Editor’s Note: The following post comes from Melody Lauer, the newest contributor to Lucky Gunner Lounge. Melody has been a firearms instructor and blogger for years, and we’re excited to add her voice to the team. You can learn more about Melody on her bio page, or check out her blog.
The day I turned 21 was one of the most memorable days of my life. Not only for the legal drinks at the local Applebee’s, but for the hour-long trek to a not-so-local gun store to make the most exciting, and ultimately worst, purchase of my life—a Kimber Stainless Ultra Carry chambered in .40S&W.
I took a lot of pride in choosing my first handgun. I believed I’d done my research.
Being new to firearms, I made a list of requirements and handed them to my husband. He came up with several guns that would meet these requirements and off we went, stumbling through a, sadly, anticlimactic purchase.
I had never been so excited as when I walked into that gun store, or so worried as when the owner implied that I was making a straw purchase for my husband. I was never so insulted as when he tried to talk me out of my beautiful Kimber and into a snub-nose revolver, or so stoic as when I demanded my 1911, or so annoyed as at his lack of enthusiasm that this was my first handgun purchase. I was never so confused as to why I couldn’t hit the target, or so infuriated that the gun wouldn’t fire three rounds without it jamming, or so exasperated as seeing the amount of money I spent on gunsmiths trying to get it to run. Finally; I was never so relieved as when a coworker bought it off of me for a fraction of what I dumped into it.
I shed actual tears over that gun, but learned some valuable lessons along the way.
Many years of concealed carry, a few dozen training classes, eight years as a firearms instructor, and two jobs behind gun counters have come and gone since that Kimber. I worked my way through a myriad of autos and revolvers, in all manner of calibers, carried in a number of different holsters. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things about buying a gun.
Lesson 1 – Defensive calibers don’t have to start with “4”
Once I learned the fundamentals of shooting, my accuracy became superb. Even with .40s and .45s, .44s, .454s and above, I could hit my mark. I couldn’t do it quickly, but I could do it. For three years, I maintained the stance that my defensive caliber must be a point-four-something. It took pulling a muscle in my shooting hand, and a lot of research on the topic, to learn that my stance on this was hindering my own shooting and the defensive use of my handgun.
When I finally traded the seven rounds of .4-whatever for sixteen 9mm rounds, I saw real improvements in my shooting, particularly one-handed. Moving to a more manageable caliber allowed far more confidence and mastery of skills, which I was previously denying myself in stubbornness.
Lesson 2 – Capacity is cool
I’m fond of quoting Todd Green who said, “Bullets are opportunities. They’re options. Having more of them is always better than having fewer, even if you don’t need them.” I used to be one of those people who rested securely in the illusion of average. You know what I’m talking about. The average gunfight is going to be within 3 yards, take 3 shots, and be over in 3 seconds.
The trouble is, if average is what we are preparing for, why are we carrying guns? Your average day doesn’t require you to go about armed.
It took a couple rounds of force-on-force to realize how quickly ammo depletes itself and a few videos watching good and bad guys exchange dozens of shots to realize that average was not where I wanted to set my bar.
It’s not always practical or possible to carry high-capacity firearms and magazines. One must do what they can. Whether the solution is more magazines, or simply the preparation of continued fighting with other skills once the ammo runs out, be reminded that cartridges are opportunities.
Lesson 3 – Safeties are irrelevant if you are not safe
For my first handgun purchase, I demanded a firearm with external safeties—a prime example of the appeal of a 1911. There was a misguided sense of security in that. I thought it would make me safer. Safeties commonly have the effect of fooling people into believing they have an excuse to be careless or unsafe. I have been aghast and nearly shot due to the idea that, “It’s okay, the safety is on.”
There are no excuses for improper and unsafe handling. The more quickly you learn that, the quicker you will learn that the presence of an external safety is irrelevant. Training and safe handling make my firearm safe. All firearms should be treated and stored as though they are loaded, always, regardless of a safety.
Lesson 4 – It doesn’t have to be made of metal
I had a strange aversion to polymer pistols when I was searching for my first gun. For some reason, they didn’t seem like guns. When I looked at polymer-framed guns, words like “plastic” and “cheap” went through my head. I had an irrational fear that they would break or blow up in my hands, and that bias kept me from experiencing some fine firearms for many years.
I know now that my fears of an explosion or poor quality were unfounded, and my waistband got quite a bit lighter when I went from an all-steel 1911 to a polymer Glock. There are some great lightweight metals out there, but many polymers have earned their place alongside steel as quality materials for firearms.
Lesson 5 – Reputations can change
When I was researching my first pistol, I read reviews. When I asked the question, “Is Kimber a good firearm?” the response I got was a resounding yes. The firearm was expensive—It’s Kimber!—but I was willing to pay for quality. Kimber had a reputation for quality, and I trusted that.
