General

Choosing Your First Handgun

Smith and Wesson Shield 9mm top vs. .45 ACP bottom

The most common question presented to trainers, writers, and the family ‘gun person’ is, “Which handgun should I purchase for personal defense?” The bottom line is dependent upon the shooter and how much or how little time, effort, and training will go into the final choice. There are many firearms that are well suited to personal defense. But the student differs mentally and physically, and so should the choices each individual makes. The first step is individual research and study.

Smith and Wesson Shield 9mm top vs. .45 ACP bottom
The 9mm Shield, top, and the .45 Shield, bottom, are credible choices for personal defense.

There are many second- and third-rate handguns on the market. The first criteria when choosing a handgun is reliability. There is no other factor as important as reliability. Durability is also important. The handgun should not have sights that tend to break or fragile grips or magazines that break if dropped.

The pistol should fit the hand well. Sharp edges, a heavy trigger or an uncomfortable grip frame are deal breakers. There are genuine differences in handfit between otherwise suitable choices. As an example, there are four reliable single-stack, compact 9mm handguns in my safe awaiting evaluation. The four are all reliable firearms from respected makers.

One shooter finds a certain grip frame fits his or her hand well, while another will find the other handgun is the best fit. To cut the evaluation short, and look at some obvious factors, I have found that the Glock 43 9mm is the most concealable by a margin, while the larger Honor Defense Honor Guard 9mm is the most comfortable to fire and use due to its larger grip. Neither is a problem to conceal, and neither is a problem to fire comfortably. However, one or the other excels on certain points. It is a personal choice, but each of the four would serve well.

Smith and Wesson 360 snubnose .38 Special right profile
The Smith and Wesson 360 snubnose .38 Special is a first class handgun with many advantages.

The budget is a consideration. I would rather max out the credit card, than purchase and attempt to trust a cheap gun. The difference between a cheap gun and a good gun isn’t great. Remember, reliability is the single most important criteria. Handling and handfit are next. Accuracy is always interesting, and I admit I favor the more accurate handgun. But practically any quality handgun—even the most compact—will place a magazine full of ammunition into a single ragged hole at seven yards.

All will strike the adversary in the chest at 25 yards. A controllable trigger action that is smooth, rather than light, and good sights are essential. There are handguns delivered without sights or with at best bumps on the slide. They are as useful as a car without a steering wheel.

There is a baseline on caliber for personal defense. The 9mm Luger is a caliber in which you may have reasonable confidence given proper load selection. Ammunition is affordable and plentiful. Train, and continue to practice, at least monthly after securing good initial training.

Smith and Wesson Shield in a Galco Stow and Go holster
This Smith and Wesson Shield is carried in the affordable and high quality Galco Stow and Go.

A Word to the Wise

Caliber isn’t gender specific. A man doesn’t rate a .45 if he isn’t willing to practice. Recoil can be counterproductive to growth as a shooter. Don’t let the personal behind the counter recommend an ineffectual handgun caliber for a woman. The .32s and the .380 ACP are inadequate for personal defense in my opinion.

Some hands are small, others narrow; some hands have long fingers and others short fingers. Hand fit is important. But all normal human hands will fit a Glock 43 9mm.

Some will be cramped by the small grip and may need a larger handgun. Be certain to try each handgun in turn at a well-stocked shop. The hand should be comfortable when closed on the handgun grip and the trigger finger extended to lay the first pad of the finger against the face of the trigger. Shooting ranges that offer rentals are a great learning resource.

Revolver in a Wright Leatherworks holster with a speedloader
The author’s personal .38 snub with an HKS speedloader and Wright Leatherworks holster.

Find a handgun you are able to handle well. Be certain your hand is placed in a manner in which you are able to operate the controls—the magazine release, slide release, and safety. Most defensive handguns are double-action only trigger mechanisms, with only one trigger action to learn. Double-action first-shot trigger handguns are more complicated and demand a steeper learning curve.

