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Old February 14, 2013, 01:53 PM   #1
tahunua001
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Are you new and looking to buy your first handgun?

Then step right up to Tahunua001's one stop shop to help you make this very big decision. As you may have already found out, there are literally hundreds of different models from dozens of different makers. In this not so brief writeup I will try my best to aid you by pointing you in the right direction. There are several questions that you must first ask yourself before you even walk into a store:
1. How much am I willing to spend?
2. What will I be using it for?
3. What kindof materials am I comfortable with?
4. How 'safe' is safe enough for me?

First we will tackle price ranges. Handguns vary greatly in price, from custom made to budget brand, some can sell for over $3,200 and others for less than $200. There is a common misconception among new gun owners that the cost of a gun is a one time expense but this is not truly the case. Once you buy the gun then you must also buy ammunition for it, as ammunition is a one time use product, you have to buy it every time you use the gun. Ammunition prices vary depending on brand and caliber. The cheapest caliber to shoot is the small, 22 long rifle(or LR for short). It is a very lightweight round that is well suited to killing vermin but can be a bit underpowered for self defense due to it's small size and relatively low velocity. Please make no mistake, 22LR can still be a lethal round, it just requires a bullet put in just the right spot. 22lR chambered guns are generally on the lower end of the price bracket and due to a low recoil, it is a very heavily recommended caliber for a practice gun.

Another very popular round is the 9mm Luger, also known as 9x19mm, 9mm NATO, or 9mm parabellum. The many names come from different velocity standards but dimensionally speaking they are all close enough to be fired from the same gun, though NATO is higher velocity than the rest and may cause damage to some more poorly made guns with extended use. 9mm is well respected because it is very well suited to self defense while still being cheap enough to practice with on a regular basis without becoming too cost prohibitive. For users that can not afford to buy 2 separate guns, I recommend 9mm as their first gun because even though it is not the BEST suited for either self defense or range practice, it is a very good medium.

Probably the most heavily used round in the US is still the 45automatic colt pistol,also known as 45ACP or 45auto for short(please do not get this confused with the 45 colt caliber as this is a completely different cartridge). This round is one of the most popular among gun owners concerned with self defense and concealed carry as it is quite powerful as far as semi auto pistol calibers are concerned and can be used to stop anything up to black bear sized targets. For anything larger I would recommend something more powerful which would have to resort to revolvers and would be relegated to a different forum altogether. The 45ACP has been falling out of favor in recent years as higher capacity 9mm handguns are released and 9mm ammo prices are much lower than 45 making it difficult for a shooter on a budget to shoot on a regular basis with a 45.

Now that we have discussed the price of feeding your gun we will address the price of the guns themselves. For the sake of science I will break them down into four separate categories. Many models found in these price ranges include but are not limited to:
1. $350 and below:Keltec PF9, Hipoint C9, Arcus 94SA and 98DA, and Ruger P95, MKIII and 22/45.
2. $350-$550: Springfield XD, Ruger SR series, Smith & Wesson M&P series, most Glock models, FN Herstal FNP, Beretta PX4 series, Armscor(owns Rock island armory and Citadel) 1911 models.
3. $550-$800: Springfield XDM, FN Herstal FNS, Ruger SR1911, Remington R1(1911), Beretta M9/92FS, Steyr M9, and CZ75.
4. $800 and up: FN Herstal five seven pistol, most Heckler and Koch models, most Sig Sauer Models, various 1911 models from multiple makers(Springfield, Colt, Wilson, Les Baer, and Kimber)

Generally speaking, first time gun owners should stick to the first two price brackets so that they can pick up the basics of firearms handling, safety and maintenance. More expensive models can come later after you have learned to properly use and care for them. I will add one cautionary note however; not all brands listed are noted for making quality guns, especially in the lowest price bracket. If you do decide to pursue these budget guns please research the particular model you are looking at thoroughly before making the decision to buy.

Now that you've looked at what you can afford lets take a look at what you intend to use it for.
Are you looking to keep it in the night stand? Entering police service? If you are looking for a duty pistol or night stand gun then a full sized/service sized pistol in 9mm or 45ACP would suit your purposes well.

