So, you’ve finally got your concealed carry permit, picked a decent CCW insurance plan, and you decided to invest in your first handgun. Don’t know where to start? Completely understandable.
First things first. You need to figure out if you need a handgun for home defense, self-defense, or just for plain fun and target practice at the ranges. After that, it’s much easier to narrow down your choices.
Before you visit your local gun shop or online retailer, you need to browse and find a certain handgun that “speaks” to you. Whether it’s a semi-automatic or a revolver, a handgun needs to compliment your style and suit your needs.
In this buyer’s guide, I’ve rounded up pistols and revolvers of all kinds, indiscriminate in caliber, size, trigger, safeties, and mag capacity just for sheer diversity.
We’ll cover the best of the best, some cost-effective options, some premium, and I’ll also mention a few honorable mentions deserving of a spotlight.
Best Handguns For Beginners
Our Top Pick – Glock 19 G5 9mm Luger
- One of the most versatile handguns on the market
- Crisp trigger with discernable reset
- 15+1 round magazine capacity for target practice
- Simple safeties with no decocking lever
- Reliable construction that’s easy to take down and clean
- Adapts easily to your hand size with the modular backs straps
- Moderate recoil, though this isn’t really a downside
I hate this part, but decisions had to be made for our top pick section. It was neck-and-neck with the Glock 43X. The criteria boil down to control and ease of use as top priorities since we’re talking beginners’ handguns here.
Our top pick is the semi-automatic Glock 19 Gen 5 9mm pistol with a durable polymer construction. A staple of recoil-operated handgun engineering. First introduced in 1988 as a subcompact answer to the bulky and blocky Glock 17, it has become a law enforcement, military, and civilian shooters’ standard.
The striker-fired action with dual recoil spring assembly, 15+1 round capacity, and the absence of excess safeties work in combination to form a well-balanced handgun. It helps new shooters to concentrate on the basics like gripping, aiming, and firing.
The reversible enlarged magazine catch is ambidextrous and accommodates both lefties and righties. The firing pin is not driven by the hammer but by the dual recoil springs, and it still retains unmatched reliability.
The grip is very comfortable and customizable via the replacement modular back straps that allow you to adapt it to your hand size. Personally, I like the crisp trigger with an audible reset because it makes it easy for a rookie to learn follow-up shots smoothly.
The Glock 19 is the ultimate, all-purpose semi-automatic pistol for home defense, conceal carry duties, and shooting range sessions. No wonder it’s been going strong since the 80s.
Runner Up – Smith & Wesson M&P Shield .380
- Excellent concealed carry option
- Easy to rack and operate
- Available in multiple models with various safeties and calibers
- Crisp trigger with audible trigger reset
- Great value
- Might not be difficult for some to take down and clean
- Moderate recoil on the 9mm variant
Here’s the runner-up. The Smith & Wesson M&P Shield Pistol is a popular handgun built for quick intervention and self-defense. Smith & Wesson went with an easily-approachable design that’s obviously focused on newbies.
The main essence of the striker-fired M&P Shield is its ease of use and operation, and it’s available in the most common and standard calibers, the 9mm and the .380 variant. Don’t worry about the S&W M&P Shield 2.0 variant. It’s basically the same gun and features, although the 2.0 does have a slightly smoother trigger pull.
The M&P Shield is an 8+1 rounder, single-stack concealed carry pistol that’s great for people with smaller hands. I strongly recommend you go for the .380 ACP variant. The 9mm packs a heavier kick, but the ammo is more abundant and easily accessible on the market today.
It’s lightweight, but the recoil is manageable, and it offers outstanding accuracy and reliability. Personally, I like the audible trigger reset because it’s a nice safety feature for the rookie shooter. The corrosion-resistant polymer frame is durable, easy to clean, and can serve you for a lifetime.
If the rack is still too stiff for you (granted there are elderly gun enthusiasts with arthritis), you can check out the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZ. The name implies an even easier and butter-smooth rack for maximum efficiency at the ranges.
