Mark Keefe wrote an article “20-Questions for a First Pistol Checklist“. The subheading was “Providing sound advice for purchasing a firearm requires knowledge of the purpose, which means you have to ask the right questions.”
I would agree with that statement. Certainly knowledge of purpose is the right way to start, because a firearm is like any tool: there are many types, and you will do your job better if you have the right tool for the job.
And the article does start off that way:
1. First things first, what do you want it for?
Personal protection and recreational target shooting.
2. Do you understand that there are serious considerations regarding using a firearm for personal protection?
Yes, I understand and have thought it through; really that is why I am at this point.
3. Do you want it as a carry gun?
No. I may later, but not right now.
4. How and where do you plan to store it?
I will keep it loaded in a lock box in my bedroom
Question #1 is good, and questions 2-4 fall naturally from the answer given to question #1. So far, so good.
5. What cartridge do you want it to chamber?
Aaaannndd… we’re done.
Questions 5-11 ask about caliber, type of gun, capacity, frame type (steel vs. polymer), action type, mechanical safeties, external hammers. Question 12 asks about price (good question). Question 13-16 ask about accessories, sights, adjustability. Question 17 is about geography, which matters to some folks (but IMHO shouldn’t be a primary consideration). Question 18 on barrel length. Question 19 is about new vs. used (possibly relevant).
Well, while these can be meaningful questions — and perhaps they were meaningful and appropriate for the person Mark was questioning — this is not a good general line of questions for the first-time buyer. In fact, most first time buyers will have no idea about these things, what they mean, what their significance is — so how could they answer these questions? In fact, question #20 “Are you willing to take an NRA Basic Pistol Course if I help you out?” seems like a prerequisite to being able to answer many of these questions! Certainly all of those mechanical features would be defined, discussed, and made relevant to the newbie.
I’ve gotten to a point where any “buying a gun” checklist that puts “caliber” near the top of the list automatically gets nixed; caliber matters, but not as much as the Internet makes you think. If you still think steel guns are better than polymer-framed guns, Glock would like a word with you. If you’re new to shooting and your goal is concealed carry, checklists that push you to small guns as first guns are checklists to ignore.
Checklists to pay attention to? Ones that are made by people that actually shoot and understand shooting. That understand beginners and their needs. That it’s more important to find a gun you can shoot right and shoot well (e.g. gun fit is a primary concern), because shooting the gun is enjoyable and you see success in your shooting (that’s what gets you to return to the range and to training classes).