It is your right to carry a firearm to protect yourself and your family. However, it is your responsibility to know how to operate that gun correctly and safely. In the Shooter’s Bible Guide to Concealed Carry, author Brad Fitzpatrick delivers on-target tips and valuable information on familiarizing yourself with firearms and gaining the confidence you need to protect yourself in the worst of situations.
The Shooter’s Bible Guide to Concealed Carry offers descriptions of gun terminology, advises shooters how to fit guns, examines how to practice and offers advice on how to correct mistakes.
Author Brad Fitzpatrick is an outdoor writer and contributing editor for the magazine Rifle Shooter. He has written more than 100 different articles for several different outdoor publications, including Petersen’s Hunting, Gun Digest, Gun World, Sports Afield, Outdoor Life, Gun Dog, and other magazines.
Included in the Shooter’s Bible Guide to Concealed Carry is a comprehensive chart describing the various calibers for concealed carry, suitable instructions for maintaining your firearm, and most importantly, expert step-by-step instructions for shooting.
To order Shooter’s Bible Guide to Concealed Carry, click here.
The following material from Shooter’s Bible Guide to Concealed Carry is adapted from Chapter VIII, Choosing a Firearm for Concealed Carry. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. Copyright 2014, Skyhorse Publishing.
Chapter VIII. Choosing a Firearm for Concealed Carry
Selecting a Revolver
Deciding which revolver to purchase can be difficult. After all, you are relying on this gun to protect your life and the lives of your loved ones. Fortunately, there are a number of good revolvers for sale that are designed for defensive carry.
There are several important points to consider when selecting the right revolver for you. First, it has to fit your hand and be comfortable. If you have very small hands, then you’ll want to find a revolver with small grips, and if you have big hands, you’ll need a gun that has a large enough grip to allow you a firm and proper hold. Most concealed carry guns are built to an average, so they will fit the shooter with an average-sized hand. If you purchase a gun and decide that the grip doesn’t fit you or isn’t comfortable, you can purchase aftermarket grips from companies like Hogue.
Beginning shooters should avoid single action revolvers. Single actions are fun to shoot, but they require cocking between each shot, and loading and unloading require a lot of time. Instead, choose one of the double action or double action–only revolvers designed specifically for concealed carry from companies like Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Taurus, Rossi, Charter Arms, or another revolver maker.
The key to being successful with any concealed carry gun is practicing a lot (certainly a lot more than the criminals you’ll potentially have to defend yourself against), and the key to practicing often is to buy a gun with which you are comfortable and familiar. Therefore, when you select a concealed carry revolver, it has to be chambered for a caliber that you can shoot without pain or fear and that also generates sufficient power to stop an attacker. Many experts say that it is important to choose a powerful cartridge that has “knockdown power,” which is a relative and objective term for the power generated by a handgun cartridge. Instead, you should be balancing effective power with controllability, which is vital in selecting a revolver that will work for you.
The most popular concealed carry handgun cartridges are the .38, .38+P, and .357 Magnum. All of these will work, and there is quality self-defense ammo available for each of these cartridges, which is another key element when selecting a gun. The .38+P is perhaps the most popular chambering for concealed carry guns today, because it fires everything from .38 Special light loads (which have reduced recoil and muzzle blast and are comfortable to shoot for long periods on the range) all the way up to full-power defensive loads. For this reason the .38+P is probably the most common chambering in new carry revolvers and one of the absolute best choices for a new shooter thanks to its versatility. The .357 Magnum is another viable choice, but .357s require larger chambers and increased weight. In addition, the .357 Magnum loads produce hefty recoil and muzzle blast, particularly in lightweight, compact revolvers, and there are very, very few circumstances where a .357 Magnum is truly needed instead of a .38 Special+P.
The .38+P certainly isn’t the only appropriate option for concealed carry. The introduction of the .32 H&R Magnum in the 1980s created a powerful and versatile .32-caliber revolver cartridge that would work for defense purposes, and the .32 H&R remains a viable choice for anyone planning to purchase a concealed carry revolver. In addition, the .32 H&R Magnum will also fire .32 Smith & Wesson Long cartridges, which generate very little recoil. In the late 2000s, Ruger and Federal teamed up to develop the .327 Federal Magnum, which will fire .32 S&W cartridges, .32 H&R Magnum, and .327 Federal Magnum ammunition. The selection of quality ammunition for the .32s is growing each year, and .327 Federal handguns are very versatile. Some of these new additions to ammo families are cartridges designed for defensive carry, and the .327 Federal should be on the short list for anyone looking for a defense revolver.
