The Perfect Noob Gun: The Handgun That Is Just Right for the New Shooter

Editor’s Note: The following is a syndicated article by author Tamara Keel that first appeared in USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine Volume 13, Issue 3, April 2016 under the title, “The Noob Gun: What Handgun Is Right for the New Shooter?” 

“I am shopping for my first handgun and I’m a complete newbie to shooting. What should I buy?”

This question has been asked in gun stores, on internet forums and of the designated Office Gun Person more times than there are grains of sand on the seashore. Traditionally, there have been two different answers.

Get a .22!

The first answer is “Get a .22 pistol.” There are sound reasons for this. If a new shooter is going to develop proficiency with a gun, then it would be hard to think of a better implement with which to develop this proficiency than a full-size .22 plinking pistol. A Ruger Mark III or Browning Buckmark has an easy-to-manage single-action trigger and is mild to shoot with minimal recoil and muzzle blast to interfere with learning trigger control or cause the novice to develop a flinch.

The ammunition, while not as cheap as it once was, is still a fraction of the cost of even the cheapest centerfire ammo. These days, one can get .22 pistols that replicate most of the popular centerfire service autos, as well as compact .22 plinkers, like the Ruger SR22 or Smith & Wesson M&P22C, that make these guns excellent “understudies” for more serious defensive pieces. All these are on the positive side of the .22 ledger.

Get A Centerfire Service Pistol

However, there’s another camp that recommends going ahead and buying the defensive pistol, under the theory that most people aren’t going to take up shooting as a hobby. Rather they want to buy a pistol for defense and they’re going to seek out a minimum of training, if they even bother to train at all. They’re going to buy that one handgun and they’re going to throw it into a sock drawer or purse or glovebox, and that’s the only one they’re going to have if and when the balloon goes up. Under those circumstances, the second theory goes, shouldn’t they have the most effective one possible?

SEE ALSO: Why Girls Need Guns: Teaching My 12-Year-Old Daughter to Shoot

Having the chance to be in a retail/range environment again, where I get to see a bunch of new shooters and first-time buyers in action, I’m starting to wonder if there might not be something to both these camps. I see lots of people experience a first range visit with compact defensive pistols and .22 autos, and I have to wonder…

And The Answer Is…

There are some shooters who, for reasons of size, infirmity and/or plain old general trepidation about guns, just have a hard time with the typical defensive pistol. The double-action revolver or compact auto that can be mastered by 90 percent of shooters remains, for whatever reason, beyond others’ ability to manipulate well or with any degree of confidence.

And yet often I see this same sort of shooter doing great with one of the smaller .22s, like the aforementioned M&P Compact, and I wonder to myself which would be more likely to deter a bad guy: someone reaching a trembling hand for a gun that they’ve hardly ever fired because they are almost as afraid of it as they are the criminal? Or someone reaching for a little pistol that they feel confident in using to make little .22-inch holes all around the middle of the target? Is confidence enough of a force multiplier to outweigh caliber?

I don’t know that I know the right answer to that question, but it’s something worth thinking about.

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{ 25 comments… add one }
  • Bob January 12, 2019, 1:42 pm

    I’ve been teaching my 5yo grandson to shoot. Started him off with a daisy BB gun when he was 4. He couldn’t shoulder it and line up sites, but I would line up the sites for him,and he’d put the stock on top of his shoulder. He became very proficient with that, and moved him up to an old 1898 Stevens Little Scout take down rolling block, a little bigger than the BB guns, still, the pull length is too long for him, and he still puts the stock up on top of his shoulder and shoots, but without me lining up the sites for him. Last range day he got 3 X’s, and 2 Tens from around 15 feet away. I also taught him how to shoot my Chiappa .22 1873, that he can shoot pretty well. Yesterday at the range, he wanted to shoot my .9mmS&W SD9VE, he couldn’t grip the firearm and reach the trigger, so that answered the question of if he’s capable. Basically it boils down to how soon someone starts shooting in life, and how you bring that person along. Sebby is going to be a great shot, and he loves the time we spend at the range, and he’s not afraid of the guns I bring. So, if you’re training a child, start small and work their way up, if starting a new adult shooter start small and work their way up. Well thats my two cents worth.

  • Frank S. January 12, 2019, 12:37 pm

    There is the old axiom that “any gun is better than no gun”. Definitely one you’re not afraid to use and/or CAN use and hit the target is better than one you’re unsure of. Even small calibers can stop an altercation. That doesn’t mean you drop the attacker, what it means it if you pull out something that goes “POP!” or “BANG!” or “BOOM!” the attacker generally retreats. Not always, but most attackers aren’t interested in getting hurt, so they stop. This is from the Evan Marshal study of the early 90s:

    “In a certain (fairly high) percentage of shootings, people stop their aggressive actions after being hit with one round regardless of caliber or shot placement. These people are likely NOT physically incapacitated by the bullet. They just don’t want to be shot anymore and give up! Call it a psychological stop if you will. Any bullet or caliber combination will likely yield similar results in those cases. And fortunately for us, there are a lot of these “psychological stops” occurring. The problem we have is when we don’t get a psychological stop. If our attacker fights through the pain and continues to victimize us, we might want a round that causes the most damage possible. In essence, we are relying on a “physical stop” rather than a “psychological” one. In order to physically force someone to stop their violent actions we need to either hit him in the Central Nervous System (brain or upper spine) or cause enough bleeding that he becomes unconscious. The more powerful rounds look to be better at doing this.”

