I own more hunting rifles than handguns but we have a couple for personal safety, I spend many nights alone in the house and they are handy for putting an animal down if need be. I prefer a revolver for a handgun, just a personal preference. I have both Rugers and Smith & Wessons of varying calibers and like both. My dad does some gunsmithing on the side and has been a lifelong gun collector and hunter. With him knowing my preferences he suggested some brands/models for me.
Like others have mentioned, I suggest shooting different models and get what feels good to you.
If you can go to a shooting range, they sometimes have guns for rent. Shooting a handgun well depends a LOT on how well it fits your hand, and you can't know that without trying one out.
The best known Sig Sauer 380 is their single action 238. It is a good gun, but it is best carried 'cocked and locked', which is unnatural to a new shooter. I honestly wouldn't trust myself to carry one, and I've had guns for 35 years.
The Bersa 380 have an excellent reputation among the shooters I've met. It is a bit big for easy concealed carry, IMHO. The only way I've found to be comfortable with concealed carry is in my pocket, and my jeans don't have enough spare room in the pocket for the Bersa.
The Ruger LCP is a smaller, double action 380 that also has a very good reputation. It would be easy to conceal. Ruger builds good guns and back them up if anything goes wrong.
I carry a Smith & Wesson J-frame. Lots of guns stores recommend them to women, but I wouldn't recommend them to any first time shooter. They kick hard and cost $500 on up.
If you are new to shooting, you might consider a small 22. That is pretty small for self defense, but the only gun I've ever pulled for self defense was a 22 I had on me that day. Didn't need to shoot, either - the guys who had started surrounding me decided they didn't want to any more...
The advantages to a 22 are that a very small gun can be more than strong enough, and the ammo is cheap - about $3 for 50 rounds instead of $15-20 for 50 rounds. If you are new to guns, shooting a few thousands rounds is critical to knowing what you are doing. A small 22 revolver is easy to learn, and easy to shoot well. A Ruger LCR22 runs around $350-400, holds 8 shots, would be easy to conceal and lightweight (15 oz, and every oz counts when you carry).
My choice, which I would not recommend for most people (although I use long shirttails to conceal it):
That LCR is a HAND CANNON! It is the perfect size to carry, but not fun to shoot. I would call myself an advanced novice and I didn't like shooting this gun.
General rule, heavier the gun and the longer the barrel the less recoil.
Go to a range or get knowledgeable friends with guns. Go out and shoot multiple times until you have a preference for what you like. I recommend doing the pistol competitions like IDPA to get you completely comfortable with your gun and high stress situations. Joining competitions will also give you access to people who have lots of guns and generally would love to show them off and let you shoot them!
Last note. Do not carry a .22. Get something with some stopping power, and I mean hollow point 9mm and higher.
If anyone wants information about pistol shooting competitions, please feel free to PM me. They are a LOT of fun and absolutely priceless as you gain muscle memory when using your gun.
I know there are so many choices! :) I am strictly a revolver girl thru and thru. I have a S&W 686 I ADORE but being a K frame it is a bit large and heavy for carry which I do daily. As a carry gun I have a S&W 637 Airweight. I love it! So easy to conceal and so lightweight but I agree with the previous poster who said you need to be aware that they do in fact have some recoil to them and you need get used to that. It is for sure a personal thing with guns but going in and trying them hands on is truly the very best way to know what is the best fit for you.
I'm currently looking for a handgun myself. I have no idea what brand or whatever it is, but I keep a 9mm in my car. It's one of my husband's guns that I really like to shoot and he let me keep it for myself since I know how to handle it well. I like it, but it's big and heavy. There is no way I would carry it in a purse. We've been talking recently about getting concealed carry licenses and I want something lighter that won't weigh my purse down but is a "big girl" gun, as I call it. I've been looking at different handguns, seeing what feels right in my hand, and I have just fallen in love with the Sig Sauer P938 Rosewood. For me, it's just the right weight...it's light enough that it doesn't weigh you down yet you feel like you have something in your hand. The size of it also matches me perfect. The grip of it is like it was special made to fit my hand. I haven't shot it yet, finding a range and shooting is the next step, but I've heard good things.
A lot to like in an airweight 38 revolver, Lots of em out there. Taurus has some issues with autos, but their model 85 light weight snub noses are good also.
I used to teach womens pistol shooting, LEO's, security and armed civilians. The bigest problem is most of the gear guns and training are focused on men. News flash, but women are different. Their hand, arms, chest, hips, attire, and brains are different. All of that comes into play. Many of the tactical Tim GI joe wannabe gun nuts don't get that. I see women all the time totally jacked up by wrong teachings.
Rule number one, gun should be physically attached to your body, or locked up PERIOD. No purses, stashed in car, no left on nightstand. If you want a nightstand gun get a instant access handgun safe. Can do the same for a car.
Don't skimp on holster, if the holster lists a long lists of guns it fits, It's a piece of crap. Get one that is specifically made for that particular gun. Plan on at least $50 for kydex, or a decent leather. Also you need a gun belt, yes a real belt designed to carry a gun. Walmart does not sell these. You can get nice looking belts, they don't have to be huge. I have dress belts that have an internal stiffners that work well. A decent belt and a decent holster makes all the difference in the world. You will need to adjust your wardrobe to carry, something many women don't want to do. But it is what it is.
