Handguns are more popular than ever. We've seen record numbers of new gun owners emerge over the last few years, and that's a Good Thing. Even if you’re not a gun enthusiast, you've at least considered purchasing a handgun for self defense or home protection. Possibly even recreation, competition, or just simple target shooting.
However, going out to a gun shop or exploring the web for the “best pistol” can be a daunting and confusing process. Particularly – perhaps especially – if you’re adding for you to the end of that phrase.
The Springfield Armory Hellcat RDP is a popular concealed carry handgun with a startling ammo capacity (how many bullets it will carry in the magazine) for its size; new shooters should be aware, however, that contrary to what many people think, smaller guns are typically more difficult to control and shoot accurately than larger ones.
Going through a potential seller's inventory, you will quickly realize that there are many more factors than just handgun caliber to consider when choosing your pistol. One should not blithely accept someone's advice (or some website's advice!) without performing due diligence. “Just get a Glock pistol,” or “The Walther PDP would be perfect for ya,” might very well be true, but we're talking about a tool used to defend life here. The subject merits consideration.
Through this guide, we will help you better understand these firearms and at the end provide our top picks and list ofyou should consider owning in 2024.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Handgun
First and foremost, why are you choosing a pistol and for what purpose?
When you’re going to buy a handgun, know why you are getting it: for concealed carry, home defense, sports shooting, etc.
This is (or should be) a huge factor. A gun owner interested in personal defense might need something very different than an off-duty law enforcement officer, and both of those probably require something different than a Jerry Miculek or a Becky Yackley.
When considering the right pistol for yourself, it’s important for it to feel comfortable and natural while you’re holding it in your hand.
The main factors to consider here are caliber, size, and overall design.
Talking about a handgun's size can be a topic on its own. However, if you’re a first-time buyer, you probably doubt which one will be the best choice.
As for any other firearm, everything starts with one thing - purpose.
A common misconception is to match the gun’s size with the person. For instance, we often see boyfriends or husbands buying their girlfriend or wife a pocket pistol, subcompact pistol, or revolver (like the Ruger LCR in .38 Special).
Although it will get cute points, this does them a colossal disservice. Smaller guns require more grip strength to control and shoot. Its other major downfall is its lack of firepower, as most only allow 6-7 rounds.
Smaller pistols can be difficult for people to shoot well. Sure they are easy to conceal, but modern holsters and new modes of carry alleviate much of this.
A full-sized or duty type of handgun transmits less felt recoil and allows for better control of your gun.
However, when it comes to concealed carry, you might want to look for something more compact. In this instance a compact pistol may work better, here the barrel or grip frame is only an inch or two shorter than the full-sized pistol.
Revolvers like this gorgeous engraved Colt Python revolver have a great rack record of reliability, but that doesn't make it the best handgun for everyone...it makes it the best handgun for someone who needs (and can operate and maintain) a wheelgun. The ability to handle and correct revolver malfunctions (which do occur) is less common and less easily mastered than those one might experience with a semi auto pistol.
Practice and familiarity will be critical components of purchasing your new firearm.
This is why we recommend new gun owners purchase something that they can take to the range and shoot regularly. Consider things like standard issues, availability, and pricing.
If you’re a new gun owner, you will need a lot of ammo. This is because you will be spending a lot of time practicing on the range to become both familiar and comfortable with your new firearm purchase. The 9mm Luger cartridge will be a good start.
Calibers like 22 long rifle or 10mm auto are easier to manage or have more horsepower (respectively) than others, but in general, 9mm is the most popular handgun cartridge among gun owners (particularly in the striker fired pistol crowd). This means that (typically) you'll be able to find and secure ammo at a reasonable price. That's significant because you will need ammunition to train and practice - which you absolutely should be doing.
Handguns as well as rifles can be equipped with different types of sights.
Most handguns are sold with iron sights from the factory, but many pistols are now available with options for adding an optic such as a red dot sight.
Iron sights are the most common type of pistol sights. They consist of two parts: a rear sight and a front sight.
Iron sights are simple, they don’t provide magnification, but they also don’t require batteries. Most of the time, they are made of plastic or steel. As you learn to shoot, you will learn how to align the sights to the target properly.
