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So You're Thinking of Buying a Gun
Sierra Times ^ | 11.27.01 | Sunni Maravillosa

Posted on 11/27/2001 8:59:52 AM PST by Gritty

So, you're thinking of buying a gun. With all the unease in the country since 9-11, that isn't surprising. Many people are buying guns; as this news story reports, they're doing so to be able to protect themselves and loved ones. It's not a bad idea, but before you make that move, you should learn as much as you can about guns so you can make an informed choice.

Guns are among the most misunderstood items around. If you listen to some gun control advocates, guns are the embodiment of evil. If you listen to some gun owners, every person in the country ought to carry a firearm, all the time. In reality, the truth is somewhere between these positions.

A gun is a tool. It is morally neutral. A gun can be an instrument of evil, when a rapist uses a gun to force compliance with his vile act. A gun can be an instrument of good, when the sight of one stops some thugs from attacking an elderly lady. What happens with a gun depends on the intent of the person using the tool. Just as with any other tool, if a person isn't prepared to use it, mistakes and accidents can happen—but with a firearm, they can have deadly consequences. To use these tools of self-protection well, you must choose carefully, and train yourself in their proper use.

Choosing the tool that will work best for you

There are several different kinds of guns. When you visit a gun shop, you'll see "long guns"—shotguns and rifles—and handguns that range from tiny to huge. How do you know what gun will work best for you?

The only honest answer to that question is, "It depends." It depends on what you want to use the gun for, and where. It depends on your strength. It also depends upon the law where you live. One way to learn the gun laws in your state is to use the National Rifle Association's search utility for state firearm laws. Your town may have firearms laws, too; check before buying.

The first question you need to consider is whether any gun is a good choice for you. Look down deep into your soul: do you know, to the marrow of your bones, that if some bad guy came after you or your family, you'd be able to shoot him or her? Repeatedly, if necessary? If you can answer "Yes", then a firearm is probably a good choice for you. If you know you can't, don't buy a gun! Criminals can sense fear and uncertainty; if you hesitate at The Moment of Truth, your gun may be taken away from you and used to prey on other innocent people. Don't buy a gun if you can't or won't use it.

Firearms can be organized into three types: handguns, shotguns, and rifles. Handguns are small, but can shoot powerful rounds (enough to stop bears). Their overall size has little to do with the size of ammunition they can shoot. They shoot one projectile—the bullet (which is part of the "cartridge", or "round" of ammunition)—per squeeze of the trigger. Handguns can be single shot—where only one round can be fired, then it must be reloaded—or can have up to 10 rounds loaded for more rapid fire. Revolvers are one type of handgun; they have a cylinder, and chambers that revolve to place a fresh round under the hammer, ready to be shot. Semi-automatic handguns (also called pistols) have a magazine that slides into the gun. A spring in the magazine keeps pressure on the rounds, so that when one is fired, the next one in the magazine is pushed up into the chamber, after the empty cartridge is ejected out of the gun. (Semiautomatic means that you have to squeeze the trigger once for each round to be fired, and the next round is automatically loaded into the firing chamber each time you fire.) Revolvers are generally easier to operate, and are much less likely to jam than pistols—but they don't have the high capacity that semi-autos can have.

A shotgun is a long gun that is often associated with hunting and sports shooting. Shotgun ammunition is referred to as a "shell" or cartridge; it holds projectiles that are propelled out of the shell when it's fired. The number can range from hundreds of small lead pellets—good for hunting birds, which is why it's often called birdshot—to one big lead slug. Shotguns fall into three types of action: single or double barreled guns that must be manually loaded for each shot; pump or lever action shotguns that hold multiple shells and must be manually operated between each shot; and semiautomatic shotguns which function like pistols. Shotguns are more powerful, generally speaking, than handguns, and are generally easier to operate. However, it's a heavier gun, and has more recoil (that's the force that pushes against your body after you shoot a round) than handguns. You must be able to hold the gun steady long enough to shoot to stop the threat, and to take the recoil.

Rifles are useful in hunting, and for certain situations (such as defending a building from people outside, when accurate long-distance shooting is important). They can shoot small caliber ammunition the same size as some handguns, or cartridges so powerful they can bring down an elephant. These guns are very popular in military action, because of their power and accuracy. Rifles generally aren't recommended as personal defense weapons; they're too powerful for the distance that most attacks happen at. The bullet could pass through the bad guy with minimal damage, and continue for long distances, possibly injuring innocent people. Unless you live out in the country, a rifle is probably too much gun for your personal defense needs. However, given that the President has stated that we're at war, having a rifle as part of an overall tactical defense strategy can be a good idea. And, should things come to more extreme circumstances, such as the infrastructure of the country falling apart, you'll have a weapon for bagging squirrels or bigger game for meat.

