Being a beginner looking to get your first handgun can be intimidating. The selection of options is huge. We are here to make the selection process easier for you when looking to purchase your first handgun.
While the selection that we provide is not the end all, be all…it is a great place to start. We included many popular, well respected brands that are reliable.
Below we will also give you a few tips on what to look for in a beginner handgun. While the gun you end up choosing may, or may not be on our list, just be sure that you get one that covers all the features that we list below in the “What To Look For” section.
Types of Handguns
There are two basic types of handguns- revolvers and semi-automatics. Let’s look at each a little more in-depth, then we will let you know which we suggest for beginner shooters.
This type of handgun includes a magazine, which holds the ammunition, that inserts into the handgrip. A simple push of a button drops the magazine for reloading. Ammunition is loaded into the chamber by pulling back on the slide, located on top of the frame, and releasing it. Now the pistol is ready to fire. If it has an external safety, you will need to disengage it. Striker fire models do not include an external safety so all you will need to do is pull the trigger.
Semi-automatic pistols are the most popular type of handgun available. Whether you are looking for a full size .45, a compact .380, or anything in-between there is a good chance it is available in semi-automatic. Because there are so many different designs available there is sure to be one that fits you and your shooting needs. This will allow you to select a handgun that fits your hand, in a caliber that meets your needs, and in a package that meets your budget.
Revolvers are an older design than semi-automatics. Rather than a magazine they utilize a cylinder fitted with 5-7 holes where rounds are placed. As you pull the trigger, and the current round is fired, the cylinder rotates to the next round. Again, if there is an external safety, it will need to be disengaged. Many revolvers do not include a safety.
Revolvers are also available in many different calibers ranging from .22 to .500. As caliber increases so does the size of the firearm and the recoil.
So, which is best for the beginner? It may surprise you, but we recommend a mid to full-size semi-automatic chambered in 9mm. Although revolvers are simpler to use and experience fewer malfunctions, they can be more difficult for the beginner. Because they lack the heavy-duty springs of the semi-auto recoil if heavier. Plus, correct hand placement is critical to avoid potential injury from the chamber backblast. Although caliber is a personal choice the 9mm is generally better for learning to shoot and the same firearm can then be used for personal defense.
What To Look For In A Beginner Handgun
The first thing you need to consider when starting your search for a handgun is “What is the purpose of this gun?”. A firearm that is designed for shooting sports is going to be different than one designed for concealed carry. One designed as a collectable is going to be different than a home defense gun.
Decide what you want to use the firearm for…sometimes this may involve more than one purpose. Many first time gun owners buy a gun for home defense. Some also want to conceal carry that same gun. These decisions will influence which pistol you purchase.
We recommend a full size gun for most new handgun owners. However, if you are going to use that same gun for concealed carry, we recommend one of the top concealed carry guns with high capacity.
The size of handgun you should purchase usually surprises new gun owners. They usually think smaller is better for women. They also think smaller is better for concealed carry. While this MIGHT be the case, smaller also has more recoil and less capacity. Smaller framed people usually are put off by the recoil of the smaller guns and enjoy the larger guns.
As mentioned above, we recommend getting a full size handgun for your first gun. If you are going to also conceal carry, then go with the largest gun you feel like you could carry comfortably.
While there are many calibers that would work fine for your first gun, we recommend 9mm or .45 ACP. 9mm is the most common caliber and offers a nice balance between performance and capacity. .45 ACP offers a little more punch (and recoil) but usually has lower capacity.
Most of the guns we recommend for a first time gun owner is 9mm. Then add other calibers like .22 or .45 in the future as you increase your collection.
This will be short. Purchase a firearm that has a history of being reliable…from an established company. Once you do purchase your firearm, be sure to practice with the ammunition of your choice to make sure your gun “likes” that ammo.
This will depend on the person who is buying the gun. If you are on a budget, make sure you save enough for self defense ammo and training. Just don’t purchase the lowest budget gun you can find, as it may not meet our reliable requirements.
If you have a large budget, feel free to take your pick from our list, as all would be a great fit for new gun owners.
Best Handguns for Beginners
Below is our list for the best handguns for beginners. While our list covers many firearms that are a great fit for new gun owners, it may not include the one you have been thinking about purchasing. Just use our list as a guide steering you in a direction. The final say will be yours, just make sure the gun you choose works well for you, and comes from a reliable manufacturer.