On the other hand, optical sights include red dot sights and scopes. Red dot sights use batteries to power their electronics which project an aiming reticle onto a lens. They don’t have any magnification; they are smaller and lighter than those made for rifles.
Scopes, however, are less common on handguns. They are mostly used for hunting or long-distance target shooting.
All in all, iron sights are a better option for daylight shooting, while optics may be a better choice for nighttime shooting. However, this is just a recommendation, as you have the final word when purchasing a handgun or accessories.
Another question prospective gun owners should ask themselves is, "Do I want a manual safety mechanism?" There are some people who are simply not comfortable carrying a semi automatic pistol that doesn't have a thumb safety (like this Beretta 92X) or something similar aboard.
The Best Handguns
As promised, here are some suggested pistols that might merit the title “best handgun.” Note the pros and cons of each; understanding some of the features and attributes we look at will help you make an informed choice regardless of what you finally purchase.
- SIG Sauer P365 SAS Pistol Nitron
- GLOCK 48 MOS
- Staccato 2011 C2
- Colt 1911 Government Series 70
- IWI US MASADA Pistol
- SIG Sauer P320 X-FIVE Legion
- Wilson Combat WCP320 Full
- Heckler & Koch (H&K) VP9
- Shadow Systems XR920 Combat
- Beretta 92X Performance
1. SIG Sauer P365 SAS Pistol Nitron
The SIG Sauer P365 series of handguns has revolutionized the world of concealed carry (CCW) pistols. These compact firearms offer a decent magazine capacity and have a devoted following among gun enthusiasts.
The SIG Sauer P365 SAS is a pistol that introduces some changes to the platform.
The SAS stands for Sig Anti Snag meaning this pistol comes with some anti-snag capabilities.
The P365 SAS comes with an embedded sight called the FT Bullseye Fiber Tritium Night Sight. Compared to the traditional iron sights, this one is integrated with the slide giving you a smooth and flush profile.
To aim, you focus on the target and the green dot will appear superimposed over the target in what is almost an optical illusion. With training it can be a very intuitive and efficient system.
The P365 has a smooth exterior. Controls are seamlessly integrated into the pistol and feature flat and flush button controls to maintain a snag-free design.
Another P365 variant - the SIG P365 SAS with a rail-mounted Surefire XSC.
At the muzzle, you will notice that the barrel and slide are ported. These are cuts like an exhaust system in a car. As the bullet passes the ports in the barrel, the gas and expended energy force the pistol to move downward slightly, allowing the shooter to stay on target.
Overall, the SIG P365 SAS is a great addition to the P365 line, representing an evolution of the platform.
2. GLOCK 48 MOS
Glock has always been popular throughout the world, their pistols were the first mass produced polymer framed, striker fired handguns that were successful.
The Glock 48 is a slimmer variant of the standard Glock handgun with a reduced width. The length of the Glock 48 is 7.28 inches weighing 20.6 oz when empty. It is chambered in 9mm.
Glock has made recent changes to its 48 MOS variant by incorporating built-in optics modularity. The slide is cut to accept micro red dot sights such as the Sig Sauer Romeo Zero for example.
Glock 48 MOS features a sleek silver stainless steel finish but is less reflective compared to the standard Glock 48.
The Glock 48 MOS is very similar to the larger Glock 19; however, its slimmer profile makes it easier to handle and shoot for most people.
One of the secondary effects of the popularity of Glock handguns is the proliferation of so-called Glock clones, like the Lone Wolf Dusk 19. Definitely a pistol worth consideration (particularly our exclusive model, if we do say so ourselves).
3. Staccato 2011 C2
Another handgun on our list comes from Staccato 2011, particularly the model C2. Compared to some of the others this one is a bit pricey - but its reputation has long since validated the cost.
Compared to the Glock 48 MOS, the C2 is a little bit bulkier in all directions. It’s 7.5 inches long, 1.3 inches in width, 5.5 inches in height.
The Staccato 2011 C2 features ambidextrous safety levers meaning you can easily operate this pistol whether you’re a left or right-handed shooter. The shape and position of the safety levers are designed to be ergonomic, and their engagement is crisp and positive.
