The Best First Pistol
“What’s the best first pistol for a new gun owner?”
This is a question that has many subjective answers, by many, I mean thousands upon thousands. In response to the thousands of answers to that question, I’m going to give my own with a solid explanation. Before I answer though, since this is dedicated for the prospective owners, let’s go over the questions I asked myself when trying to answer this question.
And unlike my, “Best Holster” article, this one is actually going to have an answer at the end.
Aftermarket and Part Support.
As a new owner it might not be evident that strong aftermarket support, or lack thereof can mean a lot of things for the pistol in question. Before we get to what a strong or weak aftermarket means for a pistol, let’s talk about what I define as being good aftermarket support.
A strong aftermarket doesn’t mean there’s accessories floating around willy-nilly that will fit a variety of firearms. A strong aftermarket means there’s companies dedicated to producing parts and accessories specifically for the firearms in question that aren’t the manufacture. For instance, CZ-USA pistols have Armory Craft, CZ Custom, Cajun Gun Works, and more that specialize on doing work with CZ branded pistols.
With strong aftermarket and part support, you’ll be able to track odds and ends down for the pistol pretty easily. From extractors and magazines to recoil assemblies and firing pin retaining pins.
Now, what does good aftermarket support mean for the pistol, and what does weak aftermarket support mean for the pistol?
With good aftermarket support it means that the firearm in question has been well received by current gun owners. It’s proven to be reliable, durable, and low maintenance while still being accurate.
Because of this you will be able to get issues troubleshot for the gun if they ever come up without going to the manufacture and you’ll have an easy time finding holsters.
With weak aftermarket support, it means that the firearm hasn’t been well received by gun owners, this could be for a variety of reasons. It might not be reliable, it might not be durable, or it’s possibly too expensive for what it is (looking at you Hudson H9). What you’ll end up finding is, there’s little to no holster support, magazines can be hard to track down, and spare parts can only be sourced from the manufacture if they stay stocked.
Shootability is a lot of different factors boiled down into one word. When we’re talking about shootability we’re talking about ergonomics, ease of use, and the amount of felt recoil. All of these factors come into play when deciding a pistol to use as a defensive tool. So, let’s dive into this.
Ease of use also has a few different factors that get considered. How easy is it to maintain? How easy is it to reload the firearm? How easy is it to pull the trigger? How easy is it to control recoil?
Starting at the end, let’s talk about recoil control as there’s a few different factors that come into play. How well does your hand fit onto the gun? How much open space is there between your hands when you have both hands on the gun? This can directly affect how hard it is to control the gun’s recoil. The gun’s size also directly affects how difficult it can be to manage recoil. Typically compacts and full-sized handguns are ideal; some people shoot compacts better than full-sized guns, and vice-versa.
There’s also a thing called bore axis that comes into play that affects how much the gun flips on recoil. The bore’s axis is the center of the barrel, where it sits in relation to your hand is what affects how much muzzle flip you will encounter. The higher the bore axis is from the web of your hand, the more muzzle flip you’ll experience.
Caliber also comes into play with how easy recoil is to control. Typically anything larger than your typical duty calibers (9mm, .40S&W, .45ACP, and .357 Sig) are going to be problematic for new shooters. The larger the caliber, the more felt recoil you will have. That felt recoil gets amplified as the size of the gun goes down.
How easy is it to pull the trigger? Even the highest tier shooter will have an issue with a trigger that has a pull weight of 20lbs. If you have poor hand strength a double action pistol might not be within your capabilities as a new shooter. If that is the case and you do get a double action capable or only pistol, you’ll find yourself constantly missing your target.
Ease of maintenance is a tricky one to explain. Revolvers are marginally easier to clean compared to semi-autos, beyond that they become more difficult at a maintenance level; especially if you run into a timing issue and don’t know what you’re doing. On that same note, revolvers are also more difficult to load for defensive purposes than semi-autos are.
