9 Safest Handguns for Beginners Under $500

Handgun purchases are a very popular starting point for newcomers in the shooting world because of their unique combination of size, capacity, and cost of ownership. For new shooters, picking the correct firearm is essential to having a safe and enjoyable shooting experience.

Whether you are new to firearms, or even a seasoned veteran, this guide should help explain some basic safety features, as well as nine good, budget options to look at before making a handgun purchase.

Firearms safety is very important. So important that all newcomers should be taught the four basic firearms safety rules before handling a gun for the first time. And while nothing will ever replace those core tenets, features can be added to guns that enhance their overall safety as well.

There is no Replacement for the Safe Handling of Firearms

Before I begin discussing safety features and design choices, I want to emphasize that the best safety feature a gun owner has is in-between their ears. There is no replacement for making smart and safe decisions when handling firearms.

If you are unfamiliar with the four basic firearm safety rules, it is important to familiarize yourself with these rules before handling firearms of any type.

Remember, if you pull the trigger, you are accountable for the bullet.

Option #1: Glock 17 Gen 3

Safety Features: Trigger safety, striker block, and drop-safe.

The Glock 17 is a full-sized handgun chambered in 9mm Luger. It has a standard magazine capacity of 17 rounds.

These are good firearms for beginners for the same reason they became popular with police departments. They are reliable, quick to learn, and have many aftermarket accessories. Magazines are also as affordable as it gets for handguns.

Glock pistols set the modern standard of being safe to be banged around, but ready to fire at a moment’s notice. All safety features are disabled when the shooter makes a concerted effort to pull the trigger. The trigger pull itself, while not great, adds a layer of safety with a reasonable amount of weight and take-up.

Gen 3 Glocks are available new or as police trade-ins. Trade-in firearms typically have a large amount of external wear but are mechanically in excellent shape. This comes from being kept on an officer’s belt for years, but having a light-to-medium firing schedule.

Mostly police trade-ins only come with a single magazine.

Street Price: $380-500.

Smith and Wesson M&P9 2.0 Compact

Option #2: Smith and Wesson M&P9 2.0

Safety Features: Trigger safety, striker block, drop-safe, loaded chamber indicator, and manual safety (optional).

The Smith and Wesson M&P9 2.0 is a full-sized handgun chambered in 9mm Luger. It has a standard capacity of 17 rounds.

One of the main rivals to Glock handguns, the Smith and Wesson M&P 2.0 is an excellent firearm. They also tend to be slightly lower in price as well, sometimes costing $100 less than a comparable Glock.

The M&P 2.0 excels at being a very ergonomic firearm to hold and shoot, with possibly the best grip texturing available from the factory. This aggressive texture helps the shooter keep control of the firearm with sweaty hands. It can be a bit much for concealed carry though.

The loaded chamber indicator takes the form of an unobtrusive witness hole, which allows a person to look into the chamber. The use of this is debatable though, as it only works during good lighting and is not tactile.

Street Price: $400-$450.

Canik TP9 Elite in a case
The Canik TP9 comes in a nice case with accessories including a holster.

Option #3: Canik TP9SFX

Safety Features: Trigger safety, striker block, drop-safe, and cocked-striker indicator.

The Canik TP9SFX is a long-slide handgun chambered in 9mm Luger. It has a standard magazine capacity of 20 rounds.

The TP9SFX is a value-packed pistol that is imported from Turkey. I consider it to be the most complete pistol on the market because of the following features; excellent trigger, good ergonomics, fiber optic front sight, and carry-optics ready.

The grip is somewhat smaller than other comparable full-sized firearms, and the magazine release can be reached easier by people with small hands.

The design for attaching optics means that the rear sight will be removed from the pistol.

Street Price: $450-500

Option #4: Beretta APX Compact

Safety Features: Trigger safety, striker block, and drop-safe.

The Beretta APX Compact is a compact-size handgun chambered in 9mm Luger. It has a standard magazine capacity of 13 rounds.

Sized down from the full-sized Beretta APX, the compact version deserves a place on this list because it fills an often overlooked niche in the firearms market. It is big enough to shoot comfortably but is still quite concealable.

I have met many people who buy a slightly bigger handgun but never get comfortable concealing it, and people who buy a smaller handgun but limit their practice with it.

This is not to say that you, the reader, are either of these two examples. But, if you are, The APX Compact is an excellent compromise. It has a very good grip and trigger, useful sights, and can be shot regularly without fatigue.

Street Price: $325-375.

Option #5: Ruger Security-9

Safety Features: Trigger safety, manual safety, hammer half-cock notch, and drop-safe.

The Ruger Security-9 is a mid-sized handgun chambered in 9mm Luger. It has a standard magazine capacity of 15 rounds.

Ruger is more known for undercutting the competition on price than innovation, but the Security-9 is still quite unique. While it may appear from the outside to be a striker-fired handgun, it actually has a small internal hammer.

Because of this the safeties differ in form but perform the same function. The manual safety is not ambidextrous, so this is not a good choice for left-handed shooters if this is important to you.

With the lower price comes a less durable or rust-resistant finish, but if money is tight it is an acceptable compromise.

Street Price: $280-350.

Option #6: Springfield XD

Safety Features: Trigger safety, grip safety, striker block, drop safe, loaded chamber indicator, and cocked striker indicator

The Springfield XD product line covers a range of handguns from full-sized to subcompact. The full-sized “Service” version chambered in 9mm Luger has a standard magazine capacity of 16 rounds.

