Not sure what pistol to get for your first gun or for home defense?
We’ll cover all the important decision points such as caliber, ammo, size, ergonomics, price, and safety.
And then end it with some of our personal suggestions.
We also cover this topic in-depth in our video course, Gun Noob to Gun Slinger. Only the most important handgun knowledge to get you competent in 2 hours.
Table of Contents
Caliber…is Bigger Better?
In our previous caliber article, you saw the popular 9mm and .45 ACP cartridges as well as some different types of bullets such as the full metal jacket (FMJ) and hollow points.
Now, we drill down and recommend getting a 9mm for your beginner handgun.
The 9mm is easy to find and cheap when compared to other calibers (~20 cents for a 9mm FMJ and ~40 cents for a .45 ACP round).
It’s smaller size means it has mild recoil and higher capacity magazines (usually 15+).
Here’s me shooting one of my top suggested handguns…the Glock 19.
Plus, the majority of police forces use 9mm and the FBI recently returned to the 9mm after finding that the current .40 S&W rounds were causing excessive wear on pistols and were less easily controlled by female agents.
Ammo: Hollowpoints or Bust
For home defense purposes, we recommend hollow point bullets for their stopping power (and ability to stop in drywall).
Ouch…that’s gotta hurt!
Two of the most popular are Speer Gold Dot and Federal Hydrashok. We cover everything in our Ammo & Reloading section.
Depending on your caliber, you’ll want to take a look at one of these articles:
How to Choose a Beginner Handgun
The most important thing about choosing the best handgun is fit.
We recommend getting a “full size” handgun which means close to 5″ barrels.
Having a full sized handgun makes it easier to shoot since there’s more mass to absorb recoil, a larger area to grip, and a longer sight radius from the front sight to the rear sight.
But…if you think you might do concealed carry in the future and don’t want to get another gun…you can try out the compact size too.
You lose a little sight radius but free up some grip space which helps a lot in concealing. But you don’t want to go so small that your pinkie is left hanging.
Here, we recommend a lack of an external safety.
We believe that the mind is the best safety and that in the heat of the moment during a self-defense situation, you might forget to disengage the safety.
This takes out a couple of possibilities including the venerable 1911 which we think is a little too complicated and finicky for the beginner shooter.
Easy, get the night sights since most self-defense encounters occur in dimly lit locations.
There are usually night sight models for each of our recommended pistols. Or you can always purchase aftermarket sights and have your gunsmith install them.
We recommend a striker fired handgun for the beginner and home defense since the trigger pull is nearly identical every time (at least when compared to a double action).
An easy way to tell if a handgun is a striker is that the back of the slide is flat and has no exposed hammer.
Double action pistols such as most Sig Sauer’s and the Beretta 92FS have a heavy first shot since you are cocking back the hammer.
What about revolvers?
We love them for their reliability and ease of dealing with malfunctions (just press again), but we don’t like their low ammo capacity (5 or 6 compared to 15+ for our recommendations).
But we’ll be including one of our favorites that packs in 7 rounds of .38 special or .357 magnum goodness.
This leaves us with what many call the “plastic fantastic.”
So far with our discussion of caliber, size, safety, and action, we have the possible candidates that have had enough history that we can fully recommend them.
5 Best Beginner Home Defense Handguns
1. Glock 17 (Full) or Glock 19 (Compact), Gen 5
Everyone and their mom has heard of Glock.
It is a polymer, kind of boring, but ultra reliable. If I had the choice of only taking a random pistol into a situation…this would be it.
Lots of other people think the same way…that’s why the Glock 19 is their best selling 9mm.
The newest Gen 5 Glocks are out but you can still find lots of Gen 4 models.
For those of you in handgun restricted states like California…Gen 3 is fine too (it’s what I have).
If you don’t plan on concealed carrying…I would opt for the Glock 17 full-size.
If you are going to go the CCW route or want something slightly smaller…try out the Glock 19.
Make sure you can get all your fingers on the grip.
We now have a full review on the Glock 19 Gen 5…complete with shooting videos!
See these two, and other great Glocks, in our Best Glocks Guide.
What’s your take on the compact and full-size 9mm Glocks?
2. Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0
The newest version of the venerable M&P (military and police) is the M&P 2.0. If there’s a list of best 9mm handguns, this usually makes the top 3.
I got the FDE color version…
It’s full-size and here is the comparison of my 1.0 vs a full-size Glock 17.
The original version was rock solid but had a not-so-great trigger.
The M2.0 takes care of that and also adds a more aggressive texturing while still maintaining the ability to swap out palm swells to match your grip.
