The year 2020 has been an unprecedented time. We don’t need to discuss the dumpster fire of what has and has not happened throughout the year. However, we can discuss some of the consequences of this perfect storm of what we’ll say are unfortunate events, to put it lightly. One of the results of 2020 has been an influx of new gun owners. This effect is not a bad thing, nor a good thing – just a thing that has occurred. Divvying up what may make individual scenarios good and bad have more to do with how our newly armed compatriots conduct themselves.
Social media is, well, it is what it is. You, the reader, can think about what that means. For me, I have a very eclectic group of contacts that I connect with through my personal social media accounts. I will admit that the diverse nature of who I’m “friends” with seems to be shrinking as time marches on but at no specific “fault” of my own. Take from that what you will. Having been a 2nd Amendment Advocate for most of my adult life and an outspoken 2A writer moreover the last five years, I’m assuming that I’m eloquently dubbed the “gun guy” to many of my contacts. In different parts of the country, that’s just normal. But I’m from New Jersey, so being the “gun guy” puts me in a minority position, but also one that has come into demand.
Throughout 2020 I cannot say how many people have approached me online via email, text, direct messages, etc., that seem to be coming out of the woodwork from my past. People I had not spoken to in over a decade and a half all of a sudden have things to talk about with me. Hey, I’m not complaining. I’m here for the people who have been or are in my life. Well, and like many firearm instructors, I’m also here for you, the person looking for guidance on anything gun; otherwise, you’d not be reading this right now.
The most common question I get is, “What is the best gun to buy?” Usually, there will be a little small talk like, “Hey, how have you been? I hope you’re doing well. Maybe you can help me out with some questions I have about guns.” Several persons that reached out to me, I had not spoken to in about 15 years. I may do a quick social media scan to see what they’ve been up to, or at least purport to be up to, and then try to get them on the phone. My wife is well aware that these phone calls are usually upwards of an hour. She is an angel in these things and adopts a similar mentality that I have – we want people to be safe and responsible firearm users; therefore, trying to answer, “What is the best gun to buy?” cannot be quickly conveyed. Granted, I could easily say, “XYZ make, and model is my favorite, so buy one of those.”
A tale of two people from my past…
The main thing, for me, when I get these requests, is finding out what the person has been up to and how much experience they have with firearms. If you get the “what is the best gun to buy?” question, usually there is minimal experience coming from the person involving the handling and use of a gun.
One such conversation revolved around training. I got an email from a friend and colleague that I had not spoken to in a good while.
At one point in the past, we did talk a little about firearms, but nothing too committal. He was concerned for his family’s safety, a family of four, with a 19-year-old daughter and a 21-year-old daughter. They wanted to incorporate a firearm or firearms into their home protection repertoire. We discussed what the pluses and minuses of different guns were, informally talked about the laws governing our area, and really, I tried to listen to his concerns. Before we got off the phone, he committed to wanting to get training for his entire family. We set up a few dates for meetings, and I had an opportunity to start with a tabletop discussion in their home about their specific needs. I fielded their questions and then went over what I would call the “book work” of firearms safety training. We used replica firearms and dummy rounds to break the ice. After that first meeting, we had two more sessions where I had the opportunity to train them at a range with live-fire exercises and safe firearm handling. Overall, the experience was good – from what I can tell, they were satisfied with the level of training they got, and from my perspective, I thought everything went very smoothly. They’ve decided to go forward with the paperwork to buy firearms in our jurisdiction and plan on trying out more guns before they buy.
Another conversation with a different friend was a bit narrower in scope. We did have our small talk, and then I got from my friend a list of what he wants to achieve “I want a pistol. Maybe one or two. I also want to get a shotgun. And I want to learn how to hunt.” Okay, so we discussed all these things. He told me that a friend of his recommended XYZ make and model pistol and ABC make and model shotgun. That he was interested in self-defense, but for the shotgun, something he could hunt with too. I asked him what did he think about those models. To which he replied, “Well, yeah, they’re good. My friend told me the pistol is top of the line and that many police forces use the ABC shotgun. So, they’re good, right?” I followed up with, “Have you shot those models?” with the answer being “No.” And I followed up with, “Have you ever shot a gun? Do you know how to shoot?” another resounding “No.” I told him I’d be happy to help him out in his search, but I recommend he get some training and take a chance to try before he buys.
