It's a question debated ad nauseum on the gun blogs and shooter forums, and the answers are as varied as the individuals asking the question.
I recently had opportunity to answer the question myself, when an ex-girlfriend emailed me, asking for advice on purchasing a handgun. Seems she had acquired an unwelcome suitor -not quite the creepy stalker type, but ardent enough that his attentions became unwelcome, and started her thinking about self-defense.
"I wanna buy a gun," she told me. "Which one should I get?"
She might as well have asked me, "Do you still beat your wife?" or "Have you ever been caught masturbating in the closet?"
There's no right way to answer those questions.
I gave her the advice I give to most new shooters -male or female – with that question: Shoot a bunch of different pistols, and choose whichever one you like and shoot best, with the following three caveats:
- 1. Snubnosed revolvers are for experienced shooters, not beginners.
- 2. If anyone tries to steer you toward a specific type of gun to the exclusion of all others, ignore that person's advice and get away from the supposed "expert" as quickly as possible..
- 3. Don't get anything less than a .380.
Turns out a co-worker had already taken her shooting, and she came away with a couple of impressions: she didn't like the .45 at all, and she much preferred the .22 she shot. After a little more talking, I learned that instruction by her coworker had been pretty much nonexistent; he had pretty much given her a polymer-framed .45, pointed her downrange, and told her to squeeze off a few rounds – one handed, no less. Unsurprisingly, she found the .45 very heavy to hold, and the recoil unpleasant.
Obviously, more shooting was needed, and instruction from someone other than her coworker. So, we made plans to take her to the range this weekend, after which we'd go to the gun show and let her pick out a gun. I'd bring up all my handguns, maybe rent a couple more, and we'd let her try everything from a .22 LR single action revolver to my 1911 in .45 ACP.
"Do you have something that has a hole in the muzzle that looks like a .45, but kicks like a .22?" she asked, jokingly. "I want the scariest gun possible."
To which I replied, of course, "You don't pull a gun to scare someone. You pull a gun to shoot someone. If you're not willing to pull the trigger, you might as well just give the mugger your gun and save him the trouble of taking it from you."
"Oh, I'm not going to shoot anybody. I don't think I could kill a person."
Whoa. Full stop.
If you haven't already done that mental self-assessment and unequivocally answered the question about where your particular line is drawn, under what circumstances you'd take a life, the answer to the question, "What gun should I buy?" can only be, "No gun at all."
"What if someone took your purse at knifepoint?" I asked her.
"I don't carry much in my purse anyway. He could have it."
"So you'd let him have your purse, with your driver's license, credit cards, house keys, everything?"
"Sure, all of that can be replaced. Lives can't."
"So it wouldn't bother you at all that someone who'd take your property by threat of violence, now knows your address and has access to your home? Not to mention everything he needs to steal your identity?"
"What if he's pissed that your purse only has eight bucks in it, and forces you to drive him to the ATM for more? What then?"
"Yeah, but how likely is – "
"We're talking about a guy who has demonstrated that he is willing to kill you to get what he wants. What makes you so sure he wouldn't?"
"Okay, so I'd probably drive him to the ATM."
"And if he decided that he'd like to have your car, too? And that it'd be a lot less risky if he didn't leave any witnesses? Would you be willing to kill him then?"
"Wow, you really want to shoot someone, don't you?"
"I don't want to shoot anyone, but I'm willing to if necessary."
So you'd kill someone over your wallet? Over a few hundred bucks?"
"If I had to."
"I can't believe you'd shoot someone over a wallet."
"With a smile on my face and a song in my heart."
"I'm just not sure I could kill someone."
"Then rape is okay, as long as you can trust the guy not to kill you afterwards?"
"Now wait a minute, I didn't say that."
"Yes, you did. You're telling me that the threat of violence is acceptable to you, as long as overt violence is avoided. The problem is, you're not making that decision where the line is drawn. Your attacker is."
"I'd never really thought of it that way."
"Until you have, you don't need to carry a gun."
In the end, we decided not to go to the range or the gun show. She's going to buy a Ruger .22/45 for plinking and target practice, and I'll take a day off in the near future and give her some instruction in gun safety and basic marksmanship. She'll keep the gun at home, and in the meantime she'll take a CHL course, and hold off buying a defensive firearm until she has decided for herself just where her line is drawn.