How to Buy Your First Handgun in North Carolina

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 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 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 requires a middle man to receive the gun for you. 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!


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