Firearms

Why Your First Handgun Should Be a Semi-Auto .22

.22 Long Rifle Ammunition

As a gun writer, my life revolves around firearms. I’m often asked what someone’s first handgun should be. I don’t believe that there’s a perfect first handgun for everyone, but I do think a semi-auto .22 is a good start. This is especially true if you plan on “getting into” guns and owning several down the road. Why? Because .22 LR firearms are great for learning and practicing your shooting skills.

No Recoil/Muzzle Blast

One of the main reasons .22 LR is great for new shooters is its lack of recoil and muzzle blast. Some of us like loud explosions and harsh recoil more than others. However, especially for a new shooter, it can cause you to develop a flinch or other bad shooting habits, and produce anxiety and fear when pulling the trigger. Excessive recoil can even be a safety issue, so it is important to understand your skill level. .22 LR provides a good platform to practice and learn the fundamentals before adding complicating factors. 

S&W M&P22 Compact
The S&W M&P22 Compact may be my favorite .22 LR pistol.

It may also be good to practice at an outdoor range when it’s not busy. That will make it easier to focus on proper sight alignment, trigger pull, and malfunction clearance without being overwhelmed by the noise of a dozen firing guns. 

Training Time

Going with a .22 also saves you money on ammo. This gives you more training time at less of a cost. We all like to shoot more and spend less, right? Additionally, firing hundreds of rounds of .22 LR is less fatiguing than centerfire calibers. You won’t wake up with sore wrists after a day of shooting .22 pistols. 

There are plenty of rimfire handguns designed around popular defensive pistols, such as the M&P, Beretta 92, and Glock 19. If you train with a compatible .22 pistol, the skills that you practice will transfer to your defensive sidearm down the line. You will already be familiar with the operation, controls, and handling when you move up to a higher-caliber pistol. You won’t need to reinvent the wheel, simply apply your training to a platform with more recoil and louder report. 

Another good reason for going with a semi-auto is malfunction clearance. .22 LR ammo is inherently dirtier and more unreliable than centerfire calibers. This means malfunctions are more common, which gives you a chance to practice properly clearing malfunctions. You won’t get this with a revolver. This is important for both defensive situations and general range know-how because you will need to be able to safely clear malfunctions as they occur. If you are in a defensive situation and your gun jams, you will need to have it down to muscle memory.

Ruger LCP II Lite Rack .22
The Ruger LCP II Lite Rack is a compact and reliable piece that would work well for concealed carry.

Inexpensive

Firearms chambered in .22 LR are generally less expensive than their centerfire counterparts. This is because rimfire firearms do not need to stand up to the same level of recoil. The cost of ammo is also cheaper than centerfire rounds. You could likely shoot .22 all day for less than the cost of an hour or two with a 9mm, let alone a .45. Basically, shooting .22 LR is less expensive all the way around, so it’s good to have one around. 

Fun

Finally, a .22 LR pistol is fun. Because of all the things I mentioned above, lack of recoil, inexpensive ammo, etc., .22 LR is incredibly fun to shoot. Pair that with a semi-auto pistol and you’re looking at a great way to hone your skills with a smile on your face — and your wallet. Get the .22 first so you can develop as a shooter and then use it the rest of your life to maintain your skills. 

Taurus TX22 Competition SCR
The Taurus TX22 looks like it’s right out of a sci-fi movie.

Caveat 

Now you may be thinking, “I just want one gun for self-defense, should I get a .22?” While a .22 handgun may work in a pinch for self-defense, it is far from ideal. I’d suggest you fire a few different calibers on the range to see what you can comfortably handle and then proceed from there. I think most people would be able to go to a 9mm and learn from there. It may be more difficult, and you’ll really have to focus to avoid instilling bad habits, but if you only want to have to purchase one firearm, it can be done.

.22 Pistol Options

When it comes to .22 semi-auto pistols, there are three main categories: pocket pistol, full size defensive counterpart, or competition/target-style. All three styles will work, with a slight nudge away from the pocket pistol. Guns such as the Ruger LCP II Lite Rack are great and would serve you well, but can be too small and hard to handle for inexperienced shooters. 

