Gun Digest Annual on Choosing a Handgun – Tips for Beginners

When I first started getting into guns and gun culture, I turned to the new media for information, especially podcasts and my local on-line gun forums. From there I branched out to various gun websites, blogs, and YouTube channels. Unfortunately, because of the echo chamber quality of a lot of on-line content (insiders speaking to insiders about what everyone already knows) and the incivility, pettiness, dismissiveness, trolling, and other problems that come with Web 3.0, the signal-to-noise ratio of a lot of these new media were very low. I had to figure out where to find the sources of information where I could get the most bang for my buck.

Fast forward a few years. Recently, the two most popular gun sites on the World Wide Web have done some catering of their content to new gun owners. In 2015, The Truth About Guns (TTAG) launched a “Guns for Beginners” series “after readers (gently) chided us for not appealing to newbies.” It has covered a range of topics including how to buy your first handgun, essential gunfighting techniques, and when you can legally shoot someone.

Beginning in October 2014, Bearing Arms ran a 15 part “Gun Ownership Primer” series, which wrapped up in January 2015. The author, Mike McDaniel described it as “a set of basic questions and answers about the philosophy, practical issues and effects, the law, and the reality of gun ownership.”

I found these posts more useful than average for the Web. But because I am not quite a digital native, I still look to the printed page for ideas. You can see that in some of the books on guns culture that I have reviewed on this site (like Glock and Gun Guys and Emily Gets Her Gun and Guns in America and Disarmed and The Cornered Cat and The Gun).

Gun Digest Annual 2015

One of the old media resources I have looked at regularly is the Gun Digest Annual, which in 2015 published its 69th annual edition. The annual was started by the owner of a Chicago-area chain of sporting goods stores, Milton Klein, in 1944. In addition to his stores, Klein had a national mail-order business for sporting goods (including guns). According to former editor Ken Ramage, “After the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, production of sporting firearms was stopped as factories shifted their efforts to military arms. Klein’s mail order business suffered. In 1943, believing that if shooters couldn’t buy guns, they just might buy a book about guns, he advertised the first edition of Gun Digest in his catalog for $1.00. . . . He received tens of thousands of orders . . . and Gun Digest was born.”

I recently picked up a copy and my attention was drawn to the article, “Choosing a Handgun and Learning to Shoot It” by E.B. Mann. The article begins by observing, “Handgun shooting is one of the fastest-growing sports in America today . . . It is a sport not limited to the athlete, or to any social or financial class, or to any age or sex, or to any season. It is a sport in which any accountable person can participate, at which any normal person can excel; a sport that can be played equally well alone, yet one in which the competition is as keen and the championships as seriously sought as in golf.”

Handgun shooting sports are all the rage. True story.

The story continues: “The handgun is something more, too, than an instrument of sport. It is the basic weapon of law enforcement and the best weapon so far devised for the self defense of the citizen against the armed criminal.”

Handguns for sport AND self defense. Check.

“It should be clearly understood, however, that the mere possession of a handgun does not protect. The most dangerous weapon in point of potential accident is the ‘bureau drawer pistol’ – the handgun kept merely ‘to make the little woman feel safer when she is alone at night. She couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with it—neither could I, for that matter—but it’s there.’ . . . Yes, it’s there. It’s the gun the neighbor’s child found and ‘didn’t know it was loaded.’”

“Buy a gun by all means. But learn to use it! Remember that having a gun is more dangerous than being unarmed unless you know how to use the gun you have. The gun itself is dangerous if improperly handled; and the very fact that you have it may cause a criminal to shoot when he might have held his fire had you been unarmed.”

Safe storage of firearms and training. Roger that.


Purpose and safety established, the article continues to answer this question. Here the author notes, “There are scores of guns on the market, each slightly different, each carefully designed for specific purposes. To choose wisely requires at least a basic knowledge and understanding of the ends toward which those gradations of design were aimed.” Among the key considerations are:

(1) Sport or self defense? “If for sport, then you should buy a target type weapon: a gun with a reasonably long barrel, with target-type adjustable sights, with a high degree of accuracy and with fast, smooth, trigger and hammer action . . . If for self defense, then you should buy a gun with man-stopping power; a gun with the exact gradation of power, size, weight, type of action, etc., which is best suited to the specific use to which you will put it.”

