Beginner Handgun Guide: 5 Approachable Pistols for First Timers

Michael Crites

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Best Handguns For Beginners - Cover

Without experience handling a firearm (even at a gun range), buying your first handgun — or even determining what defines “the best” for a first-time gun buyer can be truly overwhelming. The array of gun styles, brands, calibers — and even basic questions like pistol vs revolver vs semi automatic pistol — are tough to navigate.

Many beginners make their selection based on things like looks or familiarity from movies – all without thinking about what would actually be the most effective handgun for a first-time gun owner.

In this guide, we are going to explore a few important gun criteria — such as caliber, ammo, size, ergonomics, price, and safety features — to arm you with everything you need to understand when it comes to selecting your first firearm.

When we combine all the critical considerations we’ve successfully winnowed down the massive list of potential beginner handgun choices to ones we think offer the right mix of proven performance and approachability.

Table of Contents

Beginner Handgun Comparison

Below is my list of the best starter pistols for 2022. I list the best choices in terms of value, performance, design, and cost.

Click on the name to head to the product page, read reviews and check prices or skip ahead to the list of starter pistols.

ImageNameWeightLengthCapacity
Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 2.018.3oz6.1”7 or 8
Sig Sauer P32029.6oz8.2”17
Glock 4317.95 oz6.26”6
Springfield XD-S22.5oz7”7 or 9
Taurus G3C22oz6.3”12

Who should consider these recommendations?

  • First-time handgun buyers: If you’re a first-time gun owner in the market for target shooting, a home defense handgun, or a concealed carry firearm — and have little or no knowledge about things like price, caliber, ammo, size, ergonomics, or functionality — this gun guide should be helpful.
  • Home defense & upgrade shoppers: If you’re interested in exploring home defense handguns (or have made the choice to replace an older handgun with a new gun), this guide should steer you in the right direction. Newer handguns offer improved performance along with the latest features and capabilities many people want in their firearm – especially when thinking about self-defense applications.

Sig instructor demonstrating a proper grip

Beginner Handgun Reviews

1. S&W M&P 2.0

Specifications:

  • Action Type: Striker Fired
  • 4.25″ inch barrel
  • Capacity: 7, 8, & 17+1-Round
  • Cartridge: 9 mm Luger
  • Finish: Black
  • Front Sight: Fixed
  • Magazine Included: 2 x 17-Round
  • Rear Sight: Fixed
  • Length: 7.4″
  • Polymer Frame
  • Weight: 1.55 lbs
  • Made in the USA

Pros:

Cons:

S&W M&P M2.0 Compact 9mm - Concealed Carry - Left profile
The M&P 2.0 Compact gives you a proven platform that requires little ramp-up.

The Smith & Wesson M&P M2.0 pistol, the newest in M&P (for “Military & Police”) polymer pistol line is designed for a variety of users – from personal, concealed carry, sporting, and professional gun use.

We really like the M&P 2.0 and all its variants, as it has found itself on our lists of the best overall 9mm handguns, concealed carry pistol recommendations, and our subcompact 9mm list.

It’s an excellent handgun — and not just for seasoned shooters — it’s easy to handle, feels comfortable in the hand, has a sturdy grip that gives first-time users confidence, has Smith & Wesson’s smooth trigger pull, and offers a magazine capacity range depending on the model of everything from 7 or 8+1 all the way up to 17+1.

S&W M&P M2.0 Compact stripped
S&W M&P M2.0 Compact stripped. Note the aggressive grip texture.

It’s been a staple law enforcement pistol for years, and the 2.0 is largely unchanged in terms of dimensions from the original Smith & Wesson M&P.

This means your holsters, accessories, and even magazines will work with the M2.0.

If you’ve considered an M&P gun in the past but hadn’t pulled the trigger this new 2.0 version would be a worthy firearm for sure. If you want more detail, we reviewed the M&P in depth.

Also: made in the USA.

2. Sig Sauer P320

Specifications:

  • Action Type: Striker-Fired Pistol
  • 3.9″ inch barrel
  • Capacity: 15+1-Round
  • Cartridge: 9 mm Luger
  • Front Sight: Fixed
  • Length: 7.2″
  • Magazine Included: 2 x 15-Round
  • Rear Sight: Fixed
  • Weight: 1.63 lbs
  • Polymer Frame

Pros:

Cons:

sig-p320-upgrades - grip models ready for swapping
The modular design means users can create a pistol that's perfect for them.

