Guns, Personal, Security

So. You want to get your first pistol?

The Question

This is from an old friend:

“I’m currently trying to figure out what 9mm pistol to get. I’ve shot several (Glock 19, xD-9, a compact Sig) but haven’t found any I’ve fallen in love with yet. So far, the xd-9 is my favorite. I was wondering if you had any suggestions.

I’d like to have the option of carrying it, so smaller is somewhat preferable. I guess I’m not entirely sure what makes for a good carry pistol, though, now that I think about it.

Anyway, if you’ve got any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.”

The Answer

I could just say “either, although I prefer the XD” but then, well, that wouldn’t really hew to my byline, now would it?

I used to have all sorts of snobby things to say about both 9mm (“I only shoot pistols with calibers starting in the number 4”) and polymer (“combat tupperware”). I’m still clearly a snob about nearly everything I do, but I’m somewhat more refined in my snobbishness. So here goes!

Get Your CPL

First off, get your CPL.

Even if you didn’t plan on carrying (although you clearly are thinking about it), this is a good idea. I happen to know you live in WA state so the  CPL is pretty straightforward. Every gun-class I’ve taken has wanted something beyond a driver’s license to prove I’m not a whack job. The CPL has sufficed alone for some; others have wanted a CPL + more. Also buying a pistol in WA state requires a waiting period w/out a CPL.

Just do it.

Take Classes

With a CPL, you will find my next suggestion  much easier: take classes. Classes are incredibly important, but bad classes are, well bad. So take some good classes.

There are lots of places to take classes, but fewer that are good. I will personally vouch for InSights and Thunder Ranch.  Both very good. I could go on and on and on about this, but lemme put it this way: owning a pistol without taking the classes is stupid and wrong.

People  who shoot their own  balls off probably didn’t  take the classes. Don’t be that guy.

So, onto random musings about carry pistols:


Does the grip feel “right” in your hand?

I think I must have the exact same hands as John Browning, because I adore both the 1911 and the Hi-Power grips. I don’t own a Glock for the opposite reason – the grip just feels alien to me.

Pick something that is comfortable.


Properly designed gear, handled appropriately (take the damn classes!), won’t shoot itself.

Two positive safeties is plenty enough. The 1911 has a grip safety and a manual safety. Having started out carrying a locked-and-cocked 1911, I  thumb down the safety automatically (even on the XD45, where there is no safety) just before I fire and click it back when I return to ready (even when it’s not there).

While I know and respect people who are worried about their guns going off by themselves (eg when they are in a holster), and for these people the idea that a 1911 is “cocked” when you are carrying it is scary as hell, I think that’s silly. The 1911 is a plenty safe gun.

XD 9mm sub-compact

The XD has a grip safety and a trigger safety, but no manual. Still good.

Glock G19

The Glock has a trigger safety and an internal (mumbo-jumbo) safety, but no one ever says that Glocks just go off by themselves, so Glocks get a pass. They go bang when you pull the trigger, don’t go bang any other time.

Double-action semi-automatic pistols attempt to solve the “OMFG COCKED HAMMER SCARY AHHHHH!” problem bymaking the first trigger pull  r e a l l y  l o o o o o n g.  This is the moral equivalent to putting the ice-cream out in the freezer in the garage.

I think you should either not buy the ice cream at all, or buy it and eat it. Why intentionally make something hard, when it ought to be easy?

Ah, but we can choose to carry most double action pistols in single action mode! Ha ha ha, take that, Peter! Yes, but that’s like putting the ice cream out in the garage, and then moving the TV into the garage, just so that your chances of being closer to the ice cream when you want it are higher, but it’s still in the garage, so…

Uhm, yeah, WTF?

Real safeties make the gun IMPOSSIBLE to shoot at all – on purpose or accidentally – when they are on, and easy to shoot on purpose when they are off. (Super-light triggers are potentially riskier because it can actually be hard to contact the trigger at all without a bang. The simple answer to that is a decent – say 4 pounds-ish –  trigger pull).

Long, horrible trigger pulls make the gun harder to shoot even when you really want it to go bang. That’s really not a safety, is it?

So: XD or Glock, both fine safeties.