    Sure, there is a good reason for having a larger caliber, but it’s not really a necessity, especially if you can’t control the weapon or are just scared of it. Back to “any gun is better than no gun”…

  • Thomas Morrow January 12, 2019, 12:24 pm

    Teaching an aspiring female marksman (or any other ) requires careful coaching and patience . The weapon I frequently recommend is dependent on the role it will play. Typically the reasons lean toward defense. Typically I recommend the charter arms undercoverette in 32 magnum as it will take 32 S&W which is a mild cartridge . Or a Smith and Wesson model 10 in 38 special. Revolvers in my experience are more reliable and easier to teach. The charter arms is a good rugged American pistol which is very affordable. It’s also offered in a variety of calibers . Taurus is a good choice as well with Smith being the best option. Ruger sp101 is also a normal recommendation . The Ruger in 38 special is easy to shoot and easy to maintain and become proficient with. Semi autos I avoid because they are harder to teach and also aren’t as reliable . I myself trust a Ruger GP-100 with a 4” barrel for defense and target . That pistol has taught countless shooters with light .38 wadcutter loads . In closing I feel that a weapon that’s easy to manage and boringly reliable is the best choice .

  • Tim January 12, 2019, 8:07 am

    I find many new handgun shooters especially younger females are just as afraid of the report as they are the recoil. When I started using a suppressed Ruger 22 it became much easier to teach them the fundamentals. Once they have mastered shooting accurately with the 22, and want we move up to the centerfire calibers. I have trained many young women and young men this way to include my two daughter in laws. These women had never held a firearm before and were not pro gun. One of my daughter in laws went into the Army later on and became the top shooter in her company and the high female shooter in her battalion. Both daughter in laws have not only taken up shooting they have also taken up hunting and hunt together and with the family ever chance they can. The only down side is one of them has latched on to my favorite 1911 and claims it as her own.

  • joe January 11, 2019, 11:05 pm

    shoot whatever you are most confident and competent with, anything else is a distant 2nd… ten hits with a .22 beat 10 misses with a .380, 9mm, or a .45…

  • grifhunter January 11, 2019, 1:49 pm

    Buy or bring a .22 AND a service pistol. Let the noob shoot both. Eventually they get comfortable with one or the other or, like me, both.

  • DAVID MILLER January 11, 2019, 12:15 pm

    EZ .380

  • TacSKS January 11, 2019, 11:56 am

    Since the article asked a lot of questions without actually answering any of them, here’s my answer. The S&W Shield EZ would be my recommended pistol for a new shooter. Not too big to carry, not too small to shoot well. Not too powerful or too weak. Easy to manipulate and it’s affordable. Rail for mounting a light and decent sights. Yes it’s (only) 380 and (only) 9 rounds but it is specifically designed to be easy for a new shooter to learn and use. It’s also a good consideration for anyone with lower hand strength.

  • Mike in a Truck January 11, 2019, 11:19 am

    I am not unfamiliar with this woman. As a member of USCCA I think she is the biggest know nothing Ive come across. As far as the .22 LR, show of hands- how many started out with one?See? Why in the age of Smart Phone Man must new shooters start out with a full on battle caliber? Now hear this:SHOOTING SHOULD BE FUN! Thats right. If something is fun we tend to want to do more of it.We get better at it the more we do it. Not only that we like the gun we are using.Some of us( way gone) even love that .22. Further I think new shooters should start out with a .22 revolver.It slows the down and forces them to concentrate.

  • JD January 11, 2019, 11:08 am

    I agree with the article. we have a couple of 9s. glock 26 and Kahr CM9. I carry the Kahr but my wife does not like to shoot concealment nines. she picks up the Ruger SR22 and enjoys plinking with it. She has taken several self defense courses with it because she is not afraid of it’s recoil and likes it size. and really the self defense pistol is supposed to stop an aggressor. I think 99% of aggressors if they are being shot at would not try to determine the caliber of the gun but rather back off and get out of there. and then there is the easier and cheaper practice issue with .22 ammo.

  • Jack January 11, 2019, 10:50 am

    .22 magnum hasn’t been mentioned here. I assume this would stop someone a lot better than a .22LR.

    I wonder why this caliber hasn’t been offered in a nice small personal carry gun.

  • Mr. Sparkles January 11, 2019, 8:35 am

    Thank you for the article. I do not feel that you did the topic full justice as your conclusions were pretty vanilla.

