Throwback Thursday: What Pistol Should I Buy? — Tips for First Timers

Choose the Right Gun

If you’ve been shooting for any length of time, you’ve probably heard the question, “I’ve been thinking about buying a gun. What pistol should I buy?” Your answer may make the difference between bringing another citizen into the Second Amendment ranks and turning them off from the shooting sports for life.

On the other hand, if you are a first time buyer, welcome to Cheaper Than Dirt! This article is for you.

Choose the Right Gun
Choose the Right Gun

The answer is not nearly as simple as the question and that is what makes it so difficult to find consensus. Some people feel women should always buy a hammerless DAO .38 Special revolver for their first gun. Many people will insist on anything Glock. Others recommend the biggest gun you can comfortably shoot. Another group will advocate for investing in a top of the line handgun such as a SIG Sauer or H&K.

The answer, as you might have guessed, is not so simple. First, you need to find out more about the role a potential pistol will play. Will it be used solely for target shooting or self-defense? Is the new shooter interested in a carry gun or something to be kept in a bedside safe? How big is the person who will be wielding the gun, and how big are their hands?

No one pistol will be the ideal entry-level gun for everyone. However, answering these questions and determining the qualities the new shooter is looking for in a pistol, will be the first steps before beginning your search.

“What gun would you recommend for me?” Working behind the counter of a sporting goods store will earn you this question on a daily basis. The person asking the question is probably expecting a simple answer, such as, “The perfect gun for you is the Spaceman 2500.”

Asking, “which gun should I buy,” is like asking which car should I buy? If you need to haul around a family of six, a two-seat convertible is not likely to top your list due to its lack of utility. On the other hand, if you are single and looking to impress friends your freshman year, you may want that little sports car, but the budget may not allow what the heart desires.

Dark haired woman holding a revolver
The revolver handles quickly and may be used safely with a minimum amount of training.

As you can see, complicating the issue further, is the fact that your requirements may not all lead to a single, all-purpose gun. Shotguns are wonderful for home defense but not very concealable. A subcompact pistol fits easily in your pocketbook or waistband, but will not deliver the best groups the range. Even after you have answered your initial questions, you may need to dig a bit deeper and start prioritizing your needs before selecting your first firearm.

What do I want to use the firearm for? Is it for self-defense? Will I carry it concealed? How large are my hands? What size are the hands of a spouse or loved one who will also be using it? Will I seek professional training? Once trained, how often will I practice? Do I know what level of recoil I can tolerate? Would my spouse have the necessary skills to use this firearm?

A smaller gun will generally be harder to control than a larger gun in the same caliber. A larger gun will be harder to conceal. With modern powder types and bullet technology, you do not necessarily have to go with a large caliber to get stopping power.

Handgun Types

If you select a revolver for your first handgun, finding a small compact revolver will not be difficult for concealed carry. Semi-automatic pistols are made with different types of trigger actions, safeties, decocking levers, magazine release buttons and slide lock levers. That may seem like a lot and it is. However, each type of handgun and feature has advantages and disadvantages to be considered.


Caliber matters—of that there is no doubt. From FBI statistics, it is easy to draw a conclusion that bigger calibers have a higher percentage of a single shot causing death. However, that only accounts for shootings where someone was struck by a bullet. It does not account for the reduced accuracy associated with higher calibers. It does not account for the shots that missed altogether. The power of the firearm means little if you miss the intended target when you shoot.

Likewise, while a hand cannon worthy of being wielded by Dirty Harry will more than get the job done, the most hardened criminal is not going to stand still or laugh at a .22 LR handgun when pointed at them. It will not have the same one-shot stopping power, but it will have the same deterrent effect in your hand.

Glock 19
It won’t win any beauty contests, but defensive shooting isn’t about looking good.


The revolver is generally considered simpler and easier to manipulate. Because a revolver does not have a slide to manipulate, so less hand strength is required to operate the firearm. It is typically a bit easier for most new shooters to visually determine a revolver is loaded compared to a semi-automatic. In a struggle, a revolver can be fired with the muzzle pressed into the attacker (not necessarily advised). Under these circumstances a semi-automatic pistol will possibly come out of battery, (the slide may become unlocked) momentarily preventing the pistol from firing.

Semi-Automatic Pistols

The semi-automatic pistol generally holds more cartridges and is faster to load or reload. The revolver can use a wider variety of ammunition than a semi-automatic because the semi-automatic uses the recoil energy of its cartridge to function. A semi automatic requires full power ammunition in order to function properly. The revolver does not rely on the power of its ammunition in order to function. Therefore, you can use a very low recoil, low noise cartridge, for training in a revolver and then work up the power scale gradually until you can control full power combat loads.

As you can clearly see, revolvers and semi-automatics each have their strengths and limitations. Research is the key. Then, consider which type of handgun appeals to you and will give you the necessary confidence when you need it. A gun you enjoy shooting will encourage the necessary practice to develop the skills necessary to successfully defend yourself.