Premium (Fanciest Option) – Heckler & Koch VP9 9mm Luger
- Durable polymer construction
- Large magazine capacity
- Luminescent 3-dot sights
- Fully customizable, interchangeable grips
- Excellent ergonomics
- Ambidextrous controls (left-hand friendly)
- Higher price tag
- Heavy trigger pull
Here’s a premium option for those of you who like to go all-in on a versatile handgun.
A decade before Glock skyrocketed their polymer-frame pistols, there was the H&K VP70 that did it first. Now, the VP9 is an outstanding piece of German machinery that continues the tradition with an even better trigger.
First conceived in 2014 by the firearms powerhouse Heckler & Koch, the H&K VP9 is a 9mm, recoil-operated, striker-fired pistol that relies on the modified Browning system.
It has a 15+1 round detachable box magazine and a more modern design with ergonomics in mind. The absence of a hammer makes this a great concealed carry option. It’s lightweight, with just over a pound and a half, and it’s very easy to handle and take down.
The handgun has over 20 different ergonomic configurations with the 3 backstrap panels and 6 grip panels, so you can fully customize it to your preferences. The modular backstrap and grip panels are interchangeable, but I would recommend you get yourself a Crimson Trace LG-499 laser sight that goes well with the VP9.
The ambidextrous controls have the HK trademark paddle magazine release, and it’s very suitable for new gun owners and lefties.
What you have here is a very flexible and reliable pistol that’s great for target practice and home defense. The three-dot, luminescent sight is perfect for self-defense while you’re out at night, while the VP9 allows straightforward handling that’s akin to most rookie handguns.
Speaking of H&K, check out our review of the H&K P2000 pistol.
Best Concealed Carry – SIG Sauer P365 9mm
- One of the best compact options for concealed carry
- Nice, crisp trigger pull
- Reliable and accurate
- Customizable SIG Sauer accessory rail
- Large magazine for a compact handgun
- 15-round magazine extensions are expensive
- Could use better manual safeties
This isn’t the most compact option you can find, but it’s one of the most efficient self-defense concealed carry handguns, recognized as the handgun of the year by Shooting Illustrated’s “Golden Bullseye Awards” in 2019. Normally, your purchase will come with a “Live NRA 365” coin.
The SIG Sauer P365 is a striker-fired, 9mm micro-compact pistol with a focus on concealability. It’s a well-priced semi-automatic pistol that’s great for those with medium-to-small hands.
It has a nicely designed stainless steel frame and slide, retains a lightweight feel, and has outstanding accuracy with the 3.1-inch barrel. The trigger is so clean and crisp, it allows you to have a blast at the ranges all day with the 12+1 round capacity.
The overall feel of the ergonomics, manual safeties, and smooth slide makes for a great handgun for beginners. As a bonus, it’s very easy to operate and take down.
You might struggle with the variety of models to choose from, though; some have manual safeties, some integrated sights, and a P365 XL model has a larger stature and slide. You can check them all out as well, but I’m sure you can fare better with the original.
Here’s our full review of the SIG Sauer P365.
Budget Option – Bersa Thunder .380 ACP
- One of the most affordable .380 ACP handguns on the market
- Great ergonomics
- Crisp DA/SA trigger
- Smooth slide racking
- Easy-to-use integral locking system safety
- Heavy for a compact conceal carry
- Annoying integral sights
- Tricky magazine disconnect and decocker safety features
The Argentinian-made Bersa Thunder is a semi-automatic .380 pistol that’s a direct rip-off from the Walther PPK, but I can’t see anybody complaining. It’s one of the best budget handguns that simply work.
The Bersa Thunder offers surprisingly decent comfort, durability, and accuracy for a gun in this price range, and somehow, it’s overlooked by the gun community.
Don’t be intimidated by the DA/SA (double-action/single-action); it’s one of the easiest trigger pulls you can come across. It might be heavy for the first shot, but after that, it’s much easier.
The mag disconnects and the decocking buttons could use a little work. Furthermore, it takes a little practice to get used to operating it smoothly, but it’s a great handgun for starters that want to see a variety of action types and triggers.
The 8+1 round capacity, size, ergonomics, and crisp DA/SA trigger translates to self-defense, but who says you can’t visit the ranges with it anyway? The recoil is manageable even for starters.
