Buying Your First Weapon

Sorry for the slow loading or trouble getting here. Growing pains as I move from regular blog to high-traffic blog. Working on it, feel free to hit the tip jar.

After yesterday’s Preparedness On The Fly post (the series is aimed at those just getting into preparedness because of the nuclear threat) it seems there is some interest in my talking more about how to go about purchasing your first weapon. While a good bit of this will concentrate on pistols since that seems to be what most are interested in purchasing, we will cover some other areas as well.

Since most of you reading this don’t know me from Adam’s house wolf, a quick bit of background. I’ve been using edged tools and shooting since I was about six or seven years old. My father was a Marine marksmanship instructor who shot competitions for the Corps back in the early 30s. Based on some of his experiences after he went back in for WWII, he swore Gomer Pyle as a documentary. I was on the rifle team in high school while we had it, and did a fair bit of hunting as the family was not well-to-do and it put meat on the table.

Over the years I’ve had some unique and interesting opportunities that resulted in my earning military expert ratings with the M-16 and issue pistol despite not serving in uniform, and have the paperwork to prove it. I also was familiar with older H&K battle rifles, FN-FAL, all H&K machine pistols, Uzi, Mac-10, Galil, and a number of pistols of various types and calibers. I suck at trap and skeet, and would love to qual on a .50 if I could use someone else’s shoulder as my own is shot. I also know a bit about edged weapons and their history. I’ve written the odd article or encyclopedia entry on firearms. Yes, I am LW from Blackfive. I also truly miss helping people buy their first firearm, it was a job that — for the most part — I loved.

So, let’s step through what I did for customers who were buying their first firearm. Again, there is no one perfect weapon that is great for every situation any more than there is one magic list that tells you everything you need for preparedness. So, the questions begin.

First, for what purpose are you buying this weapon? Are you looking for home defense, car carry, concealed carry, competition shooting, or other? Makes a difference, as I’m probably not going to recommend most FNs for concealed (they tend to be larger), and I’m not going to recommend something with a 1-inch barrel for competition.

Quick pro tip, highly generalized: longer the barrel, better punch and accuracy in most cases. Larger/heavier can give more control, reduce felt recoil (why I recommended such for home defense). Medium to smaller are easier to conceal and most people can get them into battery a bit quicker. For the record, I really don’t recommend micros even as a backup.

Second, may I see your hand? The size of your hand makes a difference in what pistols I would show you. You have to be able to control the weapon, which means you really need to be able to get your hand comfortably around the grip. If it is not comfortable and/or you can’t get enough of your hand around the grip to control it, it’s not the right pistol for you. For example, while Glock makes good products, the angle of their grip is not comfortable for me, so it’s not the right pistol for me.

Third, is there a particular caliber you are interested in? It was interesting to hear what and why in a number of cases, which ranged from ‘my grandson said I had to get this caliber’ to one who heard the caliber on a TV show. We are going to skip all the Fudd drama on calibers and deal with reality. Remember what I said about calibers yesterday, stick with those for now. In terms of control and such, a 9mm is going to be easier to control than a .45 as it has less kick/recoil. Again, it boils down to what works for you and your individual circumstances. If you go with a different caliber, that’s good too. I had a couple of customers that for reasons of age or health just could not handle a 9mm or larger. We found what worked for them. Which makes my fifth recommendation all the more important.

Fourth, what type of pistol are you interested in? Yes, there are some single-shot precision pistols, some with a bolt action even. But, the real issue here is revolver or semi-automatic. And, yes, revolvers are a good and solid choice for a primary or backup weapon. I have carried them before and the Lord willing, I may again. Also, there are people out there who for a variety of reasons can’t work the action on a semi-auto. Again, and again, and again: you have to find what works for you and your individual circumstances.

Fifth, narrow it down to two or three pistols. You may just LOOOOOOVE one of them, but find two others you don’t think are too bad. Now, write down all the information, go to a range, rent them, and try them. Pro tip: tell the range what you are doing and most of them are going to be HAPPY to work with you, and even cut deals, as they are going to try to get you to buy from them rather than come back to me. Get some instruction, try them out, and see which one works best for you. As I noted yesterday, more than one person has found out that the pistol they just thought they were in LOOOOOOVE with either blew for them, or was just meh. It was one of the others that was the right one for them. My memory is fuzzy (stupid lightning), but I think one person actually ended up buying two of the pistols they tried.

Sixth, GET TRAINING ASAP! Knew someone years (and years) ago who was so proud of the gun they had just bought. Asked a few questions, and discovered that they had not only had not shot it but had not even cleaned the shipping grease off of it before putting it in the nightstand. Never went over to their house again as they were an accident waiting to happen. Get training, and spend as much time on the range practicing as time, money, and circumstances allow. Get snap caps and practice dry firing at home. Consider one of the laser practice systems as well.