The firearm choice depends on knowledge and skill. Skill at arms is much more important than the exact handgun choice. Reliability is the baseline and caliber selection is important as well. Executing a rapid presentation of the handgun from concealed carry and delivering a well-aimed shot to the adversary is good, but if the caliber is inadequate, chances are, the handgun will not be effective in saving your life.

Larger handguns often feature a grip frame that is more comfortable and allows greater control in rapid fire. The 9mm strikes a heavier blow than the .380 ACP and other inadequate calibers. Shot placement is more important than any other factor in wound potential. The bullet must be placed where it will do the most good. It is interesting to debate different calibers and their usefulness.

Two upset Hornady bullets
If you are worried about ammunition performance, load Hornady defense loads and rest easy.

The .38 Special revolver and the 9mm Luger self-loading pistol are good baselines for performance, and each may prove useful in trained hands. Some find the revolver frustrating to learn due to its longer double-action trigger. Some find the self-loader equally frustrating, considering the need to learn a more complicated manual of arms. There is a proper choice for each individual.

Many very experienced shooters choose the revolver. It isn’t outdated. The ability to control the .38 Special revolver, or the 9mm semi automatic, should be confirmed before the individual graduates to a larger caliber. There are many considerations in personal defense.

Conclusion

Handgun selection is very important, but it is just one step on the path to proficiency at arms.

Which handgun are you most interested in for your first purchase? Which one would you recommend to others and why? Share your answers or ask a question in the comment section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (77)

  1. Thank you for your reply. Yes, practice, constantly. BTW after the Munich olympics massacre in’73, the Isreali Mossad hit teams that targeted the Black September terrorists used.22 caliber Beretta pistols, confusing investiators who thought no professional hitmen would use so small a weapon

  2. @ Ian Thank you Ian for making that comment. I have been following the discussion for days now and saying to myself that the most important thing is shot placement no matter what caliber it is. I think we all know that just about any caliber can kill someone. I have heard stories about how even a .22 cal. can do tricky things inside a body because it can tumble end for end before it hits its target. When the round enters the body, it can spin around causing all kinds of damage, and then lodge itself somewhere that is difficult to find to remove it. This tumbling effect is also the reason the .223 cal.assault rifle round is so deadly.The only other thing I can think of to say with shot placement is Practice, Practice, Practice!

  3. I pack a Charter Arms Off-Duty 38 with chopped Pachmayer grips in a Sneakypete pouch, and an extra speed loader in it as a carry gun. Have never had an issue with my “PDA” case on my waist, and can confidently hit a 55-gallon drum size target at 50 yards with it. Is all I need.

  4. He is quoting a so called study of some years ago. It never held sway among professionals and has been long discredited. My own research does give the .45 about a nine out of ten record, but it isn’t because of knock down. If it knocked the felon down it would knock the shooter down as well!

    1. The only study I’ve ever seen regarding a 92 per cent one shot kill rate was a South African study I read in the army and it rated the 44 Magnum Glaser safety slug as the only one with a one shot kill. The.45 ACP had a one shot STOP in that range.

  5. Idk why fools like this even write articles half the he wrote contradicts itself. In the section where I quote he says “Most defensive handguns are double-action only trigger mechanisms, with only one trigger action to learn. Double-action first-shot trigger handguns are more complicated and demand a steeper learning curve.” He should have said most defensive handguns are single action. He also made many more mistakes in the article and basically was just pushing 9mm and .38 special

    1. Fred,
      This fool has a degree in Criminal Justice and a minor in psychology and writers curriculum for a university program on gun smithing and ballistics. This fool has over twenty years police experience and several of those as patrol lt. Started out working for governors program, top of my class. Since then looked over both ends of a gun barrel more than once and have been shot by someone other than myself, which some instructors cannot say.
      According to the ATF more double action only handguns are sold than double action first shot or single action or revolvers. But then what do they know? As for pushing the 9mm and .38, well, yes. They are the best for most shooters. Nothing wrong with an opinion based on fact.