Fast forward to the present day. Since training the family, they’ve expressed wanting a little more instruction, particularly after they’ve purchased whatever firearms they end up getting. In the latter situation, well, that guy went out and bought the pistol that his friend recommended. I don’t know if he tried it out or went to the range. I don’t know anything other than he scoured the country to order the pistol he wanted, found one, and had it shipped to a local FFL.
I bring these two situations up because they cover different mentalities when purchasing a firearm or anything. One mentality, the informed with a basis on some experience. The other mentality, taking for granted what you’re told and just going in blind.
Other things I hear often are in the tune of:
“Well, I’m going just to get a .40 caliber, that’s what my brother-in-law, who is a cop says to get.”
“This one is so small, it’ll fit right in her hand perfectly. This is the gun I’m gonna buy my wife.”
“I’m gonna get a shotgun; you don’t even have to aim those things.”
“XYZ agency uses this gun, so it must be the best.”
How does this help you if you want to know, “What is the best gun to buy?” My first question back to anyone is going to be, “Have you ever shot a gun?” If the answer is “No”, my response is going to be, “Before we discuss what the ‘best’ gun to buy is, you need to know what is the ‘best’ gun for you. To figure that out, you need to know how to shoot.” That being said, I don’t think you need to have an Olympic level of proficiency with a firearm; however, I believe that people going to buy a gun need to know how they operate and shoot them safely and correctly. Without the basis and understanding of comprehending the proper techniques, it is virtually impossible to make an informed decision on what is best for you!
Those out there who are first-time gun buyers need to get a little experience under your belt. Take a class. There are a ton out there. Courses range from a couple of hours to several days. Seek out and find one that works for you. Find an instructor or training venue that will cater to your needs. You might end up putting together something informal with an instructor just to get down the basics. Maybe for an hour? We can read articles and watch videos until we are blue in the face, but we have nothing to go by if we don’t have real-world experience. People always say that the book is better than the movie; in this case, the actual hands-on, peer to peer experience trumps it all.
Once you have a little experience, then you need to figure out what works for you. Questions you need to ask yourself include: Is this for home self-defense? Is this for concealed carry? Do I want a long gun or a handgun? Your needs are going to be different than everyone else’s, they might be similar to, but not the same.
After you’ve figured out what need you are trying to fill, then go out and try as many firearms as possible. This point is where you can take to articles and videos online. Read about different guns in the context of what you need and want, relying on your experiences of having fired a firearm. After you’ve got an idea of what you think will fit your needs, find a range where you can rent that particular model, and try it out. The shooting community is generally very giving when it comes to things like this, so ask around if anyone you know has the gun you want to try. I’ve never heard, “No, you can’t try out my gun.”
There are many people out there who have buyer’s remorse when it comes to buying guns. In the 70’s there was an influx of used .44 magnum revolvers in a pristine condition available because people went out to buy the handgun attached to the Dirty Harry franchise of films. Once they had a chance to fire the piece, they quickly found that the firearm was not for them.
The best advice I can give anyone when they ask me, “What is the best gun to buy?” is to figure that out by making an informed decision. Yes, seek guidance, and do research. But you need to know what is right for you and the only way to know that is for you to try before you buy!
Stay safe out there and think before you do!
John Petrolino is a US Merchant Marine Officer, writer, author of “Decoding Firearms: An Easy to Read Guide on General Gun Safety & Use” and USCCA certified instructor, NRA certified pistol, rifle and shotgun instructor living under and working to change New Jersey’s draconian and unconstitutional gun laws.