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How To Choose Your First Handgun

80 Percent Arms   |   Mar 21st 2022

We’ve all been there. Trying to buy your first handgun, standing at the counter in a packed gun store, staring at what appears to be... an endless sea of options! There are pistols of all shapes, sizes, capacities, calibers and colors at your fingertips. What you thought might be an easy trip to the gun store has quickly become overwhelming. Fret not, for your friends at 80% Arms are here to help you buy your first pistol! While we can't cover everything in this guide — we hope to give the first-time pistol buyer a solid jump start into this often confusing world.

That costs HOW much?!

Budget is truly one of the very first questions to ask yourself when purchasing your first handgun. What is your budget for this weapon? While many cheaper options can be purchased, do you really want to trust the cheapest option with the you or your loved ones' safety? Not that you need to spend thousands of dollars on a handgun to trust it to perform but there are many solid and reliable options of guns that can be found in the $500-700 range. Many of which are battle-tested and proven reliable by law enforcement professionals on a daily basis. This is up to each buyer but personally, I would rather have a budget weapon that works than a very expensive one you might not shoot as much, if at all. If you have the option and the budget we recommend saving up to buy the right tool for you and it will serve you reliably for years to come.

What is this weapon’s purpose?

Concealed Carry (CCW)? Home Defense? Range Days? Competition? All of the above? Let’s break each of these down with some generic features one might look for when seeking a weapon to accomplish each.

CCW

What size handgun should I buy? That is actually a very important question to answer. A Concealed Carry Weapon, or “CCW”, as it's commonly refer by, is usually a handgun that is a smaller-framed, shorter-barreled, often lower-capacity weapon that is easy to conceal.

These weapons are broken down into the Compact, Micro or Sub-compact categories. With many excellent solutions available, such as the Sig-Sauer P360/P365 Series or the Glock 43x providing excellent round capacity for an easy-to-conceal, smaller framed handgun, usually chambered in 9mm or .380. Something to consider with micro-compact handguns: these weapons may not be as much fun to shoot at the range when training due to the smaller frames and shorter barrels which can create more recoil for your hands and wrist to deal with.

Home Defense

Home defense handguns are an excellent option for when something goes wrong in the night. While a concealed carry weapon can indeed double as a home defense weapon, this writer prefers to keep a weapon with a higher capacity with several magazines secured by the nightstand. My personal preference is for all my handguns to have an accessory rail so that I can attach a pistol light. The reason for this is two-fold. First, I have trained extensively with my weapon light and prefer to have a light to identify a potential threat should I have to before engaging. Second, is to give me an extra couple of seconds' “head start” on the threat.

Think about it this way, imagine being in a very dark room and someone shines an incredibly bright light into your eyes without warning. You will be disoriented briefly and seeing stars as your central nervous system rushes to have your pupils adjust from the light. This could provide an extra second of time in an engagement scenario. Although, of course this could apply to the homeowner as well if they're just waking up to a home intruder so keep that in mind. Our go to pistol light is the Surefire X300U but there are many other manufacturers who also make tactical pistol lights.

Multi-purpose

If you are seeking a fun range day gun a slightly larger handgun might be a better choice as it will be more comfortable to shoot more rounds thru it in a given session. If a slightly larger size isn't a problem for you then look no further than the Glock 19 9mm handgun. The venerable Glock 19 (and many other weapons inspired by it, such as the GST-9 MOD1) has been a staple with the U.S. Military, law enforcement and other government agencies for decades, as well as being one of the best selling handguns in recorded history. With its proven track record of rock-solid reliability, desirable ammo capacity (15 rounds plus 1 in the chamber), ease of operation and built-in safety features it's a great handgun that really can do it all. Even the Navy Seals use it.

Range day 'fun guns' are exactly that! While any of the guns we have discussed would be great at the range we usually look for particular features to satisfy all our criteria. Some of which include magazines with larger capacity, (because who wants to reload all magazines more than we have to?), more weight and a longer barrel, so as not to fight a lot of recoil all day. Optimum situation? You have one weapon that you enjoy shooting so much, you shoot that weapon all the time!

Look for a weapon that fits your hand well and can shoot until you are exceptionally proficient with it. Extra magazines and a higher capacity will be important for this role as well, the less you have to worry about in a situation such as this, the better. Some great options are the Sig-Sauer P320, Glock 17 or 19, or the Smith and Wesson M&P.

No matter what pistol you choose remember to train with it and get trained by professionals. A weapon in the hands of someone that is trained will be far more useful than in the hands of someone who buys it and never uses it. Shoot your weapon, train with it, become confident and familiar with it and you'll have a lot of fun as well. 

What are the best beginner handguns?

To begin answering this question, it's important to ask another question. What are the different types of handguns? In general, first time buyers will be looking at either a revolver or semi-automatic pistol. While a revolver might be a great option for several of the uses above, you might not see them used for concealed carry purposes as often anymore — due to size, weight and limited round capacity not to mention reloading speed. The more modern solution would be either a strike or hammer fired semi-automatic handgun.

Some companies and weapons that would fit all the above categories well? We have named several already such as Glock, Smith & Wesson, Sig Sauer, etc. These are not the only choices by any means! Many other companies offer great all-around options, such as Beretta, Heckler & Koch, FN, Walther, CZ, and of course, our very own GST-9 MOD1.

Which caliber should I pick for my first gun?

While many calibers are readily available such as the .45 ACP, .380, 10mm, etc... We find that 9mm is the best overall choice for a handgun. Many pistols chambered in 9mm have an excellent capacity, recoil tends to be a bit lower, the ammunition is cheaper and readily available in many loads and bullet types. We recommend the 9mm as an all-around handgun caliber, which also leads us to our next topic.

What kind of ammo should I buy for my first handgun?

Full metal jacket ammo is great for range days you'll want to load your weapon for a concealed carry or home defense scenario with one of the many hollow point rounds available on the market today. Hollow point bullets expand when they strike a target and create a larger wound channel. Thus, increasing the possibility that the threat will be incapacitated. That expansion is also why they are considered ideal and safer to use as there's less of a chance for the bullet to pass through the target, unlike full metal jacket projectiles. 

Over-penetration can lead to a bullet ricocheting or passing through your target and continuing on to hit something or someone else, not good! Hollow points are the standard for defensive ammunition, carried by professionals daily and it's what you should exclusively load your defensive weapon with. Some popular carry ammunition include; Federal Hydra-Shock, Federal HST, Hornady Critical Duty, Speer Gold Dot and many more!

Do it right the first time, get a GST-9 MOD1!

Our recommendation? Find a weapon that fits your hand well and ask yourself if you will be comfortable concealing this weapon in your day-to-day life. Once you have found this weapon don’t forget to train with it. Practice (safely) drawing from concealment, reloading and take classes from trusted professionals. Remember, you are the weapon and it's your responsibility to be proficient with your tools should the necessity to use them arise. Ready to snag your first handgun? Check out our GST-9 MOD1 frame and other pistol accessories!