    2. Could you cite the science that backs up your “fact”? I’m not disagreeing with you, just curious that if it is indeed a fact, are there credible studies that corroborate this? I agree that there are more DAO guns used for self defense….in fact, I don’t even think it’s by a small margin, but would be extremely interested to see the science on 9mm and/or .38 being “the best for most shooters”, keeping in mind that simply because they are most widely used doesn’t necessarily make them “the best”.

      I agree with most of the article, except the area that states .380 and .32 acp are inadequate for self-defense. I know this is an opinion and mine differs a bit from yours. If an extremely small woman wants to be protected and just can’t find comfort in shooting a gun chambered in 9mm or higher, then .380 is just fine by me if it’s the difference between carrying something and nothing at all. If .380 is the highest someone can go and shoot well because they can actually train confidently with it, then by all means I say go for the .380. The .32 acp is getting a bit too small IMO as well, but again, if it’s that or nothing….I would most likely choose that.

    3. I think you answered your own questions. Sure the .32 and .380 are better than nothing. But more often than not not enough. The .38 and 9mm are good baselines.
      As for science some years of ballistic research by the FBI, beginning about 1935, that shows what is needed in a defensive/service grade caliber. Ballistic gelatin and other media for testing and a thorough testing program. It isn’t just the wound potential the FBI also tabulates a clean powder burn, muzzle flash and accuracy. They are very demanding and there is no reason we should not be.

      The so called studies published in gun rags are few years ago I discared then and do so now. The goat shooting was at best a hoax and anyone that begins to speak of secret sources and confidential information clearly is conning someone. IN this case a lot of some ones!

      So, study the FBI reports and their values. They have resources that the rest of us could never approach. Those are the facts. My personal testing is extensive but nothing to compare with the FBI’s ammunition testing. Federal Cartridge Company and Hornady also publish gelatin results.

      Thanks for reading.

    1. Absolutely sound advice. Plenty of ammunition and if loaded with a +P plenty of expansion and penetration. And not much recoil in a full size handgun. I sleep the way God made me and a high cap 9 and a flashlight beside the bed solve a lot of problems when you do not have time to grab a spare magazine.
      Thanks for reading.

  6. Seems to me your recommendations always go with who advertises with you the most.
    And of course everybody goes with popular popular popular. I’m sure if CZ did some advertising you might even mention the P-07

    1. Jerry
      Thanks for reading The Shooters Log!
      We have done features on the CZ and very soon there will be a feature on the CZ P10 polymer gun.
      Cannot hit everything in one shot but the crew tries.

  7. @Adam: Come see me and I’ll show you a 6 shot 357 with 1.25″ cylinder. The first revolver ever made by Kimber, the K6s DCR is fantastic. Great feel, heft and trigger pull and no wider than an auto. It has replaced my Sig Sauer 938 9mm as my carry guy. I love it. Supply wasn’t keeping up with demand, I had it on order since last October and just got it a couple of weeks ago but it was well worth the wait!

    1. That’s actually quite slim for a revolver, and makes it basically as concealable as a double-stack semi-auto pistol. For comparison purposes, the SIG M11-A1 is 1.5″ thick and the M&P 9c is 1.2″ thick.

      However, the Shield (and other single-stack pistols) come in at under 1″ thick while still holding 6-8 rounds of your chosen caliber.

  8. My first was the Colt Ace, followed by the Walther P38 as my personal As I aged I opted for the Beretta AF-92 variant, and graduated to the CZ pistol. For concealment I favor the CZ 9mm Rami and in the summer months the Sig P238. The latter is a .380 but its size combined with the right ammunition offsets a a larger caliber and wearing non-summer clothes to conceal.

