Choosing a Handgun

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms, How To

Tip: A few decades ago the FBI did a study and found that a handgun that weighs over 35 ounces becomes a drag on the pants after a few hours. Perhaps concealed carry handgun permit holders should consider 26 ounces as a reasonable top end.

Attacker with a knife an man drawing his concealed pistol

No matter which handgun you choose practice is absolutely necessary.

We must be formidable individuals in order to deter crime. Many decades ago, Casare Baccaria forwarded the notion that punishment should be so severe it outweighs any possible gain from crime. While the criminal justice system has been bent and broken, in personal defense this is certainly one answer. When you choose a handgun, the overriding concern is reliability. How this is determined is by reputation and legitimate testing. As many of you realize, there are newsstand magazines that have never met a gun they did not like. There are others that may state that the gun gave a few problems but eventually it may prove to be a good choice.

There are proven handguns that have endured tremendous military and police testing. SIG went through a 700,000 round trail and will soon arm every soldier, sailor, airman and police officer in France. SIG also survived a test involving 19 handguns and 228,000 rounds of ammunition to become the standard issue of the Ohio State Patrol.

A similar path was followed by Texas in adopting its SIG model. Glock was adopted by the FBI after a rigorous course, and the Springfield FBI Bureau Model 1911 was adopted as their FBI SWAT pistol. CZ has passed similar European testing and the Beretta has passed U.S. Army trails. They are certainly a good place to start.

Galco Hornet holster with a snub nose .38 revolver being drawn

The Galco Hornet crossdraw and the snub nose .38 are a good combination.

You must make a realistic assessment of the training program you are willing to undertake. Training will consume more time, energy, and funds than the initial handgun purchase. If you are not willing to invest the time and effort to master a self-loader, the revolver is a reasonable choice. After all, we would not keep a Harley Davidson in the garage that we had not ridden… just in case we might need to get somewhere in a hurry in the future, would we? If you are willing to go to the range once a month and fire 50 rounds, and engage in dry fire exercise often, then the self-loader has appeal.

The self-loader is flat and easily concealed. For home defense, size doesn’t matter as much. Choosing an action type has been covered in these pages before. However, if you are willing to master the double-action first-shot pistol or the cocked-and-locked 1911, you must put forth the time and effort.

I think one of the best choices for the average defense shooter is a SIG with the DAK trigger. This double-action-only trigger allows the shooter to feel confident in the safety of the handgun, but at the same time, it offers good hit probability for those who practice. For personal defense engagement ranges this handgun—my version is the SIG P239—is plenty accurate. My SIG P239 is chamber for .40 caliber S&W. For some reason, perhaps spring technology; this .40 doesn’t kick as much as some in the weight class. It is usually loaded with the SIG Elite hollow point. I carry it in a Galco Stow and Go. This is simple workmanlike gear and every effective.

Galco King Tuck

The King Tuck from Galco is a good choice for most handguns.

There is nothing wrong with the snub nose .38 Special for those who practice. The Smith and Wesson 442 is carried as a backup by many of my most experienced friends. Mine rides with me at all times and sometimes as the only handgun. I have two; one is a backup for the backup—just in case. The humpback design makes for comfortable shooting and the action is very smooth. Use light loads, such as the Winchester 158-grain RNL for practice. Mine is loaded with Winchester Silvertip at the moment.

The Glock is a popular handgun that I consider a baseline. It is affordable and worth the extra effort to obtain over a cheaper gun. On the other hand, if a pistol costs more than the Glock, then it should have advantages that justify the extra expense. So, the Glock is in the position of being a capable handgun in the hands of a shooter who is in the process of becoming a good shot, while a truly good shot, will also find the Glock suits his needs. There are more accurate handguns, and there are handguns I like better. If I were to have to run into a shop, pick up and load a pistol, and expect it to save it my life—it would be a Glock.

