the odds that they'll be happy with their purchase before forking 'em over.
There's nothing wrong with this, but I suggest that we look at the answers we get with a critical eye …and ear.
We should also not expect to get the equal of a $3500 custom-built handgun for but a few hundred. There are some very, very good guns out there for the money and some offer more than their price suggests, but in general, we get what we pay for. Therefore, if you are asking about pistols in the five hundred-dollar price range and someone suggests something like a SIG P210 or a custom-built 1911, they've not really said anything relevant. Most of us understand this, but the "fun" starts when folks in the gun forums begin offering suggestions in your price range.
Expect to hear good and bad on practically any handgun discussed.
Factories produce products as quickly as they can with the expectation that most will work to at least their minimal requirement levels. Due to production volume, cost cutting measures, and plain, old human error, there will be some lemons get out and into shooters' hands. If the problem is severe or just imagined, but company support in terms of warranty and how they treat this customer is perceived lacking, we will likely hear nothing but the very worst from this person in the form of "Brand X is Junk" type posts or responses to inquiries on it. They are telling the truth based on their experience. The problem is that none of us have the financial resources to own or shoot a statistically valid number of any gun maker's products to truly say if it is junk or not! (Certainly, this assumes a certain level of quality to begin with.)
Another person owning exactly the same make and model handgun has had nothing but good luck with it. This person will probably recommend buying one just like it and will sing its praises to anyone who inquires or will listen. He, too, is telling the truth, but based on his own experience with the gun.
Though not a dedicated fan or collector of Glock handguns, this G26 has never malfunctioned for me and continues to serve me very, very well. I have no valid complaints with this pistol that are not subjective such as "feel" or "looks."
The owner of this Glock 19 certain DID have issues with "Glock perfection." This failure occurred with less than 100 rounds of factory ammo. All companies can and do let some substandard guns get by. Glock made the situation right, replacing the slide and there's been no problems since, but were a person's decision based solely on mine or this person's, the outlook would be based on too few examples.
There is nothing "wrong" with either person's response, but understand that while both are speaking as honestly as they can from their experiences, either can be wrong. The percentage of Brand A's that malfunction might be less than a fraction of one percent and the fellow badmouthing the gun just got "lucky" enough to get one of those. Likewise, Brand B might almost never work, but the fellow singing its praises happened to get the exception that does!
So, can we use the experiences of others with specific makes and models of handguns for accurate information on what we might expect?
I think so. Here's what I do.
Closely read or listen to the response given concerning how well a specific handgun shoots or doesn't, functions or doesn't, and keep a mental tally. If the handgun's popular, you should be able to get several opinions. This will show a trend. Go to other message boards and post the same questions. Some of the respondents will be the same, but you'll pick up a few others. Do the same thing; look at the trend. Also pay attention as to what the complaints were. Were they reasonable or were they outlandish? At the other end, if someone says the gun is "extremely accurate," see if groups are posted or if they mention distances at which they fired.
Two different maker's guns, action types, and calibers. Is one superior to the other? It depends on the intended purpose and how comfortable the end user is with them. The .45 SIG-Sauer probably is the more potent of the two and lends itself to more precise shooting, but this is of little importance if the owner doesn't trust it not to "jam" or cannot/will not carry a pistol of its size. For him, the .38 revolver might be a better choice. More difficult to shoot accurately, it can be done with practice (and should be) and might be more likely to be with him or her than the larger gun.
Beware of posts or answers that are "loud" and adamant that Brand A is "junk" and there's no room for discussion. This person may be truly reporting what he has seen, but his emotions are so against the product that his answer is probably more of an attempt to "hurt" the company than provide any real information. Then again, this may be the only way that particular person knows how to respond. Use your "reality filter" to sort through answers.
I'd not pay much heed to posts in which phrases like, "Everyone knows Brand X is the best/worst" and so forth. This is not a real answer; it is a thinly veiled attempt to shame you into his or her view of a particular handgun. After all, if "everyone knows," shouldn't you or are you so stupid that you don't "know" what seems to be a universal truth? I dismiss such posts or answers as having no merit almost immediately.
On the Internet, we do have some gun store folks as well as company representatives. I do pay attention to what they have to say, but I also keep in mind that they have a vested interest in how their product appears. This is NOT to say that they're automatically lying. While on the subject of companies, pay attention to how satisfied most customers are in their dealings with them. If a majority seem to believe that the company offers satisfactory warranty work and is easy to "talk with," that company probably seeks to provide a quality product and cares about both the satisfaction of their customers as well as the quality of their handgun.
I also caution against buying a brand new model or design based on a limited number of recommendations. It's been my experience that new models frequently have unseen "bugs" that become evident only after a large number of the guns get into the hands of shooters. The company may very well have tested the design, but it just seems that only when many folks under varying conditions use the guns do we find the problems. I suggest that we not be too quick to buy a new design or model. Let it get on the market a while and see how it does. Rest assured that the reports will filter in. I've gotten to where I don't buy any unproven or altered design until it's been on the market for about a year. This gives time for others to spend their time and money on the gun and find out if it works properly or not and allows the company time to tweak the design, beef up parts, or otherwise correct whatever's causing the problem.