Just punch holes in paper at the gun range? If all you want is to punch holes in paper then a 22lr is well suited and will be affordable

Maybe concealed carry? If you are even thinking about concealed carrying even somewhere down the line then a compact sized pistol in 9mm or 45 would be a very smart choice. Many compact pistols are identical in function to a full sized pistol only they have shorter grips and barrel/slide lengths to help make them easier to be hidden under clothing. For instance; a Springfield XDM can be had in a full sized version or a compact version, the only difference is the length of the barrel/slide and the grips. The compact can even use full sized magazines for range practice. If you are looking to concealed carry a mainstream brand is recommended like Glock, S&W, Ruger, or Springfield as it will be easier to find holsters and other accessories.

Woods defense(IE predators like cats, wolves, bears etc...)? Generally a 45ACP of any size/model will do well enough to serve this purpose however if you expect to run into anything larger and more aggressive than a black bear(IE pretty skiddish and around 400LBs) then a revolver in larger caliber is recommended.

Now we'll just skim over what materials you are comfortable with. The biggest fight in semi auto handguns is metal VS polymer(a nice word for plastic). Many gun owners do not feel comfortable with plastic framed pistols while many others do not have any issues with the design concept. The 1911 which is the most commonly replicated design in the world generally uses a steal frame while others like Glock offer all their models with a polymer frame. Metal framed guns are generally more expensive and are heavier which is the main advantage of polymer framed guns.

If you are not comfortable with plastic then the Browning Hipower, virtually all 1911s, CZ75, Beretta M9/92FS, many Sig Sauer models, Ruger MKIII and Arcus models are all metal framed handguns.

Finally comes 'how safe is safe enough'? Some guns have safety features out the wazzoo while others half virtually none. For instance: the Glock has nothing but a trigger safety, it is disengaged by just about anything that may accidentally find itself inside the trigger guard, on the other hand models like the Ruger SR series use a trigger safety, a manual safety switch(ON/off), and a magazine disconnect(wont fire without a magazine in the gun). the Springfield XD/XDM/XD-S all use a trigger safety and a grip safety(wont fire unless the gun is gripped properly) both of those are passive safety devices that are all unconsciously disengaged by the intentional functions of attempting to shoot the gun while making it difficult to inadvertently fire it as opposed to the manual safety switch that is an active safety because it requires you to consciously disengage it to fire. whatever makes you feel safest is the best place to start.

1911s and XDs use a passive grip safety.
1911s, M&Ps, FNP/FNS, SR series, Beretta PX4 and M9s, Browning hi powers, CZ75, and arcus 94/98 all have active safety selector switches.
Glocks, SR series, and XD/XDM/XD-s all use passive trigger safeties.

Some models like the Sig Sauer Pseries have no true safety. Instead they have a decocker that makes the trigger pull heavy enough that it diminishes the chance of a negligent discharge but they are still capable of going off.

If there is anything that I left out(which I'm sure I have) please feel free to add, make comments or if you have more questions please feel free to voice them. Maybe someday we can get this made into a sticky and can be right at the top of the page for all to see who need help.
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Last edited by tahunua001; February 16, 2013 at 12:58 PM. Reason: Additional information added
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Old February 14, 2013, 06:38 PM   #2
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Old February 14, 2013, 06:54 PM   #3
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Some great info for first time buyers. Maybe add some pictures for them to look at as well.
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Old February 14, 2013, 07:01 PM   #4
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+1 ^^^^^^
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Old February 14, 2013, 07:16 PM   #5
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Solid information. I could probably take issue with a couple things you said, but all in all pretty good.