Personally, I don’t really like integral sights. Handguns with integral sights don’t allow red dot sight customization. I understand that Bersa went for a snag-free design, but they could have done a better job with the sights, that’s for sure.
Here’s our review of the Bersa Thunder .380 ACP here.
Here are some handguns and revolvers that are also worthy of the spotlight. Don’t think for a second that these are optional bargain-bin handguns. For example, the Ruger LCR…
Revolver Option – Ruger LCR .22 LR Revolver
- 8-round capacity
- Ruger-quality construction
- Great price
- Excellent grip and ergonomics
- Multiple variants, round capacity, and calibers available
- One of the best concealed carry revolver options
- Very loud
- Slow reloading (it’s a revolver!)
If you’re new to revolvers and want to know how to operate one, the subcompact Ruger LCR .22 revolver has your back. The LCR stands for ‘Lightweight Compact Revolver’.
The LCR is a great snub-nosed revolver, chambered in the .22 caliber that also serves as a nice little concealed-carry option. It’s small, lightweight, and it packs a mean punch.
It operates in DAO (double-action-only), and the trigger pull might be heavy for some, but it’s on the lighter side when compared to other DAO revolvers like the Rock Island Armory M206 (also worth checking out!).
The 8-round capacity, smooth trigger, and comfy grips also make for a good time at the ranges. For a lightweight and compact option with a 1.87-inch barrel, the Ruger LCR is amazingly accurate.
Despite what you might hear about this caliber, I absolutely recommend the .22LR model because it’s the only one with an 8-round capacity. A .22 can still stop an assailant in their tracks.
Though it has a 5-round capacity, the .38 Special +P model is also a considerable choice with excellent stopping power. Though, steer clear of the 9mm version unless you want jumping recoils.
With the Ruger LCR, you can confidently learn the operational basics of a revolver. Who knows, it might become your all-time favorite.
Please check out our list of best snub nose revolvers for 2021, if you’re looking for some nice concealed carry options.
Yet Another Storm – Beretta PX4 Storm 9mm
- Compact and reliable
- Convenient automatic firing pin
- Reliable DA/SA trigger
- 15+1 round capacity
- Night sights
- Very expensive
I know, I know. Berettas aren’t exactly known as your rookie-friendly handguns, but hear me out.
Beretta brought us their PX4 Storm – a dependable handgun with a smooth single-action/double-action trigger that caters to beginners.
It’s a 15+1 round semi-automatic pistol with a 3-dot sight system and interchangeable backstrap grips that can be easily customized for comfort and easy operation.
What I most like about the handgun is the automatic firing pin block. When not in use, the pistol automatically blocks the firing pin to avoid an accidental discharge. It’s simple, effective, and perfect for newbies.
You would also appreciate the stealth levers and low-profile slide stop that makes things easier for operation. Additionally, the cold hammer-forged barrel offers excellent accuracy, which makes this a great option for target practice at the ranges.
If you feel confident enough, I’d happily recommend you the Beretta M9 Pistol, one of the most reliable pistols in existence. Though Beretta models are expensive, I greatly encourage newbies to learn how safeties work to gain an edge in handling pistols.
Just like riding a bicycle—once you acquire the mechanics, it’s just a habit and muscle memory after that. I guarantee fun times at the ranges.
Never Enough Glocks – The Glock 19X G5 9mm
If you’re looking for a more durable pistol for the ranges, I also recommend you check out the Glock 19X G5 9mm.
It’s Glock’s first “crossover pistol” that has the full-size Glock 17 dimensions, ambidextrous slide stop lever, textured grips with changeable back straps, and anti-corrosion nPVD slide coating. It’s available in 15+1, 17+1, or 19+1 rounds with extended round magazines. What’s more, it includes a night sight in the package that’s great for night-time conditions.
Then there’s also the 10+1 round capacity variant which many California residents can appreciate. There are also models with the MOS (Modular Optics System) configuration which allows easy red dot sight installation.
You can also check out our list of best Glock 19 holsters.
Ever heard about the Glock 19X discontinuation rumors? Well, they’re not true. Get yourself a Glock 19X with the extra coyote-colored pistol case right now.
