No Try, No Buy: Only A Fool Buys A Carry Gun Without Shooting It First

Editor’s Note: The following is a syndicated article by author Jameson Parker that first appeared in USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine Volume 14, Issue 6, August/September 2017 under the title, “No Try, No Buy.” 

I installed a new and heavier spring in my M1911 and wanted to make sure it was working properly. I happened to mention this to a friend and he asked if he and his daughter could join me at the range because neither of them had ever fired a 1911. They are both ardent and enthusiastic hunters, intelligent and thoughtful people, so I was a little surprised when it came out that they planned to buy two handguns specifically for home defense — a 1911 for him and a .40-caliber Glock 23 for her — and that neither of them had ever fired either gun.

Come A Long Way

When I first needed a handgun specifically for concealed carry, revolvers were still standard issue for police departments across the country. A product of my times, I owned a Smith & Wesson Model 19 back then. Unfortunately, the great Model 19 was designed in part by the legendary Bill Jordan, who was built along the lines of Lebron James, and apparently it was Jordan and James whom Smith & Wesson had in mind when they designed the grips. It certainly wasn’t me, and the gun definitely wasn’t designed for concealed carry, so I bought a semi-auto.

The semi-auto I chose, on the sole basis of how it felt in my hand, was a Walther PPK in .380 ACP (the gun most strongly associated with Bond, James Bond). It fit me, was readily concealable, was reasonably accurate (in spite of primitive sights) and featured an initial double-action pull that qualified as appalling. It probably saved my life one night. I wish I still had it.

But my choice was predicated simply on how it felt in my hand, not on actual use. Back in those days, there were no gun stores in Los Angeles that would allow a customer to try a gun, and even had I been smart enough to think about trying it before buying it, I would have been out of luck. My only options back then were friends who might or might not have had a gun I wanted to try out; “trying before buying” wasn’t common practice in the early ’80s.

Today, it is very common. Of the four gun stores in the area where I live, two have large selections of “try” guns. One store has its own indoor range where customers are allowed to rent as many handguns as they wish and then shoot on their own.

The other store has a program where, for a fee, their instructor (one of the best I know) takes the prospective buyer to his or her private outdoor range with as many guns as he or she feels like trying. This was where I took my wife when she wanted to get a handgun of her own, and her experience is a good illustration of why it’s important to try before you buy.

Surprising Choice

My wife is built along the lines — and temperament — of a super flyweight. A hair over 5 feet tall, she weighs in ringside at 115 and she has hands to match her size. When she announced she wanted a handgun, I took her to all the stores in our area and encouraged her to handle everything she saw. I took her to the home of a retired Highway Patrol range instructor whose wife is an enthusiastic shooter and has a concealed carry license. I encouraged her to go to the range with me and shoot my guns.

By the time we had done all that, my bride had narrowed her parameters down considerably. There were certain guns she had no interest in even bothering to shoot and three she was very enthusiastic about, with one clear leader running ahead of the pack: the Bersa Thunder, a somewhat refined — better sights and better trigger — ripoff of my Walther PPK.

Then I sent her out with my friend the instructor. I asked that gentleman privately to throw in some additional guns that he felt, from his many years of experience, might work for a very small lady. Finally, since I am not a complete fool and I know my Bible — “A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” — I stayed home and let nature take its course.

What happened was not surprising. The gun my bride picked — a Glock 19 9mm — was one she had steadfastly refused to consider. The Bersa was forgotten entirely.

You Might Be Surprised

This is anecdotal — a single person does not equate to a group or segment of society. But it is a good example of the importance of trying guns before buying guns, as each individual is so very different in body size, body type, strength (particularly hand strength), ability, experience, needs, visual acuity and the ways in which he or she reacts to stressors like sound and recoil.

If you live in an area without access to a store that offers a chance to try before you buy — New York and San Francisco leap to mind — go to your local range or join a group that shoots regularly. You’ll be surprised by how accommodating most gun owners are.

You also might be surprised by what actually works best for you.

Discover how you can join nearly 300,000 responsibly armed Americans who already rely on the USCCA to protect their families, futures and freedoms: USCCA.com/gunsamerica.

