Concealed Carry

Commonality of Handguns

Commonality of handguns is often a topic of discussion among gun owners. Should everyone in the family use the same type of handgun? Alternately, is individuality best?

Two brown handled, black barreled revolvers stacked, barrels pointed to the right
Retro commonality that works: one large and one small revolver, for backup.

With few exceptions, institutions issue a single type of handgun, although frame size may differ. A few have a broader policy. The question is well founded and therefore deserves a well-thought-out answer.

When I first became interested in handguns, revolvers ruled the world. Although there were fewer self-loaders, they seemed more complicated than revolvers. The single-action 1911 and double-action, first-shot Model 39 Smith & Wesson required more training to master. Today, there are even more types of self-loaders than before. Examples include:

  • double action, first shot
  • double action only
  • selective double action
  • safe action
  • fast action
  • single action self-loader

The world has changed. It might serve you well to commit to a single type of handgun and completely master it. A unique pistol, such as the Heckler and Koch P7M8, demands strict discipline.

When it comes to commonality of firearms, a few questions are constant.

  • Should an agency issue a single handgun, or should there be reasonable substitutes for officer purchase?
  • Often young people on budgets are concerned with overall protection. Even though one may be more “gunny” than the other, should they each deploy the same handgun?
  • Experienced shooters question the choice of backup. Should the backup be a smaller version of the primary?
3 handguns, starting from the top: a brown handled black barreled Government Model, a brown handled silver barreld Commander and an all black Officer's Model 1911 on a gray background, barrels pointed to the right.
A Government Model, Commander and Officer’s Model 1911 pistols, all with ambidextrous safety—a good setup.

The world is not ideal, and compromises are inherent in every choice, yet there are good answers to those questions. There are advantages and disadvantages to commonality. For example, if one spouse is comfortable only with a revolver, then the other should not give up a 1911 .45—but then, there is a middle road in a house gun.

As for backup guns, mine was often the same as the service pistol when pursuing Neo Nazis or on a raid. The rest of the time, my backup was simpler than the holster gun. When carrying a SIG P series or 1911 primary, my backup may be a concealed-hammer revolver or a double-action-only Kahr.

The backup should never be more complicated than the primary.

For example, I would not deploy a SIG P228 as a primary and an on-safe Walther PPK as a backup. There is too much difference in their operational imperatives. A backup should be identical to the primary, or it should be a simple double-action only.

Among the family, there is often a less-interested spouse. They may view the handgun in the same light they see a vehicle’s spare tire—not very exciting although you definitely need it. If the spouse travels to the range two or three times a year or fewer, a double-action .38 Special revolver gets the nod. The partner practicing with a personal .38 and speed loaders may be ahead of the other in performance and, in a worst-case scenario, either spouse will be able to use the other’s revolver.

This is much more important in a house gun that is kept at home ready than for a carry gun. The downside is that the partner who becomes more interested in shooting may feel bored or limited by the choice.

All black handgun, barrel pointed up and to the left on a blue target
A one-gun person often excels with their chosen handgun.

Whether a certain handgun becomes standard issue in a home is a worthwhile debate. If you can afford only one home-defense handgun, the lowest level of training must be the default choice. With a finite amount of cash, are two high-point pistols better than one Smith & Wesson SD40? Probably.

Are two .38 revolvers better than a Taurus 24/7 9mm? Two armed citizens do not double your chances of success; using a backup with which you have practiced tactics, your defensive status goes up exponentially. One thing is certain—your other half should be familiar with your handgun in case of the dreaded worst-case scenario.

There are certain types of handguns that require more practice. A beginner must stay in practice to remain sharp since defensive skills are perishable. An old hand with a handgun who has been at the game for decades suffers less deterioration of skill when they do not practice enough; that is simply a fact of life, although much depends on how they stick to a single type of handgun.

Going back and forth between carry guns is not the best program for survival, and the pros do not engage in a gun-of-the-month contest. By the same token, the handgun should always be carried in the same position or placed at home ready in the same place. If I am carrying a Colt Commander in a belt holster or a SIG P228 in an inside-the-waistband holster, the gun is still behind the hip.

All black SIG P228, barrel pointed up and to the right on a mint green target
A quality firearm, such as a SIG P228 loaded with Winchester ammunition, will help you achieve excellent shooting.

Many purchase what we can afford. That may mean a Ruger P89 this month and a trade-up to a CZ 75 this winter. Sometimes, we buy similar handguns we like, such as a Beretta 92 and SIG P226. We may like double-action, first-shot, high-capacity 9mm handguns. Although why have two similar handguns in the same household when both partners use them? One may be a decocker and the other a selective, double action.

I am very familiar with the nuances of design between handguns and have strong preferences. I would not criticize anyone who prefers the CZ 75 over the SIG P226, or vice versa. If I carry a SIG, my wife gets a SIG as well. If she prefers the GLOCK and cannot live with the SIG, then why not two GLOCKs? It only makes sense.