Trigger Treatment Digression

There’s a rule about triggers. Really, learn and love the rules. Love the rules! The trigger rule is simple: We shouldn’t pull the trigger at all until we positively want the gun to go bang.

After that it ought to be automatic.We wonder, should we pull the trigger? Hmmm.

Then we decide.

Then we go bang.

We don’t wonder, then decide, then half-way through the trigger pull start to wonder again, maybe change our minds…. maybe make an omelette? Call a lifeline? No!

We don’t commit, then we commit. That’s the most fundamental aspect to the whole gun safety equation. Once I’ve decided I want the gun to go bang, I’d like it to go bang consistently, reliably, and immediately.





Ideally you learn the most general purpose manual at arms and then only buy guns that accomodate that. If you start out shooting a 1911 it is easy to adapt to a Glock (except for the feeling like you’re holding a plastic two-by-four). The safety is built into the trigger, and if you follow the trigger rule (which you will follow, because you learned it on the 1911) you’re safe, AND  the lack of a thumb or grip safety means you can’t accidentally make the gun not fire when it’s actually supposed to fire.

A Glock in the hands of a 1911 owner will still go bang when you pull the trigger. The other way round, it’s maybe not as easy. Glock owners don’t necessarily know to thumb the safety, so with a 1911 there might be a no bang when they want a bang because they forget  the thumb safety. Also if you  you have a (bad!) loose grip, the  Glock doesn’t care. But a 1911 (and an XD for that matter) do care. They want to be hugged, cradled, loved.

SIG 226

SIGs insist on having a complex manual at arms that they needed to design to make govt wonks happy.

Decockers are teh stupid. Esp. decockers that act like long, strange 1911 manual safeties. Really, who thought that one up? And the SIG trigger pull  is “okay” at the very best it will ever be.

But SIGs are amazingly well made guns and some people can shoot the shit out of ’em. And Zeva (on your right) shoots a SIG. So they are always something to consider. AND if you show up at range with a SIG in the blue box, and act vaguely like you know what you are doing, people will think youare a fed, which can be amusing if you aren’t one.

XD and Glock are both fine for MaA.


The 1911 has the best trigger in the world. SIG triggers? Sigh. I think we are starting to understand  how I feel about their general squishiness.

The XDM, or an older XD with the Springer Precision trigger job, has the best polymer-frame, striker-fired trigger in the world IMNSHO.

I have an XD with the trigger job, and while it’s not a 1911 trigger, it’s  gosh darn good. Glock triggers are okay.

XD for the trigger, but the Glock is good enough that this shouldn’t be a showstopper.


1911s are notorious for being finicky. That’s not entirely fair. A broken-in, well-maintained, clean, factory-made 1911 shooting decent factory ammo will shoot all day long with no issues. But you can tweak 1911s to the nth degree, and people do, and when they do, they do get finicky.

And back when John Browning (god rest his mighty soul) was making guns, it was assumed you would be taking the thing apart and cleaning and lubing it every time you shot it (duh! of COURSE you will do that!).

Most of us are not so inclined. Nothing beats a Glock for being reliable when mistreated and ignored. You can drop them in the sand, not clean ’em for 10K rounds, put them in your safe after shooting them in the rain, and when you take them out 6 months later they will still shoot every time you pull the trigger. Glocks just shoot. And shoot. And shoot.

XDs are closer to Glocks in their reliability. Probably not so good as Glocks, but plenty reliable. You can get either based on this.


Pick a reasonable goal – let’s say palm-sized-or-smaller groups at 25 feet? Get a gun mechanically capable of that 100% of the time. If you aren’t shooting that, then it’s you. Practice!

1911s practically shoot single holes all by themselves. This is why every top pistol shooter on the planet shoots a 1911.

Glock has special classes of shooting because in competition they just can’t compete with 1911s…

I personally think that XDs out of the box may be slightly more accurate than Glocks, but I have no data to back that up.  And it may be  a function of ergonomics, and whose palm you’re  using as your measurement and how far away the target is.

For self defense, zombie uprisings, and fun shooting, Glocks and XDs are both plenty good. They go bang, you can hit the thing you are trying to hit.


