Top 6 Carry Pistols for Beginners

By Dave Dolbee published on in Firearms, How To

All who carry a concealed firearm had to start sometime, and everyone felt at least a bit self-conscious when they started carrying a handgun for self-defense. Choosing the right pistol, one that is not too small, not too big, and manageable through recoil is a good start, but there is a lot more to consider when picking the right pistol for carry.

As a wise gunwriter once said, any self-defense pistol caliber is good, as long as it starts with a .4. That is sage advice. And for many, the .45 ACP is king. But we are not talking about someone who has carried a gun for decades and fired tens of thousands of rounds in practice for this article. We are talking about handguns for beginners.

Woman with pink hat shopping at gun counter

Today, gun shops are catering to the growing number of women looking for firearms.

Being new to firearms or concealed carry is no excuse for not having enough stopping power. You would not send a rookie firefighter into a blazing inferno with a cup of water just because he did not have as much experience as a veteran hoseman. That being said, being over-gunned is just about as bad. While the .45 ACP is a worthwhile caliber, the gun will be larger, recoil will be more intense, and you’ll be no safer regardless how big the caliber is, if you do not hit your intended mark.

The 9mm on the other hand, has come a long way due to newer bullet and gunpowder technologies. It is the standard for many police departments, federal agencies (such as the FBI), and U.S. Military. There will always be naysayers, but the 9mm has too many proponents to subscribe to “the bigger the pea, the better the gun” these days.

In addition to offering plenty of stopping power, the 9mm is not plagued with as much recoil as the .40 S&W or .45 ACP. The 9mm often features a higher capacity (13 or more), which is appealing to many­—even if the average number of rounds fired in a self-defense confrontation is only four. I agree with the old adage that it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. More rounds, however, also means more weight and when a handgun becomes cumbersome, people tend to leave it at home… Consider that when picking a CC handgun.

Back to hitting your mark… Whatever handgun you choose, you’ll need plenty of practice. Dry-fire practice does not cost you anything, so there is no advantage to any caliber there. Live fire is another story though. When you start buying practice ammunition, the difference in caliber is immediately evident. The size and popularity of the 9mm offers significant savings when compared to other self-defense calibers.

Handgun Size

I recently attended a manufacturers round table. One of the owners of an ammunition manufacturing company remarked that after all of his testing, he would not carry anything with less than a 4-inch barrel. Full-size handguns offer certain advantages, but they are also harder to conceal. The size you select will depend on your body size, carry position, and personal preference.

Man shopping at the gun counter

Comfort is an important factor to consider when purchasing a carry gun. Remember, you’ll be wearing it for several hours a day.

The size of your pistol may also play a role in ammunition selection. Federal’s HST, is an awesome self-defense round. It was first introduced in 2002 and restricted to law enforcement only. That changed overtime, but so did the popularity of handguns with shorter barrels. Standard ammunition from a 3-inch barrel equates to wasted powder that burns after the bullet leaves the barrel. Once you select a gun, pair it with the right ammunition. For example, Federal also offers the HST Micro. This round features a faster burning powder to maximize the round in short barrel pistols.

Ammunition

The last section strayed into ammunition; the main point is to understand that all offerings, even by caliber, are not created equal. Some handguns seem to like a steady diet of one round over another and certain ammunition performs better out of different designs (longer vs. shorter barrels). The best advice is to buy a box of a few different brands or bullet types and head to the range for some personal research. Shoot for function and group. One brand may group better than other. Certain bullets may fail to consistently feed properly in a particular gun for some unknown reason.

Most self-defense ammunition will be of a jacketed hollowpoint design. All of it will be pricey when compared to training or practice ammunition though. Your final selection should be based on performance—both in your firearm and the target where it has to completely incapacitate your attacker. Anything less invites a counter-attack with potentially tragic consequences.

Federal Micro HST 9mm Luger

Federal’s Micro HST 9mm was specifically designed for maximum performance in compact and subcompact pistols.

A few top picks for self-defense ammunition include Federal Hydra-Shok or HST Micro, Speer Gold Dot, Hornady Critical Defense, and Allegiance Ammunition’s OneStrike. Because OneStrike is a compressed metal powder, it offers devastating damage in the target without the concerns of over penetration or going through a wall and hitting a family member in a home defense situation. There are plenty of other quality offerings, but I carry or have carried each of these, depending on the firearm and defense scenario.

