Home Editorials Why Your First Handgun Should Be a Semi-Auto .22 By: Alex Cole

Why Your First Handgun Should Be a Semi-Auto .22 By: Alex Cole

Why Your First Handgun Should Be a Semi-Auto .22   By: Alex Cole
.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.

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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.


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. 


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.


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.


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