How to Choose Your First Gun For Self-Defense in 2023

Photo by Gregory Skylar454 / CC BY

When looking at all the brands and all the models of firearms available, it can feel a bit daunting when trying to choose just one. First and foremost, you’ll want a weapon that is best suited for the task at hand. The task in question today? Self-defense.

Concealed vs. Open Carry

Before deciding on a handgun, you’ll want to decide how you’ll carry it. Concealed carry and open carry are pretty plain terms and exactly what they sound like. Concealed carry is when you conceal a firearm on your person and open carry is when it is in plain view and easily seen. Depending on your state’s laws you may need a permit for one or both styles. Both options have advantages and disadvantages.

While open carry takes away the need to worry so much about the size and hiding your handgun it does tend to draw attention. This at first may seem like a deterrent but in reality, all it’s telling your would-be attacker is that they’ll need to use the element of surprise and make sure they reach your weapon before you can or incapacitate you that much faster. If you often attend crowded events where personal space is non-existent then you should reconsider open carry.

Concealed carry on the other hand gives you the element of surprise and eliminates any unwanted attention, whether it be from the criminal element or otherwise. But it does place the burden on you to make sure you conceal your firearm in accordance with all local laws. You will also want to practice your draw as there will be a garment between you and your weapon adding a second or two to your overall reaction time.

Size and weight

The size and weight of a handgun may not seem like something you have to worry about but if your plan is to carry it all day every day and do it comfortably, it should be.

Not only can a heavy firearm cause hip or back issues when carried in certain positions for extended periods it can also become incredibly uncomfortable. If that becomes the case, you’re less likely to want to carry it ultimately defeating the purpose.

A gun with a slim profile and reduced weight is easier to carry and handle resulting in more comfort and ease of use. Handguns like the Ruger LCP are small but still manage to pack a punch and give you a lot of versatility when it comes to carrying. Something you’re able to throw in your pocket at moment’s notice (with a pocket holster) is a lot easier to conceal and carry in nearly any situation making you more likely to carry it and it won’t feel like a chore to do so.


Try not to get too hung up on caliber, and remember, unlike in porn, bigger is not always better.

Larger caliber handguns like the .45 ACP, .40 S&W, .357 Mag, etc., all sound good in theory but the added recoil makes it harder for accurate follow up shots, especially in a stressful situation, and can limit your capacity. Not to mention they are harder to get accustomed to firing and make inexperienced shooters more likely to anticipate the recoil causing them to jerk as they squeeze the trigger and miss entirely.

The 9mm, .38 Special, and .380 ACP rounds have proven themselves more than effective when it comes to defensive situations. They are lighter, cheaper, have higher capacities and less recoil.

9mm handguns have also been the standard issue for the military and a majority of police departments throughout the country which should tell you all you need to know about the bullet’s capabilities.
If you’re in the market for a small revolver, the .38 will more than suffice. And if you don’t think it’s enough, tell that to Lee Harvey Oswald when you see him next.

Still, there are calibers to stay away from, like the .22 and .17. These are rimfire bullets vs centerfire which tend to be less reliable and in a defensive situation reliability should be your primary concern. (Rimfire just means the primer is on the edge of the bullet’s base whereas centerfire means it’s in the center.)


Capacity is another area to not get too hung up on. Many handguns come with two magazines allowing you to carry a spare if you desire. A higher capacity is not always a good thing as it adds to the overall weight of the firearm.

Availability of ammo

Making sure you’re able to find ammunition is just as important to selecting a firearm. 9mm rounds tend to be more plentiful and easier to acquire given the current state of firearms and ammunition in the COVID era. A lot of ammunition manufacturers have focused their production efforts on 9mm due to the fact they are heavily used by law enforcement and military alike, also making them more appealing to you.

Before making a final decision on your firearm of choice ensure you’ll be able to get ammo for it or you’ll essentially be stuck with a weapon and no way to use it.

About availability, make sure you can acquire the proper defensive rounds for your handgun. JHP’s (jacketed hollow points) and HP’s (hollow points) rounds as good as long as you can control them. The humble wadcutter or even the lead roundnose .38 Specials aren’t too bad (again, read the autopsy reports of Lee Harvey Oswald, who was shot only once with a .38 roundnose; they ain’t pretty).


Something you’ll want to research beforehand is the available accessories and aftermarket parts for the models you’re considering.

Unfortunately, not all guns were created equally when it comes to aftermarket accessories. When new accessories come into the market, they are almost always designed for Glock right off the bat. Reason being is that the Glock is one of the most used handguns currently. As standard issue for most police departments and even the Army it just makes sense that manufacturers would create items like night sights, magazines, grips, flared magwells, and pretty much everything else for the Glock platform before exploring other markets.

If you plan on adding a light, laser, or night sights make sure they’re available for the gun you’re considering.

Test firing

After deciding on the model(s) you’re interested in, check with your local firing ranges to see if they’re available to rent. By allowing yourself to test fire you’ll be able to truly see how the weapon feels in your hand and handles when firing.

Worst case, check with your local shops and see how the firearm feels in your hands before making a final decision. Ergonomics should be one of your top priorities. A handgun that is just plain uncomfortable when holding it is a poor choice.

After your purchase


More important than the accessories, the caliber, the capacity and pretty much everything else you research beforehand is practice and training with your gun!

This is where availability of ammo comes back into play. You’ll want to make sure you’re able to get out to the range and get more than comfortable with your handgun. Once you’ve moved past basic marksmanship there are a litany of drills and exercises you can do including dry fire training.

Dry fire exercises

Dry firing is firing your weapon without a live round in the chamber. It is recommended to purchase dummy rounds designed for dry firing to help reduce wear and tear on your firearm, which is especially true if you ignored our advice and decided to get a .22lr revolver (the firing pin makes dents in your cylinder if you don’t have dummy rounds!).

These practice routines can include drawing the weapon and firing or simply practicing trigger control and clearing jams.

Classes & Competitions

Taking classes designed to improve your accuracy and handling capabilities are highly recommended. Instruction from experienced firearm instructors will help you with aspects that you may not be able to notice yourself need improvement.

A CCW class, while legally necessary for concealed carry, usually only includes learning about the legalities of carrying concealed and a marksmanship test. They are not designed to make you a more proficient shooter under stress.

Joining a shooting club or attending the occasional competitions are also excellent ways to enhance your ability to shoot accurately under stress. You don’t have to compete with the intention of being number one or going professional, just becoming better at getting on target quickly and accurately as well as clearing jams fast is worth competing at lower levels.

Home Defense Guns Part 1 - Revolvers


  • Owner of, Boyd Smith is a major handgun enthusiast, and although he owns Glocks, he prefers the revolving wheel type. His go-to guns are a Smith & Wesson 642 Performance Center for carry and a Ruger GP100 in the nightstand biometric safe (he has kids). He loads both revolvers with old-school 148-grain Federal Gold Medal .38 wadcutters. It’s OK if you think he’s a wimp. Email him.

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