Top 6 Concealed Carry Handguns for Beginners

Springfield XD-E

The XD-E sculpts unmatched Point And Shoot ergonomics into a sleek frame just an inch wide for hand- and holster fit so satisfying you’ll take it everywhere. The low-effort slide practically racks itself, so handling’s a pleasure. The exposed hammer clearly shows gun mode, and the single/double action trigger shows respect for your shooting style, unlike many other compacts.

Springfield XD-E

The author feels that the grip texture is ideal for a compact 9mm handgun, while the fiber optic front sight aids in aiming.

Then there’s the grip: GripZone provides active texture that matches your grasp like a handshake, improves stability, and feels incredible. Three magazine options let you personalize concealability and capacity. Impeccable feel, weight, and balance launch the XD-E from invisible to impactful in an instant, for go-anywhere confidence unlike any you’ve felt.

Whether you are a new shooter or skilled gunner, wrap your mitt around the new XD-E and you’ll know. This is more than a hammer. It redefines what your hammer should be.

Specifications and Features

Caliber: 9mm
Recoil System: Dual Spring w/ Full Length Guide Rod
Sights: Fiber Optic Front, Low Profile Combat Rear (Steel)
Weight: 25 oz
Height: 5″ w/ Flush Magazine, 5.25″ w/ Magazine X-Tension
Slide: Forged Steel, Melonite
Barrel: 3.3″ Hammer Forged Steel, Melonite
Length: 6.75″
Grip Width: 1″
Frame: Black Polymer
Magazines: 1 – 8 Round w/ Grip X-Tension, 1 – 9 Round w/ Mag X-Tension
Trigger Pull: Double Action / Single Action
MSRP: $525

Smith & Wesson M&P 9 2.0

The M&P M2.0 pistol is the newest innovation to the respected M&P polymer pistol line. Designed for personal, sporting, and professional use, the M&P M2.0 delivers an entirely new platform, introducing innovative features in nearly every aspect of the pistol, including trigger, grip, frame, and finish.

Smith and Wesson M&P9 2.0 pistol profile left

The striker-fire, semi-automatic polymer pistol is available in matte black or FDE – Flat Dark Earth – finishes, and includes two magazines, a limited lifetime warranty and a lifetime service policy.

Highlights of the M&P M2.0 pistol include an extended stainless-steel chassis and a low, barrel bore axis for reduced muzzle rise and faster aim recovery. The M&P M2.0 pistol further improves performance with a finely-tuned, crisp trigger, lighter pull, and a tactile and audible reset. The pistol includes an aggressively-textured grip and four interchangeable palmswell inserts for optimal hand-fit and trigger reach. The M&P9 2.0 comes standard with two magazines, a limited lifetime warranty, and lifetime service policy.

Specifications and Features

  • The low barrel bore axis makes the M&P pistol comfortable to shoot reducing muzzle rise and allowing for faster aim recovery
  • Optimal 18-degree grip angle for natural point of aim
  • Four interchangeable palmswell grip inserts for optimal hand fit and trigger reach – S, M, ML, L
  • Aggressive grip texture for enhanced control
  • New M&P M2.0 crisp trigger with lighter trigger pull
  • Tactile and audible trigger reset
  • Accurate 1 in 10” twist M&P M2.0 barrel
  • Extended rigid embedded stainless steel chassis to reduce flex and torque when firing
  • Armornite durable corrosion resistant finish
  • MSRP: $629

Ruger LC9s

Ruger’s LC9s is a striker-fired pistol featuring a short, light, crisp trigger pull for faster, more accurate shooting. Slim, lightweight, and compact for personal protection, the LC9s is just slightly larger (less than 1″ taller and 1″ longer) than Ruger’s popular and compact LCP.

Ruger LC9s Pro, striker-fired handgun

After the initial succes of Ruger’s LC9, it added a striker-fired version, which is the LC9s.

The LC9s features a dovetailed, high-visibility sight system with drift adjustable rear sight and fixed front sight. The LC9s comes standard with a finger grip extension floorplate that can be added to the magazine for comfort and improved grip. Safety features include an integrated trigger safety, manual safety, magazine disconnect, and an inspection port that allows for visual confirmation of a loaded or empty chamber.

