Many new shooters are complete novices who must start with the most basic details, like learning the difference between a semi-auto and a revolver.
Author and firearms instructor, Stacy Bright, explains to Michelle how to rack the slide on a semi-automatic. Many new shooters are complete novices who must start with the most basic details, like learning the difference between a semi-auto and a revolver. author photo

The path of new gun ownership can sometimes bring twists and turns, and plenty of uncertainty. As a firearms instructor, I hear plenty of questions, especially from females. This list isn’t exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination, but these are some of the most common questions I’m asked. —SB

1. How do I know if I’m choosing the right gun for me?

I listed this first because it’s usually one of the first questions someone asks when considering owning a gun. When I get this broad of a question, I try to lay out some options. Let’s start with the intended purpose.

If you’re looking for a concealed carry gun, obviously we can narrow down the options to handguns instead of rifles or shotguns. From there, the options are a semi-automatic or a revolver. If you don’t know the difference, see #3.

The first thing I do when I’m shopping for a gun is hold each one. Just like a pair of shoes on your feet, only you can know if a gun feels good in your hand and if it fits well.

The first decision to make is whether to buy a revolver or a semi-automatic handgun. Trying both and learning how they function and differ is the best way to really make this first crucial decision. You can take a deeper dive into the topic here.

If you plan to carry in a purse, a revolver might be a better choice than a semi-auto. If you have to shoot through the purse, a revolver is less likely to get hung up on the inside purse material like a semi-automatic likely will, especially if it doesn’t have an exposed hammer.

Once you’ve narrowed down those options, I’d highly encourage shooting a few different models at the range. Try different sized guns and multiple calibers. Many gun ranges rental options that allows you to try a gun, or several, for an hour at a time, which is a good chance to try before you buy. If that’s not an option, see if any of your friends have guns that they’d allow you to try out.


Watch pro shooter Julie Golob explain how to know when a gun fits your hand perfectly!

Video: Find the Perfect Gun for Your Hand

A word of advice: just because the gun is small and cute, doesn’t mean it’s fun to shoot. Generally speaking, the smaller the frame of a handgun, the more difficult it is to get a good grip. It can also be more difficult to shoot than a larger handgun, especially if it has a long trigger-pull or snappy recoil, which is common because of their typically light weight.

Choose a gun that feels comfortable in your hand, and that you’d enjoy shooting.

The more you practice with the gun, the more comfortable you’ll be in your ability to use it, and if you love the gun, you’ll want to practice!

2. Should I have a firearm for personal protection and a different one for home defense?

I say it’s not necessary to have a designated gun for the designated purposes of concealed carry and home defense. More than one gun is a nice thing to have, but a carry gun can do double-duty as a home defense gun, and it offers the advantage to the user of not having to become familiar with two different firearms.

The main thing to consider is where you plan to keep it while you’re at home, especially while you’re sleeping.

Do you have a bedside safe? Will you keep it in your nightstand? If your house is broken into in the middle of the night, it’s important that you’re able to get to your gun quickly, and be able to do so while you’re still groggy, so that all must be taken into consideration when you’re deciding on your home defense plan.

Of course, some people will carry a smaller framed pistol with a limited ammo capacity for ease of concealment, but would prefer something full sized with a larger ammo capacity and perhaps a mounted weapon light for home defense use. That said, if you’re going to have multiple firearms for defense, it’s important to be proficient with all of them.

These students completed a concealed carry course covering gun safety, nomenclature, state laws, and live fire training.
These students completed a concealed carry course covering gun safety, nomenclature, state laws, and live fire training. author photo

3. How does a semi-automatic work?

A modern semi-automatic handgun has a removable magazine that holds a certain number of cartridges (ammunition) which are kept under tension by a spring and a polymer follower.

The magazine is inserted into the magazine well, located in the grip of the handgun, where it locks into place.

When the trigger is depressed, one round is fired. When that happens, some of the energy is used to forced the slide backward, which ejects the spent casing. The recoil spring then moves the slide forward back to its original position. As it’s moving forward, the slide loads the next cartridge from the magazine into the chamber, where it’s ready to be fired, and start the whole thing over again.

This process is repeated each time the trigger is pulled until the firearm is empty. On most semi-autos, the slide will lock back when the last round has been fired.

There are plenty more details involved with the differences among semi-auto actions, but these are the basics. When testing out a gun at the range, you should consider how the gun operates and if you’re comfortable with the controls, as well as the feel and the way it shoots.

