Guide For Buying Your First Handgun

Choosing your first gun

So, you’re looking at buying a handgun.

You’ve started your Googling, maybe you’ve stopped in at a few shops, watched some YouTube videos – and now you’re here reading this blog looking for information about buying your first handgun.

Firstly, I’d like to commend you for doing your research. Research is important in making any big decision. We all know firearms aren’t cheap, and we want to make sure that you get the best bang for your buck. And, that you go home with a handgun you’re happy with.

Being presented with so many different options gives us cause to pause before making the leap. In fact, it can feel a bit overwhelming. As a beginner, you may not have the experience or know-how to point you in the right direction regarding what handgun would be best for you to start with.

Today, we’re going to remedy that. With a bit of knowledge under your belt, you’ll have what you need to move forward in your search.

Is There Such a Thing as One Handgun for Everyone?

I’d like to start out by saying there’s no one perfect handgun that can be recommended to everyone. It’s about finding the handgun that suits you best.

Think of it like car shopping, finding the best-fitting pair of shoes, or anything remotely similar. No one can tell you what you want or should use. You’ll have to do the digging, look at the specs, get a hands-on feel for yourself, and go from there.

It’s important to pick the right handgun for your individual preferences because not everyone has the same wants, needs, hand size, strength, or belt room. Most folks consider purchasing a handgun for self-defense, target practice, or concealed carry, but each firearm will come with its own set of characteristics. Some you’ll find you like – others, you may not prefer.

So reflect on the following sections, and grab a notepad if you have to. They’ll help you narrow down your search and lessen that feeling of overwhelm once you really know what you’re aiming for.

Determine Your Handgun’s Purpose

First, you need to determine what purpose your handgun will serve. This is important because the size and type of gun will apply to its purpose and will help you narrow down your options and make choosing the right handgun for you less overwhelming. We’ll get into these details a little later.

The most common uses are competition shooting, range shooting, self-defense, and home defense. It could be a combination of these, too.

Also consider how you’ll be carrying your handgun, and where you’ll keep it.

Whether you’ll be open carrying, concealed carrying, or keeping your handgun in your nightstand drawer, closet shelf, purse, or backpack, these will all act as determining factors when it comes to the size of your handgun and what will be most comfortable for you.

The Different Sizes of Handguns

There are four different sizes of handguns for you to choose from:

  • Full size
  • Compact
  • Sub-compact
  • Pocket pistols.

A person who has smaller hands or is interested in a handgun for concealed carry may prefer a compact or a smaller alternative. A person with larger hands or who plans to open carry their handgun, or just take it to the range, may prefer a full size.

Full-Size Handguns

A full-size handgun is the largest size available and will have a barrel length of 4.5” or more. The grip on this handgun will typically fit the user’s hand without a magazine extension, and the frames are also usually larger, which makes the handgun more difficult for concealed carry.

Compact Handguns

The barrel length of a compact ranges between 3.5” – 4.5”. They’re slightly smaller than a full-size handgun. Compacts and their smaller counterparts are easier to concealed carry but offer less magazine capacity and tend to have a bit heavier recoil in larger calibers like .45, 10 mm, .357, .44 caliber, to name a few.

Sub-Compact Handguns

Sub-compact’s barrel lengths range between 3” – 3.5” with a smaller frame and grip. Without a magazine inserted, the grip is significantly shorter. Extended magazines will help lengthen the grip and make holding the gun more comfortable.

Pocket Pistols

Pocket pistols have a barrel length of 3” or shorter. The grip will land approximately mid-palm for most, but they’re arguably the most easily concealed compared to larger handguns.

Size is an important factor when it comes to how you want to carry your handgun and where you want to keep it. Visit a local shop so you can get a hands-on feel and determine if it’s the best size for you and its purpose.

Finding The Best Fit For You

One of the most important factors in buying your first handgun is finding one that feels comfortable and fits you.

Go to a shop and hold different handguns to get a physical feel for the firearm. Grip the gun correctly and pay close attention to where your hands are on it, its functions, and if it feels comfortable for you to hold.

Notice how your index finger on your dominant hand finds the trigger once you have the handgun in a proper grip. Ensure that while your finger transitions from above the trigger on the slide, to the trigger, your finger isn’t getting caught on the trigger guard.

Also, make sure that your hands aren’t getting in the way of the slide, and that you can reach the handgun’s safety without difficulty.

Another thing to consider if your handgun’s purpose is defense is if your non-dominant hand will be available at all times. If your non-dominant hand is compromised, can you reach the mag release and lock-slide release with your dominant hand?