The C2 is chambered in standard 9mm caliber with a mag capacity of 16 rounds and is known for its inherent accuracy.
The mag release is positioned on the left side with the option to reverse it for left-handed users. The magazine is ejected rapidly and with good force.
Overall, the Staccato C2 provides a great shooting experience and is valued among lots of shooters. The pistol is a great combination of safety levers, reliable grip safety, and an excellent trigger (which is a great feature on all Staccato pistols), and all of them contribute to Staccato's reputation.
Price: $2,099.00 Purchase here!
The Staccato XC is another excellent contender for "best pistol" from the Staccato line.
4. Colt 1911 Government Series 70
We can’t write this list without mentioning one of the most iconic handguns ever made. Colt 1911 has a long history behind it including its use in two world wars and many other after.
Through the US army, about 2.7 million of these were procured since it was made.
However, if you've never owned this gun, we’ll write a summary of what you can expect from it.
Basics first: it’s chambered in .45 ACP caliber with 7 + 1 mag size. It’s made of stainless steel and it has a great corrosion resistance capabilities.
The sides of the gun have a polished finish while the top and bottom of the slide feature a matte finish.
Despite having a well-known name and its legendary status, Colt 1911 Government Series 70 doesn’t have any rails or support any new sights. It has front and back iron sight and that’s it.
However, the Series 70 demonstrates excellent accuracy due to its natural point of aim, balanced design, mild recoil, light trigger pull, and fixed barrel configuration, which differs from the tilting barrel design of more modern pistols.
All in all, Series 70 is a very nice replication of the original M1911A1 pistol. It provides great reliability, quality, and accuracy so if you go with this one, you can be sure you didn’t make a mistake.
5. IWI Masada
The IWI Masada is a polymer-framed, striker-fired pistol that has gained quite a following in recent years.
One of the key features of IWI Masada is its ergonomics. It’s designed to fit comfortably in the hand with good balance and grip texture providing a secure hold. Its overall length is 7.1 inches with a 4.1-inch-long barrel.
Chambered in 9mm Parabellum, magazine capacity is 17 rounds, which is ideal for most shooters.
As for the trigger, we are amazed by its crips and consistent break with a short reset making it conducive to rapid and accurate follow-up shots.
Other features we would like to mention are an ambidextrous slide stop/release and a reversible magazine release. So whether you’re a left-handed or right-handed shooter; it doesn’t matter, this pistol fits both situations.
The trigger guard allows for easy access, even if you’re wearing gloves. All these features make for an overall user-friendly design.
If you were wondering about optics, the answer is yes. The IWI Masada has an optic-ready design. However, if you still want to go with a traditional iron sight, you can rely on the three dots used on the front and rear sight to assist you in target acquisition.
We also wrote a review about IWI Masada. Check out our full review!
All in all, the IWI Masada offers a variety of features for the price. However, as its polymer-framed, you can expect the pistol to be lighter which can result in slightly higher recoil.
Marketing material from Walther Arms about the Walther PDP; some people might consider that phrase over the top (not us), but they're not at all wrong.
6. SIG Sauer P320 X-FIVE Legion
SIG Sauer’s P320 X-Five Legion is a full-size pistol loaded with impressive features.
The elongated trigger frame allows easy access, especially when wearing gloves. The beavertail on the grip frame enhances the ability to establish a solid grip. The grip texture differs from the standard P320, lacking finger grooves, but it still feels great in hand.
It features a tungsten-infused polymer grip which provides great ergonomics making it very comfortable to hold. However, the frame is not interchangeable with other P320 handguns.
The slide is made of stainless steel, the barrel is made of carbon steel. The slide stop is ambidextrous.
The top of the handgun features a 1913 Picatinny rail which provides support for accessories. If you’re not into that, there’s a steel iron sight with fiber optic on the front. In combination with clear back sight, you’ll have one clear dot helping you in aiming and acquiring targets.
As for controls of this pistol, there is no physical safety; you’ll have to rely on trigger control for safety. Magazine release features a large button easy to operate, something similar to other P320 models.
The X5 Legion is chambered in 9mm caliber.
