I’m almost ready to buy my first semiautomatic pistol. I’ve shot a few guns, read hundreds of articles and blog posts, visited dozens of gun forums, and checked out the manufacturers’ web sites. I have narrowed down my choices to Ruger’s SR compacts and Springfield’s XDm compacts. I am leaning towards Ruger’s products because they have a narrower profile and lighter weight, which are advantages for concealed carry. Though I am anxious to try Springfield’s .45 caliber XDm compact.
I’ve learned a lot about bullets.
Through my reading I learned about the effectiveness of the different caliber bullets in terms of stopping an assailant. That’s obviously important for military purposes, which is where much of the early information came from, and it is also important when one chooses self defense ammunition. I notice that people have very strong opinions about which bullet size is better for self defense, but I am not convinced there is all that much difference. In support of that, here is a graphic that shows how modern ammunition is designed to penetrate about twelve inches, so that it enters a body but does not pass through and through to cause collateral damage to other people or property in the area.
You’ll notice the volume of tissue damage is quite similar for the various bullets listed.
The sager writers always mention that shot placement is the most important factor when it comes to using a firearm in self defense. In other words, a shot to the head or heart will probably stop your assailant no matter what size bullet you use. So they always suggest to practice, practice, practice. That makes sense to me.
So, back to my choosing a gun. I find myself conflicted between the Ruger SR9c (9 mm) and the SR40c (.40 S&W.) Since both will stop an assailant, why do I seem to want the larger .40 caliber model? (I think the thought probably comes from the same part of my brain that wants a bigger penis.) The guns cost essentially the same and are practically identical in size and weight. But the .40 caliber ammo costs significantly more. The .40 caliber bullets are larger than the 9 mm, so the magazines don’t hold as many. And the recoil of the larger .40 caliber bullet is stronger, perhaps affecting my shooting accuracy. Those are significant disadvantages. Yet there is something sexy about a “forty” instead of a “nine.” Hmm.
Two other issues play in my decision making. One is that when I really think about it, how many times do I think I will find myself in a position to need a gun for self defense? I hope never!!! There are many things I can do to avoid putting myself in such a situation. So the self defense aspect of owning a gun should probably not be the most important. I realize that the fun of shooting it at the range is more important to me.
The other issue is the cost of the ammunition. I did a little web survey yesterday to get a better feel for the difference in cost between the 9 mm and .40 S&W ammo sizes. Here’s what I found:
I randomly chose three internet ammunition sales sites, toward the top of the google search list. I also randomly chose to compare prices of Remington’s metal case (MC) bullets and Federal American Eagle full metal jacket (FMJ) because they are sold everywhere and are good for shooting paper targets at the range. I also chose to compare prices of Hornady’s jacketed hollow point (JHP) ammo because after my research that’s what I have decided to use for concealed carry, self defense purposes.
You’ll see that there is only a small difference in prices for the same type of bullet at the different internet sites. But there is a larger difference between the 9 mm and the .40 S&W sizes.
At the internet sites, they tend to list prices per box, and since there are boxes with different numbers of bullets, they also list the price per round. When you look at it that way, it doesn’t seem to be much difference, a few pennies. But when I go to the range, I don’t just shoot one bullet. That’s why I included the cost per 100 rounds. That’s more like what I shoot when I go to the range. You can see that 9 mm bullets will cost me about $25 per visit to the range, and .40 S&W will cost me about $35. I know me. I will be more likely to go to the shooting range for $25 than for $35. Over time, the $10 difference would add up.
So that’s it. Everything points to getting a 9 mm handgun. (Though I still want the .40 and a bigger penis!) 😀
I recently wrote about how the Smith & Wesson 642 Airweight .38 Special revolver (pictured below) compares to the Springfield XDm .40 caliber 4.5″ semiautomatic pistol. You can see that post here.
Today, I shot the same S&W 642 snub nose revolver and the Glock 23 (pictured below) which is a .40 caliber compact model. The Glock “compact” models lie between their full sized pistols and their “subcompact” size. I was surprised to find that I could still fit all the fingers of my shooting hand around the handle. So it is not as small as the “compact” size of other brands.
The weight of the Glock 23 is reportedly 21 oz empty and 31 oz when fully loaded with the 12 round magazine. So it is much heavier than the 16 oz S&W snub nose .38 Special, which can only hold 5 rounds. Despite the weight difference, both of these guns would be suitable for concealed carry. The S&W snub nose is smaller and lighter but is limited to 5 rounds of .38 Special, while the heavier Glock 23 gives you 12 rounds of a more powerful .40 caliber load.