It fits very well in my hand and although I currently have the model with the safety…it’s easy to take off and get some inserts for the holes (and makes it exactly like the non-safety version).
A good choice to see if you agree with my thoughts on safeties since you can choose either or.
I choose it as my runner-up best beginner 9mm handgun.
3. Springfield XD Mod 2, Service Model
The newest version of the Springfield XD.
Another striker-fired reliable gun that got updated with more aggressive texturing and the favorite stock trigger in my opinion. A little mushy but in a good way.
The Service Model means it has a compact barrel but full-size grip. Best of both worlds for some!
Plus it has a grip safety which means your hand needs to be firmly on it to fire.
I’m ok with this kind of safety since it is more passive compared to an actual switch you need to flip when you unholster.
Especially if you’re concealed carrying…
However, lack of adjustable backstraps means you gotta like how it feels in the store since you won’t be changing it.
But because I have a very high and angled left hand grip…sometimes I hit the slide stop.
It happens in the above video (where the slide doesn’t stop on an empty mag).
4. Sig Sauer P320
The newest addition to our list…mainly because we love to shoot the Sig P320 and because the US Army chose it as their new sidearm.
A great alternative to try in your hands besides the Glock, M&P, and XD.
We have a full written review right here…plus now a full YouTube review:
There’s a lot of versions of the P320…but we like the original civilian one.
Or if you dig FDE and the knowledge that it’s the closest version to the actual Army pistol…
Check out our review of the P320-M17 version.
5. Smith & Wesson Model 686+
Here’s the revolver you’ve been waiting for…the S&W Model 686+. The + means it holds 7 rounds instead of the standard 6 rounds you’ve come to expect from revolvers.
I like the 4″ barrel since it’s the Goldilocks length. Not so short that it’s difficult to control in firing, but not so long that it’s unwieldy.
Plus it will shoot both .38 Special and the more powerful .357 Magnum rounds.
Here it is in .38 Special…very manageable with the barrel. Perfect for recoil sensitive people and training.
6. Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZ 9mm & .380 ACP
Have a little trouble racking the slide on most handguns?
Check out the M&P Shield EZ line. “EZ” for easy racking and easy loading.
The 9mm version is very concealable and packs a decent punch with our favorite caliber.
But if you want the absolute easiest racking and easiest shooting…opt for the .380 ACP.
Check out our full review here as well as our YouTube video to really see the differences in racking and shooting vs other pistols:
Yes, I might not have included some that you think should have made it. If you find they fit your hand better than the ones I recommended…go for it!
But here’s some of our other favorites:
Finally, some Handguns Perfect for Women from the viewpoint of an accomplished female shooter.
Ergonomics & Trigger
How the handgun feels in your hand is probably the most important.
I have pretty big hands and like the chunkier and different grip angle of the Glock. While my buddy with smaller hands likes the feel of the Smith & Wesson M&P. Also, keep in mind that the latest Glock & M&P versions have removable grip inserts that can customize the ergonomics even more.
The triggers all have a slightly different feel too even though they are all striker fired. For a home defense gun, we recommend not altering the trigger. After some use the trigger will smooth out a little but pretty much what you feel at the store is what you get.
The prices are all pretty similar for the striker fired pistols at around the $500 range. You’ll also be able to find some sales going on at your local gun store. But these are good starting prices.
Night sights will probably be $50-100 more to buy and add them.
Again, most encounters happen in dimly lit areas/times, and you wouldn’t want to shoot with just night sights without verifying your target. So we use and recommend a light that attaches to the rail.
The one we use is the Streamlight TLR-2s (~$250) which comes with a laser and strobe function. It’s survived thousands of rounds, being dropped on the ground numerous times, and full days of shooting in heavy rain.
For the more budget minded customer, the most basic Streamlight TLR-1 (~$110) with just the light will do just as well.
You might see some cheaper lights here or there, but we recommend that lights are not the place to cheap out on.
And for the person who wants the best of the best light only…the Surefire X300 ($200).
We go over all these lights and more in our Best Pistol Lights article.
I’m also a fan of lots of grip on your gun. Talon Grips ($17) is the perfect non-permanent solution.
- Hollowpoint defensive ammo
- Full-size frame
- Striker fired
- Night sights
- Rail mounted light
- Try out the feel of the Glock 17/19, M&P9, XD, and the new P320
Of course, there’s a bazillion pistols that I left out…but the above specs are what we at Pew Pew Tactical recommend.
Already got a self-defense pistol? Learn how to become a crack shot. Or ready to check out our Beginner Handgun Course? Not sure if pistols are right for you? Check out our Best Home Defense Gun article where we go over the pros and cons of Handguns vs Shotguns vs Rifles.