You didn't mention the .40S&W cartridge BTW.
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Old February 14, 2013, 07:43 PM   #6
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Quote:
You didn't mention the .40S&W cartridge BTW.
I guess we know where he stands...
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Old February 14, 2013, 08:05 PM   #7
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I'm not a 40 shooter, I guess owning 45s and 9mms I see little reason to get an intermediate round. not to say that a 40 is not a decent choice but given the sharp recoil of the round, I tend to not recommend it for first time gun purchases, it's got it's uses just not here IMHO. I thought of posting pictures but this is already a very lengthy post to begin with. posting pictures might make it downright long.
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Old February 14, 2013, 08:24 PM   #8
milehighjc
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Wish this post had been here 6 weeks ago when I started my search. Interestingly, after tons of reading, I came to mostly the same conclusions. Wound up with a CZ 75 P-01, which I shot for the first time today. I'm very impressed and happy with it so far.
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Old February 14, 2013, 10:17 PM   #9
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Good post. Agree with you for the most part, but would like to share some opinions...

First, where does the 40 fit in? It is the in between. It was developed by the FBI as a softer shooting version of a serious fighting caliber like the 45 auto and 10mm. Why? To reduce challenges of training 50th percentile and below male/female users to make good hits in a double stack gun. It does this very well and delivers most of the wallop of a 45. The added benefit is that 40 guns are usually 9mm sized, I.e. smaller and easier to CCW for plain clothes FBI.

Why 40 over 9mm? Well, when 40 started, hollowpoint design was a little rough. While 357 mag hp's expanded from 4" guns at 1500 fps, 9mm hp's at 1200 didn't under all conditions. 40 was design to meet FBI test criteria and new modern hp's were developed here first. 9mm lagged behind and may still slightly to one degree or another. Just my opinion.

A gun's safety system needs to be thought of in 4 ways. First, there is what I call out of use safeties. . . These are safeties designed to keep a gun which is not being carried, shot or even paid attention to safe. These are things like mag safeties, internal locks, add on locks, safe's, etc. IMNSHO, these are best left as external devices which can be completely desperate when in use. Safe's are best.
Second are tactics and training. Your best safety is the training, tactics and muscle memory you have practiced and developed subconscious familiarity with. This is probably a person's most important safety.
Third are active safeties like grip safeties, thumb safeties, trigger safeties and long/heavy trigger pulls. I consider grip safeties active because a haphazard grip on your gun will likely leave it engaged.
Last are passive safeties. These are usually what keep dropped gun from firing. This is why all "I dropped it and it went off stories" should be viewed with extreme suspicion.

Now, what to suggest.....I would suggest you pick a mid sized or full sized pistol which feels good in hand. An XD40, Glock 19, or a pre-lock K frame revolver all sound nice to me. Accept this as a start instead of an end to your finding a gun process.
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Old February 14, 2013, 10:41 PM   #10
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Even as a strong defender and proponent of the .40, I agree with tahuna's suggestion of 9mm for first-time shooters. I wouldn't reccomend either .45 or .40 if you're a beginner. The 5-6 first-time buyers I have helped have all been steered by me toward a 9mm.

It just makes a lot of sense for a starter round. It's cheap, accurate, gentle on the hand, and fun, while still being a service-level cartridge. My most-recently-helped buddy who I helped pick out, practice with, and equip his new SR9 keeps it with 147-grain Winchester Ranger-Ts to protect his wife and baby now, and I feel great about helping him into a platform he loves and that was easy to learn with. The SR9's multiple safties also were the last straw that got his wife to agree.

milehighjc, you chose a great gun. milehigh is Denver, I'm assuming? Go Broncos! Were you at that awful freezing playoff heartbreaker against Baltimore like I was?
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Old February 15, 2013, 01:16 AM   #11
tahunua001
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Quote:
First, where does the 40 fit in?
the simple fact of the matter is that it doesn't, at least not as far as I'm concerned. the 40 is an intermediary cartridge, not as powerful as te 45ACP while not having the ammo capacity of 9mm, ammo prices until recent months were just as cost prohibitive as 45ACP and therefore had little advantage as far as I'm comcerned. does 40S&W have no place in firearms? no, after all variety is the spice of life but for the purposes of this commentary there was just no room for it.

