How Much Gun Should I Carry?

I recently read a thought-provoking blog post from Greg Ellifritz on this subject (see It is a common question asked by those individuals seeking to carry a concealed handgun. Many instructors, including me, answer this question by saying you should, “Carry the biggest and most reliable gun you can safely handle and accurately shoot.” To some extent, this answer is a “cop out” because it doesn’t really answer the question at all. However, the real answer is one that most people asking it don’t want to hear. That answer is — “It depends!”

Carrying a concealed handgun means making compromises. You may be able to shoot a full-size service pistol in .45 ACP, such as a Colt Government Model 1911, very well, but can you successfully conceal it on your person as you go about your day-to-day activities? On the other hand, you may have difficulty concealing anything larger than a small micro-gun like the North American Arms .22-caliber single action revolver, but are 4-5 rounds of .22 Long Rifle ammunition fired from a very short barrel going to do enough damage to stop a determined attacker?

Some people choose comfort over stopping ability because statistically, you will probably never need to use your handgun to defend yourself. But the chances are not “zero”. Therefore, it might be wiser to carry something big enough to deal with the worst-case scenario that you can imagine, and that isn’t probably a limited capacity “mouse gun”. If I’m dealing with a worst-case scenario like an active killer or a terrorist armed with an AK-47, then I’m not going to feel all that prepared if I just have a handgun. I’d feel better if I was armed with an AR-15-style rifle/carbine, but that is awfully difficult to carry around concealed all day.

Some experts say that if you think you might have to deal with a worst-case scenario, you probably should carry a full-size, large-capacity handgun in a major caliber, a back-up gun, spare magazines/ammunition for each, a couple of knives, a flashlight (and a back-up flashlight), and a small medical kit including a tourniquet. The theory here is that “one is none and two is one”; i.e., if something breaks you need to have a back-up so you can stay in the fight. While that makes a lot of sense in case things go wrong, I — and most people that I know — would find it very difficult to carry all that gear and keep it concealed.

As Greg points out in his blog post, there is no right answer to the question. Instead, what is right for you to carry depends on your abilities, your goals, how “hidden” the gun must be (i.e., concealability), and on your honest assessment of the risks you face.

Regarding abilities, Greg thinks that the less skilled you are with shooting a handgun, the bigger gun and more ammunition you should carry. This makes a lot of sense. If you are not very proficient, you will not be able to place your shots accurately and get the results you want quickly. Indeed, you are likely to miss more often than you can hit your target under the stress of a violent encounter. Missing more means you need more ammunition available to you to produce enough damage to stop the threat. Even if you do hit the threat, the ammunition you use must be powerful enough to get them to stop their attack with the fewest hits. This means the caliber must be larger. In order to have enough ammunition you need a larger gun and to shoot it accurately it needs to be large enough to fill your hand and give you a reasonable sight radius.

The challenge is that a lot of people that I know and have trained, do not practice very often so their skills are not at the level they need to be and they can’t shoot as accurately as they will need to during an encounter where their lives depend on their abilities. Indeed, most people that have a concealed carry license do not get any training beyond their basic concealed carry course, and as I have said many times, that course does not adequately prepare you to be a participant in a gunfight! At best, these people possess marginal skills and know practically nothing about the tactics needed to prevail against a violent criminal. These same people often do not carry any spare ammunition for their handgun, instead relying on the statistic that says most gunfights are over after just 2-3 rounds have been fired. Notice, it says “most” not “all”! One of the statistics that Greg cites in his article is that according to testing done by Karl Rehn, “For a shooter without any additional training beyond a CCW class, a pocket gun will only solve about 40% of the problems that person may face.”

The next area Greg addresses has to do with your goals. If you are a police officer, military special operator, or security guard, your goals are different than they are for the typical armed citizen. Law enforcement and military personnel are in the business of seeking out and confronting “bad guys”. On the other hand, the armed citizen only needs to be concerned about “bad guys” that seek out and confront them.

You do need to consider what you expect your gun to be able to do for you. Are you carrying it to stop the “bad guy” or just to give you some cover fire while you escape from the scene? If escape is all you are concerned about, you might be able to get away with a smaller gun and less ammunition, but this assumes an avenue of escape is available to you when you become involved in an encounter. However, most criminals will pick a time and place to launch their attack, so you have little or no chance to escape. Now you must fight with what you have available.

In some jurisdictions, you can face serious consequences if you allow your concealed handgun to become visible. Fortunately, Ohio is an “open carry” state, so you cannot be charged with a crime if your gun is inadvertently revealed, but you could face other consequences. Does your place of employment forbid firearms, but you choose to carry one anyway? If so, then revealing a concealed handgun could result in you losing your job. Therefore, making sure your gun always remains hidden becomes very important. Doing this may mean you have to carry a smaller handgun than you otherwise would or that is ideal.

