To find a good firearm for you, first decide its purpose. Target shooting, home defense, concealed carry, hunting… what?
No single gun does everything well, so focus on one main function. This will probably knock your choices down 10 or less options all by itself.
Large frames are usually made for accuracy and performance such as competition shooting or hunting. Unfortunately these monsters may force you to purchase a pack mule to help carry it. These could be used for home defense as well.
Medium sized frames are considered the best of both worlds. They are big enough for some performance and capacity, while small enough to carry.
Small frame and micro models are really meant for carry. They aren’t going to be great shooters or hold many rounds... you are sacrificing performance for carry-ability.
Firstly, you’re not Dirty Harry and aren’t trying to shoot through engine blocks. Stay with lower recoil but capable rounds. These also tend to be lower cost and readily available… such as the 9mm (millimeter), 38 caliber and 380 autos.
Every gun guy has an opinion on caliber worthiness, bigger is better and so on. Bigger can be better but if you can’t control it… then it’s useless. Don’t be coaxed by negativity about smaller calibers, I saw a 250 pound boar taken down with a single shot of 9mm self-defense ammo.
I know saying "I shoot a 44 magnum" is super butch, but that doesn’t help you. Start with a lighter caliber that will let you have some shooting success right away. Become surgical with it, then move up… who knows you may stick with that caliber for life.
Fifty years ago some popular options were the 25 Auto and 32 Auto, smaller framed models made for personal protection. Good luck finding ammo and if you do, it will be super expensive. The less manufactured caliber rounds tend to sell for a premium.
22 LR (Long Rifle) and 22 Magnum are great target shooting and varmint hunting options but I wouldn’t use them for personal defense. Although the 22 Mag has high velocity it is a bit small and may not have enough stopping power to be truly effective.
Semi-auto vs. revolver
Both have pros and cons and neither are perfect. Most modern gun owners tend to buy semi-automatic pistols (also called autos or semi-autos) over revolvers based mostly on round capacity and ease of reloading.
Many autos will give you two to three times the round count and are faster to reload. But they are more complicated and can jam. Autos do take more training to become competent… but remember… you are supposed to shoot these damn things.
There is a lot to like about revolvers (also called six shooters or wheel guns). These simple machines have no safety, the controls are pretty universal from model to model, it’s easy to see if loaded and almost never fail. The only real drawbacks are limited round count and are slower to reload. But I have seen some pretty fast reloading by people who really work at it.
Individual dexterity and limitations might dictate your choice. My father has nerve damage in his arm and finds it difficult to work an autoloader, so he chooses to shoot a revolver.
Hopefully, you have whittled it down to a few options and now you have to choose. We will assume that your options are all in the same category of use: carry, home-defense, range use, etc. Here are the categories I look at to help me choose.
Ergonomics: Which one is the most comfortable in the hand?
Capacity: Which one holds the most rounds?
Recoil: If there are different sizes or calibers, which would kick the least?
Ease of use: Which has the easiest controls to manipulate, including trigger pull?Field proof: Which one has the longest and best track record?
3rd party support: Which has the most aftermarket support: parts, holsters, etc?Brand reputation: Which brand has a better reputation for quality and dependability?
Aesthetics: Which do you find most attractive? Sounds girly maybe… but valid if it helps you make the final decision.
Cost: Which costs less? Notice this category as it is the least important but it can be used as a tie-breaker.
The one that checks the most boxes is your winner. You may not have to use this as the earlier sorting process may have brought you to a single option.