Specifications and Features

Capacity: 7+1
Slide Material: Through-Hardened Alloy Steel
Barrel Material: Alloy Steel
Barrel Length: 3.12″
Grip Frame: High Performance, Glass-Filled Nylon
Slide Finish: Blued
Barrel Finish: Blued
Width: 0.90″
Sights: Drift Adjustable 3-Dot
Weight: 17.2 oz.
Safety Option: Standard
Overall Length: 6″
Height: 4.50″
Grooves: 6
Twist: 1:10″ RH
MSRP: $449

Kahr CW9

The CW9 is double action only with an internal striker and locked breech. The stainless steel trigger is exceptionally smooth throughout its 3/8″ ride from engagement to letoff, with a crisp “snap” at the end. From muzzle to butt, Kahr’s CW9 marries sleekness with power. The polymer frame is checkered and stippled for a non-skid grip.

Kahr Arms CW9

A single-stack frame gives users an equally slim grip, which is one of the primary reasons the CW9 is so easy to carry all day, every day. This model shows a burnt bronze Cerakote finish.

Specifications and Features

Caliber: 9mm
Capacity: 7+1
Operation: Trigger cocking DAO; lock breech; “Browning – type” recoil lug; passive striker block; no magazine disconnect
Barrel: 3.6″, conventional rifling; 1-10 right-hand twist
Length O/A: 5.9″
Height: 4.5″
Slide Width: .90″
Weight: Pistol 15.8 ounces, Magazine 1.9 ounces
Grips: Textured polymer
Sights: Drift adjustable white bar-dot combat rear sight, pinned in polymer front sight
Finish: Polymer frame with black carbon fiber print, matte stainless steel slide
Magazine: 1 – 7-rd, Stainless
MSRP: $449

Glock 43

With the success of the Glock 26 and ever changing trends in the concealed carry pistol market, Glock redesigned its subcompact 9mm almost entirely to bring the Glock 43 to market. Glock’s new slimline pistol has taken the single stack 9mm segment by storm, outselling even the most popular contender.

Glock G43 left side

The G43 is Glock’s smallest 9mm. The single stack 9mm design answered a call many Glock fans were calling for.

The Glock 43 transformed how shooters thought of single stack carry guns—no longer were they uncomfortable and hard to shoot. Now, concealed carriers have the ability to practice with their carry gun without discomfort and an unpleasant shooting experience that some other single stack 9mm pistols offer.

Shooters are flocking to the Glock 43 thanks to new and refined features such as a finger groove-less grip, that is perfect for all hand sizes, and a reversible magazine catch coupled with the all too familiar Glock feel. Recoil is kept in check with a dual spring recoil system, and the ever-present Safe-Action system ensures that the trigger feels just like the Glock 43’s bigger brothers. Thanks to the new one-inch wide design, the Glock 43 will disappear under clothing like it isn’t even there.

Specifications and Features

  • 9mm Luger
  • 3.39″ Barrel
  • 1:9.84″ Twist
  • Right hand hexagonal rifling
  • 6 Rounds
  • Polymer Frame
  • Striker Fired Action
  • 5.5 lb Trigger Pull
  • Overall Length 6.26″
  • Overall Height 4.25″
  • Overall Width 1.02″
  • Overall Weight 17.95 oz Unloaded/22.36 oz Loaded
  • MSRP: $499

Kel-Tec PF-9

The PF-9 is a semi-automatic, locked breech design, chambered for the 9mm Luger cartridge. It has been developed from the highly successful P-11 and P-3AT pistols with maximum concealability in mind.

All black Kel-Tec PF-9 handgun

As one of the lightest and flattest 9mm pistols ever made, the PF-9 is also one of the most concealable.

The PF-9 has a single stack magazine holding 7 rounds. The PF-9 is the lightest and flattest 9mm ever made. The firing mechanism is double action only with an automatic hammer block safety.

Specifications and Features

  • 9mm caliber
  • 3.1″ barrel
  • 7 +1 single-stack magazine
  • Automatic hammer block safety
  • Double-action
  • Locked-breech
  • Black polymer grips
  • Parkerized slide finish
  • Adjustable rear sight
  • Accessory rail
  • 5.85″ overall length
  • 4.3″ tall
  • 0.88″ wide
  • 12.7 oz.
  • MSRP: $356.36

Narrowing this list to only six means a lot of great guns were not included. If you have a favorite handgun that you would recommend for a beginner for concealed carry, list it in the comment section and tell us why?

