You should love your first handgun; I know I did. Both my first handgun shooting experience and my first handgun purchase were pure joy.

The first handgun that I ever shot was my father’s Smith & Wesson model 27 in .357 magnum. We were out at my grandpa’s farm and my dad was wearing that Smith in a classic “Miami Vice” type shoulder rig. Dad looked over and asked, “do you want to shoot it?” My eyes lit up with anticipation as I responded in the affirmative. It seemed like a crazy question to me; “who in their right mind wouldn’twant to shoot it?” was all I could think. We set up Pepsi cans to shoot off fence posts that had a steep hill behind. I remember that day like it was yesterday; I remember the safety talk, my dad’s demonstration, and my impatience as I waited eagerly to finally put that gun in my hands and fire it.

I was one bad-to-the-bone elementary school kid when I came back to the playground with those bragging rights. I won’t tell you how young I was because some of you will surely think that I was way too young, and I wouldn’t want you casting a disparaging glance at my dad. Let’s just say that I had a long time to wait between the time I fell in love with handguns and the time that I could legally purchase my own at age 21. When that time did come, man was I ready! As a recently married college student working three jobs, I probably had no business dropping hard earned dime on that Springfield XD .40, but I did. If I was living a “Ground Hog Day” life, that’s one choice I’d make the same every time. Oh, I might buy different guns, but I’d buy a handgun every time.

I wouldn’t want to keep you from experiencing the same kind of moment. Shooting should be shared. Purchasing your first handgun can be amazing, but there are a few land mines that I’d like to guide you around.

It seems that a lot of first-time handgun shoppers suffer from the same misconception. They think that they will be able to find one handgun that will fill all possible areas of want and need–past, present, and future (kind of a “one gun to rule them all” type thing). You may find a great compromise gun, but you won’t find the ideal target-carry-service-competition-nightstand-backcountry handgun.

Some of you may think that your firearms purchase will be a one-and-done experience, but if that is true, you will be the exception rather than the rule.

With that in mind, I think there are a few guiding principles that will help you in your search for gun-love. These are not all-inclusive, but are merely intended to serve as a starting point. They have proven useful to several of my friends embarking on their blissful journey into the world of things that go bang.

Whatever you pick, you should be able to afford to shoot it often.  This is especially true if your handgun is going to serve in a defensive role. For most of my friends, this is at least one of the reasons they are considering purchasing a firearm.  If you can’t afford to shoot, can’t enjoy shooting, or can’t find an ammunition supply for a particular firearm, you’re not likely to become comfortable enough with it to achieve proficiency.

It should feel comfortable in your hand.  It doesn’t matter how much you respect the person who shoots that specific gun. It doesn’t matter how much the gun store attendant directs you to a certain handgun, if it doesn’t fit your hand, you aren’t likely to enjoy shooting it. Now, don’t misunderstand; if you haven’t shot enough to know what you like, don’t be too quick to write off a gun. Maybe you’d be better served renting a few more range guns before you make that first purchase.

The system should make sense to you. Take the time to figure out terms like: “single-action,” “double-action,” “DA/SA,” “striker fired,” and “trigger reset.” Be sure to pick the system that fits your needs best. For example, I lean away from DA/SA for carry guns. I’m less comfortable shooting a gun that has a trigger that feels different between the first and second shots. However, you may love that system, just take the time to figure that out before you buy.

It doesn’t have to be made out of gold, but you should save up long enough to buy quality & to buy what you actually want.  I hate watching a friend buy a poor quality handgun only to struggle with it. This problem is often due to a lack of patience. I definitely understand wanting to buy a gun now rather than later, but in the end, you should buy something that you will actually enjoy. You don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money to find quality; there are a lot of value offerings in today’s market.

It would be great if your first handgun didn’t train you to become recoil sensitive (to flinch).  That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone should start with a .22 handgun (though it’s not a horrible idea). If you want a gun for defensive purposes, a .22 may not be your best bet (however I wouldn’t like to be shot with one). Nor does it mean that a larger caliber .45 is off the table. It does mean that a small, light, large caliber handgun probably isn’t your best first handgun. My Dad’s super-light, scandium-framed Smith & Wesson 329PD Alaska Backpacker in .44, for example, may not the best “first gun” choice.

Don’t try to make this one gun do everything. If you try that, it may ultimately do nothing well. Most of us would do well to either pick our primary use for this handgun and focus exclusively on that or to pick our primary and secondary purposes and look for a nice gun that blends the two.

If you follow these guiding principles, you’ll love your first gun, but I have a sneaking suspicion that you’ll find room in your heart for others someday too.

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This article is courtesy of The Loadout Room.