The effectiveness of .22-caliber handguns for self-defense is frequently debated, and while one side says that the .22 LR isn’t powerful enough for defensive situations, a logical argument can also be made that a .22 LR revolver is better than having no gun at all, and the low price of ammunition and minimal recoil and muzzle blast mean that owners of .22s can (and, in my experience, typically do) shoot more often. The minimal mass and diameter of .22 LR bullets mean that this cartridge won’t generate as much kinetic energy as larger bullets, which have more mass and a wider diameter. Nevertheless, .22s have been effectively used in defensive situations, and there are several compact DA and DAO revolvers chambered for the .22 LR that are light and small.
Another option for the revolver shooter is the .22 Magnum. .22 Mags deliver considerably more energy than the smaller .22 LR and have a cylinder capacity that exceeds larger calibers like the .38 Special. The .22 Mag is on the low end of the defensive spectrum regarding power, but ammunition companies are now loading defensive .22 Mag ammo.
There are a handful of revolvers from companies like Charter Arms and Taurus that are chambered in cartridges normally reserved for semiautomatic handguns, namely 9mm Luger and .40 Smith & Wesson. These revolvers are typically designed for concealed carry, with low-profile hammers on DA revolvers or hammerless DAO models. They make excellent defensive guns, though the .40 S&W produces a fair amount of recoil in small, light revolvers.
Just like with a car, it is also better to actually test a gun first before purchasing, as it is impossible to determine the balance, feel, and grip size relative to your hand until you actually pick up the firearm. Many gun stores will allow you to see the gun before you purchase it. The gun should fit your hand well and be comfortable. Remember, one of the keys to successful armed defense is a lot of practice, and if the firearm you carry isn’t comfortable, then you won’t want to shoot it any more than necessary.
When choosing a concealed carry revolver, choose a model that has sights, hammers, and cylinders that won’t hang up on clothes or holsters as you draw the gun and that is light enough to carry all day without fatigue. I personally prefer DAO revolvers, which have no external hammer to get hung up as I draw. In addition, the lack of a hammer doesn’t “print” as a firearm, meaning that people are less likely to recognize that you are carrying a gun. You have to make some compromises when purchasing a gun with low-profile, nonadjustable sights. Although they carry well and don’t print, these guns aren’t as accurate as models with large, adjustable sights. Then again, most violent encounters happen at a few feet, and the risk of hanging large, adjustable sights in clothing as you draw the gun make them a poor choice for most concealed carry situations. All of my concealed carry revolvers have simple, fixed sights, and I feel confident shooting them out to twenty feet, which is plenty. There are, however, new low-profile adjustable carry sights that are small and designed not to hang up and are also adjustable for windage and elevation.
Concealed carry revolvers shouldn’t be excessively large or heavy; guns weighing more than thirty ounces are heavy for daily carry, and many new revolvers weigh less than twenty ounces. Keeping weight to a minimum is important to prevent the gun from being uncomfortably heavy. A concealed revolver that is a burden to carry and wear is likely to be left at home, which defeats its purpose. Before selecting a firearm, you must have an idea of how you plan to carry. The best way to carry a concealed revolver is on the body, so these guns should be lightweight and compact. However, off-body carry, such as in a purse, allows for carrying larger, heavier guns. The disadvantage is that you are only protected when that purse is with you, which may not be the case in a sudden violent attack. If possible, it is advisable to keep your firearm on your person.
There are a variety of lightweight metals and alloys that have reduced the weight of revolvers. Examples include guns with aluminum, scandium, or titanium parts that reduce the weight of the gun. Remember that recoil energy is partly determined by the weight of the gun, and lighter guns produce more felt recoil. Many concealed carry revolvers have ported barrels, which means that there are holes drilled into the barrel to allow trapped gases to escape, reducing the jarring effects of recoil and reducing muzzle flip. However, these recoil-reducing ports also increase muzzle blast.
In choosing a concealed carry gun that works for you it is important to understand that there is a balance between recoil, muzzle blast, gun weight, and caliber. Heavier guns are harder to conceal but they produce less recoil. Powerful revolvers like those chambered in .357 Remington Magnum produce a large amount of energy, but that energy is coupled by increased muzzle blast and sometimes unpleasant recoil. Shooters who choose handguns that produce hefty recoil and cost a great deal of energy to shoot typically practice less and are therefore less proficient with their guns. Choosing the right revolver for you is a matter of compromise, and the more revolvers you have the opportunity to shoot, the better equipped you will be to make selections about the right gun for you.
