6 Tips to Pick Your First Concealed-Carry Gun

By Dave Dolbee published on in How To, Safety and Training

Do, you have a freshly laminated CCW, CHL—or whatever your state calls it—and trying to decide on your first concealed carry handgun. Even better, perhaps you are looking to buy your first handgun before taking the class for your permit. “Which gun should I buy?” is a common question. I hear it often, which is a good thing. It means more people are carrying, and more importantly they are not just “getting a gun,” they are thoughtfully making informed decisions.

Customer at Cheaper Than Dirt making a legal gun purchase.

Do your homework before making a purchase.

My dilemma is not with question, but making a recommendation. What I carry is not right for many. What you carry will not be right for many. Therefore, making a recommendation for the best model is not only difficult, it may be irresponsible and do the prospective new concealed carrier a disservice.

In addition to specific models, those new to concealed carry have questions about brands, calibers, and action type. Here again, I would hesitate to be specific and instead offer the pros and cons as I see them and help them by relating the benefits and drawbacks to the person in question. I want the prospective buyer to be informed, but just as someone else can’t choose what car fits you best or which furniture would be to your liking, each person needs to take charge of the decision to pick the right handgun, as daunting as that may seem.

Make an Informed Decision

Doing a little homework is never a wasted effort. After all, your decision could literally one day mean the difference between life and death. While the probability of having to use your handgun to defend your life or the life of a loved one is low, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Man pushing shopping cart carrying groceries

How does your EDC gear stack up every day, say, at the grocery store? Go to the range, and find out.

Know Your Budget

You are likely going to spend a minimum of $200. From there, the sky’s the limit, with most opting for something in the $350-$600 range for a first concealed carry handgun. In terms of caliber, .380 and 9mm are most popular in semi-autos and .38 special or .357 magnum in revolvers. The reason the .357 magnum is typically included is only because you can shoot .38 special loads from it and later shoot something more powerful if desired.

Another reason to stick with these calibers is availability. Most any place that sells ammunition will have plenty of choices for these popular calibers in stock. A wider selection also allows you to tailor your choice to a heavy, aggressive self-defense round, or less expensive ball ammunition for practice. You could even drop to a low-recoil frangible offering such as those offered by Allegiance ammunition.

Don’t Trust the Experts—Even Me!

Okay, maybe I am the exception, but only because I will not try to steer you to something specific. Be aware of the sales person or friend who knows the exact model you need. Your best defense is knowledge and experience. Both of those can be obtained with the research you are doing now and time at a local range that rents firearms. Nothing beats firsthand knowledge gained through experience.

Shop, Shop, Shop

Cheaper Than Dirt! has thousands of guns to choose from and some of the best prices you’ll find anywhere, but don’t afraid to handle a few firearms at a local gun show or dealer. If you have a friend or two with a suggestion, ask them to go to the range with you so you can try out their handgun(s). If you are looking for something in the spring, consider the NRA Show. The latest models will all be in one place, and you can get a feel for them all. Don’t just ask which gun, but why they chose that particular model, caliber, etc.

Rich brown etched leather concealed carry shoulder bag

The stylish pistol-packer not only needs a nice-looking purse she’s proud to carry everyday, but also successfully retains her carry gun safely and allows quick access.

Choose Wisely

Get the gun you really want and works for you. If it costs more than your proposed budget, wait and save up for it. It is better to wait for an extra paycheck or two, or sacrifice a night out and get the right gun. Odds are you’ll be carrying it for a very long time. When you need to deploy it for self-defense, the last thing you want creeping through the back of mind is, “I wish I would have spent a few dollars more for the…

Carry Position

You also need to look at carry options. Will you be carrying your firearm in a holster on your person? Where? Or will you opt for an easy access purse designed for concealed carry, bra holster, or covert diversion pack. What holster options are available for your proposed handgun?

Insurance

The decision to carry a handgun for self-defense if not the end, it is the beginning. You’ll need to practice regularly to build proficiency and maintain skills. Follow on training is also highly recommended. The NRA has a series of courses as do a host of private training academies. When going through a private instructor, check their credentials closely. There are many private instructors who are simply a waste of money.

