How to Buy a P!

tol
Introduction “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” -- US Constitution, 2nd Amendment I think it would be remiss of me to begin an article on how to buy a pistol, without first paying homage to that article which empowers us to do so in the first place. If you’ve decided to take the plunge and purchase a pistol for yourself, I also think it would be remiss of me if I did not address the fact that gun ownership is one of the most volatile issues in America today. On the one side of the political debate are those who wish to uphold the classical meaning of the 2nd Amendment, which grants to the individual the right to own firearms. On the other side of the debate are those who translate the 2nd Amendment to pertain strictly to a militia. In this view, gun ownership is not permitted to the people at large, and just as the purpose of the militia has gone away, so to the purpose for guns in this modern society. It may be that you fall into this second camp. I have had the good pleasure of knowing such a gunowner. He is both a good man, and a good American. To some, it may seem inconsistent that a person who does not believe in general gun-ownership would own a gun. I would agree. But not all people come to gun-ownership by walking the same path, or by following the same logic. Life is a many varied thing. Regardless of which camp you hail from, there is one salient point which must be made--without which gun ownership in America is doomed: personal responsibility. In America, we enjoy great freedom-probably more than any people on Earth. But this is one freedom that irresponsible gun-owners, gunmanufacturers and gun-retailers will ultimately take from us. If you are about to purchase a pistol, personal responsibility must be your watchword. Personal responsibility must be at the fore of your mind when you consider the upkeep of your pistol; when you consider the accessibility of your pistol; when you consider the safe use of your pistol; and when you consider the deadly use of that pistol. In the coming segments of this article, I will discuss some of those finer points. In the end, it is my goal to have made you a more self-aware, educated gun owner. Dea" “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” -- J. Robert Oppenheimer Let me clear up one matter very quickly: I am not a gun salesman. I am not trying to sell you a pistol, though I do hope you will become a responsible gun-owner. But when you do become a responsible gunowner, my solemn hope is that you realize, without a shadow of a doubt, that you hold in your hands an instrument of death.

It does not matter how many bullets your pistol holds, or the calibre: a pistol is an instrument of death, and a multiplier of the same. While it is absolutely true that a pistol is an exceptional means of personal defense, I believe it is necessary for you to realize that the defense of your life will more than likely come at the extinguishing of another’s. Many immature people believe that they can make that trade--their life for another’s--but the 1,000 yard stare of our brave Soldiers, who’ve seen more blood in their lifetimes than we will see in five, should tell you differently. Killing another human will irrevocably change you, and you should be prepared that that change may not be positive. Always remember: not all death is physical. Fear “The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom, and before honor comes humility.” - Proverbs 15:33 I have just told you that you are purchasing an instrument of death; that, even if it does save your life, you may find yourself trapped in an emotional death that could take years to recover from. So, if you’ve chosen to purchase a pistol and have not been touched by the hand of fear, you probably do not need to purchase a pistol. Fear is a very powerful tool for a gun-owner--not in the sense that he or she provokes fear in others, but that the fear of horribly altering their life or another’s stays their hand. Responsible gun owners are not Dirty Harry wanna-bes; responsible gun owners do not provoke others and are not easily provoked. But a responsible gun owner does recognize the incredible life-altering power he wields. Many gun owners will say that it is not fear that they possess, but respect--respect for the firearm. But please see the Bible verse I have quoted above. Take note that it uses the word “fear”, but it means “respect”. Fear and respect are sometimes synonymous terms. With firearms, they are always synonymous terms. One last thing on this subject: many people seem to think (mistakenly) that if they own a firearm, that they will suddenly be cool; that they will have clout and respect and honor. The reality is far different: a child with a gun is still a child. He is not made an adult because he threatens someone’s life. He is not granted respect because he demands it. Honor comes from one place: humility--and humility from respect, and respect from fear. Gang-bangers and Dirty Harry wanna-bes can’t grasp this; but responsible gun-owners know it inherently. Training This isn’t the movies. This is not the O.K. Corral, and you are not Wyatt Earp. If you decide to purchase a firearm--particularly for the purpose of self-defense--you need to be prepared to lay down your life. A pistol will not make you bullet-proof. It will not make you faster, sharper, grittier, or any of those other things Hollywood likes to sell. The only thing a pistol will do is put capability in your hands. Capability and ability are two totally different things. In order to successfully use that capability, you need ability. And in order to possess ability, you need training.