Finish is an important consideration when purchasing a firearm. Concealed carry guns, particularly those used for on-body carry, are exposed to human sweat and moisture on a daily basis. Traditionally, guns were blued, a chemical treatment that gives the barrel a blue-black sheen. However, this type of finish doesn’t usually stand up well to constant concealed carry and requires frequent cleaning to prevent corrosion. Stainless steel is a popular alternative, as the metal parts of the firearm are protected against corrosion from sweat and moisture. Another alternative to traditional bluing is proprietary finishes like Cerakote, which is a ceramic coating that protects the metal parts of a firearm.
Choosing a Semiautomatic Handgun for Concealed Carry
Compact semiautomatic handguns are a popular choice for concealed carry, and as more states have adopted right-to-carry laws, manufacturers have produced more small semiautos perfect for defensive shooting. Today there are many good choices when selecting a semiauto to carry concealed, but it is important to find a gun that you feel comfortable with and are willing to shoot regularly.
As with revolvers, less weight makes a semiauto easier to carry, and today’s crop of new concealed carry guns are lighter than ever. Many companies have examined the needs of CCW permit holders and have designed guns just for carry. These guns are typically very lightweight, simple, and reliable, and while they aren’t designed for accurate target shooting at long distances (most have simple gutter sights and heavy trigger pulls), these guns serve exceptionally well for daily carry and might save your life.
When choosing a semiauto the first step is choosing which type of trigger action you need. Many of today’s carry semiautos are double action–only, or DAO. This is a good place for a beginning shooter to start because DAO guns are very simple to operate. Most of these guns do not have exposed hammers to hang up in clothing as the gun is drawn, and once a round is chambered, the gun can simply be drawn and fired without worrying about manipulating the hammer.
DAO guns certainly aren’t the only option, though. The rising number of concealed carry permit holders has compelled dozens of companies to offer up their own versions of the ideal carry gun, and many of these are single and double action semiautos. Double action semiautos designed for carry typically have low-profile sights and small hammers, and they have the added benefit of being capable of firing in DA or SA mode.
Single action semiautos are most often carried in the “cocked and locked” position, which is to say that the hammer is cocked and the safety is placed in the ON position while the gun is carried. In addition, these guns oftentimes have a grip safety, which requires pressure from the shooter’s hand on the rear of the grip before the gun can be fired. Some shooters aren’t comfortable carrying a gun that is cocked and fear that the odds of an accidental discharge are higher. However, many shooters carry their single action semiautos in this fashion (virtually everyone that carries a Colt 1911-style semiauto), and I do not know of a single accident involving a single action sidearm.
There are a number of suitable calibers for concealed carry guns, but the most popular choices today are the .380 Auto, 9mm Luger, .40 Smith & Wesson, and the .45 ACP. Gun enthusiasts spend a great deal of time debating which of these is best, but the reality is that all of these calibers are suitable for concealed carry. In terms of numbers, the 9mm Luger is probably the most popular, and there are dozens of compact and subcompact semiautos chambered in 9mm. In addition, there is a wide selection of premium defensive ammunition for the 9mm—ammo that is designed and tested to perform in dangerous situations—so the 9mm Luger is a good choice for concealed carry. The same could be said of all three of the other cartridges listed, though. Some shooters feel that the .380 Auto is too light for concealed carry, and there are others that believe the .45 ACP is overkill and generates too much recoil for the beginning shooter. And while you aren’t likely to reach a consensus on which of these cartridges is the best, in a dangerous encounter the gun you are carrying is always the best! These four cartridges do represent the major choices in semiautomatic carry guns. Which one you select is largely a matter of personal taste. The .45 does generate stout recoil, but I know of at least one petite woman who shoots a .45 regularly and is quite proficient. Fans of the .380 Auto will doubtlessly hear that the cartridge is underpowered (likely from someone who has never seen a .380 used in a defensive situation), but the reality is that .380s can stop an attacker and a number of defensive guns are chambered in .380.
There are a host of other suitable cartridges for concealed carry, though they are not as popular as the cartridges listed above. As with revolvers, there are several .22 LR semiautos that are small enough to carry concealed, and there are a number of permit holders who carry .22 LR guns. The .22 LR certainly can kill an attacker, and there are plenty of cases that support this presumption. However, the .22 LR certainly remains at the bottom of the power spectrum for concealed carry.