Often compared to the venerable Glock 19, the Sig P320 pistol is a very usable handgun with top-notch construction, fantastic stock trigger, comfortable grip ergonomics & surprising mag capacity – all wrapped up in a lightweight, easily adjustable package.

The Sig Sauer P320 also fires the standard 9MM round, which is ideal for new shooters & beginners, making for a handgun which is incredibly easy to shoot.

It’s a little more expensive being from Sig Sauer, but it stands out an exceptional starter pistol for most people.

In our 4 rounds of testing, we considered a number of different 9mm pistols and think that the Sig Sauer P320 is a great choice when it comes to a striker-fired semi automatic pistol. It’s the best 9mm handgun for experienced shooters and beginners alike.

It’s a battle-tested , customizable, polymer-framed pistol that should fit the bill variety of applications and is priced very competitively when compared to handguns with similar options (generally a little over $500.)

Comparing the Sig Sauer 320 Compact Pistol vs S&W M&P 2.0 Shield handgun

The Sig Sauer P320 pistol is also intuitive to use, has recoil that is easy to manage, and loaded with useful features such as a tool-free breakdown (making it easy to clean) and an ambidextrous grip.

It fires standard 9MM rounds, which is one of our critical criteria for beginner guns due to the approachability of that particular caliber round.

It’s also made by a gun company that people trust and has an excellent reputation for handguns: Sig Sauer.

3. Glock 43

Specifications:

  • 3.39″ inch barrel
  • Overall length: 6.26 inches
  • Width: 1.02 inches
  • Weight: 1.13 pounds
  • Magazines included: 6-round magazines
  • Polymer frame

Pros:

Cons:

Glock 43 Vickers 9mm
The G43 is small and easy to conceal, but offers the inexperienced all of the benefits of owning a Glock.

Glock being such a powerhouse in the gun world, its no surprise that they made the list, and their G3 Glock 43 is the classic striker-fired, polymer-frame, compact 9mm pistol that is lightweight, has manageable recoil, reliable, and works in a bedside safe or concealed carry applications.

Smaller than the Glock 17, this compact Glock entry into the smaller, single-stack 9mm handgun market was well behind other brands, but that in no way diminishes the value of this particular Austrian gun package.

Glock pistols are popular with many people for a reason – and the fact the 43 model offers reliability in a more concealable package, with features Glock enthusiasts love (like the integrated safety system to prevent accidental discharge, ambi slide stop, and reversible magazine release button) makes it a top choice for people interested in a 9mm Glock pistol.

At just over a single inch in width (technically 1.06 inches) the Glock 43 is slimmer than most handguns and fits comfortably in any sized hand thanks to the lack of finger grooves — although that small footprint comes with lower overall capacity with just 6 rounds in the magazine and a smaller grip than other Glocks — a shortcoming that the Glock 43X attempts to resolve by pairing the G43’s smaller frame dimensions with the Glock 19’s grip.

Check out our in-depth review of the Glock 43 for a detailed take on Glock’s ultimate carry pistol. 

4. Springfield XD-S

Specifications:

  • 3.8″ inch barrel
  • Overall length: 7.2 inches
  • Width: 1.02 inches
  • Weight: 28 oz
  • Magazines included: 2
  • Capacity: 20 rounds

Pros:

Cons:

Springfield Armory’s XD-E 9mm pistol is great for beginners thanks to it’s full-size frame and melonite barrel finish that protects it from damage and corrosion, which may happen as one figures out how to store and care for a pistol.

The Springfield XD Mod 2 pistol comes with a double and/or single-action system that allows you to use both shooting style depending on whether you like a lighter trigger pull or the safer option of double-action.

Could that with the 1-inch wide frame, which makes it easier for smaller hands to use, and the low effort slide which smooths the action and makes it easier on the shooter, and the XD Mod 2  is a solid beginner handgun on all fronts.

Springfield Armory XD-M Elite 3.8 Compact OSP
Springfield Armory XD-M Elite 3.8 Compact OSP

5. Taurus G3C

Specifications:

  • 3.2″ inch barrel
  • Overall length: 6.3 inches
  • Height: 5.1 inches
  • Weight: 22 oz
  • Magazines included: 3
  • Capacity: 12+1 rounds

Pros:

Cons:

Taurus G3C 9mm
Taurus's G3C may be the best budget polymer handgun on the market today.

