How to Pick Your First Handgun

How to Choose your first handgun

Handguns are useful firearms to have for a number of situations. Their concealability and compactness allow them to do jobs other firearms (like shotguns and rifles) can’t. The only question is, how do you pick your first one? There are so many options out there, it can make your head spin.

When choosing your first handgun, aside from determining your budget, you need to define your purpose. Do you plan to conceal carry or do you just want it for home defense? Once you have your budget and purpose in mind, here are other factors to consider when deciding on your first handgun.

Size

The first thing you will want to consider is what size of handgun is best for you. There are full, compact, subcompact and pocket handguns, and of those, there are both single and double-stacked models.

  • Single-stacked magazines hold fewer rounds, but feed them in a straight line. These magazines and grips are thinner and fit well into a smaller hand.
  • Double-stacked magazines mean the cartridges are staggered in a zig-zag as they are loaded. They tend to be thicker, forcing the handgun’s grip to be thicker in turn.
Double Stack Magazine

Each size has its own benefits and limitations.

  • Full-size handguns, also known as duty-sized, tend to be the easiest to shoot as their size helps to soak up recoil forces. They also have a longer sight radius, which aids in accuracy, especially when shooting at longer distances. Full-size handguns also typically have a higher magazine capacity due to the extended grip. They also have a longer barrel, which results in more power.
  • Compact handguns usually have a slightly shorter grip and slide than their full-size counterparts. They tend to retain the controllability, just giving you a smaller footprint for concealed carry. These are some of the most popular handguns on the civilian market due to their ability to serve several roles.
  • Subcompact handguns are even smaller than compact ones. Most subcompact handguns cut the slide and grip length down even more, and most shooters are forced to use a two-finger grip. This makes them harder to train on for new shooters, but their size lends itself well to concealed carry. They also have a reduced capacity than larger-framed handguns.
  • Pocket guns are the smallest and easiest to conceal, but are also the hardest to shoot. They tend to be snappy in larger calibers and take some practice to become proficient with. Their sight radius is also the shortest and most have a more basic sighting setup. For most shooters, this means that their accuracy at longer ranges is limited. This is not to say they are a bad choice; they certainly have their benefits. Most find it easier to carry one of these every day. This is an important factor to consider if you plan on carrying. Remember, your gun is only useful if it is on hand you when you need it.

Double Stack Magazine

Style

Historically, there were times when you chose a revolver because you needed dependability you could bet your life on. Now, deciding on a semi-automatic handgun or a revolver is mostly personal preference.

Revolvers are still more reliable, but modern semi-automatic handguns make that difference minimal. The revolver is going to hold fewer rounds than a comparable-sized semi-auto. The dimensions of the two are where the differences arise.

If you’re buying a handgun for concealed carry, where you carry on the body and your body size will help determine which will be easier. Revolvers have a nice, curved grip that seems, for me at least, to conceal well even under light clothing. The challenge is dealing with the thick cylinder. A semi-auto will retain its slimness throughout the entire firearm.

Pick your first handgun revolver

Action

Now that you have made it this far, it’s time to take a look at the different handgun actions. Choosing between these is based on what you’re most comfortable with and what feels best to you. These differences can be felt when dry firing the handgun, but we recommend going to your local shooting range to test these out. The accuracy you achieve when firing live ammunition will tell you a lot.

  • Single-action firearms require that a hammer be cocked each time to fire a shot. On a semi-auto, this is done automatically on subsequent shots by the slide cycling back and forth. On a revolver, this action is done manually each time by your thumb. Single-action handguns like the 1911 provide you with a light and crisp trigger break to aid in accurate shot placement. Because of this light trigger, most of these firearms will be equipped with a manual thumb safety to prevent the firearm from going off unintentionally.
  • Striker-fired handguns are fired by a semi-cocked striker that becomes cocked the rest of the way during the trigger press. Because of this, they are slightly heavier and mushier than single-action handguns. These handguns provide a consistent trigger press every time that is heavy enough to be safe without a manual safety.
  • Double-action-only handguns have a consistent trigger press that both pulls the hammer or striker back and releases it every time the trigger is pulled. Because of this, the trigger pull is heavy and acts as a good safety measure to prevent an accidental discharge. It tends to also be harder for new shooters to shoot these handguns accurately because of this longer, heavier trigger pull. That is not to say these firearms are inaccurate, they just require a bit more practice and strong marksmanship fundamentals.
  • Double-action/single-action handguns can fire in both double-action and single-action modes. In semi-automatic pistols, the first shot is in double-action, and all subsequent shots are in single-action, as the hammer is cocked by the slide’s reciprocation. In revolvers, all shots will be in double-action unless you manually cock the hammer back with your thumb to take a single-action shot. DA/SA semi-autos are hard to master because you need to practice with two different trigger pulls.

