If you’ve ever been in a dangerous situation, or if you just want a better sense of security for you and your family, you may have considered purchasing a weapon for personal protection. Firearms are the most common choice, for their absolute ability to neutralize threats.

But if you’ve never owned or purchased a firearm before, you may not know where to begin. How should you choose a weapon for personal protection?

Understand Local Laws

First, understand that laws vary throughout the country. The Second Amendment guarantees the right to “bear arms,” but ownership can carrying restrictions are different from state to state. In some areas, you may be able to purchase and carry almost any type of gun you want, with no licensing or registry required. In others, you may need to jump through several hoops to buy certain weapons—and others may be completely illegal. Make sure to review gun laws in your state before proceeding with any type of purchase.

Set a Budget

You can usually purchase a firearm for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on what you’re looking for. However, you’ll also need to consider other expenses; for example, you may be required to pay for a license to carry your firearm, and you’ll certainly need to pay for ammunition. You may also want to buy a safe, a locking mechanism, or other safety equipment to make sure your firearm is used responsibly. Set an upper limit for what you’re willing to pay, and work backward from there.

You should also know that you may be able to get a good deal on a firearm through a discount program. The Blue Label program, for example, allows individuals in the military and/or law enforcement to purchase firearms for a discount.

Understand Your Primary Options

There are many types of firearms worthy of consideration for personal protection, and within each type are hundreds of different manufacturers and models. For many people, the best option is a pocket pistol or a handgun; these options are small and easy to carry. They’re designed to be held and fired easily with a single hand, and are compact enough to carry with you at all times (assuming you’re in a state that allows this). Concealed handguns are specifically designed to be concealed on your person, assuming weapon concealment is legal in your state. However, these weapons often don’t have as much sheer power as a shotgun or a rifle.

For home defense, many people choose a shotgun. Shotguns are very powerful, but are also relatively easy to use and maintain. Additionally, due to the scatter-shot effect of a shotgun, accuracy isn’t quite as critical. You may also choose a rifle; many types of rifles exist, including automatic rifles, bolt-action rifles, lever-action rifles, and semi-automatic rifles, all of which have advantages and disadvantages. Like shotguns, rifles tend to be powerful, yet easy to use and maintain.

The Importance of Testing and Training

No matter what kind of firearm you choose, it’s important to test the firearm and train yourself to use it properly. You can’t assume that you’ll be able to fire the weapon properly based on seeing guns being used in movies. Instead, take your firearm to a shooting range and try it out under the supervision of a professional. Get to know the safety features of the weapon, and how it feels to aim and squeeze the trigger. Feel comfortable and confident using the weapon before you ever truly rely on it for personal protection.

This will make you calmer and more confident in the event you need to use the weapon, but even more importantly, it will ensure you’re able to use the weapon safely. Visit the shooting range regularly to sharpen your skills.

Keeping Your Firearm Safe

If you’re using your firearm for home protection, it’s vital to keep your firearm safe—especially if you have children in the house. The easiest way to do this is to keep your firearms stored in a gun safe, or at least to have a locking mechanism that prevents each firearm for being used. Additionally, all firearms should be stored unloaded, with the safety on, pointing in a safe direction, with the ammunition held separately.

Non-Lethal Options

If you’re not interested in owning or using a gun, there are alternative methods of personal protection. You could purchase a stun gun, designed to non-lethally incapacitate or temporarily stun an assailant, or a variant of pepper spray. However, these methods may only provide temporary protection and don’t have the intimidation power of a firearm.

Once you become more familiar with your desires and needs as a first-time weapon buyer, consider talking to a professional. Visit a sporting goods store or head to a local gun show, and talk to some professionals who really know what they’re doing. They’ll be able to provide you with better, more personally tailored advice on specific manufacturers, types of ammunition to buy, usage tips, and more.