Greg Hamilton has a great take on this, paraphased here: “Do you know how to double the stopping power of a G19? Pull the trigger twice.”

People can get REALLY STUPID about caliber. The chances that we will ever need to shoot anyone are so ridiculously low, stressing out about caliber pushes things off into the many-millions-to-one land. Very few of us wear crash helmets in our cars when we commute. Stressing out about caliber is like being stuck in your Volvo on the 520 bridge in rush hour while wearing a crash helmet.

"Premium" Ammo by Companion Cube.

45ACP – 40SW – 357SIG – 9MM

I like  45ACP a lot, but I  lose approximately zero sleep over caliber. I know from FoFAST that I will probably shoot a target at least 3 times before I have any time to think about it, my shots will be on target, and I will keep shooting until the targets are down or to slide lock, at which point I will reload.

Three 9mm rounds to the triangle will ruin nearly anyone’s day, so go with a round you can shoot well.

.40 is funny – most .40s in the market are over-clocked 9mm frames and components, so they are kinda hacks. I like to shoot .40 but I don’t own one. I figure it lands in a weird place between the compactness and ubiquity of 9mm and the oomph and heft of .45.

.357 SIG is a “really? srsly?” round. Please. It’s a necked pistol round, really, why bother? And it’s loud as hell.

10mm I hate – I think it’s a mean-spirited round. I don’t like to shoot it, and it’s too damn long, so the grips on 10mms are shit.

Whatever that tiny-little-kevlar-helmet-ice-pick round is, that’s also a silly carry round.

.380 is better than nothing, but not something I choose to carry nor shoot, not when 9mm subbies can fit into my pocket and won’t (literally) hurt my back when I carry them all day.

.357 Magnum and .38 are fine revolver rounds, especially in the +P and +P+ configs. I don’t own any wheelguns and I can’t imagine carrying one concealed, but I’m sure I’ll pick up a couple at some point. Super reliable, inexpensive, go bang.

.44 Mag is a great round to shoot, provided it’s in a sufficiently hefty package. It’s not a concealed carry round. Back before I owned guns and just shot other peoples, I shot this caliber better than any other (including 22lr!) .

If I was worried about massive apex predators (brown bear, lions, polar bear, etc.) in the backcountry, I’d consider the  .44 Mag or something in that class. As it is when I’m out somewhere that there could possibly be one of those animals (however unlikely) I carry the XD45. That’s plenty of oomph and it’s not like carrying a piece of furniture around. I can carry that concealed, but extremely handy, on my normal hiking backpack, so when I stop in town and get a latte I don’t scare people.

All Pistols Are Full Of Compromises

Caliber brings us to a very important point about pistols – they are terrible compromises compared to nearly any decent rifle.

The biggest handgun rounds in the world – which require several pounds of metal to even attempt to tame – pale compared to most modern centerfire rifle rounds. An M1 carbine shooting the anemic .30 carbine round (basically a long pistol round) is still a better choice when faced with a threat than any carryable pistol (silly stock-less “assault pistols” notwithstanding – as a category they only exist because of stupid gun laws).

From a defense perspective, pistols are for short instances of extreme violence followed by waiting around for the cops to show up (because you called 911 as soon as you holstered your pistol), OR they are the tool you use to get your hands on a decent rifle so you are better prepared.

If I were to spend lots of time around things or people who I know are actually inclined to kill me (rather than random people who only might want to, on a bad day) I’d want to have a rifle.

Fortunately I don’t need to go out into populated areas chock-full of rifle-required threats.


Get a Kramer IWB.

That’s it. No discussion needed.


This is a rather long-winded way of getting to your basic question – XD or Glock? The simple answer, having re-read what I’ve written here, is that while both have a few limitations, they are both going to be just fine for most of the purposes your first pistol is suited for.

I’m going to pick up a small, high-cap 9mm myself at some point in the near future, either the new Beretta or the XD. Probably the XD because I already own one (XD45 compact), it’s my go-to gun, and I almost love the trigger.

Get a CPL, take a class, buy one, practice lots, stay safe, be smart, and to quote Clint Smith “don’t die stupid”.

And of course, have fun.


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