First Time Buyer's Guide
There is a lot that goes along with the decision to buy a handgun. Your first time holding a gun should not come at the counter of a gun shop as you make your purchase. It's a lot like buying a car, buying should not come before learning. If you are unfamiliar with firearms, but desire something for defense, I recommend finding a local range that offers rentals with lots of options, and blowing through a few hundred rounds under the guidance of a trusted source or employee of the range. This allows you to learn the basics of firing a gun as well as finding what works well in your hands and what you feel confident behind.
Once you have a good idea of what you want, do your homework. Find online reviews, and cleaning/breakdown videos to determine whether the maintenance of the gun you would like to have is reasonable, as well as whether or not there have been widespread complaints. Keep in mind, every firearm will have negative reviews. It's up to you to sift through the information and decide if the pros outweigh the cons,
Once you know what you want you need to decide how you will store your weapon. Do you have small children in the home? Do you feel you may need quicker access to your firearm in your bedroom or by your front door? Like tattoos, guns rarely tend to be just a one-time purchase. Once you have one you may want lots! For the time being, deciding what to do with one can be a daunting task. I highly recommend a biometric safe stored in the place you feel most likely to need access to your firearm. The firearm is stored ready for use in a wall-mounted (but not obtrusive to the eyes) box that opens at the swipe of your finger. You can store up to 100 fingerprints in the safe's memory, making it possible to store all ten of your fingerprints as well as those of your spouse if you so choose. There are also under-the-bed models that have finger buttons that open the safe when you press the pre-determined sequence. Whether you live alone or with a full house you need to take into consideration guests that may enter your home or nosey roommates that may look through your things and gain unwanted access to your firearm. The important things to consider with each option are: "How easy would it be for someone else to get my gun?" and "How hard would it be for ME to access my gun if I needed it?"
When you are finally ready to purchase your first firearm, remember that anything you may have fell in love with at the range has been worn in by dozens, if not hundreds, of customers before you. A brand new gun fresh from the box will be considerably tighter and could be more difficult to manage. Check out your local gun shop and get your hands on a fresh firearm. If you're interested in a semi automatic, can you rack back the slide? Can you remove the safety, or do you need the strength from both hands to do so? Revolvers are considerably more simple, but many have reserves trusting a gun without a safety latch. If the shop will allow you to dry fire the gun, is the trigger pull manageable? My first firearm purchase was the Smith &Wesson Bodyguard .380, which was heavily marketed towards women. When I got it to the range, I found I could do NONE of these things! It's best to find this out before blowing several hundred dollars on a gun you can't even use.
And finally, you should get to know your new gun, and I mean REALLY get to know it. Most firearms need to go through a "breaking in" of around 250 rounds-which is all part of the fun of gun ownership. Most women ask me if they really need to spend time at the range if they plan to carry a firearm or have one at home (to which I reply, "You had better!") I haven't met a woman yet who I could keep OUT of the range once they decide to give it a try! It's a wonderful stress reliever, and it could also one day save your life. Just like anything else, practice makes perfect. If faced with the need to use your firearm to save your life you need to be confident that you won't accidentally kill some innocent bystander by mistake. That confidence is acquired through getting to know your gun.
To break it down, there are several basic things you need to consider when purchasing your first firearm.
Personal need- is this for the home, the car, or do you want to carry it? This affects the size range you need to stay within depending on your build and normal fashion.
Physical ability - can you comfortably operate the firearm (If buying a semi-auto, rack the slide, disable the safety latch, pull the trigger)
Maintenance- How much care are you willing to put into maintaining your gun (some are more difficult to clean or require more expensive ammo than others, etc.)
Storage- How will you keep your gun out of other's hands without making it inaccessible to yourself?
Practice- are you willing to take the time to build confidence and skill?