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{ 25 comments… add one }
  • Michael Bernard November 19, 2018, 5:18 pm

    i think you are right on one hand but the fact that some gun stores in most places don’t have ranges to shoot before you buy and i agree with most of the others who don’t call us fools we do our research and make good choices before we buy i carry a tarsus 709 most of the time and also s&w m&p.45 both are fine weapons your article was good just calls us fools

    • Willie-O February 15, 2021, 5:28 pm

      I didn’t get that from the article, but I also agree with the basic premise – you simply can NOT know enough about any gun to make it your carry gun without actually firing it.

      • Willie-O February 15, 2021, 5:44 pm

        ** I’d like to qualify that is generally applicable to all, but primarily to 1st time gun owners. If you have a safe full then obviously it doesn’t apply to you to the same extent it does to a novice shooter or 1st time gun buyer. I own dozens, but I won’t CARRY anything I haven’t fired.

  • Chris November 19, 2018, 9:03 am

    Most sellers have a “you shoot it, you buy it” philosophy — kind of like some stores where, if you break it, you buy it. I’ve always had success researching pieces for carry application. I’ve spent months reading articles and handling pieces I’m interested in in gun stores. I’ve never bought one that wasn’t successful. I think the idea of shooting everything under the sun and finally settling on that one perfect gem that fits you above all others is Utopian, and unrealistic. And certainly, calling people fools is not the way to entice new shooters. Maybe it should say only a fool calls his readers foolish and expects them to keep reading his articles? 🙂

  • James Gordon November 18, 2018, 5:43 pm

    Parker,you are a ignorant pompous ASS and this article proves that.The vast majority of gun stores cant afford a range or the cost of having a popular pistol model designated as the try it before you buy it.I know first hand how difficult it is to keep a mom and pop operation running and you obviously are clueless about such things.

  • Larry N Lovelace November 17, 2018, 1:53 am

    How can you fire a weapon if you buy it at a gun store without a gun range and live in Communist California ?
    I read about all the weapons I buy and have never bought one that I could not fire and score good groups once I learned the piece. If you buy some cheap Saturday night special then you deserve what you get but if you buy a well known brand or have it on good authority that this brand is good then you are safe. I was given my M-16 and my 1911 .45 in the Army with out having first fired them , they were just fine and served me well.

  • Jacob Sabra November 16, 2018, 10:18 pm

    Interesting. When my wife knew a handgun was in her future, we went to the range to try ’em all. SIG 938, Ruger LCP, Glock 43, Bersa, Tauras, revolvers, etc. My store manager must have known something; he placed a Glock 17 and G-19 on the bench. She picked up each, fired 25 rounds, and went out to the sales floor so they could run the NICS check for her new Glock 19! Now, she can’t wait to practice with her new G19, at least once a month. This was the one that fit her hand best.
    So, just because a woman is a delicate little thing, she MUST have a small handgun. Not.
    BTW, that pink camo Cerakote looks pretty decent.

  • BRASS November 16, 2018, 7:59 pm

    I’ll say the same thingI said when I first read this article elsewhere. Bullshit!

    1. Few gun stores in the many states I’ve lived in my long life, have a range.

    2. The few that do usually charge an arm and a leg for each gun you want to try AND, force you to buy their overpriced crappy ammo to boot. One could easily spend hundreds before finding a gun that felt right. If you’re a first time inexperienced shooter, how will you know without someone to guide you?

    3. First time inexperienced shooters often don’t know what proper fit and form is; that’s because they’re … well… inexperienced.

    4. Even experienced shooters aren’t likely to be able to try the number of guns it takes to fill this fantasy.

    5. Given sufficient physical and mental skills, a shooter should be able to adapt to any reasonable range of fit and form. Would you suggest our military stock a hundred different types of firearms for the hundred different sizes and configurations of male and female military shooters?

    6. The first long gun I ever fired was an M14. My support arm wasn’t long enough to make a proper foreshock hold with the web of my support hand against the front sling swivel, and I had to adapt a coat hanger with 1,000 mile an hour tape to the front stock in order to keep the muzzle out of the ground while firing prone at 500 yards. I found ways to adapt and still qualified expert in the Marines demanding ‘A’ course at Parris Island.

