This is one of the more common questions that any experienced shooter, instructor, or firearms aficionado will be asked on a regular basis. New gun owners are obviously concerned about a big purchase, and it’s understandable that they may not feel comfortable asking their local gun shop for fear of being upsold or taken advantage of. Fear not! I’ll walk you through what is important, what’s not, and other things to consider when picking out your first handgun.
The 5 Best Handguns For Beginners
Ok, so time is valuable! Before jumping into the detail of what you need to look for when choosing a handgun as a beginner, I will tell you straight away the 5 best handguns for beginners.
- Glock 19 Gen 5
- Smith & Wesson M&P M2.0
- Springfield Armory XD 4″ Service Model .45 ACP
- Kahr Arms CW9
- Sig Sauer P365 XL
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s have a look and the really important stuff you need to think about when choosing a handgun as a beginner.
Don’t Be Fooled by Elitists
If you ask this question in any online format from forums to social media posts, you’ll be engulfed by a barrage of opinions telling you revolvers are the superior handgun, Glocks are all that is wrong with the firearm world, or conversely Glocks are the only choice. The first thing to do is realize that all of those statements are subjective opinions, and so is what I’m about to tell you as well. Consider all the information that is presented to you, but at the same time, don’t allow someone else’s personal belief to be taken as a verifiable fact.
I do my best to separate facts from my opinion, but the final decision rests with you. You are the one who will be shooting the gun and living with the consequences of your choices. I will get this out of the way in the beginning; there is no perfect beginner handgun. It simply doesn’t exist. All weapons take time to master, and there are pros and cons with every style from J-frame revolvers, to solid steel frame pistols, to everyone’s favorite whipping boy the polymer semiautomatic pistol.
What Should You Look For In A Handgun?
Personally, I don’t recommend any gun with a manual safety for a beginner. When you’re learning to shoot or handle a weapon, that additional step of deactivating the safety is just one more unnatural movement that can confuse you in the heat of the moment. Simplicity is the name of the game. There will be plenty of time to hunt down something with all the bells and whistles later, but you should focus on a reliable, simple workhorse for your first purchase. A manual safety, decocking lever, slide stop, take down lever, and magazine release are enough to make your head spin on paper much less when handling a pistol.
I also would recommend a model that comes with a loaded chamber indicator. While you should always treat every single firearm you come across as if it were loaded, a loaded chamber indicator is another level of security that allows you to verify if you have an empty chamber at a glance. It is not a substitute for proper gun safety but an added benefit when making your first purchase.
What Caliber Handgun Should You Go For?
For a first purchase, I would stick to one of two calibers. A .45 caliber handgun provides you with substantial stopping power without hefty recoil due to the weight of the projectile and generally heavier weapon assisting you with recoil management. A 9mm handgun generates the smallest amount of recoil that you will find in a caliber that is still consistent with stopping a threat. The 9mm handgun will also give you the option of substantially more ammunition capacity as a general rule of thumb.
Top Five Handguns for Beginners
So if I had to pick a handgun as a beginner, which handgun would I choose? Let’s look at 5 really great options you can consider.
|Glock 19 Gen 5||9mm||15+1|
|Smith & Wesson M&P M2.0|| 9mm|
|Springfield Armory XD 4" Service Model .45 ACP||.45||10+1|
|Kahr Arms CW9||9mm||7|
|Sig Sauer P365 XL||9mm||12+1|
Glock 19 Gen 5
The fifth generation of Glock handguns offers the compact 9mm Glock 19 model. If you’ve read any of our other articles on pistols, you’ll find that Glock makes a frequent appearance, and we featured the Glock 19 itself as one of the top 9mm pistols on the market in 2021. It should come as no surprise that it’s also among the best handguns for amateur shooters as well.
The compact frame of this pistol measures 5.04 inches high, 1.34 inches wide, and has an overall length of 7.28 inches with a 4.02 inch barrel. It has a standard capacity of 15+1, and both Glock and aftermarket manufacturers offer numerous extended magazine options to increase that. The Gen 5 upgrades removed the finger contours from the grip which improves comfort for those with different hand sizes, and they have significantly increased the stippling on the grip which will provide a more secure hold on the weapon in less than ideal conditions like rain or sweaty hands. Additional back straps come stock with the gun which allows even further customization of the grip to your hand.
The single biggest upgrade to this generation of Glock pistols is the trigger. There’s substantial take up, a slight wall, and then the break point. A short but firm reset caps probably the best factory trigger that Glock has ever produced. For a manufacturer that has taken some heat over the years in the firearms community for their triggers, this is a phenomenal upgrade. As aftermarket Glock parts are some of the most popular out there, it is easy to find nearly anything that you would want in order to customize your pistol once you find out what you like.
Smith & Wesson M&P M2.0
Smith & Wesson’s M&P line was designed specifically for military and police applications, but it has since progressed to become one of the most popular handguns on the market with the newest iteration being M2.0. In all honesty, I’m about to cheat. The M2.0 comes in three different calibers with multiple options for barrel length and virtually everything else you can imagine. It’s much more than just one gun we’re talking about here, but they’re all worth mentioning.
