The Cornered Cat
The perfect is the enemy of the good

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

It’s an old saying. And it means, sometimes we work so hard to do things perfectly that we fail to do them well. Or at all.

Case in point: it’s good to be prepared to defend yourself. Some of us want to do that by owning a reliably functional gun we can carry in a secure holster. That’s the good.

But to do that same thing perfectly would mean (among many other things) that we must first find the perfect gun. And once we start down that road, good enough is not good enough anymore.

When we chase the perfect gun with too much passion, we too often stop asking basic questions such as, “Will this gun fire when I press the trigger?” 1 and “Will it fling a bullet approximately in the same place the sights indicate it should?”

Worse, we sometimes get positive answers to these questions, and then sneer at the very simplicity of the answer we get. It’s not fancy enough. Finding that gun wasn’t hard enough. Whatever. And we lose track of how crucially important those basic questions really are.

Instead we get all wrapped up in a whole bunch of inconsequential things that just don’t matter as much. Such as a specific brand name, type of finish, expert gunsmithing, or fancy sights… because we don’t just want a good gun that will do the basic thing in a basic way. We want the best possible gun we can get that will fill that role. So we shop features and make comparison lists of relatively unimportant points, pestering our gun-buddies with ridiculous questions about arcane ballistic trivia and worrying endlessly about minor features.

After all, we reason, this is a big life change. So taking the first step into self-defense gun ownership cannot possibly be as simple as walking into a store and walking back out again with a gun that has a good reputation and reasonably fits our hand and budget. It has to be harder than that.

Eventually, our search stalls out. We’re frozen in indecision, confused by all the possible choices. We end up like the mule who laid down and starved to death halfway between two good piles of hay, because the poor thing couldn’t decide which direction to go.

The search for perfect guns sometimes takes people the opposite direction into a kind of reverse snobbery. The ones who go that route get wrapped up in finding the absolutely cheapest possible gun they can find. That becomes their definition of perfect. To be clear, this isn’t always a bad thing; sometimes it is simply necessary and there’s nothing wrong with that. Being on a limited budget is a factor for some people, and sometimes a very serious one indeed. The challenge comes when the immediate price becomes the only thing we shop for. Instead of looking for the best value within the budget, we start looking for the lowest sticker price regardless of value… and without even thinking about the long-term costs of the purchase. 2 That’s a losing game, especially when funds are tight, because a lot of apparently good deals turn out to be quite expensive if the basics are not covered first. Save money where you can, but make sure the basics are covered when you do.

So more about the ‘reverse snobbery’ thing: sometimes we meet those people on gun boards and other social media, bragging about how they put a snooty-nosed Olympic master to shame by outshooting them with their little Crapojamamatic. Don’t believe those wish fulfillment stories, most of them — but do pay attention to the quirky and perverse pride behind them. Human nature can be fascinating!

Sometimes the definition of perfect gets narrowed down to one  impossible or nearly-impossible criteria. I’m reminded of one woman who was looking for a gun that fit her hand perfectly. Unfortunately for her, her hands were very small, even smaller than an average 10-year-old child’s hands, so finding a gun that met her technical challenge was never in the cards. She’d have done okay with a gun that was just a little too large for her, and there were a few that would’ve fit well enough. But she refused to buy anything at all until she’d found that nonexistent Holy Grail — and as an unmodified, affordable, off-the-shelf gun, at that. You’ll sometimes see other people do something similar with a longing for a high-end gun even if that’s completely outside their real-world budget and even though there’s a mid-range gun that would do them just as well.

So they, and we, keep looking. And looking, and looking, and looking.

And in the meantime, the gun goes unpurchased and our great plan to learn how to protect ourselves … just drifts away.


Looking for a decent, functional gun to learn to shoot with?

My recommendations:

Glock 19
M&P Compact 9mm
Sig P320 Compact 9mm

If you need to learn to shoot, any one of the above guns will be a good and reliable choice. Which one should you get? Whichever one floats your boat. Or whichever the sales guy offers you a good deal on.  Later you can — if needed — buy a smaller gun in the same line (Glock 43, M&P Shield, P320 Sub-Compact) for carrying, and it will feel familiar with similar controls and that’ll be good too. But a word of caution: don’t try to learn to shoot with the smallest little gun you can find, because that’s uncomfortable and will likely create some bad habits. Choose a reliable, mid-size gun to begin with. Any gun from this list will be just fine, and so will you.



  1. “Will it fire when I press the trigger?” is the without-which-not of a personal defense gun. In real estate, the three most important factors are location, location, location. In defensive weapons, it’s reliability, reliability, reliability.
  2. This would be a gun that was cheap in the store, but that fires an odd type of ammunition that’s hard to find and expensive. Or a gun that’s an unusual size or shape, so there aren’t a lot of affordable holsters for it. Sometimes the long term costs will outweigh the immediate benefit of “a good deal,” especially if the gun also does not function reliably.

6 Responses to The perfect is the enemy of the good

  1. DrLateBloomer says:

    Good points. This also applies to carry method/holster. Paralysis by Analysis. If one can’t find the “perfect” carry method that works for ALL occasions (there isn’t one), the gun tends to stay at home. I am guilty of this one myself at times.

  2. DrLateBloomer says:

    Another thought, since I can’t edit the previous comment..
    Since you mentioned human nature – some of this can be a sort of emotional defense mechanism as well. We “want” to carry, we know we “should” carry, but the indecision and search for the non-existent “perfect” gives us a convenient excuse to avoid it, if deep down, we are really not so sure about this.

  3. larryarnold says:

    Sort of like when I go looking for a pocket handgun that fills my hand, holds 17 rounds of .45ACP, shoots accurately to 50 yards with combat sights, has a one lb. double-action trigger, and doesn’t kick?

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