Best Handgun for Beginners & Home Defense [2021]

Not sure what pistol to get for your first gun or for home defense?

We’ll cover all the important decision points such as caliber, ammo, size, ergonomics, price, and safety.

Best Beginner Handguns

And then end it with some of our personal suggestions.

We also cover this topic in-depth in our video course, Gun Noob to Gun Slinger.  Only the most important handgun knowledge to get you competent in 2 hours.

Caliber…is Bigger Better?

You ready?

Popular Pistol Calibers
Popular Pistol Calibers

In our previous caliber article, you saw the popular 9mm and .45 ACP cartridges as well as some different types of bullets such as the full metal jacket (FMJ) and hollow points.

Now, we drill down and recommend getting a 9mm for your beginner handgun.

Why?

The 9mm is easy to find and cheap when compared to other calibers (~20 cents for a 9mm FMJ and ~40 cents for a .45 ACP round).

9mm vs .45 ACP
9mm vs .45 ACP

It’s smaller size means it has mild recoil and higher capacity magazines (usually 15+).

9mm (115gr vs 124gr vs 147 HP)

Here’s me shooting one of my top suggested handguns…the Glock 19.Not too bad…right?

Plus, the majority of police forces use 9mm and the FBI recently returned to the 9mm after finding that the current .40 S&W rounds were causing excessive wear on pistols and were less easily controlled by female agents.

Ammo: Hollowpoints or Bust

9mm 147 Federal Hydrashok HST
9mm 147 Federal Hydrashok HST

For home defense purposes, we recommend hollow point bullets for their stopping power (and ability to stop in drywall).

5 Shots into Ballistic Gel
5 Shots into Ballistic Gel

Ouch…that’s gotta hurt!

147 Federal HST Expansion
147gr Federal Hydrashok Expansion

Two of the most popular are Speer Gold Dot and Federal Hydrashok.  We cover everything in our Ammo & Reloading section.

How to Choose a Beginner Handgun

Fit

The most important thing about choosing the best handgun is fit.

CA Roster Handguns
Some of Our Handguns

We recommend getting a “full size” handgun which means close to 5″ barrels.

Having a full sized handgun makes it easier to shoot since there’s more mass to absorb recoil, a larger area to grip, and a longer sight radius from the front sight to the rear sight.

Glock 17 Grip
Glock 17 Grip (Fullsize)

But…if you think you might do concealed carry in the future and don’t want to get another gun…you can try out the compact size too.

You lose a little sight radius but free up some grip space which helps a lot in concealing.  But you don’t want to go so small that your pinkie is left hanging.

Glock 19 Grip (Compact)
Glock 19 Grip (Compact)

Safety

Here, we recommend a lack of an external safety.

WHAT?

We believe that the mind is the best safety and that in the heat of the moment during a self-defense situation, you might forget to disengage the safety.

This takes out a couple of possibilities including the venerable 1911 which we think is a little too complicated and finicky for the beginner shooter.

Sights

Easy, get the night sights since most self-defense encounters occur in dimly lit locations.

trijicon night sights
Trijicon Night Sights

There are usually night sight models for each of our recommended pistols.  Or you can always purchase aftermarket sights and have your gunsmith install them.

Action

We recommend a striker fired handgun for the beginner and home defense since the trigger pull is nearly identical every time (at least when compared to a double action).

An easy way to tell if a handgun is a striker is that the back of the slide is flat and has no exposed hammer.

Set of Glocks
Here a Glock, there a Glock…

Double action pistols such as most Sig Sauer’s and the Beretta 92FS have a heavy first shot since you are cocking back the hammer.

Beretta M9 Double Action Single Action
Beretta M9 Double Action Single Action

What about revolvers?

We love them for their reliability and ease of dealing with malfunctions (just press again), but we don’t like their low ammo capacity (5 or 6 compared to 15+ for our recommendations).

S&W 686 Side View
The Smith and Wesson Model 686P

BONUS: Shoot better. Download our exclusive shooting targets for FREE ($47 value)

But we’ll be including one of our favorites that packs in 7 rounds of .38 special or .357 magnum goodness.

This leaves us with what many call the “plastic fantastic.”

So far with our discussion of caliber, size, safety, and action, we have the possible candidates that have had enough history that we can fully recommend them.

5 Best Beginner Home Defense Handguns

1. Glock 17 (Full) or Glock 19 (Compact), Gen 5

Everyone and their mom has heard of Glock.

It is a polymer, kind of boring, but ultra reliable.  If I had the choice of only taking a random pistol into a situation…this would be it.

