By Jack Ammerman

Roughly 16.4 million U.S. citizens purchased new handguns in 2022. Of these, surely there were many folks buying their first handgun. Often, a new gun owner will ask a friend or relative for advice on what gun they should buy.

You have to start somewhere, but I’ve seen many people led astray because their friend suggested a model and caliber that they just loved. Just like shoes, handguns come in different sizes and purposes, with each individual manufacturer putting their own spin on what they think the public will like. The shoe that fits your friend will probably not fit you. The same goes for a handgun.

Before deciding on the size of a new handgun, you must determine why you want to buy one. Self-protection is usually high on the list. Concealed carry is also a consideration. Perhaps you’re considering getting into shooting sports, but I would guess it’s not high on a new gun owner’s list.

Using a gun for self-protection is a last resort. It’s final, and you can’t call the bullet back. Knowing that your last resort has to do what you intend it to do — stop the threat — some people will tell you to choose the largest caliber firearm available. That large caliber will usually be accompanied by a large framed handgun, which might not be comfortable carrying or shooting. Friends recommend a .45 caliber because the stopping power is amazingly effective. But what good is a gun one can’t wield?

Concealed carry is a reason many folks buy their first hand gun.

In order to be proficient with a handgun, you must practice regularly. A large gun might not be the most fun gun to shoot, making it easy for the owner to say “Nah, I’m good” when it comes to practicing.

I carried a .22 caliber handgun for a few years. It certainly didn’t have the stopping power of the larger calibers and some of my friends would sarcastically chide me with, “Who are you going to hurt with that?” I would always respond, “If you feel that way, then you wouldn’t mind if I shot you with it?” I never had one take me up on my offer.

A few years ago, handgun manufacturers started making smaller handguns in larger calibers. This gave consumers the ease of carrying along with more of a punch than a .22 caliber. The smaller .380 handguns were really popular for self-protection. Eventually, downsizing came to 9mm handguns.

These guns are great for concealment and ease of carry. They are not fun guns to shoot, though. Unlike their full-framed brethren, they pack a wallop to the shooter’s wrist. I can shoot 200 rounds easily with my full-frame 9mm handgun, but I’ve about had enough after firing about 20 or 30 rounds through its compact brother.

Rather than buy something that I recommend or your friend recommends, please take the time to go to a shooting range that rents handguns. They will let you hold each one, and you can fire two or three that might be good candidates. After firing several handguns, you will know which fits your grip best and which one weighs close to what you are comfortable holding and carrying. You will know which is enjoyable to shoot and which talks to your wrist with every trigger pull.

A good gun shop is also invaluable, too. If you know of a reputable one or have heard of some, visit them. No gun shop should pressure you into your first handgun. Tell them you are learning about handguns, what your purpose for the handgun will be and anything else that might be useful. More often than not, folks want to be helpful.

I can’t tell you what handgun would be good for your first gun, nor can your friend. We can suggest that you try certain models, but if you take anything away from this article, take this: Make an informed decision on your own. Nobody can do the homework for you. You have to try before you buy to know what handgun exactly fits you and your needs.

Jack Ammerman has written articles, short stories and instructional columns professionally for over two decades. First published in Gun Dog Magazine in 1994, he is an ardent supporter of MUCC and chairs the MUCC Firearm, Sport Shooting and Range Policy Board Committee.