Buyer’s Guide – What to Look For When Buying Your First Handgun
As a gun owner, you must know your handgun in and out; gain a feel for the grips, safeties, and recoil of the handgun. You should always try it before you buy it, and there are many gun shops and shooting ranges that offer a free trial.
Before you buy your first handgun, consider these factors.
Size, Safeties, and Ergonomics
You can’t exactly conceal a full-sized pistol. If concealed carry is an important characteristic for you, you should go for subcompact or compact options with textured grips like the SIG Sauer P365 or even smaller like the Ruger LCR.
Your hand and fingers easily reach the slide lock, magazine release, and other safeties, and this depends on the size of the gun and the size of your hands. You can consider the Smith & Wesson M&P9 EZ if slide racking is a problem.
It’s very important that you gain a feel of the safety disengagement, and this will take practice. Mindfulness for you and your family’s safety is important, and this relies on your handgun’s safeties.
Look for standard semi-auto pistols with straightforward safeties. There’s a reason why I didn’t include any 1911 handguns, because of their complex safeties and buttons that might be too much for the newbie handgun enthusiast.
Your pistol’s caliber, along with the barrel and size of the handgun is what affects the recoil of your handgun. You don’t want too much recoil. Trust me, it’s not enjoyable at the ranges. Thus, the .40 and .45 ACP are obviously bad choices.
One of the best caliber staples for a newbie has to be the 9mm Luger, or the .22 Long Range. They’re viable self-defense options with minimal kickback and are practically available and abundant in every gun store.
If your handgun is small in stature, I recommend you steer clear of 9mm calibers because they kick like a mule and affect your accuracy. The same goes for .380 bullets; they’re powerful, but jumpy on compact handguns.
If recreational shooting is your thing, lower calibers are your best bet. For self-defense and home defense, go for the 9mm caliber handguns.
Go to the gun store or shooting range. This is the best way to see what suits your style, and what cramps it. See if something catches your eye (and your hand!), and shoot different calibers, different brands, different models, and different action types.
But before you do that, get yourself some proper ear protection from our list. Tinnitus is no joke.
Knowing your trigger action is essential, and I’d be the type of guy to encourage rookies to try out handguns with various trigger actions, whether it’s single-action, double-action, or both.
Single-action triggers drop the hammer and usually require you to keep the safety on when it’s holstered—an absolute safety necessity. The Colt 1911 is a famous single-action trigger.
Double-action triggers take a heavier trigger pull, cock, and drop the hammer. Once that happens, the subsequent shots are lighter. This action type is suitable for the beginner, but I believe that it’s all up to you. Each trigger has a slightly different feel.
The ones we’ve reviewed—the striker-fired semi-automatic ones—have one of the most convenient mechanisms because. Striker-fired handguns have flat slides and no exposed hammers, and their triggers are nearly identical after every shot.
Check out our best handgun for women roundup for 2021 if you’re interested.
Takedown, Cleaning, and Maintenance
Last, but not least. A responsible gun owner knows how to take down, disassemble, clean, and re-assemble his handgun first before he tries to shoot with it.
Go for handguns that are easier to disassemble and don’t require any tools. Of course, you’re welcome to learn new tricks and learn how to use gunsmithing tools like P-handles.
There are all kinds of viable pistols and revolvers for newcomers, and it takes a while before you run into a decent semi-automatic pistol or revolver that “speaks” to you. You don’t always need to go for a handgun that’s small, simple, or with lower recoil.
However, as much as I hate the “for beginners” part, there’s a reason why gun enthusiasts advise going for handguns that are less complex than 1911s. It’s important to ease yourself into the gun world, and hopefully, this guide has helped you form your own opinion.
Everything boils down to personal style and preference, but my word of advice is to stick to semi-automatic medium-sized 9mm handguns. All the handguns that I’ve mentioned do their job just fine, but it’s your call on whether you want a revolver or a handgun with an exposed hammer.
I believe that any newcomer can find these handguns suitable for their needs. It’s not just about picking small and straightforward handguns. It’s about making the handgun your own.
Shoot straight, stay safe.