Lots of other people think the same way…that’s why the Glock 19 is their best selling 9mm.

PPTG19ten
Glock 19 Gen 5 (note no finger grooves)

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The newest Gen 5 Glocks are out but you can still find lots of Gen 4 models.

For those of you in handgun restricted states like California…Gen 3 is fine too (it’s what I have).

If you don’t plan on concealed carrying…I would opt for the Glock 17 full-size.

Glock 17 and Glock 19, Gen 3
Glock 17 (top) and Glock 19 (bottom), Gen 3

If you are going to go the CCW route or want something slightly smaller…try out the Glock 19.

Make sure you can get all your fingers on the grip.

Glock 19 Grip (Compact)
Glock 19 Grip (Compact), Gen 3

We now have a full review on the Glock 19 Gen 5…complete with shooting videos! Again…if I had to recommend one beginner handgun…it’d be the Glock 19.  Great for the range, your nightstand, and on your body for concealed carry. 

Glock 19, Gen 5629at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writingVIEW DETAILSCompare prices (2 found)

See these two, and other great Glocks, in our Best Glocks Guide.

What’s your take on the compact and full-size 9mm Glocks?

Readers’ Ratings

    4.83/5 (1828)

Your Rating?

2. Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0

The newest version of the venerable M&P (military and police) is the M&P 2.0.  If there’s a list of best 9mm handguns, this usually makes the top 3.

I got the FDE color version…

Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0
Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0

It’s full-size and here is the comparison of my 1.0 vs a full-size Glock 17.

M&P vs Glock 17
M&P vs Glock 17

The original version was rock solid but had a not-so-great trigger.

M&P Fullsize
M&P Fullsize, Gen 1

The M2.0 takes care of that and also adds a more aggressive texturing while still maintaining the ability to swap out palm swells to match your grip.

M&P 2.0 vs 1.0
M&P 2.0 vs 1.0

It fits very well in my hand and although I currently have the model with the safety…it’s easy to take off and get some inserts for the holes (and makes it exactly like the non-safety version).

M&P 2.0 Grip
M&P 2.0 Grip

A good choice to see if you agree with my thoughts on safeties since you can choose either or.

I choose it as my runner-up best beginner 9mm handgun.RUNNER-UP (BEGINNERS, HOME DEFENSE)

Smith & Wesson M&P M2.0499at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writingVIEW DETAILSCompare prices (2 found)

3. Springfield XD Mod 2, Service Model

The newest version of the Springfield XD.

Another striker-fired reliable gun that got updated with more aggressive texturing and the favorite stock trigger in my opinion.  A little mushy but in a good way.

Glock 17 vs XD Mod 2 Service
Glock 17 vs XD Mod 2 Service

The Service Model means it has a compact barrel but full-size grip.  Best of both worlds for some!

XD Mod 2 Service Model
XD Mod 2 Service Model

Plus it has a grip safety which means your hand needs to be firmly on it to fire.

I’m ok with this kind of safety since it is more passive compared to an actual switch you need to flip when you unholster.

XD Mod 2 Grip Safety
XD Mod 2 Grip Safety

Especially if you’re concealed carrying…

Smooth Draw with Alien Gear
Alien Gear Holster and XD Mod 2

However, lack of adjustable backstraps means you gotta like how it feels in the store since you won’t be changing it.

But because I have a very high and angled left hand grip…sometimes I hit the slide stop.

It happens in the above video (where the slide doesn’t stop on an empty mag).BEST TRIGGER (BEGINNERS, HOME DEFENSE)

Springfield XD Mod 2, Service499at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writingVIEW DETAILSCompare prices (2 found)

4. Sig Sauer P320

The newest addition to our list…mainly because we love to shoot the Sig P320 and because the US Army chose it as their new sidearm.New to guns? Check out our online Beginner Handgun Course that teaches all the important stuff you need to know.

A great alternative to try in your hands besides the Glock, M&P, and XD.

Sig Sauer P320
Our Sig Sauer P320

We have a full written review right here…plus now a full YouTube review:https://www.youtube.com/embed/tqG8ZzwsSdM

There’s a lot of versions of the P320…but we like the original civilian one.

Sig Sauer P320500at Guns.Com

Prices accurate at time of writingVIEW DETAILSCompare prices (5 found)

Or if you dig FDE and the knowledge that it’s the closest version to the actual Army pistol…

The M17 is a formidable weapon designed to operate in the military theater
P320-M17

Check out our review of the P320-M17 version.NEW MILITARY STANDARD

Sig Sauer M17650at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writingVIEW DETAILSCompare prices (3 found)

5. Smith & Wesson Model 686+

Here’s the revolver you’ve been waiting for…the S&W Model 686+.  The + means it holds 7 rounds instead of the standard 6 rounds you’ve come to expect from revolvers.