Calibers

9mm ammo is a great cartridge for your first gun

Now that you have determined the type of firearm you want, its time to select a caliber. For your first handgun, it is best to select one of the more common calibers because ammunition is more readily available and tends to be less expensive.

  • The most common, and cheapest option is 9mm Luger. This is a good all-around caliber that gives you a good capacity and decent power for defensive use. Recoil is minimal and it is easy to place multiple shots on target.
  • .38 Special is a similar counterpart for most revolvers, but 9mm Luger revolvers are available.
  • If recoil isn’t a concern and you are looking for something more powerful, you could take a look at .40 S&W, .45 ACP and .357 Magnum firearms.
  • If you decided on one of the pocket guns on the list, .380 ACP firearms tend to be more controllable, but are the minimum I would select for defensive use.

The only real way to tell what you are able to handle is by going to a range and trying them out for yourself.

Frame Material

Another consideration to make when choosing your first handgun is frame material. Again, all have their benefits and most people have their preferences, but the choice is up to you.

  • Polymer frames are the lightest weight and are a great option if you plan on carrying the firearm. Polymer frames flex a little with when the firearm recoils, this can help diminish some of the shock felt by the hand while firing. Polymer will also not rust when exposed to moisture. This is a great asset when carrying in those hot summer months or in a humid environment.
  • Alloy frames give you the lightweight feel of polymer with the classic feel of an all-metal handgun. They also provide an option for those that want a light firearm that still do not have full faith in a “plastic gun.” Alloy frames tend to have better corrosion resistance than carbon steel but are not as durable when subjected to an extremely high round count.
  • Steel frames provide you with that old-school feel. They are also easier to shoot because of their heavier weight. There are also those that consider steel-frame handguns to be more durable, but any reputable handgun, regardless of frame material, will likely outlast you unless you are a high-profile competitive shooter.

Maintenance

Most modern handguns are easy to disassemble for cleaning and lubrication, but some are easier than others. This is especially true if you decide on an older design such as a 1911.

This is not to dissuade you from selecting one that may be harder, especially if you seem to shoot it better, but it is something to consider. Know your skill level and proficiency with taking things apart and reassembling them.

There are tons of great YouTube videos that can be used as step-by-step guides, as well as information in the product manual so this process can be learned. However, if you know that you won’t spend the time on maintenance, you may want to decide on a revolver or one of the easier semi-autos for your first handgun.

Guns don’t come with cleaning supplies, so you will want to pick up a cleaning kit with your first handgun purchase. These kits will come with the solvents, lubrication and tools you will need to keep your firearm well maintained.

Accessories

When determining what you should get for your first handgun, you will want to consider what accessories are available for it.

  • If you plan on carrying, you’re going to need a holster, and some gun models are more popular than others.
  • Additionally, you will probably also want some extra magazines. Some brands are more expensive and easy to find than others.
  • You should also think about light and laser attachments. Some attach to the handguns trigger guard or are on the grips, but most attach to a rail.
  • If you plan on using these, you should make sure the firearm you select has a rail, or another way to attach these devices.

What is the Best First Handgun?

It would be nice to say there is one best handgun and that is the one you should choose, but the truth is, selecting your first handgun comes down to personal preference.

You need to determine what you plan to use the firearm for and what suits your needs the best. You should also look at your hand size, grip strength and any other personal characteristics that may come into play.

If you’re looking for a place to start, try shooting, or at very least holding, some of the models from the most popular manufacturers like Springfield Armory, SIG Sauer and GLOCK at your local gun range or shop.