Training should cover a wide range of topics. While some are not necessary to be a responsible gunowner, I’m a huge believer in that the more you know, the more well-rounded you will become. I am also a firm believer that learning should be fun. To that end, I highly recommend the following topics as a great place to start: • The History of the Modern Bullet. The Military Channel produced a show called “Weaponology” a while back. One of the episodes of that show was entitled “Sniper Rifles”. In that show, they go through the entire history of the modern bullet, beginning with bows and arrows. Not only is it fascinating, its pretty fun. • How Firearms are Manufactured. The History Channel always delivers the goods when it comes to fascinating history. “The History of the Colt 45” and “The Evolution of the Battlefield Guns” are two very fascinating (albeit very short) looks into firearms manufacturing. • Biographies. Knowing where weapons came from and how they have evolved is fascinating. Knowing how they work is also fascinating. But perhaps more fascinating still is learning about the people that made these weapons. Learning about men like John Moses Browning, Samuel Colt, Oliver Fisher Winchester, B.T. Henry and others will provide an insightful look into the men who created the modern firearm industry in America. In the end, you should come out with a wide variety of knowledge, such as: what is smokeless powder, and why is it useful? What is rifling, and why is it useful? What’s the difference between a flint lock, a match lock and a wheel lock? What is muzzle-loading, and how is it different from breech-loading, toploading or bottom loading--and which came first? What are the basic actions of a rifle--and how are those actions accomplished? All the above is good head-knowledge. But good head-knowledge of another kind is safety. “Safety first” is a common refrain in the Army and on construction sites across the country. If you touch a pistol, you think safety; if you aim a pistol, you think safety; if you store a pistol you think safety; if you clean a pistol you think safety; and if you fire a pistol, you think safety. From the moment the pistol touches your fingertips to the moment you re-holster it, you think safety. You should know the different kinds of safety devices on a pistol, and how they function; you should know what muzzle awareness is; you should understand the concept of “clear fields of fire” and “left and right limits”. The personal irresponsibility and unsafe acts of thousands of gun-owners are killing the 2nd Amendment in this country. What are you going to do to make it better? Head knowledge is important. Bullets don’t come out of your pistol by magic, and if it jams, you need to know how to fix it rather than just toss it aside. But training should not be head-knowledge only. Headknowledge must meet hand-knowledge--put flesh to steel and test your mettle. There’s only one way to do that, and that is to head to the range. “A range?”, you ask incredulously. Yes, a range. Obviously if you’re just getting trigger-time, you can shoot cans in your back yard. But if you’re actually trying to make yourself better, you’re going to do that at a range. Most ranges are simple paper target ranges. That’s where you want to begin. Some people prefer shooting at circle shaped targets. I think that is a waste. You won’t be shooting at a circle shaped object when it counts, so you might as well go with the man-sized silhouette. That’s right: train your eyes now, because the thing you shoot in self-defense is going to be a person. Once you find your mark on the paper targets at close range, start pushing that target back as far as you can. In the world of pistols, the long shot is very rare--but the person who can make it is the clear winner of the contest. Finally, the paper range is where you want to get the feel of drawing your pistol, aiming and firing.

The next range you’ll want to find after that is one that has pop-up targets. Pop-up targets are timed, so your speed at acquiring the target, aiming and firing, is tested. This can also be where you put your draw-speed to the test. Some targets are up and down in just a couple seconds. Drawing bead and firing on these can be a very fun (although sometimes frustrating) challenge. Pop-up ranges can be challenging at first, but eventually your skill at the pop-up range will plateau, and you will need to develop new skills. For those new skills, you’ll need a range that has transitioning targets. Let’s face it, in real life the “targets” don’t just pop up and stop. They move, and you have to be able to track and fire. Transitioning targets are very difficult with a pistol, because you are constantly moving and aiming ahead of the target. Drawing on a transitioning pop-and-drop target is a very difficult challenge.

#e Purchase Now, I’ve purposely given a lot of build-up so that you are good and ready to dig into some real meat. The fact is, very few actually research their weapon before they buy. The reason for this is pretty simple: most purchasers are guys, whose optic nerve runs directly through the imagination center of their brain (fact), and so they choose their guns in the same way they choose their women and their cars: by which one looks the sexiest and plays on their imaginations the most. Guys, don’t even try to defend yourselves--I am a guy. We offer a lot of techno-babble about guns, cars, doodads, and other technical stuff, but in the end you still think of your gun as a “she”, and probably your car in the same way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the expression that “holding a gun is like holding a fine woman: you have to be firm but gentle...” I’m not even sure that’s good advice, but for whatever reason it works for guys. But what we are about to dive into here is a whole new kettle of fish. This does not consider the glint of the steel, or the curve of the handle. This is not the art of the gun (a fascinating study), but the science. Upcoming, we will discuss pistol calibres, frame sizes, barrel lengths, gripping, price, and branding...and at the end of it, I believe you will possess a deeper knowledge than probably 50% of gun owners in America. Calibre First, why calibre and not millimeter? Simple: in America, we run on an American Standard of measurement. Europeans run on a ten-base system of measurement. Calibre and millimeter are effectively describing the same thing: the diameter of the round. Therefore, .50 cal is 1/2 an inch in diameter. 12.7 millimeters is also 1/2 an inch. As you will see later, however, there are small differences and adjustments. But calibre is exactly where you want to start when you consider purchasing a pistol. Some women I’ve spoken to concerning bullet size, say, “I just want something small...it doesn’t need to do much.” I’m not sure where that logic comes from, because what your bullet needs to do is put down someone that is attacking you. If you don’t think that qualifies as “much”, that is your business. I think its a really big deal.

