Balancing the Load: Managing Handgun Weight

getting hits - handgun weight

When it comes to handgun selection, we all have our ideas. I do not subscribe to a certain type of shooter that seems to have had his or her options weighed by the cinema.

A high-capacity 9mm and two spare magazines is reasonable for service use, but hardly practical for most who carry concealed. It is difficult enough to convince the student to carry an adequate firearm. A spare magazine or speed loader is a major leap!

Then there is the choice of a good holster versus a $20 chain store holster. Very often, the final arbiter of survival isn’t what gun, but simply that you had a gun. You must be willing to use the gun and be skilled in its use.

I began carrying a handgun at my grandfather’s service station, working late hours in a remote location. I was a teenager and the Colt Detective Special was comforting.

I also took to carrying this handgun when hunting and took game, such as bedded rabbits and even squirrels. I knew how to shoot. No one told me the .32 Colt New Police was an ineffective caliber and I am glad I never had to learn that the hard way.

What followed was many years of testing, research, study and some years in uniform. Among the work I am most satisfied with has nothing to do with the popular press.

Larger handguns
Larger handguns are easier to use well but not easier to carry, so compromise is in order.

Fact vs. Fiction

One of my abstracts on patrol carbines was used to persuade a major agency to adopt patrol rifles that were cataloged at a federal level. I also wrote a well-received report on investigating hate crimes and dealing with those that instigate crime via the internet.

The point is, I am a careful researcher and do not take facts lightly. I have known the heavy blow of a fist, the cut of a knife and the burning of a bullet. It got real.

While I may find fault with those that carry a pocket .32 or .380 and feel well-armed—or even those that admire the .22 Magnum—well, it’s their hide. Everyone has a handgun weight preference.

When a writer that is supposed to have some type of authority tells you that all calibers are the same and there is little difference in effect, and the writer never meets a gun he doesn’t like, well, he is a false prophet and the worshiper’s end will be poorly met.

This stratum of obscure and distorted facts would never survive in the professional community.

winchester ammo - handgun weight
A good handgun and superior ammunition are important choices.

Power vs. Accuracy

I carry much the same type of handgun I have carried and trusted for more than 40 years. I don’t do so because this is what is expected of me or because it is a trend, but because this is the best system I have encountered.

The bottom line is that there is a steep learning curve when it comes to changing handgun types and relearning certain operations. I am just fine with my choices. If you are just beginning, study the types and then invest in the system and train.

Those that carry inadequate armament are in the unenviable situation of being armed with a deadly weapon, but not well able to defend themselves.

But, by the same token, those carrying a handgun that is too powerful for them to control, a handgun they have not mastered or a handgun weight that is too heavy are in the same situation and with worse chance of surviving.

While I recommend the 9mm and .38 Special as realistic minimums, accuracy can make up for power—the opposite is seldom true.

Shot placement - handgun weight
Shot placement is most important, given a proper caliber.

Defense vs. Offence

Here is what will matter. I have faced people who meant to do me harm, most often because they were stopped from harming another by my interference.

On at least one occasion, I faced an individual who professed a desire to die—until he realized his wish was almost certainly to be fulfilled. If you do not project competence and they do not see “shoot” in your eyes, you will fail.

I do not mean to be aggressive or to provoke a fight, but that is a ticket to jail. I mean that when confronted with a threat, you are capable of getting the pistol into action quickly and you are able to deliver the payload to the area where it will do the most good.

Only if these factors are firmly in place (along with the determination to defend yourself) will the handgun you carry have any bearing on the outcome of the battle.

Most of the time, the fight is over when the gun is presented and the bad guy retreats. Another point is that a strong right hook has stopped gunfights before they begin. My rule is that the gun doesn’t come out unless I am willing to fire.

The situation must be so bad that the only means of stopping the attack—a lethal threat—is that the handgun must be used to stop the threat. The handgun isn’t there to extend your will or to prevent a few bruises. It is there to save a life.

In those instances where the handgun must be used, the single determining factor in your survival will be prior training. Not handgun weight or any other factor.

This means the ability to place the bullet into center mass. This is the area that will most likely result in a shutdown of the assailant’s body.

There should be blood loss and a lot of it. The bullet must have adequate penetration. The body has heavy bones and if the assailant’s arms are extended or he is wearing heavy winter clothing, there is a lot to overcome before the vitals are encountered.

Some of the trick bullets that fragment early or break into shards are going to be a very poor choice in this arena.

