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Your First Handgun

A question I get asked fairly often is what handgun do I recommend as a first, and potentially ONLY, handgun. Partly because I think this is an interesting debate, and partly because I’m lazy and want to have a post to refer people to in the future, I decided to put my thoughts together and get some feedback from Monderno readers.

Context

First, a little context. I always recommend that new shooters get training to learn gun safety and handling. First time handgun buyers may or may not be new shooters, and this post will not address those topics. Also, this post is about buying your first defensive handgun – something that you can fight with, not a gun for plinking or target practice.

Questions

There’s a lot to consider for your first hangun:

  • What type of handgun should I get (revolver or semi-automatic pistol)?
  • What caliber?
  • What manufacturer?
  • What model?
  • How are you going to carry it?

Usually when I’m asked about a first handgun, it goes a little something like this: “I want a handgun for home defense, and maybe [insert condition] eventually for concealed carry.” I usually tell the person that there are better choices for home defense, and that we should really be discussing a battery of weapons. Since they are rarely convinced (haha), we then start going through the questions above.

Answers

Here are my answers to the questions above. Your answers are likely different, and that’s ok. There’s no right or wrong answers, but some answers are “more right” than others, so if you think I’m missing the boat on something let me know in the comments.

Handgun Type

Even though a revolver is in some ways more simple and easier to operate, I don’t usually recommend them. Not that there’s anything wrong with a revolver, I just think that in most cases and for most people, a modern semi-auto is a better choice. Unless your name happens to be Jerry Miculek, that is.

Caliber

The caliber debates have been going on forever, and I’m not going to try and resolve them in this post. I will simply say that I recommend 9mm or larger, and that I prefer 9mm for several reasons, many of which Rob Pincus details here. There’s also ammunition tests like this one that speak for themselves.

Having said that, I do own handguns chambered in other calibers, and I think it makes a lot of sense to have more than one caliber option available to you.

Guns

My recommendation criteria for a first handgun, or any handgun really, are pretty simple: reliability, shootability, and to a lesser extent, ease of use. There are generally two guns I recommend for a first handgun that can function both for home defense and concealed carry, Glock and Smith & Wesson M&P. Recently I have added the muy bueno Walther PPQ to this list.

Glock

Glock is the easy answer, the answer you really can’t go wrong with. As such, it’s usually the first answer I give. As to which Glock you should get, I ususally recommend a Glock 19. I think the Glock 19 is the perfect balance between size and concealability, meaning it will function equally well in home defense and concealed carry.

Smith & Wesson M&P

The full-size Smith & Wesson M&P is one of my favorite guns, and is also an easy recommendation to make. The only downside is that Smith & Wesson does not currently make an M&P the size of the Glock 19, which is a real shame. I hope Smith & Wesson corrects this in the future. The full-size M&P isn’t going to be a concealed carry gun for a lot of people, but still makes a fantastic first handgun. If concealed carry is your primary focus, and home defense is your secondary focus, you could take a look at the M&P compact.

Walther PPQ

As mentioned, the Walther PPQ is a recent addition. I have one, and at the time of writing I have shot well over 3,000 rounds through it without a single malfunction. Not only is it an excellent gun for a lot of reasons, but is also roughly the same size as the Glock 19, which as discussed is a great size/concealability balance.

An Even Better Option

I recommend 9mm handguns, but I also said that I think it makes sense to have multiple caliber options. The obvious way to accomplish this is to buy multiple handguns, but there’s another way that’s a lot cheaper: caliber conversion barrels.

If you’ve never heard of this before, here’s how it works, using the Smith & Wesson M&P as an example (the same thing is possible with Glock). Instead of buying the 9mm Smith & Wesson M&P, buy the .40 S&W version. You can then buy both a .357 SIG barrel and a .40 S&W to 9mm conversion barrel, and 9mm magazines. With this setup, you can now shoot three calibers in the same gun. Here’s a breakdown.

Caliber Equipment Cost
.40 S&W Smith & Wesson M&P .40 S&W handgun ~$475
.357 SIG .357 SIG Drop In Barrel ~$80
9mm .40 S&W to 9mm Conversion Barrel ~$140
9mm 9mm magazines ~$30/mag

Adding everything up, it will cost approximately $755 in order to have a single gun that can shoot three calibers and have two magazines for each caliber. That gives you a lot of options.

Wrapping Up

Hopefully this helps someone. Glock, Smith & Wesson M&P and Walther PPQ aren’t the ONLY options for a first time handgun buyer for sure. There are many great options out there, a lot of which we have reviewed. But if you’re looking for a reliable, high value handgun, I think these three should be at the top of your list.

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18 Responses to Your First Handgun

  1. Kathy July 5, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    Thanks for putting this together. I am 55 years old and I’m shopping for my first gun. I have gotten a lot of advice, but none as well reasoned. I will take a look at the guns you suggested.

    • Brandon July 5, 2012 at 11:26 am #

      No problem Kathy – if you have questions I’d be glad to help.