Concealed carry guns tend to be hard to shoot, and recoil. Many women think small is easy, or less intimidating. WRONG. Bigger the gun, the easier it is to shoot, and the less it will kick. Recoil tends to be a function of the size of the bullet and gun. I wouldnt consider anything other than 9mm or 38 spc. Both are fine rounds, on the lower recoil end of effective rounds, and lots of choices in gun models. If I was taking you shopping I would buy two guns. A Taurus model 94 with a 4" barrel in .22 and a taurus model 85 lightweight in 38 special. Id teach you to shoot on the .22, with zero recoil and dirt cheap ammo, and you use that as a target/fun gun. The model 85 is smaller, lighter and bigger ammo and will kick more but it works exactly the same way and has the same feel. If your budget was higher Id do the same thing but with Smith and Wesson Products. A J frame 38 snubby and a model 617 .22 kit gun.
My handle, gunslinger, comes from several years of working behind a gun counter.....slinging guns across the counter.....or gunslinger. I can't say I've fired every pistol our store carried (500)+ but I have fired many of them. That in itself doesn't make me an expert but I do have a lot of experience with the products although I'm no longer in the retail business.
I own a few pistols, carry a .44 mag when riding the trails, love the 1911 and shoot it frequently and keep an NAA .22 mag in my pocket almost all the time. My Ruger single six has tens of thousands of rounds through it and for a beginner learning to shoot it's a good one to start with but hardly a concealed carry solution.
I've own a taurus 85 Titanium and have had it for close to ten years. It's a good firearm for the price. Keep in mind if you find yourself unfortunate enough to have to use the pistol it could very likely be held as evidence and possibly never returned.
I also recommend the Smith and Wesson J frame air weight and the body guard, for price, weight, and power.
One thing that Joe mentioned that I'd like to expand on, women and hand strength.
Generally, the smaller the auto loading pistol, the stiffer the slide spring and the harder the slide is to operate thus requiring a strong grip. It's very easy to get a small pistol pointed the wrong direction, and as the slide is stiff, people without enough grip will turn the pistol to the side rather than gripping the slide from the rear to operate the action.
A friend put a bullet through his hand working the slide in such a manner.
If you're not familiar with firearms.....and.....you don't intend to practice frequently enough to stay familiar with the firearm, a small revolver is a better choice IMO. No magazine to load, no slide to operate, no safety to release. Autoloaders are more complex from an operational standpoint.
Revolvers are easier to load and unload for those with smaller or weaker hands. In many cases of an accidental discharge, a person is loading or unloading the firearm. What ever you choose, you MUST be able to load and unload safely.
Go hammerless, and keep that 12 pound trigger pull...it's not a target trigger, but when things go bump in the night the last thing you want is an accidental discharge.....you want to make sure when you pull the trigger you meant for the firearm to fire......ignore the guy that tells you your piece needs a trigger job, light triggers are for the range, or, for the expert.
So, to summarize.....what ever you decide to buy, make sure you understand how to handle the firearm safely.
Weight and guns: All other things being equal, twice the weight means half the recoil. There is more to taming recoil that weight, but weight is a big factor.
But weight makes it more awkward to carry around, and comes with size that makes it harder to conceal. If size & weight don't matter, then a full size semi-auto or a S&W 686+ are hard to beat. In that situation, I like carrying a Ruger Blackhawk - 46 oz and a plow-shaped handle that makes it fun to shoot.
But for concealed carry, concealed is pretty important. In cold weather, concealing under a coat is great. Most anything conceals under a loose coat. In Arizona, in the summer, a coat makes people suspicious. Something about that 110 deg heat...
Also, stores have the right to post no guns allowed. Tucson has a lot of them. In most states, if you don't see the sign, all they can do is tell you to leave, although you need to know the law for YOUR state. However, if someone panics & calls the cops, you could be shot exiting Costco. If you decide to carry, you will need to think about how to deal with cops who stop you. The law varies from state to state, and cops vary from cop to cop.
Most of the people I know who carry concealed started with a full sized gun, switched to a smaller gun, and then either switched to something even smaller or quit carrying. My ex-Marine Infantry son-in-law first carried a 44 magnum, and now is down to a 22 for daily carry.
How you balance those concerns is up to you. My SIL carries a small 22 everywhere, and carries something bigger if it is night or a riskier part of town. I carry my 23 oz S&W at night, but tend to carry a small thing of mace or nothing during the day. That is why I am considering buying a little 22. You can control and comfortably shoot a 22 that weighs 11-12 oz and fits easily inside your pocket, and a 22 is a lot more dangerous to the bad guy than a small container of mace.
I believe being able to shoot well with a gun is more important than caliber. I used to own a Ruger Alaskan - a 44 Mag with a 2.5 inch barrel. With enough concentration, I could shoot very well with it...but if I didn't concentrate enough, I'd flinch like crazy and miss. There is a reason I used to own it...
If I could only own one gun, it would be a 22. I can afford to shoot 3-4,000+ rounds of 22 each year. With factory 357 ammo, that would cost me $1200-1500+. If you can afford 2 guns, then something more powerful than a 22 is great. Modern 380 ammo comes pretty close to the FBI standard for power. If you can carry and shoot something bigger, such as a 9mm or 38 special on up, great!
But here in southern Arizona, I don't know anyone who carries a gun daily where the gun weighs over 1 lb. I know there ARE people, but I don't know any. Food for thought.