The internet is a wonderful thing. As a real time, virtual resource it connects us with mountains of information and opinions from across the globe. Internet forums are a wonderful part of the online community as well, as they allow people with similar interests, challenges, and beliefs to come together for like-minded discussion. Firearms forums are a great benefit to the shooting community, as shooting can sometimes feel a little isolated and controversial. Being able to come together to share our mutual enjoyment of the shooting sports virtually has done much to further the safe and responsible use of firearms.
For the most part, I tend to frequent forums geared toward pistols and pistol shooting. I tend to stay out of political discussions, and enjoy forums that require the pleasant exchange of information and actively moderate poor and inflammatory behavior. Some of the forums I am active in appeal primarily to more experienced shooters interested in specific firearms, while others are more general in nature and deal with “semi autos” or “revolvers”. In those forums, a lot of discussion is spent debating the merits of specific brands and models. I’ve also found that many times there are new shooters looking for guidance and insight into what their first purchase should be. While I do not claim to be an expert by any means, I will share some of my thoughts around how to best approach this topic.
- Have a specific “type” in mind. What I mean by this isn’t to know what model of firearm you are interested in necessarily, as it’s nice to hear suggestions from others. Rather, have an idea of what type of firearm you might be interested in. For example, with semi auto handguns there are a lot of variations in design. There are striker fired polymer pistols, steel framed single actions, alloy framed double/single actions, etc. If you can narrow down your thoughts to action type, that will help others in providing suggestions based on their experience. Or, even if you don’t know and are really starting from square one, that’s fine. But, have an idea of what you might use the pistol for (e.g., range target shooting, concealed carry, home defense, etc.). The analogy I’ll make is this: if you walked on to a car dealer’s lot and said, “What’s the best car for me?”, it’s going to be hard for them to figure that out. Asking “What handgun should I buy” poses the same challenge. Again, be able to help others understand what you’re looking for, to the best of your ability, and how you’ll use it and you’ll get better responses.
- Realize that much less variation exists than gun writers would like you to believe. Every gun magazine would have you believe that “Brand A’s” newest pistol is a must have “game changer.” While great designs come on the market, the truth is very few are revolutionary and only a handful more offer anything really different than what’s already out there. For example, many, many models of polymer striker fired pistols do pretty much the same thing. Yes, I’m talking about the Glock, XD, M&P, PPQ, XDM, VP, FNS, P32o, American, etc. offerings that take up the majority of real estate at the local gun counter. Most of these pistols do pretty much the same thing in the same manner with the same degree of mechanical accuracy and reliability. Yes, for all of you critics I know variations in the manner in which the trigger system works and the safety systems are actuated abound, but let’s face it: to the average shooter they all work about the same. Now, that’s not to say opinions on which is “best” don’t abound and I have personal preferences of my own, but those are PREFERENCES… not facts. What’s best for each shooter will depend, although there are certainly some designs that seem to work more effectively for a larger number of people than others. The morale of the story is this: when it comes to service grade pistols that operate in the same general manner, if you’re buying from one of the big companies chances are you’ll get as good of a pistol as any other. The way it performs comes down to how you interact with the individual pistol, which is very much a matter of individual traits and preferences.
- Just because everyone uses it doesn’t mean it’s the best for you. Market share in any industry occurs for a number of reasons, quality and ingenuity being sometimes less of a factor than it should be overall. Don’t get sucked into thinking you have to own a specific brand or model just because you think everyone else does so it must be good. What that said, do stick with models from manufacturers with solid histories and good reputations. As well, sticking with models that have some track record of use and success is a good idea as well. No reason for you to be someone’s guinea pig.
- Similar to above, just because you heard Seal Team Six, LAPD SWAT, or even the US Army uses something doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for you. Many, many factors go into determining what gear a specific government group uses. Often, it’s price… meaning what’s cheapest in the long run and accomplishes the basic requirements wins. Even with that aside, supply logistics, contract terms, logistics of working with other organizations, and even “back room deals” sometimes drive choices. For most organizations, a handgun is like any other piece of equipment in that its selection isn’t just due to whether it’s the most accurate or has the best trigger pull. Buy for what’s best for you, not what’s best for someone else’s needs (which are likely not the same as yours).
- Try before you buy. If you can, go rent examples of what you might be interested in and shoot those first. “In hand” experience will tell you more in very little time than hours of internet research. I’m not saying to not research online, as it’s a wealth of information and I do that myself on many occasions. But, just like when buying a car, all the research in the world won’t make something right if it just doesn’t feel good in the driver’s seat.
- Beware of “experts.” There are extremely well informed, knowledgeable, and helpful experts on many of the gun forums. There are also a large number of casual shooters who can offer great ideas and perspectives. Unfortunately, there are also many, many “internet commandos” who haven’t shot nearly as much as they’d lead you to believe. There’s no way to determine who is the “real deal” online vs who is really just a 12 year old with a subscription to Guns & Ammo. Also, while the number of posts someone has made shows whether they are active on the forum it does NOT represent or correlate in any way, shape, or form to real world experience. All it means is they are online a lot. Maybe they do shoot a lot as well, but don’t make the mistake of associating volume of online activity with experience. I encourage you to look more at overall trends in feedback and the tone in which some posters communicate. You can learn a lot from there, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have many of my questions answered by verified experts in their field and people who work directly for respected manufacturers.
- Resist the urge to immediately modify your weapon. Don’t get caught up in the “more gear is better” mentality. Especially if you are new to shooting, spend a good deal of time shooting your firearm before you start making any changes. And, for goodness sake, do NOT change anything related to the function of the weapon unless you REALLY know what you are doing and are aware of both the potential mechanical and legal ramifications. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you have no business changing the trigger pull, safety components, or anything else that might modify how the firearm functions. I’m not talking about grips and sights here, but regardless spend time with your firearm before you starting thinking you need to change it. Note: you’ll see on my posts that I make some changes to my pistols, but it’s based on personal experience and knowledge of how I intend to use the pistol. My handguns that might be used in a defensive situation are NOT modified in their function at all from the factory.
Well, there it is. Not a definitive guide, but just a few random thoughts I wanted to share to maybe help someone new to shooting think through ways to best use the online firearms community when evaluating purchases. Take it with a grain of salt, as I’m just one person with an opinion. And, in the end, for all you know I could be a 9 year old with a laptop (or, maybe I’m a middle aged guy with around 30 years experience with firearms… you decide).