.45 ACP - handgun weight
This is a double-tap with the .45 ACP. Thanks to a manageable handgun weight, it delivers a controllable punch.

Cost vs. Value

While mental operations and mental elements are most important, the handgun’s and bullet’s performances are also important. The handgun should be relatively fast into action, secure and safe carried close to the body, and of high quality.

I began my shooting life with Colt and Smith and Wesson revolvers and still own a number. I carry them concealed from time to time, but my favored carry gun is a Commander-type 1911 .45. These are quality handguns I am familiar with.

I realize that handguns are expensive and young shooters have more important responsibilities, such as children, education, orthodontists, soccer uniforms and student loans. Today, I measure my handguns against the hours of toil it took to obtain them.

It was very difficult for me to come up with the $149.95 for my first Colt 1911. A good-quality .38 revolver was less than $100.

.45 Commander, Fusion 10mm
The author’s long-serving .45 Commander, top, and the Fusion 10mm, bottom. The .45 is the better choice for most.

By the same token, my good friend Trevor could not wait to put down a month’s pay for his Colt Government Model .45 when he was fighting in Africa. What is your life worth? You cannot put a price on your life. GLOCK is the baseline.

The GLOCK is reliable and works for most shooters. Also, many GLOCKs have a handgun weight that is lower and are therefore easier to shoot.

But the question remains: if a gun is cheaper, what corners have been cut? What advantage are you getting when you spend more?

I am impressed by the performance of modern 9mm loads and find the caliber acceptable with careful load selection. A 124-grain +P or better still a +P+ offers good wound potential.

The .40 may not be as popular as it once was, but it offers excellent wound ballistics. As long as the pistol isn’t too small to control well, these are good choices.

.40 SIG P229 - handgun weight
Among the best-balanced combinations of power and control is the .40 SIG P229.

Threat vs. Real Threat

Think about the problem you may be facing. It may be a doper looking for a fast mark. You may startle a car thief or a burglar. They are only motivated by profit and easily spooked.

But there are very tough individuals who are determined not to return to prison and who enjoy inflicting human pain and suffering. Some have been shot and stabbed and have little fear if you do not have the determination to back up the threat.

If you are armed with a pocket pistol, derringer or minigun, there are men out there that will literally feed it to you.

An acquaintance of mine was badly bitten by a large dog and spent two months in recovery—after his 9mm hollow points flattened out in two inches of hard bone and muscle.

The dog was smaller than the majority of the members of our protein-fed ex-con criminal class.

handgun weight
We all know what is too little gun… or do we? Handgun weight is more important than you might think.


The bottom line: choose a handgun you are able to use well. For most of us, this means a 9mm or .38 of neither the largest nor the smallest size—loaded with a high-quality defense load you have qualified in the handgun.

You should carry the handgun in a quality holster that keeps the handgun secure during movement and one which allows a good, sharp draw. This means a handgun weight that isn’t too heavy or light.

But a quality holster just may allow you to carry a heavier handgun than you thought possible.

The presentation from concealed carry should be smooth and will save your life, whether any shots are fired or not. Confidence is important and this means training and practice. Nothing else is acceptable.

How important is handgun weight to you? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author:

Wilburn Roberts

When Wilburn Roberts was a young peace officer, he adopted his present pen name at the suggestion of his chief, as some of the brass was leery of what he might write. This was also adopted out of respect for families of both victims and criminals. The pen name is the same and the man remains an outspoken proponent of using enough gun for the job.

He has been on the hit list of a well-known hate group, traveled in a dozen countries and written on many subjects, including investigating hate crimes and adopting the patrol carbine. He graduated second in his class with a degree in Police Science. It took him 20 years to work himself from Lieutenant to Sergeant and he calls it as he sees it.
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 (12)