    7. I’m old now and wear multi-focal lenses and really have to find ways to overcome that in order to get a good sight picture but I still competed and won local shooting matches with both rifle and handgun. Not because it was easy.

    I’ve qualified with a variety of weapons from M3 Grease Guns, M1 Carbines, BARs, M79 Grenade Launchers, M1 Garand’s, 1903A4 in Viet Nam, Remington 870s and more all the way up to the M16A2, 1911A1, S&W Model 10, M92 Beretta at retirement. I have learned numerous additional firearms new to me since that time. Some have grips to big to be comfortable or trigger reaches too long, stock welds not high enough, sights to small, etc. Aside from just personal preference, I’ve found ways to be safe and accurate with almost all of them.

    Always stocky and wearing glasses which both present a number of challenges, I became a Team shooter for a my base shooting team 85-86. We fired M14s, M16s, and 1911s all with iron sights. I managed to be competitive against better eyes and taller shooters, able to keep ten in the black up to 50 yards pistol and 600 yards rifle. It takes work, knowledge and time to become an effective shooter, no matter the discipline or the weapon.

    If you’re demanding perfect fit and form to fit your physical attributes, you’ll never be a shooter I’d bet my life on.

  • James November 16, 2018, 4:46 pm

    Only a fool huh? When I was issued m4 I hadn’t fired it. When I was issued my Police sidearm S&W 5906 I had not fired it. It’s never the weapon that you carry. It is the skill or training that you put fort that make you proficient. And make you able to wield in in any claim and place. So keep thinking that the gun makes the man. When it’s totally opposite.

  • Paul November 16, 2018, 4:41 pm

    No gun shop in this area (and there are dozens) has an indoor range. No gun shops in this area offers rental guns …none. So I guess no one here can live up to your standards of gun ownership …. guess I just get a sharp stick.

  • FirstStateMark November 16, 2018, 3:37 pm

    Been to a Cabela’s lately? You can’t even test the trigger pull anymore. Can’t test the pull, can’t test the reset. All guns, new and used, all have trigger locks on them now. We can all thank the guy who, at Bass Pro Shop, while looking at a gun slipped in a round and shot himself in the head. Devastating to all the shoppers. Shame that had to happen.

  • David Kent November 16, 2018, 1:36 pm

    Some larger chain stores are worse than that. Bass Pro Shops have a pretty decent selection, all of which have trigger guards that they refuse to remove if you want to handle before buying. Forget shooting, they won’t even let you see if it fits. And all this trust and service for a price tag only $100 higher than anywhere else.

  • Mike in a Truck November 16, 2018, 1:14 pm

    My LGS has a basement range and rents guns.Also you get an hours free range time with purchase.An option for those that dont have access to a range while shopping is to use snap caps and ask if you can at least dry fire.Narrow your caliber down of course.Safe bet?Buy a revolver-S&W Kit Gun in 357 mag and run 38 wadcutters.Nice adjustable sights good for trail and defense.Youll be well armed and that revolver will outlast all those plastic semi autos.

    • Art frailey November 23, 2018, 6:49 pm

      Common Dum Dum ! I have owned revolvers and autos. I have NEVER found plastic on any of them. As far as how long they last, that depends on the shooter and how much it is used.

  • Phil Whitehead November 16, 2018, 12:23 pm

    Ok smart guy in the room…
    Answer me this.
    How is any retailer supposed to be able to keep a duplicate of every handgun they sell for a “test drive”, yet alone have a shooting facility available for these joy rides?
    Have you calculated costs? Seems not.
    Here’s an idea…YOU pony up for duplicate handguns for your favorite dealer. I’m certain that he or she will appreciate it if you shoulder the burden…great idea test drive before you buy, now isn’t it?
    How about the much more simple and logical option of educating the customer on the pros and cons of a handgun prior to the sale… manipulate the slide or cylinder… cleaning methods…
    Never mind. You already wrote this drivel…

    • Mr. Sparkles November 18, 2018, 4:47 pm

      Great concept, too bad everyone is such a harsh critic and failed to miss the point. Thank you for writing and I agree with the author, while there may be a lot of places where you cannot try before you buy, if you can find one,… DO IT and ignore all the hypercritical drivel

    • Gregory February 19, 2021, 7:06 am

      Did you “Test drive” the car you own?