    1. Colt ACE is one helluva gun!

      P 38 was the bad buys gun in the late 1960s. Lots of bad guys had the P 38 or the Luger against cop’s .38s.

      My first instructor kept a Walther P38 on hand to show us what a good gun was in a semi auto. I had rather of hand the Walther P38 than two of the SW 59s we were stuck with later.

      WR

  9. Hmmm. Yet another out-of-hand, unexplained and conclusive dismissal of the .380 caliber. The minute I see this, I discount the rest of the article.

    I always have the same answer for these folks. Stand there and take two or three .380 Hotnady Critical Defense rounds to the chest. Then tell me how ineffective the .380 is.

    Fact is, even a .22, properly placed, will serve. And it’s a hell of a lot easier to place multiple quick-fired rounds on target with my SIG Sauer P238 than it is with most 9mm concealables (including the excellent SIG Sauer P938). The P238, in particular, feels almost like a .22 on steroids. VERY fast re-aquisition.

    In addition, the single action trigger on the P238 (and on the 9mm P938) is more conducive to accuracy, particularly if you have large handd (on this, your mileage may vary).

    There’s a saying among folding knife enthusiasts: the best knife for the job is the one you have with you. Same for firearms. Particularly in summer clothing, 9mm is hard to conceal–even the small ones like the Glock 43. Fact is, if I only had 9mm, there’d be many more times that I’d not be carrying at all.

    1. My circle of friends included police and military veterans that have seen gunfights or arrived just after the festivities were over or the perps were running around with several .38 or 9mm bullet wounds. They don’t stand there and take bullets. Murder is easy. When high on natural stimulants or drugs that originated as pain killers it is very difficult to stop these sociopaths. Not one of us carries a handgun smaller than a 9mm or .38. The .357 revolver and .45 auto are well respected. We discount opinions such as yours as lacking validity. Cops in Area Six or Fort Apache, NY, do not carry small bores. Carrying because you want to believe is OK. That seems the modern way and clearly there is a lot of disinformation in the popular press. As for knives– I favor the Randall Combat Knife but I do carry a folding Emerson or Spyderco Police Model most of the time.

    2. As for knives, try a Zero Tolerance. The 350 is a good middle-ground.

      Regarding caliber: of your standard target is someone high on angel dust, maybe you should just carry a Desert Eagle.

      Sorry, but the practicality of carrying CONCEALED, particularly in NY State, cannot be overstated. Most of the larger calibers can’t be carried that way in summertime casual clothing. And the modern .380 with defensive rounds (Hornady Critical Defense) will do just fine).

      Are larger calibers likely to cause more damage? Well, not necessarily. Number of rounds on target/speed of re-aquisition matters. So does whether the thing is to big/heavy to carry concealed obviously the first place.
      We are not talking about a service pistol, here. We are talking about a concealed carry of last resort. I have no interest in anything but rapid-fire accuracy at 7 yards or so.
      Oh, and I know a number of police officers who carry .380s as offduty or BUGs.

  10. Good article. … One thing that I think about a lot is caliber choice. There are, a few between 9mm and 45. Like 357 Sig, 5.7×28, 40 S&W. … A follow-up on the variety of handgun calibers and their effectiveness and recoil trade-offs would be most welcome. Most of the gun shops I go to don’t have rentals for all of these alternative calibers. 🙁

    1. I’ve been carrying .357Sig for a couple years now. I used to carry all .45ACP. I frequently carry a Glock 33 and the thick grip is not a problem for me because i have a skinny waist. This gun is a handful and is harder to control than a .45 so it takes practice, but you get 11 rounds with a Pierce mag extension in a very compact package, and superior ballistics for intermediate barriers should the need arise. I also carry a full-size M&P40 converted to .357Sig (arguably the easiest caliber conversion existing) and this gun is good shooting with real stopping power and 15+1 capacity, in a slightly smaller package than my M&P45. The .357Sig calculates to ~100ft-lbs more energy than the .45ACP with a 9mm bullet at ~250 fps more velocity than 9mm Luger. I personally consider the .45ACP to be the ideal caliber for soft targets at close range (the most likely SD scenario) and I do my best shooting with the .45, so I also carry my M&P45 occasionally. I load the .45 with 230gr Cor Bon +P, these loads will penetrate deeper than most HP .45s and do damage, even though they calculate by my own chrono testing to less energy than .357Sig. Bottom line, neither caliber will tickle the bad guy, but the .45 is a little tamer.