If you’re wondering about concealed carry, X5 Legion can be used as a CCW you’ll just need the right holster. However, weight may be a problem if you’re not used to carrying heavy handguns, and also, in the long run, it can put more pressure on your joints.
7. Wilson Combat WCP320 Full 9mm Pistol
Wilson Combat is a famous handgun manufacturer known for its unique approach to pistol customization. While they offer their own designs like the popular 1911 platform, they also specialize in improving stock pistols from other brands such as Beretta, Glock, and SIG Sauer.
The WCP320 is another example of their custom work which is, as you can see, based on the SIG P320 platform. Its slide and barrel have a durable black DLC finish.
It features a custom frame offering a full-height grip for better handling. It has a barrel length of 3.9 inches. The X-TAC pattern on the frame and slide provides a secure non-slip grip.
The magazine holds 17 rounds, and the pistol is chambered in 9mm.
For better recoil control and balance, you can add weights to the rear of the mag. The WCP320 Carry offers a natural grip angle, allowing for efficient target acquisition.
The WCP320 mixes the craftsmanship of Wilson Combat with the reliability of the SIG P320 platform, resulting in a highly customizable and improved handgun suitable for concealed carry, home defense, or competition shooting.
8. Heckler & Koch (H&K) VP9
The HK VP9 is a new-generation polymer-framed striker-fired gun that has a great build and ergonomics. The grip offers not only great comfort and a good texture. You can alter the grip for a better fit to your hand.
The slide is made of stainless steel. On the top is an iron sight with 3 dots making target acquisition easier. The frame features a rail which supports mounting various pistol accessories.
Barrel length is 4.09 inches, and the pistol is chambered in 9m.
The VP9 has a paddle mag release which requires a little bit of getting used to the design. We personally like button mag release, but everything depends on your personal preferences.
In conclusion, the HK VP9 is a highly durable and aesthetically pleasing firearm. Its exceptional ergonomics, accuracy, and reliable performance make it a solid choice.
9. Shadow Systems XR920 Combat
It cannot be disputed that Glock has left a huge impact on the firearms industry. This has prompted different manufacturers to make a better pistol with a very similar design and approach.
As a result of that influence, we have the XR920 pistol made by Shadow Systems.
The pistol features iron sights represented by a black metal rear sight and a tritium dot front sight with a green outline. This aids in rapid target acquisition and improves your aim. The slide is cut to allow the mounting of a red dot sight.
The full-length grip provides better comfort if you have larger hands and allows you the use of 17-round Glock magazines that sit flush. XR920 is chambered in 9mm too.
Overall, the XR920 from Shadow Systems provides a reliable and versatile option for those seeking a pistol with a combination of a compact slide and full-size grip frame, along with the ability to mount a red dot sight.
10. Beretta 92X Performance
The Beretta 92X Performance is a variation of the well-known Beretta 92. Compared to it, this model is quite improved but remains in the scope of Beretta 92.
If you take a closer look at this handgun, you can see a Brigadier slide that has weight-reducing cuts. The handgun slide and frame feature a silver finish.
The Beretta 92X weighs 47.61 ounces, features a steel frame, and has a 15-round magazine. It is chambered in 9mm.
The grip has been improved with a rounded trigger guard, an extended beavertail, and a modified grip angle to allow for a comfortable high grip. The frame is optimized for competition with an ambidextrous frame-mounted safety, oversized controls, and checkering on the front strap. It meets IDPA regulations by removing excess material.
This pistol has an improved balance which helps reduce felt recoil. Muzzle flip is minimal. The pistol has a bright red fiber-optic front sight, adjustable rear sights, and a slide cut for installation of a red dot sight.
The SW MP pistol (in this case the 2.0 model, but including the MP Shield) is yet another handgun that has a huge following among gun owners. Many adherents prefer it to any of the other big-name handgun brands.
If you came this far, till now you probably know how to select the best handgun to meet your needs. There are various options to consider and choose from, so we made this list as a starting point.
Whichever option you choose from this list won’t make you regret spending money on it whether going for the most expensive option or one most affordable from this list.
And, of course, ammo shortages won’t bother you as pistol ammo is most widely available.