Just FYI I'm in Westchester, NY in case that matters for your replies.
What I'm fuzzy on is that some posts make it sound like I can't go into a shop and pick up and handle any guns until I have my license/permit in my hand, is that so?
I have shot plenty of different handguns and almost all the common calibers, and I pretty much have it narrowed down for my first purchase, but I don't want to buy something without having shot it. I need to know it feels good in my hand and holstered, I like the trigger, I shoot it well, etc...
I guess what I'm asking is, how do I test drive a handgun? Do shops have ranges, and if so will they let me shoot a gun or something identical before I make a purchase?
There's usually only 1 or maybe 2 people at the local range that aren't shooting rifles and I'm not about to walk up to a stranger and ask to fire his gun....or should I?
I think most DC members would encourage you to handle as many guns as possible before you buy.
Yes, some gun shops have ranges (indoor or outdoor) and they would probably have some of the most popular guns for rent so you can try them.
I don't know of any state that would keep you from handling a gun at a shop without a permit.
My two pennies...
I can't ever remember reading any posts regarding a need for a license to handle guns in a gun shop.
I would suggest that you get to the gun shop/range and shoot the pistol(s) you are interested in...after the test shooting, you'll have to refer to local state laws. I'm sure that a reputable gun shop would be able to direct your path to a purchase.
Stay armed...start looking for your handgun...stay safe!
I grew up in Utica/Syracuse NY, and in that area it is generally true that shops won't (can't?) let you handle anything without a permit. As permitting varies from county to county, this may be different throughout NY as well.