Much ink has been spilled writing about Taurus’ new entry into the polymer-framed pistol market. I’ve out thousands of rounds through my personal G3C and have gone deep into its pros and cons in our G3C in-depth review

There are those who would snub their noses at the Brazilian-maker’s products without a second thought, but the new G3C is a solid performer and offers unbeatable value – often $150-$200 less than competing striker-fired pistols.  

The G3C comes with a 10 round magazine (but can accept G2/G3 15 rounders for more pow) paired with an updated & improved trigger from the original and Glock-style steel sights – all of which makes the Taurus an easy-to-handle option for those looking for an entry-level handgun that won’t break the bank. 

Taurus G3C American Firearms
The G3C post takedown.

Before Bringing Your First Handgun Home

Best Handguns For Beginners - Cover

To research this guide to the best handgun for beginners we leaned on our own experience and consulted multiple sources.

We tracked down gun sale trends data from multiple online retailers, the ATF, as well as local firearm showrooms and interviewed local gun buyers & dealers in Oregon, Washington, and Montana; as well as representatives from the major firearm and pistol brands.

In addition, we spent time at handgun showrooms getting a feel for the design, ease of use, build, and user-friendliness of some of the most popular handgun models.

We did not do any hands-on gun performance testing for this guide, but we did draw on years of shooting experience across the team. Online handgun reviews posted by real people at online retailers were used, which are guided by actual customer experiences.

We exhaustively read customer comments to identify owner concerns and read available handgun manuals to define the most important features for new handgun enthusiasts.

While any handgun will certainly send lead down range there are differences in how well they’ll perform, making the best handgun for beginners generally land in a sub-set of potential pistols. 

Based on our extensive experience, as well as conversations with firearms experts and comparisons of more than 18 handgun models we think that these are the most important features to look for in a pistol:

1. Who will use the pistol?

Any handgun or pistol’s standard of excellence becomes clear when you see who uses the firearm.

Now, this isn’t about YouTuber’s fawning over the latest from Smith & Wesson or random exhibition shooters covered in logos – we’re talking about organizations who pay to use the gun, rather than people being paid to be seen using the gun.

Think military and law enforcement users, who will torture test their handguns to ensure they both meet their high performance standards and then will fit within their budget.

This involves highly-trained professionals putting potential pistol candidates through field tests, trials, and evaluations before they’re ever purchased by the agency in question. Once a brand or pistol is adopted by these organizations you can be sure it’s a proven performer. 

The U.S. Army selected the M17 variant of the Sig Sauer P320 for their service pistol, most police departments in the U.S. shoot Glocks, Smith & Wesson M&P Shields, or Sig pistols.

These are the kinds of endorsements that matter when trying to define the best handguns for beginners.

2. Do you recognize the brand?

Let’s be clear on this point — name recognition doesn’t mean “the most expensive pistol” or any kind of gun snobbery. This is about basic firearm logic. Established pistol makers have been around for decades and build upon proven designs to progressively improve their products.

If a company has made millions of pistols, regardless of how well-built, they will get hundreds returned to the factory for warranty and repairs, creating one of the best R&D feedback mechanisms for in-house engineers. They figure out what went wrong and how to fix it, eliminating those issues from future generations of handguns.

No-name brands don’t invest in R&D the way a Smith & Wesson, Glock, Sig Sauer or Ruger can — leaving them with a perpetually inferior product.

3. Is the caliber controllable?

9mm ammo - boxes of ammo
When first starting out, go with the proven 9mm.

There are many, many, different pistol calibers, each with different characteristics and proponents. In general, I recommend getting a 9mm Luger for your first handgun. 9mm is one of the most popular pistol calibers, are available almost anywhere, and is inexpensive to shoot when compared to other larger calibers which helps with keeping the cost of practice & training down.

Plus it’s smaller cartridge size when compared to something like a .45 ACP means it has less recoil and magazines with much higher cartridge capacity (15 or more rounds), but the 9MM still offers considerable performance in terms of self-defense and it’s small enough to work well as a concealed carry weapon as well.

Also — many police forces (and the U.S. Military) use 9mm, so when it comes to handgun calibers “nines” have been tested in the most demanding environments and consistently handled by both men and women.

