Find a reputable range, most have courses for new gun owners and take some new owner/safety classes. One it with help introduce you to firearms and safe handling and two the side benefit is you will get the chance to handle various firearms without having to buy them.
Also many ranges allow you to rent firearms. This is a good way to find out what feels right to you. Like in my case I've bought several Glocks [17, 19, 21, 22, 26] and have ended up selling every one of them. Not because they are bad guns, actually they all were excellent guns IMO, but they just never felt good in my hands. Just the opposite is the 1911 variants, to date I have only sold one of my 1911, which I happen to regret, and that is mostly because they feel "right" in my hand.
In general with firearms you get what you pay for.....buy cheap and you get a cheap gun. There are some exceptions or potential exceptions to this but the general premiss is sound.
If you get a handgun or any firearm at that practice and practice often handling and shooting the gun. Especially if your intent is self defense as when it gets to be time to need it you want to be operating on good established instinct and muscle memory. If you are not going to practice save a boat load of money and buy a bat, it'll be more useful.
P.S. study and understand the gun laws in your area, it will save you lots of headaches in the long run
Last edited by Grendel; 11-16-2012 at 08:17 AM.
Reason: added P.S.