Glock 19 Gen5
|Barrell Length||4.02 inches|
There is no doubt Glock has become one of the most popular brands of firearms available. They revolutionized the striker fire design and are now carried by law enforcement agencies, the military, and civilian shooters worldwide.
The simple, easy-to-use design is free of exterior safeties or decocking levers. This allows the new shooter to focus on the fundamentals- grip, aim and trigger pull.
The trigger is crisp and provides a noticeable reset. The latter allows the beginner to quickly learn to make clean, accurate follow-up shots without slapping the trigger. The textured grip allows users to obtain a solid hold even when wet.
Multiple replacement back straps allow the users to customize the grip size and, for the first time, including the ability to increase beaver tail size as well. Also, the beveled magazine well makes reloads easier and faster.
One of the main reasons that Glocks end up on everyone’s list is their reliability. They are known to work, and work well. You can’t go wrong with purchasing a Glock for your home defense or self defense needs.
Smith & Wesson M&P 9 M2.0
|Barrell Length||4.25 inches|
The M&P M2.0 is the latest in polymer pistols, offering the newest innovations in design and materials.
The 18-degree grip angle offers a more natural point of aim. Four interchangeable grip inserts allow for a more customized fit. The aggressive grip texture permits better control even when wet. A 1 in 10 muzzle twist increases accuracy. The low barrel bore axis reduces muzzle rise and permits faster recovery.
A mightier trigger pull weight reduces the tendency to force the firearm off target during firing and the audible trigger reset allows the new shooter to learn proper follow-up techniques.
The total package is designed to shoot better, which in turn allows the new shooter to learn faster.
Shadow Systems MR92 Combat
|Barrell Length||4 inches|
The MR92 Combat is a tactical pistol with custom quality features available off the shelf. Although many owners may never rely on it to win a gunfight, they will enjoy the reliability and function it offers on or off the range.
Many of the features are designed to reduce recoil and increase control during rapid fire. The new shooter will find these features increase the ability to learn proper shooting basics. These include a ledge for the support of the hand and thumb, contour that sits lower in the hand, and the excellent grip texturing.
Other features include a 1 in 10-inch twist which is safe for use with a wide range of bullet types, front/rear directional serrations for safer handling, and a carry safe trigger with drop safety included.
Sig Sauer P320 X Compact
|Barrell Length||3.6 inches|
The P320X has been turning heads since it was first introduced. Now, shooters can get the same features and performance in a compact version designed for concealed carry. Many of these same features make it ideal for the beginner as well.
The redesigned modular polymer frame features a low profile internal magazine well and reduced fastback cut for easier concealment. The high undercut trigger and extended beavertail increase comfort and recoil control. Aggressive slide serration allows for easier operation under stress and the X-Ray3 sights improve performance in low-light conditions.
The P320x Compact includes 2 magazines which are available in either a 10 or 15 round capacity. It is also compatible with optional ROMEOQ1PRO reflex optics.
CZ P-10 C
|Barrell Length||4.02 inches|
The P-10 C may be CZ’s take on the striker fire pistol, but is much more than a copycat of what else is on the market. CZ designed this firearm to be easier to shoot and be more accurate, even for the beginner.
CZ designed the P-10 C to be comfortable. When you pick it up, the first thing you will notice is it feels like it belongs in your hand. The grip angle allows for a natural point of aim. The addition of a mild palm swell, deep beavertail, and three interchangeable backstraps allows you to get as close as possible to a firearm that was made for you.
The generous trigger guard with undercut was designed for military shooters wearing a glove, however, they also allow the beginner to obtain a higher, more controllable grip. Left-handed shooters will appreciate the fact that it also includes a reversible magazine release.
Sig Sauer P365XL
|Barrell Length||3.7 inches|
The P365XL is an ideal choice for any shooter including beginners. It has quickly become the standard by which other concealed carry firearms are measured. But the P365XL takes it a step further by offering the same reliability and comfort in a micro-compact package. Now, you can have full-size shootability and concealability all in one.
The P365XL features an extended slide and a 3.7-inch barrel. Although this adds the weight necessary to better control a micro-compact it only increases the overall length by ½ inch.
