Everyone has a different reason for purchasing their first firearm. Mine was a combination of a friend taking me to the range fire their handgun, followed by the realization that guns weren’t evil (as I had been taught) and were actually quite fun, and finally followed by the realization that a handgun is arguably the most effect self defense tool available. The last part really struck a chord for me as my wife and I had recently been looking at our family’s emergency plans (dealing with a natural disaster, a fire, etc.). While my reasons and experiences that influenced my decision to purchase a firearm are mine, they fell inline with the most common themes that drive people to purchase their first firearm.
The primary reason themes for purchasing the first firearm are:
- Protection – whether it be home protection or personal protection
There are different things to consider for each of those reasons (and perhaps I will dive into those in future posts), but for now let’s focus on what every new gun owner needs to know about selecting the first firearm and general considerations about gun ownership.
A common mistake – at least one that I made – is to search for the holy grail of firearms. The one firearm to rule them all. I wanted a firearm that I could carry, enjoy recreationally, maybe even enjoy competitively, and perhaps even hunt with. What I learned was that, every firearm is typically designed for a specific purpose.
Small compact handguns are generally designed for ease of concealment. Full size handguns vary a bit in specialization, but their features are generally optimized specifically for duty carry (or personal protection via open carry), competition, or handgun hunting. Shot guns and rifles, like full size handguns, vary in specialization as well. Firearms in all categories can be found with fancy engravings and finishes intended for collectors.
Bottom line, is a new gun owner needs to clearly identify the top priority for their first firearm in order to narrow the selection down to firearms with features for the intended purpose. It’s almost like deciding to buy the first tool for the first toolbox – should you buy a hammer, screw driver, tape measure (granted it’s a lot easier on the wallet to buy a tool box and fill it with some basic tools that it is to buy a few different firearms).
Once that’s settled, a new firearm owner will likely feel ready to go make that purchase – which is another common mistake. So hold on there cowboy, let’s cover some other things you should consider.
Where will that first firearm be kept?
There are two important aspects to consider when thinking about firearms storage: safety, theft prevention, and local gun laws.
When it comes to firearms, safety comes first (in fact you should be familiar with the basic rules of firearms safety before even setting foot in a gun store for the first time let alone owning one). The rule of thumb is that all unattended firearms must be secured at all times. This means different things to different people. Some people may consider leaving a loaded firearm in a nightstand drawer sufficiently secure (not uncommon with people who don’t have kids and rarely have people over) while others will opt for a high-end gun safe. Consider the foot traffic in your home and the type of gun you will first purchase as well as future guns you may purchase when selecting your storage method.
Theft prevention is another matter that should be taken seriously. Last published statistics I’ve seen continue to indicate the vast majority of crimes committed with a firearm are carried out with stolen firearms. The most common firearm thefts are usually smash and grab scenarios. A trigger lock does very little to deter theft in a smash and grab situation, locked gun cases provide a little more deterrence, and a gun safe provides the best protection. Of course the cost of investment is proportional to the protection the storage method provides – where trigger locks are the least expensive (usually free when purchasing a new firearm) and safes being the most expensive.
There is also the aspect of your local gun laws which may impose firearm storage restrictions. Make certain to follow local storage laws to stay legal.
Yes, there is more to consider.
Depending on the intended primary use of the firearm, accessories will vary in both cost and quantity.
The most common accessory is a gun case. A gun case provides a mechanism in which to transport your firearm from your home to another location (like the shooting range). Some new guns will be packaged in a reusable a case, but not all do. Some new guns come packaged in plain old cardboard. It’s been my experience that reusable cases provided as packaging for rifles are often too small to be reused after outfitting the rifle with a scope.
Another common accessory to consider is a holster (for a handgun) or a rifle sling.
Accessories are sometimes required to make a firearm range ready for the first time. For example, a number of rifles are sold without sights and without an optic. In this case, the purchase of sights or optic will be required before the firearm is usable.
All firearms require proper care to keep them functional and to maximize their life. At the very least, you will need some basic gun cleaning and lubrication supplies – composed of a solvent, a lubricant, cleaning patches, and a cleaning rod (with a patch loop/jag and nylon/brass brush). There are inexpensive starter cleaning kits that will fit the bill.
A gun with out ammo is as about as useful as a car without gas.