Next, consider where you'll be using the gun. If you want a gun for home security, many experts suggest either a shotgun or handgun. Handguns are easier for small children to manipulate, an important consideration if you have children. If your primary concern is protecting your person, and you want to carry the gun with you, a handgun is really the only choice of firearm you have. It can be easily concealed, so your gun doesn't alarm others. If you want a firearm to keep in your car, either a shotgun or handgun may do, depending on the type of threat you think you're likely to face. Either will do damage to bad guys, but a shotgun with lead slugs is more likely to be effective if the bad guy's using a car for cover, or as a weapon. If you own a business and want to keep a firearm on the premises, for most situations a handgun is preferred; they're easier to conceal and to bring to action quickly and unobtrusively, which can be crucial in a holdup. Having a shotgun in a safe, strategic place is a good idea, if that's possible.

Getting facts on guns

Once you've decided what kind of firearm you want, go to gun stores and look at guns. Ask questions. No question is too dumb; if the salesperson acts bored or starts giving you sarcastic answers, go elsewhere. If you're a woman and get steered to handguns that shoot small calibers ( such as .22, .25., or .32) on the assumption you can't handle anything more powerful, go elsewhere. Women shoot competitively with large calibers and win regularly. If you have friends who are gun owners, ask for their help. Have them take you shooting, to get a feel for different weapons, how they work, and the calibers of ammunition. Some gun stores with ranges rent guns, so you can test a variety of firearms.

The wide range of choices available can seem overwhelming. You'll find that many people have strong opinions about guns, and they'll happily share them. It can be tempting to rely on someone else's experience, but resist that as much as possible. Remember, you may need this gun to defend your life one day; it needs to fit your circumstances. For example, it's true that the .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol, a handgun caliber of ammunition) round is more powerful than the 9 mm round, but if you can't handle its recoil that extra power isn't going to do you any good. In fact, it could work against you. A handgun your friend loves may be too big for your hands. What you choose needs to work for you.

Try to shoot as many different calibers of ammunition as you can, in the type of gun you plan to buy (comparing across revolvers and pistols is worse than comparing apples and oranges). Spend time at gun stores, handling different size guns in the caliber and type you want to buy. You most likely won't be able to shoot all the different guns available, but listen to what other gun owners say about their guns, and ask them how theirs compare to guns you've fired. Read gun magazines, and gun-oriented web sites, to learn the terminology and find what's been proven to work.

There's no need to buy a brand new gun. Most gun stores stock quality used guns, and the price can be considerably less than a similar new gun. If you want a new gun, that's fine. But if you can't afford a new gun, or you aren't sure of what you want, buying used is a solid choice. You may also be able to get more gun for your money buying used. And if it turns out you made a poor choice, generally you'll have less depreciation with a used gun. Have a reputable gunsmith check the gun, just as you would get a used car checked. Not only can a malfunctioning gun not work properly, it can injure or kill you if it misfires. Check the store's return policy before buying any gun.

How to know what gun will work for you

There's no formula for determining what gun will work best for you. Many will try to tell you otherwise, though, with statements like, "Women can't handle .45 or larger ammunition; it'll kick too much." I know plenty of women who can handle .45s just fine; I also know men who hate that much recoil. (Part of this depends on the type and weight of the gun it's fired from; that's one reason why trying different guns is important.) Similarly, some people don't like the feel of pump shotguns; others don't like semi-automatics.

For a gun to work well for you, it needs to fit with your body well. It can't be too heavy for you to hold steadily and take a shot. If it's a long gun, the butt of the gun should nestle snugly and comfortably in the crease of your shoulder. For any type of handgun, it must fit your hand; various problems can result if it doesn't. You also need to be able to handle the gun's recoil. With shotguns, this means your upper body must be able to absorb the shock. For handguns, your wrists need to be strong enough to control the recoil so that you can aim at the target again fairly quickly. Shooting different guns will tell you what you can handle.

Although no one wants to be shot with any caliber weapon, some are better "stoppers" than others. When you ask about good calibers for personal defense, be prepared for a wide variety of opinions; it's one of the ongoing debates among firearms enthusiasts. The minimum recommended by many experts is .38 Special. These have sufficient firepower to stop even a drug-crazed attacker (although it may take more than one shot). Many experts recommend .45 ACP or 10 mm. Any shotgun gauge except .410 is considered acceptable, although 12 gauge is recommended for those who can handle the recoil. Try various calibers—shoot at least 25 rounds of each that you're considering, in the type of gun you're considering. Choose the most powerful caliber you can safely and consistently handle.

Please don't make the mistake of thinking that just because you're buying a firearm, you'll magically be safe against any threat. A gun is one part of a personal defense plan. Think about other things you can do to become safer. The best book I've read on the topic is The Truth About Self Protection, by former policeman and self-defense expert Massad Ayoob. I encourage anyone interested in the topic to read this book; you'll learn things that you just won't find anywhere else. Personal safety is an important consideration; if you're just now thinking about it, you've got some catching up to do but it can be done.

