The best handgun for beginners depends on the individual — there is no one-size-fits-all weapon. However, several weapons are suitable for this role. When selecting a handgun for a beginner, you need to determine the purpose for which you intend to use it. If this is strictly for learning how to shoot, the selection criteria may differ from those related to a defensive handgun.
Why a Handgun?
Handguns are generally considered more challenging to learn how to shoot accurately than rifles. However, these firearms can be useful for a shooter who intends to own a handgun for home defense, apply for a concealed-carry permit, or shoot competitively.
The first consideration when choosing a handgun for beginners should be caliber. The cartridge a handgun fires determines its inherent accuracy, recoil, practical applications, and cost of practice. For a beginner, there are generally six calibers that are considered appropriate.
.22 Long Rifle
If you’re introducing someone to shooting who’s sensitive to recoil or noise, a .22-caliber pistol or revolver is optimal. Armed with a .22-caliber handgun, you can learn the fundamentals of pistol marksmanship without the cost, muzzle blast, or recoil associated with centerfire handgun ammunition.
In addition, if you’re interested in small game or varmint hunting, .22 rimfire ammunition is ideal and can be shared between your handgun and rifle. Common bullet weights are 36 and 40 grains.
The .380 ACP or 9mm Short is designed primarily for use in lightweight, compact firearms. Generally considered the minimum acceptable caliber for self-defense, the .380 can be light recoiling, depending on the weapon. Bullets weighing 90 and 95 grains are common.
The .38 Special cartridge is popular in revolvers for target shooting and self-defense. As this round operates at low pressure, the recoil is generally soft in service-length weapons. Typical bullet weights are 110, 125, and 158 grains.
The 9mm Luger, or 9×19mm Parabellum, is the most popular centerfire semi-automatic pistol cartridge globally. Available in a wide variety of handguns, the 9mm is accurate, affordably priced, and sufficiently powerful for most practical applications, including self-defense. You should also find the recoil moderate in full-size and some compact handguns. Standard bullet weights are 115, 124, and 147 grains.
Also known as the .45 Auto, the .45 ACP is the most common big-bore semi-automatic pistol cartridge in use today. While this round is heavier for beginners, the recoil is not as fierce as some claim. Col. Jeff Cooper used to demonstrate how controllable the .45-caliber M1911 was by firing the pistol one-handed with only his thumb and index finger. Standard bullet weights are 185, 200, and 230 grains.
The best first handgun should have a grip you find comfortable to hold and that fits your hand properly. For the sake of clarity, grip refers to the part of the frame or stock that you hold, not the action you perform with your hand.
Many modern handguns have replaceable backstraps and side panels that allow you to adjust the frame’s width, length, and contour to suit your preferences. The texture, too, should allow for sufficient traction, especially if the weapon fires a powerful cartridge, but it shouldn’t cause discomfort.
Handguns often have stippled or checkered grip panels and front straps to prevent the weapon from slipping in the hand. For a target pistol, this may not be necessary, especially in lighter calibers. However, for a defensive handgun, a rough surface can help you maintain control of the weapon.
The controls on a modern combat handgun, excluding the trigger, typically consist of the slide stop, magazine catch, and takedown lever. On hammer-fired weapons, the pistol often also has a manual safety catch, decocking lever, or a combination of the two. You should be able to comfortably manipulate these controls, regardless of whether you’re a right- or left-handed shooter.
The trigger press comprises several elements: pre-travel, break, over-travel, and reset. You should not find the trigger challenging to press — i.e., it shouldn’t be too heavy — or to master. The trigger should not impede accurate shooting. A trigger with a relatively light, crisp break with minimal creep is considered ideal for a beginner.
The sights should be visible, and you should be able to acquire a sight picture easily. Fixed three-dot combat sights are the norm, but a set of adjustable sights on a target pistol allow you to alter the point of aim for different loads. Some handguns are also compatible with miniature red-dot sights (MRD), increasing target acquisition.
According to Newton’s Third Law of Motion, there is an equal and opposite reaction for every action. As the burning propellant charge propels the bullet forward, the weapon recoils to the rear.
The weight of the gun directly affects the recoil velocity and energy. The heavier the handgun, the less it recoils. A lighter handgun has more recoil, which is why it’s essential to select defensive handguns carefully.
For the beginner, a firearm that recoils sharply may cause the shooter to develop a flinch, ruining accuracy.
Best Gun for Beginners
When searching for the best first gun, you have several options.
Ruger Mark III and IV
The Ruger Mark III and IV are the third- and fourth-generation variants of the Standard Model, introduced in 1949. Both are aluminum- or steel-framed, blowback-operated, hammer-fired semi-automatic pistols fed from detachable 10-round box magazines.
The Mark IV substitutes a simplified disassembly method; you can remove the barrel and receiver from the frame with the press of a button. The Mark IV is available in several barrel lengths, finishes, and sight options.
In contrast to metal-framed Ruger handguns, the Walther P22 is a polymer-framed .22-caliber handgun that weighs a mere 16 oz.—designed to resemble the company’s P99. Fed from a 10-round magazine, the P22 has a double-action/single-action trigger and is available with a threaded muzzle for use with a sound suppressor.
Introduced in 1988, the Glock 19 is the compact variant of the full-size Glock 17. The G19 is a striker-fired semi-automatic pistol with a polymer frame fed from a 15-round magazine. The G19 is a general-purpose handgun suitable for home defense, concealed carry, and recreational and competitive target shooting. The Glock series is a superb introduction to modern centerfire handguns.
Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0
The S&W M&P is an alternative to the popular Glock series and one of its primary competitors. Many shooters find that both Glock and S&W handguns are durable, reliable, customizable, and suitable for practical applications.
However, the M&P 2.0 is available with or without a manual safety, has a superior trigger than the original variant, and has a more conventional takedown lever than the Glock.
Holsters for Beginners and Experienced Shooters
When you’ve found the best handgun for beginners, you should pair it with a high-quality holster, especially if you intend to use it for either competitive target shooting or concealed carry.
At We the People Holsters, we offer a variety of holsters for beginners and experienced shooters in every major brand, from Glock and Ruger to Smith & Wesson and Walther.