The best first handgun for a beginner is ...
Wait for it ...
You probably guessed it:
There’s more than one right answer.
Apologies if you were hoping for a definitive answer, but the gun world is just not that simple. There are far too many unique decision-making factors, depending on each individual, to be able to declare one model the “unquestionably-best-of-all-time-for-all-people-and-your-mom,-James-Bond-and-that-one-Navy-Seal-guy-are-wrong-if-they-disagree-with-us” handgun.
The good news is, your 2A rights give you not only the right to bear arms, but also to choose which one suits you. (‘Merica!)
To help you make the best decision for you, there are lots of factors to take into account.
The slightest variation in physical properties (length/width/height) can be the difference between the handgun you feel comfortable and confident with and the one you dread shooting.
Handguns come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and weights. While the size of a given handgun does not dictate bullet size, those two measurements are often related.
What You Should Know about Pistol Calibers
In everyday conversation, saying something is “high-caliber” is a way to express high quality. “Caliber” in gun-speak is a different ballpark.
Instead of describing quality, it is a precise measurement of the diameter of a bullet at its widest point. So, “high caliber ammo” is another way to say “big bullets.”
Caliber sizing can be confusing. Part of the reason for this is that they appear in both the imperial (ft/in/yds) and metric (mm/cm/m) measurements systems.
Generally, if you see a ‘.’ in front of a number (like .45), that is describing the caliber in terms of a fraction of an inch. So a “.45” bullet would be one 45/100ths of an inch in diameter. Same with “.380 ACP”; this would be an Automatic Colt Pistol bullet that is 380/1000ths of an inch.
Some of the most common handgun calibers include:
Gun and caliber size also plays an important role in the amount of recoil a gun has.
Recoil is that palm-to-shoulder “kick-back” effect you feel as the gun fires. Most people find a high level of recoil to be uncomfortable or even painful - especially if they’re just starting out.
Many are surprised to find that, as a general rule, the larger the handgun, the less recoil. So don’t assume a model is going to be more manageable just because it’s called “compact” or “subcompact.”
You may very well find that the full-size version of a given handgun gives you the smoothest operation.
Finally, size can also determine how much ammo you can carry at a time. Getting a gun that can hold smaller size rounds like 9mm means you can have more bullets in the magazine.
Factors To Consider When Buying Your First Handgun
Think about how you plan on using your firearm. Do you want something you can simply target shoot with & “make it rain” at the range? Or something a little more “dialed-in” for competition?
Is it going to be kept in the house as a home defense tool, or does it need to go with you everywhere for concealed carry defense?
Or is it “E: all of the above”?
Whether it serves a designated purpose or is meant to be an all-around firearm will make a big difference in your selection. The purpose you determine will help steer your decision in what size of handgun you need.
Size is also important, since it impacts the way the gun fits in your hand. As you’re holding the gun, ask yourself:
Can you keep a firm grip with your knuckles in line with your forearm? Does your finger “catch” on the trigger guard as it moves from its resting place on the frame to pull the trigger back?
Can your thumbs manipulate the controls (like the mag release) without changing your grip?
Is the flesh of your finger on the trigger or your knuckle? Some find a knuckle pull encourages more of a wobble in the shot, which can impact accuracy. If you’ll use it for concealed carry, can you easily maneuver it out of a holster, or are there aspects of the gun frame that snag as you withdraw?
Finally, guns are an investment of both time & money. Getting a specialized piece might make for a fun shooting experience, but you may have to wait longer for ammo or parts to be in stock.
To get the full use and enjoyment out of a first handgun, you’ll want something with ammo and parts that are readily available.
Additionally, be sure to ask about possible modifications to a firearm when speaking to a salesperson. Knowing the options that may be available to you later can influence your decision.
For example, while you may think a subcompact pistol is the perfect size, this category does not offer the modification options in sights, lights, red dots, and other advantageous add-ons that you can get with a compact or larger model.
Which Types of Handguns Are the Most Recommended?
When it comes time to narrow down which model is right for you, hands-on practice can help.
If you can, find a shooting range within driving distance from you that rents out the types of handguns you want to consider. Then, shoot a magazine in each gun type at a consistent distance and see which feels the most comfortable to operate.
Which is the most accurate handgun is a fiercely-debated subject. Try not to think too much about this. Assuming you purchase a reputable, quality firearm, “most accurate handgun” you can find will be the one you are most practiced with.
Glock 17(Full Size) / Glock 19(Compact) / Glock 43(Subcompact)
One of the cornerstone brands in the handgun market, Glock is known for guns that are simple to take apart and easy to clean. The Glock line is easy to find parts for, and 9mm is one of the most common rounds for handguns. These models are also easy to modify, and the options for those modifications are endless. Their after-market support rivals that of the AR-15.
CZ P-10 series
A forerunning rival to the Glock family, this 9mm arguably gives more options for left-hand shooters and comes with “better” stock options. It ranges in size from “full” to “micro” & is easy to disassemble/field strip. CZ P-10s come with a great build and good trigger. The one main downside to this model is the fact that aftermarket parts are not nearly as widely available as Glock, but that is quickly changing.
S&W M&P 2.0 (same size as Glock 17)
This handgun comes in 9mm, .40, and .45ACP calibers. Smith & Wesson is one of the most reputable brands around today. Many new shooters choose this series for its cost-effectiveness and reliability (which is comparable to - but not necessarily higher than - some other models we’ve mentioned).
SigSauer P320 series
Sig Sauer has an amazing reputation in the firearms industry. The P320 series comes in a ton of different size options for many different purposes (civilian, military, LE, and competition). The series is chambered in 9mm, and .45ACP. Cost is a little higher than Glock for entry-level handguns and by almost double on other versions of the P320.
S&W M&P Shield EZ
While nothing replaces safety and practice, this 9mm and .380 option handgun has extra safety options that make new shooters feel more comfortable. The price point on this series is less than Glock coming in around $350-$500 for a new or used one. It has a slimmer grip than most handguns, making it a nice fit for smaller hands.
The Bottom Line
A good-fit first handgun comes down to an individual’s personal preference.
Do your research and talk to a firearms instructor or knowledgeable firearms sales clerk. Ultimately, the best first handgun for a beginner is the one they’re going to practice and become proficient with.
And when you’ve found your new favorite sidekick, we’ve got your premium ammo - so you can be ready for anything.