  11. nice article, Mr. Roberts,
    drawing the baseline at 9mm and 38 special
    seems reasonable.
    My wife, and her new LCP II shooting
    the 9mm’s lil brother 380,
    with good grippage, sights, trigger, easy to rack
    slide,
    and concealable-ity, and her good shooting
    is not to be discounted.
    – I found the comment by Sudden impact,
    describing the 357 totally well said…. It is
    worth learning to shoot it good
    for the awesomeness it provides.

    1. My wife also carries the LCP

      She has tried to conceal a larger gun and I am hoping she will eventually transition to the SIG P250 9mm she keeps as a home defense gun. If not at least she has a fighting chance! Thanks for reading

  12. My first CCW purchase was the Smith & Wesson Shield 9. It was a great first purchase weapon along with an N82 Tactical IWB holster. Over time I upgraded to a Sphynx Subcompact with a Crossbreed IWB holster. That pistol has unbelievable accuracy and reliability. Crossbreed holster is great once it is broke in and formed to the body.

  13. No mention of a 357 magnum. I have a Weihrauch Hunter (Germany), 3in six shooter that is (with practice), reasonably accurate up to 20mtrs. I don’t believe I would have any problems defending myself with it…

    1. I own a Traditions Sheriffs Model, basically the same thing, made by Pietta. If you are familiar with the gun that is what counts. I enjoy shooting mine a great deal.

  14. Why is availability never mentioned? The most reliable, affordable, accurate, effective handgun in the world is of no use if it is in the console of a car or the bottom of a purse. One MUST choose a weapon that is of a carryable and concealable size and weight so that one can be armed at all times. Perps are not going to give you ‘King’s X’ while you run out to your car or rummage through your purse. Of course, if you aren’t serious enough about your security and those you love, then by all means, carry part-time. I hope you regret your choice.

    1. Once Bruce Nelson invented the Summer Special IWB holster there was no excuse for not carrying the Commander every day and I have for many many years. There are many great holsters and I think the primary problem with folks is poor to very poor holster selection.

  15. My first hand gun was a Ruger P85 mKII, I still have it today, I love that gun. My reason for buying it was simple, my friend had one and when I went to the range with him, it felt good in my hand, no recoil because of the metal frame & the 9mm round and it was a tack driver anywhere between 4 – 12 yards; and worse case I could bludgeon a bad guy with it after I unloaded a clip.
    However, for a first time gun owner, I would suggest the same thing that Ma Duece suggested, go to a gun range that rents out guns. For a minor rental fee, a new shooter could find the gun that works best for he or she, it may take a few trips, but that small investment pays out in the long run. I always give this advice to first time shooters because a gun that feels great in my hand and accurate (for me) may not be the same for another shooter.

  16. My first pistol & also my carry is a Taurus 24/7 OSS (.45 ACP) that I carry in a Crossbreed holster. I’m a large fellow & like loose fitting shirts so it is completely concealed. I don’t have to worry about trying to grip a tiny pistol with just 2 fingers or deal with a barely spinning bullet out of a 1-2″ barrel. Plus its 12+1 capacity gives (IMHO) the best chance to walk away from an incident while any attacker(s) get carried out. Also the pistol fits my hand like it was custom made for me. Being a tactical gun, take down & cleaning is very easy & I have never had a single jam. I’m very happy with it.

