Sometimes choosing a handgun comes with a sense of urgency. Perhaps some event has occurred in the community and one feels the need to obtain a handgun, training and a concealed carry permit as quickly as possible. But this is an important decision, especially for a beginner in the firearms world. Quality handguns are not inexpensive, and if you make the wrong choice, it can be both costly and discouraging.
A pistol for concealed carry should be something that you are comfortable with for carrying and range time. What an instructor (or your favorite writer) carries doesn’t mean as much as practical experience. These professionals shoot regularly. That doesn’t mean you would not be able to master the same handgun, but you may be advised to get your feet wet with something simpler. Let’s talk about what you should look for in that first firearm.
Consider Comfort When Choosing a Beginner Gun
Price cannot be the overriding factor, but it obviously matters. We all have obligations to meet, and the handgun must be weighed against these obligations. The most expensive gun isn’t necessarily going to be better, but don’t go for the cheapest one either. The Taurus G3 or Glock 19 is a good starting point. Glocks are a baseline for price comparison. They are affordable and reliable. If you pay less, ask what corners have been cut. If you pay more, ask what the advantage is.
Other than price, a primary consideration is hand fit. If a gun doesn’t fit my hand well, I give up trying; I have alternatives with good hand fit. The Beretta 92 and Glock 21 are just too big a stretch for my average-sized hands, for instance. If the Glock 19 doesn’t provide a comfortable fit in your hands, the single-column-magazine Glock 48 may be better. If the Glock 43 offers too short a grip, the 43X is an option. There are always more comfortable, better-fitting options. The SIG P220 is another decent size for most shooters. The short-reset trigger brings it to a point that it is useful for many. I will take a faster first shot over less-accurate follow-up shots anytime.
Try several handguns in the shop for hand fit. The grip should be centered in the hand, with the trigger-finger pad straight on the trigger. There is a considerable difference between controlling the handgun on the range and controlling it during a retention situation. Be certain you would be able to do either.
Size Does Matter
A full-sized service pistol isn’t easily concealed. A subcompact may cramp the hand. The hand should easily reach the slide lock and magazine release. Also, consider your ability to rack the slide. Some slides are more difficult than others. Several new introductions, such as the Smith & Wesson M&P9 EZ, feature an easy-to-rack slide. The Beretta APX is among the most ergonomic handguns available. It is probably worth the few more dollars than the Glock. Another consideration may be how much effort is needed to load the magazine.
Caliber for the Beginner
Caliber is yet another important factor. The 9mm Luger is a good baseline for personal defense. The 9mm offers superior wound potential compared to smaller calibers and recoils less than larger calibers. The .40 is a particularly bad choice for beginning shooters in a compact handgun. The .40’s momentum is fine in a full-sized holster gun but just too much for most in a compact-sized handgun. And .380s are not well-suited to constant practice, often falling short in range drills and limiting your performance.
Compact 9mm handguns are much more useful. High-capacity is fine if your hand fits the grip frame well. The Glock 19 or the less expensive Taurus G3 are high-capacity handguns that fit many hands well. I think having eight or nine shots on tap is good. Having 15 or 17 may not be worth the trade-off if the hand doesn’t fit the larger grip frame.
Time for Some Action
The action type is important. A single-action trigger does one thing: drops the hammer. A single-action handgun such as the Colt 1911 or Taurus G3 must be carried with the safety on. The double-action-first-shot trigger cocks and drops the hammer. After the pistol fires, the slide cocks the hammer for subsequent single-action shots. This is the least desirable type for beginners, and even few experienced shooters prefer it. The double-action-only (DAO) handgun has only one trigger action to learn. The action both cocks and drops the hammer or striker. The DAO is the best choice for most of us, though a single-action trigger may be lighter. That isn’t always desirable, especially on a self-defense handgun, since you might be trembling or out of breath when you’re using it.
Beginner Handgun Comparisons
Glock 19 Taurus G3 S&W M&P9 EZ
Weight: 23.63 ounces 24.83 ounces 23.2 ounces
Height: 5.04 inches 5.2 inches 5.05 inches
Barrel Length: 4.02 inches 4 inches 3.675 inches
Caliber: 9mm 9mm 9mm
Capacity: 15 (standard) 10 8+1
MSRP: $499 $345 $479
What Do YOU Need?
When choosing your gun, think about your lifestyle. Then consider the cover garments you may need for carrying. A short-slide handgun with a large grip may roll out in appendix carry. The inside-the-waistband position over the right-rear pocket is most forgiving of handgun sizes. A compact is easily concealed with proper leather gear. The crossdraw may not be best with a handgun with a larger handle. Pocket carry is least desirable and only accommodating to the smallest handguns.
The beginner should consider his or her needs and make an honest appraisal of ability and dedication. Training is the bottom line. If you are willing to study hard and get good training, the choice may be different. If you need a handgun right now and have a finite budget and limited time to train, a simple, easy-to-use handgun such as the Taurus G3 might be best.
Beginning with the least expensive handguns, the Taurus G2, larger G3, Mossberg MC1 and Canik pistols offer reasonable protection options. The S&W M&P9 EZ is in a unique position and offers good handling and performance. The Glock 43, 43X and 19 are lifetime handguns that offer unquestioned reliability and combat accuracy.
If you are willing to spend a little more money, the Beretta APX Compact and APX Carry make good choices that allow a trained shooter to shoot perhaps a little better. If handling, heft and safety features are more important, the SIG P Series offers several advantages. You may be a beginner, but you are smart and have the guts to adopt the concealed carry lifestyle. Study hard and make a good choice for your needs.
About Bob Campbell
Bob Campbell is a writer for Concealed Carry Magazine with a degree in criminal justice. Bob has been a firearms writer for decades, writing for Concealed Carry Handguns, Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, SWAT Magazine, Law and Order and Black Belt, among others. He has written 15 books primarily focused on handguns and training, including The Accurate Handgun from Gun Digest. In addition to serving as a peace officer and firearms instructor, he has also written curriculum at the university level.