Browning Buck. Mark Plus .22
Target pistols like the Browning Buck Mark are incredibly accurate.

As I mentioned earlier, there are many different .22 LR options that mimic their full-size counterparts, such as the Beretta M9-22 and Smith and Wesson M&P-22 Compact. ATI even offers a .22 LR version of the 1911 for those who appreciate the classic design. These are great because they provide you with a familiar platform to train on. 

If you really want to dial in your accuracy, a competition or target-style .22 pistol would serve you well. Guns such as the Browning Buck Mark and Taurus TX22 Competition are incredibly accurate, smooth shooting, and make for a great platform for learning to shoot. 

ATI GSG 1911 .22 with Faux Suppressor
.22s like this 1911 with faux suppressor from ATI are fun for plinking at the range.

Conclusion

If you’re looking at getting your first firearm, I would suggest you consider a semi-auto .22 handgun. I think it will provide you the most bang for your buck. Later, you can add more to your growing collection. If you already have a number of firearms, but no .22, I suggest you give one a chance. Its benefits will far outweigh the space it takes up in your safe. 

What are you thinking about for your first handgun? What do you think of a semi-auto .22 handgun? Let us know in the comment section.

  • Beretta M9 .22
  • S&W M&P22 Compact
  • Ruger LCP II Lite Rack .22
  • Taurus TX22 Competition SCR
  • Browning Buck. Mark Plus .22
  • ATI GSG 1911 .22 with Faux Suppressor

About the Author:

Alex Cole

Alex is a younger firearms enthusiast who’s been shooting since he was a kid. He loves consuming all information related to guns and is constantly trying to enhance his knowledge, understanding, and use of firearms. Not a day goes by where he doesn’t do something firearms-related and he tries to visit the range at least a couple of times a month to maintain and improve his shooting skills.

His primary focus is on handguns, but he loves all types of firearms. He enjoys disassembling and reassembling firearms to see how they work and installs most of the upgrades to his firearms himself, taking it as a chance to learn. He’s not only interested in modern handguns and rifles, he appreciates the classics for both historical value and real-world use.
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 (24)

  1. @Rainmaker, haha, naw you didn’t offend me at all. My brithes don’t get bunched that easy. I enjoy a good debate. Nothing really wrong with the old High Standard revolver. Not a bad choice at all, really. It’d be nice if I could find one that someone isn’t trying sell for an arm, leg, and left testical. Haha
    The Sentinal was nice. Even the Sears JC Higgins version… they were literally like what, $40 new and now people are wanting hundreds for them. But that 9 shot cylinder was the thing back in the day. I’m glad you still have yours. It’s really hard to beat a .22 cal revolver. I’ve got my .40S&W, .38Spl, and 9mm sidearms… I’ve been considering the Heritage Rough Rider, the Ruger Wranger, or even the Cimarron… fighting with the VA and denied disability and the place I work is cutting hours… just not a priority right now.

  2. I hope I didn’t offend SGT. DAVIS with my last post; if I did, I apologize.

    My opinion and $2.95 will get you a cup of coffee anywhere in town! That said, ANY short gun in 22lr is a joy to shoot. They are as fun as they are utilitarian. Any rifle in 22lr I feel the same.Revolvers with a mag cylinder is a blessing. Just find what you can afford and are comfortable with; let your grandchildren shoot the barrel out after you tried your hardest.

  3. Can’t argue with the .22 semi-auto as a great first handgun. It is an excellent choice. Mine was a DA .22 revolver. It was a graduation present. At the time, the Colt Diamondback was actually reasonably priced, and mine was a 4″ barrel model. I still own it today, and I will never let it go.