  1. I own a 9mm brigadier always found it to large to carry. Even with a high riding open top holster.
    I do a lot of driving during the day and needed something that wouldn’t dig into my side when I drove.
    I have always had a .45 of one kind or another. Used to own a 70 series colt gold cup competition model. Presentation wood case and all. Had to give it up when I got divorced from my first wife. The irony is she bought it for me for Christmas one year…lol. But still nothing you could carry all day.
    Anyway I was always a big fan of the stopping power of the .45 ACP. That’s when I found the Para-Ordnance C6 LDA. Chambered in .45. 3″ barrel. Very small. 6 round magazine. I had several different holsters for this gun depending on the weather.
    Despite being made of all steel this gun is very lightweight to carry even with a full clip.
    The LDA meant I didn’t have to carry it with the hammer back or have to worry about cocking it quickly if I needed it right away. I could just draw and pull the trigger. Also no hammer to catch on clothing. I have never liked the though of carry a .45 any where on my person with the hammer cocked back. Regardless of the safety being on or whatever. The thought of something as devastating as a .45 cal being on my side or behind my back with the hammer cocked back scares the sh*t out of me. Some people may have no problem with it but not me. I was at my brother’s house once (He’s retired sheriff’s dept. Lieutenant from 30 years of service). Anyway one of his friends still working for the dept. came to the house one day in plainclothes and as he was walking up to us I noticed he was carrying a full size .45 on his side open top holster with the hammer cocked and locked. When I see that all I can think of is all the ways that bastard could go off on your side.
    The Para-Ordnance C6 is also a very slim .45 on you side. I purchased several holsters for this gun and they all held the gun on my side very comfortably with no telegraphing. Even driving except behind the back you hardly felt the gun on your side. The only holster that did present itself to much was the Galco Paddle holster. I little bulky for concealed carry.
    Anyway I started to do some training with gun to get proficient with it and I noticed a very big problem with the gun. Actually a couple of problems arose. It was “stove-piping” rounds all the time. This was a very big problem. Also unless you were using full ball ammo because of how steep the feed ramp is on a 3″ barrel I was getting a lot of feed jamming as well. Could not use hollow points at all.
    Then my .9mm Brigadier started feed started feed jamming as well. I thought…”What the hell, A Beretta feed jamming. I even took my son shooting once to get him into it and with all the jamming and stove piping going on he didn’t even feel like doing it anymore.
    I became very disillusioned with the automatic. My life was supposed to depend on the functionality of either of these pistols.. No way!

    For this reason I recently switched over to carrying a revolver. The S&W 686 plus in 3″ barrel to be exact. I chose the S&W 686 plus for a number of reasons.
    One I wanted something that had the same stopping power as the .45 and the .357 was right there with it. I didn’t want a .44 because it was getting to large.
    While revolvers where always something that I would use in the woods. My S&W 629 6″ is always on my side out in the woods.(Except cub scout
    The 686 “Plus” carries 7 rounds the same as my C6 did. So I wasn’t losing capacity.
    It had the same 3″ barrel for better conceal-ability.
    Best part revolvers are timeless for reliability. No feed jams, no stove-piping, etc..
    I am having a bit of a challenge though on conceal-ability.
    The best holster I’ve found is an open top OTB holster. I am right handed but purchased a left hand holster so the handle faces toward the front. I have practiced drawing extensively using practice rounds. I have found that with the handle facing towards me (I am a large person) I can grab the handle and draw much faster than if I had to reach around behind me with it being in a right hand holster and the handle facing to the rear.
    With the left hand holster it also keeps somebody from being able to grab the gun out of my holster from behind me. They could but they wouldn’t have it in a position to use it on me.
    I wish I could go back to my 3″ .45 but with my life on the line I just don’t trust their reliability.
    Also I don’t shoot nearly enough and the revolver is a much simpler gun to operate effectively.
    I know I am a novice and have had no field experience.
    I’ve never been shot, hope never to either.

  2. I have carried a 1911 for 4 years as a civilian in a combat zone inside my Levi’s without a holster. My 5 shot Colt rode in my boot (and a frag in my coat pocket). Also had a folding stock French grease gun in 9. And a sawed off Thompson with no rear stock and a custom front barrel grip (2 years Army with .45 & m-14). I have a cowboy .44 mag and a stainless .44 mag. Now my fun gun is a .500 I shoot 270 to 500 grain using one hand to the side or forward. I use the 8inch barrel but the 6 Inch barrel is good for bank fishing in Alaska. I carry the .500 in a left handed holster so the barrel hangs down to the left for left or right hand access. My variety gun is a 5.7 Good for groundhogs etc.
    my 9 is a Glock full size With a laser sight. I prefer the heavies as they come out subsonic. ( I am a large person)

  3. I alternate between three 9mm. A S&W SD, a SCCY CPX2 and a Ruger LCR. In warm weather or when not wearing a long cover garment, I carry the Ruger in a front pocket. The other two are carried IWB in Alien Gear holsters.

  4. I currently carry a S&W 640 a 5 shot .357magnum loaded with Remington Golden Saber .357 mag ammo. This is currently the most powerful handgun I can carry all of the time and shoot accurately. I put it on when I go outside and take it off when sit down at night. I do have to wear suspenders with a leather belt but, I didn’t want to drop down to a .38 spl. airweight or airlite as a primary weapon. I live in a rural area with low crime and it serves as animal protection as well as criminal protection.

