Self-Defense Guns for the First Time Gun Owner

Yes, options are almost limitless and hardcore gun enthusiasts will have their own takes, but what are some of the simplest, most foolproof weapons for newbies looking to protect themselves and/or their family?

Story by Jim Dickson

Good self-defense weapon options range from revolvers to semiauto handguns, shotguns to carbines, but author Jim Dickson believes the Ruger Redhawk in .45 Auto to be “the best choice for a family defense weapon.” (STURM RUGER INC.)
In these troubled times, many people are buying guns for the first time in their life, but the needs of the casual gun owner are different from the experienced shooter. They need the simplest and most foolproof weapon, not the most advanced expert’s weapon. Most first-time gun buyers are probably doing so to defend themselves and their family, and if they end up using it, they will be under extreme stress with all the attendant opportunities for the inexperienced to screw up. Of course, the answer to this is training and practice.

The World War II Army surplus M1 carbine is one of the easiest modern battle rifles to master and hit with. (JIM DICKSON)
After all, there are only three ways to learn to shoot. Shooting, shooting and more shooting. Unfortunately, there is an ammo shortage at this time and most of these first-time buyers are not inclined to spend a lot of money on practice ammo anyway. That’s just the reality of the situation and what we have to deal with. Still, becoming familiar with the new gun is crucial and keeping that as easy as possible is more important for the casual shooter than the dedicated shooter. Hence, we will look at the best possible choices in this light. The guns should be simple to use and easy to hit with, and should also have the least recoil possible so the new shooter does not get a flinch.

The Stevens 311A is an economical American-made 12-gauge double that is common on the used gun market. It makes a nearly foolproof defensive longarm. There is nothing to do but push the safety off and pull the trigger. (JIM DICKSON)
THE CLASSIC HOMEOWNER defense firearm is the handgun, and rightly so. For gunfighting inside a home or building, the pistol is king. It is fast and can be held near the side of the body when going through doorways or past furniture, where an assailant might spring out and grab the barrel of a shotgun or rifle and wrestle it out of your hands. Just don’t hold it so close to your body that the gas escaping from the barrel/cylinder gap on a revolver burns you when you fire. People who advise a pump shotgun for this duty are showing their lack of personal experience in this sort of fighting. A pump shotgun does not have room for the buckshot to spread enough to matter indoors, so you are looking at a manually operated five- or eight-shot repeater that can malfunction if the pump action is not cycled properly under stress. I have seen a perfectly good shotgun fail to fire under these conditions enough times in the hands of poorly trained shooters to wonder why no other gun writers address this problem. Training and sufficient practice at cycling the action and dry firing will overcome this, but it is still an outdoor weapon best used at the 25- to 50-yard range.
The simplest type of pistol is the double-action revolver. Just point it and pull the trigger. ere is nothing else you have to remember to do under stress. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. There is nothing to forget, like taking off the safety on an automatic pistol or cocking a single-action revolver. But not every double-action revolver will do. While a lightweight steel-frame .38 may feel good at the gun store, it may also have a rather sharp kick that will discourage practice and may cause the shooter to flinch. Aluminum-frame .38s are bad and some of the space-age alloy revolvers are so light that a policeman at a shooting school suffered a broken bone in his hand with one of these during his first shot. Now that’s serious recoil! e universal opinion of those experienced with these abominations is that if you use one, you will only get one shot off in a gunfight because that shot is going to damage your hand. e worst part is that the .38 is not and never can be a reliable man stopper, and if you have a big drug-crazed intruder in your bedroom at 3 a.m., you definitely want the best man stopper. That means a .45-caliber gun.

The semiauto M1927-A1 Thompson is the other easy-to-master-and-hit-with modern fighting rifle. It is shown here with the famous Thompson 50-round drum magazine. (AUTO-ORDNANCE)
BEFORE THE M1911 pistol was adopted by the U.S. Army, the Thompson LaGuardia Commission did the finest report on handgun stopping power ever done before or since. They found that nothing less than a .45-caliber 230-grain bullet at 800 to 900 feet per second can be depended upon to stop a man with one hit to the vitals. This resulted in the .45 ACP round, which the Army stated has more stopping power than the .30-06 in a World War II manual. While the M1911 pistol is the greatest gunfighting pistol ever made, it is also rather difficult for beginners to master, requiring a lot of firing practice. Plus it requires disassembly and reassembly for cleaning. Its cartridge is the automatic pistol version of the earlier .45 Colt revolver round first adopted by the Army in 1873. Neither round needs expanding bullets to stop the biggest man or beast in North America. That’s important because expanding bullets do not always expand and they lack penetration on cover your enemy may try to hide behind. The .45 Colt round in the Ruger Redhawk 4-inch-barrel double- action revolver is the best choice for a family defense weapon. Its size and weight may put people off at first, but that and its rubber grips soak up almost all of the recoil, making this an extremely pleasant gun to shoot. If some members of the family find it too heavy, simply employ a two-hand hold. It points well and has one of the finest double-action trigger pulls ever put on a production revolver. I counsel the user not to cock the first shot and then go to double-action. This is very disruptive to accuracy on the second and third shots, plus a cocked revolver is more likely to be accidentally fired under stress. This is a gun that can be fired just as accurately double-action as it can single-action with practice. It is extremely easy to master and most anyone can quickly learn to be effective with it at inside-the-house ranges. It has the added advantage of stainless steel construction, which may be important as the casual owner may neglect proper maintenance.