We avoided smaller calibers like .22 LR due to the lack of stopping power and limited applications of these smaller handguns (even if they’re the easiest when it comes to practice shooting). If, however, you’re looking for .22 LR pistols we have a guide for that as well.

  • A note on larger calibers – .45 ACP rounds can be a good choice for beginners looking for something larger than a 9mm – or those interested in suppressed applications – with a couple of caveats. The .45 ACP round has been around for a very long time which means many choices of pistols. The M1911 is a very popular.45 ACP pistols (see our guide to the best 1911 pistols) but it doesn’t meet our lack of external safety requirement. The .45 ACP is larger than the 9mm (and much larger than the .22 LR) and has noticeably more recoil. They will also generally be more expensive to shoot per-round but work well in a home defense pistol for those who can manage the recoil.

4. Do you need sights?

TORO hero shot
Sight compatibility -- such as with this Taurus G3C T.O.R.O -- can make a handgun easier for anyone to use.

If your primary concern is self-defense I recommend night sights since most encounters occur after the sun has gone down — e.g. intruders generally operate at night.

The above-recommended pistols all have night sights available for front and rear sights – but you can certainly use aftermarket products and have them installed by a trusty gunsmith.

Additional options would be something in the way of a red dot, which is great for close-quarters and home defense situations, but requires a compatible mounting plate.

5. What style of ammo are you planning on running?

Bullet Comparison 9x19mm, .40 S&W, 10mm Auto,
Bullet Comparison 9x19mm, .40 S&W, 10mm Auto,

For home defense purposes, we recommend hollow point rounds for their stopping power and no noticeable increase in recoil.

These kinds of rounds can be purchased in bulk online with a little planning and hunting for sales, which ensures you have plenty of ammo available for practice.

Buying bulk can also significantly reduce your price per round (to well under $0.18 per round) which is a fantastic benefit as well. 9mm ammunition comes in a huge range of loads and styles – we recommend purchasing 115 grain full metal jacket loads for practice, and 135 grain for other applications. For suppressor use look for sub-sonic 147-grain rounds.

6. Do you need a safety?

This may sound counter-intuitive but for beginners, it is often best to avoid a handgun with an external, manual safety lever.

We’re all taught that “red means dead” and weapons should always have the safety on – but training and preparation are the best safety in a real-world scenario to help develop instincts and familiarity with a home defense gun.

In the heat of a self-defense situation, it’s possible to leave a manual safety engaged for a moment too long.

This recommendation limits the scope of choices — often to striker-fired pistols — but we wanted to avoid and handguns which might prove too complicated for a beginner shooter.

7. Which action?

Most of the options in this guide point to striker-fired, semi-automatic pistols because these provide the most consistent firing experience (much more so than double-action handguns which tend to have a heavier initial shot as they are both cocking the hammer and firing the chambered round.) They can also often include useful features like a loaded chamber indicator.

All of our experts told us that these striker-fired handguns are preferable to revolvers (even something as approachable as a 38 Special) due to their greater ammo capacity, smaller size, lighter weight, recoil reduction via recoil spring, and better overall performance.

Revolvers are reliable as can be but tend to be a little more challenging to shoot consistently, whereas striker-fired handguns are much more forgiving.

8. Is it comfortable to shoot?

best kimber 1911s -cover

Our recommendations include a number of full-size handguns due to the larger grip area and a longer sight radius — which improves user-friendliness for beginners and accommodates a wide variety of hand sizes as compared to pistols of a more compact size.

The feel of a handgun is incredibly important. The more secure a gun fits in your hand, the more confidence you’ll have when wielding it, which a full-sized handgun can provide better than smaller options as they have a larger grip area, roomier trigger guard, and softer recoil relative to smaller compact and sub-compact versions. In addition, larger pistols provide room for advanced features like a low barrel bore axis which can soften shooting and help reduce muzzle flip for those who are recoil sensitive.

We also considered things like grip inserts which enable a user to customize their pistol’s ergonomics well beyond stock dimensions and give a new gun user a more custom fit to improve grip angle and comfort.

When it comes to a home defense handgun, we recommend sticking with the stock trigger. You’ll want the maximal reliability in your handgun, and that often comes from using it as it was initially designed.

Although our recommendations are deeply researched we absolutely recommend first-time gun buyers try them out at the shooting range or LGS to make sure the final fit is precisely what you’re looking for.