  4. No, I have not been in centerfire too long but thanks for thinking that. My oldest daughter is 23, started her with a bolt action single at 7 years old. She couldn’t stand the slow pace of the single bolt action and loved my Savage/Cooey Mod64. But it made her better shooter instead of just throwing lead down range. Taught fundementals, and patience.
    I have one of the first Marlin 917V bolt action rifles off the line obviously chambered for .17HMR when that was introduced in what, 2002?… nothing wrong with rimfire stuff. I’m just not of the opinion that a SEMI-AUTOMATIC 22Lr PISTOL is the best choice for a first one. I really may be wrong but I may be right.
    I wouldn’t exactly recommend the 8mm Mauser or the 7.62x54R Mosin-Nagant or the 6.5 Arisaka or the 6.5 Carcano for kids to start with. I mean really the German 8mm Mauser and the Mosin are rough on a shoulder but so are a lot of things, 12ga single shot break action H&R… or Stevens 301 using target loads… I won’t run more than than two or three shells before I’m bruised but I have Titaninum holding my shoulder together so that’s sort of moot but the point is, yes, .22lr IS a fun round and there has never been a question about that. Just not in a semi-auto pistol as a first handgun/sidearm. Revolver….

  5. Ah, the pro and con. I agree with starting with a 22 pistol. Mine was a Colt Woodsman Match Target. Learned to shoot knowing if I missed was never the firearm.

    How does a review of 22lr leave out the Smith & Wesson Model 41, especially when target pistols are mentioned? It has the option of an iron sight barrel and switching to an optics version as well.

    A S&W double action only J frame in 22 magnum weighs next to nothing, is snag free, has no real recoil, sounds like a real caliber is torched off and has flames to notice. It is much more expensive to shoot but that may be a plus for careful shooting. It also has a surprising plus in penetration. For some it may be a one and only handgun. Seven shot J frame. Learning to roll the trigger does require coaching for most but good instruction should be essentional in any case.

    All said and done, thank you for a good introduction to an important topic.

  6. I like the sound of your pistols to teach my granddaughter I’ve be shooting since I was 8 in my father’s indoor tang I believe you have a future customer. I have mine . Want her to have her own to start . Thank for rhe idea

  7. First gun? Yes, a 22LR is the best place to start, however I believe the old SA revolvers are best for beginners, something like the Ruger Wrangler, affordable, will last many lifetimes, learning basics of safety, basics of sight picture, and NOT being able to do show stopping magazine dumps results in more accurate shooters. Once the basics are ingrained, by all means jump to the semi-auto loaders. The easiest .22LR auto-loader to clean is probably the Glock 44, as it fields strips just like it’s big brothers, and sisters. As for those who have issues with the Ruger MK series: here is the secret: When field stripping, after the safety check, next JUST LIKE A GLOCK, PULL THE TRIGGER! This relieves the pressure on the hammer mainspring so the little lever on the mainspring back strap can be opened easily. When re-assembling, start wit the hammer back, install the barrel and the bolt, then, while holding the barrel into the frame (I insert my thumb into the trigger housing while holding the barrel with the same hand, point the barrel straight down, and while watching the hammer, JUST LIKE A GLOCK, PULL THE TRIGGER. making sure the hammer goes completely forward (use a tip to make sure if need be). Now install the mainspring housing, but do not close the locking lever just yet. At this point it will go together, BUT there will be ZERO spring pressure. Now hold the firearm with the barrel pointed straight up. In this position, holding the mainspring in place, with your thumb, locking lever still open, let the mainspring house open up around 1/4″ or so, this should let the hammer link drop freely down into the slot on the mainspring, which can be tested by closing the mainspring housing with the thumb, and now there should be spring pressure, and the locking leaver can now be closed. Then do a function check. Practice that procedure a few times, and write it down if need be, BUT then go enjoy this incredible accurate firearm. I can do mine blindfolded, and almost as fast a doing a Glock.

  8. Going from a short-barrel revolver to a long-barrel semi helped my accuracy tremendously. Given the distance a rimfire bullet can cover, that’s important these days.