  • JayS November 16, 2018, 11:55 am

    Firearms should be bought and sold on website like Amazon/Ebay and shipped straight to your house. Then you could try a used firearm for an extended period of time and resell it easily with little loss (no transfer fees x2, time, hassle). Prices would come down quickly. We need to get rid of the un-Constitutional NICS system that impedes our 2nd amendment rights.

  • Robert Little November 16, 2018, 11:41 am

    I am a true believer in trying before buying. When I retired I had been carrying a Beretta 92fn. But felt I needed something a little smaller that was concealable and lighter so I fell for all the adds about the mini weight guns in 380. I purchased a Taurus TCP738. that was my first mistake. the second was not taking the gun to a range and trying it out. a year later when I got around to taking to a indoor range, (it was snowing outside.) I found out that the weapon was worthless. It jammed on the first rack of the slide and every time the slide activated.
    So not being able to return it, I had a gun friend look at it and he did his little trick with a file and we took it back to the range. the gun then operated and would fire with out jamming. but would not fire all the rounds in the magazine. it always left one or two in the magazine. The gun is now relegated to the safe.
    So not being able to try a gun before buying it is taking your life in your own hands.
    Robert

  • Jay November 16, 2018, 11:25 am

    I guess there are a lot of”fools” out there that carry, including me! Many of us don’t have the options listed. Friends guns, a local gun shop that has a select few rentals. So, I guess this fools good to go since I have more than one carry gun! Tried and tested after buying them. Research does wonders too!

  • edgy November 16, 2018, 10:05 am

    Most firearm shops in NH, VT AND MAINE DON;T HAVE A PLACE to shoot the firearm you want .

    We just figure out what firearm we want by reading all the info we can find .
    Then I get on the computer to find out what dealer has the gun I want.,then call them to see if they have the model I want .
    Then go to the dealer to check out the gun to see how it feels ,looks and handles .
    If it passes that test we buy it, never had a problem with that system in 70 yrs .

    • Ryan Fish November 16, 2018, 11:32 am

      Never? I bought a Smith and Wesson Sheild model because they are awesome and all the rage. I did my research and watched all the reviews. Guess what. Hated the handling and snappy recoil. Sold it and bought a Walther PPS M2. Best decision ever and not based on magazine and youtube research.

  • Joe Wells November 16, 2018, 7:47 am

    I admit the “buy & try” approach can get expensive. With the abundant supply of handguns and new models rolled out monthly, resale value drops in a hurry! Case in point; M&P 2.0 was high $400s when issued w “new improvements”, now can be had for mid $300s.
    My wife’s dad was a cop, started her with a 357 Blackhawk for home defense. I introduced her to a J-frame S&W Pro 3”, but she tried my G19 and shot it better. However, the grip is still big for her small hands and racking the slide is challenging. Found the Browning 1911-380; that’s her favorite! Lightweight, easy to rack, small grip radius, very accurate w 4.25 “ barrel(for home defense).

  • Scott Kimble November 16, 2018, 6:03 am

    I beg to differ with the title and the concept. While a clear good piece of mind and makes great purchasing sense. This is not the reality for most people. As an example here in NYS (upstate) there is 1 gun range that will allow you to rent a firearm to try. Problem is they have a wide selection but limited in the carry department. So your choices become limited. Here is an example. If I were going to try the P320 compact or the Shield I could try the shield but the p320 I could use in full size, Glock full size but no 42 or 43. If I wanted to shoot the p365 or a kimber, or the VP9 not available. So to just call people foolish is not a reasonable statement.
    That gun range is a 45 min drive from my home and it is the only one where you can rent and shoot. So the logistics are not reasonable for common folks.

  • Tessa Pegram November 14, 2018, 12:52 pm

    The range I go to does rentals although I’m not sure if they let you try out guns in the case. Their rental selection is good enough that you’ll get an idea of what works for you and what doesn’t.

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