Manufactured in Croatia be HS Produkt and imported under the Springfield brand, the XD line of pistols has about as many safety features as can be integrated into a single handgun. Still though, gripping the handgun correctly and pulling the trigger disables all of them and fires a bullet.

XD pistols have wide aftermarket support for an imported pistol and are a permanent mainstay in the American market.

The service model, while very budget-friendly, only comes with a single magazine.

Street Price: $320-350

Option #7: Glock 48

Safety Features: Trigger safety, striker block, and drop-safe.

The Glock 48 is a mid-sized handgun chambered in 9mm Luger. It has a standard magazine capacity of 10 rounds.

As the “slimline” Glock, the 48 isn’t as compact as most single-stack semi-automatic pistols tend to be. It will have the same safety features as the Glock 17 Gen 3, but with the improvements of the Gen 5 product line.

This should absolutely be a pistol to consider for people with small hands or those looking to conceal.

Street Price: $450-500

Option #8: Taurus TX22

Safety Features: Manual safety.

The Taurus TX22 is a mid-sized handgun chambered in .22lr. It has a standard magazine capacity of 16 rounds.

The considerations for this handgun are different, as I don’t view the .22lr as an acceptable chambering for a defensive pistol. To me, this handgun should be viewed solely as recreational.

What helps the TX22, other than being a well-designed pistol, is the large and obvious manual safety. It is easily seen to be engaged or disengaged by both the shooter and observers. This is a big plus for parents supervising their children.

The trigger is also service-style in pull weight and takes an intentional effort to depress, without being stiff or stubborn.

Street Price: $220-$310

Option #9: Smith and Wesson M&P380 Shield EZ

Safety Features: Grip safety, loaded chamber indicator, and manual safety (optional).

The Smith and Wesson M&P9 Shield EZ is a compact pistol chambered in .380 ACP. It has a standard magazine capacity of 8 rounds.

While very spartan on the list of safety features, this pistol is unique enough to be included on this list for one specific group of people; those with grip strength problems.

A shooter should never physically strain themselves with the simple operation of a handgun. If you, or someone you know, fall into this category because of hand or joint problems, the Sheild EZ is a viable option.

It is offered in a 9mm Luger version as well, and this is a good option for people who can handle the recoil.

Street Price: $400-450.

These are my Primary Considerations When Making Recommendations

First things first, budget counts. I’ve set a hard maximum price of $500. I’ll be using common street prices as my guide, not MSRP.

Secondly, each handgun on the list needs to incorporate basic safety features which are both beginner-friendly and well-designed.

Lastly, practice is important so every handgun on this list will be chambered in a low-recoil cartridge.

What Safety Features are Common on Modern Pistols?

To reduce repetition, allow me to explain the most universal safety features for modern handguns. It is easier to list them all in one place than it is to describe them individually for each of the several choices.

Trigger Safety: This safety is a part of the trigger, or an insert in the trigger, which prevents the trigger from fully depressing when sideways or heavily-angled pressure is applied.

Striker Block: This is a physical block that keeps the striker from contacting the primer of a cartridge when the trigger isn’t pulled. This keeps a pistol from discharging when it received a physical shock or is dropped.

Drop-Safe: While this isn’t one specific feature, a pistol is considered drop-safe when it will not discharge when it is dropped and strikes a hard surface from a reasonable height. A true drop-safe handgun can hit the ground at any angle and not discharge.

Grip Safety: Located on the back of the grip, this type of safety needs to be depressed into the grip of the gun for the trigger to be pulled. The intent is to only allow the handgun to discharge when the shooter is gripping the pistol.

Manual Safety: Generally mounted on the frame of a pistol, a mechanical safety will prevent the trigger from being pulled when in the up position and allow it in the down position. They almost always lock the slide in place in the up position as well.

Loaded Chamber Indicator: While not technically a safety, a loaded chamber indicator is a visual and/or tactile indication that the handgun has a cartridge loaded in the chamber. Some indicators are visual only, while most protrude from the pistol only when the chamber is loaded.

Cocked Striker Indicator: Found on the rear of the slide, this indicator will tell the shooter the firearm is in a ready state to shoot. As virtually all striker-fired guns function as single-action, the striker can only be released by the trigger. If the striker is not cocked back, the handgun cannot fire.

What Makes a Firearm Safe?

We don’t live in a perfect world. Ideally, a gun would only ever fire when the intent of the handler is to do so. But, hands get cold, people trip and fall, etc. Simply put, accidents do happen. Because of this, a good firearm has mechanical safeties built in to help prevent a negligent discharge.

Safety, though, can come at a price. Handgun features that prevent the weapon from firing can be good when they stop a negligent discharge. But, if they prevent the weapon from firing during a self-defense situation they can be very, very bad.

In a prior career, one where I handled a lot of explosives as a private contractor for the government, we had two common sayings. One was “safety comes first” and the other was “you can safety yourself out of a job”. Both of these sayings are true and the concepts apply to firearm design as well.

There needs to be a balance between safety and the ability to fire a shot at a moment’s notice.

Most modern handguns that are meant to be used for personal protection have a moderate amount of safety features built into them. These features will prevent negligent discharges when the firearm is dropped, receives a physical shock, and when light or sideways pressure is applied to the trigger.

My preference when recommending a handgun to a new shooter is to pick a model where all safety features are disabled by a deliberate trigger pull. If a manual safety is present, its use should not be absolutely necessary.

A handgun that doesn’t shoot when you want it to is not safe.

For handguns that aren’t typically used for personal protection, namely those chambered in .22lr, this is less of a concern.