As more and more Americans look to become responsibly armed (5 million new gun owners in 2020!), the question of what kind of first gun to get has become more frequent. Those who grew up around guns likely started shooting with a .22-caliber rifle. But those looking for a firearm right now are probably seeking something for home defense or personal protection. And many will immediately jump to think they need a 9mm. The humble .22, however, has been used in quite a few home-defense situations. While everyone’s first gun won’t be the same, the considerations when purchasing should be.

Reasons to Choose a Rifle First

When choosing a first gun, shoppers should look for a firearm that makes learning the basics of sight alignment, sight picture, trigger press, grip and recoil control easier. In my opinion, there is nothing close to a .22-caliber rifle for this. A longer barrel is helpful in teaching and maintaining safety, as it is easier to notice what the barrel is crossing. Plus, the rifle can also be used as a single shot while training. Just remove the magazine and work the bolt for each shot.

The rifle has little to no perceived recoil, and accuracy is excellent in mechanical terms. Ammunition also remains relatively inexpensive.

In terms of accuracy, the Ruger 10/22 is one great example. The 10/22 will easily place five rounds into 3 inches at 50 yards in the hands of a trained shooter. The .22 rifle encourages practice and inspires new shooters to engage in outdoor activities. An important consideration is that the .22 rifle will seldom be outgrown. As long as you choose a quality model, it seems that you will hang onto the rifle. After all, if you feel limited, there is always the option to add optical sights or a different stock and find an upgrade. For a lifetime investment, the .22 rifle looks very good.

Choosing a Handgun for a First Gun

If you are training for personal defense rather than general sporting use, a handgun makes sense. For a new shooter looking for that first handgun, a quality .22 rimfire is a good choice. One factor several shooters mentioned was that a handgun is easier to store and make safe in a locking box. So if you are heading to the range, you may do so without fanfare. A rifle, even in a case, is pretty obvious. This can be an important consideration. Indoor ranges are often friendlier for the handgun as well. Most have a firing range you may set from 5 to 25 yards, allowing you to build skill at common defense ranges. One of the striker-fired 9mm handguns is probably the best overall choice for a beginner.

Legal Considerations for Buying a First Gun

Laws in general are more friendly toward rifles. But rifles always must be stored in the trunk or trunk-like area (behind the seat of a truck, cased in the back of an SUV) of a vehicle. You may purchase a rifle at 18 in most states (it’s 21 for a handgun). Either may be used for dry-fire practice. Be sure to unload the firearm, make it safe and use snap caps and a hard backstop.

Rifle vs. Handgun Final Thoughts

A rifle is far easier to use well. You have a shorter climb to reasonable proficiency since a long gun allows bracing with both arms and your cheek. As you press the trigger, there is far less movement with a rifle, resulting in greater accuracy potential. A pistol is more difficult to hold completely steady. The wobble factor can result in misses. Additionally, the greater muzzle report and close proximity to the eyes and ears may startle some shooters.

Overall, I would choose a rifle for a beginning shooter. The best first gun for the majority of new shooters, in my opinion, is a .22 rifle. After some training, a shooter could move up to a .22 handgun and then on to a 9mm. Or, if one can afford it, why not both a rifle and a handgun?

Learn More

Shooting a Handgun for the First Time
What to Expect When Shooting a Shotgun for the First Time
Good Guns for Starting Out