  2. Dr. L. July 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    Glock 19 was my first handgun…and the gun I will never part with. It is my “Gold Standard.” I have had other guns that shot “as well as” it, but nothing shoots better than it.
    I purchased the gun on the advice of a friend who did alot of shooting, and knew what he was talking about. I have never regretted it. And looking at Brandon’s new Gen4 G19, just makes me want another one!

    • Brandon July 5, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

      Yeah I’m really liking this Gen 4…I’ve always liked the M&P ergonomics better, but I love the size and weight of the G19.

  3. James July 5, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Nice article Brandon. I enthusiastically agree that the G19 is the complete package as a stand alone sidearm. When talking with new shooters or those who aren’t likely to practice or don’t intend on getting any training, keep the 5 shot revolver on the short list. Remember, the first rule of a gun fight is to have a gun. While most of us reading this have 5 different holsters for our G19, a new shooter might find holster selection and wearing a holster a bit daunting. Sticking a Scandium or Ti85 in an Uncle Mike’s pocket holster and slipping it into the front pocket of their shorts or purse might be an easier way to start carrying. This choice is not ideal but a minimally trained home owner squeezing the trigger on a revolver is better than one trying to chamber a round or solve a jam on a semi-auto. “You will not rise to the occasion, you will fall to your lowest level of training.” Again, the G19 is an ideal choice for some or most. $.02

    • Brandon July 5, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

      Thanks for the feedback James, I appreciate it.

  4. Rodger July 5, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

    I too own the Glock 19 Gen 4 and love it. My wife has a little arthritis in her hands and has trouble racking the slide on any semi-auto that I have introduced her to, so she has inherited from my deceased father, a Smith and Wesson .38 special with 4 inch barrel which she has no problem with the hammer or trigger. She has fired it several times (but not enough in my opinion) and this is what she has beside her at night and anytime that I leave her alone at home. She has really come a long way in accepting guns in our house. I just can not convince her to get her CHL. If you are new to shooting or owning a firearm, consider a revolver first.

    • Brandon July 5, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

      Good for your wife Rodger! You should see if she would attend a women only training course like those offered by Fortress Defense. You can read an AAR on one such course here.

      I think if you have arthritis or some other ailment or disability (like nerve damage), then a revolver makes perfect sense. If you’re able to run the controls on a semi-auto though, I think that’s the better choice for most people.

  5. Michael July 6, 2012 at 5:13 am #

    Be sure to look at the M&P SHIELD by S&W now out in 9mm soon .40 cal

  6. Frank July 7, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    Hi Brandon. I was hoping to see the Ruger SR9c on that list. I am too I’m the hunt for my first firearm, but have shoot a lot with my dad for the past year.

    I really like the M&P 9c but I think the grip is slightly thinner on the Ruger SR9c, which would make it easier to conceal in a IWB holder. Am I right on this?

    Thanks!

    • Brandon July 7, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

      There’s nothing wrong the Ruger SR9c, I just don’t think it’s as simple as the M&P line because of the manual safety (in the M&P line the manual safety is optional). I also don’t like the magazine disconnect (this can of course be removed) and the loaded chamber indicator. All of those things combined means I don’t usually recommend it as a first and potentially ONLY handgun. But I own one and it’s perfectly fine if you know its nuances.

      Yes, the grip is ever so slightly thinner on the SR9c compared to the M&P 9c, but the difference will be negligible when it comes to concealment. It will more affect how the gun feels in your hand.

      Hope this helps!

  7. Michaeal Allen July 7, 2012 at 10:04 pm #

    If you would like a gun and don’t have a lot of money. Try Hipoint Arms. There very inexpensive, but the prices are going up, and there’s two guys on YOUTUBE beating the heck out of a .380 and a 9mm and they kept right on shooting. Through them at the target, even blocked the 9mm barrel with a shell casing from a 7.62mm I think they said and it fire and didn’t destroy the barrel. Matter of fact the put two more full magazines through it. I wouldn’t recommend doing that. But I have the .45 Pistol and a .40 cal carbine. Both work very well and both are accurate. For starting out these are great weapons, you can bruise and abuse them and it’s not going to kill you financally.

  8. 2aguy July 10, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    I wish I’d known about conversion barrels before buying my beloved Glock 19. I’d bought the G23 and a 9mm barrel at the same time. It’s especially annoying now that I want to move up in Calibers. Thinking of skipping .40 to jump to .45, but I don’t like the full size Glock grips. So I’d love to shoot an M&P .45. Great article Monderno.

    • Brandon July 10, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

      Thanks man – you shouldn’t have any trouble trading your G19 for a used G23, or trading your G19 plus a little cash for a G23.

  9. 2aguy July 10, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

    PS: My EDC (or most often carry) pistol is a G26 that may lose its role to a Shield .40 or XDs .45 if anybody in N Ga will stock them for longer than 10 mins.

  10. Ira G October 8, 2012 at 9:54 am #

    Great job again buddy, well written..

    • Brandon October 8, 2012 at 9:56 am #

      Thanks Ira.

  11. Ebbs October 9, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    +100% on buying a .40 S&W for the purpose of being able to run a 9mm conversion barrel/spring setup. The Glock 19 is my all time favorite Block, errrr, Glock, but I moved on to the 23 in favor of flexibility.

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