With caliber options of 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 AUTO, this platform packs a lot into a single entry. While I don’t personally recommend a .40 caliber pistol as the best handgun for beginner shooters, it’s simply because of the snappier recoil from the lighter round with a charge comparable to a .45, and that consideration holds less weight in a full frame pistol like the M&P M2.0. Some of these guns offer the option of a thumb safety, but they do all offer it without one which meets my standard that I set for this list.
M&P 9 offers barrels at 4.25, 4.6, and 5 inches. M&P 40 offers 4.25 and 5 inches. M&P 45 only comes in the longer 4.6 and 5 inch lengths. The 9mm comes with a capacity up to 17+1, and the .45 rounds out the lower end at 10+1. The M2.0 comes with a variety of sights options including night sights and even optic ready, and each ships from the factory with four different back straps for grip adjustments. A crisp trigger that was finely adjusted for this model includes a lighter pull and audible reset.
Springfield Armory XD 4″ Service Model .45 ACP
Springfield’s XD 4″ Service Model is marketed for those who have to comply with magazine capacity restrictions, but it is worth so much more than that. The 10+1 capacity is pretty standard in the .45 caliber realm, and this gun offers many features that truly make it ideal for a first time shooter. XDs have been on the market for well over a decade, and this finely tuned pistol shows worlds of improvement of earlier models.
This is the only gun on this list to include a grip safety, a trigger safety, and a loaded chamber indicator. The grip safety ensures that the shooter has a proper high grip on the weapon before allowing the striker to move. The trigger safety makes it so that only a direct backwards press on the trigger will allow it to fire. On this pistol, the loaded chamber indicator on the back plate of the slide is not only coated in a high visibility white paint but also raised from the plate to allow the shooter to feel and verify that the gun is loaded even in low or no light situations. These safety features reduce the risk of a negligent discharge with an unfamiliar weapon but don’t actually add any steps to firing the weapon that could cause confusion or delay.
The XD 4″ Service Model measures 7.3 inches long, 5.75 inches high, 1.2 inches wide, and 30 ounces in unloaded weight which is a little on the larger side for concealment purposes. However, this full frame polymer pistol is a contender for one of the best handguns for a beginner, and it’s not so large that concealment isn’t possible. It just takes planning on carrying location and specific clothing.
Kahr Arms CW9
The CW9 is a compact 9mm manufactured by Kahr Arms. Kahr makes quality weapons, and the biggest hurdle with them is usually price. In the CW9, you get a superior weapon at almost bargain barrel pricing. I found different options packages for sale for between $350-$440, and that’s retail not second hand. Kahr was able to accomplish this by making several cost saving manufacturing changes that don’t affect weapon quality and also don’t alter things that would be of any consequence to a new gun owner.
For example, the CW9 front sights are pinned not mounted on a dovetail, but the rear sights are dovetailed and windage adjustable. Instead of the classic rounded edges on most Kahr models, the CW9 features angled cuts as opposed to hard corners that prevent snagging or printing when concealed. For those with security concerns on weapons without external thumb safeties, this pistol offers a double action trigger with a long reset and a trigger pull between 7-9 pounds. A little training will get you used to the longer reset.
Dimension wise, the CW9 measures up at 5.9 inches long, 4.5 inches high, and only 0.9 inches wide. It weights just under 16 ounces and comes with a steel 7 round magazine with a grip extension polymer base plate. On the verge of a subcompact, this pistol has recoil that is a bit more pronounced than some of the others on this list, but the different safety features and overall quality for the price make this a top five gun for brand new shooters.
Sig Sauer P365 XL
I devoted a good amount of space on this list to compact or full frame handguns, but women or those with smaller hands may find something smaller more comfortable. The Sig P365 is just that, and I selected the XL model here because the extra barrel and slide length will help new shooters with accuracy and recoil management. By adding half of an inch to the grip when compared to the P365, the XL allows even those with large hands to get a full three fingers on the grip
The P365 XL’s overall length is 6.6 inches, height is 4.8 inches, and width is 1.1 inches. It comes stock with night sights, and it’s the only gun here that is also optics ready out of the box. It has a crisp, flat trigger, a slightly flared magazine well, and a 12+1 carrying capacity in a flush fit magazine. A textured grip aids your grip security without being painful to conceal. Weighing in at just over 20 ounces, this is the slightly bigger brother of one of the most popular handguns on the market right now.
While it is designed for concealed carry, the increased dimensions create a pistol that would be at home on the range, as a home defense weapon, or in a number of other applications. The versatility and quality combined with the inherent modularity of Sig’s P365 platform make for an impressive range of options.
Any of these pistols would make a fantastic handgun for a beginner, and almost all of them would find a welcome home in any shooter’s collection regardless of their level of experience. It’s truly up to your preference when selecting which gun to purchase. As always, I strongly recommend that you find, handle, and shoot any prospective purchase prior to committing to one. What I might feel to be slightly snappy recoil and a good grip size could be unpleasantly rough and way too large for you.