And just as important to additional training is getting some insurance though organizations such as U.S. Law Shield. For a few dollars a month, you can cover you entire legal bill should you be forced to defend yourself. Check out the program details to determine whether it is right for you.

Do you have a tip for the new concealed carry person or a personal experience you can share that will help them on their journey toward buying their first concealed carry firearm? Share it in the comment section.

SLRule

Growing up in Pennsylvania’s game-rich Allegany region, Dave Dolbee was introduced to whitetail hunting at a young age. At age 19 he bought his first bow while serving in the U.S. Navy, and began bowhunting after returning from Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Dave was a sponsored Pro Staff Shooter for several top archery companies during the 1990s and an Olympic hopeful holding up to 16 archery records at one point. During Dave’s writing career, he has written for several smaller publications as well as many major content providers such as Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times, Outdoor Life, Petersen’s Hunting, Rifle Shooter, Petersen’s Bowhunting, Bowhunter, Game & Fish magazines, Handguns, F.O.P Fraternal Order of Police, Archery Business, SHOT Business, OutdoorRoadmap.com, TheGearExpert.com and others. Dave is currently a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!

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The mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, "The Shooter's Log," is to provide information-not opinions-to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (22)

  • Fred Davison

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    I agree with all the above comments. When I bought my first carry gun it was a huge mistake! I thought the steel snub nosed revolver in .357 mag. was the ideal firearm for me. Then I loaded it and put it in it’s holster. I know wearing your pants down around your knees is “stylish” for some but not for me. Tried a shoulder holster, got real tired of walking in circles. A few years later I traded the gun in on an AR-15. The gun that’s with me most of the time is a NAA .22 mag with a folding handle. I know it won’t stop the bad guy but he will have a hard time explaining the little holes in his guts. Also, this little bugger is with me anytime I’m wearing pants with pockets. A little gun on your person is worth more than a big gun in the safe!

    Reply

  • Bob Moody

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    In my opinion the best and safest first gun for a novice is a small frame 2″ .38 cal revolver. Granted it’s not as concealable as the flat frame of a pistol but it’s always obvious whether or not it’s cocked. It’s difficult to accidentally discharge an uncocked revolver.

    Reply

    • Adam

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      Minimalist (at best) sights, stiffer recoil, and smaller grips are strong reasons against recommending a 2″ revolver to a new shooter.

      The best thing a shooter can do to improve both proficiency and safety is to practice often. Therefore, the best gun for a new shooter is one that encourages frequent practice. A gun that is (to put it kindly) unpleasant to shoot just doesn’t fit the bill.

      Reply

  • Joshua Rogers

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    One consideration that I believe is often overlooked is a person’s significant other. Example: My S.O. has a disability that affected what firearm we could purchase for her, as well as what I could carry. Her condition (rheumatoid arthritis) prevents her from being able to operate all of the controls on most popular CCW handguns (Glock, M&P, etc). Once we found a model that she could operate (Sig P238), I made the decision to change my carry weapon to P938, so that the controls would be identical to hers in the event that she ever had to use my sidearm in a panic situation.

    Reply

    • Norm

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      Same with my wife. The Sig P238 is easy for her to work the slide. It is her edc. I also have a P238, but I also bought a P938. I holster OWB the 938 and a spare mag, 238 in my pocket, while my wife carries her 238 in her purse. This way, we have a total of 29 rounds of 9mm and .380 acp between us in three pistols and spare mag. Prior to the Sig, she had been partial to a revolver but she wasn’t happy with the heavy trigger pull and minimal 5 shot capacity.

      Reply

  • mark

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    Find an indoor range that offers rentals. That way you can see what works best for you. I also believe in starting with a small caliber to get the fundamentals down and then work your way up. I carry a 9mm shield in a sticky holster as my personal carry gun. This is a comfortable fit for me.