A few years ago, I bought a Kahr P9 pistol for greater ease in carry. I'd had splendid luck with their all-steel K9. I was pretty disappointed. I'd bought one of the first P9's out and it worked fine with standard pressure 9mm loads, but would consistently engage the slide stop prematurely at least once per magazine when using any +P ammo. I'd been wrong in my assumption that the only change was in the frame material. Turns out that the slide stop levers between the K9 and P9 were not the same and neither was the way the spring that keeps them from prematurely locking the slide back is mounted. This was enough to cause severe reliability problems. Kahr did their very best to help me with the issue, but that particular gun was never totally reliable. I got rid of it. Today, the P9's seem to be pretty satisfactory, but this is an example of why it might be better to buy new models coming of the production lines a little later.
In general, I suggest the same caveats be considered when discussing action types as well as ammunition recommendations. Don't pay much attention to folks saying things like, "The XYZ action is superior to any other" or "Brand X ammunition is no good for target work/protection/hunting," or whatever it's intended use is for.
We have to understand where these people "are" in terms of their recommendations. For a Class A IPSC champion, a single-action 1911 based race gun might very well be "superior" to any other, but to a widow seeking a reliable, but simple to understand defense gun, it might not be. Understanding, expectation, intended use and level of skill must be considered in addition to just the words. Consider your own unique perceived needs for a particular handgun, your expectations, and your level of skill as well as what you actually prefer! This may be surprising, but some folks have contacted me on this topic and it was learned that they were considering buying a gun that they were "scared of" just because "everyone" said it was "superior." In this case, the gun was a single-action semiautomatic and the intended purpose was self-protection at home, but the person was terrified of having to either leave the pistol cocked and locked or having to cock the hammer before it could be used. They much preferred a revolver, but were almost swayed to go with something they had no experience with because "reloading was quicker." Do not be afraid to go with an action type that best suits you regardless of whether or not others say it's "good" or "bad." I'm speaking primarily of double-action revolvers vs. semiautomatics, be they DA/SA or just single-action. The important thing is to be competent with it.
This K-frame S&W Model 19 might not be able to be reloaded as quickly as a Browning Hi Power or 1911, but it is still a very capable handgun for protection, fun at the range, home defense, and can serve in the hunting field. Often recommended for newer shooters, such a double-action revolver can serve very well, but do not think that ONLY newer shooters use them. Many experienced folks do, too, and by choice!
Probably the most heated exchanges have to do with "stopping power" and ammunition. Here it seems impossible for some not to pontificate and resort to name calling at the same time. A frequently used term is "armchair commando." Even if the person using the term actually knows something, he's hurting his own credibility in my view. Usually, it plays out something like this:
Our "expert" responds to someone's inquiry concerning a particular ammo maker's product, bullet weight, or bullet type and he does not care for some aspect of that ammunition. It almost seems inevitable that within but a few lines, we see something like, "Brand X ammunition is the choice of armchair commandos or gun store cowboys and wannabe's" Our expert might truly have some good information, but he's tainted his credibility with me with his derogatory statements. After all, how many of us have asked people at gun stores or on gun forums, "Are you an arm chair commando or a gun tore cowboy? If not, are you a wannabe?" Almost always, these statements will come from someone in the "stopping power" community and usually from the folks favoring the scientific method of testing ammunition for expansion, penetration, and so forth. They have little room for anything that they cannot duplicate, replicate, or do under controlled parameters…and this is fine, but I do not think it gives them special insight into a person's history with firearms or in shooting situations. This topic and primarily these people are why there are no forums on this site. Despite my belief that they do often present very interesting and useful, accurate information, the rudeness and arrogance that accompanies this is just not worth it. Frequently, it seems that they cannot get along within their own ranks and we find them feeding on one another now and again. There's no need for any of that here…and there won't be.
A great deal of discussion focuses on "effective" handgun ammunition and which is best. I suggest not trusting any caliber commonly chosen for self-defense to be an instant "stopper" regardless of which view you ultimately take in choosing high performance ammunition. Get differing points of view and then make your own decision. Placement and the actual willingness to shoot a felonious attacker as well as tactics will count for more than the "effectiveness" of the ammunition," I believe.
With regard to ammunition effectiveness, I'd go to sites dedicated to ammo "stopping power" or pick up printed material on the topic and I'd look at opposing viewpoints from folks on more than one side of the "what is best" issue. You might find a common load that's "liked" by all or at least most. That might be a good one to consider.
In the end, make the choice that seems best for you. Even though you may not believe you're an "expert" and you may not be, you still know what you prefer or are comfortable with. Pay attention to the trends in how good or bad a particular handgun is and don't get misguided by "loud" posters. Likewise, if you already have ammunition that seemingly has a good track record, don't be too quick to change it just because it's no longer the newest or the "ultimate". There's much to be learned from others' experiences on the Internet, but there's also the need to filter out some of it.
At least that's my opinion.