By: Earl Mclean

I am a sporting clays and shotgun instructor. I sometimes work in familiarizing new shooters with handguns and shotguns they already own, many of which were passed down from a family member or bought on the advice of a friend. Many times, the gun doesn’t fit the shooter or the shooter’s needs.

During these uncertain times, many first-time gun buyers are buying a gun for self-defense or protection from intruders. It can be intimidating, but I am going to try to make it less so, if I can. There are many factors in choosing and purchasing a gun.


There are so many times people come to me for instruction with a gun that doesn’t fit their needs or their physical ability. Once you have purchased your gun, returning it could be a problem, especially if you have fired it. It really bothers me when this happens, because it can easily be avoided.

1) Take a class on gun safety

This will help you decide many things, from whether you do actually want to buy a gun to how to safely store your gun.

2) Choose a qualified instructor

Preferably one who has access to a variety of guns that are suitable for your needs (home defense, for instance).

He or she should be able to guide you toward a gun that fits your physical strength and abilities. If you are 5’4″ and weigh 105 lbs, for example, a 12 gauge shotgun with a pistol grip would be unmanageable.

3) If possible, to to a range that rents guns

A carry gun may not be best for home security. A house gun may not be suitable for a carry gun, etc. Try out several firearms to find what works best for you. You will notice different grips fit your hands differently. Trigger pulls vary from gun to gun. Pointing ability will be much more natural with one brand or type than another. Whatever you decide, remember that you want to hit your target quickly and easily. Safety types and position vary. Ease of loading and unloading vary. There are many factors you may not be aware of while you are in the gun store. These should be addressed first.

4) Ask questions about the maintenance of different guns

Many are much easier to clean, disassemble, and reassemble. Find out how much time and effort you will need to devote to your gun before you buy it.

5) Ask MORE questions

There are no bad questions if you don’t know the answer.

There are lots of gun groups around that are very helpful. A group meets at our facility once a month for the sole purpose of educating women in the proper use of firearms (The Well-Armed Woman). If you are in the market for a firearm, check with your local gun clubs. Many times, they can (if they don’t have something similar available) direct you to a group or instructor that will be of great help.

Earl Mclean is a coach and target setter at Drake Landing and is the owner of Heads Up Shooting System LLC, writing from Fuquay Varina, North Carolina.