  17. Very good and informing article. I started my quest for a self-defense weapon online. I looked at several different affordable choices then went to local dealers to get the feel of the guns. I think I’ve settled on the Taurus G2 PT 111 9mm. It’s within my price range, seems easily concealed and holds 12 +1. If I need more than that, I’m in big trouble! Thanks and keep the good articles coming.

    1. I have seen the G2 9mm on sale for $225 lately.
      I have fired it extensively in two different handguns.

      In my opinion the best pistol Taurus has ever made.

    1. I do not trust my life to the 380

      Like a poor pastor I would have the blood of my flock on my hands for issuing poor doctrine.

  18. My very first gun was an Erma lugar .22 – bought it in the 70’s at Kmart. I still have it. Perfect hand fit and fun to shoot out in the desert. After a few hundred rounds the ramp wore out as if it was not hardened. Then the firing pin broke. Being a tool maker I made new parts for the gun from hardened tool steel and used a high speed drill blank for the firing pin. The problem with most guns today is they are production guns – made from poor steel usually case hardened. If you can file the part it is not hard enough to really last.

  19. I would recommend S&W M&P series or Glock. While I personally do not care for Glock; both of these brands are extremely popular. Another important factor in carry guns are the availability of Holsters and accessories (including magazines)

    My first carry gun was a Beretta 9000. Magazines were few and far between and holsters didn’t exist. Now I carry Px4 full size or M&P M2.0 (5″) as my carry guns. The Px4 has a large selection of Holsters and mags; while my M&P offers twice that. However the newer 2.0 long barrel did require a custom OWB holster. (FYI M&P Pro Holsters/molds work).

    So consider holsters, magazines, and aftermarket products when selecting a self defense firearm.

    1. Very well said.

      I am not a Glock fan but it always works!

      If I were a Chief or a bean counter– yes the Glock

  20. I like the pistol that allows for backstrap change outs. I have a pair of Walthers and would not change them for something else. They both have magic words along the side — “Made in Germany.”

    Yes, I paid more for it, but you get what you pay for.

    1. I have a good friend that feels as you do on the Walther.

      I cannot say you are wrong!

      Thanks for reading.

  21. 1st time hand gun buyers should contact a local shooting range, many of them rent different types/ chamberings, that way you can test drive before buying, and contact shooting instruction places, take a course, see what they recommend for your individual requirements. .22`s are fun, and have their niche, they been around for a long time. For personal defense, naw.
    Better than nothing, but… there are more firearms to choose from than ever before.

  22. The first pistol I bought was a Beretta Mini Cougar .45. It is a superior weapon. The .45 ACP has a 92% knock down rate which is critical in self-defense maneuvers—getting the perp on the deck makes it much more difficult to kill you. Before I bought this pistol, I had fired a variety of .38 special revolvers and Colt .45’s. I now have a S&W .38 special and a Mauser .380 auto. Ammunition is equally important. I keep Glaser and hollow points in my weapons when not at the range. Which is a point not mentioned in the article. To be any good you have to practice. I go at least monthly for at least any hour at the range.

    1. Is there a source for a study done that confirms the 92% number? I have absolutely no doubt that .45 ACP is a beast of a round but to actually measure something like “knock-down power” in real-world environments is next to impossible….so I’m assuming a study was done?? Shot placement is going to have a lot to do with “knock-down” probability with any caliber chosen. A .45 to the arm or shoulder will hurt, and may even deter an attacker, but not so sure it will knock them down. I’m not saying you’re wrong, and I love .45, but to cite such an arbitrary number without a study or source leaves me a bit skeptical.

    2. @ Shawn.

      Regardless on how Limited your Language Skills are?/! Nothing say’s “Get the Hell Out of My House” LOUDER than Looking Down the Length of the Barrel of a M1911A1 .45ACP…

  23. I agree that a.22 is the perfect choice for a first gun. Plus it gives you the advantage of being able to practice a lot for very little expense. Practice does (help) make perfect. I got my first.22 (a Ruger semi-auto handgun) when I was 8.

