(First in a series)
Over the past year I’ve been asked that question by several people. Usually they learn that I’m an RWVA Instructor, and after a short story of how fun it is to shoot and teach people how to do so, they express an interest in getting a gun, but they never know what kind. There’s generally confusion of caliber, feel, operation, price, and use. Ever helpful, here is the first in a series on firearms basics.
1. What is the purpose of this tool?
Firearms, no matter the type, are tools. Each tool has its own purpose; there is no need to use a screwdriver to pound a nail, nor is there a need to use the claw of a hammer to divide a wooden board. First, determine your purpose, then determine your gun. Will this be a self-defense weapon? A hunting tool? One for learning firearms basics? Militia use?
Generally, the best tool for a beginner will be a .22 rimfire rifle or pistol. This is used as a starting point to learn how firearms operate and how to hit the target. Two standouts in this area are the Ruger 10/22 and Marlin Model 795. Both are 10-shot semiautomatics (10 shots available in the detachable magazine, and designed to automatically fire the bullet, extract the shell, and load the next cartridge exactly once each time you pull the trigger).
If you are buying a defensive pistol, you have two decisions to make: will it be a semiautomatic or revolver, and what will the caliber be? Revolvers are the original point and click interface with five or six shots, while semiautomatics allow you to load on Sunday and shoot all week, but you have to do some stuff before it can fire and can be prone to malfunctions. As far as caliber goes, revolvers come in lots of calibers but the two popular ones are .38 Special and .357 Magnum. Semiautos likewise come in several calibers but the popular ones are 9 millimeter, .40 Smith & Wesson, and .45 Auto. The breadth of options deserves its own post, but these are the basic options.
Once you know what gun to get, the second question is …
2. Do you care if the government knows you own the gun?
There are two options when it comes to getting a firearm. Either you can get a government approved and traced firearm at a firearms dealer, or you can get a privately owned firearm in a state that has not yet restricted your ability to conduct commerce.
If you buy a gun at a dealer’s shop, you have to pass a background check, and the form for that lets the government know that you have a firearm, and they know all about the firearm. If you buy at a gun show from a private individual, you don’t have to fill out any forms (as long as you don’t live in New England, Illinois, or California).
Everybody has their own reasons for buying from either, and there are good reasons to buy in either situation. A good way to start is to buy from a dealer, then familiarize yourself with firearms, then find a private sale of the same type of firearm. This is probably the best of both worlds for a beginner, as it lets you utilize the experience of a dealer and the privacy of a private sale. If you buy a gun online across state lines, it has to be transferred to you via a firearms dealer (commonly called a Federal Firearms Licensee, or FFL). If you buy online from a private seller within your state, and they are willing to ship to you, you can do that without the forms.
Deciding which path to go is left to the reader to sort out in their own circumstances.