S&W 686+
S&W 686+

I like the 4″ barrel since it’s the Goldilocks length.  Not so short that it’s difficult to control in firing, but not so long that it’s unwieldy.

Plus it will shoot both .38 Special and the more powerful .357 Magnum rounds.

Here it is in .38 Special…very manageable with the barrel.  Perfect for recoil sensitive people and training. And here it is in the .357 Magnum…more powerful but still not too bad with a good grip.  And now…a full review!

6. Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZ 9mm & .380 ACP

Have a little trouble racking the slide on most handguns?

Check out the M&P Shield EZ line. “EZ” for easy racking and easy loading.

Shield EZ 9mm Vs EZ380 next to each other
M&P Shield EZ 9mm Vs EZ 380

The 9mm version is very concealable and packs a decent punch with our favorite caliber.

Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZ 9mm500at GunPrime

Prices accurate at time of writingVIEW DETAILSCompare prices (2 found)

But if you want the absolute easiest racking and easiest shooting…opt for the .380 ACP.

Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZ .380 ACP500at GunPrime

Prices accurate at time of writingVIEW DETAILSCompare prices (2 found)

Check out our full review here as well as our YouTube video to really see the differences in racking and shooting vs other pistols:https://www.youtube.com/embed/WXceJcI4Dms

Other Considerations

Honorable Mentions

Yes, I might not have included some that you think should have made it. If you find they fit your hand better than the ones I recommended…go for it!

More CA Roster CCW Handguns
More Personal Handguns

But here’s some of our other favorites:

Finally, some Handguns Perfect for Women from the viewpoint of an accomplished female shooter.

Ergonomics & Trigger

How the handgun feels in your hand is probably the most important.

I have pretty big hands and like the chunkier and different grip angle of the Glock.  While my buddy with smaller hands likes the feel of the Smith & Wesson M&P.  Also, keep in mind that the latest Glock & M&P versions have removable grip inserts that can customize the ergonomics even more.

S&W M&P Palm Inserts
S&W M&P Palm Inserts

The triggers all have a slightly different feel too even though they are all striker fired.  For a home defense gun, we recommend not altering the trigger.  After some use the trigger will smooth out a little but pretty much what you feel at the store is what you get.

We recommend trying out all three guns for yourself at the range or gun store after re-reading our grip/stance and trigger pull articles.

Price

The prices are all pretty similar for the striker fired pistols at around the $500 range.  You’ll also be able to find some sales going on at your local gun store.  But these are good starting prices.

Night sights will probably be $50-100 more to buy and add them.

Accessories

Again, most encounters happen in dimly lit areas/times, and you wouldn’t want to shoot with just night sights without verifying your target.  So we use and recommend a light that attaches to the rail.

TLR-2, 25 Yards Outdoors
TLR-2 with Laser, 25 Yards Outdoors

The one we use is the Streamlight TLR-2s (~$250) which comes with a laser and strobe function.  It’s survived thousands of rounds, being dropped on the ground numerous times, and full days of shooting in heavy rain.

TLR-2s on Glock 17
TLR-2s on Glock 17

For the more budget minded customer, the most basic Streamlight TLR-1 (~$110) with just the light will do just as well.

TLR-1 Toggle Switch
TLR-1 Toggle Switch

You might see some cheaper lights here or there, but we recommend that lights are not the place to cheap out on.

TLR-1
TLR-1

And for the person who wants the best of the best light only…the Surefire X300 ($200).

Surefire x300
Surefire x300

We go over all these lights and more in our Best Pistol Lights article.

Best Pistol Lights
Best Pistol Lights

I’m also a fan of lots of grip on your gun.  Talon Grips ($17) is the perfect non-permanent solution.

Master Lock 94DSPT on Glock 19
Talon Grips on a Locked G19

Conclusion

  • 9mm
  • Hollowpoint defensive ammo
  • Full-size frame
  • Striker fired
  • Night sights
  • Rail mounted light
  • Try out the feel of the Glock 17/19, M&P9, XD, and the new P320

Of course, there’s a bazillion pistols that I left out…but the above specs are what we at Pew Pew Tactical recommend.

Already got a self-defense pistol?  Learn how to become a crack shot.  Or ready to check out our Beginner Handgun Course?  Not sure if pistols are right for you?  Check out our Best Home Defense Gun article where we go over the pros and cons of Handguns vs Shotguns vs Rifles.

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