  24. What is the ‘first handgun that I should buy?’ This is so easy that I’m surprised the author didn’t even think about it. A .22! Either as a revolver or as an automatic. Since there is almost no recoil one can learn to shoot without any worries about it. But don’t buy a snub nosed weapon, buy something with at least a four inch barrel…five or six is even better. Once you’ve learned the basics and have practiced shooting enough to become proficient, then and only then start thinking about buying a weapon with more power. Just remember the ‘lowly’ .22 killed more people in WWII then any rifle did!

    1. I agree to a point on the .22 unless you need protection right now.

      What are you talking about the .22 killed people in WWII? I know of the High Standard suppressed pistol and that is about it Jim. Come on with this I want to hear it.

    2. I think that he should have stated that the .22 has killed more people “in its’ history” than any other caliber.

    3. The opening sentence of the article makes it clear the context is specifically for personal defense. If it’s truly all you can afford or manage to shoot well, a .22 certainly is better than nothing – but the overwhelming majority of handgun purchasers are not in that category.

  25. .32 and .380 acp are in adequate….Has the author ever been shot by one of these calibers?..if he had, he would find that they are adequate in changing a thugs attitude about attacking you.

    1. That makes my bullet pucker itch, and I have one that is healed.
      Bad guys are not average joes. Every damn one is a sociopath and many are psychopaths. Sometimes a light hit makes them angry. A man is about as hard to put down as a deer, and about the same size. A .38 or 9mm is little enough but will get the job done. The rest are pretty much useless in my opinion after investigating many shootings.

    2. I decided after much debate to trust my life and my loved ones lives to nothing less than .357 mag .
      If recoil is an issue practice w .38.
      The report of a magnum round makes me giggle like a schoolgirl .

    3. You’re basically asserting that a psychological stop (pain) is adequate for defensive purposes. If that were truly the case, you could carry pepper spray instead of a firearm and be just as well-armed.

      Smaller calibers, while better than nothing, are less effective than 9mm/38 Spec (and up) in this regard. Additionally, given the wide array of small 9mm pistols on the market today there is no longer a significant size advantage in choosing a smaller caliber.

    4. Perhaps if you have agreeable and wimpy thugs in your area. Someone who is insane, enraged, drugged or has a “proper” mindset (which ALL good people should!) is going to absorb a LOT of .22’s, .25’s, .32’s, and poor quality/performing .380’s before they cease to be a serious threat. .38 Specials should not be carried with jacketed bullets, generally speaking. 158-grain SWHP +P’s (soft lead, Semi-wadcutter hollow points at +P velocity) from Federal or Winchester are what you want and need in a 38. There simply is not enough velocity and energy to reliably expand a jacketed bullet in .38 Special and any of the lesser calibers, and .22’s will almost never penetrate a human skull.

    5. Wasn’t it a .380 that killed Travon Martin? With one shot!
      I have a Bersa .380 – it is not a mean as my .40 cal, but probably just as lethal as a 9mm.
      For self protection I prefer the .40 cal, but if my 1911 and .40 were on a table and I needed one in a hurry, I would pick up the 1911 – the .45 is #1 if you can stand the weight and fewer round mag capacity.

    6. It was a 9mm if one individual round matters.
      All cartridges are lethal sooner or later. Most people hit with handgun bullets survive. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that the attacker is stopped . If he dies the next day it is irrelevant to your life and health. You are dead on on the 1911 .45. It is heavy. I have a great respect for the .40, dropped a deer with one hit in the neck at about 35 yards, 4 legs in the air.
      All cartridges that penetrate are lethal but then so is slow acting poison. I prefer the shock and damage of a larger caliber.

  26. Great article. I agree the first priority is it must go bang Everytime you pull the trigger. But another that must be addressed is the willingness of an individual to pull the trigger if the situation arises. But that’s for a different article.