To finish, let’s talk about ergonomics. Ergonomics are a very user dependent thing. What’s ergonomic for me isn’t going to be ergonomic for you but there’s things to consider with them. How easy is it for you to reach the trigger? Can you pull the trigger without the sights shifting? Can you manipulate the slide, or open the cylinder? Can you reach the magazine release without issue? What about the slide lock/release? When you pull the slide back, does it touch the top of the hand holding the grip?
So…what’s the answer?
My answer for the best all around gun for a prospective buyer has changed from what it was a year ago, or even two years ago. Before both out of ignorance and an unconscious bias, I would have recommended a DA/SA pistol with a decocker or a safety depending on the user’s preference. Since then though I’ve learned quite a bit.
I’ve learned that going from a double action trigger to a single action trigger takes a lot more practice and it takes a lot of dedication to do so without throwing the first shot. I’ve also learned that your typical gun owner isn’t going to put more than 500 rounds through a pistol in a given year; mastering or becoming competent with DA/SA requires more than that a year, at least starting off it does.
My new answer to this question is an evolved one with some very rational thinking behind it if I do say so myself. My new answer is a compact sized, polymer framed, striker fired pistol chambered in 9mm. To start dissecting this answer let’s start off with the size. I’ve personally had new shooters that shot compact sized handguns better than full sized handguns, while I’ve also had new shooters shoot compact sized handguns just as well as full sized handguns.
I picked the compact sized since it’s a good fit for 90% of people out there. Obviously if you have hands the size of Sasquatch’s you might want to bump it up to a full size. These handguns also allow new shooters to enjoy their time on the range since recoil isn’t substantially worse than a full size (you might even feel less depending on hand size) and they’re easy to control.
An added benefit to a compact sized handgun is that they’re relatively easy to conceal carry even as a novice. They allow a newbie to finesse their carry game while also making it easy to figure out what they need. Do they need to go smaller? Can they go larger? Is it the position they’re carrying that’s causing issues? These are all questions that can be answered with a compact (Glock 19 sized pictured right) handgun. They also force the new carrier to be pro-active in what they’re doing which will result in less negligence (hopefully) on their end.
As far as frame material goes, I’ve noticed that in the compact arena that the recoil difference between polymer and metal isn’t substantial unless the weight difference between the two is substantial. With a new shooter, if the gun weighs too much they’ll never carry it, and if it weighs too much they might get fatigued easier at the range; this leads to them shooting less.
Polymer frames also require less upkeep as they can’t rust and they can’t corrode. If a new user is neglectful in their cleaning, the polymer frame will be more forgiving than a metal frame.
The gun has to be striker fired for a few different reasons. As far as maintenance goes, you would be hard pressed to find a system that was easier to maintain than a striker fired handgun. There’s very few moving parts, they’re typically very durable, and they’re typically very reliable. All around, it creates less of a headache for a new gun owner.
Beyond their simplicity, the trigger pull, and pull weight is consistent while not being exceptionally heavy. Coming in with an average of around 5lbs and a short length of reach, striker fired triggers have a smaller learning curve, and they’re easy for everyone (bar any medical conditions) to use. For new shooters, the consistency of the trigger pull is going to make learning a lot easier, and by default a lot funner.
I picked 9mm because it’s the easiest duty caliber to learn recoil control with while being the smallest duty caliber on the market. Whereas it does have a snappy recoil impulse, it shouldn’t give any difficulties for a new shooter. If it does, picking up a .22LR to get acclimated better isn’t a huge deal. Going from a .45ACP down to a .40S&W, then down to a 9mm to figure out the new owner should have started with a .22LR is a huge and costly deal. So much so that that new or prospective gun owner might just give up.
Guns that fit this category:
Glock 19, Glock 48, Sig Sauer P320 Compact (not the Carry Compact), Walther PPQ, Beretta APX Centurion, CZ P-10c, Steyr M9A1, Smith & Wesson M&P Compact 4.25″,