Holsters of the best type are expensive and so are spare magazines. In an emergency, magazine discipline may mean a great deal. When considering the bottom line, differences between quality handguns are often conversational at best, and one seldom exhibits an overwhelming advantage over the other when you are a skilled shooter. Bench-rest accuracy may differ, and running a combat course with a CZ 75 9mm, SIG P226 9mm and HK P30 may invite comparison, and there is little to do tactically with one that cannot be done with the other. If you enjoy accumulating quality handguns, that is fine; if combat ability is the bottom line, commonality means a great deal.

When inspecting police handguns, I have found .40 rounds in 9mm magazines. I have seen a 9mm fired in a .40 chamber where the extractor held the case rim. It was not deadly, but it was not pretty. A GLOCK 9mm magazine fits a .40 frame. Some shooters firing a brace of pistols at the range have occasionally attempted to seat the wrong magazine in the wrong handgun. A GLOCK magazine would not be confused with a SIG; then again, if we are to have commonality, then we should get with the program. If you are more involved in training you may outstrip the other’s comfort level. There are differences in ability and discretionary income. Seldom do we all progress in skill level at the same pace.

Two stacked guns, a black Webley .455 on top, pointed to the left and a black gripped silver barreled Webley .38 on the bottom, barrel pointed toward the right
One of the author’s friends, an engineer and Webley collector, uses this gun. His house gun is a Webley .455 and his wife’s is a mint-condition Webley .38. He could do worse (he will not spend a nickel on anything but a Webley). His wife sometimes puts a real rarity in her purse, a 2-inch-barrel .32 Webley.

Commonality of arms is an interesting concept when applied to an armed citizen. The bottom line is that if you have similar needs and skill levels, then you should have similar firearms. If not, you must complicate training considerably by being familiar with each other’s handguns. Another solid move might be to carry what you will—say, a cocked and locked 1911 .45 for one and a double-action, first-shot SIG 226 9mm for the other—and agree on a simpler-action type for home defense, such as the SIG P250 DAO or a revolver.

Common sense is most important. Be certain you can trust your partner in an emergency and that he or she has skill at arms with the chosen firearm. In an emergency, the bottom line is determination and will to survive.

The tools are just that, tools, and are just one part of the picture.

Share your home defense strategy or firearm plan in the comments section.



About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
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 (5)

  1. I had to laugh at the notion that one spouse might be “bored” because of having to stick to the double-action .38 that the other can use. Until you can speed-shoot like Jerry Miculek and hit coins tossed in the air like Ed McGivern, there’s no grounds for feeling bored with the revolver.

  2. We are a family of 1911’s..4″, 5″ and 6″ all with Wilson mags for reliability.
    We just added as back up for everyone in the house EDC X9’s,
    Upped the round count, maintained the same type controls and triggers and dropped the loaded weight about 3 oz. off the 4″ guns.
    The point and shoot is great and the follow ups are quicker, reliability rivals that of a glock without the nose up point of aim common with the glock.
    We will be switching our carry over to the EDC X9 as we shoot them in more.

  3. I’m trying to work up an excuse to buy a bigger safe but all of our handguns fall into the 1911 pattern with small variations. All are single action, manual thumb safety on the left, magazine release at bottom left of trigger guard and all but the Browning Buckmark have external hammers. 2 no name 1911s in 45ACP, 9mm Armalite ar 24C, 45ACP SA Champion, 9mm EMP, Sig P238. The wife is not really into shooting but she does shoot and quite well, regardless of what handgun is the flavor of the day she knows they all operate the same and doesn’t have to think about the differences.

  4. For many years, what I primary carried was dictated by the military, usually a Beretta 92, a 1911 .45, or going way back a S&W .38 revolver (with a smattering of SIG’s and Glock’s along the way). In later years (when the military and situation permitted), I carried the issued Beretta .9mm as the primary and my own Star PD .45 as my backup.

    Now that I am retired, I am more of a collector but my wife and I both carry concealed. We have found what works for us best is to carry what’s best for both of us given the situation, location, and the clothes we are wearing. When we add new handguns to the collection (considering what we might carry), we purchase a pair of them. We have matching pistols in ..22, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .380, and 9mm. We both also have 2” .38 DA revolvers. We practice with all of them, and when we carry, we both know that we are carrying the same thing and each of us knows where the other is carrying concealed and where we carry extra ammo. For my wife, it’s usually in a purse that’s designed for CC. For myself, it depends on the clothing and situation. The main exception is where she may not carry (because of formal dress and only having a very small clutch purse), then I will carry in a shoulder rig.

    We also both practice with the larger handguns, but I usually only have one of each in my collection. The largest we both carry together are the 9mm’s. This works for us, but we do train on everything.

  5. My backup is an exact copy of my primary. If my primary is rendered, for whatever reason inoperable, my backup uses the same ammunition and magazines.

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