Quote:
It is the in between. It was developed by the FBI as a softer shooting version of a serious fighting caliber like the 45 auto and 10mm.
the FBI doesn't design ammunition, the round may have been developed FOR the FBI as an alternative to the harder hitting 10mm round but it sure wasn't designed by a law enforcement agency, pretty sure with a name like 40 Smith and Wesson that I can guess who did design it within 3 guesses. furthermore, if their goal was to make a lighter recoiling round than the 45ACP, they failed. 40 S&W is one of the snappiest recoiling rounds available for semi automatic pistols and as such would be a poor choice for a new shooter to learn with. that is not to say that it would be an impossible obstacle to overcome, but it would be a stumbling block and as you will notice, I advocate going with the lightest recoiling round that is capable of fulfilling the owner's needs.

there are several ways to view firearms safety, but given the already lengthy post, I decided to er on the side of general concepts, it is easy to classify safety devices as passive or active, once you start getting into indepth mechanical and operational safety it can begin to become overwhelming for a person that is beginning to research firearms for the first time.
Quote:
Now, what to suggest.....I would suggest you pick a mid sized or full sized pistol which feels good in hand. An XD40, Glock 19, or a pre-lock K frame revolver all sound nice to me. Accept this as a start instead of an end to your finding a gun process.
not a bad example but if you suggest a person start by picking what feels best inhand they may be disapointed when they find that Wilson 1911 that fits like a glove that exceeds their budget by 450%, once a person has decided what they are willing to pay, what they are comfortable buying, and what they feel safest operating, THEN they can begin to decide what feels best in hand from whatever guns fit their criteria.

Quote:
Even as a strong defender and proponent of the .40, I agree with tahuna's suggestion of 9mm for first-time shooters. I wouldn't reccomend either .45 or .40 if you're a beginner. The 5-6 first-time buyers I have helped have all been steered by me toward a 9mm.
this is essentially the point I was trying to make as far as calibers were concerned. the lightest round that is capable of meeting the buyer's needs, notice that the only time I recommended 45ACP over the others was in a situation where you would need it to take down something larger than a human and did not have money for more than one firearm.
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Old February 15, 2013, 03:08 AM   #12
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You did good on your first purchase, CZ Po1. Very good!!
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Old February 15, 2013, 04:31 AM   #13
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tahunua:
My exposure to handguns has been sporadic and among random types.

The plan is to buy a used Sig 232. To be very clear, I probably Won't ever use it for 'carry', just for fun.

If used 232s are not to be found FTF within a decent drive of Memphis at an acceptable price, then a Bersa Thunder .380 will do.
Three friends have the Polish P-64, but the recoil keeps it from being fun.

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Old February 15, 2013, 10:37 AM   #14
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I appreciate your opinions on the 40. I do often wonder where the snappier recoil thing comes in. ....but nobody can argue what a shooter feels. It is one person's opinion. My opinion is that a 9mm has extremely mild recoil. It can be shot well and fast with less experience. 40 is more recoil than a 9mm by a measurable amount. It still, IMO, is an easy caliber to learn to shoot fast in midsized guns. The 45 too is a great caliber, but it takes a more practiced shooter to handle it's recoil, except in a 40oz gun! This is where 40 fits IMO.

The FBI most certainly did work very closely with S&W and Federal(I forget.) on the design and performance parameters of the 40 S&W cartridge. I would suggest you review the story on that one, although you don't use 40, so maybe it is not worth the time.

My suggestion to just take the plunge is simple. Most people can buy something and adapt to it quite well. If they go astray, guns, can be sold used at very high prices. Which means that the money lost on the deal is likely under $100 and they learned a lot about guns and shooting in the process. I in my quest for an ultimate CCW have bought like 6 CCW guns and have three really good choices. I would still like a CCO type 1911 in 45, but I think I will wait and build. Even the high priced Wilson can be bought, tried and sold for minimal cost penalty compared to buying shoes or a fancy suit.

FWIW, if I don't have anything other than wants a good CCW/1st gun, I think a S&W 13/65 3" makes a great choice, especially with a spurless hammer.
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Old February 15, 2013, 11:15 AM   #15
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This topic relates to much of what I do at work every day. I've come to find that most people starting out need to have two concepts explained to them:

1. Handguns typically require multiple hits to stop threats, so placement of multiple shots under rapid fire is important.