Good gun information links: (This is only a partial list; there are many more good gun sites, and many more gun manufacturers. A Google web search will turn up more.)

general gun safety
handgun primer for novices
Beretta site
Colt site
Glock site
Kel-Tec site
Mossberg site
Remington site
Rossi site
Savage site
Sig Arms site
Springfield site
Taurus site
Winchester site


Sunni Maravillosa is a psychologist, writer, parent, and gun owner. She can be reached at

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial
KEYWORDS: banglist
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To: big ern
Shhhhh...the public still isn't invited unless they are willing to help me mow the Back 40.
41 posted on 11/27/2001 10:06:06 AM PST by Dog Gone
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To: SlickWillard
I bought one of these beauties about two weeks ago. Nice J

42 posted on 11/27/2001 10:07:12 AM PST by Fiddlstix
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To: Bob
In the PRK, it's a 10 day wait for all firearms, plus we have to take a test or watch a video and receive a certificate before the weapon will be released to the buyer.
43 posted on 11/27/2001 10:08:39 AM PST by Tree of Liberty
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To: Gritty
"Any shotgun gauge except .410 is considered acceptable"

While the 410 is not a barn burner, you wouldn't want to get shot with it. It has roughly the power of a .41 magnum from a 4 inch barrel. Mossberg has a home security model, HS410, that could be usefull for someone not able to use a handgun or a stouter shotgun.

44 posted on 11/27/2001 10:09:47 AM PST by TOMH1
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To: freedomlover
The stag I agree on but I'll take OO shot thanks

Actually, I agree with you. In the typical close range home defense situation, you would definitely want something with some spread - primarily to account for the fact that you'll be so scared, and shaking so badly, there's still a good chance you won't hit them, even with the spread. When I mentioned the slugs, I was kind of joking, and kind of thinking of the absolute worst case scenario, when the bad guys are coming at you in bullet proof vests or (lightly) armored vehicles, in which case the slug will give you some leverage. I didn't want to say "bullet proof vest," however, for fear of being labeled a cop killer. Also, Ms. Maravillosa asks

Look down deep into your soul: do you know, to the marrow of your bones, that if some bad guy came after you or your family, you'd be able to shoot him or her? Repeatedly, if necessary?
In this case, if you hit the bad guy in the torso with something like the F131RS, there ain't gonna be no repeatedly, cause there ain't gonna be any torso left.
45 posted on 11/27/2001 10:10:22 AM PST by SlickWillard
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To: alaskanfan
I'm currently adding a new room to the fishing lodge to hold my firearms.

Ahhh, yes I can see it now. A school bus buried twenty feet deep. Surrounded by stacks of milk crates that are filled with concrete to create a 20 concrete wall. It is entered by shimmying down a false pipe under a fake Toilet.

In the cab of the bus is a large screen TV with the Dish network NFL, NCAA basketball, MLB package. As well as a library of tapes of all the old Twenty minute workout episodes.

Oh dang, now I gave away my plans for my property in Eastern Washington.

No I don't need food, as I can live off the prairie dogs I shoot.

46 posted on 11/27/2001 10:12:20 AM PST by TheErnFormerlyKnownAsBig
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To: Fiddlstix
I have the Mossberg 6-shot pistol grip version.

It's light, easier to maneuver with because it's much shorter without the stock, especially around the house, and especially if you live in a small house with tight spaces and corners.

Regards. SOT

47 posted on 11/27/2001 10:18:11 AM PST by SlightOfTongue
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To: freedomlover
I was thinking about the heat shield, because I was worried that rapid firing would cause the barrel to overheat. With the Mossberg, you have the option of the ghost ring sites -OR- the heat shield, but not both. I opted for the ghost ring sites that come with the 51663, and I am happy to report that we haven't generated any real heat in multi-shot situations. At most, I've felt only what you would call a warmth from the barrel.
48 posted on 11/27/2001 10:19:09 AM PST by SlickWillard
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To: big ern
I can do without the basketball and baseball as long as I have a digital dish and a center ice package, go Blackhawks.

The freezer is full of salmon, halibut, and moose. I'm still looking for a bear to join the rest of the frozen goodies. Other than that you are pretty much spot on.

49 posted on 11/27/2001 10:25:14 AM PST by alaskanfan
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To: Liberty Ship
Mossbergs have safeties that work for lefties.

Roger that. I am not a Southpaw but I can fire the shotgun left handed and still sort of hit my target. I figure that after the nine 00 Buckshot rounds from the magazine and the six from the speed feed stock there should not be a whole lot left to be shot at with the sidearms. but hey one never knows.