Really, it is more appropriate to compare the two semiautomatics I have shot: the Glock 23 and the Springfield XDm .40 (pictured below.) It would have been an even better comparison if I had shot the XDm .40 compact model, but nevertheless there are a few things I can mention about the guns I have shot that might be helpful to someone trying to decide between brands.
For me, the perceived recoil was similar with the S&W .38 Special Airweight revolver and the Glock 23. I thought the recoil of the Springfield XDm felt much lighter. But that is just my subjective opinion. Going back and forth between the small S&W revolver and the semiautomatic Glock 23, my accuracy was consistently much better with the Glock 23 than it was with the small revolver. My accuracy was similar with both the Glock 23 and the Springfield XDm semiautomatic pistols.
Glock is a famous brand. Glocks have been used by countless good guys and bad guys all over the world. Part of the reason for the brand’s popularity is the cost. Glocks have been a good value at their purchase price. But I found the Glock 23 to be a crude product. Glocks in general are famous for being solid, and for reportedly holding up under heavy use. But I found the Glock 23 to be stark, with hard lines, and without character. Also, I had one malfunction with it when a bullet didn’t eject properly and got stuck in the chamber. By comparison, the Springfiled XDm felt better in my hand, had much more elegant, fluid lines, and in general seemed to be of much better construction than the Glock. Again, all my subjective opinion.
The Smith & Wesson .38 Special snub nose revolver has a special place in history and in popular culture. It’s still around because it’s still a reliable firearm, and .38 Special has been an effective projectile. The snub nose is also small, light, easy to conceal. I plan to always have one in my (eventual) collection. But the semiautomatics I discussed, though slightly heavier, have the advantages of chambering more powerful bullets, housing more of them, delivering faster followup shots, and allowing better accuracy.
I have probably been biased forever after shooting the Springfield XDm .40 and the Glock 23. For me, based on my limited experience, there is no question I would choose a Springfield anything over a Glock anything. I see Glocks as stark, utilitarian handguns without soul. By comparison, I see the Springfield XDm’s as much more elegant, better built, smoother firing, with less perceived recoil, just as accurate, and sporting an attractive style. And as for price, it’s the same as always: You get what you pay for.
I’m new to handguns, so consider that when you read this amateur review.
First of all, I know it’s kind of weird to compare a small frame revolver to a full size semiautomatic pistol, but they are what I shot today so that’s what I’m going to review.
The upper picture is of the Smith & Wesson Airweight revolver, model 642. The light weight, smooth lines, encased hammer and reliability of a revolver make this a good handgun for concealed carry. It is chambered for .38 Special, which is an acceptable caliber for self defense, though many people think it really isn’t powerful enough to consistently stop an assailant. It is a small framed revolver, so the cylinder can only hold 5 bullets. The hammer is encased, so it cannot be used in single action mode. It is a strictly double action gun, making for a longer and heavier trigger pull.
The lower picture is of the Springfield XDM .40 caliber semiautomatic pistol, with a 4.5 inch barrel. That is the size gun I shot, though it does come in various configurations including shorter and longer barrels, and chambered in 9 mm and .45 calibers. The .40 magazine holds 16 rounds. It was significantly bigger and heavier than the S&W 642: 32 oz. vs 15 oz. The model with the shortest barrel is promoted for concealed carry, but it is not much lighter at 27 oz. The .40 caliber load is much more powerful than the .38 Special, giving it much better assailant stopping power.
What I discovered at the firing range was very interesting. I shot Remington UMC .38 Special 130 gr. metal case bullets through the S&W revolver, and Federal American Eagle .40 caliber 165 gr. FMJ through the Springfield semiautomatic pistol. This review is otherwise completely subjective. I had fired the S&W revolver several times before, and it was the first time with the Springfield pistol. For me, the recoil “kick” was much more noticeable with the smaller S&W revolver! Even with the more powerful .40 caliber load, the heavier semiautomatic pistol absorbed the recoil force much better! I wasn’t expecting that!
My accuracy was also much better with the semiautomatic pistol! Perhaps it was the longer barrel. Perhaps it was the stability of a heavier gun. Perhaps it was that the trigger pull of this semiautomatic was much easier than the revolver’s trigger pull. Perhaps it was a little of all that. Going back and forth between these two guns, I consistently fired more accurately with the larger, heavier Springfield semiautomatic pistol than with the smaller, lighter S&W revolver.
I loved shooting the Springfield XDM, but it might be too heavy for concealed carry. I will have to try the shorter barreled compact model (which also has a smaller magazine) to see how much lighter it is and if that configuration affects my accuracy, and then try other brands, to see what is best for me.