4. Will the gun just “go off” by itself?

Generally, a modern firearm that is in good working order and hasn’t been modified won’t fire by itself. Gun manufacturers design pistols with a firing pin block, which prevents the gun from firing even when dropped.

That said, there accidents do happen. Accidental discharges can happen when a person isn’t careful about keeping their finger off the trigger, or a holster doesn’t sufficiently cover the trigger guard.

This is why the Four Rules of Gun Safety should be observed at all times.

Never, ever put your finger on the trigger of a firearm until you are ready to shoot it.


Clothing designed for concealing a gun…when you don’t want to wear much clothing.

Concealed Carry Shapewear For Women: Review

5. What are the best clothing options for concealing a gun?

Most of the time it’s easier to pick a holster based on the type of clothing typically worn. However, there are some good tips when you’re buying clothing that will make it easier to conceal a firearm.

Generally, patterns and prints work really well to break up the outline of a firearm. Shirt materials that are lightweight and flowy, not skin-tight and sheer, help prevent the gun bulge from being visible.

If you’re going to carry on your waist with a belt, get a sturdy one that will keep the holster and gun snug against your body without sagging or sliding around. If possible, I’d recommend trying on clothing in a dressing room to see if your gun is concealed well with that particular item or outfit. Also, thicker gun belts are often wider than typical belts, so make sure your belt loops can handle it.

This group belongs to a chapter of The Well Armed Woman, which get together monthly for meetings and firearm training.
This group belongs to a chapter of The Well Armed Woman, which get together monthly for meetings and firearm training. author photo

6. What’s the best holster?

This is about as difficult to answer as telling someone how to choose the right gun—it’s a highly subjective choice that mostly a “whatever works best for you” type of decision. But there are some guidelines.

When I pick a holster, I have a couple requirements: first, and most importantly, the holster must cover the trigger guard. This is a key safety issue, and there shouldn’t be any arguments about this requirement.

Second, it must be quick to access, so I don’t waste a bunch of time just trying to get to it. Beyond that, I try to find out what type of clothing is worn most often. Here are some options based on how you dress.

Jeans & Pants

If you’re like me and mostly wear jeans and t-shirts, holsters that attach to a belt, or one that can be worn on the waist, is my first suggestion. There are plenty of inside the waistband (IWB) or outside the waistband (OWB) options on the market today for most popular handguns. Carrying a firearm on my waist not only allows me to get to it quickly, it is also harder for someone else to disarm me.

Either type can be concealed with a cover garment of some kind. An Ulti-Clip is another way to carry a holster on your waist without having to wear a belt, since it clips onto the top of your pants, which can greatly expand your clothing options.


If you regularly wear skirts or pants without a belt, especially something similar to yoga pants, your options are different. In this case, a belly-band might work better, since the Velcro attaches around your waist and belt loops aren’t required. For dresses, many women like thigh holsters, which generally come with an attached garter to ensure that the holster doesn’t slide down your leg.


You want to carry a gun, but which holster is best for you? Check our complete guide to every holster type, pros and cons of each, and suggested models.

Handgun Holster Types: Complete Guide

Clothing Holsters

Compression clothing such as shorts, leggings, or undershirts that have built-in holsters are a great option to consider. The benefit of these types of garments is that they’re worn under your regular clothing and fit snuggly to prevent the firearm from moving during exercise or strenuous movement. Shorts or leggings would also work well with yoga pants as an alternative to a belly-band. Just make sure your outer clothing doesn’t prevent you from accessing your firearm.

Alternate Carry – Ankle, OTB

Carrying on my ankle is a last resort for me. In that scenario, it would take me longer to access the gun and I’d probably have to bend over or kneel to get to it, which would put me at a huge disadvantage if someone were trying to hurt me.

Purse or bag carry is always an option as well and there are a number of bags on the market made specifically for this purpose—however, I’d caution everyone to remember that if they don’t have their firearm on their body, they have to make sure not to leave their purse unattended for any length of time, even for a minute.


We put a pistol in 11 handbags and purse inserts specially designed for carrying—then walked around and practiced drawing. Here’s what we found.

Concealed Carry Purse Test

7. How do I safely hand the gun to another person?

The best thing to do is not hand a gun to another person.

I recommend setting the gun down first, making sure to lock open the slide on a semi-automatic, or open the cylinder of a revolver, so that the other person can see that the gun is unloaded prior to picking it up.

