In a perfect world, all guns would do all things and they would all do them perfectly. Unfortunately, the vast majority of guns are usually only good in just one or two roles. The characteristics that make up certain types of firearms typically correspond to whatever market the manufacturer was trying to tackle. For the deer hunter, a highly accurate bolt-action rifle in a medium to large size caliber does the trick perfectly. Rate of fire and magazine capacity is far less important. For the soldier, rate of fire, magazine capacity, weight, caliber and ruggedness are just a few of the important specifications. For concealed carry, what characteristics make the perfect gun? Has someone already made it?
If you ask 10 gun store clerks about the best possible concealed carry handgun, you’ll probably get 10 different answers. It is a confusing market with a myriad of players and they all claim to have the best of the best. A good place to start when thinking about carrying concealed is finding that perfect balance between handgun size and caliber. In the old days, many carry guns in use were of smaller calibers. The .22 LR, .25 and .32 ACP covered every corner of the concealed carry market. However, since few calibers came close to having a good combination of power and size, the .380 ACP ended up holding the crown for years. For revolvers, the .38 Special filled multiple roles in both concealed carry and duty guns. This trend continues today as a great number of concealed carry revolvers are .38 Specials. For semi-autos, the 9mm overtook the .380 ACP and tends to be the leading concealed carry cartridge. Newer advances in materials and technology allow manufacturers to design smaller and smaller handguns, without having to sacrifice caliber. Don’t discount the larger calibers however, as some shooters can handle the snappy recoils. Concealable .40 S&W and .45 ACP are commonplace and some don’t mind the slightly increased size.
Once you determine your caliber, it’s time to look at action. If you chose a caliber normally associated with revolvers, then you might be looking at a double-action revolver. This means you don’t have to pull the hammer back before shooting. I don’t know too many people who try to conceal a Colt Single Action Army anyway. Revolvers tend to be comparatively thin, which means easy concealment. Many modern concealable revolvers have an internal hammer as well. This could be a great thing, since you don’t have to worry about the hammer snagging on purses or clothing. Still, a standard external hammer is fine since it gives you the option of pulling back the hammer for more accurate shots at the range. Another advantage to most revolvers is safety. A double action trigger tends to be long and heavy, so you’ll worry less about negligent discharges.
For the semi-auto fans out there, you have a few choices. Some concealed carry semi-autos are double-action only. This means, much like a revolver, they tend to have a long and heavy trigger every time you shoot. This is a great safety feature but can influence accuracy, especially if the shooter is less experienced. Some of these handguns have thumb safeties while others do not. This is a personal choice only you can make.
Single-action semi-autos, like the venerable Colt 1911 are excellent for accuracy, but you must remain cognizant about the trigger. Once you rack the slide and cock the hammer, that trigger is going to be short and light. While proper safety is always the most important aspect of gun ownership, it never hurts to be a extra careful when dealing with a short and light trigger. I have to say that most of the negligent discharges I’ve seen have been from being careless around a single-action semi-auto.
Single-action/double-action handguns still make up a large portion of the market. The main difference here is you do not have to pull the hammer back on the first shot. As long as you previously chambered a round, a single pull of the trigger will cock and release the hammer. While the weapon cycles, the slide will push back the hammer, which will make your trigger pull much shorter on your follow-up shots. It takes some getting used to and you should always be aware of the position of the hammer.
Striker-fired handguns are a sort of middle ground. When firing a cartridge or loading the chamber, the striker will rest in a partially cocked position. The trigger serves the function of completing the cocking cycle and then releasing the striker or hammer. While technically two actions, it differs from a double-action trigger in that the trigger is not capable of fully cocking the striker. It differs from single action in that if the striker or hammer were to release, it would generally not be capable of igniting the primer.
Another characteristic to consider are the sights. Adjustable sights are always nice, but they may not be completely necessary on a concealed carry gun. Since most defensive situations happen at very close range, high precision shots are not always possible. If you practice with your gun, as you should, you’ll know how it shoots and your firing process will become second nature. Adjustable sights are also more susceptible to breakage. It’s rare, but getting them caught on doorways and other objects can knock them out of alignment or break them off.
Single Stack or Double
For semi-automatic handguns, there are two main magazine types. A single stack is simply a magazine that holds all your ammunition in a single row, one on top of the other. This makes for a very thin profile and works wonders for concealment. The original 1911 design is a single stack, as is the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield. A double stack, like a GLOCK magazine, staggers the ammunition on one side and then the other. This gives you more ammo while retaining a shorter grip. The drawback here is the grip tends to be much wider. The sweet spot is to have a double stack, which is still thin enough to conceal. For many people, the GLOCK 26 is wide, but not too wide to carry. This is a personal preference feature since both types are perfectly valid.
Finding the Perfect Match
Every consideration is important when deciding to carry concealed. Remember this tool could potentially save your life or the life of a loved one. While no gun is absolutely perfect, weighing all the options is a good first step in choosing which handgun is right for you.
What is your perfect concealed carry pistol? Tell us in the comment section.