  27. Rewind back to 1980. If I was starting out again with my first weapon and I was going to be able to carry concealed (lived in California back then), this is what I would do. First of all, my first weapon was a S & W .357 magnum stainless 4 inch snub nose revolver with Hogue rubber grips. I would purchase a S & W 2 1/2″ to 3″ heavy barrel revolver (hopefully stainless steel) and add the rubber finger grooved grips. The reason I would go ahead and purchase the .357 instead of the .38 special is in case later on I wanted to try my ability to handle the more potent .357 charged ammo ( more knockdown power, velocity, and distance). Also remember that you can load a .38 special cartridge into a .357 revolver but you can’t load a .357 cartridge into a revolver chambered for only a .38 special due to the extra length of the .357 magnum cartridge. That pistol should be real easy to conceal also, maybe even easier than the semi autos ( I have semi autos too). Over the years I have seen the awesome power of that weapon and can only guess what it would do to someone if they were to be hit with a .357 hollow point load. So…..a .38 special or .357 for a self defense weapon…..absolutely!! They are easy to maintain and clean and are very dependable. I never worried about if I pulled the trigger if the firearm was going to go bang.

    1. Show me a .357 revolver that’s 1.5″ thick or less at the cylinder, and I’ll agree that it’s easier to conceal than a double-stack 9mm pistol.

      If you’re arguing better concealment than a single-stack 9mm pistol, then it would need to be 1″ thick or less at the cylinder.

    2. @ Adam Adam, I won’t argue that there is a bulge where the cylinders are on a revolver but there are things to consider when finding the best concealing weapon. First of all, everyone’s body is not built the same ( bone curves, extra pinches of skin, etc. etc.) I will agree with you that a single stack semi automatic is most likely going to be slimmer than a revolver. I have a 1911 Kimber SS Pro Carry II that I love to carry because of it’s light weight but truthfully it can be a real mother to keep hidden sometimes even though I have a full retention IWB holster (Crossover Brand) it’s still a four inch pistol. I am slim and don’t have much padding to hide it.

  28. My first handgun was a Walther P38 9mm. I still have it and still love it. It’s the 1st handgun brand I would recommend. Yet many people want something new as made in this century, so I would recommend a Walther M2 ppq for a 1st gun to people. It’s better than a glock, S&W, Springfield, or any other handgun out of the box factory gun. Best trigger out the box, best grip, and just reliable. A little pricey, but good things aren’t cheap and cheap things don’t last.

    1. The P38 is easily among the most influential guns of the last century, leading to the Beretta 92. Walther is a great brand, all of the way.
      Thanks for reading.

    2. You’re killing me with your statement about how good the Walther PPQ is. I was watching some youtube videos and decided I was going to buy one in .40 cal. I called a local store to see if they had it. I was informed that it is not approved by my sick dem state, so I can’t have it. Guess what state I’m in? CA

    3. That’s a pretty subjective comment but you are stating it as though it is a proven fact. Everyone’s taste is going to be different. You say the PPQ is better than glock…but that’s according to you and your taste. I own both and grab my G19 before the PPQ more often than not when concealing. I grab my VP9 before either lately, and personally I feel the trigger on the VP9 is far better than the PPQ. I love all 3 guns, but it’s always going to boil down to personal preference.

    1. Wow! Glocks were that expensive when they first came out? I remember about 10 years ago you could buy any Glock for $500. They didn’t have the variety they have today – it was pretty much 9mm or .40.

    2. @ Intrceptor.

      The Gun Store Owner told it was the “Wave of the Future”!/? And he had a Hard Time keeping them in stock. First time I held one, it felt “Cheap”, like a Child’s “Cap Gun”. I left the Store with something I was Familiar With, that was Totally Dependable in the Mid-1970’s and Early 1980’s. As well as Two World Wars and Two Regional Wars, the Colt M1911A1 .45ACP…

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