User-Friendly Accessories

Rail Lights

olight pl-mini 2 review -cover

Given that most encounters happen without the benefit of sunlight, using a rail light will help with target verification in low-light environments.

We recommend a light that attaches to the rail for the most secure approach to personal protection.

Lasergrips

A laser can drastically improve high-intensity shooting accuracy and are remarkably useful in the dark — both for accuracy and de-escalation. Bad guys really don’t like seeing where the bullet will enter their bodies, and that little red dot can assuage doubts that can arise with first-time gun owners in stressful situations. 

Who Uses Beginner Guns?

FORT STEWART, Ga. Mar. 10, 2016 - New to the Georgia National Guard, former Marine Sgt. Daquana Harris from the 179th MP Co. competes in the 9mm. qualification round.
New to the Georgia National Guard, former Marine Sgt. Daquana Harris from the 179th MP Co. competes in the 9mm. qualification round.

Frankly, a lot of folks use them. As we covered earlier, tons of people get their first handgun training and experience through the military, law enforcement, or with a licenced firearms instructor, which means learning on basic pistols.

The guns you’re exposed to early in training are, by definition, beginner guns, and they’re made to be useful to large organizations that want to keep guns running for years.

So, a beginner gun, if it’s one that was developed and adopted for military use, is likely to be an extremely rugged piece of kit that can provide accurate shooting with civilian use as well.

A U.S. Air Force pararescueman, assigned to the 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, fires his Glock 9mm handgun during weapons training Feb. 21, 2018. The pararescuemen train with their secondary weapon to ensure they remain capable of firing in the event their primary weapon becomes ineffective or runs out of ammo. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Gregory Brook)
A U.S. Air Force pararescueman, assigned to the 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, fires his Glock 9mm handgun during weapons training Feb. 21, 2018. The pararescuemen train with their secondary weapon to ensure they remain capable of firing in the event their primary weapon becomes ineffective or runs out of ammo. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Gregory Brook)

Particularly, police make the most use of beginner guns. Though many police departments are not hurting for funding, there is little emphasis put on handguns in terms of spending money. Thus, the standard Glocks that you will see nearly every officer in the country are as beginner-friendly as they come.

In fact, many departments forbid officers from modifying their guns in any way, and this standardization that runs from their issue date right through to the time that they’re discounted in a gun store display case make police guns an excellent option for those of us looking for good budget guns.

Third, people who concealed carry often do so with beginner guns.

Beginner guns are simple, easy to use, and durable. All of those things also make them ideal for self-defense.

Now, I consider myself fairly handy at the workbench. But, if you have to defend yourself, do you want to count on your ability to correctly replace the trigger in a firearm? Neither do I. Thus, people who concealed carry and value reliability over all else go with time-tested models that are also among the ranks of guns considered good for beginners.

Of course, people who are new to shooting also make up a lot of the market for those buying beginner guns. And for good reason.

I’d want our new shooting friends to have reliable, easy-to-use and clean firearms. I also don’t necessarily want to steer them to anything odd, as I don’t know their tastes yet.

Luckily, lots of people love beginner guns, so there is no shortage of helpful information in places, you know, like firearms blogs written for informational and entertainment purposes! If that describes you, walk into the nearest gun store and ask for help from someone who looks like they do not care if they make a sale.

Though I often like older designs, I would steer a new shooter today toward either a Glock or a Sig P365. They work similarly and are some variation on a black polymer firearm that goes bang every time you pull the trigger.

These guns are simple to use, work exceptionally well, and are not only good for beginners; they are just good guns. But, if you can, get to a range where you can rent guns and try out three or four to see what you like.

Handguns Through The Ages

When outlining handguns that are often people’s first, if I am talking about trends and sheer numbers, they have to be military and police guns. Thus, we’ll talk about three major icons of the last century or so.

A lot of people’s first handgun was likely some kind of M1911: a version was the issued handgun of officers, military police, and law enforcement from, as you guessed it, and it is still used in some special operations circles today.

1911 Pistols
1911 Pistols

The 1911 is legendary for several things. First, it has one of the best handgun triggers to date, making it a favorite among a lot of shooters. Second, it is the only handgun that I know of to have a confirmed aircraft kill: Owen Baggett was a little bit mad that his B24 had been shot down, and thus he managed to kill the pilot of a Japanese Zero with his M1911 while parachuting. The bullet in its original caliber, a .45ACP, was also well known for its knockdown power.

