Choosing a Handgun — 3 Handguns I Trust

By Bob Campbell published on in Concealed Carry, Firearms, General

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.

CZ Sphinx on combat course

The author runs a CZ variant, the Sphinx, through a combat course.

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.

Browning Hi Power in leather IWB holster

There is no mistaking the outline of the Hi Power. Note the excellent molding by Nightingale Leather. Worn in this inside-the-waistband holster, the Hi Power is flat and easily concealed.

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

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.

Colt Government Model pistol in stainless with light on rail

“Best” is a relative term, but the author feels that there is no better service pistol than the 1911 rail gun.

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.

Fieldstripped Browning Hi Power pistol

The Browning is easier to fieldstrip than most 1930s-generation handguns.

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.Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

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.Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

Drawing handgun from holster on strong side

Drawing from a strong-side scabbard, the author makes a run on three targets. They never had a chance!

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.) Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt


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.

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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 Shooter’s 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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Comments (127)

  • Johnny


    FNH FNX 45acp 15+1 rds.SA/DA trigger setup and very intuitive to use. Carry with loaded chamber and hammer down so a DA trigger pull (10+) lbs required then 15 rounds of hellfire on the way with just a 5# pull. Awesome piece. Oh, and in the summer when garments tend to offer less concealment it isw the Kimber concealed ultra carry7.


  • rsu11


    I’m sure the 1911 works well for the author and I’m in awe of his background and experience. But for that very reason he misses the mark for the bulk of people selecting a carry gun. The vast majority don’t have a fraction of his experience, so their needs in a carry gun are different.

    For most folks the priorities are: reliability, simple operation, concealability, and cost. Add capacity for some, as well. Accuracy is not an issue for any good quality pistol these days. This is why 9mm poly guns sell as well as they do. Their modern design simply fills the bill for most purchasers standing at the gun store counter.

    Don’t like the Glock grip angle? Try an M&P then. Or an XD. Or a Walther. Or a….you get my point. The author’s recommendations are time-honored platforms, for sure. But they are examples of older technology with more demanding requirements of the user. Some will find those requirements acceptable, but most will not. Some may go to them later as they gain experience, but most will not.

    Chances are good that pistol enthusiasts and collectors will have at least one of these models, either to carry or shoot at the range or match, in their inventory. But they are not the majority of new purchasers these days. The 1911, Hi Power and CZ 75 should certainly be considered in the purchase process, but like it or not, in most cases they will not be chosen over the more modern models.

    But isn’t it great to have choices??


  • Fred


    Some food for thought: a lot of us old time cops carried wheel guns on our hip for decades, and I don’t recall very many (if any) jams or failure to feed. If we had a misfire we just pulled the trigger again and the gun went bang on the next round. Yes, it’s true that we only had 6-rounds per loading to work with, but back then most of us actually (gasp!) tried to pay tribute to our sights, and according to the available stats we hit the target more often than not. Just saying.


  • Mark


    I suppose the Navy Seals, who just adopted the Glock 19 as their sidearm after decades of Sig 226, also selected it because it was cheap. Show me a 1911 that can endure a 250k torture test like the Glock. Almost EVERY gun manufacturer will give sweetheart pricing to law enforcement, so where’s the difference?


    • Steve


      When I worked for the City of Detroit my EDC was a Combat Commander in .45acp and what Bob says all the time is true, practice with what you carry, practice, practice. Mine saved my life twice. My son has 1st Gen Glocks we got from local Law Enforcement Friends. My cousin is retired Oakland County Tactical Services Sniper and he carried a CZ for years, until I sold him my Ruger P 97 DC. .45 will keep you alive.


  • Mark


    I grew up shooting 1911’s and Browning Hi-Powers. Love em. But I always carry a striker fired semi-auto (either a Glock 23, s&w m&p, Springfield ‘s or a Kahr CW45).

    The author states that his choices are proven designs….and the Glock isn’t? There are many reasons that the Glock is the #1 choice by police departments in the US. Reliability, durability, consistent trigger pull are some of the chief among them.

    I love my Browning, but it is easier and safer to carry my striker fired pistol. Safer because it does not take as high a degree of safe gun handling skills when carrying a stiker fired pistol as it does when carrying in condition one. I believe that simpler is better when under stress.


    • DaveW


      “There are many reasons that the Glock is the #1 choice by police departments in the US. Reliability, durability, consistent trigger pull are some of the chief among them.”

      This one I take exception with… If the arms were purchased by a department to issue to officers, do not bet that it’s because they are super good firearms. The department may have simply gotten a very good deal on the purchase.

      An example of this is how California, back in the 1970s got their fleet of 5.0 Mustangs for the CHP…. for $6,000 each. Ford took a loss on every one of them. They wrote the loss off their advertising budget. Advertising is a tax write off, so Ford recouped when they filed their taxes. And, the fact that California CHP was driving those super hot 5.0 Mustangs was responsible for a great many people buying them at full cost.

      The same tactics are used to sell just about everything under the sun to the government, military, fire departments, hospitals, etc.

      So, this doe not mean that any brand of weapon is great just because a department carries them. What you really need to learn is how soon a department dumped them. Was it as soon as they could? Did they continue to use them long after the department normally would have gone out for new weapons?

      The USAF was, at last report, reviewing the possibility of going to 1911s. In part, this is due to the numbers of personnel who have a hard time with double stack sized firearms, as well as the high speed of 9mm and it’s ability to pass through an individual and strike someone else, or ricochet and hit an innocent bystander, while .45s being subsonic lessens such instances.


  • Ashley


    The grip design is can think that its lovely to be dealing with..he grip design felt strange and it didn’t seem to point naturally for me” is exactly why I don’t like Glocks. They just don’t shoot well for me.


  • Ski Smokorowski


    A link to this article was sent to me from my IDPA membership. I know that choosing a carry weapon can be a sensitive topic but I am shocked the Springfield XD 9 was not mentioned here. With the limitations mentioned on the 1911 I am surprised people would settle for that as a carry option. “Eight round magazines should be loaded with 7 rounds only” I can easily conceal a full size XD 9 and have 16 rounds plus one in the pipe. It is drop safe and less complex to operate in a dangerous situation (no manual safety). I used to carry the 1911 with hammer back. I have seen and experienced stove pipe FTE when the 1911 is limp wristed. I have seen this happen with life long 1911 worshipers. I switched to the full size XD 9 and have never looked back. It requires less training (.45 I had to practice frequently to avoid anticipating the recoil) and is more effective than the .45 when using hollow points with a high terminal performance. The CZ with a DAO on the first pull makes it a no-go for me. I want consistency in trigger pull from the first shot to the last.


    • Mikial




      The 1911 is a venerable design that continues to be popular, but it is far behind the more modern, high capacity designs that are less finicky about ammo and more reliable.


    • PaddyDugan


      The CZ is not “DAO on the first pull.” You can carry it cocked and locked like a 1911 if you want. Take a closer look. You won’t regret it.


  • Steve


    “the grip design felt strange and it didn’t seem to point naturally for me” is exactly why I don’t like Glocks. They just don’t shoot well for me. The
    M & P feels much better to me because I am used to a 1911. I like my 9mm M & P alot, but will probably try one in .45 ACP in the future. Until then, I still love my 1911’s, mostly because I shoot them very well


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