The final factor that Greg writes about, and probably the most important, is making an honest evaluation of the risks you face. Those risks will be different for everyone. For instance, I live in a rural area in a somewhat upscale neighborhood, with large lots where each house sits. I am retired so I don’t have to go anyplace on a regular basis. I chose to avoid large crowds and places where there might be dangerous people or situations (such as bars and parking lots after dark). As a result, I don’t expect to encounter any terrorists as there are no likely terrorist “targets” nearby where I live. An active killer might be a possibility since my daughter works as a teacher at a nearby school and I might need to take something to her or pick up her daughter at another nearby school. Of course, both those are “no gun zones” so I cannot go into the buildings armed, but Ohio law does allow me to stay in my vehicle in the school parking lot if I am armed. For armed criminals, the area where I live is not that attractive for getting what they want. While it is somewhat “upscale” there aren’t any millionaires living in mansions anywhere near me. There are much more attractive targets of opportunity in the small towns that surround the rural area where I live. This means that the chances of having to deal with a home invasion are relatively low. I do have a dog that will provide an “early warning” if he hears
anything out of the ordinary, as he does when I come into the house and he hasn’t heard the garage door open first.

But your situation will likely be different. Do you work in a high-stress business? Do you have to deal with members of the public a lot? Does your business have a lot of cash on hand? Do you work after dark? All these factors change what your risk assessment will be. I do remember that before I retired, there was an incident where I worked with a disgruntled employee that had to be fired. He made some e-mail threats that were concerning enough that the owners of the company hired an armed security guard to patrol the building and surrounding property for a couple of weeks. Even though the official company policy was to not allow employees to carry firearms, the owners waived this restriction while the threat existed and knowing that I was a firearms instructor the Human Resources Director and my immediate boss told me specifically that it was alright for me to carry a concealed gun at the office. Fortunately, nothing happened and after a couple of weeks everything returned to normal.

Your assessment of the risks you face will likely change depending on where you are at, where you are going, the time of the day, etc. This change in risk may also dictate a change in the gun you carry — yes, I know most firearms experts say you should not change guns you carry or where you carry it because that may cause you to hesitate while try to figure out which gun you have and where it is positioned. Like Greg, I do not subscribe to this theory. I carry what is appropriate for the situation. For the most part, in a low threat situation I am currently carrying a 9mm Glock Model 43 in an appendix holster. I also carry at least one spare magazine. For higher threat situations, such as when I’m going someplace I am not familiar with, I’ll carry a larger capacity 9mm handgun such as a Glock 19, Glock 26, or S&W M&P M2.0 Compact. If I am dressed for the beach or jogging, I will revert to a Ruger LCP in .380 ACP since I can carry that easily concealed in my minimal attire.

Greg thinks that for most armed citizens the minimum gun you should consider carrying should be chambered for the 9mm Luger cartridge and have a magazine capacity of at least ten rounds. You should also carry a spare magazine as well. The newest Glock pistols, the G43X and G48, meet this minimum requirement, are easier to conceal than other Glock models are (except the .380 ACP-chambered G42 or the 9mm G43, but both hold fewer than ten rounds), and they are reasonably priced.

Of course, there are times that we must go to places where the carrying of firearms is prohibited. In most of those cases, I at least have a small canister of Pepper Spray on me. Another option would be to carry a knife, but carrying one is problematic in Ohio. You are not currently allowed to carry a concealed knife for self-defense, only handguns can be carried concealed. (A change to Ohio law is being consider in the legislature that would broaden what falls under the state’s concealed carry law to include other “weapons”.) However, if you carry a knife as a “tool” for opening boxes, cutting string, etc., then that is okay in Ohio, even if it is concealed. It all comes down to your intent for carrying the knife. For me, I routinely carry one because I use it to pull staples out of targets at the range, open bags of mulch or fertilizer while I do yard work, open envelops that I get in the mail, etc. I guess in a pinch I could use it for other purposes as well, but for me a knife is primarily a utility tool.

So, there you have it. What you carry for your self-defense all “depends” on your abilities, your goals, your need for concealability, and on an honest assessment of the risks you face. Now you have something to consider.

Help us fight for your rights!

Become a member of Buckeye Firearms Association and support our grassroots efforts to defend and advance YOUR RIGHTS!

Subscribe to our FREE Newsletter

Get weekly news and instant alerts on the latest laws and politics that affect your gun rights. Enjoy cutting-edge commentary. Be among the first to hear about gun raffles, firearms training, and special events. Read more.

We respect your privacy and your email address will be kept confidential.


Buckeye Firearms Association is a grassroots organization dedicated to defending and advancing the right of citizens to own and use firearms for all legal activities, including self-defense, hunting, competition, and recreation. Read more.