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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Comments (59)

  • Wayne

    |

    I can’t believe you did not include the Sig P365. It is of the smallest, of the most accurate, with the best sites and trigger pull. It carries 10 to 12 rounds and is totally dependable. I know there are those Sig haters that want to speak of all the problems that have occurred with the P365, but usually they have never fired one much less owned one. I have put hundreds of rounds through one without a single misfire or fail to feed or fail to eject.

    There are also better choices than some of these six such as the Walter PPS M2, the S&W M&P Shield 9 mil or other, the Sig P938 9mm or P238 380, a Kimber micro 9 or micro 380, the Springfield 911 380, the Taurus PT111 G2 and many more. The Springfield XD-e C, Ruger LCS9 and Kahr CW9 are good choices but I feel the S&W M&P 2.0 , an excellent firearm however too large to carry. I also feel the SCCY CPX-1 or 2 to be a better choice than the Keltec PF-9.

    Out of all of these, which I presently own, have carried and fired many times, find the Sig P365 to be the best everyday carry firearm available. Not only is it comfortable to carry but a most important factor is it’s pleasant to shoot and very accurate with the Sig x-ray 3 night sights That results in more range time practice and firearm familiarity.

    With respect to all the wonderful choices people make, those choices can transcend to the best selection for their individual preferences, confidence and comfort. These are however, in my humble opinion and from my personal experience, some of the best CCW’s available today , but certainly not limited to.

    Yes there are revolvers that fit the criteria for simple and dependable consideration , my only concern being the limited number of rounds, slow reload restrictions and heavy recoil . For some that may be overwhelmed with even moderate recoil , a revolver in 22 WMR with Speer Short Barreled ammo could be an acceptable option for them.

    Thank all for the opinions shared in this discussion , I evaluate everything in hopes of being more informed.

    Reply

    • Jay

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      While I pretty much agree with everything you said here, I wanted to focus on the Sccy being superior to kel-tec. I’ve owned Kels p-11 and pf9. They’re pretty underwhelming overall and fully stripping them can be a disaster. Well I bought a Sccy CPX-2 about 2 years ago and it’s not only one of the best value CC pistols, but it’s a pretty decent pistol period. My only complaint is that the trigger sucks. I spent like 150 bucks at Galloway precision for the full trigger kit and upgraded recoil spring and I love this gun now. I’ve put at least 1000 rounds through it. Steel case, reloads, whatever and I’ve had maybe a handful of FTF or FTE and those were all from reloads. Sccy should be on this list, period.

      Reply

    • Wayne

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      Thanks Jay for reading and sharing good points, especially for commenting on how easy it is to service the CPX from disassembly to reassembly. It’s good you found the SCCY CPX for what it is and was ment to be.

      I commend Joe Roebuck for his concept that it doesn’t have to be expensive to be a well designed, accurate and reliable CCW. It was accomplished with his CPX .

      Earlier I failed to mention the Glock. I feel it is an excellent firearm, however I personally do not like the factory trigger, sights or guide rod . It takes another $300 +/- to address these issues.

      I regret the negative and unkind comments left by some towards others sharing their personal opinions. We can all learn something from others if we can open our minds instead of our mouths.

      With respect.

      Reply

  • Jim Parker

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    A Ruger representative at the NRA Show said the LC9s has been discontinued in favor of the EC9s.

    Reply

  • David Deel

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    I have numerous side arms, as probably most people reading this article do and I enjoy most of them for my carry, but always depends on where I will be going. If I am out in the woods, long long trek, I like y S&W SD9VE. Light as can be so I hardly notice it is there, 16 rounds per magazine and very easy to fire. For a quick outing to the local mall, I have fallen in lust with my Taurus Spectrum 380. Very small, well concealed firearm. Obviously I also keep an extra mag handy. Some people argue the 380 doesn’t have the stopping power. To that a simple one word reply is factual. BOLOGNA! If I fire a small carry it will be up close and personal. With the correct round, it will stip anything I need to stop. But there are several others I carry for otehr reasons, Ruger LC9, Taurus PT111, Glock 17, all for different reasons. Hard to anrrow to one specific all around carry but I would say the PT111 is up there if I had to choose.

