Choosing Your Defensive Handgun

By Bryan Mennie

So you are about to buy a new handgun, this is a big deal, especially for a first timer. You want to get it right. After all you are spending real money on this, not pocket money or peanut money that’s for sure. More importantly than the money is that you are going to invest serious time into this, the training the motivation preparation and of course waiting for your license.

So you research this purchase and before long you reach the point that most prospective firearms owners will find the opinion of others. You will venture into a very strange world called the online gun forums. In your eagerness to obtain good solid information you will appeal to those who have invested their own time, effort and indeed passion into the same route you are now following. This is after all human nature we crave the simple solution and will always look to obtaining the silver bullet solution, that one fix for all of life’s problems. This is of course not incorrect, we should look to others for their input, however we need to understand our own human nature. The interactivity of online forums certainly is appealing but it brings with it a certain dynamic which puts bad advice on the same table as good advice and puts it there on the same plate as the bad advice. The immediacy of being able to convey the information is a powerful driver and unless very carefully analyzed both by those who author it as well as those who read it, it can lack the value that a more considered and researched product does. In essence your BS detector needs to be dialed to the maximum. You need to know the good steak from the bad brisket when they all have the same face value.

Some people are going to tell you that a nine millimeter is useless and that all defensive firearms must be forty five acp and launched out of a 1911 personally assembled by the loving hands of master John Moses Browning, others will tell you that the Browning High Power is the way to go because they were used by various multi initialed military groups who raided embassies and saved oil rigs, others will tell you that the 38 special snubby is going to answer all your prayers when death comes visiting.

You will find gigabytes of data left strewn on online battlefields as keyboard commandos clash over caliber, open carry, holster styles, one up, one down and sometimes one in between. As entertaining as all of this is you need to realize that it does not help you one little bit. You see the online forums are a virtual braai and the chairborne rangers there are merely the verbose drunken fools who are the rugby coach, president, army general, police commissioner and mayor all rolled up into one sloppy beer soaked package. I hope at this point that you have read my previous article on choosing the correct firearms instructor, whilst I am not going to rehash what I said I am going to continue in the same vein, so for those that didn’t enjoy that one be prepared to be offended again.

I am going to provide a list of fundamentals that you can use as filters for your BS detector when it comes to dealing with this environment.

There are fundamentals in buying a DEFENSIVE handgun, yes a defensive handgun, in other words one that is bought to carried EVERY day, to be TRAINED with and to be used as a tool to keep you or a loved one ALIVE. It may well be used for sport and we can unpack that element at another time but above all these fundamentals are the primary considerations you should have your purchase and also to provide you with a level of context to judge all the static that is coming your way as you venture through the online jungle.

Reliable – Above all else the firearm needs to be reliable, when you are in a fight for your life, bleeding scared and gasping for breath and you hear a click when you should hear a bang, well that right there is the most demoralizing sound you will ever hear. So what does this mean in practicality? It does not mean that if your firearm ever malfunctions then you should bin it, no, what it does mean is that you need to be able to recognize the brand and know that the firearm in question is RENOWNED for its reliability. Understand the major brands BEFORE you go to the gun shop. Retail environments have their own favorites which they push so look to those brands in front line use by police departments, protection agencies, high end security providers and people who routinely bet their life on the reliability of their weapon. Use this as a benchmark to which you can measure all of the choices that you like and that others insist are the most, best, ultimate pistol EVER!

Ergonomic to your lifestyle – now this is almost as important as the reliability piece. So many people recognize that they need a firearm for their personal daily contingency plan but once they discover that the firearm is fairly onerous to carry around. Many people say that you need to dress around your gun or that its meant to be comforting not comfortable and that is nonsense, those glib answers only serve to display the silliness of that so called firearms expert. In reality you need to compromise in certain areas such as upsizing your clothes or realizing how to effectively carry in a bag holster WHEN appropriate and adding certain key elements such as having a really good belt and holster BUT from the get go, select a firearm, the size of which will enhance its integration into your lifestyle and ensuring that the compromises you must make are not to arduous as to lessen the likelihood that you will persevere with that compromise. I would far rather carry a single stack 9mm pistol every day and have access to a higher capacity firearm at my residence than go and select a high capacity double stack pistol and after a while realize that I am not prepared to carry it. So when you go to the gun ship look for the most comfortable pistol in that brand range you have previously identified and when I say comfortable then I mean comfortable to carry as well as to shoot.

