Good Advice for Newbies
Some instructors, will provide a loaner, some gunshops, those that have ranges usually have rentals, ask friends that already have guns. The thing is to get the Knowledge, & do the research to make the best possible purchase you can.
People new to the game, (usually women) get sold something that will never fit their needs, I have grown weary of seeing women, that were "sold" a double action only airweight .357 Mag, be alarmed or somewhat scared after setting it off the first time.
When this happens there are at least 2 things going on, number one my job as an Instructor just got harder, & two the student will not be returning to the dealer that sold them the gun in the first place.
To be honest a lot of gun dealers would be wise to refer customers to a trainer, then the student, can get the knowledge to "Purchase" a pistol that fits their needs. They are more likely to become repeat customers, rather than a one time sale.
What I have found is that 9mm semi autos work well for most women, & older adults, as long as the gun fits their hand correctly. The recoil is easier to control than most wheel guns.
With a couple of tricks racking the slide can be done without to much strain, & if they drove themselves to the store or to the class, a semi auto is not to complicated for them!
Also not to sound as I know it all, but women need the same tools the men do, if they are going to protect themselves, the cute little pocket pistols in sub calibers are not all that effective, & some of the new plastic wonder .380's that are so popular are a bit brutal to shoot, enough to get proficent with them.
If you are in the search for a gun for personal protection, consider a standard size(Service) gun or maybe a compact, but avoid a sub compact if you are planning on owning only one gun. Why? they are just easier & in most cases more comfortable to shoot. When compared side by side they really aren't much bigger. So they are not that much harder to conceal, and usually a lot easier to control when it comes to recoil.
If you can't find a class or a rental range, handle as many different guns as possible, find the gun that fits your hand, not to big, not to small, kinda of like Goldilocks look for just right.
Go to as many gunshops as is reasonable, no they are not all the same. It's like finding a mechanic for your car, when you find the right one, you keep going back.
Most newbies would be wise to take the same approch to buying a gun, as they would in buying a car, & for most they will take time to get to know various makes & models, & purchase one that fits their lifestyle. The gun is not a whole lot different.
Xavier covers it here also