Unfortunately, many first-time shooters feel pressured into buying their first firearm by the circumstance of fear. When I worked behind the gun counter as a salesman at a sporting goods chain, many of my first-time customers were young couples that had recently experienced a burglary or a similar “wake-up call” when a crime shattered the illusion of safety they had in their neighborhood.
This is not the best time to to buy a weapon. When you’re emotional, you tend to latch on to the first thing that might possibly provide something that approximates a good answer to your problem. That leads to buyer’s remorse. Nevertheless, if you have reason to fear an immediate crime from a specific source, just about any firearm is better than none.
In this specific unfortunate circumstance, I would try to guide the customer to a reasonably priced weapon that provides a balance of defensive firepower, practical accuracy, and user safety. At the time and in my long-gun-only chain, that choice was often either a .410 or a 20-gauge “youth and ladies” shotgun. The specific caliber, action, and configuration depended upon the specific characteristics of the users.
I tended to steer physically infirm or petite shooters towards the .410 because of the reduced recoil and lighter weight frame. I have a friend who is 6 feet tall and 240 pounds man and has severe carpal tunnel syndrome. He can’t hang on to a gun with any noticeable recoil. The .410 would be the better option for him or for many people with similar maladies. I typically recommended the 20-gauge for other users, as it would provide an adequate mix of stopping power, inherent accuracy, and safety. I’d then try to tailor the ammunition to their specific living arrangements. If they lived in apartment buildings or densely packed urban housing, I’d generally suggest larger “game load” shot sizes used for hunting rabbits. If they lived in the suburbs, where there is a little more of a space buffer between homes, I’d recommend lower velocity duck hunting or turkey hunting loads. Unless a couple lived alone (no kids or pets) in a rural area, I almost never recommended the “conventional wisdom” defensive loading of buckshot, as the stout recoil, deafening indoor blast, and risk of overpenetration was too great of a risk.
Fortunately, most people won’t find themselves in such a stressful position when contemplating their first gun purchases. Instead, they will be able to go find out what is best for their needs in a more relaxed and contemplative manner.
It returns to that first essential question: What do you you want to be able to do with your gun?
Are you going to buy it and a box of ammo and stick it in the back of the closet for “just in case”? Or are you going to buy a gun because shooting looks like a lot of fun? Do you intend to shoot socially, maybe even in some sort of shooting sport or competition? Are you looking at weapons because of an uncertain economic future? Are you a fledgling collector looking for a historical piece? Are you fascinated by marksmanship?
Congratulations! Any or all of these reasons (and hundreds more) are great reasons for starting down the path to gun ownership, which we’ll begin tackling in more detail in the next installment.