  5. I use a full size OTB holster a 15 or 19 round magazing may balance well.
    For IWB carry with a lighter holster, it may not.

    In the quality IWB holster that I use, I choose to carry my Glock 19 with 10 rounds
    in the magazine so weight is centered near the slide and the holster rides well virtically
    and doesn’t pull down at the rear. I find it now it “disappears” from my thoughts.
    This works for

  6. I use a full size OTB holster a 15 or 19 round magazing may balance we.
    For IWB carry with a lighter holster, it may not. In the quality IWB holster that I use,
    I choose to carry my Glock 19 with 10 rounds in the magazine so weight is centered near the slide and the holster rides well virtically and doesn’t pull down at the rear. I find it now it “disappears” from my thoughts. This works for me.

  7. Mr Roberts, Great article. I agree with everything and have been saying the same thing for years. There is one thing that has been bothering me the older I get. I’ve been in the automotive mechanic industry for 30 years and using airguns have taken a toll. Arthritic in both wrists and bone on bone in the thumbs are making it harder to shoot. I found my self going to lighter fire arms. LCR .375 is just too light but I like the stopping power. May have to pull out the 9mm and try it.This may be something to talk about as I cant be the only one facing this problem. Thanks Gregg

  8. Although I’ve carried for 25 years this coming June, I’ve yet to be confronted with a situation even requiring me to place my hand on it. So I’ve no real practical experience to impart, as I am not a Vet or former LEO, EMS was my life experience, and at the time, we were not permitted to carry on duty. I only recently changed my CC weapon, a Walther PPK/S, to a SIG P365, not because I felt underpowered, but simply due to the sights on the PPK and my aging eyes. I’ve been pleased with my choice so far, and I appreciate the increased power and capacity of the SIG. Size wise, its differences are negligible, weight is negligible (being all steel, the PPK/S is heavier than a lot of the polymer framed guns out there). Accuracy with the SIG is acceptable to good, but the PPK/S is more accurate still (of all the pistols I own, the PPK is one of the most accurate guns I’ve fired). Capacity wise, the P365 wins hands down. The Walther’s cap was 7+1, the SIG’s 12+1 or 10+1 depending upon which mags you intend to carry. As for .380 being insufficient for the task at hand, it was a cartridge that started a war (the Great One), and that was within 20 years of its release on the market. Is it some huge energy transfering cartridge that will blow arms and heads off? No, but with good aim it will kill an attacker at self defense ranges with a heart or head shot quickly. Lung and Spleen shots will take a few minues, but without EMS on site, they’ll not last until they get there. .380 has benefitted from bullet design just like 9mm has, so there are loads that are available that outperform the old ball ammo. I’ve seen and treated enough gun shot wounds in a 40 year career, to have a healthy respect for even the lowly .22LR and the damage they can cause. The big issue with cartridges below the No Less Than This threshold, is that they require accuracy to be at their most effective. I haven’t perused the most recent stats, but not so long ago, the most common cartridge ascribed to deaths by firearm (the number includes accidental and suicide) was the old .22LR. It edged out the others by a considerable margin. Would I recommend a .22 for self defense? No, but if it was all I had available to me I would. Even a .22 is preferable to no gun at all.

  9. I own a couple of small pistols that I’d never ever trust my life with. The first is a Bayard .32 that I inherited from my father. I never knew he had it and I am not sure why he had it as his self protection handgun was a Browning BDM 9mm. The next is a Rhom RG 10 in .22 short. To me personally these firearms are novelty items and nothing to be considered for self protection. While I do own a couple of .45 APCs and a .40 caliber pistol, I regularly trust the 9 mm as my EDC choice. For concealed carry I like the Ruger LC9s. My other choice is an FN 509 although it is larger and not as reliably concealed as the LC9. The trade off between the two is magazine capacity. I prefer the higher capacity of the FN 509 and when carrying the Ruger LC9 I try to keep an extra magazine with me. Of the two, I am a lot more proficient with the FN 509 and should carry it more often.

  10. Great article but my persistent problem is not weight but conceal ability. I have a whole drawer of different holsters for Glock and HK 9s. Can’t even think of 45. In the summer it’s hot and a coat would be way out of place and in my work the untucked shirt doesn’t cut it. I wind up with a bulge that would be at best a horrible deformity. Could really use some useful tips on this!

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