I recently became interested in owning a handgun, but knowing nothing about them I had a lot to learn and figure out. A friend at work is a gun hobbyist and was a wealth of knowledge. I also found great information sources online. That got me off to a good start.
Before I could buy a gun I had to learn about North Carolina Firearms Laws. The laws and requirements vary by state. I found out that in North Carolina I needed a “Permit to Receive a Purchased Handgun.” In NC, these permits are gotten at the county sheriff’s office in the county where one lives, in my case the Sheriff’s Office of Forsyth County. From their website, I printed out the three required forms and filled them out at home. At the Sheriff’s Office, it only took about 10 minutes for them to do a background check on me. I was then given the two permits I requested right then and there. Total cost was $13.00
So the next step was deciding what gun(s) would be best suited for us.
Knowing that both Gail and I would be shooting, I wanted a gun that was easy to shoot, as safe as possible, and reliable. We had previously shot a .22 caliber pistol and rifle and found those to be very easy to shoot. The recoil was no problem. Since that caliber is too small for self defense, I knew I wanted a larger caliber than that.
For all practical purposes, there are two types of handguns: revolvers and semiautomatics.
The gun in the upper half of the picture is a revolver. Like the old western handguns of the 1800’s, these guns have a cylinder that “revolves” with each pull of the trigger, in order to bring the next bullet into firing position. The number of bullets the cylinder can hold depends on the size of the gun/cylinder, usually about 5-7 bullets. They have very few moving parts and are therefore simple and reliable. There is very little chance that one will lock up on you or misfire when you are trying to shoot. Cleaning a revolver is also a simple matter.
Semiautomatic guns, like the one in the lower half of the picture, have been around for about 100 years. Even though the designs have been gradually refined, they have more moving parts than a revolver, so are inherently more complex. They don’t have a revolving cylinder. The bullets are housed in a “magazine” inserted within the handle, and they hold about twice the number of bullets than a revolver can hold. These guns occasionally lock up or misfire. To clean them you must take them apart.
So I decided our first gun would be a simple revolver, and that I would eventually work my way up to a semiautomatic. However, purchasing a semiautomatic as a first handgun would be okay, too, as long as you receive enough instruction from a professional.
The next decision was about the size/weight of the gun and about the caliber of the bullet/chamber. At this point I had to think about my purpose for having a gun in the first place. I wanted a gun primarily for target shooting, but one I could also carry concealed for self defense purposes if I chose to do that. So that meant the gun would be small and light, which is a good thing for a first gun anyway. I learned that revolvers are made by many manufacturers and come in several frame sizes, call them small, medium and large. The frame sizes partly determine the caliber of bullet/chamber they can handle.
So I looked at a lot of small framed revolvers. I was advised to stick to a manufacturer that has been around for a long time, tried and true. I decided to buy a Smith & Wesson (S&W) because that famous company has been making revolvers since 1852.
I then learned that the gun frames are made of different metals. The metals vary in weight and in how much of an explosive charge they can handle. A steel frame can handle a heavier charge, and therefore a larger caliber bullet. Heavier guns also absorb more of the gun’s recoil. But these heavier guns are more cumbersome to carry concealed. I decided on a small framed, aluminum gun, lighter in weight, easier to carry concealed if I ever wanted to do that, and with a reportedly manageable recoil. The small, aluminum framed guns are chambered for .38 Special, which is an acceptable caliber for self defense purposes. I had originally been advised to look at the S&W Airweight models, and that is exactly what we ended up buying.
I was advised to shop online for guns, in order to learn about the differences and get a good feel for prices. Online sources generally charge much less for a gun than a brick and mortar gun shop or sporting goods store. But with a knowledge of online prices, some smaller stores will often come down in price to match. Firing ranges and pawn shops are also places where a gun can be bought at a decent price.
I looked at many online sites. My friend advised me to check out a couple of gun auction sites, and I came to really like Gunbroker.com. I could not only find the guns I was looking for, but the auction prices were as competitive as they were going to get, and the vendors were approved by Gunbroker.com. The vendors also earn a feedback rating similar to eBay’s, allowing you to bid with confidence. I purchased one of the guns this way.
