How will the gun be used? Home defense and target handguns are different from those for concealed carry. You do not need a small, lightweight gun for home defense. There are several reasons. First and foremost is comfort of shooting. It is simple physics. A larger gun with a longer barrel will have less felt recoil. The chamber pressure produced when firing a 9mm round is the same whether the gun weighs 35 ounces or 15 ounces. What is different is felt recoil based on those two factors. So think about how you plan to use the gun. If it is for home defense then get a larger frame gun with a 4 – 5 inch barrel. You also tend to gain in magazine capacity for semi-autos with a larger gun. This may be important in home defense and is a definite advantage at the range.
If the gun is for concealed carry then you need a smaller and lighter gun. Like most things in life, there is a tradeoff here. To gain concealment you have to live with more recoil and lower capacity. These guns are easy to conceal but not typically fun to shoot at the range. Yes, you do need to shoot them regularly to remain proficient, but two to three magazines or cylinders is about all you will want to do. For the first time gun buyer of concealed handguns it is very important to know your recoil comfort level by trying different guns before choosing a small handgun.
What style handgun is best for you? It comes down to either revolvers or semi-autos. Both have their proponents and positive attributes. Revolvers are simple to operate and rarely fail to fire. If hand strength is an issue this may be the best bet. Semi-autos typically have less recoil and greater capacity. Sometimes the slide is difficult to pull back and in a failure to fire event those with poor hand strength may not be able to clear a malfunction. Before buying a semi-auto make sure you can operate the slide. Small semi-autos are typically more difficult to get the slide back than larger framed guns.
Next, what caliber should you choose? One of the most argued questions in the gun world right now. For the first time buyer we typically recommend a 9mm in a full frame semi-auto. Because of the previously mentioned low recoil most people can shoot it comfortably. Also, it is the least expensive of the centerfire handgun ammos so you will shoot it more often. Practice makes perfect. Bottom line: Go with the caliber you can comfortably shoot. If that is a .22 LR just remember you have to be very accurate in a self-defense situation.
One last note. Husbands and boyfriends should not select a handgun for their spouse/girlfriend. The used gun racks of gun and pawn shops are full of guns bought for women and they didn’t like them. Let her do her own shopping. This is a very personal decision of something she will use to protect her life. If she can’t operate the gun or doesn’t like the recoil she will not have confidence in it and will not practice. This is something we see all the time. A man walks in the store and says he’s looking for a handgun for his wife. When we start asking questions about how she will use it and what she has shot before, it becomes obvious that she needs to be part of the buying decision. We encourage them to bring the ladies into the store to let them hold guns and ask questions. It is their gun.