FOR A SHOTGUN, the side-by-side double 12-gauge is best. Load it with a pair of shotshells featuring nine 00 buckshot pellets in front of 3 drams of powder. This is the load favored by many police departments for its lower recoil. You don’t need magnum loads for this. There is little to go wrong with a double. It points well and all you have to do is take the safety off and pull the trigger. It does have a kick, and this can be reduced by adding a sorbothane recoil pad, such as the one made by Kick-Eez. For indoor use, a gunsmith can cut the barrels back to 20 inches. As previously stated, though, a shotgun is best used at longer ranges where its pattern can spread enough to be useful, and for this you do not need short barrels. The new shooter is to be cautioned to lean into the gun and not lean back to center the gun’s weight over their center of gravity. Any push back from recoil at all and you will then topple over. You’ll want to say the gun’s kick knocked you down, but it was you being off balance that set you up for the fall.

FOR RIFLES, THERE is no substitute for the semiauto with a high-capacity magazine, and that means you will need to practice and also learn how to take it apart and put it back together again for cleaning. Rifles with any real recoil may present a problem with the shooter developing a flinch, so they are to be avoided by the casual user. The gun must be steady and easy to hit with. Not many guns are and they depend on the shooter’s skill for their effectiveness. There are two exceptions, though. The G.I. Issue M1 carbine and the Auto-Ordnance M1927-A1 semiauto Thompson. These are two of the steadiest, best-pointing and easiest-to-hit-with rifles ever made. They have very little recoil and are fun to shoot. The WWII Army-issue M1 carbine is only 5½ pounds and 3 feet long. It’s like shooting a big .22 and any member of the family old enough to shoot should be able to handle it easily. Its ammunition is compact and light as well, and the Army provided both 15- and 30-shot magazines with it. Plenty of firepower.
The military-issue gun’s reliability exceeds that of the M1 Garand and far exceeds that of the current M16 and M4. This applies only to the Army-issue guns. Many of the commercial copies that claim to meet the Mil-Specs do not, resulting in guns that are unreliable and cannot be fixed. Some, like a recent example I had, are unsafe to fire. Therefore, I can only recommend the war surplus guns (see sidebar).
At the time of this writing, Royal Tiger Imports ( has imported a quantity of original WWII M1 carbines in good to excellent condition (see American Shooting Journal, October 2020). You can get magazines and all the accessories for the M1 carbine from Numrich Gun Parts Corp ( The best manual available is The M1 Carbine Owner’s Guide by Larry Ruth. The book features assembly, disassembly, operating and maintenance information, and more. Get it from your local bookseller, or directly from the author by writing to: Larry L. Ruth, 2316 Smith Hill Road, Walworth, NY 14568. Cost is $27 including shipping.

Bulk Ammo In-Stock

THE OTHER RIFLE that offers all the ease of hitting possible is the semiauto version of the famed Thompson submachinegun, the M1927-A1 Thompson from Auto-Ordnance (
Legally a semiauto rifle and not a submachinegun, it has a 16.5-inch barrel instead of the 10-inch barrel of the fully automatic versions. Otherwise, all the intimidating appearance of the famed Thompson submachinegun is still there.
The twin pistol grips, inclined at the same angle as the legendary Luger pistol, offer fast precise pointing, while its 12.5-pound weight gives it the steadiness that only a heavy rifle can have. There is also an aluminum receiver version at 9.5 pounds, but it is not quite so steady for offhand shooting and that is the way you end up firing in most any emergency situation. It is extremely accurate and fires the manstopping .45 ACP cartridge. Thirty-round box magazines, as well as 50- and 100-round drum magazines, are available. I would stick to the 50-round drums, as the 100-round drums effectively double the weight of the weapon and are quite a bit bulkier. At 39 inches overall, it is still a very compact gun.

WHICHEVER GUN YOU choose, get plenty of spare magazines with their pouches, as well as plenty of ammo. In combat you want all your ammo in loaded magazines, as anyone who has ever tried to reload magazines while someone was shooting at him will tell you.
A complete cleaning kit is also necessary with any gun. Firearms must be cleaned after every use and semiautomatics must be field-stripped to do this. Don’t just do this once. Practice it until it becomes second nature. After handling, all guns must be wiped down with an oily rag, as fingerprints cause rust. Guns that have to be cleaned from the muzzle, like both of the rifles in this article, need a cleaning rod guide lest the cleaning rod damage the rifling at the muzzle and impair the accuracy of the gun. These can be had from J. Dewey Mfg. Co. Inc. (, among others.
Another note for first-time gun owners is to always use hearing protection when practicing. is can be the cheap foam ear plugs or regular shooter’s earmuffs. Both work fine and will prevent hearing loss. The most important rule of gun safety is to always have the muzzle pointed where it can’t hurt anyone if it fires. Do not put all your faith in mechanical safeties, as anything man made can fail. Check every gun to see if it is loaded when you first pick it up by looking into the chamber and being sure there are no cartridges in the magazine that is in the gun. Treat guns with respect, but don’t be afraid of them.
Remember that there are only three ways to learn to shoot. Say them again with me: Shooting, shooting and more shooting. It is practice more than natural talent that separates the exhibition shooter from the rank and file. Shell out the money for the ammo and practice like your life depends on it, for one day your life and the lives of your loved ones may depend on your skill at arms. It has been that way since the world began.