    I grew up shooting but never had a concealed carry permit. When I decided to get one, my wife said she would be interested in taking the training as well. I bought a set of 9 mm Ruger handguns and took her out to practice shooting. She was so uncomfortable with the 9 mm recoil and report that more than 50% of rounds fired resulted in a stove pipe.

    I ended up buying her a target 22 pistol and this is what she used when we took the course and for practice for several months after that.

    Once she got comfortable shooting the 22, she is now comfortable shooting any handgun that I put in her hands including my 10mm. And she does it well!

    For the last several weeks I have been talking to her brother who is looking to get his first handgun. I have recommended to him that he either get a 22 that he will be comfortable target shooting with and could use reliably and comfortably in a potential personal protection situation, or get a center fire handgun that you can buy a 22 conversion kit for.

    I have introduced a lot of people to the fun and practical sport of handgun shooting and I am a very strong advocate of anybody’s first handgun being a 22.

  • Karl Vanhooten January 11, 2019, 8:29 am

    From 2016? There are some odd references to out-of-date pistols; ammo costs have been coming down and supply no longer an issue. Far better .22 LR semi-auto pistols are out there today.

    But I would start a complete newbie on a revolver…pull trigger->go bang…totally reliable and no slide, mag, etc. manual of arms to deal with.

  • Michael Miner January 11, 2019, 8:01 am

    The answer is really: whatever gun they like. There is no best. Most people don’t shoot enough to make a difference. Everyone in these comments is a gun rights enthusiast at the least. How many have been to the range this week? This month?

    Skills have a shelf life. Owners of firearms tend to vote to keep firearms. Even a sockdrawer sidearm creates a second amendment supporter – and that protects everyone!

  • Jay January 11, 2019, 7:55 am

    I am shocked that you recommend a Ruger Mark 3. Donot buy this weapon it is most impossible to assemble and reassemble for cleaning. A Ruger Mark 4 corrects this problem

    • Al January 11, 2019, 9:00 am

      Problem???? I’ve never had a problem reassembling ANY Ruger Mark pistol, there is a trick, and once learned it’s easy.

  • Roger Boyce January 11, 2019, 7:28 am

    I am a Florida resident but I have a home in Indiana. I spend the summer months in Indiana. I have a CCW. I have only a shotgun in Indiana and would like a carry gun in Indiana. I fly to and from and would rather not fly a pistol. Can I buy a gun in Florida but have it shipped to a FFL in Indiana to pick up when I arrive there?

    • BR549 January 11, 2019, 8:38 am

      According to the NRA/ILA:
      https://www.nraila.org/gun-laws/state-gun-laws/indiana/

      It appears you can ship it to an Indiana FFL, but in order to transport it, the weapon needs to be:

      (A) unloaded;

      (B) not readily accessible; and

      (C) secured in a case;

      It’s like that in many states. At least you don’t have to have a permit to possess one; otherwise, you wouldn’t be allowed to walk out of the FFL with it …….. and you wouldn’t qualify for FOPA to drive it back to Florida.

      So, it seems like your all set, but just call your Indiana FFL.

    • Alan Robinson January 11, 2019, 9:01 am

      If you have a Home in Indiana, you can buy there. Indiana and Florida have CCW reciprocity, and since you own land there, you can buy a gun in Indiana as a resident.

  • AJ January 11, 2019, 7:15 am

    An “I don’t fucking know” is usually my go to for things like this. With a trip out to the range to ensure that the new shooter grasps the “dangerous end” concept. Then, when I’m sure they can safely manipulate a firearm, I move to the serious conversation about what should be bought.

  • DEFENDER January 11, 2019, 6:43 am

    I see it – Learning to shoot with a 22 cant be a bad thing.
    Better than owning a center fire and not shooting it and not really knowing how to shoot.
    And Dam sure not know how to shoot in a real fight.
    Actually Dangerous.

    On “other hand”
    22 Defense? – Squeeze off a few 22rds in a house and the bad guys are likely to leave.
    And – put enough rounds in them and you “can” stop them.

    Sure as hell beats nothing.

    But
    I now wonder if we should require Training for purchase of Center Fire Pistols.
    Yes I know that is stupid as hell, violates the 2A and I should be condemned to hell for it.

    But – considering people will “Not” get training like back when the 2A was installed(they all
    hunted with guns) it may make sense now.

  • Jackpine January 11, 2019, 6:14 am

    Some truth here. My sister was not comfortable with the S&W Model 15 .38 SPL I bought her, yet was totally fine with an old Browning Nomad .22 semi.

  • Shooter313 January 11, 2019, 5:44 am

    Another article that says absolutely nothing.
    Shoot what you can shoot best? I assume that’s what your saying..just as everyone else has said for… decades!
    More wasted time.

    • JT January 11, 2019, 8:04 am

      Just like your comment. If you don’t like it read something else, no one is forcing you.

  • Dr Motown January 9, 2019, 10:13 am

    Thanks for the answer… glad I read this article 🙄

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