Trainable – No firearm in the world is a problem solver, it is merely a tool and just having it will not be a life saver, knowing how to effectively use it with CONFIDENCE is the live saving aspect that a firearm brings to the fight. Confidence is built by training, so if your selection isn’t trainable then it wont be boosting your confidence and it will lessen its viability to play the role as that tool. When I say trainable I mean that you need to be comfortable enough to attend every course you can and not care that you might roll around in the dirt, drop magazines, sweat, cry and yes even bleed a little bit on it. Also it’s got to be economically trainable. I love the 357 Sig as a caliber but If I had to take it on a 500 or a 1000 round two day course I might have to remortgage my house. If you are going to cry a little inside every time you pull that trigger then you really want to reconsider what you are selecting. So check the RANGE ammo prices and the spare mag prices, know that good courses and frequent practice is required and that uses ammo and is hard on magazines and of course other critical components of a gun.

Capable, well this is a really a question you need to answer for yourself. I have a Beretta Model 71 in .22lr I love this little pistol, it is as reliable as a Swiss clock, its incredibly ergonomic and it is eminently trainable. It is hands down my favorite pistol BUT I still default to my Glock 19 for my everyday carry, why because I have supreme confidence in the 9mm caliber that it shoots. Not because I believe it to be a fight stopper, no handgun caliber is, but because I know that it checks all the boxes of an effective defensive caliber and it fits the package that checks all my other boxes.  Get the most effective caliber, based on the REALISTIC understanding of your personal gunfight, that you can carry every day.

Once you have applied the fundamentals to the range of firearms available to you, you will see that the process of choosing one which ticks all the boxes is not as complicated as you might have thought.

So, go ahead and enjoy the process, visit the retail stores and scour the online forums. Use this as a reference to measure all the advice that is given to you but above all make the purchase and get training. Empower yourself to be your own first responder and the person who will step up to be counted when the worst part of life shows its hand.

 Bryan is a former police officer. He followed his policing career by working in the close protection and risk mitigation industry in the Middle East and North Africa. He currently fills the role of an incident management specialist for a fortune 50 company.

4 thoughts on “Choosing Your Defensive Handgun

  1. First and foremost, what is the shooter’s overall physical and mental condition, because as you stated, Training, believe it or not, whether a David and Goliath slingshot, or the latest in rocket propelled weaponry, if the person does not train, they are only fooling themselves. By the way, dear readers, there is an inordinate amount of stress when in actual combat. Your mind might go into slow motion. Your eyes might go into tunnel vision. You might choke, with fear, literally. You train the way you fight, and you fight the way you train.

    A friend recently became interested in firearms for self defense. A couple of his guns, do not match a threat. Hair trigger target guns, if the only thing around, will work, provided nothing goes wrong, and there is always Murphy’s Law, to haunt us all. Why did I mention this? Because I was trying once to seriously train him, but he refuses to be trained. He likes to plink. His attitude does not fit in life and death conflicts. He has no military background, nor any police background. When I suggested, as a former certified rifle/pistol/shotgun instructor, certain techniques, he scoffed. I then said that he should look into formal classes with a certified instructor and join a gun range, however, again he scoffed. He shoots with a .22 LR, about a 12 inch group at 21 feet, slow fire. Then I asked why he uses a 2 # trigger and he almost became livid, but, he made up his mind that he is untrainable. Simple critique should be taken like water off a duck’s back.

    The shooter must be able to accurately hit the intended target. Doing that, without shooting themselves nor an unintended target. Form. Please keep the finger off of the trigger until you are ready to shoot. Please refer to Item One: Training. You must “pay your dues” on a firing line, and in training classrooms. Your form must be smooth. Five point draw and fire. Why? Because under stress, people shoot themselves. Training. When motor skills are developed, transitioning to another firearm of choice, or availability, transitions go smoother and easier. Caliber selection. Weapon configuration. All a matter of personal choice. It also is worthy to note, shooting a couple different types of weapons might be helpful. In other words, if a common weapon, perhaps what local police are fond of and carry, could be helpful, because of availability of that type of weapon in your immediate area. Or, it has been on the news from time to time, where a police officer is shot and incapacitated, and some civilian used the police service weapon to protect the downed officer until help arrived.

    It’s a thinking assignment, always. Many facets. Some twists and turns at times. That, too, is a significant portion, of your Training.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I appreciate your tips to choose a defensive firearm that can help you still be comfortable. I think it’s important that you do feel fairly comfortable carrying a weapon or you may neglect it in the end because it is not convenient to you in any way. The best way to find a good, comfortable fit for a gun is to try a few out to see which one feels the best for your specific body type and personal preference.


  3. Good day,i am a first time buyer my wish is to buy 9mm short beretta 380 or something smaller and reliable easy to conceal and carry.any advise???


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