It also only carried eight of them in the original magazine, making it a major step up from the six-shot revolvers of the 1910s, but a little bit short on the ammunition front as the 20th century wore on.

Second, the US military, along with a lot of law enforcement agencies, stepped from the 1911 to Beretta 92 in the early 1990s.

This was also a steel-framed gun, but it was in 9mm and with much larger magazines than the 1911 allowed. The trigger is not quite as good, but in the right hands, an M9, as the Beretta 92 was known in military service, was accurate, competent, and extremely reliable in most cases. There were, however, some issues that some shooters faced with that particular Beretta firearm.

Beretta 92FS Inox
Beretta 92FS Inox

First, the initial trigger pull was double action and extremely heavy: this reduced accuracy for some shooters when compared with the 1911. Second, in extreme cases, the slides cracked, causing dangerous malfunctions. With that said, Beretta fixed many of those problems and nearly won a new contract in 2017, losing out to Sig by a slim margin.

The M9, with proper training, can be a fantastic pistol for people looking to get into shooting but want a piece of technology with a design less than a century old. You can also get smaller versions in, for example, .32 and .380 if you are looking for a better concealed carry option.

Finally, since their advent in the 1980s, Glocks have become something of a standard handgun for people all over the world, whether civilian, military or law enforcement.

Glock 22 Review (left side)
The G22 was Glock's first entry into the .40 SW market.

Nowadays they come in serval calibers and colors, but a lot of people learned the basics of pistol marksmanship on one of these polymer Austrian wonder guns. Compared to the first two I have discussed, Glock triggers are long, gritty, and have a lot of creep.

The stock sights also leave a lot to be desired. But a Glock will keep running and spitting lead down range long, long after the other two have cracked frames from heat. Some people disparagingly compare the Glock design to the Honda Civic. I think that’s a good thing. If you want a Ferrari, go with the Italian design. If you want a Mustang, go with the M1911.

If you want something that will get you from A to B, and go bang as long as there’s a magazine in the gun, then the Glock is the gun for you.

The Glock’s sheer ruggedness makes it the contemporary example of the beginner handgun for so many, since it is easy to use and, frankly, just works.

Honorable Mentions

Sig Sauer P226

Sure, it nearly jam-proof and has all the bells and whistles you’d want – but it’s fickle, needs tools to maintain – and it’s pricey at $800+.

Kahr CW9

A solid performer but the Kahr CW9 can have issues when it comes to finish & machining. Also difficult to disassemble and clean.

HK VP9

Another fantastic handgun, the VP9 is probably our favorite handgun from the Germans, but it’s a shade too expensive for a first pistol at just under $900.

Beretta PX4 Storm

The Beretta PX4 Storm is beloved by many users but a little too awkward for new shooters in our opinion.

Glock 19

Who doesn’t love a Glock 19? The full sized frame is just a little too large for a first gun from our vantage point.

Why a Beginner Handgun?

As I mentioned before, a lot of beginner pistols are military designs that have now been made available to us civilians.

Go ahead and look at the defense budget of the USA. Much of that money is for Research and Development on small arms. Many of the pistols we recommend for beginners are built, tested, and abused until their designs work exceptionally well.

That reliability makes them great for beginner shooters who want to spend their range time shooting rather than cursing a firing pin spring.

Secondly, beginner handguns are great defensive tools. Guns that are made to be easy to shoot, with good sights and decent triggers, are awesome for short range defense.

That’s the exact reason that the military and law enforcement agencies train people to use these designs, so there’s no good reason not to learn from that wisdom as well. Handguns are generally hard to use under stress, so I strongly advise people to use beginner-friendly designs that are ultra simple and reliable if they are looking for a gun that they plan to use to defend themselves or their families.

Finally, don’t forget that shooting is fun! If you have a simple to use and reliable firearm, the only limitations to the fun you can have with a beginner handgun are your ammo budget and your imagination. I’ve seen a person shoot a stock Glock 19 out to 100 yards repeatedly. No fancy sights, no new trigger: it was a police trade in gun that he had bought earlier in the day from the local gun store. The point is, you can have a lot of fun shooting the most basic, beginner-oriented handgun on the planet.