  9. @Arthur
    BTW, I not sure which revolver I would choose in .22lr… the Ruger Wrangler or maybe a Cimmeron.
    But you have like a single action revolver for that one. 😆

  10. @arthur
    Nothing wrong per se with the Ruger Mk3.
    It’s actually very similar in grip angle to the German Luger, which I find to be facinating. That toggle link charging system on those is something. Regardless, and this is only personal opinion so grain of salt… if using a .22lr cartridge why not go with the rifle like a Marlin model 60 or the Savage/Cooley model 64?
    I even have a Stevens Favorite from around 1894.
    For handguns chambered in the .22lr I still think a revolver is best if that’s what you’re in to. I like a standard pressure .38 Spl and .40 S&W
    But hey, I’m weird. Haha

  11. My first 22 was the Ruger mkII. A true pain to clean correctly but a ton of fun to shoot. The T handle charging makes it so anyone could use it. For years the only gun my daughter could shoot. She shot it well out to 25 yards.
    It looks that most people forgot this great old gun.

  12. @Duane Steele… a SEMI-AUTO in .22lr is not a good choice. At least go with a revolver. Mother had a Walther P22… I sadly recommended because of diminished strength. Problem is it’s a PITA to field strip and clean… just like my wife’s Ruger LC9s Pro which she hates. Sorry, but I shouldn’t need a tool to push a pin to field strip and clean a sidearm. Especially if you plan on using it for defense and can’t or won’t clean it. I can’t stand Glocks because they don’t point naturally for any normal human and they’re ugly but I at least repect the way they field strip. A lot of people joke and pick at the S&W SD series. Why? It’s points natural, it’s reliable. Yeah, I could kinda give the Sigma a take it or leave it. My M&P’s are great too.
    Guess it depends on what you like.

  13. 2 yrs ago when ammo was high i bought the Taraus TX one of the BEST guns i bought for and inexpensive gun never had any trouble with and I shoot 100rds or more for penny’s and taught my wife on it before a bought her a bigger caliber, then I bought a real suppressor for it, so much fun

  14. My first 22 was a High Standard model B; so I guess I date everyone. Real tack driver, even today. Also a smith j frame in 22 w/ 2″ bbl. Shoots great to 15-20 yards. Found an ACE conversion for my 1911, a real dream to shoot. I am looking at a taurus 22/22mag with a swing out cylinder. Then you work up to 38 special etc. Pistols are great for pest/critter control. Sounds like SGT. Davis has been in center fire way to long to appreciate the fun you can have with a 22.

  15. Back in the mid fifties (i was 14) my dad had a pair of colt 45 ACPs. He had .22LR conversion kit with them. We shot the.22LR a lot more than the .45. However, I still learned to handle the big bore pistol. Today, 74 years later, I still prefer, and carry, a Glock 30 chambered in .45 A.C.P..

  16. The Beretta M9-22 is my choice, 16+1, accurate as a target pistol and functionally exactly the same as my 92 FS 9mm, NEVER fails to feed or eject, makes me even better with its big brother 9mm on the range. Generally a kick in the ass to own and shoot.

  17. I believe SGT Davis missed the point of the article. A lot of people would be scared off trying a .38 first. my wife had a hard time with the .38. We switched her to a .22lr a for six moths or so. Now she she is shooting my Glock 36 (Small frame 45 A.C.P.)

  18. The Ruger LCP II Lite Rack is great for people with arthritis who may find larger caliber guns difficult to rack. While not ideal for self defense, it beats throwing rocks, as SGT. Davis suggests

  19. Really… First handgun is a 22LR…?
    Please… as rifle, sure. But handgun… start with a .38 Spl.
    If they’re scared of it then they don’t need to be around firearms.
    Let ’em throw rocks. Teach your children.

  20. You Can’t go wrong with a Browning BuckMark! I’ve taught many new shooters utilizing one, 100 rounds later, they were shooting a Springfield XD9, shooting bulls eyes every round!

  21. You Can’t go wrong with a Browning BuckMark! I’ve taught many new shooters utilizing one, 100 rounds later, they were shooting a Springfield XD9, shooting bulls eyes every round!

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