Stay well - Stay safe - Stay armed - Yorktown

50 posted on 11/27/2001 10:27:44 AM PST by harpseal
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To: harpseal
castle arms has this and other deals going.

To be direct and to the point, these will be engraved to read, "All your Taliban are belong to us!", and at only $280, how could you ever go wrong!

These are 18" 12guage shotguns, with an 8-shot tube. Since there is a run on these nationwide, I really don't know how many we'll be able to get our hands on, so you would be wise to order as soon as possible. The specific engraving just seemed all too appropriate!

I have no idea if this is a good price but most of their items for sale are at about a 25% discount before FFL xfer fees.

They are offering a Springfield Armory 1911 that is a good price and they have a deal with Heinie to put his sights on at a cut rate as well.

51 posted on 11/27/2001 10:31:36 AM PST by TheErnFormerlyKnownAsBig
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To: Liberty Ship
Excellent post, and I couldn't agree more.
52 posted on 11/27/2001 10:33:07 AM PST by Double Tap
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To: Robert357
Good advice. Not having the best technical knowledge of handguns, I personally would not buy a used semi-auto pistol, unless I knew the person selling it. I have bought used revolvers because there just isn't as much that can be wrong with them. You dont have to worry about mag feed problems or faulty pins.
53 posted on 11/27/2001 10:34:14 AM PST by FreeTally
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To: harpseal
Here is the pistol that I mentioned above. Can be had for Under 600 plus xfer fee and shipping.
54 posted on 11/27/2001 10:34:21 AM PST by TheErnFormerlyKnownAsBig
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To: Clemenza
Here we go again....advice on home protection. I am former Law Enforcement and still an active handgun shooter/owner. I have been shot at (1x)...(he missed) and I have been in finger-on-the-trigger situations (2x). This is what I always suggest.....

Unless you are well trained and practice at least monthly do not go with any weapon other than a revolver. They are the essence of point and click simplicity. With an auto you have to think about too many things (is there a round in the the safety off?) Get the revolver that fits your hand but do NOT go smaller than .38. S&W makes a number of nifty small frame five or six shot .38s. They are all reliable and accurate to 15 yds. (The average encounter takes place within seven yds.) NYPD used a .38 Colt with ball ammo for over a century and NEVER had a malfunction. Go with pre-fragmented hollow-points using a low load. They pack a punch and you won't have through-and-through issues.

If you are a big person and get the training then think about the M1911 .45. Almost any variation from a reputable mfg is good, but costly. Even then there are recoil, stovepipe and over-power issues.

Ignore anyone who praises riot or trench guns. I have never heard of any instructor or experienced officer who opted for any shotgun as his first choice. They are two-hand weapons...not a good idea in the dark, coming down a narrow stairway or turning a corner. Leave them to the SWAT teams. Besides, where in the bedroom or the car or your bag are you going to keep a shotgun?

Ignore anyone who tells you that a .22, .25 or .32 is acceptable. I personally know one dude who got shot SEVEN times with a .25. His street name is Champ and he's still around.

Ignore anyone who tells you to aim for a head shot. You're not a Mafia hitman. No professional will ever train you for this. Just take a look at qualifying points for a head shot. Two quick ones to the center of the torso ends all arguments.

Whatever you do get, keep it clean, learn how to use it, stay practiced, and pray you never have to use it.....good luck and God bless.

55 posted on 11/27/2001 10:39:49 AM PST by wtc911
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To: *bang_list
56 posted on 11/27/2001 10:49:27 AM PST by Tree of Liberty
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To: SlightOfTongue
I have the Mossberg 6-shot pistol grip version.
I have that one also. It looks ugly as sin, but gets the job done. It has as short a barrel as allowed by law (18.5"). The stock/handle are easily interchanged, as are the barrels. I'm getting a regular stock and longer barrel for it so I can use it in polite company. Six shells should handle most situations; if not, it's quick to throw more up the tubular magazine.

Since there seem to be a lot of readers from NY State where I live, it is important for all you Empire Staters to know that in our state, we can't even touch (much less test fire) a handgun without a pistol permit. Getting a pistol permit approved in NY is a six-month process with lots of red tape assuming no red flags pop up. So if you want to get something before then, it has to be a shotgun or rifle.

57 posted on 11/27/2001 10:56:48 AM PST by Gordian Blade
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To: big ern
Yeah, that's the one I have, except mine has the heat shield. Sure is ugly, isn't it?
58 posted on 11/27/2001 11:01:07 AM PST by Gordian Blade
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To: Gordian Blade
Oops, yours is a Winchester. Looks very similar.
59 posted on 11/27/2001 11:03:20 AM PST by Gordian Blade
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To: Gordian Blade
Will this be the first Bang_list post not to make it past 100 replies? I find it hard to believe, not unlike a debka file post.
60 posted on 11/27/2001 11:09:07 AM PST by TheErnFormerlyKnownAsBig
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