When it comes to a concealed carry gun, how small is too small?

Republished from The Outdoor Wire.

Recently, I met someone who was interested in the new Glock 43. He said that he was carrying a six-shot Kahr pistol and, due to size comparisons he'd stay with it. I'd wondered about carrying such a small gun as a primary self-defense tool and said so in an article.

A reader replied. While I won't identify him, I'm going to post his comment here – noting that he's a person of some experience who works with experienced folks.

"If we have decided that we need to carry a gun we have decided that because . . . we believe a possibility exists of having to use our gun (God forbid). Small guns are harder to shoot than guns which better fit our hands, have better ballistics due to longer barrels, larger sights, a longer sight radius, and less recoil. I believe too many armed citizens want a free lunch and want to fit their carry gun to their wardrobe and not vice versa."

He's right. However, I know people who've worked in environments where – due to dress codes and close proximity with others -- a deep concealment piece is the only solution if you feel the need to carry a gun. That is clearly not everyone – I recounted a story of a young man who's been the owner of a Glock 23 for a number of years, has a permit, but has only carried a few times because "it's too big."

Okay. But how small is too small? Are you ever justified in basing your personal survival on a little gun? How can you tell?

Case in point: I'd talked to some friends at Ruger about a stunt I wanted to perform for this article. I had a Ruger LCP, just needed a few magazines to make it doable, and knew what I'd do. I was talked into trying their new upgrade to the LCP – the LCP Custom.

It's still a sub-10 ounce .380 ACP pistol with a 2.75" barrel, still has a six round capacity, with barrel and slide made of steel and a grip frame of glass-filled Nylon. The new gun has a "drift adjustable" rear sight (instead of the trench in the slide on the original) and a high front sight with a Photoluminescent dot.

The trigger is obvious in that it's red anodized aluminum with holes in it – yes, holes in it – and the face of the trigger is wide and flat, making the trigger press feel . . . different.

The LCP that was here previously was from 2013 and was an improvement over the original LCP in trigger press – the hammer is "pre-set" or partly staged and the sights were improved over the original gun – though still small, a little easier to see.

Locked-breech or not, 10-ounce or so .380s will pull at you some. After sixty rounds, you can feel it.

Is this a gun I'd recommend for primary self defense? Not usually, but in special situations. But how would the LCP or LCP Custom do in a test designed to test shooters with service sidearms?

My correspondent was right. This gun is too small. By way of testing, I'd noticed that Greg Ellifritz, in his blog on Active Response Training, that the current FBI Pistol Qualification Course could be very court defensible and have other benefits:

"In fact, using the FBI standards might make a lot of sense for the average armed citizen. The FBI recently changed their qualification course to better reflect the scenarios where agents have fired their weapons. Since the FBI agents are plain clothed and carry concealed, the situations where they use their guns are very similar to the situations that the average armed citizen might experience."

Tom Givens, Rangemaster Firearms Training Services, apparently agrees as he uses this course of fire in his classes. He's also done an assessment of FBI's analysis of their shootings and compared it to DEA and to the shootings involving his own students.

That's good enough for me. The Ruger LCP Custom arrived, I added to my meager stash of .380 ACP by picking up a box of Monarch 95 grain ball from the local Academy Sporting Goods store. I supplemented that fifty-round box with ten rounds of Cor-Bon 90 grain JHP to make the sixty rounds necessary for the course of fire.

The course is fired from concealment and shot on the FBI QIT-99 target. I had those from a previous job I'd done. Any hit in the "bottle" counts as a point, with 48 out of sixty required for an agent to "pass."

With a ten-ounce gun with an overall length just over five-inches, I wondered if I'd make 48 hits.

They start at three yards and stages go back to 25 yards. I prefer the AFTT-modification of the Arizona Daytime Handgun Qualification Course (not the current course, but the previous) in which shooters fired the 25 yard stage first – we could see where the hits were – then start at the closest range and move back, ending at fifteen yards. I did this here, starting with the last stage first, then moving all the way forward to 3 yards and working back.

From behind a cover item at 25 yards, draw to a pair of hits standing, go to kneeling and produce three hits, all in 15 seconds or less. Do this twice for ten rounds total. I took a lot of the time – hey, these were the first rounds I'd ever fired from this gun. I had four hits in the "bottle" outline with a flyer low – my called "clutch" at the trigger. The second iteration put five in the bottle.

Yep, that's one low and out of the running. The rest are there.

At three yards, it's three hits in three seconds fired with dominant hand only – done twice – followed by a draw to three hits dominant hand only, passing the gun to the support hand and producing three hits with the support hand only – all in eight seconds.

At five yards, produce three hits in three seconds, freestyle, done in four strings of fire (total 12 rounds). Then it's four rounds, four seconds from seven yards, done twice. The last string at seven yards is draw to four hits, reload and make four more hits in 8 seconds.

You haven't experienced true fun until you try a reload drill with an itty-bitty gun.

Finally, there are two strings of three rounds in six seconds and a string of four rounds in 8 seconds from fifteen yards.

I made the times, I pulled no more rounds out of the outline, for 59/60. I did use a lot of target "real estate," making the counting easy. It's a bit wearing shooting a tiny .380 (locked breech or not) weighing less than 10 ounces empty for sixty rounds. I don't notice any effort shooting a Glock 19 on the same course. It appears that it's possible to make carry of this pistol defensible in an academic sense. Is it the best choice? Not for a primary gun unless you just have to. If you're going to rely on something this small, you better be a good shot with it. As a redundant safety measure, it's great.

Some time I need to try it with the earlier LCP. I imagine the result will be similar even with the smaller sights and the round, narrower trigger.

Did the sights and trigger help? They sure didn't hurt. Actually, the sights are kind of incredible – I had no trouble seeing them. They're still small, but I could see them with my ancient eyes.

For really discreet carry – and for carry as a second or third gun – the Ruger LCP Custom is formidable.

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