There are many different types of ammo and can vary quite a bit in price even when comparing ammo in the same cartridge. Two things must be taken in to consideration when thinking about ammunition: the cartridge and bullet type. The cartridge will influence (and inform) the first firearm purchased as the firearm must be chambered for the selected cartridge.
Cartridge selection is important. I recommend you start with a common (popular) cartridge as it will make it readily available, give you plenty of options, and keep the price down. Here are my recommendations for each of the intended purposes and guy types:
- Personal protection:
- Bolt action rifle: .308 Winchester
- Modern Sporting Rifles
- AR-15: 5.56x45mm NATO / .223 Remington (not all locations allow hunting with this caliber)
- AR-10: .308 Winchester / 7.62x51mm NATO (not all locations allow hunting with this style rifle)
- Shotgun: 12 gauge
- Anything chambered in .22 Long Rifle
- Anything listed in the personal protection or hunting bullets above
- Long distance/range shooting rifles: 6.5mm Creedmoor
- Not applicable as collectible firearms rarely get fired often
Once a cartridge is selected, then you will have to consider your bullet type. I recommend practicing with the same ammunition that will be used in the firearm for it’s intended purpose. Here are the common bullet types by purpose:
- Personal defense:
- Handgun: Jacketed Hollow Points (JHP)
- Shotgun: Buck shot
- Rifle: Pointed Soft Point (PSP), Soft Point (SP), or some sort Hollow Point (HP)
- Shotgun: Bird shot, buck shot, or slugs depending on game
- Full metal jacket (FMJ) for all recreation except for long distance/range shooting
- Long range/distance: Match-grade boat tail hollow points (BTHP)
May go with out saying, but check your local laws on ammunition restrictions as those restrictions may limit the cartridge and bullet type selections.
At a minimum, every gun owner will need some basic eye protection and hearing protection.
If you use corrective lenses (like me), I recommend spending some extra money on shatter resistant lenses such as poly-carbonate. It can be uncomfortable to wear shooting glasses over your regular glasses.
Also, spending some extra money on some electronic hearing protection is well worth the investment. They are indispensable when at the range with a group of people, at training sessions, and competitions. My personal recommendation are the Howard Leight’s Impact Sport electronic earmuffs.
Ranges will usually loan or rent eye and ear protection, but they are typically uncomfortable and really worn. If you are okay with that, you can skip this purchase. However, every gun owner eventually purchase these for themselves.
Unless you live in a rural area where you have the space and a nice backstop (or have access to a property that meets these requirements). You will need to find a shooting range to practice at. The National Shooting Sports Foundation maintains a website (and a mobile app) dedicated to that purpose: wheretoshoot.org.
Be prepared to spend around $15-25 per trip to the range. Annual memberships may reduce the costs if you plan to (and actually do) get out to the range frequently (as you should). Remember that marksmanship is a perishable skill.
Just because you spent a $1000 on a set of golf clubs doesn’t mean you are ready for your first PGA Tour. The same applies to shooting. Plan to get some training from a qualified trainer for whatever firearm purpose you have selected. Even if the purpose is recreation, a basic firearms handling and marksmanship training class is essential to minimizing negligent firearms use.
Let’s face it. Firearms are not cheap. Even the most economical options start a hair over $150 USD (like a Hi-Point 9mm handgun) and can reach beyond the the $4,000,000 USD mark (like a pair of 1911s as a part of Cabot Guns Big Bang Pistol set). Aside from the cost of the firearm, you will need to consider allocating some of your firearm purchase budget to storage, accessories, maintenance, ammunition, range fees, and training. Some of these costs will be a one time investment (or infrequent investment) and others will be recurring expenses. However, all of these expenses are applicable to the first purchase.
The budget itself will vary on the intended use of the first firearm, but here is a general break down for entry level expenses:
- Firearm: $500-1,000
- Storage: $150-500
- Accessories: $100-200
- Maintenance: $25
- Ammunition: $50-100
- Protective equipment: $20-80
- Range fees: $25-50 / month (or a membership $150-300 / year)
- Training: $100-200 for introduction to firearms classes (with classroom and range instruction by a qualified instructor)
Realistically, a new gun owner will probably spend somewhere between $1,000 to $2,500 to get started with a new firearm. Depending on your local laws, you maybe required to purchases permits and take some additional instruction (which have not been considered here).