Choosing a handgun is a very personal decision. Cost, ergonomics, caliber, and use are all necessary factors and critical to the decision making process. Once you choose a handgun, you must train with it to maximize its advantages and minimize its shortcomings. You have the opportunity to choose not just an average or reasonably good handgun but a great handgun, one that will bring out the best in a trained shooter.
The baseline of power and reliability should not be sacrificed. It’s true, size and weight are often compromised in a carry gun, but I am not one who is willing to lose my life for the sake of a few ounces of comfort. If you understand the difference between a tactical drill and a scenario, you understand that tactically, many handguns are similar. There are differences between the Beretta 92 and the SIG P226, for example, but tactically, little may be done with one that cannot be done with the other.
Increasingly, there is a chance that all of us may confront heavily armed adversaries and felons behind vehicle cover. The battle will be finished within a few seconds. Your practice must have no limits.
Three handguns I trust and deploy often are the Colt Government Model 1911, Browning Hi Power, and CZ 75. These are proven choices. There are many imitators. It isn’t difficult to take a design and make it cheaper, cutting corners. Some of the value-line handguns are fine for recreational shooting, but they will not stand up to an exhaustive shooting program. Quality firearms are not inexpensive.
Proficiency at arms is purchased with a different coin. When you consider what you will spend on training and ammunition over a decade of use, the difference between a cheap gun and a first-class pistol is inconsequential. Two of my favorite handguns are 9mm caliber. The 9mm isn’t the most effective cartridge, but it is a reasonable compromise between control and wound potential.
I load the Winchester 124-grain PDX +P and shoot straight. Mastering a heavier caliber requires considerable effort and regular practice. The service-size handguns may be concealed using modern holster designs. The problem isn’t concealment; it’s comfort. If you wish to be as well armed as possible, it’s not difficult to conceal your service pistol. Let’s look at some good choices.
The 1911 design, in quality renditions from Colt, Kimber, SIG, and Springfield, is a viable choice for service and defense use. While I respect the reliability and low maintenance requirements of other pistols, some are a triumph of the technical over the tactical compared with the 1911. The 1911 is, of course, a single-action design. The trigger does only one thing, and that is drop the hammer. The 1911 features a straight-to-the-rear trigger compression. The bore axis of the 1911 rides low over the hand. This results in limited muzzle flip. The combination of a low bore axis and straight-to-the-rear trigger compression with a relatively light let off results in the most controllable of the big bore handguns.
The 1911 must be carried cocked and locked, hammer to the rear, safety on. The safety locks the hammer. A grip safety locks the trigger in place until the grip safety is pressed. Each safety is easily addressed when the pistol is held with a natural grip. If you loosen your grip, the grip safety is activated. The grip of the 1911 fits most hands well.
If you adopt the 1911, you must be dedicated to learning the manual of arms and practicing diligently. The recoil of the .45 ACP cartridge is not something a person of average strength and stature will have a problem with. The pistol also demands frequent cleaning and lubrication; even if it has not been fired, it must be lubricated for best reliability. Lubricant tends to run off of the pistol toward the muzzle. I would never carry a 1911 based on someone else’s recommendation or because it was expected of me. I carry the 1911 because it has proven to be the best tool for the job.
Carefully consider your level of commitment and dedication to training. When you choose the 1911, you will note that there are a lot of guns to pick from. Many are made cheaply; others are made to sell as the primary goal. The best rule of the 1911 is to purchase a quality handgun. As for reliability, there are rules. Do not attempt any type of gunsmithing beyond the scope of your knowledge. Second, change recoil springs when they have lost a portion of their free length. Check the plunger tube and spring. The 1911 plunger tube must be staked in place properly, and the spring and indent must be good in order to keep the slide lock safety and slide lock working properly.
There is a rule that the more junk on the gun, the less it works. Do not use recoil buffs on a carry gun. They may slow down pounding for range work but impede the slide’s rearward travel as well. Eight-round magazines should be loaded with seven rounds only. When doing a press check with the fully loaded eight-round magazine, you will note more pressure on the slide as it is moved to the rear. The fully loaded eight-round magazine is difficult to slam into the frame and lock when the slide is locked forward. Given a quality, well-lubricated 1911 with proper ammunition, you have a reliable platform. Nevertheless, owner incompetence has ruined many good 1911 handguns.
The Hi Power
The Browning Hi Power is among the loveliest handguns to fire and use. The grip fits practically any hand, and the pistol has many of the good attributes of the 1911 including speed to an accurate first shot. It may even be faster to an accurate first shot than the Government Model .45. There are authorities who believe that a properly maintained Hi Power may be more reliable than the Colt 1911. In any case, the 9mm Hi Power has an impeccable record in wartime and also in anti-terror operations.
The Hi Power offers a great reserve of ammunition, with 13 rounds available. The single-action trigger offers excellent hit probability for a trained shooter. While the Hi Power may not exhibit the accuracy potential of some service-grade handguns, neither is the pistol inaccurate. As an example, my personal Hi Power will group five rounds of the Winchester 147-grain Defend load into 2½ inches at 25 yards. That is a good standard for personal defense.
The CZ 75
The CZ 75 is the most modern of the three pistols chosen. This double-action-first-shot handgun offers excellent reliability, proven in dozens of grueling European test programs. The type has seen action in many war zones and has been used by Israel and the Russian Spetsnaz. The CZ 75 is service-grade accurate, although some variants edge into match-grade status. My modern rail-gun CZ will deliver five rounds of Winchester USA 115-grain FMJ into 2½ inches and does slightly better with Winchester 124-grain PDX +P.
The bore axis is relatively low for a double-action-first-shot pistol. The action is a selective double action; in other words, the pistol may be carried cocked and locked if desired. This is a useful feature even for those who prefer a double-action-first-shot handgun. After you fire the piece in a gun battle, you may simply thumb the safety on rather than attempt to lower the hammer back to the hammer-down position when engaged in tactical movement. (While there are now decocker-only variants, the original design does not offer a decocker.)
The CZ 75 is an enthusiast’s handgun that offers world-class performance at a fair price. The CZ, Hi Power, and 1911 are three guns I trust, and, not incidentally, each is steeped in history. It’s your choice and your hide. Choose well…
Did your handgun(s) make the list? Have another you would have chosen? Make your best case for handgun selection in the comments section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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