Choose a handgun based on your own experience and likely training time. Don’t choose a handgun to be like the other guy—even if you admire the gun or the person. Don’t carry the handgun expected of you. Make a choice that fits you as an individual. The more you are willing to practice, the more you may drift toward a superior handgun. And the more you practice, the more formidable you will be with any handgun.

Which handgun or handguns do you carry for self-defense? Share your answers in the comment section.

SLRule

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 (22)

  • Neil Morris

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    I carry a Springfield XDM-9, one in the pipe, plus 18 , in a Crossbreed, Or a Sig 227, in a Galco Miami shoulder holster.

    Reply

  • Grady

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    1911 gov. I carry it concealed in a crossdraw iwb. I’ve stood with cop’s and carried on conversations with them and they were never the wiser. Carrying concealed is less about the weapon tnan how you carry yourself.

    Reply

  • Mike Ricotta

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    I carry a Walther M1 PPX 9mm (I have two of them) for my edc and there is one ready if needed at the house (stored properly of course).

    I know there are issues with drag from the weight of a full sized handgun – but I find that with a quality, heavyweight leather belt, Kydex IWB holster and kydex mag holders, there are no issues with size or weight.

    Dressed properly, you can conceal almost any sized handgun. I have in my PPX:
    a weight of 36 oz with 1 in the pipe and 16 in the mag
    consistent trigger pull of 6.5 pounds (ALWAYS)
    A fast draw with a custom kydex holster …

    That way – if I need it I have it, plus 2 extra mags with hollowpoints gives me more than enough of a first line defense if I ever (God Forbid) need it

    Reply

    • william ferguson

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      I have the same pistol and is is smooth and reliable but most people these days won’t carry a full size pistol like this because of all the smaller less expensive models out there.

      Reply

  • Helen

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    Sorry — but it’s “trials” not “trails” which I found distracting while reading.

    Reply

    • David Heugly

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      Helen, I think you’re missing the point. This article was not a spelling/grammar test. I believe most folks knew what the point was. Lighten up, it’s Christmas time. Merry Christmas to you!

      Reply

  • Steven Scott

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    The author oversimplifies Beccaria. There were actually three interdependent principles: severity, certainty, and speed. Even the most severe punishment is virtually useless if it gets inflicted only rarely or takes too long to occur. A world in which most potential victims will put a .22 in your leg is more deterrent than one in which one victim out of 100,000 will blow your brains out while the other 99,999 give you money.

    Reply

  • Rob

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    I carried a .380 Ruger LCP 2 for “Self Defense”. Great gun, very concealable, great trigger (single action). Now the problem…While at a Supermarket in a nice part of town a man was gunned down just outside the front doors while I was checking out with my 9 yr old daughter. People were still coming in and out with children. No one knew where the shooter was! So, I told my daughter to get down and stay at the register while I went to the doors to potentially stop any aggressor from entering. My .380 had never felt so small. I envisioned my self defense gun defending just me or my family from an aggressor. Now I had to protect a large number of defenseless people, many not aware of what was even going on. I could have run out the back with my daughter in reality but not could not have lived with myself if I did. My point is after this experience I now carry a S&W 40 caliber 15 shot or a S&W .45 Shield for “Self Defense” . So unless you can walk away from dozens of unarmed innocent people carry something you are going to be comfortable with if the unexpected happens. FYI…The shooter in this case shot himself and died in his car a short distance from the incident but I did not know this until after the police arrived.

    Reply

  • Mark

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    I started carrying with a Sig P239 , like the author, but in .357 Sig. I recently upgraded to a Sig P229 Carry model in .357 Sig. I originally purchased the P239 because it was a single stack and so I assumed easier to conceal. What I have learned is that the difference between concealing the P239 and the p229 is unnoticable, at least for me. The increased capacity going from 7 to 12 rounds per magazine is the real selling point for me. I like to have a crimson trace laser on my concealed carry guns, for low light and those instances where rapid shots might be needed.

    I also carry a Sig P938 when I need deep concealment. Works well in summer time when I might just be wearing shorts and t-shirts.

    Reply

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