I’m frequently asked by those new to prepping and survival blogs, or just new to shooting and self-defense in general, what the best gun is for a beginner or new shooter. This is a very tricky question and I believe I’ve probably given out very different answers to very different people, but perhaps that is the point! Different people have different wants and needs when choosing a gun and there is no “one size fits all”. You need to consider your personal needs, the time commitment you want to put into both safety training as well as becoming proficient with a firearm, and whether you want to take on shooting as a fun hobby or just have a gun that you can rely of for self-defense. Lots to think about.
Let’s look at a couple of different examples that I think are common enough and see how things play out. First of all, the person who is new to shooting all together, and whose primary concern is having a firearm handy as part of their emergency preparedness.
This is a person who is not thinking they’re going to be spending a lot of time at the range and is probably not looking at shooting as a new hobby. I hear this a lot but often times once someone goes through some safety training courses and the jitters of handling a gun go away they find shooting to be very enjoyable and do actually end up spending more time at the range then they ever would have imagined. Still, for this example we’ll go into it assuming the gun is going to be used while its owner is training and then will sit in a safe mostly unfired.
My gut reaction to this type of new shooter is to recommend a good shotgun in 12 or 20 gauge (depending on the person’s stature). Generally, I like to see a new shooter start out with a long-gun. In my opinion they are easier to learn how to shoot at least somewhat accurately, which will give the newcomer confidence, and they can be very versatile if you choose the right one. I also think that some of the very basics of gun safety are more instinctive with a long-gun than with a handgun. Muzzle control being one example that comes to mind. It just seems to me to be a lot harder to accidentally point one at yourself or your buddy than it is a pistol with a three inch barrel. Pick up a broomstick and compare that to a bottle of windex, which one is more likely to get you in the eye? See my point?
So, here I’m thinking a good quality pump shotgun as a first purchase. There are lots of them out there but I tend to like the Mossbergs and the Brownings. No particular reason as there are many different makes and models, I’ve just always had good luck with these two brands. I also stress the need to take at least one basic gun safety course, which I believe many states require before a firearm purchase anyway, and would recommend an additional course or courses as well.
If the new shooter in question insists on a handgun, then my mind automatically thinks “revolver”. I like revolvers in general but especially for someone new to shooting. Their ease of operation, dependability, and relative low maintenance, make them great for someone who may not be using them too often. Some would say to start out with a .22 as the low recoil and cheap ammo make them easy to practice with. Personally, for the situation we’re talking about where this may be the only gun ever purchased, I think you have to go with a larger caliber that is more practical for self-defense. A lot of you know that’s not easy for me to say since I Love the .22 as I’ve written about in the past. Still, if you’re only going to have one handgun in the house it’s got to be a .38, 9mm, or even a .380.
Now here’s the rub. Very very rarely does anyone want to accept this advice and go with the revolver as a first purchase. In fact I would bet money that experienced shooters are more likely to go for a revolver than a newbie. That’s because after years of shooting and having encountered jams, misfires, finicky actions, worn out magazine springs, and other pains, the experienced shooter has come to appreciate the simplicity and reliability of a good revolver. The new shooter, however, always wants the automatic that they’ve seen on TV and in the movies. I had someone once ask me, “what was that gun that the guy from Lethal Weapon used?”. Really?
For the second example let’s look at someone who has been out to the shooting range a few times with friends, had a great time, and now wants a gun of their own. This person is looking at a firearm as a useful tool for self-defense as well as for many enjoyable days at the range. They’ve also got some experience, have hopefully taken a safety course, and want something versatile. Perhaps they’ll do some competition shooting as well as have a gun handy in an emergency.
Here I’m thinking two guns are in order, not just one. Again, a good reliable revolver as a handgun and a quality .12 gauge shotgun for the long gun. This is really a great combo. Provided you choose a shotgun with a proper barrel length (I believe my gun club requires a 28″ minimum to shoot skeet and trap) you can use it for just about anything from shooting clays, to hunting, to home defense. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is nothing like the sound of a homeowner racking a shell into the chamber of a shotgun to let a bad guy know he’s chosen the wrong house!
Of course if the person in question here really does end up spending more time at the range they will likely pick up a quality 9mm automatic pistol in almost no time and within a year or two would probably have at least one rifle as well. Once you get into shooting as a hobby it can get pretty addictive. It’s also very fun and can be a nice diversion from daily stresses. I may not be the only person to have ever told the wife, “I need some peace and quiet, I’m going to the range.” As funny as that may sound…