Buying a gun is serious business and as such it is federally regulated. Forms have to be filled out to properly transfer a gun from seller to buyer, and to register the gun to the buyer. By law, if you’re a regular citizen you can’t receive a gun through the mail unless you have a Federal Firearms License (FFL.) So buying a gun through an auction site like Gunbroker.com requires a middle man to receive the gun for you. Gunbroker.com has a list of FFL’s searchable by zip code. After you “win” an auction to buy a gun, you make arrangements with a nearby FFL to receive the gun for you, usually for a minimal transfer charge like $15-20. They assure that all the proper forms are filled out at the time you pick up your gun.
At about the time I bought the first gun and was about to bid on the second, I visited our local indoor firing range, ProShots Range, to check it out. They were very helpful and informative! They offered to order the second gun for me, at the same price I paid for the first gun. So I purchased the second gun there and started what I’m sure will be a really good relationship. We have since become members and plan to use the range often. I strongly encourage anyone considering buying a first gun and learning how to use it properly to strike a relationship with local teaching professionals.
So here are our guns.
If you look closely at the images, you’ll notice the aluminum frame, which is what makes these guns light, is slightly more dull than the shinier cylinder and barrel. The cylinder and barrel are made of steel so they can handle the explosion of the .38 Special bullet.
I actually ended up buying two slightly different models, one for Gail and one for me, because the gun on the left, the one with the visible hammer, can be used in “double action” or “single action” mode, and that would give Gail an easier shooting option if she wanted or needed that.
In single action mode, the shooter uses a thumb to pull the hammer backward until it clicks into position. This “single action” serves to rotate the cylinder to bring the next bullet into firing position, and leaves the hammer in a cocked position, ready to fire. This greatly reduces the pressure needed to pull the trigger. When the shooter is ready to fire, the trigger pull (another “single action”) is then light as a feather, helping to make the shot more accurate.
In double action mode, the shooter does not pull the hammer back manually. The shooter just pulls the trigger. It is a heavier and longer trigger pull because force is needed to rotate the cylinder, cock the trigger, and fire, which are essentially the two “single actions” I described above.
So Gail’s gun on the left can be used double action or single action, but my gun on the right has no visible hammer so it can’t be used single action. The hammer is encased in the frame. The reason for this is to prevent a protruding hammer from snagging on clothing if you are carrying the gun concealed and need to draw it out in a hurry for self defense.
Gail has no problem shooting her gun accurately in both single action and double action modes. The recoil was quite noticeable the first time we shot the guns, but we became adjusted to it right away. There was no sense of sprain or pain, just surprise. Our hands and fingers did get a little tired after shooting for a while, but the more we shoot the stronger we will be. I am currently using a spring device to improve my grip strength. Good upper body strength helps stabilize the gun while shooting and improves accuracy.
ProShots Range offers various classes for shooters at all levels of expertise, from rank beginners like us, to seasoned professionals and competitive shooters. Gail and I have attended an Introduction to Firearms safety course and we plan to attend as many classes as we can to improve our awareness and hone our skills. Gail has signed up for personal classes with one of the instructors. We’re going to do this right!
If this has been helpful, please share or “like.” Thank you! 🙂
Christmas came early at our house. 😀 Gail and I exchanged presents back in November, and I’m glad we did, because we got to enjoy them a little before she broke her hip.
I told Gail in September that I would take care of our Christmas this year, that I would get the presents for both of us. I got the idea when we went to the horse ranch this past summer and had fun shooting guns.
Not surprisingly, she was an excellent shot! She’s very mechanically gifted, and follows instructions to a T. These cowboys were a fun crowd and they took Gail under their wings, showing her how to shoot a handgun and a rifle. Gail had no trouble with the .22 caliber target guns.
The other thing you have to know is that Gail and I are huge Law and Order fans, especially the SVU shows. We also enjoyed Life during it’s brief run, and currently watch Prime Suspect with Maria Bello. We love Fringe, including the character Olivia Dunham. We get enough of a kick from these shows that Gail sometimes dresses up as “Detective Crotte.” And that’s all I’ll say about that! 😉
So considering our interests, I took a little risk and started us off on a new hobby. It was a little bit crazy, but I bought us his and hers.38 Specials: Smith & Wesson snub nose revolvers! 😀
Aren’t they beautiful!?
It made Gail very nervous to actually own guns and have them in the house. But I had decided on a particular day for the gift-giving because I had enrolled us in a class the following morning, an Introduction to Firearms safety class. It was particularly cool because Wanda Starke, who is part of the news team for local Fox channel WXII, was attending. She was doing a piece on women using guns for self defense, so the cameras were there, and Gail got to be on the evening news!
We literally had a blast carefully trying out our new guns. Much more on this later, but for now, here is a picture of Princess Gail tightly grouping her shots at the center of the target. Awesome!