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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
|.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|
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.
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.