If you must hand a gun to someone, it’s still advised to make sure the gun is completely unloaded, with the magazine removed from a semi-automatic, and then hand the gun to the other person, grip first while still trying not to muzzle yourself. That way, you’re allowing them to get a good grip on the firearm, see inside the chamber of the gun to verify that it’s unloaded, and you’re not pointing a gun at them, either.

On the other end of things, if you pick up a firearm from a table or bench, the first thing you should do is inspect it to be sure of its status. Remove the magazine if it isn’t already removed and open the slide on a semi-auto to visually inspect the chamber to confirm that the gun is unloaded. Be conscious of where the muzzle is pointed at all times. Open the cylinder on a revolver to do the same.

This new shooter (Pam) is trying out a few guns prior to purchasing one for herself.
This new shooter (Pam) is trying out a few guns prior to purchasing one for herself. author photo

8. Should I carry the gun with a round in the chamber or not?

This is an excellent question and one that comes up in almost all of my basic pistol classes. If you understand that the gun will only fire if you pull the trigger (see question #4), then carrying a round in the chamber doesn’t make it more dangerous than a handgun that isn’t chambered.

In fact, in a stressful situation when you might be required to use your gun in self-defense, you’re more likely to be able to protect yourself. Why? Well, under stress, the physiological changes that happen such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, and an adrenaline dump, decrease your fine motor skills which would make it difficult, if not impossible, to rack the slide to load the firearm.

That’s not a great place to be when you’re life is on the line.

9. How do I clean my gun and how often should it be done?

Honestly, cleaning the gun isn’t the hard part, it’s knowing how to disassemble your gun in order to clean it that can be confusing. Each firearm should have an owner’s manual that explains how to disassemble and reassemble it. I’m also a big fan of watching YouTube videos that show how it’s done.

Keep in mind that it’s a good idea to watch only the videos that have good reviews and ratings so it’s more likely the person in the vid knows what they’re talking about, and not showing something that may or may not be accurate. Often times, gun makers will post disassembly videos of their most popular models.

Once you’ve disassembled your gun, cleaning it is pretty straightforward once you get your supplies together. Go here for some great step-by-step instructions on how to clean a handgun.

Cleaning your gun thoroughly and regularly is important to make sure it's in working order.
Cleaning your gun thoroughly, especially after a range session, is important to make sure it’s in working order. author photo

10. What type of ammo should I use?

If you’ve ever been shopping for ammunition, you know how confusing it can be when you’re staring at hundreds of boxes of ammunition in all calibers, made by different manufacturers, with various bullet designs. Start by asking, what is the purpose of the ammunition?

For target practice, a full metal jacket (FMJ) or similar bullet design, is sufficient and reasonably priced. Often, the box of ammo will state that it’s for target use.

For personal defense, I recommend choosing something that will expand on impact, such as hollow points or a flex-tip design. A lot of ammunition is marketed and labeled as “self-defense” ammo, but what exactly does that mean?


There’s a big difference between what you use to punch holes in paper and what you should keep in your gun.

Why Self Defense Ammo is Worth The Price

These types of ammunition are designed to stop an attacker more quickly and have bullets with hollow points that allow them to expand after they are fired. Expansion is important, as it not only does more damage to the target, but it also helps the bullet to not over-penetrate. A bullet that travels through a target can also go on to travel through walls or windows, risking the lives of innocent bystanders or family members in another room of your house.

A full metal jacket doesn’t expand, allowing the bullet to tunnel through a target and over-penetrate, which is dangerous in self-defense situations that often occur inside the distance of 21 feet. Also, be aware that certain types of ammo might not feed reliably in your specific firearm.

All that said, there are a number of alternatives to FMJ and hollowpoints on the market, such as Federal’s Guard Dog Ammunition. The specialized non-hollow-point expanding FMJ bullets are filled with an expanding blue polymer that minimizes the probability of over-penetration.

Do some research, but no matter what you choose, always make sure you test your personal defense ammo before deciding to carry it to make sure it feeds and functions well in your firearm. A malfunction is the last thing you want to happen at a critical moment!

Always Ask!

As I mentioned above, these are the top 10 questions that I hear on a regular basis. Asking questions is a smart thing to do. If you haven’t already done so, consider taking a firearms class.

A basic class is designed to cover safe gun handling rules, pistol parts and the operation of each, range etiquette, gun cleaning, state laws, and the opportunity to practice at a range with an instructor present. Instructors and Range Safety Officers are happy to explain or answer questions that arise. Questions that go unanswered can lead to accidents, so speak up and stay safe!