Selecting a Pistol for Concealed Carry
If you are reading this, perhaps you haven't made up your mind or have questions about your selection of a personal defense handgun. There have been many articles written on this subject, most of which boil down to a discussion of calibers and actions. While the caliber and action discussion is important, I find it incomplete and lacking in some important considerations for a person who carries a concealed handgun for self defense. Hence, my point of departure is what it means to live with a pistol every day.
The paradox of the concealed personal defense weapon is that it is something you hope you will never have to use for its intended purpose, but with which you must achieve a level of mastery and familiarity comparable to the other tools you use to survive and get through your day. You wouldn't drive to work in a car that you didn't know how to operate. You wouldn't wear a coat that was three sizes too small or use a carpenter's saw to slice up a pot roast. No, you use the tools appropriate to the job and you learn how to work with them competently. The same holds true with a self defense pistol. You should know how to operate it and have the level of skill necessary to use it safely and effectively. It should fit your hand and your lifestyle because you will be spending a lot of time with it. It should be comfortable to shoot and hopefully to carry.
Handguns are not easy to shoot well. The ability to consistently put bullets into a target quickly and in the places which will stop an attacker is a skill that requires a lot of practice. Too many people have the notion that a pistol is a kind of magical talisman and the user need only take it out and wave it around and the problem will magically disappear. Nothing could be further from the truth. A gun brandished at the wrong time and without the fighting skills necessary to employ it effectively will make a whole bunch of new problems, including getting you killed or arrested and charged with some very serious crimes. Hence, making the decision to carry a gun should be made only with the commitment to practice and learn.
Types and Sizes: Pros and Cons
Medium Frame Revolvers
Even though they have been around for 165 years, revolvers remain an excellent solution. These pistols are simple to use and accurate. They can handle hot loads and larger bullets making them effective personal defense weapons. Examples of this class of pistol are the Ruger GP Series and the S&W Model 66. The ideal revolver would have a 3" to 4" barrel, a six-round cylinder, and a grip that fills your hand. The biggest drawback of these pistols is the speed of reloading, but with practice, a revolver can be reloaded as quickly as an autoloader.
Medium Frame Auto Pistols
The overwhelming majority of professional trainers, operators, law enforcement and military people prefer medium to large framed autoloading pistols. These pistols have the best combination of speed, firepower, and accuracy. These pistols will generally load 8-10 rounds in their magazines (or more if you can find the magazines), have full-length grips, and 3.5" or longer barrels. These guns tend to have adequate accuracy and power, and large enough grips to be comfortable. Examples of this type of pistol would be the Glock 17, 19, 21 and 22, the S&W 39xx, 59xx, and 69xx series, the SIG 22x series, the H&K USP and P7, the Kimber ProCarry and Compact, the Springfield Champion, Para-Ordnance P12, and many others.
Large Frame Pistols and Revolvers
I like big pistols. They shoot more accurately, absorb more recoil, and develop greater muzzle velocity due to their longer barrels. I would include in this group the Beretta 92, the Colt Government Model M1911 (and clones), The N Frame S&W revolvers, Colt Python, Anaconda and their copies. Characteristically, these guns have 5" barrels and weigh 36 oz. or more. The biggest drawback of these pistols is their weight. They get heavy and small framed people may have difficulty concealing them.
Calibers and Power
I will just give you my personal opinion and you can take it for what it's worth. I like the .45 ACP and the .357 Magnum the best. Next the .40 S&W, the .44 Special and the 9mm. Then the .38 Special and the .380 ACP. There are other cartridges, but these are the most common for personal defense weapons and the ammunition is readily available.
The Selection Process
Don't be in a rush to buy the first gun you see. Give it a lot of thought. Ideally, shoot as many pistols as you can before you make a decision. Most gun ranges have pistols you can rent to see how they feel. If you have friends who own pistols, go shooting with them. Most will be happy to let you shoot their guns.
At Bass Pro Shops we have many knowledgeable associates on staff to provide advice and information.
Consider how you dress and your lifestyle. How will you carry the pistol? Can you adjust your wardrobe to accommodate your pistol? Particular body shapes may present special problems. Your physical strength and conditioning may also be a factor, i.e., powerful auto pistols tend to function better for people with strong arms and hands. How much time do you have to devote to practice? As a rule of thumb, autos require more training than revolvers, so don't pick a single-action .45 auto if you're not willing to learn to use it.
As important as any other single factor is the size and geometry of your hand. Hand size varies greatly between people and it is very important to handle a gun and note carefully the comfort of the grip and the position of the controls on the pistol. If you can't easily manipulate every control on the gun with either hand, then find a different gun. People with short thumbs may have trouble with the safety of an M1911. People with short palms may have difficulty with the thick handles of the double-stack 9mm and .40 pistols. People with meaty hands may be "bitten" by the slide of a small auto when it cycles.
Does the gun feel good in your hand? Is the trigger smooth or is it rough and heavy? Is the frame fairly narrow so that it will conceal well? Does the gun have the right balance of power, weight and size? (Remember, bigger is better for shooting and power, but can you carry it for 8 hours if you have to?)
The selection of a holster which fits the gun you intend to carry is critically important.
Summary of Selection Criteria
Your personal defense weapon should be as large and as powerful as you can shoot accurately and carry with a reasonable degree of comfort and concealment.
Your personal defense weapon should fit your hand perfectly.
You should be able to manipulate the controls of your weapon with either hand alone.
Your personal defense weapon should be of sturdy construction and be able to withstand heavy use and rough handling.
Your personal defense weapon should be accurate enough to consistently hit a target the size of a saucer at 10 yards quickly.
Select the largest caliber you can shoot well, and a caliber for which ammunition is readily available.
A good quality holster will be available for the model of pistol you intend to carry.