    Reply

  • Corby

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    The other commenters have offered good advice, or provided good input, to which I’ll add two statements.
    I hope that it is not necessary to use your concealed carry firearm for defensive reasons but if so, remember the quote attributed to Wyatt Earp regarding how to survive a gunfight. Earp said to, “Take your time. In a hurry.”
    And, it has been said that the best firearm to use in a shootout is the one that you have. Follow the advice and input from all those commenting herein so that you have your EDC concealed firearm with you….

    Reply

  • Dewey

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    I really hope people’s first gun isn’t their conceal carry gun. Because like you said, practice is very important and most small handguns aren’t fun to shoot hundreds of rounds through at the range, especially if your aren’t a proficient shooter. I highly recommend people learn to shoot with 22lr pistols or at least large frame guns that can minimize the recoil. After learning proper technique then the sky is the limit. It’s next to impossible to direct someone to the perfect gun for them. I am a big fan of the Springfield XD-M compact and the xds line. I feel safe carrying a pistol that has the grip safety and trigger safety both because I do not want an external manual safety that I have to remember to disengage while my adrenaline is pumping. I would like to see comfort and weight pushed in the article a little more, because if it isn’t comfortable enough to have with you at all times then you probably aren’t going to have it when you need it. Be safe all and I hope nobody ever needs their firearm.

    Reply

  • john creveling

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    Dave I think you have given some excellent advice here.Its good to see gun writers recommending new shooters try different guns and calibers to find the right fit instead of “Here honey this .44 Mag is the gun for you” I wish there were more ranges that rent guns for folks to try before they buy.I know you were staying away from specific recommendations but my S&W Shield in 9mm has fit a large majority of folks who have tried it.Easy shooting caliber ,accurate and .concealable. Great carry gun.

    Reply

  • Rick

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    “And just as important to additional training is getting some insurance though organizations such as U.S. Law Shield. For a few dollars a month, you can cover you entire legal bill should you be forced to defend yourself.”

    *IF* you’re acquitted of all charges and *AFTER* the fact. In the meantime, you’ve already lost your house.

    Reply

  • Adam

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    Some potential pitfalls newer buyers should avoid.

    – Avoid lightweight 2″ revolvers in 357 Magnum (or even 38 Special)

    Commonly recommended for women shooters in particular, these are not beginner guns. They have more recoil, are much harder to shoot well, and have lower ammunition capacity compared to a slightly larger semi-automatic pistol. If you really want a revolver, get something steel-framed in a 3″ or longer barrel. Practice will be easier and more enjoyable, so you’ll be more likely to do it regularly.

    – Despite its reputation, be wary of the 1911

    Despite the similar dimensions and added weight, a 1911 has lower ammunition capacity and is much more expensive than a modern striker-fired pistol. You can basically buy two of X (be it a Glock, M&P, XD, etc) for the price of one 1911 of comparable reliability. If you really want something steel-framed with a manual safety, get a CZ-75. You’ll get all the major advantages of a quality 1911 with higher magazine capacity and simpler disassembly for about half the cost.

    – If at all possibly, try before you buy

    Some pistols feel great in the hand but won’t point naturally or shoot well for you. You also can’t get a feel for recoil and control by just handling a pistol. Try to find a range that offers rentals so you can also see how it shoots for you.

    Reply

    • Allan

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      Adam,
      Excellent points for new and old gun users. Always good to read well written responses that assist us all in the shooting community. I agree on all points and have pistols from the 2″ in 38 that are challenging to keep on target a distance to multiple semi that are very reliable and carry 13-19 rounds vs a 1911 capacity of 7-8. I do have a 1911 as well, I love it but I do like higher capacity. FN provides SA/DA type similar to 1911 style except in poly as well, fully ambidextrious for the lefty and capacity in 15 round range in all calibers. Even their 45 acp models.

      Reply

    • Primo

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      yea but that FN you are talking is quiet expensive. i say for 1st EDC get something that feels good in the hand and as cheap as possible. No reason spending 600+ on a gun and you don’t really know what you want out of it or what you are capable of as a shooter. Especially before proficiency. btw i have an FN FXS it is awesome.

      Reply

  • Bob Campbell

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    Excellent, good information.

    Reply

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