Handgun Buying Is All About Fit

Here's how to help shooters choose the right handgun.

Handgun Buying Is All About Fit

photo by John Hafner

Many of the millions of people who are new handgun owners — those first-time buyers that broke firearms sales records over the past couple years — will discover what all the not-new handgun owners already know: one handgun might not be enough. Or the handgun initially purchased was not the right one. Fortunately, the handgun market is rife with sizes and styles, and some handguns will fit their hands better than others. In any case, more new and soon-to-be new handgun owners are going to make their way to a gun store to buy a first handgun or a second handgun or a replacement handgun. They’ll discover, as you have, that the fit and feel of a handgun is as important as any number of other factors. More important, maybe.

We’ve heard it all before: Better to hit with a .22 than miss with a .45. This is a point related to fit. Pardon the explanation of the obvious, but it’s a part of this article: A shooter who can’t shoot a .45 accurately — because the gun is physically too big or the round is ballistically too much or whatever else is contributing to chronic misses — has a fit problem. That shooter probably needs a different gun, one he or she can properly control, fire and strike a target with. With regard to caliber and type (type of action, number of externally mounted controls), sometimes less is more. With regard to dimensional size, sometimes more is more.

When a potential handgun buyer is in your store, help them find a handgun that truly fits them — in size, type and caliber. Here’s how these three facets of a handgun work together.



The burgeoning concealed carry market includes handgun manufacturers with numerous handgun designs that include marketing descriptors such as “micro,” “subcompact,” “pocket” and other terms promoting their smallish-ness. Some of these guns weigh well under a pound, even when loaded. Some of them “disappear” in your hand.

The technology and engineering in these small guns is nothing short of amazing. Manufacturers figured out how to take a large, full-sized handgun and reduce its dimensions so that it can be easily hidden in a purse or a pocket or any number of places on your person.

The problem is, sometimes they’re just too small.

You know the challenges related to handgun engineering and ballistics. A lot has to be right in order to fire a cartridge and strike a target. In some ways, the smaller the physical size of the handgun, the more important it is for things to be right. This is true for the gun as well as the shooter. Consider: Just because a gun has been engineered to be dimensionally smaller doesn’t mean it works in every shooter’s hand. Everyone’s mitts are different. Some hands are thin, with long and slender fingers. Some hands are chunky, with short and thick fingers. Some hands come with remarkable dexterity; others are more given to macro tasks. Add the stress of shooting, the adrenaline and the general loss of fine motor skills most experience in a life-threatening situation and we quickly see how there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to handgun fit.

Additionally, size usually corresponds with weight. Yes, it’s possible for a handgun to be dimensionally smaller than another while weighing more. But generally, the larger the handgun, the heavier it is. Firearm weight affects a shooter’s steadiness, perceived recoil, fatigue and other factors. A shooter may be able to draw and aim a lighter gun a bit faster than a heavier gun, but the amount of recoil he or she has to take may be greater, leading to anticipatory flinching or increased psychological duress.

So, the right size of handgun will be something along the lines of not too big, not too small, not too heavy, and not too light. It’s tempting for both you and your customer to judge size based primarily on carryability or concealability alone, but these must be considered along with shootability.



Along with size, the type of handgun carried matters as well. Type includes revolver vs. auto-loader, not to mention derringer or other kinds of handguns. And with revolvers and semi-autos come the presence of a variety of external controls — cylinder releases, safeties, magazine releases and decockers.

Carrying and drawing and shooting a handgun while under duress requires a mindset of preparedness and resolve, regardless of whether the handgun carried is a revolver or a semi. Some may argue a semi-automatic to be the more complex of the two types — it requires racking the slide to chamber a round (vs. rotating a loaded cylinder into the frame of a revolver) and, if a failure to fire occurs, it requires more complex movements requiring dexterity to get the gun ready to fire again. With a revolver, it’s simply draw and squeeze the trigger. If the gun doesn’t fire, squeeze the trigger again. Repeat as needed.

Reloading movements must also be taken into consideration. Here some may argue a semi-auto to be the more simple of the two types — it requires pushing a magazine release button, dropping the empty magazine (or almost empty magazine, in the case of a tactical reload), inserting a loaded magazine into the gun and possibly needing to rack the slide again to put a round into battery. With a revolver, the shooter needs to push a frame-mounted cylinder release button, push the cylinder out, clear the empty cartridges, reload the cylinder, and rotate the cylinder back into the frame. Speedloaders and speed strips may speed this up, but it is generally a far slower operation compared to reloading an auto-loader.

Not all semis have external safeties or decockers, but these of course add another level of complexity to handgun operation. And sometimes the safety lever is the same lever as the decocker.

While you probably are very familiar with the operations of both types of handguns, just keep in mind your customer’s capabilities and help them think rationally about their needs. It’s true that many can “train up” to their gun — and professional training is very important — but it may be more reasonable to try to train up the least complex type of handgun as opposed to a more complex type of handgun.



Assuming you help a customer find the right size and type of gun, a third important facet of fit is caliber. Here it’s tempting to push a customer towards ammunition in a caliber that is selling well, carried by local law enforcement, technologically advanced, etc. Except when it comes down to it, none of that matters if the customer can’t shoot it well — meaning confidently and accurately. Better consistent hits in a smaller caliber than consistent misses with a larger caliber.

Consider, too, the long-term effects. Generally, smaller-caliber ammunition may not only be less expensive but also will instill a growing confidence over time as the customer practices with it.

Exactly which lesser caliber is appropriate is up for discussion. Generally it’s the one that yields the best results in confidence and accuracy. With practice, capability in caliber may change over time — allowing a customer to size up, so to speak — but it is not necessarily a foregone conclusion. In fact, rather than master a caliber and then start over with another, why not just stick with the mastered caliber?

Size, type and caliber clearly play a role in selecting a handgun that’s right for your customer. Help them choose a rational, practical, long-term solution resulting in them becoming a more confident, accurate shooter. They have plenty of handguns to choose from and plenty of retailers to buy from. Helping them find the handgun that truly works for them will help them become a more successful shooter and probably a more consistent customer. In the end, it’s all about fit.


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