I’ve written in the past about the utility of small handguns and pocket carry. I stand by this reasoning — especially when carrying a larger pistol is not an option. However, small guns are certainly a compromise, and one that not everyone is willing to make. Pocket pistols, micros, and other small subcompacts may be easy to carry, but they have their drawbacks. If you can take the added size and weight, you may want to consider carrying something larger.
As we move toward the winter months and break out cold weather clothing, concealment becomes a bit easier. Building the habit now will help you stay consistent year round.
Contrary to what many think, small guns do not ‘kick’ less. In fact, they often exhibit more felt recoil than larger models. This is the most noticeable drawback, they are snappy and hard to hold on to. Physics being what it is, the lower mass of a small pistol does not contain the energy as well. Even small rounds, such as the .380 ACP, can be a lot from a pistol the size of your palm.
You can train around this and work to control the recoil, but it will take more time and effort than equivalent training with a larger option. You can focus more on marksmanship fundamentals and compensate less for excessive muzzle blast and report.
In addition to the increased recoil, the small gun’s inherent size makes operation and handling more difficult. It may not seem like much when quietly fidgeting with the pistol in the store, but when adrenaline is flowing and shots are fired, things become a different story.
Small guns have small controls, such as a little thumb safety, slide lock, magazine release, etc. If you have small hands, this is likely a plus for you. However, I think for even average-sized hands, the controls can be a bit cramped.
The slide is shorter and the increased spring pressure may make it harder to rack. It is important to grab in a certain way to avoid inducing malfunctions. Don’t cover your ejection port or you will block ammunition from ejecting properly.
The stubby grip and short trigger reach will require work to achieve a proper grip and smooth trigger pulls. Mag changes are harder, as the bottom of your hand and pinky finger may overhang and interfere with the magazine well.
Smaller guns tend to be chambered in smaller calibers as well — go figure… Some calibers may be too small to be considered for self-defense (in my opinion), such as .22s and .32s. If recoil is an issue with the caliber, move to a larger-sized handgun. Short-barreled guns chambered in larger calibers will face a velocity decrease due to the decreased barrel length. This happens because the shorter barrel provides less time for the bullet to build pressure and speed before exiting the firearm. This translates to less power at the muzzle and downrange. As a result, expanding bullets may not perform as well and proper penetration may be in question.
Additionally, small guns chambered in larger calibers often beat the shooter too much for exceptional accuracy. Again, you can train around this, but that training could go further if you didn’t need to work around the gun.
Durability is getting to be less and less the case with some of the slim 9mm carry guns that have come out. However, mouse guns and pocket guns tend to be less durable than full-size options. Historically, vest guns and the like were finicky at best. Nowadays, however, they are plenty reliable, but may not incorporate the long term durability of larger handguns. Duty pistols such as the Glock 19, HK USP, and SIG P226 will certainly outlast any of the smaller carry guns due to the wear and tear on parts.
For a common example, take the same 9mm round fired in both a large and small pistol. Both firearms contain the same explosion when you shoot. That energy transfers through the gun and internal components. Fire thousands of times and your frame, slide, barrel, springs, and small parts will take quite a beating. The thinner metal and polymer used to construct a small pistol simply cannot take as much abuse. Larger guns are able to use more robust components because they are not competing to take up less space.
You’re also limited in your sight radius with small guns. The front sight is typically only a few inches from the rear. This, combined with the shorter barrel mentioned earlier, makes accuracy harder at longer ranges. How long will depend on your skill level and the specific pistol/ammo. An optic can help with this, but when you start adding bulk with a red dot sight, you may as well move up to a larger sidearm.
If you find yourself saying, “But, I can’t carry a bigger gun.” I challenge you to try a step up in a larger size. Especially, if you already carry on the hip and not in the pocket, You’re already halfway there. Many people comfortably carry guns such as the S&W Shield Plus and SIG P365. These are excellent options and will serve the shooter well. However, as I mentioned, they are still a compromise. It is not much harder to move up to a gun the size of an M&P Compact or P320. With it comes an increased capacity, improved handling, and all the benefits we covered before.
Slimline options are great too, but they can still be snappy. They may not fit larger hands well and still incorporate thinner parts that may not stand up to the same abuse. The Springfield Hellcat Pro, SIG XMACRO, and Glock 48 are incredible pistols. Yet, their larger counterparts still exist for a reason.
The key is consistency. If you are able, carry consistently or better yet, every day. This will build the habit and you will become accustomed to the increased loadout. Is the extra weight and footprint worth it? It all depends on your perceived threat level, but with things happening around the world, I find myself turning toward some of my larger options.
Although I don’t entirely agree with the phrase, “A gun is supposed to be comforting, not comfortable,” it does have some merit. There’s certainly a balance.