(2) Further reflections on guns for self defense: “In most cases, a self defense weapon will have a shorter barrel than a target gun. (How short will depend on how the gun is to be used. Short barrels are easier to carry concealed, may be faster to draw from certain types of holsters. Longer barrels give greater accuracy at longer ranges.) The self-defense gun will usually have fixed (non-adjustable) sights, rounded so as to be less likely to catch in holster or pocket to retard the draw. . . . Usually, the combat, or self-defense, weapon will be of medium to heavy caliber to provide man-stopping power. It will be a repeater, either a revolver or an automatic.”

(3) Choices within self defense guns: “Is the gun to be kept in the house, car, or place of business, or is it to be carried? If carried, must it be concealed or can it be carried openly? If concealed, is concealment the prime essential or must the gun also have great man-stopping power? Exactly how much power is needed? Does speed enter into your requirements? If so, which is most important to you: speed in getting off the first shot, or speed in firing ten or more consecutive shots?”

“All of those questions, and more, deserve careful study before you buy a tool on the efficiency of which your life may depend.”

The author notes that answers to these questions will help determine your choice of gun, and in many cases there is a trade-off between the different characteristics – “If concealment is your first requirement, you will buy the smallest, most compact gun available; but if you want power as well as concealability, you will sacrifice something in size and weight to get that power; and vice versa. How much you will sacrifice in either direction depends on your specific needs.”

(4) The first gun bottom line: “If you are a novice, however—don’t buy a combat-type weapon at all, at first. Buy a .22 caliber target-type gun. Learn to shoot it. Then, if you need a combat-type, self-defense weapon, buy it.”

Ruger Mark III

“Why the .22? Because the .22 has less recoil, less muzzle blast, produces less nervous shock, and consequently less tendency to flinch, than do guns of heavier caliber. Ammunition for the .22 is cheap, allowing the maximum amount of practice. And the skill attained with the .22 can be transferred with comparatively little additional practice to the shooting of any handgun, of any caliber. Manufacturers recognize this fact and in several instances, make .22 caliber duplicates of their larger calibered guns.”

The first gun I shot was a Sig Sauer P226 in 9mm, but the first gun I bought was a Ruger Mark III Target Rimfire. Someone had given me basically the same advice as this author, and I am glad he did. It was much cheaper and easier to learn the basics of shooting with this .22 than it would have been with a 9mm or larger.

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

There is more in this article than what I’ve transcribed here, but I have to say that the advice compares favorably to other advice I have read on-line and in print. Which is all the more impressive because this article did not appear in the 69th edition of the Gun Digest Annual in 2015, but in the 1944 First Annual Edition. Some astute readers may have realized this right away when I noted the author of the article is E.B. (Edward Beverly) Mann, famed writer of western fiction and later editor of Guns and Shooting Industry magazines.

Which is not to say that nothing has changed in the 70+ years since this article was first published, but it does remind us that the best advice stands the test of time.

Gun Digest First Annual Edition Gun Digest Annual Choosing a Handgun


  1. Handgun shooting is all the rage. That’s a good one. And where exactly did he dig up that one? From the NSSF?

    And I notice that of course you need ‘training.’ But how much? I’m willing to bet you right now that if you lined up 50 people who thought they were properly trained to walk around with a gun, at least half of them would drop the damn thing when they tried to pull it out. I recently did a re-certification test for the RI Court Officer’s Association and half of them couldn’t even get the goddamn gun out of the holster. Training – yea, right.


    • MTTG – I actually thought you would like this entry! Does nothing make you happy other than Violence Policy Center reports, videos from Moms Demand Action, and the NRA of the 1920s?!

      The author talks about how guns are dangerous. Isn’t that one of your bailiwicks?

      The author talks about the importance of training. Surely you don’t disagree?

      How many of the RI Court Officers Association members did you fail in the re-certification? How guilty do you feel being complicit in certifying people who can’t get a gun out of the holster?

      Come on MTTG, you can do better than that.

      Liked by 1 person

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