The .25 Auto and .32 Auto are also questionable for defense as well. Both certainly can stop an intruder, but experts tend to agree that both of these cartridges are somewhat underpowered for dedicated carry duty.
In 1994, SIG Sauer announced a new pistol cartridge, the .357 SIG. The cartridge was designed in cooperation with Federal Ammunition, who provided cartridges for SIG’s new lineup of semiautos. The .357 SIG is recognizable because it is a bottleneck cartridge, which means that the bullet is smaller in diameter than the widest part of the cartridge body, and thus the cartridge has a “shoulder” and a “neck” like a rifle cartridge. In the case of the SIG the cartridge was developed by taking a .40 S&W cartridge and “necking it down” (shrinking the diameter of the neck of the cartridge) to accept smaller .357-caliber bullets. When a smaller bullet is used in a larger cartridge case, the bullet typically travels at a higher velocity. In the case of the .357 SIG, the cartridge was designed to come close to mimicking .357 Magnum revolver energy levels. This means that the .357 SIG packs plenty of punch, and it is a very powerful gun for new shooters. In addition, choice of carry firearms and ammunition is limited. That’s a shame, because the .357 SIG has all the qualities that make for a good carry gun cartridge.
There are several other cartridges that will work just fine for defense, including the .38 Super, the 10mm Auto, and the .45 GAP. These cartridges are undoubtedly effective, but ammo can be difficult to find and there aren’t a lot of carry guns chambered for these cartridges. They all pack plenty of power, but none of these are probably as good a choice for new shooters as more popular cartridges like the 9mm Luger and the .380 Auto.
No matter which cartridge you choose, it is essential that you purchase quality ammunition designed for defensive carry. Good ammunition is absolutely critical to surviving in a defensive situation, so selecting a bullet that will perform well under the worst circumstances is a top priority when purchasing a concealed carry firearm.
Proper maintenance of a semiauto handgun requires disassembling the firearm so that the barrel, slide, and mainspring can be removed for cleaning. The procedure for disassembly varies from gun to gun, and some are much easier than others. Since these procedures are so varied, it wouldn’t be effective to try and list the procedure for each semiauto firearm, but the general method of disassembly involves pulling the slide backward. Sometimes this requires locking the slide, but this is not always the case. Some guns like Glocks and Beretta M9s have release buttons that allow the slide to be removed from the gun when the slide lock is released, while others require the removal of a pin. Understanding how to disassemble a semiauto is important, though it is only in rare cases that you need to do more than remove the slide, barrel and mainspring. Cleaning and repair work that goes beyond that level is generally best left to a gunsmith.
Semiautos and revolvers certainly aren’t the only options for concealed carry guns, though these are the two most popular styles. For over a hundred years, compact single- or double-barreled “pocket” guns have been popular for defense. In the 1700s, Henry Deringer designed small muzzle-loading pistols that could be carried in the pocket of an overcoat, and these compact guns became known as “pocket pistols” or “Derringers,” giving credit to Deringer’s original design despite misspelling his name.
Today a “Derringer” typically refers to a small hammer-fired pistol capable of firing one or two shots. These guns do not offer nearly the ammo capacity of a semiauto or even a revolver. However, they are simple to use, easy to conceal, lightweight, and affordable. These small Derringer-type pistols are easy to operate, and maintenance is generally quite simple. Some of these small pocket pistols do not have a manual safety, and many do not even have a trigger guard. However, when simplicity and compact size are more important than magazine capacity, these small handguns are a viable option.
Most traditional Derringers have two barrels that are stacked atop one another. Loading the gun requires releasing the barrels and letting them tip forward on a hinge, loading the cartridges into the chambers. When the barrels are tipped back up and the action closes, the shooter must cock the hammer, fire, and cock the hammer again to fire the second barrel. These single action Derringers are available from a variety of companies such as Bond Arms and are available in a variety of different styles and calibers. There are also hammerless pocket pistols with tip-up barrels, such as the Double Tap Firearms line of compact carry pistols. In fact, pocket pistols like the Double Tap are among the simplest of all defensive firearms. These guns simply have a button to release the barrels, which tip up to be loaded. The barrels are then closed and the firearm is ready to fire. The Double Tap, like most other pocket pistols, has simple gutter-type sights. Such rudimentary sights make sense on this type of gun, though; since pocket pistols are designed for close-range defense, shots are expected to be at not more than a few paces, and at that range even the simplest sights will generally work well. Plus, as previously stated, gutter sights reduce the odds of the gun becoming hung up in clothing as it is drawn.