This helps explain caliber selection and action/trigger considerations as conversation develops.

2. "There are a lot of right answers."

Many people come in with the idea that Glawk (just to invent a fictitious brand name...) is the only choice for a reliable semi. I often see people who have never owned a firearm come in and tell me that X is the "best gun", without even realizing that they're talking about a manufacturer, rather than a specific pistol.

Once they understand that there are many reliable and reputable options, it becomes easier to help them find the right choice for them.
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Old February 15, 2013, 11:55 AM   #16
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Papa Tahunua! lol good write up man. Sticky this for the new timers that are just getting into their second amendment rights because of recent events.

Glad you're all waking up!
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Old February 15, 2013, 12:58 PM   #17
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Constantine, thanks for the kind words.

Milehighjc, sorry I glanced over it before but congratulations on the CZ75-P01. at this point modern CZ are one of the few handguns that I have yet to spend any real trigger time with.

Rbid, if I understand correctly from previous posts of yours, you work for an LGS. if that is the case you have probably learned through experience how best to play to your strengths to help a new buyer make an educated decision about what you have in stock which is a very good thing. your style may be different but the overall outcomes may quite possibly be quite close to each other.

Nathan, I am not bashing the 40 S&W. I am just stating why I decided not to include it in the lineup. it took a great deal of time to try and add the vast jumble of ADHD laced thoughts into a coherent commentary and I figured that given the amount of time already devoted to such that it would be sufficient without trying to research the finer points of it's development and operation. I'm sure that it has it's uses but having owned mainly 45ACPs and 9mms, I see little use in an intermediary round.

it is the same reasoning where if I were to own a rifle in 243 and another in 308, I would see little purpose to owning a 260 as it is just an intermediary between those two cartridges, any advantage that it has over one, the other holds the advantage over it. do I begrudge anyone that owns a 260? no I'm sure that they get much use from it but for my purposes, it just doesn't have a place.
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Old February 15, 2013, 01:42 PM   #18
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I think you did great...and hopefully it'll help someone going thru the process.../ I sure hear a lot of first time buyers asking for this advice in my local gun stores every time I drop in....
----------
I agree that leaving out .40S&W was smart ....keep them focused on 9mm is a smart first choice...
---------
The only thing I would add....is encourage them to shoot as many guns as they can in the caliber they think they like !! Rent guns, hang out at local ranges, talk to a lot of shooters .....why did they buy that, would they buy it again, what they like about it, what they don't....

Its interesting that I joined a new indoor range in my area a couple of weeks ago ....and as I get to know some of the regulars, I'm seeing a lot of shooters that are curious about what everyone is shooting.....but the lack of general info is amazing....

a. They aren't familiar with revolver calibers..38/.357 mag/.41 mag etc....

b. They don't know the typical trigger options on guns ......decockers, DA-SA, SAO, stryker fired, 1911's ..../ single action revolvers vs DA ....etc...

c. They don't know that all 1911's are not .45 acp..../ or 4" vs 5", etc...

d. If the local gunstore doesn't stock a particular gun mfg's weapons....they have no idea it exists.../ a guy said he had no idea that Sig made an all stainless version of the 226 ...?? ...because its not around...

Your thread is good .....and its up to a lot of us, that have been in this hobby for a long time, to take a little time and talk to the new shooters at the range....and to recognize that some of them are intimidated by us old guys ..especially if we don't shoot weapons just like whatever they bought...

We need to be more friendly ....and just talk to folks, introduce ourselves....and openly discuss the stuff you've laid out...not just what we like.
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Old February 16, 2013, 01:15 AM   #19
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I agree that it's a good and valuable thread. One of the challenges to this type of write up is including *enough* information, without offering too much. I think this is a good balance. Concessions must be made, or important information won't sink in.

This is good stuff.
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Old February 16, 2013, 08:06 AM   #20
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Great write up. I was curious as to why you did not tackle revolvers at all.