The issue with the calibre of the round is power vs. recoil. The larger the calibre, the greater the power. That is because the greater the diameter means that the lead bullet is going to be bigger and heavier, and there is also going to be more powder in the shell casing to push that large hunk of lead out the barrel. However, the greater the amount of powder, the more recoil you will have. In the movies you see actresses like Angelina Jolie wielding some serious firepower. In one movie she wielded two Desert Eagle’s, which fire a .50 calibre bullet. She made it look easy, but the reality is that a .50 calibre bullet, when fired, will just about break your wrist. While its true that many people can, and have, fired the .50 cal AE pistol round, I never recommend it as a round for someone’s first gun. As stated above, the greater the calibre, the greater the power. And that power can be viewed in two ways: stopping power and penetrating power. There is a straight-line correlation between calibre and the ability to stop an opponent: the greater the diameter (and therefore, the bullet mass) the greater the stopping power. The inverse is also true: the smaller the diameter, the less the stopping power. So, if I fire a .22 calibre round at someone, I should not expect that they will stop in their tracks. They may die, but not before they get a lot closer to you. At the same time, if I fire a .50 caliber at someone, the mass of the round will not only stop the person in their tracks, but probably send them sailing backward. Penetrating power, on the other hand, is not a straight line...it looks more like a roller coaster. The largest pistol round (.50 AE) not only has the greatest stopping power, but also has the greatest penetrating power as well. The person who was sent sailing in the paragraph above is also the proud new owner of a see-through chest cavity. The .45 cal round has great stopping power, and less penetrating power than a .50 cal. The .40 cal is a great middle-of-the-road round, giving stopping power and penetrating power in equal doses. But once you drop below the .40 calibre round, stopping power falls off dramatically. The American .38 calibre (comparable to the european 9mm) has almost no stopping power whatsoever. The American .38 does not have great penetrating power either, but the European 9mm has excellent penetrating power. Generally speaking, the greater the mass of the bullet, the broader an impact area it will have. The greater it’s impact area, the more knock-down force it will have. The smaller the impact area, the less knock down force it will have--but it will have easier pass-through-ability (penetrating power). Where this pattern clearly falls off is with the standard .22L (L is for Long) round. There is so little powder in the casing that the small diameter bullet just doesn’t have the umph to do any sort of pass through. The lead is also so light, that it is easily stopped by the body, and it also easily fragments. If you are trying to somehow be kind to an assailant that is attacking you, do not shoot him/her with a .22 round. This round is notorious for “bouncing off everything inside the body” before it stops--and before the person dies. Dealing with all the different bullet sizes can be daunting, particularly to a first-time purchaser. Choosing the calibre you want generally comes down to what you want to accomplish. For a first-time pistol owner, I do not recommend the .50 AE or the .22L (although the .22 is a far cheaper round than all of them). I recommend going as large as your wrist can handle--and that is largely up to the next category.

Frame Size With frame size, things get a little easier. Frame size tells you how large the barrel and handle of the gun are, and there are generally three sizes: full, compact, and sub-compact.

The issue surrounding which frame size to choose is a choice between portability and accuracy. The more portable you make the pistol, the less accurate it will become. With portability, we ask three questions: “how light can I make the pistol?”, “how short can I make the barrel?” and “how small can I make the handle?” Weight is very critical to a pistol, because a very light-weight pistol will kick like a mule--but a heavier pistol will bear the recoil of the bullet better. The felt recoil is actually lessened with a heavier pistol. This vice between light-weight and heavy also will have significant impact on follow-up shots, which will be discussed momentarily. The length of the barrel is also something every gun owner must consider. Barrels shorter than 4.5 inches will naturally see a sharp decrease in the accuracy and muzzle velocity of the round. However, a short barrel makes for less weight to carry and far easier for concealment. Reducing the handle size is also a great way to increase the conceal-ability of the pistol--but with semiautomatic pistols, that is where the bullets are stored. And so the smaller you make the handle, the less bullets you are capable of storing. Vice that, the larger the handle, the more likely the gun-owner is not capable of getting a full grip on the pistol. This may lead to difficulty handling the pistol when fired. So then, the lighter the gun, the shorter the barrel, the smaller the handle, the greater the portability--and the greater its inaccuracy. There is a reason why a Derringer is shot at point blank range; now you know.