Each of these factors falls to personal preference and what feels right to you. Don’t turn down the opportunity to get a hands-on feel before purchase as this can be the determining factor when it comes to deciding which handgun is best for you.

Types of Handguns

There are two types of handguns to choose from: semi-automatic pistols and revolvers. Each has a set of different characteristics that set them apart from the other. Based on your needs, you may find you prefer one over the other.

Semi-Automatic and Striker Fired Pistols

Semi-automatic pistols are easy to use, field strip, and maintain. The more common semi-auto pistols are striker fired. Everything that makes the gun work is inside of the gun.

Semi-auto pistols are fed by a magazine. With the magazine, you can customize the number of cartridges you can load into the gun with either a single-stack or a double-stack magazine. The difference between the two is the size of the magazine and the number of bullets it holds.

full size handgun

An extended magazine can also be used to extend the grip on your handgun. This is especially helpful if you opt for purchasing a compact or smaller pistol. Magazine size may be limited by state or local law.

With a magazine, the pistol can be reloaded a lot faster than a revolver. The semi-automatic pistol will self-eject each spent casing and replaces it with a new cartridge in the chamber. These pistols operate on a blowback system. When the powder in the cartridge explodes, the forces that act on the bullet make the slide of the pistol move backward. The movement of the slide ejects the casing and loads the new cartridge.


If you’re looking at a revolver the type of action could be a deciding factor.

The single action is referring to the trigger. When you pull the trigger the hammer goes forward firing the gun. For this to happen you would have had to have already pulled the hammer back to a cocked position.

With the double-action revolver, every time you pull the trigger, the hammer goes back to the cocked position, and when you complete the trigger pull, the hammer goes forward firing the gun.

Revolvers have a cylinder that generally holds six cartridges. With some revolvers, the cylinder is on a hinge and you can unload all spent casings at once and begin reloading.

For other revolvers, you have to unload each casing individually and reload each cartridge individually.

Revolvers can be helpful if you feel you have weaker hands and haven’t yet built up your strength for reloading magazines. Revolvers are also easier on arthritic hands.

Budget, Parts, and Ammo

Now that you’ve got an idea of what kind of handgun you want, you’ll want to consider your budget, parts for the gun, and ammunition.

Remember, you’re not just buying a gun, you’re buying anything you may need for your gun. This includes but is not limited to:

Some items are necessary straight away, such as ammunition, a gun safe, or a carrying device/holster. Others you can work on accumulating over time if you decide it isn’t an immediate necessity.

If you’re interested in adding modifications to your handgun, make sure that the one you’re looking at purchasing can be modified.

Laws and Regulations

Carrying and being in possession of a firearm comes with great responsibility. Part of that responsibility is adhering to and being aware of your local ordinances.

Prior to purchasing a handgun, make sure you research your state’s laws and regulations. This applies to both your handgun’s purpose and overall your being in possession of a firearm.

Man with pistol and handgun permit application

You’ll want to research where your firearm is or is not permitted, whether you can conceal carry or open carry, necessary certifications if you need a FOID Card, and more.

This also applies to what self-defense and home defense means for your state, and under what circumstances are you permitted to defend yourself, your castle, and your neighbor.

A firearms safety course is a great way to brush up on your knowledge of safe firearm handling, but also local laws and ordinances.

In today’s market, there are hundreds of options for you to choose from to find your ideal handgun. It doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task.

There isn’t any one handgun that can be prescribed to everyone.

It’s about finding the handgun that suits you and your needs best.

While it doesn’t hurt to get an expert opinion or listen to your friend’s recommendations, remember that what works for one person may not work for you. And never let someone pressure you into a sale you’re not confident about.

Determine your handgun’s purpose, then consider size, and never turn down the opportunity to get your hands on a gun before purchase to see if it feels right for you. And always be sure to do your research and brush up on your knowledge whenever you get the opportunity.

And don’t overthink it. Give it some thought, do your research, and if you find a handgun you think you’ll like, go for it. Your first purchase may not turn out to be your ideal handgun – but your first handgun can teach you a lot about what you truly need and want for a future purchase.

Once you make that purchase, head to the range to practice, and consider training classes.


  • Alyssa Connolly

    Alyssa specializes in content marketing and copywriting for the outdoor industry. Through expert copy services aimed to captivate, connect, and inform, Alyssa champions outdoor brands that are passionate about educating and inspiring people all over the world to get outside, experience something new, and do what gets their hands dirty.

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