    Reply

  • Timber Trail

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    Good article but I’ve got one small bone to pick: those are all excellent carry pistols for anyone. Pegging them as for “beginners” seems to suggest that more experienced folks should move up to a different class, like ones with higher calibers. Imho, those carry pistols would be excellent for any experience level.

    Reply

  • Arthur Burton Jr.

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    I have found the Taurus G2 to be a very good and reliable CCH and it is available with double and single mags.

    Reply

  • Dean Gilbert

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    I’ll stick with my Taurus PT-111 Millenium Pro in 9mm. Light, easy to conceal, and extremely accurate 9mm. Pluss, it carries 12 + 1 rounds.

    Reply

    • Bob Webley

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      I’ve been looking at that weapon also for conceal carry. Wish it came in a DA/SA configuration

      Reply

    • Wayne

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      Good points Dean and Bob!
      Dean, is yours the G2 PT-111, or the earlier stainless and grey Titanium Millennium Pro PT111?
      Reason I ask , the earlier model is SA/DA . I have this one and find it to be excellent.

      I have read the G2 model to be SA/DA also on some site reviews, on others I read ig to be DAO. I can’t share on this ad I only have the earlier model. Great points.!

      Reply

  • William Kennedy

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    If your talking about beginners then I’m surprised you did not mention even one revolver, I carry and love my smith and Wesson airweight .38. Much less likely to jam or have a problem that the shooter must resolve to fire again.

    Reply

    • Scott Allen

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      Absolutely agree – it is a shame that wheel guns no longer get the respect they deserve. I understand the capacity arguments but that doesn’t take away from the proven reliability and relative affordability of a solid snubby.

      Reply

    • Nemo

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      Exactly. Just bought my S&W 360 Airweight 357 not two hours ago and it is absolutely replacing my Glock 42 that replaced my Glock 27 for my CCW of choice. This is a work of art. And simplicity at its finest. A true masterpiece. Now to find the perfect holster. -Roll Tide Roll (Nemo)

      Reply

  • jared liveson

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    I love semi auto pistols but why would a small revolver be on this list? I have carried a multitude of semi auto micro pistols (I am in the private security business) but a small hammerless revolver must be among this list because of reliability and simplicity for bigginers and for the ease of concealment. Your thoughts? It works for me…

    Reply

  • Ed

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    Seriously, nearly all of that backtracks to the Luger P08 as the best 9mm ever. And I own one of those guns you like.

    You ‘gun writers’ really need to get out more. My wife won’t use a semi-auto because they scare her. You clowns don’t even understand such obvious basics and yet pretend to tell the rest of us which ‘carry pistols are the best for beginners’. And yes, I fully understand the difference between a pistol and a revolver.

    Shame on you.

    Reply

    • Greg

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      Maybe you should be a staff writer and fill the rest of us in on what we should be carrying.

      Reply

    • Adam

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      A little dramatic don’t ya think Ed?!?!

      Reply

    • D Dargatz

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      Big Bad ED, maybe with all your expertise you should train her not to be afraid of a simple pistol and fix your own problems at home!

      Reply

    • Wayne

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      Mr Dargatz, maybe Ed’s comments became a little over the top in the dramatic way he responded to the article. Do you feel you may have done similar in response to Ed ?

      So much info or sharing of one’s thoughts loose their effectiveness when done in an unkind manor. Your intentions well ment, like Ed’s may become clouded in the dramatic presentations.

      I remember from someone a good point I try to embrace.
      “It’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice”. It cost nothing and often brings big dividends.

      Reply

    • EZ-EE

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      Ed, you do know that a revolver is not a pistol don’t you? Just curious.

      Reply

  • HW Stone

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    A very serious mistake in the recoil information.

    Reference Chuck Hawks pistol recoil tables (quick web search will uncover the address) and compare real recoil levels not “well, it’s a bigger bullet so it has to kick more.”

    9×19 +P (115 at 1250) 1.5 pound pistol 7.3 foot pounds of recoil Glock 17

    .45 ACP (230 at 916) 2.5 pound pistol 7.5 foot pounds of recoil (1911)

    Most of the “recoil” is more related to how loud it was and how much others have talked you into believing that cartridge really kicks hard. A lighter pistol using 9mm+P will kick harder than the same round in a heavier pistol. That’s math.

    Look for hand fit first, size wanted second, and then find a round you can control in that size and weight pistol.

    Reply

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