Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Your First Handgun: Use The Correct Ammunition

It is absolutely imperative that a handgun user loads his firearm with the correct ammunition. A firearm loaded with the wrong cartridges could lead to an unfortunate incident which could lead to death, severe bodily injury, and/or damage to the handgun itself. An improperly loaded handgun can lead to dangerously elevated internal pressures which can cause the firearm to literally blow up in your face. Fortunately, there are several ways to easily determine the proper ammunition for a specific handgun.

Read Your Operator's Guide Before Loading Your Handgun
The best way to determine the proper ammunition for your handgun is to thoroughly read your operator's guide. An operator's guide is provided to every new handgun buyer at the point of purchase. If you purchased your firearm second-hand ask the seller if he has it available for you to take. If not, all is not lost; you can use the Internet to visit the handgun manufacturer's web site. Most gun makers have manuals available for download.

Your manual will specifically tell you what caliber sizes that can be safely fired in your handgun. In most cases, the caliber of the handgun will exactly match the ammunition. For example, a 9mmm handgun will accept, chamber, and safely fire 9mm ammunition.

Moreover, if your handgun can fire other cartridge sizes - different from the handgun's caliber - that info will also be provided. A manual for a .357" caliber handgun will inform the reader that both 38 Special and .357" rounds can be used in a .357" caliber handgun. Be forewarned, however, that the converse is not true.

Furthermore, you should ignore advice given on Internet forums and bulletin boards about ammunition substitutions. Personally, I have recently read some disturbing posts in which it was suggested that a person could safely load, chamber, and fire a 9mm handgun with .380" ammunition. For the record, do not use any ammunition in your handgun that was not explicitly stated as acceptable. A failure to heed info in your manual can be extremely dangerous.

Hopefully, by now, you are getting the point about reading your manual carefully and not making any assumptions. If you do not fully understand something in your manual, do not use your firearm until you get the matter resolved. Talk with your gun dealer, a representative from your gun's manufacturer, a credentialed gun safety expert, and a knowledgeable user.

Your handgun manual will also inform you as to whether your firearm can shoot +P and +P+ ammunition. In a nutshell, both +P and +P+ ammunition rounds have been loaded with higher than normal charges. Rounds with a higher than normal amount of smokeless powder will make more powerful discharges and could lead to damage to your handgun if it was not designed to handle the stress. If your handgun is damaged because you used these rounds and your manual said that you couldn't, your warranty probably will not cover your loss.

Other Ways To Verify Your Ammunition
Another way to determine the correct ammunition for your handgun is to visually inspect your handgun for caliber designation markings. All new handguns sold today have the caliber size clearly marked, usually on the barrel. Thus, if your handgun is marked "45ACP," then your handgun's caliber is .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol).

Sometimes, you will have to decipher the markings to make a proper identification. For example, some 9mm handgun are marked as "9X19." If you did not know that 9X19 was also known as 9mm, you would have to consult with a knowledgeable gun authority to provide you with counsel. Under no circumstances should you ever guess the caliber of your handgun and load it with what you "think" is the proper ammunition for your gun.

Should you ever be lucky enough, during this current age of ammunition shortages, to be the recipient of an ammunition gift, you can inspect the cartridges to make a proper determination as to whether they are safe to use in your handgun. The bottom face of a cartridge's casing - the headstamp - has markings. Among the markings present should be the caliber. The imprint is very small, so if your eyesight is not that great, you may have to squint or use a magnifying glass. Other markings which may be present will often designate the manufacturer and +P or +P+ ratings.

Additionally, if the ammunition was presented to you in a box from a ammo manufacturer, the box's labeling should also be inspected to double-check and verify the caliber of the ammunition. As an FYI, if you didn't buy the ammo yourself from a gun shop, you should check the headstamp on each cartridge. I suggest this because your gift may be a consolidation of left-over rounds from other ammunition boxes. A round of a different caliber could also be in the box. Mistakes happen. You don't have to be injured because of one.

Bottom Line:
Firing a handgun safely requires that the operator loads it with authorized ammunition. Improperly loaded handguns are a safety hazard that can cause harm to both the shooter and anyone standing close by. The proper ammunition for a specific handgun can be determined by reading the operator's guide, consulting with credible authorities, and inspecting the handgun's barrel and/or the headstamp of the cartridges.
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