Handguns are pretty terrible. They are easy to misuse, easy to neglect, and easy to forget about. They aren’t very accurate, shooting them is more art than science, and we have to train constantly to be any good at all with using them in a stressful environment. Handguns have one real purpose: stopping or killing animals, and they suck at it.
Caliber-specific arguments are completely superfluous in regards to the above statement. A bullet fired from a popular standard handgun cartridge simply does not contain enough kinetic energy to be reasonably sure you will immediately stop or kill any creature of decent size (arbitrary statement: perhaps larger than a coyote).
Larger, more powerful rifle rounds do kill things quite well. That’s why we hunt deer with rifles, and deer are generally smaller than people. But, almost no one goes about their daily life with a .308 strapped to their back; it’s inconvenient, polarizing, and usually illegal. So for ease of carry, concealment, and for legal purposes, we carry handguns.
Selecting the right concealed-carry handgun is not difficult, but it will take some time. If you follow the rough guidelines below, your local gun store clerk can help you select a specific model that fits your needs.
Selecting the Best
Handguns are relatively weak compared to other defensive weapons. However, if we decide to arm ourselves for personal protection and to exercise our rights, we must carry handguns.
There are a few choices to make: caliber, capacity, size, feel, and concealability are the most important, but cost and availability of parts and magazines should also be considered.
We have briefly (very briefly) outlined the main points of selecting a concealed handgun. This is by no means an exhaustive review, and the few examples of manufacturers and ammunition are not meant to be a recommendation of any specific product; they are only examples.
Caliber Matters (Sort of)
Do not be deceived by gun store clerks and forum warriors; caliber matters, but only to a point. Handguns are remote ice picks. They allow you to poke holes in things from a distance, that’s it. Larger calibers usually mean slightly wider holes. They do NOT mean more “knock down” power. That myth has been put to bed many times, but I still hear it every time I walk into a gun store.
Caliber choice ranges from .25ACP mouse guns all the way through .460 nitro hand cannons and beyond. What we need to consider for concealed carry is a “major caliber” (i.e. greater than or equal to 9mm) with enough momentum (not kinetic energy) to penetrate at least 12 inches in ballistics gel. Once that threshold is met, the remaining calibers are personal choice based on your specific situation.
Why at least 9mm? Testing shows that every caliber below (including .380 ACP) cannot reliably penetrate at least 12 inches while also retaining bullet mass and expansion (more on expansion later). This data comes from the FBI protocol tests, you can read more about it here:https://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2015/4/16/throwback-thursday-the-fbi-ammo-tests/.
This generally leaves the most popular calibers in 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. A heavily favored cartridge among some shooters is the storied 10mm. These four calibers are all tested to the same standard, and modern ammunition leaves the caliber debate among them an exercise in circular logic. I choose to carry 9mm handguns for reasons mentioned below, but have also carried .40 and 10mm, both as concealed handguns and while on duty.
A second point to mention is the type of ammunition to be used. Only a reputable brand of hollow-point ammunition with proven data supporting a 1.5x expansion from the original caliber size should be considered. A few examples of these manufacturers would be Hornady, Winchester, Remington, Federal, and Speer. This ammunition is expensive, and enough should be purchased to verify function and reliability in your chosen pistol. Many people and departments have their own favorites (including me) but these really are just favorites. You cannot go wrong with any of the above manufacturers so long as you do a little research and buy the correct loading for your pistol.
Deformation and Expansion of Hollow-Point Ammunition
Full-Sized and Deep-Concealment Pistols
Capacity and Size
Size and capacity go hand in hand. A larger pistol will usually have more space to hold more ammo. Also, caliber choice determines capacity. The same size handgun in a 9mm will hold more rounds in the magazine than it would in .45ACP.
More capacity means more chances to stop the aggressor. Since all handgun rounds are tested to the same standard for penetration, and we know that they only poke holes, more holes are more effective at causing bleeding than slightly larger holes. In general, people are faster and more accurate with a smaller caliber than they are a larger caliber. As long as we meet the threshold of penetration, we want to cram as many cartridges as we can into the selected size of handgun.
Size selection will depend on your personal preference and they way you intend to carry it. I have seen everything from boot and bra guns to shoulder holsters. They all work in their own way. The reader will have to make the decision based on preference and ability to conceal. the general rule of thumb is deep concealment needs very small pistols, and standard inside the waistband carry can use full sized handguns on normal sized people.
Feel and Comfort
The feel and comfort of a handgun is a deeply personal decision. No one can predict whether you will prefer the heft of a full steel frame 1911 or the light weight of a polymer frame. The angle of grip turns some shooters away from a Browning Hi Power, and the same is true for Glocks of all models. The pistol has to feel good in your hand, not too big or too small, it has to point well, feeling like and extension of your arm. Do not hesitate to go to a gun store and try to feel every model in the case before you buy anything. You should honestly feel good about your purchase, and if you have any doubt at all, don't buy it.
I prefer polymer framed handguns with higher capacity magazines than most steel frame pistols. I have big hands, so I like large grips. I also have short, stubby fingers, so a long trigger travel is a no go for me. These are the kinds of questions you should answer for yourself while in the gun store. If you are 100% certain the pistol in your hand is the one, then you can feel great about your purchase and you will get many years of enjoyment through practice, and should the worst occur, you will have a weapon that feels like an extension of your will instead of an ungainly piece of metal in your hand.
Pistols With Better "Feel"
Cost and Availability of Parts and Accessories
Machines break. Pieces wear down, barrels wear out, and springs pop. Make sure your chosen handgun has parts you can order, and will not take months at the gunsmith to get fixed.
Magazines can be cheap and plentiful, or rare and very expensive, depending on the pistol you own. A Glock magazine can run you 30 dollars or so, but when the Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380's first came out, finding additional magazines was like searching for unicorns. I remember seeing them online for $80 each. Magazines are like brakes on your car; they wear down over time and eventually need to be replaced.
Accessories can make the difference between a great purchase and a decent one. Tools to help you take down and clean the pistol will make life easier, and convenient carry cases are the best way to transport your firearm to and from the range.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Javier on April 01, 2017:
Really good tips, thanks