Seventh, GET LEGAL TRAINING! Know the laws of your state, city, etc. Here in Indy I cheerfully recommend the Indiana Gun Law course at Indy Arms, which is taught by none other than noted 2A attorney Guy Relford. Taking a course like this, along with the actual shooting instruction, will keep you from doing something too stupid before, during, or after a disaster or apocalypse.

Now, let’s quickly go over other weapons/tools. Whatever you get should, ideally, be something you use for things other than a disaster. So, let’s keep that in mind as we move along.

Rifles basically break down into semi-auto and bolt action, though there are some truly unique things out there — in some cases way out there. Bolt actions tend to be reliable though your rate of fire is not going to be fast. If you are even thinking about the possibility of doing some precision shooting, bolt action might be the better choice. Semi-auto rifles are, for the most part, reliable. They have a higher rate of fire, which is not always a good thing. Again, circumstances matter. Caliber is up to you. Try the bolt or action multiple times, find what feels right and fits you best.

A quick aside: MAGAZINE CAPACITY IS NOT THE MAJOR CONSIDERATION IN CHOOSING A FIREARM! Not for regular use, not for crime, and not even for an apocalypse. If you come in and are talking about getting a firearm because the magazines hold a huge number of rounds, you’ve already hit my radar as a potential problem. Mention switches, holes, and other key words, and that is a sale that is not proceeding.

Pro tip: the people at the gun store have no legal requirement/obligation to sell you a weapon of any type. Good stores back their people on that. By law, if anyone sells you a weapon knowing, or having good reason to suspect, that you should not be buying a weapon, they can (and do) face prosecution too, not to mention losing for them and/or their store their Federal license to sell firearms. So, no, I’m not picking on you for race, gender, or other bullshit, I’m refusing the sale because you have just given me cause to believe you are going to do something illegal with it or are not legally allowed to buy it. Just like when you walk in to the store reeking of non-tobacco smoke and trying to pay for the purchase with a stack of small bills over a foot long you have on your forearm. Be kind to the person who may be selling you the weapon(s) you want, and for crying out loud be sober and clean when you go in to the store.

To continue, if your first thought is of firefights and point defense against ravening hordes, please rethink. A firefight or point defense may be a possibility, but the greater odds are more in keeping with “normal” criminal activity with one or two people trying to get you and/or your stuff. You may need it for hunting. Having lots of ammo is a good idea, but you might also consider that it’s going to need to last a while too. Spray and pray sucks big fat hairy warty ones under any circumstances. Precise controlled fire wins the day. It’s even better with friends beside you, so make sure everyone has weapons.

Moving on, shotguns. Today, semi-auto, pump, bolt-action, or single shot, are all reliable. Growing up, I remember when semi-auto (other than the Browning Auto-5) could be iffy and knew a number of old-timers who would not use semi-auto. Times have changed, and there is an impressive variety of options in shotguns and ammunition. I grew up with single shot then pump, but if someone wants to gift me an Auto-5 (yes, I am a fan of St. John Moses Browning) or that deluxe Super Black Eagle 3 with the neat coating, I’m not going to object. As before, find what works for you and your circumstances. If it fits you, it feels right, and you can operate it, it’s the gun for you.

Now, edged tools. They do come in handy in a variety of circumstances. A good axe can do a lot more than just split firewood. A good pocket knife truly is multi-purpose, and a good skinning knife is more than handy for large game. Think about options and possibilities, but I do encourage having a good pocket knife, a larger knife for larger problems, a good axe, and a good hand-axe/hatchet/tomahawk at a minimum. I will note that if things are at close quarters, you might be surprised at what can be done with a short sword or good knife. Other than getting what works for you, I do suggest paying a bit more for quality if needed, and get a good non-electrical sharpening system.

As I know my little rant earlier is likely to bring out the Fudds, or the survival equivalent, some quick thoughts on option planning. Immediately before, during, or after a nuclear explosion (or other disaster), your threat matrix is going to run heavily towards individuals, not hordes, unless you’ve violated the first rule of preparation club. For some time after, it is probably going to remain individuals as people with sense and opportunity are going to be taking shelter and staying there until fallout (or other) danger drops. It is after that, or if you have to do the bugout boogie, that the threat of groups becomes a real issue. That’s when training and having family, friends, and others who are also all armed and trained is a very good thing.

If you have some training and it shows; and, it shows that you are alert, ready, and will act, even a lot of gangs are probably going to go look for a soft(er) target. Don’t look like a soft target. Read Pat Frank’s Alas Babylon for some good ideas not only on surviving a nuclear war, but also a bit more on how and why to look like a hard target. When I talk precise controlled fire, read Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter Siege which has an excellent example of such near the end. It also emphasizes why you should not be the Chosen One and be able to bring friends with you. Also, when Larry talks weapons in any of his books, particularly the Monster Hunter International series, pay attention. Excellent choices in firearms, edged tools, and more (including tactics) though I prefer Streamlight for lights myself. A couple of more good fiction recommendations for enjoyment and some enlightenment.