In my experience, a great first autoloading handgun is a 22LR, specifically one of the Rugers. I have taught at least a dozen women on an old Mk I, and several of them have gone on to be pretty good IDPA competitors.

I would also suggest that you be careful about your example line ups. An inexperienced person may take your reference to a PF9 as an acceptable alternative. In the case of the PF9, such a choice would be a horrible mistake. The PF9 is an expert's gun, not a beginner's gun.

Overall, a great effort, my issues notwithstanding. I think you ought to refine it and see if you can get it published on a venue with a wider audience. I will be referencing your post in my interaction with trainees.

Good job!
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Old February 16, 2013, 12:53 PM   #21
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thanks FALPhil, I'm not sure exactly what venue would be able to get more circulation than TFL that would be willing to publish a private commentary but I will pursue such.

I did not tackle revolvers because this is the autoloader sub-forum and my knowledge of revolvers is quite slim when it comes to makes models and the such.

it was difficult to find a balance between weeding out problem brands and keeping budget brands. looking back through my lineups, I see that I unconsciously left out Taurus, Kahr and the problematic 22lr makers like Umarex and Chiappa. personal and 2nd hand experiences with Kahr and Taurus make me leery about recommending them to anyone. Umarex and Chiappa? well their reputations speak for themselves. I had to offer something in the $350 and below category for those that are one very strict budgets but you are completely right, I should have added a caveat that many budget brand guns are cheap because the companies may cut corners in production which may cause reliability issues. in fact I will EDIT the OP to reflect this information, thank you FALPhil.
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Old February 16, 2013, 01:04 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tahunua001
Milehighjc, sorry I glanced over it before but congratulations on the CZ75-P01. at this point modern CZ are one of the few handguns that I have yet to spend any real trigger time with.
tahunua001, no appolgies necessary, but thank you again for the summary! I have now fired the CZ a bit, and can confirm even as a newbie that it is an excellent firearm. Very little recoil, and with it's reputation for reliability I believe it is a great choice as a first handgun for home defense. It is easy to manage, even for my wife.
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Old February 16, 2013, 03:36 PM   #23
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interesting, one of my few posts that makes it to the 1000+ views category.
hopefully that means it's being helpful.
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Old February 18, 2013, 12:33 AM   #24
banter
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Join Date: February 17, 2013
Posts: 8
First time posting here.. Great information so far, thanks folks! This has been a really helpful thread.

I am new to firearms, and interested in buying a semi-auto handgun, and would like to hear your opinions and advice! I am pretty set on a semi-automatic model, and 9mm seems best for me. I will use this handgun mainly at the range and in the bush, but will keep it at home for self defense. I will not be carrying this gun.

Price is not an issue, and I am taking my time to decide and test various handguns. So far, I have shot:

Beretta 92fs - I wasn't phased by the da/sa (my LGS warned me it might not be right for a beginner), and liked how it shot, but the pistol just didn't 'fit' me so well
S&W M&P - I really enjoyed it. Good fit, liked the size and mechanics
Walther PPQ - currently my top choice. Fit my hand wonderfully, and I really like how it fired. The mag release on the trigger guard was different, but not a problem, and the new M2 changes that..
Springfield XDm - I liked everything about it, except the safety on the backstrap.. just wasn't for me.

What remains for me to figure out is..
-Polymer vs metal?
-Should I get the longest barrel possible, since for me it's mainly about learning to shoot well? (not for carry)
-Stryker fire vs. DA/SA?
-I know someone will bring up glocks, and I'm open to them..
-What else should I be thinking about? (accessories, mags, ___?)
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Old February 18, 2013, 03:32 AM   #25
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Join Date: February 18, 2008
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tahunua:

That's a nice intro guide to handguns, and seems to reflect what most people suggest on various websites.

A quite seasoned, middle-aged guy showed up today with his wife at the main local outdoor shooting "place"
(an ICE agent also goes there, by the way).
She did not care for her husband's M-4 type carbine, but he gave her some instruction on a 9 mm and a .40, and she did not seem to mind.

The recoil (maybe noise) of a .223 carbine would seem more pleasant than with many handguns using polymer components.
A paradox?
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