The handgun is widely used for home defense. Many consider it superior to a rifle or shotgun. Rather than favoring effective range or power, the handgun provides convenience and immediate availability in a way that a long gun can’t deliver.
A handgun is more maneuverable in confined spaces and is more difficult for an assailant to take away from you. Once sufficiently trained and familiarized with the firearm that you’ll be using, you will also find that it can be effectively wielded with one hand, leaving your support hand free to perform other tasks.
In the simplest terms, the tactical advantages of a pistol or revolver for self-defense include:
- Convenience: Relatively compact, the handgun can be comfortably carried openly or concealed. A handgun can be an effective one-handed weapon, so you can open doors, carry a flashlight, activate light switches, or use a cellphone.
- Accessibility: The handgun can be drawn, aimed, and fired more rapidly than a long gun. Due to its compact size, it can be stored or transported in drawers and quick-access lockboxes.
- Maneuverability: In confined spaces, such as corridors, vehicles, and door frames, handguns are easier to aim and swing than their long-barreled rivals.
- Security: Handguns are both more challenging to take away from you because there’s less surface area for an attacker to grab and grip. Mechanically, both semi-automatic pistols and revolvers are generally drop-safe, meaning they won’t accidentally discharge due to a sudden impact.
Best Handguns for Beginners & Home Defense
If you are new to handguns, it’s essential to find the right model that feels like an extension of your hand. You should be able to draw, aim, and fire with relative ease, minimal recoil, and proper grip. Once you’ve chosen your firearm, make sure you practice with it often to develop key muscle memory for self-defense situations.
1. Glock 19
The Glock 19, introduced in 1988, is the subcompact variant of the Austrian firm’s famous Glock 17. Adopted by the Austrian Army in 1982 as the P80 (Pistole 80), the Glock is a polymer-framed, striker-fired, recoil-operated semi-automatic handgun.
Striker-fired means the firing pin is driven forward by its spring rather than a hammer blow.
Known for its simple, rugged exterior — black, rectangular slide — and legendary reliability, the Glock has become one of the world’s most popular handgun designs.
While there is a wide variety of Glock handguns to choose from, in every caliber from .380 ACP to 10mm Auto, and in every configuration you can think of, the G19 is the most versatile and suitable for beginners.
As a general-purpose handgun, the Glock 19 is more compact and prints less than the 17, so it’s often regarded as preferable for concealed carry. Printing refers to the handgun forming an outline through clothing, disclosing that you’re carrying a gun. This is something you want to avoid if discretion is your aim. Only 2.21 oz. less than its full-size counterpart when loaded, it’s the reduction in height and length that contribute to its status as the ideal carry/duty weapon.
However, one of the reasons that model 19 is on this list and not the more diminutive G26 or single-stack G43 is that you sacrifice controllability and magazine capacity as you reduce weight and height.
While the Glock 26 holds 10 rounds and the 43 holds 6, the Glock 19 supplies 15 rounds of 9×19mm Luger ammunition in a relatively concealable package that few shooters have difficulty managing. That’s why the 19 is commonly issued to law-enforcement officers and makes a great home defense weapon for private citizens.
2. CZ 75 B
Considered by many to be a metal-framed alternative to the Glock, the CZ 75 B is a relatively inexpensive all-steel, hammer-fired semi-automatic handgun designed in Czechia (or the Czech Republic) and introduced in 1975. Initially intended to be an export-only weapon, the CZ 75 became an international success and the most popular handgun in its homeland.
Using a variant of the Browning short-recoil system, the CZ 75 is a double- and single-action (DA/SA) handgun fed from a 16-round staggered-feed (double-stack) magazine.
A unique feature of the CZ 75 is that it has a manual safety that allows it to be carried in Condition 1 (i.e., cocked and locked). When cocked and locked, the pistol is carried with a round in the chamber, the hammer cocked, and the safety on. As the gun is drawn from its holster, the safety is disengaged with the thumb, enabling single-action consistency from shot to shot.
In the “B” variant, CZ incorporated a firing-pin safety. Blocking the firing pin until the trigger is deliberately squeezed renders the CZ 75 B drop-safe and guards against accidental discharges.
However, the CZ 75 has an advantage over single-action-only handguns, such as the 1911, and striker-fired handguns, such as the Glock. The CZ 75 has second-strike capability. If you experience a light primer strike or the slide doesn’t enter battery immediately, you can simply squeeze the trigger again to cock and release the hammer. A second hammer blow may be all that’s required to either fire the cartridge or send the slide home.