Throughout the years, I have owned four Kimber firearms. Two of them have been fine working machines. The other two can only be called firearms in the sense that they occasionally fired bullets. They also gave me lots of opportunities to work on my malfunction clearing techniques. I wrote Kimber off as a company I would ever consider buying from again, and noticed I was not alone.
Plenty of people have changed their opinions of many manufacturers over the years. Glock almost went through a huge decline with the issues they had with the Gen 4 Glock 19s. They were able to save themselves with outstanding customer service and a bunch of free recoil springs. In the end it saved their reputation as a quality manufacturer.
Lesson 6 – Find reputable sources of information
Reputations do matter, especially the reputation built within certain circles.
Those in the firearms community see guns lauded by new shooters all the time. It’s somewhat amusing, and exasperating, to see firearm reviewers with minimal experience write pieces titled “Best Gun Ever”, and then start off their reviews with phrases like, “I got this gun today, haven’t had time to shoot it yet.”
How can you award superiority to a gun that still has its packing grease on it?
The reputations built on such reviews are shallow, but longstanding, because people who read and believe them often don’t put their own products through rigorous tests.
There are those, however, who have the ear and the respect of the community at large. They test firearms to the full extent of their measure, or see them frequently in shooting classes or competitions and demand performance from them that can’t be truly tested with static bullseye shooting on a standard range.
Those firearms and their reputations reign. No matter the personal opinions on petty differences, when put to the test, there is a reason names like Glock, S&W, Sig, H&K and others keep boiling to the surface. Yes, they all have their failures, but in general, they perform well. You’ll be hard pressed to find someone of authority who will deny that.
Before settling on a firearm, it might behoove you to contact a big-name shooting school and ask their opinion on a particular brand.
Lesson 7 – Good customer service makes loyal customers
Gun companies, in general, have better warranties and customer service than almost any other mechanical product. I can’t find a blender with a lifetime warranty, but if the slide cracked on my six year-old Glock tomorrow, I would likely see it replaced with few questions asked.
Yes, there are things we do to our factory guns that void warranties. I’ve not been able to send back guns for repair because I was not the original owner or work was done on the firearm by an unauthorized individual, voiding the warranty.
But for the most part, gun companies back their products, and that makes for happy, loyal customers. Companies that don’t provide good service often lose customers to manufacturers who would rather repair that broken spring than argue with you about how it happened. As long as the service was great and no money was charged, customers are happy.
Before you settle on a gun, check the manufacturer’s warranty.
Lesson 8 – If it doesn’t fit, it frustrates
Gun manufacturers are starting to catch on to the fact that there are small-handed shooters out there, but man-hands still reign supreme.
I would very much like to meet the man whose hand is the model for finger grooves on handguns. I would then like to meet the man who said, “Yes, let’s mold our handgun grips to his hand,” and spit in his coffee.
The fact of the matter is most guns do not fit me. I can shoot almost everything okay, but the best guns for me are single stack 9mms. This forces me to compromise on my cool capacity, but after years of being frustrated with larger firearms that are too big for me, I’m content with my choice. However, I remain hopeful that one day I’ll get a phone call from a gun manufacturer and they will say, “We’d love to take a mold of your hands and build a high-capacity firearm that will actually fit small-framed females.”
The most important fit for you to consider is the trigger finger reach. While the backstrap of the firearm is in the web of your hand, and the slide is lined up with your forearm bones, if you cannot put the pad of your finger on the center of the trigger with at least some room to spare, the gun is too big for you. You may be able to work around it, but a well-fitting gun will be a far better choice in the long run.
Lesson 9 – Looks don’t matter (but they kind of do)
There are some really pretty guns in this world. Added scrollwork and custom coatings and finishes can make for some gorgeous guns. Of course, if the gun doesn’t run, it’s no better than putting makeup on a pig. Lots of people know this and so they opt for function over form and don’t sweat the aesthetics.
My Kimber was beautiful. All of my Kimbers were beautiful. Unfortunately only half of them actually ran and so I left them for ugly guns that I could actually trust with my life.
That being said, there are people who won’t buy a particular gun because it’s ugly. We’re also seeing an increase in firearms produced that come in custom colors and finishes to appeal directly to women. While it’s still undecided whether or not having colors and decorations on a self-defense firearm is a wise decision, it’s clear that people like buying guns they think are pretty. Just make sure it works, too.
Lesson 10 – Nothing is more fun than a gun that runs
When I took my Kimber to the range the first time, I was so excited. I left that range session in tears. I wanted to take it back to the store and demand my money back, but I was reminded that all sales were final and I felt like I’d been ripped off. It brought me to the edge of saying that guns were not for me — a waste of time and money, and I was done with them.
I have a patient husband and he encouraged me to try again. While I still had setbacks along the way, I eventually fought my way through layers of errors until I found solutions that worked for me.
I encourage others to learn from my mistakes and find the right gun the first time. You’ll be happy you did.
Have you ever bought a gun and wish you hadn’t? What other lessons have you learned that hard way that other shooters might be able to learn from? Let us know in the comments below.