Here are a few of the editors and writers of The Shooter’s Log’s favorite picks:

Full Size

S&W K frame revolvers such as the M-66 .357 Magnum with 4″ or 6″ barrel.
Colt M-1911 .45 ACP
S&W 4506/4566 .45 ACP
Glock M-22/23 .40 S&W

Compact Concealed Carry

S&W J frame (5 shot .38/.357 Mag) revolvers with 2 ” barrel such as the M-638.
Ruger LCP .380
Glock 43
These are just a few of many. In truth, there are very few we dislike, so it is hard to make a bad choice, just a choice that is less than ideal for many situations and shooters.

What was your favorite first gun or recommendation for a first gun? The debate should be lively and the answers varied! Share your pick in the comments section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog. "The Shooter's Log", is to provide information - not opinions - to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decicions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (24)

  1. Lets see……first gun purchased……oh yeah, Phoenix Raven .25. It was a barstool impulse buy, and for $20, I figured why not. Its now my wife’s EDC. It has been a trouble free, relatively accurate, fun little pistol. We call it the “girlie gun”. I know, I know. I’ve heard all the comments, and although its a small caliber, cheaply made, throw away, Saturday night special. It has never failed.
    My personal recommendation however, is a bit different. Many ranges offer weapons for rent, to shoot at their range. There’s one in PA. That has everything, from .22 to .50 cal. Your local ranges will vary, but that’s a good controlled environment to take your first shots. It may cost you $60 – $100, to zero in on a specific group of weapons, but this will definitely curtail any buyers remorse.
    You can listen to every “expert”. Read every blog. Shop till yer sick of it. But until its in your hand, its all a crap shoot. I mean, you wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive.
    So…..go to a range, start in the middle. And shoot till you find “the one”. It’ll be loads of fun, and you’ll wind up with exactly what YOU like. Not, the flavor of the week, or some over priced gun you dont want to get dirty.
    Have fun, stay safe.

  2. Hey there Old Cop, with reports of shooting deaths nearly everyday, open borders that allow anyone in(*cough*criminals, terrorists*), and invitations from our own president(and possibly future president, God forbid) to tens of thousands of Syrian ‘refugees'(*cough terrorists*cough) to ‘come on in, we trust you’, the chances of actually USING a weapon to defend myself or my family are definitely going up don’t you think? We’d be foolish to think that terror cells aren’t already in the US planning activities. Better to plan and not need it than, etc.

  3. Someone asked about a good CCW. I’ve been carrying the Taurus PT709 Slim for about 3 years now and I am very impressed with all aspects of this weapon. It’s very concealable, it’s very accurate (6″ groupings from 88′ accurate!), very economical(<$250), and is backed by the Taurus lifetime warranty. After adding the mag extensions for my pinky, the gun fit my hand perfectly. Check out some YouTube reviews as well.

  4. You guys are funny, the chances that you will use your weapons for anything other than target practice, are well into the millions. Just keep shooting them holes in those paper targets…

    1. You maybe right. I have a fire extinguisher that just sits next my office in the restaurant that I manage. I have been in restaurants since 1985 and an extinguisher was used once(my day off).The cook that used it,knew how to. He just completed his semi annual class on Proper fire extinguisher usage and a Food Service Certification a week before. I was the instructor. My cook not only saved his job,but others as well…it only takes once…

  5. Basically, no “one gun” completes every thing a person needs. The first handgun I bought was a Springfield XDM. I have big hands and the grips on this gun felt great; however since it holds 19 + 1 bullets, it is way too heavy to conceal carry. I bought my second handgun just for conceal carry and I purchased a Kimber Micro 9. A good looking pistol and easily fits in my pocket. I target shoot with both pistols to maintain proficiency, so I alternate between the pistols to allow them to cool down some. Now, I am looking for a revolver for my wife because she does not like working the slide on a semi-automatic. Might chip a nail.

  6. A first gun purchase is really important because it can encourage (or discourage) a new shooter. Here is my 2 cents. Begin at a good range with a rental gun and a credible instructor. Try several guns that are in the category of your intended use. Hint: a pair of new shoes may look great, but feel terrible when you try them on. Avoid buying hiking shoes to wear in church! When you find the right shoes for the right occasion, and those shoes feel great when you walk, it is probably a good purchase for you.

    Also, consider starting with a smaller caliber gun and tame ammunition. Graduate to a larger caliber gun as your skills and confidence grows. Most reputable dealers will work with you in trading-up so that your net cost is contained.

    And finally, try to control being overwhelmed and frustrated because of the seemingly infinite number of gun choices. it will all make a lot more sense as you gain experience.

  7. Good article. I’ve been carrying my Taurus PT99 since 1990 when I thought I was going to the Sand Box and wanted a firearm that fired NATO common rounds. Since then I’ve found that knowing the why you choose to own a firearm and doing the necessary research is important. I spent 4mths alone researching the right self defense rounds I wanted that would prevent as much collateral damage by sticking as close to the FBI guidelines as possible. Owning a firearm is great, but mental preparation on how to handle different scenarios is even more important.

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