As an instructor and a gun dealer, I’m a little more careful about recommending a gun for someone else. It’s such a personal decision. Gun owners who aren’t instructors seem to have no problem telling their friends to buy a Glock or a Colt, or whatever their favorite firearm is. Or they recommend something they wish they had so if you’re not happy with it they might be able to take it off your hands at a discounted price.
I wish they wouldn’t do that. You need to pick your own gun. In this article, I’m going to give you a starting point. These are the mainstream guns, the kind to buy if you’re a Ford, Chevy, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda or Nissan car or truck buyer. There are higher end guns that are more costly, and sometimes they’re better, sometimes they’re not. There are specialty brands that appeal to some of us for specific purposes. But I’m sticking to first-time buyer recommendations here and I’m going to offer options in full-size guns, compact guns and slim “carry” guns using 9mm as the comparison. You can get most of these in a .40 caliber or .45 caliber version, also, but 9mm serves us well for comparison purposes.
Before I get into the comparison charts, I want to tell you about three guns you should look at if you’re a first-time buyer looking for an inexpensive carry gun and you don’t consider yourself a “gun” person. In other words, you figure this will be your only gun and you’re going to keep it with you for personal defense.
Those three are the Taurus PT-111, the SCCY CPX-1 (or CPX-2) and the Taurus PT-809c. These are under $300 9mm handguns that hold 10 to 12 rounds and which are reliable. You need to keep them clean and you need to hold them with a firm grip while shooting. Load them up with ARX or Fiocchi Hollow Point ammunition and learn to shoot them well and you’ll be fine. The difference between the SCCY CPX-1 and CPX-2 is one has a safety and the other doesn’t. They come in a variety of colors. The Taurus PT-111 and the PT-809C are similar size and have similar capacity. The PT-111 is striker-fired (internal hammer) and the PT-809C has a hammer. Sometimes we can’t get one or the other, I say whichever one you can get is just fine.
Many gun owners recommend Glocks to everybody. If I were going to just recommend something like that because that’s the gun I like I would be more inclined to recommend a Smith & Wesson M&P. It is similar in price, function and features as a Glock. I have them in practically every caliber from .22 to .45 and in some calibers I have more than one. They come in full-size, compact and slim. Some people like to shoot Glocks, I prefer M&Ps. To me they seem to have less felt recoil than a lot of other guns. So if you want something a little more than the three I mentioned above and you don’t want to go through the charts and do a lot of comparing, pick up an M&P in the gun store or at the gun range rental counter and see if you like it. If you do, you’ll should never have a reason to regret buying one.
Now to the charts. The prices shown here are the most recent prices we’ve been charging for these guns. The prices fluctuate from time to time based upon availability and manufacturer/wholesaler incentives or price changes, but should be pretty close to what I’ve indicated here for comparison.
First up are the full-size guns. In my experience anybody, and I do mean anybody, if they are willing to invest a little time and effort into it, can learn to shoot and even to carry one of these guns. That’s why I recommend starting there. If you can shoot it and operate it, you’d be better served with a full-size gun than a compact or a single-stack, slim gun (unless it’s a 1911) in my opinion. Here are six mainstream guns to consider:
Each of these firearms has a compact version. If carrying the full-size is uncomfortable for you, perhaps the compact version of essentially the same handgun will work better:
With so many people getting their Concealed Handgun Permits, the manufacturers created a market of “slim” single-stack handguns designed to be easily concealable. Since many of my favorite carry guns are 1911s, which are single-stack .45s, I can’t fault anyone for wanting to carry a slim gun. The trade-off is the round count. Since some of these guns have .40 and .45 caliber versions, they’re right up there close to my 9-shot 1911s in capacity, so many people find themselves comfortably armed with a seven or eight shot 9mm. Here are the ones in this category you have to look at:
As I mentioned at the start, there are other brands, great brands, from which to choose. Sig Sauer has a line of pistol you could easily classify as the Mercedes of the gun industry. They are tough, they are accurate and they are reliable. Spend a little extra for a Sig and you can’t go wrong. The same can be said of FNX and FNS pistols or Heckler & Koch. And if you join me and thousands upon thousands of others as a 1911 fan, Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Springfield and Taurus all have 1911 models as does Sig Sauer, Colt and others, including a number of custom 1911 gun makers.
I hope this helps as a starting point. We have considerable experience with all of these guns and have not reservations about recommending any of them. Pick them up. Rack the slide. Try the trigger. If you have the opportunity to rent one at a gun range, do so. Then pick the one that just feels right to you.