What is the best handgun for beginners?
Updated: Mar 30, 2021
I remember walking into a gun store for the first time. It was totally overwhelming and exhilarating at the same time. I had never seen that many guns in one place, and I wanted to touch and hold every single one. But with so many options, how am I supposed to choose just one. It’s no wonder most “gun people“ end up owning multiple guns.
For beginners, with little to no handgun experience, it’s even harder to decide. That’s why I get asked this question a lot: What is the best handgun for beginners? Well one quick search on the internet, and it’s easy to see that there are a lot of people with a lot of opinions such as “Ten best guns for beginners”, “top 5 guns for women”, “best guns for chimpanzees“, ok I might have made that last one up, but you get the idea. And it seems like every manufacturer has its own set of fan boys and fan girls, and I’m no different. So who do you trust?
Well the reality is, there’s not one gun to rule them all. If there was, there wouldn‘t be so many different guns. And what’s right for one person, may not be right for another. That‘s why I’m gonna take a different approach in this article. Rather than suggest the guns that I think are best for beginners, I’m gonna walk you through some questions and a process in order to figure out what is the right gun for you. Let’s get started.
The first question to ask yourself is: What are you going to use it for? That may seem like a silly question, but imagine walking into a hardware store and asking for the best tool for yard work. Well what kind of yard work will you be doing? Raking leaves? Mowing the grass? Removing a stump? Those each require a very different tool. Think of your gun as a tool. Will you be carrying this gun concealed? Is it for home defense? Is it just for the range or plinking? Is it just to learn on and then you plan on purchasing something else? Keep in mind that, In general, most handguns retain their value fairly well, so “trading up” or selling your first gun to a shop, is a real possibility. By the way, If you’re not planning on ever carrying the gun, then I would suggest a full size handgun as opposed to a compact or sub compact gun. Normally, the bigger the gun, the less felt recoil. And having a bigger distance between the front and rear sight will aid in aiming and accuracy.
The next question should be: What is your budget? You can find handguns from $200 to over $2000 dollars. However, you should be able to find a good, reliable handgun for somewhere between $350 and $600.
The third question should be: What caliber should you choose? I’ll make this easy for you. For beginners, there are really 2 calibers (maybe 3) to consider, 22lr and 9mm (with a possible third being .38 special, if you decide on a revolver). The reason is this: .22lr is by far the cheapest ammo and the easiest to find. It also has the least recoil, therefore making it easy and fun to shoot, so you’ll shoot it more often. If you’ve had some experience shooting, and/or you just want something a little bigger, then 9mm is a good option. There’s a reason it’s one of the most popular calibers for civilians, police, and the military. It’s not as cheap as .22lr, but it is cheaper than most other calibers out there, and the combination of low recoil and good stopping power is hard to beat.
Alright, with those three questions answered, it’s time to try on some guns and see how they “fit”. I would suggest finding a local gun store with a range; that will make this next step a little easier as most ranges have a selection of rental guns. Find a friendly-looking employee behind the counter and tell him or her that you’d like to see some guns for this purpose, in this price range, and in this caliber. Pro tip: ask which of the guns he selects are available for rental. if you’ve never handled a gun, no problem. Just tell the friendly gun store person that this is your first time holding one, and he or she will be happy to help. If they do not perform a safety check on the firearm, ensuring that it is empty and safe, politely say no thank you, and find another gun store. If you don’t know what a safety check looks like, check out our video on that.
This is where it gets really technical (read with sarcasm). Which ones "feel good"? A few things to note are:
Grip - You should be able to grip it comfortably and naturally. Is it too big, too small? Can you reach the magazine release or cylinder release, if it's a revolver? Can you reach the trigger? In my opinion, grip and trigger are probably the two most important things to note when determining feel.
Trigger - How smooth and easy is it to pull the trigger. If you shoot the gun enough, you will get used to the trigger and where it "breaks", but you should still select one that you can comfortably get the first pad of your finger on. As well as one that does not cause the gun to move while pulling the trigger. Some manufacturers will allow their handguns to be dry-fired (pulling the trigger while unloaded). Be sure to ask the friendly gun store person if you can dry-fire the gun before pulling the trigger.
Slide - Some slides have tighter springs than others and are more difficult to rack. Can you manipulate the slide easily?
Sights - Look down the sights. How easy is it to see the front sight and position in the notch of the rear sight? This is something that is pretty easy to change out, so if you really like everything else about the gun except the sights, don't let them be a deal-breaker.
Safeties - Some handguns have a safety (or safeties) and some do not. Is this something that is important to you? There are trigger safeties, grip safeties, and thumb safeties. The friendly gun store person will show you if it does.
Once you narrow it down from there, it's time to shoot some of them. This is where the gun store having a range and rentals comes in handy. If you find a gun you like, but they don't have a rental, call around and see if you can find one at another range. If you've never fired a gun, ask a friend or find a local instructor to show you proper grip, stance, sight alignment, etc. After that, it's your subjective opinion on which one you like the most.
One final thought. I could boil it all down to this. The best handgun for a beginner is a gun that he or she will enjoy shooting and will shoot often. A handgun is a tool that could save your life one day. So please, train often. Take care of your gun and your gun will take care of you.