Choosing a Handgun to Carry Concealed is an Exercise in the Art of Compromise

It seems there is a lot of discussion on the various firearms blogs over the merits of one particular model/style of handgun over another for concealed carry. The reality is that there is no “ideal” concealed carry handgun that meets everyone’s needs. ...[T]he handgun you end up using for your personal protection will inevitably be a compromise. Usually that “compromise” involves the size (and weight) of the handgun...and sometimes the cost.

Of course, you want to carry the most powerful gun that you can for your own protection. A powerful gun — actually it would be a gun shooting powerful ammunition — increases the chances that you can stop an assailant if you should need to do so. However, powerful guns tend to be big and therefore hard, if not impossible, to conceal. If you want a powerful gun to defend yourself, you would select a rifle or a shotgun! But, they are heavy and difficult to conceal and therefore are relegated to use in home defense applications. So, compromises begin in that you need something smaller than a rifle or shotgun that you can carry around with you while you are out in public and that does not draw a lot of undue attention to you. This means a handgun.

Powerful handguns also tend to be big and heavy and thus they are not comfortable to carry all day long. A Taurus Judge, for instance, is a revolver that shoots shotgun shells — in this case .410 shells—but also .45 Colt cartridges. To accommodate the length of the .410 shells, the cylinder is longer than normally encountered on revolvers so the gun is big. Given the shorter barrel of a handgun, the effective range at which you can engage targets with a Taurus Judge is also limited with shotshells — thus the need to chamber it to also be able to shoot .45 Colt pistol cartridges. (Smith & Wesson makes their own version of the Judge, called the Governor, which is chambered to shoot .410 shotshells, .45 Colt cartridges, and .45 ACP cartridges.) Other examples of “big and powerful” handguns include those chambered to fire the .500 S&W Magnum, .460 S&W Magnum, .454 Casull, .45-70, or .44 Magnum cartridges. All of these cartridges are very powerful and are designed to kill dangerous four-leg animals. Because they are so powerful, the average person would have difficulty controlling the recoil produced when shooting such guns. To help reduce the recoil, guns chambered these cartridges tend to be heavy.

More compromises are needed before you can find a gun of suitable size that you can carry comfortably as you go about your day-to-day activities. This usually means you will have to select a less powerful handgun. Most people end up selecting a handgun chambered to fire the .45 ACP, .40 S&W, 9mm Luger, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, or .380 ACP cartridges. Some select even less powerful cartridges such as the .32 ACP, .25 ACP, or .22 Long Rifle. Usually, the smaller the caliber, the smaller the gun is. Of course, small size handguns also have smaller ammunition capacities than larger handguns do, especially if the handgun is a semi-automatic pistol.

So, how have I solved the “compromise” dilemma? I used to carry a Walther PPK/S in .380 ACP. Now most of the time my concealed carry handgun is a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield chambered in 9mm Luger. For me it is the “ideal” compromise between weight, size, and power. (It is actually a little smaller and lighter than the less powerful PPK/S.) Sometimes I may switch to a Kimber Solo, also chambered in 9mm Luger. It is smaller than the Shield and thus I can wear it more comfortably when I’m walking around in summer attire — shorts and a t-shirt—and it fits in a pocket. When the weather is cooler so that I can wear a coat or jacket, I may carry a Glock 19, also chambered in 9mm Luger. It has a much larger ammunition capacity than the Shield or Solo, but because it does it is also bulkier than those other two are.

Now, if you see me at the range — where I tend to open carry — you will see me with something much larger. Usually it will be a Colt 1911 or Ruger SR1911 (either a Government Model or a Commander Model) in .45 ACP or perhaps a Sig Sauer M11-A1 in 9mm Luger. All of them are a little too large for concealed carry, although I have done so during the winter months when I have the benefit of bulky clothes to hide them from view. I tend to carry the larger guns while I am teach classes because they are easier to use for demonstrations and because I can shoot them much better/more accurately than I can my concealed carry guns.

What do you carry? Did you have to make some compromises when you selected your personal defense firearm? Hopefully you made the right compromises. One thing that you absolutely cannot compromise on is reliability. The gun you select for self-defense must be absolutely reliable, 100% of the time. The same thing applies to the ammunition you put in your gun. The gun and the ammunition work as part of a “system” and that “system” must be reliable.

Gary Evens is an NRA-Certified Instructor and Range Safety Officer.

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