The new XSeries grip design with extended beavertail and integrated magazine well increases control and magazine capacity without becoming too bulky to conceal. Finally, the flat profile trigger allows for better, more consistent finger placement and breaks at 90 degrees, which decreases the tendency to pull the firearm off target at the last minute.
Smith & Wesson M&P Shield Plus
|Barrell Length||3.1 inches|
Although the Shield Plus is slightly smaller than what we would normally recommend for beginners (it is considered a compact), it is so fun to shoot that it deserves a place on our list.
This is part of the many features Smith & Wesson has incorporated and the modern design that takes advantage of the latest in handgun design. The flat face trigger allows for a more consistent finger placement which increases accuracy and decreases follow-up time. The audible and tactile reset is easy to detect.
Aggressive grip texture permits easier recoil control even if wet. An 18-degree grip angle provides a more natural point of aim, and the deactivation lever allows for disassembly without having to pull the trigger. A big plus on the safety side for new shooters.
This pistol is also well suited for concealed carry, something beginners may desire as their skills increase. The slim design allows for easier concealment without the weight of a full-frame pistol. Tritium night sights increase accuracy in low light conditions, and it includes both a 10 and 13 round magazine.
|Barrell Length||3 inches|
At first glance, the Hellcat may seem like too much gun for the beginner. The red dot and compensator look like they belong in a 3-Gun shoot rather than a new shooter’s holster. But both can provide confidence and greatly reduce the learning curve. Something that a beginner in need of a concealed carry firearm needs to consider.
The RDP starts with Springfield’s extremely popular Hellcat design. The Hellcat is the highest capacity micro-compact 9mm. It allows the user access to as many as 14 rounds in a compact size. The slide includes aggressive serrations for slip-proof chambering. The Gen2 Trigger includes a more ergonomic design and trigger safety. A top of the slide load indicator lets you determine status with a simple glance or feel and the hammer-forged barrel is extremely accurate.
The RDP model adds a HEX Wasp low profile red dot sight and Self Indexing Compensator. Both allow for faster target acquisition with increased accuracy. With the addition of proprietary Hardcoat anodized aluminum construction, this is one of the most accurate out-of-the-box micro compacts available.
|Barrell Length||4.46 inches|
This is a Turkish manufactured firearm with a budget-friendly price tag. But do not let this deter you. It has taken the US market by storm with many favorable reviews by experts and users alike.
The striker fire design does not utilize an external safety so there is one less thing for beginners to remember. A top of the slide load indicator and red cocked indicator on the back of the slide let you know it is loaded and ready to fire at a glance. Interchangeable backstraps allow you to change the grip size. It also includes two 18 round magazines and a Kydex holster.
For a beginner on a budget, it is hard to beat the MSRP, which is almost half of many competitors. Add that you get two magazines and a holster, and you will be on the range with nothing else needed except ammunition.
|Barrell Length||4 inches|
While we don’t recommend going with the cheapest gun you find, we are comfortable in recommending the very budget friendly Taurus G3 if you are on a very tight budget.
This gun is a great value for the money. You get a reliable 9mm handgun with great capacity. This would be good for home defense, but I would avoid it for concealed carry. If you want to also carry your firearm and still need a very inexpensive handgun, I would go with the G3c. Just make sure you also spend some money on training, and practice ammo.
While I personally would save up $100 to $200 more for a high quality gun, I don’t fault anyone who just doesn’t have it in the budget and needs a home defense weapon.
Many of the handguns on our list can be found at Brownells and ships to your FFL!
While it may seem like you should pick the most expensive or most tactical handgun, the fact is many will not be best suited for a beginner. You need a firearm that is comfortable, easy to use, and out of the box accurate. Otherwise, you may not learn the basics correctly and quickly become frustrated. This could easily result in learning to be a poor shooter, or not learning to shoot at all.
If you choose the right handgun, such as those we have outlined above, you will find it easier and more fun to shoot. This will result in more time on the range and an increase in your skill level. Before long you will be able to upgrade to fancier, more exotic firearms – although most of the models we have reviewed will also grow with you.
If you didn’t find what you were looking for here, or are primarily looking for a concealed carry guns, be sure to read our article covering The Best Concealed Carry Guns.