3. FN 509
Fabrique National Herstal, or simply FN, submitted a handgun design derived from the FNS into the Modular Handgun System (MHS) competition. While not successful in being adopted by the U.S. Army/U.S. Air Force as a replacement for the Beretta M9, FN wasn’t demoralized by this experience and further developed the design. The result of its hard work is an effective tactical handgun for self-defense, competition shooting, and law enforcement — the FN 509.
The 509 is a double-action, striker-fired, semi-automatic pistol fed from a 10-, 17- or 24-round magazine available in either black or flat dark earth. Spanning several variants such as the Standard, Compact MRD, Midsize, Midsize MRD, Tactical, and Compact Tactical, there’s a 509 for every application. Use it for concealed carry, competition, or law-enforcement and military service.
Standing for Miniature Red Dot, the MRD denotes optics compatibility, which means the FN 509’s slides are cut to accept adapter plates for different reflector sights.
FN didn’t forget about left-handed shooters, and every variant has ambidextrous controls, including the push-button magazine release and slide-stop lever.
If you’re interested in attaching a suppressor, the Tactical and Compact Tactical ship with threaded muzzles and thread protectors.
4. Heckler & Koch VP9
Another striker-fired handgun worth considering for home defense is the Heckler & Koch VP9. The VP stands for Volkspistole or people’s pistol, denoting its user-friendliness and popularity.
While Glock is widely regarded as the first firm to introduce a commercially successful striker-fired, polymer-framed, high-capacity handgun, the Heckler & Koch VP70 predated Glock’s emergence on the firearms scene by more than a decade.
Produced beginning in 2014, the VP9 is a continuation of the tradition that HK pioneered 50 years ago. Chambered in 9×19mm Parabellum and fed from a 15- or 20-round detachable box magazine, the VP9 is short recoil-operated using a modified Browning system.
Ambidextrous controls include HK’s famous paddle magazine release, activated by either index finger without breaking a firing grip.
Featuring aggressive charging serrations in the front and rear of the slide, HK has also incorporated what the company calls charging supports. These are 2 horizontal projections that increase the gripping surface of the slide.
5. Ruger GP100
Sturm, Ruger & Co. has been manufacturing firearms, including semi-automatic pistols and revolvers, for decades, beginning with the Ruger Mark I .22-caliber handgun in 1949.
Chambered in the potent .357 Magnum cartridge and introduced in 1985, the Ruger GP100 is a double- and single-action (DA/SA) revolver with a swing-out cylinder. Built on a larger and more robust frame to consume a steady diet of +P .357 Magnum loads, the GP100 is available in various configurations, barrel lengths, finishes, and weights. Even the capacity isn’t fixed since the standard is 6 rounds, but a 7-shot variant is available.
Benefiting from Ruger’s triple-lock system, which uses a retractable bolt to prevent the cylinder from rotating, this revolver offers a powerful, reliable option for beginners and experienced shooters alike.
As a .357 Magnum, it can also fire .38 Special ammunition, suitable for relatively inexpensive range practice. After all, the best handgun for self-defense is the one you are the most familiar with and can easily operate even in high-stress situations.
6. Smith & Wesson Model 442
For concealed carry, a snub-nosed revolver has been a popular choice among private citizens and law enforcement officers for decades. Simple to operate and highly reliable, the revolver offers two distinct advantages for this application.
The first is immunity to low-quality or defective ammunition because it doesn’t rely on the fired cartridge’s power to cycle. If the round misfires, you can simply squeeze the trigger a second time, and the cylinder will rotate, aligning the next chamber with the barrel.
The second advantage is its barrel can be pressed against a surface for a contact shot without the risk of its being rendered inoperable; the action can’t be taken out of battery.
While Smith & Wesson’s first foray into snub-nosed revolvers began with the Model 36 Chiefs Special in 1950, the Model 442, chambered in the .38 Special cartridge, is the modern incarnation of that weapon. A lightweight variant of the Model 42 Centennial Airweight, the Model 442 consists of a 1⅞-inch stainless-steel barrel and a carbon-steel cylinder enclosed in an aluminum-alloy frame.
As a result, the weight is kept to a modest 14.7 oz. Double-action only (DAO), the trigger must be squeezed to both cock and release the hammer, so the trigger pull’s weight and length are consistent from shot to shot. The Model 442 has an internal hammer concealed by the frame, so no exposed spur can snag on clothing or your holster as you draw the weapon. Rated for continuous +P (overpressure) ammunition use, this revolver is compatible with a full complement of .38 Special defense loads.
