Intended use is the most important factor in selecting a new firearm. Is the gun for home defense, self defense, target or competitive shooting? Is it for hunting? If so, what type of hunting? These are all questions a new gun owner should be asking themselves before buying a new firearm.
Most of my students come to class with very specific goals. The most frequent of which is Home Defense/Self Defense. The first question to ask yourself is ‘Am I going to conceal carry or just use it for home defense’? If the answer is home defense only then I would suggest buying a shotgun. Using a shotgun for home defense is ideal for two reasons. First, 12 pellet 00 Buckshot fires 12 .33 caliber lead pellets with a devastating affect on a target. Bullet impact is measured in foot/lbs and a shotgun has the greatest force on impact when compared to rifles and handguns (suitable for home defense). Second, muzzle velocity reduction in a fired buckshot round from a 12 gauge shotgun happens faster than that of a rifle or handgun. Helping to reduce the likely hood of over penetration through interior and exterior walls. This should be a safety concern when defending your home with firearms since you are not able to tell what, or who, is in the next room. Remember, know your target and what’s beyond it!
If your answer is ‘self defense with the intent to conceal carry outside of the home’ then the right gun for you is a handgun. The simple reason is that, unlike shotguns and rifles, a handgun is easy to conceal. Now, should you conceal or open carry? Again, for me, the answer is easy. You should conceal the handgun. There are two reasons for this. First, surprise is a tactical advantage. Why would you want to give up that tactical advantage by open carrying the gun? Second, you will draw unwanted attention from the general public and ultimately with law enforcement by openly carrying the handgun. This is especially true in a state like Connecticut.
The type of gun that is appropriate for target or competitive shooting is going to solely depend on what type of competition the shooter is participating in. 3 Gun Competitors will actually need all three platforms. Trap, Skeet and Sporting Clay competitors will need a shotgun. Cowboy Action Shooters will need a lever action rifle, side by side shotgun and 2 single action revolvers. Each type of completion will have a specified gun type associated with it. This is very similar to hunting, the type of game will determine which gun is suitable. For example, you would want to use a 12 gauge shotgun to hunt squirrel.
Other factors that should be considered when purchasing a new firearm are pistol fit and ergonomics. Does it feel comfortable in your hands and are you able to hold it comfortably?You should at the very least try and hold the gun before you buy it. If at all possible you should try and shoot it. Pistol size, weight and recoil will also be a factor. For shotguns, if the 12 gauge has too much recoil move on to the 20 gauge. For handguns there is a direct correlation between the weight of the gun and how much recoil there is: the lower the weight the more recoil there will be.
In short, you should do what’s best for you and not listen to the know it all gun store clerk that thinks everyone should buy a Colt 1911 Single Action Only handgun for self defense. When purchasing a firearm you should do your own research, consult knowledgeable shooters and purchase from a reputable dealer. There is no right or wrong here. There is however appropriate and inappropriate. Become knowledgeable, gain experience through training, have a lot of self awareness and make the best decision for you.