G$p Grip is a matter of control and follow up. This is where the guys get it right when they talk about a pistol that “just feels nice in the hand”. And yes, that’s true of guns, cars and ladies. Of grip and follow up, one directly effects the other. Control is your ability to minimize lateral movement (side to side) in the pistol as it fires, and the ability to bring pistol back to its original point of aim. Excellent grip and body position make this possible. Clearly, bringing the pistol back to its original point of aim directly translates to less thought, and less motion, in reacquiring the target. Your follow up shots will naturally be faster, and more accurate. For the first time shooter, my following recommendation is not a necessary one. However, I would be remiss here if I did not mention that rough grips fare better than smooth grips on a pistol. Most pistol makers know this and dress their pistols accordingly. However, gun-owners can take gripping their pistols to a whole new level by having a gun smith cut horizontal lines in the steel just below the trigger well, and down the front of the handle. These horizontal lines will naturally “bite” against the shooters fingers when the gun kicks up. This will reduce the upward motion of the pistol (slightly), which will bring the barrel back onto target faster (again, slightly). Overall control is improved, and follow up shots are improved as well.

P$ce Although price will invariably set the conditions for many gun purchases in America, I believe that the price of a gun should be of limited priority. Obviously, I’m not advocating breaking the bank on a fancy gun. But nor am I saying you should get the cheapest thing you see, either. Don’t buy a gun because its cheap--you will have wasted your money. Your gun should be something that you’re proud to carry, and something that you are completely confident in. If you carry a pistol, you should never question its performance. But the reality is that confidence translates to green. Money. And when it comes to the price of a pistol, here’s a few tips on what drives the prices of the pistols you see: The first most important factor in price is the materials used. Are we talking about a polymer gun, or are we talking about steel? The fact of the matter is that polymer is a far cheaper material (cost-wise) than steel is. And although a polymer gun can be just as rigid as a steel gun, a polymer gun is also lighter. The second most important factor in price is the process used to make the pistol. Some pistols, like the model 1911, are extremely expensive to make due to the process required to make them. Other pistols, such as the Glock, use a less expensive process. The third factor in price is labor; and the fourth is branding. Obviously, a highly technical build process probably requires more man-hours to make than a pistol with a simpler build process. Those man-hours add up. But branding also plays a big part in the price of guns. For instance: many manufacturers make a model 1911 pistol. Para and Kimber are two examples. Yet, the Kimber pistols are more expensive its Para counterpart. Why? Sometimes what is in a name is very important; other times its just a name. The first-time gun owner shouldn’t worry about what the name brand of the pistol is. On the whole, everything I’ve discussed under the heading of “Price” is secondary--even tertiary--to those things written above it. So the brand is not important. What is important is that you know what you want out of your pistol. Do you want a pistol that has great stopping power, or one with less recoil? Some criticize the 9mm round because it has so little stopping power--but the fact of the matter is that it can’t really be beat for locking in those critical follow-up shots. And at the end of the contest, the opponent is dead regardless. But if you are still undecided on what you want, here I have thrown in my very humble recommendations for the best pistols:

Best P!tols In a recent shooting test (in a line-up of over 30 pistols...and all pistols shot by 5 shooting experts), the top three pistols were 1911's. The following four were Glocks. 1911's (as stated above) are more expensive ($800 - $1200 bucks). Glocks are far less expensive ($500 -$700). I also recommend the NRA pistol of the year: Springfield Armory's XDm ($589 at last check). Here's some good websites to do some investigation: http://www.kimberamerica.com/ (Kimber makes outstanding 1911's. Historically, the 1911 fires the .45 calibre shell, and nearly all of Kimber’s shoot them as well.) http://www.glock.com/ (Glocks are amazing pistols, and will shoot everything from 9mm to .45 cal. A Glock for a first pistol is no mistake. They are truly top-shelf guns.) http://www.springfield-armory.com/ (Springfield Armory has produced the XD for just a few years. Oddly, this is the gun that has won the NRA’s “Gun of the Year” Award for four years in a row. So, while Springfield might not be the oldest gun company in the land, it is certainly doing something very very right.)