While I didn’t intend to write this as part of my Preparedness On The Fly series for those worried about nuclear war and just getting into preparedness, here’s links to the series if you are interested.

Preparedness On The Fly (Food)

Preparedness On The Fly: Water

Preparedness On The Fly: Light

Preparedness On The Fly: Cooking

Preparedness On The Fly: Gear

Preparedness On The Fly: Protection


If you would like to help me in my recovery efforts, feel free to hit the fundraiser at A New Life on GiveSendGo. Getting hit by lightning is not fun, and it is thanks to your gifts and prayers that I am still going. Thank you.

9 thoughts on “Buying Your First Weapon”

    1. Thank you. While it is harder to find, Pat Frank did a non-fiction book to go with Alas Babylon on surviving a nuclear war and why you should. In my Nuclear 101 series I also recommended Dean Ing’s book Pulling Through. Half fiction, half non-fiction, all good solid advice.

      1. How do you feel about ‘Lucifer’s Hammer’? I like it for the sense of hope and even optimism it has. If everything does get flushed we are going to need that to survive. All this thought going into the after of the horrible what if has got me thinking of the after-after. Survival is simply the first step.

        1. Like it. Never mind that I knew both Jerry and Larry (remind me to tell you a good Larry story one day), it is a good book. That said, in terms of practical nuclear survival, my first choice is Dean, followed by Jerry.

  1. Got something against lever guns for home defense? A lever action Rossi or Henry in either .38/ .357, or .44/ .44 mag is highly maneuverable, compact, has fairly light recoil, and is reasonably priced. Provides a higher rate of fire than a bolt while allowing the shooter to retain a steadier sight picture. And the ammo is usually more readily available and cheaper.

    1. The only thing I have against lever action is that there are too few of them in the stores. Before the lightning strike ruined things, we got in a very few Henry, but mostly some variant of the Golden Boy. I only recall one “regular” Henry. I would love to see a lot more lever actions back in stock, and am hoping Ruger gets Marlin back at it fast as those were good guns back in the day. Good catch, and thanks!

  2. “normal” criminal activity with one or two people trying to get you and/or your stuff
    Do consider that an increasing number of home invasions are more than 1 or 2 people, however. There are also instances “on the street” where you might be cornered by a larger group than 1 or 2 – but those are mostly handled by not frequenting those sorts of places. It’s still not some massive epidemic, but it’s something to consider.

    I think if you’re planning for post-nuclear armageddon, you need more than one firearm to cover different situations. And one of them needs to be able to deal with groups of bad guys. That means semi-auto using detachable magazines. And buy magazines – lots of magazines. That will definitely help (with any semi-auto) at the range, too, since you don’t have to waste as much precious range time loading said magazines.

    As to “point defense”…. The best thing you can actually do in terms of that “concept” is to ponder just how many vulnerable points of entry your home has. Because this is what the burglar/home invader is looking at, too. I love windows – big ones, to let in lots of sunlight. So do burglars. So I have to think about how to handle all those windows if I hear one of them break in the night. No, you probably don’t need to ponder interlocking fields of fire against zombie or commie hordes. But think of where your vulnerabilities are and then plan intelligently around that (it might even impact your choice of weapon). (This applies to carrying when out and about, too – ponder where your vulnerabilities are and plan around them.)

    As to caliber, I hear a lot of good words about .380/.38 Special nowadays. They used to be sneered at, but intelligent folks I know will back them. And even a couple of smart folks talk about the utility of .32 calibers (there’s more than one) for some people.

    You emphasized training, and I would have put it in bold as well as all caps. Because no matter what caliber you choose and no matter how many rounds you carry, if you can’t hit – in a critical location – what you need to hit, then you should have just chosen firecrackers. They make the same amount of noise to scare off some intruders, but don’t have the potential to hit your neighbors in their beds. Training also means you’re familiar with grip and ammo selection and clearance actions, so your first round doesn’t stovepipe and now you have a nifty brick to throw at the home invader (because you also missed with that first shot).

    Your posts are all good stuff to ponder, LW. Thanks for putting it out there.

    1. Good points, and keep in mind that it’s really written for those new to preparedness and firearms. 🙂 There’s a reason I said I recommended at least one of each type, and weapons for all. Also, you are right about the .380 rounds as some have taken to upgrade them similar to what’s been done on 9mm. Would love to see Barnes do that nifty 9mm bullet of theirs in .380. Again, good points and hope people will read and factor them in. And thank you for the kind words! They are appreciated.

Comments are closed.