What Should be Your First Gun? Part 3, Pistol Selection.

So, now that we’ve decided on buying our carry gun first, and it really should be in 9mm, what gun specifically should we get?  Well, first off…


Please.  Why?  Because small guns are harder to shoot.


Most importantly, small guns weigh less.  That sounds like a good thing, right?  Wrong.  Well, kinda.  It’s complicated.  See, guns are chambered for a cartridge, or designed to shoot a standardized bullet with a relatively standardized powder load.  When the powder burns, it releases energy as force & heat.  The amount of powder determines the recoil*.  Small guns chambered in 9mm shoot the same cartridges as the bigger heavier guns chambered in 9mm.  A bigger gun has more mass than the small gun, even though they are shooting the same powder loads.

Felt recoil = powder burned / gun mass

Let’s say that a 9mm round has 3.6 grains of powder in it, though the actual number doesn’t matter.  Now, that bullet doesn’t know what kind of gun it is going to be loaded into, and it doesn’t care.  It’s just going to burn it’s powder and go forwards.

Now I Googled some pistols to get their weights, which I’ve compiled below.

  • Ruger 5″ Target 1911: 42 oz            (1.0) (0.64)
  • S&W M&P 2.0: 27 oz                         (1.56) (1.0)
  • Glock 17: 25 oz                                  (1.68) (1.08)
  • Glock 43: 18.2 oz                               (2.33) (1.48)
  • S&W Shield: 18.3 oz                         (2.30) (1.47)
  • Ruger LC9s: 17.2 oz                          (2.44) (1.57)

The first parenthesized number is how that gun shoots compared to the 1911, since it is the heaviest gun listed.  The second number is how hard it shoots compared to the Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0, a very common gun a lot of people own.  The higher the number, the more recoil you’ll feel in your hand and the harder it will shoot.  The trend you see is really the big takeaway: small guns recoil more.  Period.  It’s just physics, no way around it.


Short slides has less travel under recoil.  Time for more math.

Hooke’s Law of Springs: Force = k * distance traveled

How does this affect you?  You have to overcome that spring every time you manipulate the slide.  Loading, unloading, press checking, clearing, reloading, everything.  The stiffer the spring, the harder the gun is to handle.  Now, from about 4 paragraphs ago, a bullet has the same energy no matter the gun it is loaded in.  So the ‘force’ part of the equation won’t change based on different guns.  The distance traveled will.  So if a recoil spring has to overcome the same recoil force in a small “carry sized” as it does in a full size gun, but only has half the distance to do it in, that means the spring in the gun has got to be twice as stiff making your gun twice as hard to manipulate.  Period.  It’s just physics, no way around it.


Small guns have short slides, short slides have short sight radii.  The sight radius is the distance between your front & rear sight.  Longer sight radii are more accurate, shorter sight radii are less accurate.  Why that’s the case is a discussion in & of itself, and involves some math.  Maybe I’ll tackle that at a later date.  For now, let’s just make that assumption.  This is entirely negated by mounting and using a red dot optic.

Small guns have short slides, short slides weigh less.  Slide weight is a large percentage of the gun’s overall weight.  In polymer framed guns, which are the most popular choices on the market today, the slide is where more than half the gun’s total weight comes from.


Small guns are harder to hold on to during recoil.  Small guns have smaller grips, meaning less of your hand is in contact with the gun itself, meaning that the recoil has less square-footage (square-inchage?) through which to transfer the recoil into your hand.  Think about walking on snow.  A normal shoe sinks right down into it, whereas a snow shoe spreads the force of the wearer across a larger area.  The same thing applies to pistol grips.  Smaller grips dig in to your hand more when firing.  Period.  It’s just physics, no way around it.


Finally, small guns have less capacity.  Usually.  The M&P and Glock 17 I listed the weights of above both carry 17+1 rounds.  The LC9s and M&P Shield both carry 7+1, the Glock 43 carries 6+1 (the 1911 holds 8+1, but it isn’t considered a defensive pistol for a reason).  I actually think capacity is the least problematic aspect of it, but still important.  It can be mitigated by practicing good shot placement (funny how that keeps coming up…) and practicing your reloads and carrying spare mags, but it cannot be totally negated.  “If you can’t get it done with [insert arbitrary number here] of rounds, you don’t need to be carrying a gun!” gets thrown around some when people talk about capacity, and those people are idiots.  We don’t carry extra rounds so we can just keep missing, we carry extra rounds because if you are shooting at something in order to save your life or the life of a loved one, there will be a huge adrenaline dump and it might very well cause you to shake, flinch, throw a shot off target, any number of things.  These aspects can be mitigated by practicing regularly.

Sometimes you’ll hear a person make the statement “It’s a carry gun.  It’s meant to be carried a lot, and shot little“, which is nonsense.  It’s like saying “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask permission,” something lazy people say.  As we discussed in Part 2, shot placement is king and you only get good at shooting by practicing.  Shooting less will not help you get better.  And to really overcome the increased recoil of the small gun you need to be practicing a lot.  If your gun sucks to shoot you’ll shoot less.  Period.  It’s just psychology, no way around it.

In conclusion, small guns suck to shoot.  They have more recoil, they are harder to manipulate, they are less accurate to shoot, they have more recoil (again), and they carry fewer rounds.  Not that it’s an impossible task to shoot one well, but anything that the small ‘everyday carry’ gun can do a larger gun can do better, faster, more accurately, and with a similar or less amount of practice by the shooter.  The only real downside to carrying a larger is carrying it.  But, with good holster selection and carrying position, almost anyone can carry almost anything.  If you’re in a state where printing doesn’t regularly end in criminal charges, don’t worry abut a little printing here & there.  99% of the people around will never notice, and the 1% that does notice will probably think it’s some sort of belt buckle or medical device.

I carry a Smith & Wesson M&P full size in 9mm in an appendix holster every day.  It prints a little when I’m wearing button up shirts, a little more when I’m wearing a tee shirt.  I’ve yet to have the cops called on me or even be asked to leave a place with a no-guns sign.  Where you live might be more restrictive than where I live, but you may be surprised at how unobservant the people around you are.  Use it to your advantage when selecting firearms for carry.  I’ve seen more people go from carrying a small gun to carrying a big gun, than from carrying a big gun to carrying a small gun.

So, what else is there to know before picking out your gun?  We’ll get into that next time.

What do you think?  Am I off my rocker?  Leave your comments below.



*The weight of the bullet being fired also affects it a little, but the vast majority of recoil is determined by the amount of powder.

Cover pic stolen from Primary & Secondary.  You should read their article.

4 thoughts on “What Should be Your First Gun? Part 3, Pistol Selection.

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