7. SIG Sauer P238
If you’re in the market for a concealed-carry or backup gun but prefer a semi-automatic pistol, the SIG Sauer P238 offers a compact alternative chambered in .380 Auto.
Fed from a single-stack 6-round steel magazine, the P238 is a single-action-only (SAO), hammer-fired pistol inspired by the classic M1911 design. As a result, you can carry the P238 has a manual safety lever and can be carried cocked and locked, the safety being disengaged on the draw stroke. However, unlike the M1911, the P238 doesn’t have the arguably extraneous grip safety and allows you to retract the slide, either for inspection or charging, while the safety is engaged.
As a concealed-carry weapon, the P238 weighs only 15.2 oz. and measures 5.5” in overall length with a 2.7” barrel. Its height is 3.9”. Stainless steel, the PVD-coated slide is mated to an aluminum-alloy frame.
If the relatively short height doesn’t provide your hand with enough gripping surface, there is a 7-round magazine with an extended base plate available. This should support your little finger or offer more comfort if you have larger hands or are wearing gloves.
While .380 Auto doesn’t offer the same projectile versatility as .38 Special, the semi-automatic handgun that fires it compensates by supplying more rounds and reducing the width by approximately ⅕ of an inch.
8. Smith & Wesson Performance Center M&P 380 Shield EZ
If your grip strength is low or compromised due to injury, illness, or age, you should have a handgun; you can still operate effectively to defend your life. Smith & Wesson offers a solution in its Performance Center M&P 380 Shield EZ.
Chambered in the .380 ACP, the Shield EZ delivers competition-level performance in a reasonably priced handgun that anyone can operate due to its easy-to-retract slide and controls.
In addition, the M&P 380 Shield EZ features a ported barrel to reduce muzzle flip, skeletonizing cuts to reduce weight, and combination tritium and fiber-optics sights to increase visibility. Fed from an 8-round magazine and weighing 18½ oz., this handgun approaches the mass of the compact Glock 19 but fires the comparatively soft-recoiling .380 ACP.
9. Rock Island Armory Rock Standard
No list of beginner handguns for home defense would be complete without discussing the venerable M1911 pattern chambered in .45 ACP. Designed by John Moses Browning and modified by Colt’s Manufacturing Company to fulfill a United States Army requirement, the M1911 was adopted in the year of its namesake and has served the U.S. with distinction until relatively recently. The Beretta M9 was adopted in 1985 as a replacement, reflecting the need for NATO standardization and increased magazine capacity.
However, Browning’s design and the .45-caliber round it fires did not become obsolete, and modernized variants of the M1911 still see widespread use for private self-defense, competition shooting, and service among some special operations forces (SOF).
For the beginner, Rock Island Armory offers an inexpensive entry to the world of 1911 handguns, comparing favorably with the Glock series.
Featuring a 5” button-rifled barrel, the Rock Standard is based on the classic Colt Mark IV Series 70. However, there are several notable improvements. These include:
- Skeletonized hammer and a trigger that’s adjustable for over-travel
- Enlarged and lowered ejection port to expel casings in a consistent pattern
- Enlarged manual safety lever to promote speed
- Extended grip safety beavertail to protect the hand from hammer bite
- Checkered backstrap for increased traction
Fed from an 8-round magazine, the Rock Standard weighs about 2½ lbs. unloaded, which is typical for a steel-framed M1911 chambered in .45 ACP. While heavier than many of the polymer-framed handguns on the list, extra weight helps with recoil management.
10. Beretta 92FS
Produced from 1976 to the present, the Beretta 92 series rode the Wonder Nine wave along with such contemporaries as the CZ 75 and the Glock 17.
Fed from a 15-round double-stack magazine, the Beretta 92FS is a full-size, double- and single-action, hammer-fired semi-automatic pistol with an aluminum-alloy frame. Using a similar recoil-operated mechanism to the Walther P38, the barrel, housed in an open-top slide, recoils linearly instead of Browning’s tilting operation pioneered.
As was common to DA/SA handguns from that era, the manual safety, located on the slide, also decocks the hammer when engaged; therefore, the preferred carry method is Condition 2. In Condition 2, the weapon is carried with a round in the hammer, a full magazine in place, and the hammer down.
If you’re interested in purchasing a firearm to keep on your bedside table for home defense or in your waistband for concealed carry, the handgun is the ideal choice. The handgun is the preferred weapon choice for home defense because it is light, compact, simple to wield and conceal, and easy to operate with one hand.