Choosing a Pistol
It is now 2021, and I have recently rewritten this page. If you have been here before,
you have seen a lot of verbiage on manufacturers, models, features, etc. I have been of the opinion
that it was not my place to try to push you toward one brand or another, but let the consumer choose.
The problem is that most people new to handguns don't know enough about the issues to discriminate
between brands, or dismiss the claims of manufacturers or salesmen. In fact, my students often look to me
for a recommendation, with the understanding that I don't sell guns, or get any commission. So, here goes.
I have had thousands of students in classes and on a firing line. I have seen guns that malfunction more
often than they should, guns that malfunctioned very frequently, and those that never did so. I have also
seen firsthand the problems that new shooters experienced with even well-known brands. Despite the
competing claims, there are certain features that a gun must have, in this order:
1. Absolute reliability.
The list of industrial grade guns that meet these requirements is quite short, and corresponds
with the brands used by the overwhelming majority of law enforcement agencies and military services.
That list includes
2. Reasonably easy to load magazines.
3. Reasonably easy to rack the slide.
4. Capacity of at least 10 rounds.
5. Available in frame sizes to suit your needs (duty size, compact, sub-compact).
Smith & Wesson
Heckler & Koch
While Beretta has a storied history in military service, I specifically do not recommend the 92FS, also
known as the M9. The reasons are complicated, but it is too easy to make a mistake that could get you killed.
Smith & Wesson and SIG Sauer both sell a bewildering array of models, including some entry-level guns
I would not recommend. Glock, on the other hand, sells essentially one model, in many different
calibers and sizes, and every model number uniquely identifies one gun with certain defined characteristics.
Inasmuch as Glock has an unmatched reputation for reliability, is used by 65% of law enforcement
professionals nationwide, and has the most aftermarket support of any brand, it is my recommendation
that a new shooter cannot go wrong with this as your first gun. The models I recommend are
Glock 26 (9mm sub-compact, concealable)
Glock 19 (9mm compact, larger, but still concealable). A very popular first gun.
Glock 23 (.40 S&W, compact)
Glock 17 (9mm duty size, outstanding for home defense)
Glock 22 (.40 S&W, duty size)
If racking the slide is a serious problem, consider the Smith & Wesson Shield 9mm EZ.
You may notice that none of these are .380 caliber. Glock does make one (G42), but police don't
carry those. There is a reason. Hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.
The best choice of handgun is the largest caliber you can shoot well, in the longest, heaviest gun
that suits your purpose. A pocket gun, while a useful tool, should not be your primary weapon.
Getting down to specifics.
Do not buy a handgun without handling it. Go to a gun shop or gunshow. Consider these features:
1. Grip size. It needs to fit your hand. If too small, you will trouble getting the pad of the finger
on the trigger without excessive arching of the finger. If too large, you will have trouble reaching
the trigger. Some models have replaceable backstraps, which can solve that problem.
2. Your ability to rack the slide. This is sometimes a problem for women.
3. The distance between the sights (sight radius). Longer is better. Concealable guns have a shorter sight
radius, but if they are too small, the gun becomes almost worthless beyond 12 feet, and hard to grip.
4. The feel of the trigger break, which is when it fires. About 2/3 of the way through the trigger stroke
will normally be a "curb" (sear-wall), a temporary stopping place. Additional pressure at this point will push the
trigger over a slight hump, which is the break. This is the most important feature of all. Do not buy
from anyone who will not let you dry-fire the pistol (like Cabela's).
5. Caliber: 9mm is a universal standard. Police typically carry either 9mm or .40 S & W (slightly more powerful).
Revolvers are sometimes appealing to people due to their spartan simplicity, but do not make that mistake. Revolvers are much
harder to learn on than a semi-automatic, and require considerable experience to shoot well. I like revolvers, and they have a place,
but they are not for new shooters. You have been warned.
10 Most Popular Handguns for Women (2020)
See my blog posts:
Choosing the Right First Gun.
Home Defense Guns for Ladies.
Handguns for the Physically Challenged.
Home Defense Option: AR-15 Pistol.
Concealed Carry for Women of All Body Types.
See the Gun Links page for reviews and other resources.
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