Types of Beginner Pistols

If I’m sticking with the general firearms that I have discussed so far, then there are two main types of semi-automatic handguns that are friendly to beginners and available at any local gun shop.

First are hammer-fired pistols. These feed from box magazines, fire once per pull of the trigger, and detonate the primer when a hammer strikes the firing pin.

Aug 1944 Automatic Pistol - Caliber .45 M1911A1 with Data SPAR 4678-SA.A1
Aug 1944 Automatic Pistol - Caliber .45 M1911A1 with Data SPAR 4678-SA.A1

The M9 and M1911 are great examples of this: if you look at the back of the slide of either, you’ll see the hammer that gets pulled back when the user cocks the gun and released when the user pulls the trigger. This is an old but proven design that usually means reliable function.

Second, there are striker-fired pistols. These, too, are fed from magazines, but there is no hammer. Instead, there’s an internal mechanism that cocks when the gun does and releases when the user pulls the trigger. If you look at any Glock, for example, you will not see an exposed hammer.

Comparing the Glock 19 (left) and Glock 17 (right) side-by-side you can really see how consistent the pistols are -- and in turn the broader Glock platform is.
Comparing the Glock 19 (left) and Glock 17 (right) side-by-side you can really see how consistent the pistols are -- and in turn the broader Glock platform is.

These tend to be a little more reliable, as the hammer is a spot where something can get stuck and cause a malfunction. This design is also fairly old but has fallen into favor over the last several decades among many shooters around the world for its ease of use and reliability.

Shortcomings

There are many different beginner handguns, but there are two areas that you might want to watch out for — or at least things that you’ll find lacking in a lot of beginner-oriented guns.

First, the triggers on a lot of beginner pistols are not great. While there are major exceptions to this, like the 1911, most beginner guns will have triggers that take some getting used to.

Now, no pistol is going to perform with true precision shooting, and before you blame the trigger for your accuracy issues, I recommend training as much as possible to get used to the trigger on any pistol.

Second, and this is a lot more universal, the sights on beginner guns tend not to be great.

Whether it’s the M1911 or the Glock 17, many beginner guns simply have black sights. While this is fine in the daytime, I almost universally recommend that every shooter gets night sights for their first handgun.

With that said, a lot of new models come with night sights, and I recommend that you seek one out if you’re looking to purchase a handgun in the 2020s.

Price Ranges on Beginner Guns

Luckily, beginner-oriented handguns are often fairly affordable, even for top-performing firearms.

For around the $300 mark, it is possible to get some of the guns I have listed here brand new in the box. But, if you’re having trouble doing that, look for police trade in guns at your local gun store.

They often have a little finish wear thanks to being in a holster, but very few rounds fired thanks to the fact that many police departments do not ask their officers to shoot much for the training. These can be incredible deals on good guns.

For $500 or so, you can expect to get many of the models we’ve talked about here, and you might be able to squeeze in some nice add-ons like better sights, a holster, or a spare magazine. I do advise that new shooters don’t spend too much on accessories, though, until you have some range time and get some experience to better know your needs.

Do make sure to make room in your budget for ammo, though: bullets these days, even for 9mm, are expensive, so you’ll want to plan on saving up at least a few hundred dollars for ammo to get competent with your gun.

Wrapping it up

New shooters would do well to stick with a 9mm – they have plenty of stopping power, cheap & readily available ammo, proven performance, and are easy to handle for a variety of people.

FAQs

What is the most powerful handgun?

In 2003 Smith & Wesson introduced the Model 500 .50 CAL handgun – the most powerful handgun in the world. The S&W X-frame Model 500 is a massive handgun engineered to conquer the most intense hunting in the world.

What handgun is used by Navy SEALs?

Navy SEALs use 9mm semi-auto handguns like the SIG Sauer P226 – often with a suppressor, light, and laser sight.

What handgun does the FBI use?

FBI agents use a Glock 17 9mm handgun or an M1911A1 Springfield Armory .45 ACP pistol.

What handgun is most popular with law enforcement?

The Glock 22 is the most popular police handgun in America.

What is the best caliber bullet for a handgun?

There’s not much statistical “stopping power” difference between 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP cartridges, everything being equal. The 9mm is highly recommended as the best all-around caliber for new shooters, first-time handgun owners, concealed carry licensees, home defense or self-defense applications.

Sources

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