These small pocket pistols are not without their disadvantages, though. They only offer one or two shots at a time, and the recoil can be stout. However, they are extremely simple, lightweight, compact, and they generally do not print as much as larger semiautos or revolvers, which makes them easier to conceal.
Many people tend to equate the presence of a manual safety with a “safe” firearm. There are many defensive carry guns that do not have a manual safety, and there are also those who would not buy a carry gun that does have a manual safety. So, why the controversy?
We are often trained to rely on the safety of a firearm, and from a young age many shooters are taught that the last thing you do before firing is to move the safety to the FIRE position. Manual safeties are designed to prevent accidental discharges, but relying on a manual safety to protect against shooter error and negligence is dangerous. Manual safeties are actually viewed as a hazard by some shooters who believe that during a confrontation forgetting to move the safety to the FIRE position can cost you your life.
It must be made clear here that a manual safety does not make a gun “safe,” and guns that lack manual safeties are not “unsafe.” The safety of a gun is a mechanical device, one of several moving parts that can potentially fail. The safety should serve as a last assurance of preventing accidental discharges. It should not, however, become an excuse for poor gun handling.
I have carry guns with and without manual safeties. None of the double action–only revolvers that I shoot have manual safeties, yet I wouldn’t hesitate to carry them concealed. Some people are overwhelmed by the fear that pressure on the trigger of a loaded, concealed gun can cause an accidental discharge. In that case, I contest that it was the carry method that was at fault and not the firearm. Properly carrying a concealed firearm greatly reduces the odds of unintentional firing. I personally keep my revolver (again, a gun that lacks a manual safety) inside a stretchable nylon belt holster that protects and secures the gun, and I don’t worry about accidental discharges.
The choice of carrying a gun with or without a manual safety is up to the individual shooter. Proper handling, concealment, and storage are all essential to gun safety. A manual safety, however, is not. Learn how your firearm operates and be sure to carefully read the owner’s manual before firing.
Grips and Sighting Systems
When selecting a handgun for concealed carry, consider the grips and the sighting system before purchasing. One of the goals of this text is to encourage the reader to shoot often in preparation for a deadly encounter, and it is very difficult to shoot a lot if you aren’t comfortable or able to hit your target. Grips and sights play a major role in how successful you are as a shooter. Some grips and sights can be easily changed, and a wide selection of aftermarket handgun accessories means that there is a nearly endless variety of products available for shooters. However, most shooters never change their grips or sights.
It can be difficult to find a grip that fits your hand well, particularly if you have very large or very small hands. Many firearms have aftermarket grips available that will fit smaller or larger hands. Other guns, however, come with a single grip or frame size that only fits some shooters. It is important that your self-defense gun fits your hand well, so take the time to shop around for a firearm that fits you properly.
Auxiliary sights are available for most firearms. The two most common types are laser sights and holographic sights. Each of these sighting systems is covered in detail later in the book, but when selecting a concealed carry firearm, it is important to understand the options available to shooters. Holographic sights are mounted on top of the gun and the shooter uses a red holographic dot to center the firearm on the target. This beam does not extend to the target and is visible only when looking through the sight itself. This type of sight is mostly reserved for military, law enforcement, and competitive shooters, but there are shooters that choose holographic sights for their defense firearms. For the most part, though, concealed carry guns have either iron sights or laser sights. Iron sights are found on virtually every handgun. Iron sights rely on the shooter to align the rear sight, front sight, and the target, with the bulk of the shooter’s focus dedicated to the front sight. Iron sights are accurate and easy to use one you have practiced with them regularly, and even shooters who use lasers or some other form of auxiliary sight should learn to properly use iron sights as well, since most firearms do not have auxiliary sights.
Laser sights emit a beam from the firearm to the target. This type of sight usually fits in the grip or the underside of the gun, and they are popular for concealed carry. Laser sights are effective, but they must be sighted in correctly, so follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and, most importantly, practice until you are proficient when using a laser sight. Remember that the keys to successful carry are the same no matter what type of sight or gun you choose. The gun should be easy to carry and you should be comfortable with the firearm that you have chosen.